When Ectomorph is on stage, they are no longer people — they are self-professed “conduits” to another dimension. Their brains construct soundscapes that they create with their hands. They produce music that is sprawling, impossibly intricate, formless but almost tangible. There are no drum machines; nothing is pre-recorded. In a phrase that might seem counterintuitive to someone unfamiliar with techno, Ectomorph is entirely organic, producing techno that demands almost imperceptible obedience.
What should first be understood about techno is that it is far from the pop-infused, drop-heavy electronic music that dominates mainstream representation of EDM as a whole. It is not in-your-face, and it certainly does not demand attention. It’s the kind of music where you take what you want, no more and no less. Techno shows do not mirror the popular notion that EDM is for young people who take acid and wear bright beads — simply put, EDM is for everyone who loves to feel a beat that makes their bodies follow suit.
In conversation with Ectomorph, comprised of artists Brendan “BMG” Gillen and Erika from Detroit techno collective Interdimensional Transmissions, I’ve gained a much better understanding of what it means to perform techno, let alone produce it at all, and how the musical ethos of Detroit has influenced it from its birth there in the ’80s.
“There’s an organic thing that happens when you're in front of an audience, and a crucial thing to us, both having come from (the University of Michigan’s student radio) WCBN — I was a music director, Erika was a program director there — having experience there when we were there, especially during the ’90s. It was a huge influence from jazz — like freeform jazz,” Gillen said. “The easiest way you could say there’s jazz inside of techno and house is watching people DJ, because they’re improvisers. That kind of improvisational nature where the idea is shared with the audience, and they’re participating with their energy, and you respond to that gives a whole new context.”
Their knowledge of music of all forms, especially pertaining to Detroit, is nearly encyclopedic, drawing connections to Ann Arbor legends MC5 and The Stooges among other artists who all share a common connection: the unmatched energy of live performance.
“The power of (rock music) was almost like this religious reverence … it’s got this concept where within pure high-energy rock ‘n’ roll, they’re achieving this advanced, blissed-out state of electronic music, where we go with our events, where we go with our music,” Gillen noted. “It’s hugely important to me because these guys stood up and did things that were absolutely unique, invented things, and the rest of the world reacts and still reacts. It’s hugely inspirational to me.”
If these examples weren’t enticing enough, Gillen went on to include Patti Smith in the list: “She’s very different from techno, she’s a poet. She’s absolutely articulate and verbal. Techno doesn’t give you much theatrics, but you can see her go into this trance-state. And what you get when you listen to this stuff, I think, that’s where you can see the connection.”
And thanks to the University’s student organization MEMCO (Michigan Electronic Music Collective), techno and other forms of EDM have maintained relevance and popularity in Ann Arbor. The club offers students multiple opportunities each semester to experience this unique art form and atmosphere. There is no shortage of ways for students to get involved — whether it be DJing, graphic design, promotion or simply attending events — MEMCO’s focus is first and foremost providing a safe space to dance to music that is vastly underrepresented and misunderstood.
In conversation with LSA and Ross junior Jordan Stanton, MEMCO’s vice president, he illuminated the driving force behind the organization’s purpose on campus and their dedication to preserving this music in spaces that are comfortable and welcoming to all. Most importantly, MEMCO hopes to subvert popular stereotypes associated with EDM, namely misogyny and drug culture.
“Essentially, it’s a community of people who, first and foremost, value music and consequently want to create a space for that kind of music to be enjoyed in a safe place that is inclusive to everyone,” he explained.
MEMCO is entirely focused on the music and making it accessible to the Ann Arbor community. Ann Arbor can, unfortunately, often feel like a small, overwhelmingly white bubble, and MEMCO provides important visibility to an art form born in Detroit by three Black artists that has been overtaken by white men. The organization not only puts on multiple events each semester but also often includes themes that celebrate female DJs and Black DJs, supporting the diversity of techno and its visibility. Ectomorph even echoed the importance of their work on campus.
“I think it’s important to be doing the work of keeping younger people connected to more of what’s real about the music,” Erika said of the organization. “I think that’s something that really is lost, or more difficult for people to connect to, is the history that’s not super well known. Making that connection between people and showing people what the real culture is or what the roots are.”
Gillen added, “I feel like MEMCO is sharing with people the core essence of what this music scene is about. Like this music could change your life if you experience it in the right place on the dance floor. It’s impossible to put into words — it only hints at what this experience could possibly do.”
Stanton shares this sentiment with Gillen about what EDM really means to its listeners.
“We definitely want to make it clear to people that we’re a group of people who love music, first and foremost.” Stanton said. “A MEMCO person doesn’t look a particular way. This is a group of students, and — I don’t know of a lot of clubs where this is true — it attracts so many different people. Because so many different people listen to electronic music. If you listen to electronic music and you’re passionate about the music you listen to, you might as well be a MEMCO member.”
So what should we know about Ectomorph before Saturday’s show?
“One thing that’s really interesting about the show is that it’s one hundred percent analog. It’s all generated live on the spot. If we lost electricity it wouldn’t keep going. It’s not a recording, there’s no samples used. The structure is entirely improvised,” Gillen said.
“That goes back to the conduit thing you were talking about before. We’re creating all the music on the spot,” Erika added.
“From machines. There’s no computers, no samplers, no drum machines,” finished Gillen.
The event is this Saturday beginning at 10 P.M. ($10/$5 with student ID) and features support from Jordan Stanton himself, DJ Horse Jeans, and Cat.