All photos by Lyndon French.
Roller disco culture has been making something of a comeback in recent years, but nothing can compare to Moodymann's famed Soul Skate party in Detroit. Since 2007, the homegrown event has been setting up shop at various venues and rinks across the city; in 2010, it even traveled to London for a one-off party with Red Bull Music Academy, soundtracked by Moodymann and UK party-outfit Horsemeat Disco. During Movement weekend this year, it touched down at Bert's Warehouse, Bonaventure Skating Station, and Populux, in addition to a giant biennial party at 8 Mile Road's Northland Roller Skating Center on Saturday, May 27. If there is a mecca of roller disco parties, Soul Skate is it.
While Moodymann is the obvious spiritual godfather behind the concept, mixing duties at the parties this year went to NYC's DJ Big Bob, Baltimore's DJ Soulnificent, Detroit's DJ Dez (AKA Andrés), and Chicago's DJ Nate, among other legendary skate selectors from across the country. Music at the Northland blow-out ranged from funk and disco, to hip-hop and smooth house jams. Moodymann, for his part, split his time chilling behind the scenes, pumping up the crowd from the booth and even snapping a couple of selfies with lucky fans. At around 2AM, he took to the mic to thank the crowd for coming out and supporting the community, as well as for their patience in waiting a full extra year to attend the Northland party. As a special treat to the devoted skate family, he introduced NYC hip-hop legend Rakim, who played a surprise set; other highlights included a marriage proposal that took place right on the rink's crowded floor.
While I didn't last too long in the sea of zigg-zagging skate pros, I decided to chat with some regulars about why they love skating, and the pastime's importance to the city at large.
Witt (Right), Chris (Left), and Toie (Center)
THUMP: Why do you think skate culture is so important to the city of Detroit?
Chris: It's about the expression and the diversity of the people who come here to skate. It's black, white, orange, yellow, blue, tall, short, fat, skinny—[skating] brings all walks of life together for this one common goal, and I think that's important for this city.
Witt: It's a form of art, too. I know a guy who makes these customs skates, and every other year he comes [to Soul Skate] to show off his new collection. This is huge man. It's a huge thing.
Ronda: Skating has been the thing to do for all our lives, whether at birthday parties or other places like Northland. Though I've only been here to Soul Skate one or twice before, skating's a thing that goes back all the way to childhood for most of us, and it's just always been around. But then again, I'm not one of those people who goes skating every week; it's more like one or two times a year. There are some people who do it all the time and do the dance moves, and I'd love to be that person one day, but I probably won't ever be [laughs].
Super DJ Super Hero
Skating's a heartbeat. I'm a product of it all. I've been skating for 32 years, and it's kept me out of a lot of trouble. It's safe, reasonable in price, and it's fun, man. Skating's really a lighthearted thing for people who enjoy life, and there are so many benefits to it. It's very important to Detroit and it's a community thread unlike a lot of other ones in the city. There are other things that string people together, but a lot of them are disappearing, such as our rec centers and other things that have connected the generations. Skating's a bridge between the older and younger generation—you can come into a place like this and see a 48-year-old skating with a 12-year-old, and there's nothing wrong with that, because they're teaching each other and keeping the legacy alive.
Tracy (Left) and Ms. Netta, AKA "The Whistleblower" (Right)
Tracy: I'm from New Jersey and she's from Philadelphia, but I operate two skating rinks back home, so [skating's] a business and a hobby I was able to turn into a career. It's personal for me, and it's something I have a passion for. When I come here to Detroit, it's an opportunity to be a customer and to have fun and enjoy myself. As far as skating itself I connect mainly with the music, style, movements, and just having a good time.
Ms. Netta: Skating is good for the soul. It's vibrant. You eat, sleep, and breathe roller skating. People ask me why I spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars just to go to a $10 skate party, and they just wouldn't understand if they're not a part of it. I have my skate key here from years ago when we used to skate out in the streets—then you "graduate" later on and go into the rinks. So it's fun; it's really in the soul.
Tracy: There really is a lot of expenses though. We paid for an airline ticket, hotel, and everything—just to come here and pay for a party that doesn't cost a lot to get in. You gotta love it to do it. It's just for fun, though—there's no competition or trophies or anything like that. It's just a grand reunion here where we can see our skate family.
Skating is a great way to have fun and meet people, but in the end, it's important to me because of the exercise. I'm 61 years old and I've been skating for about 30 years. I do it now just to stay in shape.
Judy (Center), Deborah (Left), Michelle (Middle), and Kimberly (Right)
Judy: I am sixty-nine years old. Skating is good for my health. Skating is better than going to the spa, or the fitness center and doing all of those crazy things. I can just come here and be in my zone, and it's all good. I'm like a kid in the candy store.
Deborah: I think Detroit just has a lot of good things to still offer people, and when you come here, you get an opportunity to meet all kinds of people and enjoy it. Everyone's having a good time, and that's what it's all about.
Michelle: It's a family! A family reunion.
Darrien (Middle) and Joe (Right)
Darrien: Because I could be out robbing niggas right now. But I'm here, skating. It gives you something to do and keep you out of the street doing crazy things. It keeps you out of trouble.
Joe: It's an amazing stress reliever, too. There's a million other things you could be doing that's a lot less constructive.
Darrien: It's positive for the kids, too. They see us out here.
Joe: And when you get good, you don't want to do anything else but teach somebody—it just keeps it going.