It’s three in the morning at a warehouse. Doesn’t matter the city—a neighborhood with a bit of industrial edge, but six dollar/pound/euro coffees lurk around every corner. Outside it’s cold, and the occasional Uber or delivery van zooms by on the otherwise quiet road. The pitch-black sky starts to turn ultramarine and the first inklings of the morning begin to seep in. But from within the warehouse’s concrete sprawl, a freeing rhythm of sonic elation pulses through the crowd of sweaty dancing bodies. It is these very moments that for the past 30 years Detroit Techno DJ & Producer Carl Craig has been shepherding at clubs and parties around the world.
The sum of these experiences take shape in Craig’s immersive sonic art installation Party/After-Party. Initially commissioned by Dia Art Foundation, the piece is centered around a series of mesmerizing half-hour techno-driven soundscapes in a recreated club-like setting, which transports visitors to a night out through Craig’s ears. Taking over the WAREHOUSE location of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA for its West Coast Debut, Party/After-Party explores the craft, humanity and friction needed to create transcendental moments on the dance floor.
Standing in the dimly lit industrial Downtown LA WAREHOUSE space, you are reminded of the beauty in these nights-turned-mornings, a liminal space in which Craig has made a career operating. When it comes to his métier, “I go between being an artist and being a DJ. It’s about the mentality,” he says. While for Craig being an artist means presenting your work to an audience with intention, “being a DJ is more like playing the track that gets people on the dance floor.” It’s this dynamic attunement and multifaceted creative impulses that have helped shape Craig’s storied path.
A Detroit native—the epochal epicenter of musical movements from Motown to Proto-Punk to Techno—Craig grew up unbound by musical silos. On the airwaves of WGPR, The Electrifying Mojo, Craig’s favorite local radio DJ, spun everything from Hendrix and Prince to Devo and The B-52’s. Above all, though, it was secondhand crafted long-edit versions of these songs over the airwaves that resonated with him. Far from the clubs with which Craig and his music would become synonymous, “the way that I was [first] hearing techno music was either on the radio or playing basketball. It was on the court where it really touched me the most.” This potent emotional intrigue and connection began to manifest.
A scratched record, cut tapes, experiments with reel-to-reel. The momentum continued to build. Soon Craig was producing music under a series of aliases, and then DJing, electrified by the energy of venues like Detroit’s techno haven, the Music Institute. Stepping into the spotlight during the early 1990s, Craig’s own music and releases from his record label, Planet E Communications, formed the foundation for a seminal new sound. This scene, now known as the second wave of Detroit techno, represented a turning point for Craig’s artistry and career, which was soon rippling across the world of dance music.
Based in his hometown to this day, Party/After-Party highlights the realities of not only the craft of Techno, but the journeyman rhythm, which many of its leading practitioners, including Craig, follow. Perhaps it is life imitating art imitating life, but you don’t have to look much further than Craig’s current tour schedule for the realities of his métierto sink in. LA, London, Detroit, Bogotá, Ibiza. Zigzagging across the globe from venue to festival to party to after. “Every time you go to a new club, it’s like starting a new job,” he says. No time to find the bathrooms or hear the office gossip, onstage alone, “When you’re a DJ, you have to go in, and you have to hit it.”
Craig’s installation begins with a rumbling solitary beat. It’s dark and disorienting wandering through WAREHOUSE at The Geffen. The party kicks off, the first inklings of the night ahead, an introduction that slowly builds, taking twists and turns along the way. As Craig reflects, “putting on something that has like a long intro gets the people used to me and me to them. Hopefully, we will be able to relate to each other on the same level.” This can sometimes equate to going big with the intro to 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars.
As Craig candidly highlights through sonic dissonance in Party/After-Party this connection doesn’t always happen. You’re tired, you’re sick, the crowd isn’t feeling it. The humanity that the craft necessitates and can cause the occasional off night also creates the incredible. A beat emerges, morphing and blossoming into an intensifying driving force. This marks a turning point in the evening, which at its best Craig reflectively describes as, “something you can feel. Something that is powerful. It can be emotional.” At its peak, the soundscapes of Party/After-Party crescendo to a beat-pounding moment of transcendental presence. You Are Here.
And then the party turns to the after-party. The sun rises, the crowd dwindles, and the sounds of the booming speakers set overhead and around the room to shatter, each playing something slightly different. The unifying moment of connection fades, and visitors trickle out of the installation back into the afternoon light. The room is left with a wistful lull that morphs into a tuned-out ear-filling ring. The party may be over, but for Craig, the beat goes on.
Photographed by Neil Favila
Written by Bennett DiDonna
Styled by Cameron Garcia
Groomer: Caroline Hernandez
Photo Assistant: Christopher Escamilla