Ghetto Tech - Ben Ewy
Saturday night. Detroit. Simulcast live on WJLB, Detroit's answer to Hot 97, Ghetto Tech's original voice, Gary Chandler is wrecking the set at the River Rock club, pushing his trademark brand of cut up doubles, hip-hop acapellas, pitched down jungle, pitched up Chicago house and the unmistakable sound of Detroit booty/ghetto tech/tech/techno bass (more on this later). Tech and hip-hop have always gone hand in hand in Detroit and Gary is as equally at home playing Biggie Smalls as he is playing cuts from local Detroit acts like DJ Assault, Detrechno and DJ Godfather. Ghetto tech is a hybrid form of Miami bass, Chicago ghetto tracks and Detroit electro all cut and pasted together with battle DJ techniques. Although around for years in Detroit, this sound is just beginning to surface on the national and international dance music scenes.
New York in particular has been interested in this sound as seen by the number of electro parties in the area and the prevalence of Detroit tech DJs such as DJ Assault and DJ Godfather headlining raves and club nights throughout the area. The dance music press has taken note of the trend and such mags as Details and Mixer have featured articles on the phenomenon. One reason for New York's newfound infatuation with ghetto tech is its relationship to the city's favorite cultural output, hip-hop. From the battle style DJ tricks, to the overall mind set, tech and hip-hop share many things in common.
Says Brendan Gilled, label head of Interdimensional Transmissions and founding member of the electro collective Ectomorph, "The whole [tech] aesthetic comes from what was perceived as the hip-hop ideals in the early to mid ¹80s. I suppose everybody fell in love with hip-hop. Whether it was the beats of Run DMC or LL Cool J, everybody found something in that artform that made them love hip-hop for life. Like with Boogie Down Productions and the early Public Enemy, the aesthetics of always being original and always having fresh new things, innovating not copying, and doing things in a strange way influenced tech. The battle styles and the way these DJs approach the decks is totally influenced from hip-hop and the DMC competitions."
One of the hottest acts in this scene has been Detroit's DJ Assault. DJ Assault and Ade "Mr. Mainor" Mainor have been responsible for some of ghetto tech's biggest hits such as "Ass'n'Titties", "Freaky Bitch" and "Sex on the Beach" on their own Electro Funk imprint. When you hear their freaked out sound collages of Aaliyah and Jodeci juxtaposed against a hard hitting drum work out, it's no surprise to find that they met as hip-hop producers. According to DJ Assault, "What had happened was, I got signed to the label that Ade was a partner of, and they signed my rap group. Ade had groups that he was producing and I had my group. None of the stuff worked out. We decided to leave the label and we put out 'Terror Tec'. It did so well in Detroit alone that we were able to put out records each month, and before you knew it, we had a business."
The first thing that most people notice about ghetto tech is its speed. Tech usually hovers around 145-160 b.p.m. (beats per minute), about twice the speed of rap records. Unlike jungle where people often dance and scratch at the half time beat, tech is all done at full speed. Explains DJ and producer Ann Arbor's Disco D, "Jungle is just double time hip-hop. Jungle and hip-hop are like hand in hand where electro and ghetto tech falls into a weird place. People do not do scratching and DMC tricks with jungle at full speed, they do it at half speed. Even though they are transforming and crabbing, it's still half speed. Whereas with ghetto tech it's at 155 b.p.m. I want to do DMC next year because people will be like what the hell is that?."
In order to get the tracks at the speed they want them, ghetto tech DJs will take cuts that are supposed to be played at 33 r.p.m. (revolutions per minute) and play them at 45 r.p.m. Tech DJs also customize their turntables to get them at the proper pace. Regular Technics only go to plus or minus eight per cent increase/decrease, but with a couple turns of the screw, these DJs can get their decks to play at plus or minus sixteen.
This may sound trivial, but to ghetto tech DJs, those extra clicks make all the difference. "When I spin out, I bring a power screw driver and I don't fuck around, I modify the turntables right there. My friend made a good analogy that Detroit techno was the sound of industry and machines, where ghetto tech throws a monkey wrench into the machine," states Disco D. "You have to literally and figuratively tear shit apart to make ghetto tech."
Strangely enough, the pacing of ghetto tech came from the DJing style used in Detroit's strip clubs, lending ghetto tech one of its other monikers, booty music or booty house. Gary Chandler elaborates, "The speed of the music came from the titty bars, they always played the music faster than we did on the streets. If you heard a record that you were used to hearing on 33, it was always on 45 in the titty bars because the girls danced real fast. But in time, the speed of the titty bars was the same speed as on the streets, everything caught up."
After adjusting to the speed, most people tend to notice the lyrics. Original and sampled vocal loops punctuate the cuts; whether it is DJ Assault talking about "Asses wiggling and titties jiggling" or Disco D asking "Where my pimps at, my dogs at, my players at?", Ghetto tech lyrics tend to veer towards strip club bravado and comic raunchiness that could be detracting if they weren't so damn infectious. Apparently when DJ Godfather played in San Francisco a few years back, half the club danced like crazy to the new sound they were experiencing, while the other half stood still, offended by the lyrics.
The lyrics, speed and the rhythm lines of ghetto tech lead many to believe that tech is nothing more than Miami bass. Although tech owes a lot to 2 Live Crew, it also owes just as much to Afrika Bambaataa, Egyptian Lover, Cybotron and all of the early electro innovators who themselves were influenced by Kraftwerk. In an effort to further differentiate their sound from that of Miami, many DJs, influenced by Gary Chandler, play nothing but songs by Detroit and Chicago artists creating an air of hometown pride amongst the growing fraternity of ghetto tech DJs.
The popular press has settled on the name ghetto tech, but Detroit's artists are not as sure what to call their musical style. DJ Assault avoided the question and referred to their style as "techno bass with house, electro, jungle and funk influences" while Gary Chandler was opposed to the name. "People have given it the label of ghetto tech, but we have always called it tech on the streets. Ghetto tech I don't know who made the term up, because a lot of the music that is being played is not ghetto music. You have to live in the ghetto to understand ghetto music anyway. You know whoever gave the term ghetto tech to the music never grew up in parts of Detroit that you would call the ghetto."
Whatever you call it, ghetto tech may very well be the next turntable based musical breakthrough. Already Detroit DJs and producers have been met with great success. DJ Godfather's Twilight 76 and Databass record labels are churning out records every three to four weeks, Disco D is playing at raves across the US and Gary Chandler is working on a video project for BET's Planet Groove with Rickie Lee from Hits magazine.
Whether or not the world is ready for ghetto tech's bombastic sound remains to be seen, but at the very least, ghetto tech is a unique and vital new voice in the realm of electronic dance music and represents a new chapter in the long list of musical styles that owe much of their existence to hip-hop and its approach to turntable based music.
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