On Saturday, M and I ventured into dangerous and racially segregated Corktown to hear the annual Crash Detroit street festival music… uh… festival. Bands from all over the US of A and perhaps even Canada temporarily relocate for 24-48 hours to play under or around tents and play obnoxious faux-jazz/rock street festival band music. There is not really a way to explain street festival except it is usually a horde of eccentric people who belong at band camp but were let out into the real world. There are drums, brass, battery powered and backpack amplified electric guitars, and an obsession with shock value. The event started at noon and went past nine but the attention today will be for the acts in the middle of the event, you know, the forgotten middle guys.
Often you will see men wear ghoul face paint and traditional marching band clothes, and women wear semi-bondage style either too tight or too loose “late night” clothing with fishnet stockings on their legs and arms. Rule of thumb for “dead” street festival band look: all clothing must have sleeves ripped off and sprinkled with gooey fake blood. Around five there was Dead Music Capitol Band, which, like most street festival bands, adorned themselves like specters of a terrible zombie horror movie from the 60’s. The band themselves were very well practiced and entertaining. They engaged in the popular run-into-the-audience-pretend-to-be-dead-then-slowly-rise-up-while-playing-unique-polyphonic-melodies, that’s RITAPTBDTSRUWPUPM for short. It probably has a cooler name, like, grave-jump. 3/5
In another tent we saw the next band in their official debut, Bitch, Thunder. They played two sets of quads, a bass, and two floors. They hit the drums. They were pretty okay. 3/5
We ran back to the first tent to hear another band. My Brightest Diamond and the percussion section of the Detroit Party Marching Band teamed up. They played a huge marching in intro and then this huge guy started killing the bell kit. I have never seen scales, skips, steps, tremolos, and doubles hit with such speed and accuracy for what felt like the entire six minute song. The most unfortunate part of this act was the front-women of My Brightest Diamond, who just wailed into a megaphone backed by four other women, each wailing into more megaphones to what M thought sounded like the TV theme for Thundercats. The set up was terrible. One megaphone is often employed in a street festival act since megaphones are the most effective way to shout directions or signal a new part of a song or dance, however, multiple women wailing what one would assume to be song lyrics into multiple megaphones is uncharted territory. It was horrible. Then, after the song ended, the huge guy kept on murdering the bell kit until the front women picked up an electric guitar plugged into a stationary grid-powered electric guitar amplifier, a very taboo move for street festival musicians who embody the concept of movement. She mentioned the song was about the “flint water crisis,” and “the killings.” She did not mention which killings she was most concerned about, but one can assume her worldview permitted her to incorporate all of them. The next song featured a perfectly innocent electric guitar getting unjustifiably desecrated while the only word fully distinguishable blared out in a deeply uncomplicated impossible to imitate melody. I think she said “Obama.” 2/5 only because of the bell kit guy.
Seizing some front row seats, we were unprepared for what was about to unfold. One band started up in this tubular march song and marched right through the tent over to the other one. Then, replaced like office supplies for bubble gum and video games, a slew of randomly dressed mostly old dudes and their grandchildren flooded in. The animal costumes are old hat, and dancers are understandable, but what is unacceptable is sheet music. Each and every musician had sheet music attached to their instruments and their quality of playing exposed this. What would have been cool was a theatrical play of some lady reading H.P. Lovecraft and being attacked by demons and a fat guy in skin tight leopard print spandex except it was played to the tune of Metallica’s “All Nightmare Long” without guitars and drum kit. Awful. 1/5
Fleeing to the next tent, we joined the already in progress Environmental Encroachment act, which, as far as I can tell, is a mash-up of other bands. Melodic percussion was a facet of this act. A waist worn marimba was frequently utilized but the real interesting instrument was a huge assembly of metal pipes with dozens of circular saw blades pounded into tone producing shapes and suspended for hitting with wooden mallets. The whole assembly was worn by a single individual who often used four mallets simultaneously to add an incredible depth to each melody. One of the songs had what felt like a three minute solo that I recorded on video and might link to on youtube. There was also a dude who would pull out this tiny trombone which was about the size of a regular trumpet. All of the musicians were very well practiced and they did perform a deserved grave-jump, which gave the other musicians some much needed rest while the saw blade guy buzzed the audience’s heads off. Somehow they recorded an album and that was bought after the show. 4/5
The last act of the so-called middle acts was the Jefferson Street Band. This band I had seen before and actually had their 2015 album. They played a lot of the same songs and a few new ones. This is actually a smaller band which only uses one of each instrument. The obvious leader is the snare drum player who is very showy with his important playing. At one point he had to help the bass player load up a battery and the song lost about 70% of its oomph, the technical term for snare and bass guitar in this instance. It would have been a better idea for one of the other drummers to help. The set was still good and they appeared professional all throughout. The black guy on the bari-sax is a crowd favorite. When he plays he looks like he is about to blow e’eryone’s birthday candles right off the cake. 4/5
The fairgrounds, being in front of Michigan Central Station, now with glass windows, were a lot more built up than the previous two years. A food truck parked in the street and Motor-city-brewing served drinks. There was a very small merch area and two separate tents for used instruments and a crafting area for children to make their own instruments out of cardboard, which they would immediately take to go play with and march around the actual bands. That could be the best part of this event, getting kids to listen and participate in real live music, even if it is obnoxious and escapes understanding. Crash Detroit is one of my personal favorite attractions in Detroit and I hope it continues to expose people to visual and aural anxiety for years to come. That is it for the middle bands.
Crash Detroit 2016 5/5