516 E. Liberty Street
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THE WIZARD aka JEFF MILLS Returns!
spinning a 5 hour set!
A Reunion Celebration of his residency at the Nectarine Ball Room
www.axisrecords.com â€¢ www.facebook.com/JeffMills â€¢ www.twitter.com/DJJeffMills
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Doors open at 9pm
18 & Over are welcome
Tickets on Sale Monday 8/6/2012
Presale tickets $15
Tickets available at www.necto.com/tix
For VIP Services contact [email protected]
The Wizard, Jeff Mills : A Bit of Necto History
Mills is part of the glorious history of electronic music. Born in June 1963 in Detroit (the historic capital of todayâ€™s techno), Jeff is of the same generation as its illustrious pioneers such as Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. His career is just as precocious as theirs, having built his early reputation in his town of birth, hosting his own radio show on local WDRQ and WJLB radios. With six shows a week, the young Jeff (under twenty years old at this point) was so talented on the turntables that he was rapidly nicknamed â€˜The Wizardâ€™.
Jeff Mills is accomplished. He has produced hip hop and techno, scored soundtracks to silent films (Fritz Langâ€™s Metropolis in 2000 and Buster Keatonâ€™s Three Ages in 2005) and performed with a full orchestra under a Roman aqueduct in southern France (released as The Blue Potential in 2006). The DJ-entrepreneur runs his small-scale record label, Axis Records, with his wife, Yoko. He has also launched a new clothing line called Gamma Player and owns two homes, one in Chicago and another in Berlin.
But Millsâ€™ bread and butter is as a well-paid, globe-trotting DJ, whether itâ€™s a residency at a club in Tokyo called the Womb or scores of carefully chosen one-off gigs throughout the year.
The academic community has caught on to Mills as well. A short study of Millsâ€™ musical approach was recently included in musicologist Marc Butlerâ€™s 2006 book Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music from Indiana University Press.
But itâ€™s not all high-end theory and jet-setting. In addition to being a father to his 12-year-old daughter (who lives in Germany), Mills is also the de facto godfather of two very large dance audiences, each of which has its own sound: the stoic-yet-sexy minimal techno and whatâ€™s sometimes referred to as â€œghetto tech,â€ the fast-paced mixing and scratching associated with the dirty-minded booty music very popular in Detroit.
From local stories to international ones, from tales told on DVDs made in Detroit by Hong Kong filmmakers, to a Japanese-language blog maintained by Axis Records, to more than 100 recent YouTube videos capturing him performing from Moscow to Barcelona, Sao Paulo to Australia, itâ€™s clear that Mills has had a global impact for more than a quarter of a century.
We all come from somewhere, and Mills, like so many young DJs and producers of the early 1980s, was affected early on by all that was happening in the Motor City, from new technologies and sounds to social realities thick with meaning. His story is one of many that show how the continuing sounds of Detroit â€” from all musical genres â€” have helped shaped contemporary global culture.
In 1984, Metro Times freelancer Bruce Britt, who now lives in Los Angeles, tried to capture young Jeff Mills at his residence at Cheeks, a now-defunct club on Eight Mile Road, after a moment of profound turbulence in the history of the DJ as a performer. The scratching of hip hop had outpaced the record-blending of the disco era
[Mills] began this spectacle by blending two surging hip-hop tunes into one another. Having demonstrated this most basic of turntable techniques, Mills donned his headphones and cued up Yazâ€™s â€œSituation.â€ â€œOK,â€ Mills said, forebodingly. â€œHere we go.â€
Mouth slightly agape and head bobbing to the beat, Mills manipulated the record and mixing console simultaneously so that the phrase â€œmove outâ€ was transformed into â€œmoo-moo-moo-moo move out.â€ Later he blended parts of In Deepâ€™s â€œTonight a Deejay Saved My Lifeâ€ with Michael Jacksonâ€™s â€œBillie Jean.â€ He then topped off this showy display by mixing a Berlitz language instruction record with the Deeleâ€™s synth-funk smash, â€œBody Talk.â€
Meanwhile, on the dance floor, the converted attested to Millsâ€™ disc-spinning abilities. â€œIs he good?,â€ asked [a dancer], dabbing the perspiration from her forehead. â€œYou see me sweatinâ€™, donâ€™t you?â€
Though the spectacle seemed to appear fully formed, Jeff Mills, like his peers out in Belleville â€” Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson â€” didnâ€™t rise fully formed out of downtown manhole covers. The constantly name-checked godfathers of techno shared many of the same experiences (simultaneously) with Mills, including DJing competitively in Detroit and on the radio, traveling internationally and creating their own labels. But neither May, Atkins nor Saunderson (born in â€™62, â€™63 andâ€™64, respectively), or anyone for that matter, other than the Electrifyinâ€™ Mojo himself, had the kind of profound daily impact on Detroitâ€™s youth over as long a period as â€œthe Wizard.â€
Years before, Mills, one of six children â€” his father, a civil engineer, and his mother, a housewife â€” had already begun listening to new sounds coming in virtually every day from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. By his senior year in 1980, Mills had built a collection of dubbed mixtapes by everyone he could get his hands on: from Chicago, Farley â€œJackmasterâ€ Funk and Ralphi â€œthe Razzâ€ Rosario on WBMX; from New York, DJ Grandmaster Flash, DJ Red Alert, Grandmaster DST, Gail â€œSkyâ€ King and, importantly, the Whiz Kid; from Los Angeles, DJ Yella and Dr. Dre.
Meanwhile, Detroit stations like WLBS â€” the now-extinct urban sister station to New Yorkâ€™s famous WBLS â€” pumped out disco and R&B. For a short time from 1979 into the early 1980s, WLBS was programmed by DJs who frequented disco clubs and the largely underground after-hours parties where local DJs, like their New York and Chicago peers, were beginning to â€œblendâ€ records with two turntables.
Two of these local DJs, Ken Collier and Duane Bradley, would heavily influence Mills (the former mixing on WLBS and the latter working directly with Mills later in the â€™80s at WJLB). Mills also began listening to years of WJLB-FM, a station that already had a long-standing DJ heritage on the AM band, and had signed Charles Johnson â€” known to Detroit radio listeners as the Electrifyinâ€™ Mojo â€” to the 10 p.m.-3 a.m. slot.
Mills didnâ€™t just hear these sounds in his bedroom though. Thanks to a fake ID and late 1970s party-promoters like Zana Smith â€” now the proprietor of Spectacles in Harmonie Park, then a well-connected event planner with a hot car â€” future DJs like Mills, Tony Foster and Delano Smith were able to see Ken Collier and other DJs at the Downstairs Pub downtown. This older generation of promoters like Smith â€” with company names like Zana Take Three, Cosmopolitan, One Way, the Real and Luomo â€” made Detroitâ€™s post-disco party scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s possible. â€œThey were from a different era of partying,â€ Mills says. â€œThe things I used to hear about that era were really incredible.â€
Though Mills didnâ€™t know it at the time, Detroit DJs like Collier had already established out-of-town connections, including New York City-via-Chicago DJ Frankie Knuckles, and New Yorkâ€™s Larry Levan, two legends of disco and house music. The DJs in this predominantly gay social network made a conscious effort to share new skills and ideas that they were trying out across the nation. â€œThey were doing the same things, trading information and doing it very purposefully,â€ Mills says.
Mills and his contemporaries could hear the results and they acted accordingly. â€œWe were going anyplace to hear this new type of music in Detroit â€” gay clubs, straight clubs, really underground places â€” to hear this progressive sound,â€ Mills continues. â€œWe were hooked.â€
If these human interactions provided a model, the advent of the 12-inch dance singles in the 1970s, the availability of DJ mixers and direct-drive turntables starting in the late 1970s, and Japanese-made drum machines in the 1980s gave young artists like Mills the means to move audiences at high school dances, converted disco clubs and, eventually, radio. (Buy-Rite Records on Seven Mile Road provided Collier with records by such disco acts as First Choice and Mills with West Coast drum machine sounds from Egyptian Lover.)
Artists such as Afrika Bambaataa, Alexander Robotnik and Kano were making records that already sounded great. But using multiple turntables, mixing on the fly and overlaying the pounding of drum machines, the DJs created altogether new performances that transcended any single recording.
Mills made his entrance at exactly the right moment.
Mills took these sounds into his parentsâ€™ garage, perfecting his skills while emulating his heroes. He mixed it out against other mobile DJs at local parties. And then he took his growing rep to clubs like Cheeks, UBQ and the Warehouse in Detroit and the Nectarine Ballroom in Ann Arbor. Soon his numerous residencies and one-night stands put him at the right place at the right time, as the execs of a struggling WDRQ â€” then a Top-40/urban station â€” heard salvation in Millsâ€™ live mixes. Within days of a live broadcast, Mills was asked to join WDRQ as â€œthe Wizard,â€ a name heâ€™d called himself when WDRQâ€™s on-air personality Lisa Orlando had asked him for a DJ name.
Immediately Mills was thrown on the air to compete with the popular Electrifyinâ€™ Mojo on WDRQâ€™s urban opponent, WJLB. Though the two DJs respected one another and were on a first-name basis, their competitive spirit created a sonic backdrop for 1980s Detroit.
At that time Mojo owned Detroitâ€™s airwaves, commanding an immense fan base as well as the keys to the new electronic music, from Kraftwerk and Zapp to such artists as Prince, who sought Mojoâ€™s advice on new tracks and called in for on-air interviews.
Starting at 10 p.m. every night, Mills went in to the â€œbattle with the opposite station. My job was to play anything and everything that was happening in order to take away from Charles [Mojo].â€ For the young Mills, that meant everything that heâ€™d absorbed to that point â€” disco, house, techno, electro, Miami bass, R&B, rap and, in the later 1980s, industrial. Basically anything that would tweak the ears of the kids.
In this pre-Clear Channel era, corporate radio was still tied into the local community. The new music â€” so popular in Detroitâ€™s neighborhoods â€” had forced radio stations to, at least initially, react to imported releases and street sounds, whether program directors understood them or not. MTV wasnâ€™t yet in every home; computers for downloading and iPods were 20 years away; and CD versions of the vinyl-only DJ releases that Mills and others were playing werenâ€™t available.
Radio was king.
â€œBack then, you had a city that was listening and, on the radio, you had a short time frame to have a big impact,â€ Mills says. â€œYou had to keep them listening and you had to keep it fresh. If I bought it that morning, I had to play it that night.â€
Mills adds that he was constantly honing his DJ skills, learning to mix and scratch, not as a tool for showing off, he says, but as a tool to reach into peopleâ€™s heads, to get them to stop and actually listen. â€œThatâ€™s really where I learned to use texture to keep things interesting, how to set them up, you know, the one-two punch.â€
Mills followed the radio ratings and says his show had, by the mid-1980s, begun to gain on Mojo. But WDRQ decided that they were not securing â€œthe right demographicâ€ by creating a sonic-paradise for Detroitâ€™s predominantly black audience. Instead, they switched formats, attempting to break into a more suburban crowd and dumped everyone, including the Wizard, in 1985. But Mills wasnâ€™t unemployed for long. In 1986, James Alexander, then programming director for WJLB, brought Mills on board to join the late Duane â€œIn the Mixâ€ Bradley. The idea was to replace Mojo, who hadnâ€™t renewed his contract. Mojo subsequently left for WHYT. The competition continued.
At WJLB, Mills had access to the stationâ€™s recording studios, its library of music and sound effects. The station built a special booth for Mills to include his mixer, up to three turntables and an assortment of drum machines, so that he could program music before the show and then mix it into the set live. Mills estimates that more than 85 percent of the shows were still done live. â€œMost of the time it was just easier to just come in and play, because to make one 30-minute show required eight to 10 hours of recording time.â€
Whatâ€™s funny is the Wizard never spoke on radio. He never had to. In the WDRQ-era, Millsâ€™ show was syndicated to sister stations in Houston and St. Louis; at WJLB it was syndicated to Stevie Wonderâ€™s station, KJLH, in Los Angeles. The Wizard, though still a mortal to Mojoâ€™s godlike status, had made a name. When James Alexander left WJLB in 1990, the stationâ€™s new director changed the stationâ€™s format. Mills could either compromise or he could quit. He played his last night at WJLB on New Yearâ€™s Eve 1990.
But internal radio struggles werenâ€™t the only sign of change in those days. Near the end of Millsâ€™ Wizard career, a number of crises began to roar in Detroitâ€™s nightlife.
Mills remembers the possibility of fights and shootings at Detroit hip-hop events as a fairly constant hazard of the gig.
â€œGenerally, things did â€˜jump offâ€™ â€” you just hoped you werenâ€™t in the path of the bullet or in the middle of the fight,â€ he says.
But by the late 1980s an uptick in Detroit violence spilled even more intensely onto the dance floor. A gang fight at Climax 2, a club on Chene near Jefferson, was enough for Mills to stop performing as the Wizard in Detroit. Concurrently, his successful three-night-a-week stand at the Nectarine Ballroom in Ann Arborâ€” where heâ€™d been livingâ€” came to an end. The hot, bass-heavy Sunday nights had become a problem for the local cops.
â€œWednesday nights was a fraternity night where I played everything from Bruce Springsteen to the Smiths. Friday nights it was house, techno and Top 40. Sunday night was the black night. Kids came in from all around including Ypsilanti. That was the night we got down.â€
It was also the night fans wouldnâ€™t go home after the club closed, and large crowds would congregate on Liberty. The club was making lots of money, but city officials, Mills says, pressured the club to shut the night down.
Urban Legend has it that there is a city ordinance in the city of Ann Arbor, MI that prohibits Jeff Mills aka The Wizard to play within the city limits. Back in the day, people would line up around the Nectarine Ballroom and police would not be able to control the crowds that would come to see him. Circa approx: Late 1980's
Join us as we welcome him home Sunday, October 14, 2012!