Something in the Water: How Detroit's Techno Family Threw an Emotional Dance Party for Flint
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Something in the Water: How Detroit's Techno Family Threw an Emotional Dance Party for Flint

Moodymann, Kevin Saunderson and many others came together to raise funds for Flint's water crisis.
March 15, 2016, 7:16pm

All photos by the author

"Flint, don't give up your house! Flint, don't give up your house!" chants Detroit-based poet and singer Jessica Care Moore, jumping up and down on stage as Moodymann deftly handles mixing duties to her right. It's only 11:30 PM on a Friday, but the main room is already packed shoulder-to-shoulder with mostly middle-aged house and techno heads at Detroit's beloved TV Lounge club. Everyone is dancing in a frenzy, eyes locked on Moodymann and Moore as they work their magic.

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"Live through the music" she sings, repeating the line over and over. The phrase seems to sum up the spirit of the night: that music is the answer to any hardship—and can even provide direct support for the residents of Flint, Michigan, who are facing one of the worst public health crises in modern American history.

Flint's water contamination disaster began in April 2014, when the city's contract with the City of Detroit to purchase drinking water from Lake Huron expired. The Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) was chosen to be the new source of water, but construction on the KWA treatment plant isn't scheduled to be completed until later this year. So in an effort to save money—about $5 million a year—Flint decided to treat water from the Flint River and pump it into the homes of its citizens.

TV Lounge in Detroit

Officials promised that the new source was safe, but as soon as the switch was made, many of Flint's 100,000 residents began to complain about the color, taste, and smell of the water, and began to get rashes from contact. Yet the city refused to take action, aside from advising them to boil their water before drinking it. In January 2015, researchers discovered that there were elevated levels of lead in the drinking water, in some cases up to ten times more than what is safe.

It took ten months for Flint to reconnect with Detroit's water supply as a short-term solution, but the damage had already been done: thousands of children were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, putting them at serious risk for long-term health issues. The corrosive water also caused irreversible damage to lead pipes throughout the city, meaning that the tap water is still not safe to drink. Today, residents of Flint have been advised to only drink water filtered for lead, or bottled water.

Attendees writing messages in chalk outside the venue

When Detroit native and Underground Resistance member DJ Buzz Goree heard about the escalating crisis, he knew he had to do something. Although currently living in Berlin, Buzz made calls around his Detroit network and began to piece together this event, which is titled "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" after the 1982 song by Prince. The party brings together over 30 Detroit-based DJs, vocalists, and visual artists, with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly towards helping the people of Flint—via delivering two semi-trucks of bottled water to the contamination zone and donating funds to the Flint Child Health & Development fund.

According to TV Lounge manager Joshua Guerin (AKA Mister Joshooa), the club will host two more fundraisers, with the next one falling on April 8th with Ron Trent and Juan Atkins headlining. Guerin tells me he hopes the club will continue to throw parties as form of social activism: "I can see us picking something else to fight for after this."

Moodymann

Tonight, some of Detroit's best names in house and techno—including Moodymann, Rick Wilhite, Detroit Techno Militia, Patrice Scott, 2AMFM, DJ Minx and many others—are set to play across three stages spread across two rooms and a heated tent area in the courtyard. With so many artists participating, most sets are limited to an hour each and split between two (or more) DJs spinning back-to-back.

The vibe throughout the evening feels familial, with a smiling Kevin Saunderson manning the bar and pouring beers for fans, while his two sons, Dantiez and Damarii, throw down a heavy techno set in the tent nearby. "Flint represents a microcosm of all towns and cities in our world," Saunderson told me over email. "This could be your family, your children, friends and community. We must fix the situation in Flint and all the other Flints to come."

Artist Abdul Haqq working on his live painting

Out in the courtyard, Detroit-based visual artist Abdul Haqq was stationed between two stages, working on a live painting of a woman pouring out a pot of water in between chatting with people in the crowd. "People are in tune with the issue. Tonight, everyone is coming together for this cause and for each other," Haqq told me cheerfully, adding that he plans to sell the painting and donate the proceeds to Flint.

Despite the grave circumstances that brought the crowd together, the mood at the party is overwhelmingly positive. "Lots of people dance as a form of activism, and that's one of the reasons why I got involved [in the scene] in the first place—because of Dr. King's dream," Adriel Fantastique, a Detroit-based promoter who is the host and MC of the night, tells me. "Music can accomplish that dream. It's fearless and colorless."

DJ Neil V and DJ Psycho of Detroit Techno Militia

Fantastique points out that children are particularly at-risk for the adverse effects of lead contamination, and calls the water crisis a "ridiculous crime." "This is the rest of their fucking lives," he says angrily. "We need to do something about this now." Later, I see him grinning and dancing on stage, hyping up the crowd at every opportunity.

At 1AM, Dezi Magby AKA DJ Psycho, a member of the Detroit Techno Militia, takes the stage for the closing set. DJ Psycho has lived in Detroit for most of his adult life, but has family and friends back in Flint, where he grew up. He's joined onstage by Neil V and Bill Stacy, and together, the three DJs pump irreverent acid techno and hardcore to a crowd hovering over their insane triple turntable set-up to watch them work.

Dancing in the middle of this crowd, I was struck by the transformative power of music, and this exemplary moment of bringing people together to enact change. In a single night, over $7,000 was raised for Flint. The words of DJ Psycho, who I'd spoken to right before he went on, rung in my head: "This is so much support for my hometown in my adopted city. It's heavy. To see my friends come together for my hometown—that's special."

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