A photo documentary chronicling the complex and innovative sounds of the Motor City

In conjunction with Red Bull Radio’s Live in Detroit, photographer Jeremy Deputat and curator Carleton Gholz have put together Artifacts, a photo documentary chronicling the complex and innovative sounds of the Motor City. Below, read the introduction to the documentary and see the photos that are included in the show.

Artifacts is focused on a constellation of objects and what they can tell us about Detroit, a sonic city that seems to only get more interesting as its fans and citizens observe it. All of these objects – regardless of being mint or worn – needed to earn their stories. A few don’t turn on or move without further disintegration, or even have enough original markers to indicate their brand name or use. Dust, bumper stickers, mold and booze have made their mark.

Others seem to have been treated with a soft cloth or held in a shrine within a studio, home or vault. They flip or slip on, ready to glow and glide their owners forward sonically. These tools and the stories they tell – and the ones they could tell if we could only hear – now carry the weight.

The curatorial team chose a few of these objects at the beginning to broadly orient our intuitions. But most of these items came from the owners themselves. They peered into closets, under beds, in drawers, in storage areas, scratched their heads and said, “Well, I do have this…” They chose musical objects that do more than count time. They bring joy, describe ideology, propel thought, intimidate rookies, elevate bodies, acknowledge audiences… and have born witness. - Carleton Gholz

Tweeter from Club Heaven Sound System, 1980s
Courtesy of Detroit Sound Conservancy

Purchased and serviced by Audio Lite on Detroit’s West Side, the speakers inside Club Heaven created a space for primarily gay and black youths to express themselves through dance in the 1980s and ’90s. Ken Collier became the “Godfather of Techno” behind the DJ booth of the club, situated at the corner of 7 Mile and Woodward. Heaven is gone and Collier died in 1996, but this tweeter remains a symbol of their shared legacy. Donated by his brother Greg Collier to Detroit Sound Conservancy, the system is currently under restoration in partnership with Audio Rescue Team.
Photo: Jeremy Deputat / Text: Carleton Gholz
Fender Stratocaster Squier Guitar / “Axelena aka The Black Angel,” 1984
Courtesy of Pirahnahead

In 1984, musician, arranger, and producer Pirahnahead – then just a pre-teen – bought this guitar with a little help from his parents at the Gus Zoppi Music Center (formerly on 8 Mile) for $650. Bearing the name Axelena, the guitar has been central to Piranhahead’s musical trajectory, from playing with local funk-rock band Enemy Squad to sitting in with The Blackman Review. Adorned with stickers that read “I trust Carl Craig” and “Funkadelic,” this “cheap,” made-in-Japan, built-on-an-original-Michigan-brand Squier guitar is now priceless.
Photo: Jeremy Deputat / Text: Carleton Gholz
Realistic Mixer, c. 1980s
Courtesy of Nick Speed

Bought in 1996 by future producer Nick Speed when he was a teenage intern for Comcast, this already used disco-party-in-a-box Radio Shack piece would eventually help Speed create unique unrecognizable samples for acts like 50 Cent, Danny Brown, and Underground Resistance. But first Speed would have to break the crossfader while making a mixtape in his bedroom and then learn, through trial and error, that the misfit mono-stereo button took vocals off tracks on his records.
Photo: Jeremy Deputat / Text: Carleton Gholz
Zana’s Place Neon Sign, c. 1974
Courtesy of Zana Smith

Zana Smith, the owner of Spectacle’s, first displayed this neon sign in the second floor window of her West Side home in the 1970s. She admits it was partly a matter of ego, but it was also meant to be a signal that her carefully curated house parties, with DJs like Ken Collier, were happening. Smith later brought the sign along to other venues, including the Downstairs Pub, where Jeff Mills and others were turned on to what her generation had created.
Photo: Jeremy Deputat / Text: Carleton Gholz
Paradise Valley Knockers, 1940s
Courtesy of Adam Stanfel

Club Casbah, Club El Sino, Frolic Show Bar, Club Gay Haven… bassist, DJ and historian Adam Stanfel has been for years now collecting with awe and respect artifacts like these knockers from Detroit’s famed Paradise Valley/Hasting Street entertainment district – destroyed by federal highway “improvement” projects. To him these knockers, used to signal approval of stage shows and entertainers at bars, today found at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales and online, evoke a musical heritage – within walking distance of this exhibition – that we forget at our peril.
Photo: Jeremy Deputat / Text: Carleton Gholz
Ghostly Figurines, 2007
Courtesy of Carleton S. Gholz

First appearing on the back cover of the debut Ghostly International single by Matthew Dear + Daisha (Disco D.) (“Hands Up For Detroit”) in 1999, BoyCatBird was the brainchild of Majesty Crush guitarist, longtime artist and debauched Peanuts fan Michael Segal. According to label owner Sam Valenti IV, these limited edition figurines sculpted by Sara Blakeman brought them into the real world for the first time.
Photo: Jeremy Deputat / Text: Carleton Gholz

By Jeremy Deputat and Carleton Gholz on May 23, 2017

On a different note