"You will find the strength in the sound and make your transition."
Text: Sven von Thülen aus De:Bug 109

Mike Banks über UR

Underground Resistance always stood and still stands for more than just music. Please explain for those who don’t know yet your philosophy behind the label. How do you find new talent, what do you do beyond the label work?

The idea of “resistance” is very old. A more important question is what are the conditions that cause it? The spirit of resistance survived in us African Americans throughout the ages and manifested itself into me and Jeff Mills as kids as it did in many of our friends. Our parents were educated and had survived the turbulent 60’s and supported the “resistant” Dr. Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement and anti-war campaigns. Consequently both Jeff and myself were AWARE.
We both had grown tired of seeing the 80’s era commercial media portraying African Americans once again as they were in the 70’s Black Exploitation movies as happy clowns who wanted nothing more than a big fat ass, Diamonds, Furs and Gold, a ridiculously flashy car and a pocket full of cash earned from “Hustlin”. These same themes were and still are being broadcasted over the radio and television further spreading the stereotype. So we lived and grew up in an environment that was being bombarded by audio and visual sterotypes that are essentially a guide for failure. I still live in the results of this poison as we speak.
We noticed that history was being repeated all over again. Thru various artists their consequent videos and their parent Major Record labels that propagated all this shit. Chuck D of Public Enemy summed it up in his lyrics when he said: “You singers are spineless as you sing your senseless songs to the mindless you general subject love is minimal its sex for profit”!
We wanted a label and a sound that depicted brothers in a different darkness and a different light. UR wanted something that would inspire others to create technologies that would enable us to compete with this stereotypical audiovisual “mind beam” being broadcasted daily 24/7 by “Programmers” who didn’t give a fuck about us. And obviously still don’t. We wanted to build a better community by expanding, inspiring and transporting minds and spirits via unexplored sonic potential. We want a “Sonic Revolution for Change” something that would affect our neighborhood positively somehow as “The Electrifying Mojo” did for us with his “Midnight Funk Association” radio show that ran during the 70’s & 80’s. Mojo’s show was a serious counterweight to the programmers “mindbeam” that essentially laid the blueprint and planted the seeds of Detroit Techno. It was a good show not only for our community but ultimately for the world.

Underground Resistance is slowly approaching its 20th Birthday. Has your initial motivation to start the label changed over the years?

UR is nothing new, it’s just a different resistance with another name fighting another ignorant fanatical Tyrant this time for freedom of sound. We exploit newer technology now and will continue to do so as it evolves. Our conditions here in Detroit are exactly the same if not worse as when we started. So due to our inability to inspire change here we will keep trying as best as we can.

Looking back on the development of the label what would you say were the turning points?

Japanese music technology, The fax machine and the development of the internet. Three technologies that functioned as transporter beams for our purpose.

Where do you see the biggest problems/challenges and the most promising developments in your community? How is the situation in Detroit?

We need our city and manufacturing leaders to travel overseas and to realize what Mass Transit means to a city. We don’t have it and we have land locked communities, with land locked thoughts and values. There is no interaction unless you have the luxury of a car which a lot of people can’t afford. The situation is grey.

While Techno and House still struggle in the USA, there is a big network of independent HipHop-Labels, where Indie-Labels shift up to a million copies without support from the Majors. Is there anything you can learn from those local independent scenes?

Techno & House struggle today because in the late 80’s when the U.K. discovered it? Many brothers believed that this “discovery” would help them in the US markets they were having some moderate “underground” success in. They believed that with The U.K. and Europe’s support this would give them the same promotional budgets Rap artists were getting here from Major labels in the states and that they would be able to “Make it Big” and eventually be signed to a major record label. Due to well documented historical reasons me and Jeff were skeptical.
Unfortunately what they didn’t know was that European Record Companies not only lacked the interest but they also lacked the muscle and experience to compete in the urban US market. So consequently companies who for a few thousand dollars would license the music with “WORLD RIGHTS” chose to not even try selling into our communities and still don’t to this day.
Instead they repackaged the shit and sold hundreds of thousands of records into the U.K. & Europe only! An easy sell market we had already established! Totally neglecting the states! Of course the artists and DJ’s were financially benefited by increased demands for their performances across Europe and some as individuals have done well. But the dream of electrifying the inner city with hi-tech, sci-fi thoughts and dreams was negated and we haven’t recovered since.
There has never been any attempt by any of Detroits European licensors over the whole 20 year period to secure ANY radio time from a major station here in Detroit! Not even for Ritchie Hawtin!
I have often been accused of being difficult with European Record Companies as being racist or not liking white people. The truth is I would simply ask for something that would give back to our community from these people. A simple reciporical deal … something like for small companies a donation to a local charity or something. Maybe for a bigger company I would ask for US distribution and promotion of this music in urban communities and college radio. Some made the donations but all too often I would be faced with a common European question: “Those people don’t listen to Techno Music they only listen to Rap don’t they?” It was and is still one of the most difficult aspects of making this music. It’s as if we are smart enough to make this music but too fucking dumb to listen to it.
Hip Hop never abandoned its original audience. It spoke to the hood first and it stays in the hood and expanded outward later which is beautiful! Detroit Techno and Chicago House never had time to root themselves as deeply into all the US cities. They were diverted to Europe at the height of their inner city influence. I can distinctly remember on Jeff Mills “WJLB Wizard Show” all three of those musics existed side by side. A style still carried on by Detroits mixshow jocks and Cabaret DJ’s to this day.
Many other factors also contributed. Booking agencies had a big hand in the transformation of this music! As more and more of our most talented PRODUCERS left Detroit to DJ abroad for the big money being offered. Less and less records were being produced. More and more was being learned about how to produce the sounds, beats and rhythms of techno first hand as many naive and friendly producers displayed their craft at clubs, studios and magazines to future competition that would soon coin them “Old School” or collaborate with them in hopes of jump starting their own careers. Booking Agency’s with no concern for these producers record labels musical output or their employee’s often booked these guys one year in advance! Leaving them “zero” time to produce music and more time for the world to catch up and study Detroit. Very few other than Jeff Mills, Ritchie Hawtin and Carl Craig have demonstrated the discipline for such schedules! And I know all three of those guys and they run the show … not the agents!
And to be fair you can’t just blame the agencies there was a tremendous lack of insight on behalf of a lot of the producers and artists for allowing themselves to be manipulated this way. For me its especially painful to see people who are Sonic Pioneers reduced to mere entertainers and now struggling to survive waiting for some agent to send them a check when they used to write their own!
The lesson is: Detroit and Urban America’s loss was the world’s gain. The question is will we get anything in return? Maybe now when you ask why Techno and House are struggling in the USA you will have a clearer picture. It’s the same reason many places in Africa are struggling. Their shit has been exported every fucking where and they get guns in return! And guaranteed as soon as the product or minerals are gone … guess what?
We need hi-tech Dreams and thoughts in the hood even more now than ever because the technology gap is widening! I often wonder if any European artists hear me? Will they be as brave as their forefathers and try to establish their so called “advanced music” into the hood? How advanced can it be if only one small group of people understand and enjoy it? To truly put your music to the test, see if people in varying environments think it’s as good. Like the great Euro electronic bands of the 70’s & 80’s did! Hopefully some will try or maybe they will all accept the stereotype “Oh they don’t listen to techno music”? I’m certainly glad the Detroit pioneers didn’t listen to the old bullshit stereotypes twenty years ago “Oh they don’t like music with too many beats in it” and “They can’t dance anyway” we would have all lost if they did.
So far all the most famous electronic labels, producers and artists currently hitting the charts in the UK, Japan and Europe are just as obscure here in the inner city of Detroit and America as we are. That wasn’t the case in the 70’s and the 80’s. What changed? Artists ask your labels to do something about that, especially if your label has “World Rights” to your music. Labels ask your US distributors what the fuck is going on? Why aren’t you trying?
It’s a big world and many, many people that your pre-concieved stereotypes would lead you to believe they have no interest in your music would actually love to at least have the chance to hear your music. Don’t let STEREOTYPES limit your music we didn’t and neither does HipHop. Isn’t it strange that seemingly the most intelligent musics seem to become exclusionary? Once music reaches the upper crust of economic society and the more priviledged it suddenly adopts their same hierarchical class structures? I think that’s the lesson for all of us to learn.

What does a House and Techno Label has to offer kids who want to “make it big” fast?

A) Nothing … we can only offer a spiritual situation in which you can find exactly who UR thru the music if your shit is good enough in a global market. Anything more than that is a blessing. For most small independant labels that’s all we can offer HOPE. Many artists come to us initially humble and with only the desire to make a record, hear a DJ play it, see people dance to it. But often especially with UR you may get a chance to travel. The kid may see the world, see the money, see the lifestyle and see the women. At that point often the desire changes and the innocence lost. The music loses its original impetus and its edge and consequently your shit doesn’t come out on UR and its time. We lose artists to this phenomena constantly. And what’s sad sometimes you can’t blame the guy. It’s truly their only possibility at a better life. I only get mad if they don’t help another guy from a similar situation and mentor them. That’s fucked up and selfish! But it has happened. In fact the only guys I can truly say did music from their hearts and continue to push the boundaries and take chances is Jeff Mills and Rob Hood. They are both honorary lifetime members of UR and often help us financially, with gigs, appearances, projects, mentoring or with global advice as we don’t get out as often as they do.

Hasn’t the success of the whole Bling-Bling-Lifestyle that a lot of Rap/HipHop is promoting these days made a more grassroots approach like yours harder?

Contrary to popular opinion most people in our neighborhoods associate that lifestyle not with success but just what it is: “entertainment”. Nothing more. Crazy kids just having fun. And believe it or not many of these kids don’t take it serious either because they know what lurks on “The other side of Bling”. And for people who actually take “Bling” serious. They are often associated with “Ballin”. Which for those who don’t know is selling dope. Some people perp fraud and dress bling hang out with Ballers but they don’t roll, a dangerous thing to do. All these people are seen by the community as people who unfortunately by their own choice must live life fast due to the high death rates associated to their way of life … It’s like the life of a mosquito or some shit! These guys know damn well what lies in wait for them. So they live everyday like there’s no tomorrow and are very cautious not to “Slip” a term they often speak of in their lyrics. Needless to say statistics prove these guys are more mouth than fact and not very successful at all. Legends in their own minds, killers of their own people, kings to the small weak bands of fools that follow them. And all too often easy game for the never seen never heard quietly humble combat proven veterans of the shit.
If they make it to prison they’re lucky and they can use their hard earned “dope” money to pay for protection or rent! If they make it on TV they really lucky and usually “punk out” abandon the game, they hood and get that fuck outta dodge to the suburbs and mail they crew a check! But for the majority with no record deals or videos there’s no pool party with half naked girls for them, except the pool of blood they gonna be layin in with they stomach and eyeball blew out, their Bling laying in their lungs, gasping for air with shit leaking out of their asses while people dig thru their pockets and snatch that fuckin Bling off their neck. The only place they “make it” to is stacked up naked in the freezer of an overcrowded morgue we have here.
I applaud the many rappers that do try to teach this part of “The Game” to the youngsters. The unseen side of Bling has always made it much easier for many “grassroots” operations with a real purpose and committed to bettering the community to survive should that organization choose to tap into “the lifestyle”.

If so, how do you handle this change of values and ideas within the youth?

The most effective tool I’ve seen that changes young peoples values here in Detroit is the Detroit Public Schools “Morgue Tour”. It works and is brilliantly effective. Again most of us aren’t successful Rap/HipHop artists, so those videos you see aren’t reflective of everyday life for most of us. We have some outstanding young people in our community that will go on to do great things for humanity. Unfortunately no one is interested in making four minute videos of each one of them. So currently they have no “world platform” and very little representation. We need more Jeff Mills, Rob Hood and Carl Craig videos desperately they represent the true potential of Detroits youth.

Where do you see the future for Underground Resistance and Submerge? What are your future plans?

We will continue to drop code and hidden sonic clues in our ongoing Electronic Warfare with the programmers who seek to contain our minds. And we will scour the hood for hungry sonic assassins and audiovirus creators like the Aquanauts, Nomadico, DJ Skurge, The Illustrator, Pervtech, Atlantis and others! Also we know that we cannot compete with such huge promotional budgets, magazine advertising costs and publicists fee’s that are entrenched in the music now as you can basically purchase your popularity now. We will continue to have faith that you cannot buy soul, you cannot buy funk, you cannot buy life experiences, you can’t pay people to dance when they don’t feel it and you cannot copy our uniquely fucked up, warped perspective of this music. But in the future even if we are dead and gone. We have been successful as our records will survive us and maybe on some old fucked up 1200 turntable a thousand years from now an unknown young warrior will drop the needle on an old scratched up UR record and the “Moor Horsemen” will ride again. This interview has been coded “For those who know”.

About The Author

Elektronische Lebensaspekte.