Motor City Drum Ensemble, Lonely One

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[20:20 Vision]


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Listening to “Lonely One,” the latest single from Motor City Drum Ensemble, I found myself focusing on the artist’s name more than his music. In all likelihood the Stuttgart-based producer (nee Danilo Plessow) picked the moniker as homage to Detroit’s many pioneering artists or as a subtle nod to his hometown’s manufacturing claim to fame, but I can’t help feeling suspicious of his choice. A bit more than a year after minimal’s popularity bubble went bust, many producers and fans have found comfort in the “realness” seemingly innate in Chicago house and Detroit techno. Plessow’s music is likewise influenced by Detroit sounds; but as the press material for “Lonely One” admits, his is an outsider’s take that aims for more than emulation. Why then opt for an alias so tied to that ethos?

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For one, a name like Motor City Drum Ensemble seems pre-packaged with bona fides and credibility a fresh face might not otherwise be afforded. Similarly, the name sets the table of expectations for record shoppers flipping through the racks, associating MCDE with Detroit more than the sound actually warrants. And perhaps most obviously, Detroit’s renewed popularity (both its aesthetics and as fodder for sampling, eg. Even Tuell, “Workshop 07 A1” or Jost & Klemann, “CC01 (Detroit)”) makes for profitable associations. [Part of me wonders also why few if any North American producers feel compelled to name themselves after the equally popular Berlin.]

Unfortunately, the 20:20 Vision released “Lonely One” merits less discussion than the name. The title cut is bogged down by an awkward vocal performance roughly approximating Native American chants, erasing good will built by tepid synth strains. “Frontin” mines similar territory as John Roberts’ “Bodywork” with fewer idiosyncrasies. Its bruised progressions, phased hi-hats and undercurrent of mumbled speech are well suited for deep house warm-up sets. The tonal palate of closer “Keep Up” is disappointingly diluted, dulling the impact of snappy drum programming and the meticulously cultivated timbres coursing through its length. Motor City Drum Ensemble’s single greatest point of exposure to date is perhaps his tamest as well — barring that mind-boggling vocal. No matter what a producer’s choice of alias, once needle hits wax first impressions are only as relevant as the opinions forming thereafter.

Jürgen Plessow  on April 23, 2009 at 1:02 AM

No wonderment at all about MCDE’s artist-name! There is a very simple and wellknown explication : His homebase Stuttgart worldwide is renowned as Germanys motor city with business enterprises like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi (nearby), Bosch and others ! And Danilo has begun his musical career
(at the age of not quite six years) as a drummer.
(By the way: Would’nt it make more sense to focus
on his music than on his guise ?)

jogileo

RoK  on April 23, 2009 at 1:14 AM

The Motor City-label refers to Stuttgart, which, like Detroit, is a car manifacturing city in Germany.

RoK  on April 23, 2009 at 1:16 AM

As you have stated, but I’m 99% certain it is not meant to associate Detroit to the sounds on display.

littlewhiteearbuds  on April 23, 2009 at 8:26 AM

@ Jürgen: That is a good explanation and not one I doubt. I made sure to mention Stuttgart’s claim to fame.

The reason I focused on the name (as mentioned in the first and third paragraphs) is that I was more intrigued by the different possibilities regarding Danilo’s chosen name than the three tracks on offer. I wanted to use the review platform to examine the questions I had from a couple angles as means to sate my suspicions. I don’t think badly of Danilo for his choice, nor do I think it necessarily takes away from the music. But when I hear a record whose sound is sort of ho-hum, my mind drifts to different things.

DDee  on April 23, 2009 at 9:16 AM

Something I’ve wondered about too! Definitely not MCDE’s best record, no matter what name it’s under.

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