Building a community of electronic music lovers in Lansing

Whenever I go out to check out the Lansing night life scene, I can’t help but notice that the music playing is often the same music that is played over and over on the radio. Every bar and restaurant seems to have the same playlist without much diversity. This never makes sense to me – especially knowing that Lansing is smack-dab in the middle of two of the most important cities in the history of electronic music: Chicago and Detroit.

A brief history

There are over 20 different genres of electronic music, with each of those including hundreds of sub-genres. However two of these genres are often considered the foundations of electronic music: House and Techno (Detroit Techno in particular). 

House music is a genre of electronic music that originated in Chicago in the early 1980s.

Techno is another genre of electronic music that originated in Detroit, also in 1980s.

However, electronic music in general became much more popular in countries outside of the United States, particularly across Europe. Several big cities in the U.S. still keep the scene innovative and alive, but I can’t stop wondering: How did electronic music not set roots right here in Lansing?

Did the scene skip Lansing?

I got into electronic music in high school when the MSU station 88.9 hosted a weekly show called the Mechanical Pulse. I loved it and would record the show until my 90 minute tape ran out. Then I would listen to it over and over, hoping to meet other people in Lansing that listened to it as well.

Over time, I found a small network of Lansing dwellers who also share my passion for house music, but it took me years (and a lot of luck) to find these folks.

I started wondering how people new to Lansing, or new to electronic music would find these people or the existing electronic music nights that do exist.

So I started asking around and found that there might be a small electronic music flame growing in our fair city.

Why should Lansing be excited about an Open Deck night?

There are a few DJ nights during the week here in Lansing that I’ve checked out in the past. Monday Funday at The Firm, Turntable Tuesdays at The Green Door, and Neon Tuesdays at Mac’s Bar. A new one recently cropped up that piqued my curiosity- an ‘open decks night’ on Wednesday nights at Spiral. I went to see what it was all about and to ask those there what the Lansing music scene means to them.

This is the first truly ‘open’ deck night that I’ve seen in Lansing over the years. Anyone can play- regardless of experience or electronic genre preference. The organizers set up the gear and you turn up with your CDs or records. They draw names for time slots and if your name is drawn, you play for about 45 minutes. This is the stuff made of big city dreams. I was so excited for the DJs who have never experienced this opportunity before. I had to see it for myself.

Building a community of musical support

As I chatted with the crowd at Open Deck night, I noticed a few trends that seem to be the supporting purpose of this weekly event.

First, everyone I spoke with expressed how there is good group of talented DJs in the Lansing area and having a dedicated space for them to network, learn from each other, and experiment with music they may not otherwise get to play for Lansing on the weekends is a main driver. The sense is to inspire each other, not compete with each other, which makes for a great vibe and open mindedness that Lansing’s music scene will undoubtedly benefit from.

“Art is important in all forms and Spiral always tries new ways to support art. So Open Deck Night is an extension of what we want to be as a night club- all inclusive and diverse every night,” says Sam Courtney, General Manager of Spiral Night Club in Old Town.

Second, many express that it’s easier to become a DJ now due to the ease of technology. But the opportunity to play on a proper club sound system and mix the more established DJs with younger DJs is a way to cross-pollinate music genres for everyone.

And the last trend that stood out was breaking down the ‘127 wall’. By building a new opportunity for music lovers that attend Michigan State University, the hope is that they will cross the invisible wall known as the U.S. 127 highway that divides downtown Lansing and East Lansing.

“There are ravers in East Lansing. I’ve seen them. They go to house parties and bigger EDM concerts in the area. Let’s get them to come to Open Deck night. They would love it!” says Dan ‘DJ Lynk’, who recently moved to Lansing from Washington D.C.

Fanning the EDM Flame

With the increase of these various DJ and genre themed nights around Lansing, I can only assume that our musical tastes locally are starting to grow. Is Lansing ready for a more diverse music scene? I certainly hope so. We aren’t Grand Rapids, we aren’t Chicago, and we aren’t Detroit. But if start incorporating the best of those city’s music scenes here in Lansing, we could grow quite an impressive and diverse music scene. This is why I hope this trend continues. 


Rachael Zlomak Parker is

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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