The Dutch melodic techno duo plays Detroit’s Magic Stick Saturday, with Grand Rapids’ own Subtractive opening. Columnist Todd Ernst explores the fan-pleasing emergence of this electronic music genre.
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For those new to “Looking for the Perfect Beat” or electronic music altogether, techno as a genre was birthed in Detroit in the early ’80s by pioneers Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, and Juan Atkins, aka The Belleview Three.
In the 40 years since its inception, what is referred to as Detroit techno as a genre has remained fairly consistent in its sound and ambitions, but European artists had other ideas, leading to the emergence of the sub-genre, melodic techno.
Often defined by more subtle atmospheric sounds and textures, with an emphasis on emotional intensity, melodic techno has taken the U.S. festival and nightclub circuit by storm with genre-defining artists Artbat, Ben Böhmer, Tale of Us, Yotto, and of course, the Dutch production duo Tinlicker.
Bolstered by labels like Afterlife, Anjunadeep and Rüfüs Du Sol’s Rose Avenue Records, it has become clear that the industry at large has embraced this wave of melodic electronic music offerings.
TINLICKER’S METEORIC RISE; PLAYING DETROIT’S MAGIC STICK ON SATURDAY
Formed in 2013 by Micha Heyboer and Jordi van Achthoven, the name Tinlicker comes from the concept of circuit bending which is the creative, chance-based customization of the circuits within electronic devices, to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators. While you have your hands full with musical instruments, you have to “lick the tin” as the saying goes in order to make things work.
Tinlicker released its first studio album, “This Is Not Our Universe,” in 2019 and was quickly championed by notable outlets including BBC Radio 1 and Billboard, along with heavy rotation on SiriusXM’s Chill Channel. Acclaimed EPs and singles followed, including remixes of Kosheen’s seminal hit “Hide U” along with their Beatport #1 edit of 1990’s club smash “Children” by Robert Miles.
Van Achthoven tells Local Spins: “While recording our first album together there is no question our characters are different, but the result was the ensuing tension that arises in the search of that balance between two artists. ‘Universe’ also represents a lot of diversity as many tracks on the album have a similar character, but are still different from each other — an accurate reflection of who Micha and I are as individuals.”
“In Another Lifetime,” the Dutch duo’s second album, presents a new chapter in demonstrating vast personal and artistic growth. The dark foreboding, “You Take My Hand” with Jamie Irrepressible of Röyksopp fame, carries forward characteristics of each artist quite perfectly.
Interestingly, the collaboration with Spanish producer Dosem unveiled “Hypnotised,” which was the official opening song of Tesla’s new factory in Texas. I reached out to Elon Musk’s people through a private channel about how this decision came to be, and not surprisingly received no response. But Musk’s reverence for electronic music in widely known, so this in no way surprises me.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE FOREST, AND NOW, DETROIT
During Tinlicker’s Friday night set during Electric Forest 2022 it was clear people were looking for a release of sorts coming off of a two-year COVID hiatus, but what made this set different was the emotional nature of melodic techno in general.
Van Achthoven took Forest festivalgoers on a journey of what can be best described as a “sundown swagger” of proper anthemic melodic techno, starting off with the track “Light Beam,” cresting with their festival smash, “Fractal,” and peaking with their remix of Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat.” Fans embracing the set on The Observatory stage sang at the top of their lungs during the aforementioned rendition of “Hide U,” and all hands were in the air when the Forest came completely unglued while closing with “Children.” (Scroll down for videos.)
In retrospect I had this strange disconnect in that I couldn’t help but smile at seeing people quite literally in tears, as in my almost 35 years as a DJ myself this was one of the most emotional journeys I have ever experienced from a DJ set.
Considering the historic nature of Motown as a genre and their 100-plus Top 10 melody-driven hits, it shouldn’t be a surprise that melodic techno has a found a home in Detroit, albeit it’s a fairly recent phenomenon.
That said, any deviation from “proper techno” in Detroit has often been awkward and challenging if not a downright failure. No question the success of the powerhouse promotion tribe Paxahau and their signature Movement Electronic Music Festival every Memorial Day weekend is generally the beacon when techno lovers think of Detroit — and therein, a longtime music and nightlife industry veteran saw an opportunity.
Brie Clark, one of the talent buyers and promoters for the Magic Stick, sister venue to the Majestic located in Midtown Detroit, put it this way: “Ben Böhmer and Cristoph were the first melodic techno artists to bless our stage. Ben’s debut sold out quickly and opened my eyes to expanding genres and introducing new acts to our patrons and city. The amazing thing about Detroit is there is room for all genres and sub-genres of electronic music, and the crowds at the Magic Stick have made it clear they want more.”
Clark also spoke to the idea that the Magic Stick is going through a bit of an evolution of its own with all new production assets like lighting and video walls. And after a call with Mike Fotias (production manager for Movement), he made it clear that Tinlicker guests are in for a world class production this weekend at the Magic Stick. If you’re familiar with Fotias’ work, you know the man does not joke around when it comes to the guest experience at any event his team touches.
Tinlicker plays the Magic Stick at 9 p.m. Saturday (April 22); tickets $20-$35 are available online here.
Grand Rapids transplant and electronic music artist Alex Hunt, aka Subtractive, will be the first support act of the evening. His most recent EP, “Eyes of Wisdom,” recently charted at No. 21 on the Beatport Top 100 Progressive House releases, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that Subtractive’s recent rise makes him an artist to watch in 2023.
(Subtractive also performs tonight – April 19 – at Social Misfits in downtown Grand Rapids with Drivingmisshazy for “House Sesh,” along with guest DJ Prim.)
Detroit-based electronic artist Thay will immediately follow Subtractive, with Detroit fav KAWSAN providing direct support for Tinlicker.
In a previous edition of “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” I referred to Detroit as the mecca of electronic music, and most certainly techno. So, it goes without question that any artist descending on Detroit must step up the proverbial game as they know enthusiasts in these parts know their stuff.
Clark went on to say this about Detroit: “The artists and venues have made this city feel like home to me. We’re all working diligently to bring in new acts, genres, and listen to what our patrons want, and venues need. I’m passionate not only about the sound of Detroit, but aiding in the growth and development of others in this community as well.”
When asked about Tinlicker’s arrival in the Motor City, Heyboer summed it up best with this sentiment: “We started this journey just making music we wanted to make, with a sound somewhere between techno and house. Previously, there was not really a space for what we were doing, but all of these genres are changing and morphing.
“Previously, if you had too much melody, some folks might suggest you’re too progressive, and if you had too much techno, others might suggest you’re too far the other way. Right now, there is this space that perfectly fits what we’re doing.”
With a show that’s just about sold out in an iconic midtown venue, Detroit represents the next stop in that space Tinlicker now occupies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Todd Ernst has been an electronic music DJ and promoter for 30+ years and is half of the DJ duo DiscoBrunch. While his days are spent as the owner of an indie real estate brokerage, he also owns EXSIGN which is a creative concept that designs and manages corporate, non-profit and nightlife events. Todd is also one of the founding team members for TEDxGrandRapids.
VIDEO: Tinlicker at Electric Forest 2023 (The Observatory)
VIDEO: Tinlicker at Electric Forest 2023 (The Observatory)
VIDEO: Tinlicker at Printworks London
VIDEO: Tinlicker at The Roundhouse
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