Detroit In Effect: “I’m not in a box. I do what I feel…”

Detroit In Effect. Formerly the dual project of both Tameko J Williams a.k.a Maaco and Odell Perry a.k.a DJ P-Dog, Tameko has assumed sole responsibility for this legendary Detroit outfit. Steeped in history, Tameko grew up with a fair share of musical revolutions right before his eyes. From Motown and blues since birth to the ignition of hip-hop, right into the explosion of techno as we know it today. His knowledge lays bare the rich truths of what makes Detroit such a special musical city; the finite details that many forget.

An open and honest character, Tameko’s warmth for both people and music naturally feeds his productions. Always looking to spread joy and happiness through his best known medium. With knew material on the way, we spoke with the ever-insightful Detroit In Effect. Talking at length on his musical history and experience as a Black artist in dance music, we also get the lowdown on treasured memories, lessons learned and his unstoppable resistance to being placed in a box.

Hyponik · First Listen: Detroit In Effect – ‘Stick Up’ (Avoidant)

You’re born and raised in Detroit. I only can imagine how much of an interesting place this was to grow up. What are your memories of music growing up? Do you feel music helped you learn throughout your life?

I was born in ’72. Detroit is a very musical city. We’re the home of Motown. We’re the Gospel capital of the world, we have some of the best Gospel music that ever came out of anywhere. We had the funk stuff with George Clinton. We all grew up to music, it played a major role in our lives. Music is what helped shape us. I often say there’s a difference between my generation and the kids coming up now. We were so much more rounded when it comes to music because we listened to everything, there was no ‘in-the-box’ with us. The radio stations played everything, you would hear some R’n’B, some pop, blues, a variety of songs all on one station. In the 80’s, we had ‘Friday Night Videos’ which was everything from Michael Jackson to Billy Joel; I mean EVERYTHING! We appreciated so much.

We also had a DJ, back in the day, named [The Electrifying] Mojo. Whatever we weren’t hearing on the radio, Mojo was giving it to us. He was introducing us to all types of new sounds, things we never heard of! That helped shape a lot of us, our sound and our music selection. You can’t put us in a box, at least me, you can’t put me in a box. You never know what I’m going to be listening to. I don’t even know what I’m going to be listening to. I could be listening to some R’n’B, some Old Skool, some Jazz or some Gospel the next minute. It’s just whatever moves me at that moment. When I’m producing records, ALL of that is coming out of me. I’m putting that into my sound because I’m inspired by all of it. 

When I hear people talking about Detroit, there is this sense that Detroit is far more than just music, it’s almost an attitude for those from there and living there? 

Detroit first and foremost is home, but it has always been about community. For instance we look at New York, it has a swag about it. Some people call New Yorkers arrogant but it’s just their way of living. New York is a hustle city, if you’re not a hustler you’ll get left behind in New York. Detroit is more of a family oriented city. A lot of our grandparents and parents migrated from the South to Detroit for the factory jobs, they were able to earn a nice living. When they all finished work at the weekends, they relaxed, they played their Motown, they played their blues. All of this sprinkled down on us. It just got in us. Detroit for me has always been about community. 

With this community vibe. How does this affect the music coming out of Detroit in comparison to somewhere like New York?  

I think it makes the music better because we are so competitive. We’re very competitive with each other. When we’re producing, every producer in Detroit is saying the same thing… ‘I’m gonna crack their heads with this one’, ‘I’m gonna kill ’em with this one’. Everybody wants to make that track that’s going to kill it. It’s very competitive but it’s friendly competition, it makes us all strong. It’s like that with the music, it’s like that with the dancing, it’s like that with the DJing. I’m telling you, Detroit has some of the best DJ’s in-the-WORLD! The Best! Detroit is a HARD city. If you can rock a party in the city, not in the burbs, I mean in the HEART of the city, you can rock a party anywhere. The neighbourhoods are going to let you know if you suck or not. They’re not pulling no punches, they’re not nice about it, they’ll get you up off them decks real quick. 

You were in a rap group for some time. Can you tell me about your time doing that? 

I was hired to be part of the group as just a DJ. I was the guy in the back, doing the cuts on the records, doing tricks and stuff for shows. At the time, the label owner really didn’t want anything to do with dance music, it was a rap, hip hop group. It happened that one day when we went to the recording studio, the music producer we had got in some big argument with the record label owner. The producer quit. We already had the studio time but since he walked out, the owner of the label turned to me and said ‘Well, hey, it’s on you, you’re the DJ, figure it out.’ There I was starting to try and create and produce records. The one thing that I had going for me is I was always a DJ. Dance music was always my thing. I got into DJing because of the electro and all that. That was always my thing. 

You mentioned electro was your thing. What was it about electro that really gripped you? 

Electro was funky. You could feel it. Back in the early 80’s, I was never crazy about the four to the floor. I thought it was boring. Listen to stuff like [Cybotron] ‘Clear’ and ‘Cosmic Cars’, oh my god! That’s the kind of stuff we were listening to. Egyptian Lover ‘Egypt, Egypt’, [Twilight 22] ‘Electric Kingdom’, that stuff was FUN-KY. That’s the stuff we were dancing to, it was just funky and I fell in love with that. I still try to recreate that feeling I had when I first heard that stuff. The four to the floor stuff kind of grew on me, the reason for that was Chicago. Song’s like [Adonis] ‘No Way Back’, [Jack Master Funk] ‘Jack The Bass’. I thought that was some funky stuff. Then of course, you have Juan with ‘No UFO’s’ and Eddie Fowlkes with ‘Goodbye Kiss’.

I know you were a breakdancer for some time too. How do you feel this time of your life may have fed into your productions now?   

When I was around eleven, twelve, it was all about breakdancing. It was just an interesting time to live through. It was the birth of hip-hop. To actually see the whole birth of hip-hop and be a part of it, we were living through it with breakdancing. We used to go to this party every weekend, we would call ourselves the ‘Detroit Rock Steady Crew’. It was a church that threw this party, we would go there and it would be all different kinds of breakdancing crews. We would just go at it. Breakdancing was a big thing! I remember when the Shell Doug-E fresh show came out, I remember when ‘Tibetan Jam/Reckless’ came out. It was something special.  

When I’m making a track, I’m imaging ‘Can somebody dance to this? Can somebody break to this? Can somebody Jit to this’. In Detroit we have our own style of dancing, Jitting. It’s been around since the 70’s and it’s a street dance. You go to the clubs here or deep in the neighbourhoods you see guys and girls Jitting. Whenever I make a record, I sit back and listen to it and imagine can somebody [Jitter] bug to this. If you can’t bug to it, then nah, let’s scratch it. It’s got to be something you can either bop to or bug to… or at least make your face be like ‘WOW, what is THAT!’. I’ve heard songs that just make me freeze and make weird faces like ‘Wow, what the heck is that?!’. 

As Detroit In Effect, you guys were producing for a while and doing the rounds in Detroit. How did it feel when your music started to take hold elsewhere? 

Of course, we’d heard about people like, Juan, Kevin, Huckaby and all these other guys always travelling. It was in the back of our minds, like ‘Okay, that would be sweet’, but we were also thought ‘Let’s conquer Detroit first and then we can think about branching out to the world’. I remember Odell was going to a record store one day to pick up some cash and drop off some more records. While he was there, one of the guys that worked in the record shop introduced another guy that was there shopping. The guy was like ‘Man, I know someone that’s been trying to get in touch with you guys for the longest’. We would always put our phone numbers on the record, so Odell told him ‘just tell him to call the phone number’. 

A couple of days go by and I get this call at three or four o’clock in the morning. This guy on the other end with this crazy accent was like ‘I’m from the Netherlands’. I’m like ‘What??’ He wanted to buy our records so he could sell them over in the Netherlands! Back then there was no internet, so everything was done via phone and fax. I did an inventory of everything and faxed it to him, he faxed me back saying ‘I’ll take everything’. I’m like ‘WHAT?! He bought it all!’. That man was Serge of Clone Records.

Before that we were making rounds at the record stores selling records on consignment, now here this guy comes in and says I’ll buy everything. He paid up front and said send it! After he got it, he called me back and said ‘Are you guys able to come to Europe’, I’m like ‘Heck yeah!’. I hadn’t even talked to Odell yet. I think it was 2003. We went to Rotterdam in the Netherlands and we had no idea that we had such a large following over there. No idea! I was pinching myself ‘is this for real?’. It was an amazing feeling. I still think about that time and how I felt. It’s moments like that, that keep me going. 

I noticed there seems to be a break in your production output between 2003 and 2008. Could tell us a little about why that is? 

Family, you know, I got five kids. My job at the time was very time consuming and very demanding. I had to take care of my family so I paused this [music] for a minute to concentrate on taking care of them. The time flew by while I was doing that, it just went by so fast. Then I started looking back and seeing the gap, I knew I had to start it back. By this time, Odell had bought a house and it required a lot of attention and he was working too. He couldn’t be a part of it because he was so wrapped up, but he said go ahead. That’s when I released ‘Nothing’s like Detroit’ and ‘FM sucks’. From that point on up to now all the releases have been solely me. 

Then I also went out on the road. Before going out on the road, we were playing live. I tried that. I did a double show in New York and I did a DJ set and a live set. I saw that the DJ set got just as big a response, if not more, than the live set. I thought maybe I should really look into the DJ thing. I’d always been a DJ so I started just booking DJ sets. I did one and then another and another, and another. Next thing I know, I got the Detroit party train going on. I’m touring around the world on the Detroit party train doing DJ sets.

How did it feel coming back and releasing music again, after so much time had gone by? and when you started touring internationally again, how did you cope with that?

It was good! It felt good to put music back out there, getting it circulating. Then to follow it up with going out DJing, that was just icing on the cake. Sometimes I would feel guilty because I’m here doing something that I LOVE to do. I would DJ and I would make music at home in my basement, for free! I would do it because I LOVE doing it. Now here I am, doing it and getting paid to do it! I’m travelling around the world doing it. I’m like ‘Man, God is good!’. It’s a blessing! 

There’s something about that kind of solitude, where you could be on the other side of the world, sitting on a train somewhere in a land you know nothing about it. You really get to know yourself. It was a big difference. Before the early 2000’s when we were going out, it was P-Dog and myself. When you’ve got somebody you’re touring with it’s different. Then when you’re just by yourself and you’re on a roll month to month, in places you’ve never heard of, that’s some faith! You know… 

During this time, you were making music and touring, but was this your full time thing or were you also doing another job alongside it? 

I managed a tire shop…I can tell you all about the tires too! Hahaha. In 2019, I was still doing both. I was touring, I was making music and I was working. I worked it out with my day job, that I would tour in the spring and the fall. Then if I could do something in between that time, I would just spend the weekend on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and be back to work Monday. I would do that and it’s crazy. I would fly home, go from the airport, change clothes and go right to work. Eventually there were too many parties coming at one time. My agent said ‘I don’t know if we’re able to keep doing it like this, you might have to make a decision’. I talked to a friend and he said I don’t know what you’re holding on for, you need to go ahead, it’s your time. I was still a little bit hesitant but then I picked up the Cybertron tour with Juan. It was time to go ahead and let the day job go, so I started doing this full time. 

What are the key things you feel you’ve learned so far, within all of those decisions and experiences?

You know, especially with all this COVID stuff, it really gets you thinking. You’re born and then you die. On your tombstone, you get your born date, you get a dash, and then your death date. Your life and everything you did, is in that dash. You get thinking, what kind of legacy can you leave? What memories will you leave? They don’t necessarily have to be for the world, but what can your family or your children say about you? People that know you, what can they say about you? What would be in that conversation about you? As long as I do my part in trying to bring happiness and joy to people, I’m good. 

I’m telling you, when all this stuff first started happening back in March and April, it was tough for me. I didn’t touch my turntables, I wasn’t inspired to do music because there was so much pain. So many people were hurting and I just couldn’t pull myself together to do anything. My whole persona, my whole thing was about bringing a good time to folk. Bringing happiness and joy to folk, that’s what the whole Detroit party train is about. When all of that jumped off back in March, I felt like how could I do this when people are not having a good time. People are hurting. I felt that pain. I still feel that pain, but I’m a very spiritual guy and I pray every day. I don’t miss a day. I’m constantly in prayer, so I’ve found a way to channel that in. It’s reboot time. 

Yes as you say, this period has been a huge time of rebooting all over the world. Along with COVID, we’ve also seen the Black Lives Matter movement. Particularly in electronic music, there has been this reckoning as this industry has failed to recognise its Black roots. You’ve been working in this for decades now, I’m curious to know about your experience?

I think the world is just catching up to what we’ve been experiencing all our lives. This is nothing new, it has always been this way. Especially when you look at music. Why was Elvis so popular? Elvis exploited Black music. When Berry Gordy started Tamla Records, they would make the music and put the album’s out, but they wouldn’t put any pictures of the artists on the covers. They knew if they put black faces on album covers, they wouldn’t sell. In order to make them sell, they kept the covers blank.

That was in the 60s! This has been going on forever! for-ever! There’s a time for everything, but it’s nothing new for me and it’s not for a lot of us. Back then we would talk about it, we would say something and people would be like ‘They’re playing the race card’. Now people are actually starting to wake up, they’re seeing maybe we wasn’t just talking, maybe there was some validity to what we were saying. 

When you’ve been touring, going to different areas of the world, did your experience of racism differ at all? 

For the most part, Europe has been great for me when it comes to race. There was only one place I played and I told my agent if I don’t ever go back there again, I’m good. I’ve never felt uncomfortable going anywhere, but at this place I was like… okay. When I was on the stage everything was good, the minute I walked off the stage, it was like don’t talk to me. It was like, wow, surreal! The promoters were great, it was just the people at the actual party. It’s so weird to me because they came to the party to hear me play. They were dancing and having a good time, they were into it big time! That was weird. 

The places I probably experience the most racism is at airports. It’s a different type of racist. People look at you like ‘What are you doing here?’. There’s some countries I would go to that were just so white, I just stuck out like a sore thumb. I would have people look at me like ‘Surely you must be going to the wrong place?’ What are you doing here? What are you doing getting on this plane?’ It was nuts! People will see you stand in a line and they will just blatantly attempt to walk in front of you like you’re not there.

What about in America? How close to home is racism for you in Detroit? 

In America, I feel the worst. The worst racism is the American racism. They’re like ‘I hate you. I want you dead.’ It’s so sad. Even as a kid, I would wonder ‘Why do they hate me? Why do people hate us so much? I’ve done nothing to them.’ How can you hate somebody you don’t know? Especially when all you want to do is live your life. One of my newer songs that I’ve made is called ‘Systematic’, I say that in there. I say ‘I don’t want what’s yours. I just want to be me’. 

Here in Detroit though, our police department probably has to be the best in America. The only people in Detroit that don’t like the police are criminals. For the most part, our police are very respectable and they have a sense of community. It’s just no issue. Yet you have organisations here in our city, protesting our police department. The majority of the people that are here protesting our police department aren’t from Detroit. It’s a lot of people from the suburbs. It’s a joke to me. If they feel really serious about racial injustice, then go and protest the departments where you live, that are racially profiling us. Go take it to the people that’s doing it for real, instead of coming to Detroit and picking with a police department that’s for its citizens.

In terms of your music, there’s a lot of warmth coming from your tracks. We spoke in the beginning about how your music can’t be placed into boxes. I see it as having a sense of personality rather than one singular sound. Would you agree?

I do. I agree. When people ask me what kind of music I do, I just say dance music. I don’t like to label it as electro. I don’t like to label it as techno. When you start labeling yourself that you start putting yourself in a box. I’m not in a box! I do what I feel. You can’t label it and I’m fine with that. I always try to put my soul and emotion into my music. If I can’t feel it then you will never hear it. 

I’ve always been saying there’s only two types of music, forget all the genres. You’ve got two types, you’ve got good music or bad music – that’s it. When people ask me what kind of music I play? or what’s my DJ set going to be like?… I don’t know. I’m just playing some stuff, whatever I feel like playing. I like to play stuff that makes me dance but it could be whatever. If it moves me then I’m playing it.

You aren’t afraid of using vocals in your tracks either. How do vocals add to the experience of a track for you? 

The vocal is what brings it to life! Just about any good song that you could remember, you can either sing it or hum it. That’s what the vocals do. I go back again to Cybertron, the vocals was the thing that set off Cybertron. ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’ – vocals, ‘Cosmic Cars’ – vocals, ‘Clear’ – vocals, they’re talking about something in all of that. In a lot of my stuff I’m not just talking about dancing, there’s a topic or a message that I’m trying to get across. Whether they’re silly or not, the vocals bring something. For instance ‘RU married’ couldn’t be ‘RU married’ without the vocals, even though they’re silly.

Then you have ‘The Men You’ll Never See’ where I was talking about people that are doing underground music. People hear this music all the time, but they don’t know who the artists are. They can’t put a face with it. Most Detroiters don’t know a lot of the music that they love and dance to even comes from Detroit. Detroit loves ‘Technicolor’, Detroit loves ‘Clear’, Detroit loves ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’, those records are timeless here…but nobody knows Juan. He could be standing next to them in the grocery store and no one would know, they could care less to be honest. They know who their favourite DJ’s are though. The DJ is a king here. That’s why I made ‘The Men You’ll Never See’ to pay homage and give a shout out to the producers. The people that are making noise. 

Detroit In Effect appears on the ‘Defend Your Planet’ V/A out on 27th December via Avoidant. 

Grab it here.  

Words: Sophie McNulty

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