Twenty years after Jeff Mills became the first artist to take a seat on a Red Bull Music Academy couch, in a Berlin warehouse in 1998, friend and fellow Underground Resistance founder “Mad” Mike Banks joined Tresor’s Dimitri Hegemann and Carola Stoiber for a rare on-the-record conversation.
Though often mythologized, Berlin’s thriving techno scene wouldn’t be what it is today if it hadn’t been for the fertile exchange between these three influential figures from both sides of the Atlantic. Taking place as part of the Academy’s 20th anniversary edition in Berlin, the conversation explores the special connection between Berlin and Detroit, the critical role of local music scenes in the cities’ survival and transformation, and what Detroit is learning from Berlin today.
The lecture also offers a rare chance to hear behind-the-scenes stories from one of music’s true originals. Banks has only given a handful of interviews over his decades-long career, almost never captured on film. Here, he reflects on everything from the unexpected humanity he found working in evictions to the politics of pitting techno against hip-hop on U.S. radio stations, Detroit’s drag racing circuit, and more.
The lecture is now available to watch in full on the Red Bull Music Academy YouTube and is hosted by Academy co-founder Torsten Schmidt. Standout moments include:
Mad Mike on UR’s mission to show an alternative image of Detroit to media depictions of violence and division.
“What me and Jeff were doing with Underground Resistance was to paint a different picture, paint a picture of dreams and hope and futurism.”
Mike Banks talks about the value of independent and alternative culture as an investment in global peace.
“When gay people, drag queens and nerds are in the club together, that destroys the existing programmed social order.”
Mike Banks talks about Detroit radio and the surprising influence of tracks like the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” in disrupting gang fighting and creating a more tolerant city.
“We had a lot of gangs in Detroit, and [The Electrifying] Mojo would play this next song, and before he would play it he’d say, ‘Not a shot will be fired in anger or hate in this next hour.’”
“Electrifying Mojo is like Bruce Lee’s teacher. He’s like the Shaolin, the head monk of the city. He was our spiritual guide, he was our musical guide, he was our diversity clerk, he was the guy that educated us through our ears and through rhythms and textures and music, and he had a big gumbo pot full of music from all around the world.”
“Our market was so abandoned, I don’t think the major record companies care what Detroit listened to. So the DJs could pretty much go at it however they wanted, and they played what people needed, not what they was told to play. It really, really, made for a more tolerant city. Yeah, we was broke, but we was progressive as hell.”
Dimitri Hegemann on how techno influenced urban development, the Happy Locals initiative, and why creatives and entrepreneurs shouldn’t come to Berlin.
“Take something home and start your own scene. Don’t come to Berlin, it’s fully booked.”
“All y’all moving to Berlin, it’s too late. Berlin already did it. You need to go somewhere, Warsaw, Poland or Brisbane, Australia. Take your ass there and start something.” – Mike Banks
Mike Banks on the critical role of imagination in the world of James Stinson and Drexciya.
“I was always taught that a person with no dreams is a dangerous person. In Detroit, you can get real, we called it ‘grayed out…’ But this guy right here got a dream, [it] had a sound to it, they had characters to it. It was very intriguing to me that guys from neighborhood like what they come from – it was a tight neighborhood, they were from the East side – that they could imagine like this… I’m glad I bet on James Stinson.”