Blanks Artists is at the vanguard of Detroit’s underground electronic music scene. Forget the bloated Richie Hawtin Contakt parties, or the overpriced Underground Resistance nights, these guys take techno back to the way it was–raw, DIY, and uncompromising.
Drew Pompa’s set anchored that night back in August. He’s a fun DJ to watch–he gets lost in the groove just like the audience. Fortunately Baltimore feels like home for Drew (I guess all post-industrial, crime ridden cities are the same), and he’ll be making the rounds again this Friday, the 17th, for the October edition of Baltimore’s own More or Less party at the Hexagon.
Between spinning, and running a label, Drew is a busy man, so I shot him a couple question via email.
Aural States-Explain Blank Artists. How did it form? What sets it aside from other collectives?
Drew Pompa- Blank Artists developed out of correspondence that Josh Dahlberg and I had online through a Michigan based electronic music forum. It was obvious through the forum that we both shared similar tastes and an unwavering passion for music. However, Josh and I had never met outside of the online realm. In 2005, Josh approached me with the idea to start a record label. He was going to school at Ferris State University and I was living in Lansing. In the beginning, our interests were solely attached to releasing our friends’ music but after Josh moved to Detroit, I followed suit and we began to realize the huge amount of local talent. Many of these artists were not releasing music, so that is where we stepped in.
In the beginning, we would throw parties featuring bands, dj’s, artists, and electronic musicians. So it felt good to bridge those worlds together. I think that really inspired the way in which we run the label. There is this sort of anything goes, blank slate mentality (hence the name Blank Artists). We don’t have a pre-emptive mission in relation to the type of music that we release and hence we believe that their is no one superior genre of music. Although most of our catalog is electronic music, we remain committed to keeping it as open as possible.
AS-Baltimore isn’t really a techno town. Can you explain the aesthetic of techno, especially in the context of Detroit.
DP-The aesthetic of techno can be very subjective, even in the context of Detroit. Techno as a term derived out of a need to differentiate Chicago from Detroit from New York. New York had garage, Chicago had house, and Detroit had not yet had a name of it’s own. When Juan Atkins used the term techno, it just kind of stuck. From then on, at least in the late 80′s and early 90′s, any electronic dance music from Detroit was referred to as Techno, more specifically Detroit techno. It may have become defined by its use of drums and synthesizers, and how it sounded like this soul and gospel influenced electronic sound. However, this term still becomes entrenched in subjectivity because if you think about Detroit guys like Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, and UR, you think of this very dark and eerie technological sound . So perhaps the aesthetic of techno in the context of Detroit is one that is undefinable.
AS- Tell me about some of the Blank Artists roster, and their different sounds.
DP- One of our recent additions is a producer named Jared Wilson. He’s very big on the acid house sound and uses predominantly analog gear to produce. I feel that his sound is reminiscent of the UK acid house sound you’d most likely hear being played at the Hacienda (popular dance club in Manchester, UK). Codine, who has a release dropping next month called the Blue Room EP, has both a house and techno flavor that flows in and out of deep and funky. Josh Dahlberg, who also shares co-director duties, is probably one of the hardest working artists on the label. He’s appeared on our various compilations, dropped a couple of EP’s last year, and has new one due out in December. Josh’s electronic music influences are vast and as a result, his productions have translated into this techno/house/electro medley that is getting better with every release. We also have a couple of IDM artists, including RS-232 and Theatre of the Absurd, as well as Detroit funk/house/trip-hop producer E.Spleece, who also has an EP coming out in the winter.
AS- What attracted you to music, and then what attracted you to electronic music?
DP- I have an older brother that’s always been into music and that’s had a residual influence me. I grew up in rural northern Michigan, so it really wasn’t a culture obsessed with music. Through my brother Phil, I started listening to bands like Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, NIN, and Joy Division. Some of these bands were very electronic and seemed progressive. I think that once you find one really good band or producer that you’re into, it helps to expand your avenues and curiosities in other styles of music.
AS-Who were some early musical influences?
DP- In the very beginning of my electronic music explorations I was listening to UK big beat stuff like Chemical Brothers, Future Sound of London, and Prodigy. That eventually led me to drum n bass, electro, techno, and more experimental forms of electronic music. I then started finding artists and labels like Warp, Aphex Twin, Jungle Sky, Novamute, and Planet E, etc.. By the time I moved to Lansing, MI, I became knowledgeable about the various genres and sub genres.
There is a record store in East Lansing on the periphery of Michigan State University’s campus called FBC (Flat, Black, and Circular). They have a great collection of rock, blues, jazz, hip hop, in addition to one of my favorite collections of electronic music seen in a record store. John, who orders most of the electronic music at FBC, has such an insanely limitless knowledge. He has a number of cataloged labels, a lot of Detroit stuff, and a ton of experimental records that I hadn’t heard of previously. I mean, if i had to really pin point some of my biggest influences, John from FBC would certainly be up there.
AS- What were your early sets like?
DP- I would collect many different styles of music. However, I would create genre specific sets when I first started playing.. Today, I’ll mix all the different styles together to give a certain diversity to the sets.
AS- How would you describe you style when DJing?
DP- I dunno if I have a distinct style, although I usually start the set at a lower speed and try to work it up to a higher bpm. After a while I bring it back down and keep a groove going until the end of my set. I like to set a standard for the amount of records I play each hour. I prefer around 20 tracks an hour.
In regards to music, you can expect a blending of house, techno, electro, funk, disco, and anything with a good dance beat, but of course, keeping it as classy as possible.
AS- Is there any overall aesthetic to all the Blank Artists acts?
DP- “Let’s have a fucking dance party”.
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