Planning to Rave
by Devon Chodzin
Halloween Cover Set, by Katie Hanford
Late fall 2022, the British-American electronic duo Mount Kimbie released their fourth full-length, a double LP entitled MK3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning, on legendary independent label Warp Records. The record sees the duo’s components, Dom Maker and Kai Campos, working separately, pulling the threads that inspired them individually. Unsurprisingly, I gravitated towards Campos’ section, City Planning. With track names like “Transit Map (Flattened),” “Zone 3 (City Limits),” and “Industry,” I wondered if anything I’d recognize from History & Theory might show up.
That’s not exactly what I found. Instead, I heard a subtle techno record, delivered with a sense of discontinuity that suggests each track is a snapshot of a larger work in progress, like a tasting flight for vibes. The beautiful, if mechanical, music resembles how I feel about urban systems; no one in my everyday life gushes about modern sewers or zoning reforms quite like I do. There’s something so beguiling yet so serious about it. At one level, that’s what is most appealing about techno. Techno is deeply mechanical, preferring that electronically produced sounds oscillate with precise rhythms. It has a tightness, but as a genre, it inspires dance. At a rave blasting techno, partygoers share in a moment of ego death, permitting moments of collectivity or solitude to the content of the listener. Connections between partygoers are flexible and multifaceted. Embodiment itself is even flexible in the space.  Techno is serious about connections and about future possibilities in large part because of its origins in Detroit, MI at a key inflection point in its history. As a city with growing resources and inter-/intraracial stratification, Black Detroiters sought alternative forms of expression, and in that pursuit, Detroit techno emerged.
Detroit, MI: Technotopia
The origins of techno music say more about cities and their music scenes than any one album can. Techno is identified as the product of Yellow Magic Orchestra enthusiasts, Chicago House fans, and devotees of Donna Summer synthesizing these distinctive sounds. But its Detroit origins speak to the fluctuating social fabric necessary for a sound as distinct and long-lasting as this one to emerge.
Techno arose at a pivotal moment in Detroit history, when social stratification between and within racial groups collided with growing availability of DIY audiovisual technology. In the prior decades (c. 1940s), hard-fought, yet incomplete, desegregation of the auto industry produced rare levels of economic stability for the Black households. By 1970, one in five Detroit autoworkers were Black; up from 3% in 1940. At the height of Black employment in the auto industry, prominent cities like Detroit and Cleveland also became home to increasing Black involvement in labor activism, civil rights, and local politics. Black autoworkers could increasingly afford levels of economic stability heretofore reserved for whites only. 
While the Detroit auto industry helped spawn an emerging Black middle class in the era of the Second Great Migration, it should be recognized that such opportunities were not extended to all Black Detroiters. Social stratification within Black Detroit became a source of tension, especially for young folks in autoworking families. Many suburban Black creators felt disconnected from, or had been taught to revile, the Black music scene in the city. Early Detroit techno fans looked to Europe for inspiration, finding comfort in the work of Kraftwerk and peer musicians. That Europhilia, mixed with Afrofuturism, coagulated into a politics centered around freedom of Black expression in the changing metropolis, especially with the growing availability of audiovisual technology for DIY use. 
Classism and other discontents in the techno movement played a role in its development, but not because of anything inherently problematic within the music. For Black communities experiencing economic flux in deindustrializing Detroit, the cultivation of a techno scene expressed early producers’ visions for a transformed society, one where white supremacy could be dismantled and Black artists could express themselves with total freedom.  At techno’s germination, advances in technology collided with a social context where formerly excluded creators could access and transform the nascent electronic music landscape. That it happened to be a city with growing internal stratification, which would be contested severely in the city’s rapid deindustrialization period, might have been coincidental. However, dynamic social conditions and economic fluctuation play a major role in the development of all forms of arts (think of Dadaism in the wake of the Great War for an extreme example), and Detroit had that. Detroit also had abundant semiformal nightlife spaces, seemingly limitless housing, and accessible community colleges where young creators getting their feet wet could network.
The distinct political and socioeconomic history of Detroit helped make all of this possible, and in a city with accessible nightlife and a ripe DIY culture, techno was bound to thrive. The branch of techno emerging from this period in the mid-1980s is still called Detroit techno, giving the city immortality in the broader electronic music landscape. For a variety of different but interrelated electronic music scenes, Detroit remains a major focal point. But today, how do cities become home to a new genre? What, if anything, can planners do to cultivate a strong music scene?
How Your City Makes Music
For the past 3 years, I’ve been a hobby music journalist, writing mostly for small blogs and online magazines, interviewing musicians I admire and reviewing new records. What started as a hobby grew into a small source of income and led me to work at one of Cleveland’s rock clubs, Grog Shop, as a talent buyer. Live music is an obsession of mine, and now that I’m in Philadelphia, I’m surrounded by even more of it. There are house shows within blocks of me every weekend. Part of why I came to Penn in the first place is the music scene: my partner works as a record publicist and has clients here; I want to be along for the ride. Colloquially, it’s understood that Philly has a great scene for experimental indie rock. But why?
1. Affordable housing.
These days, I don’t know many artists who can subsist on just their art. But, on the flipside, I don’t know many full-time workers who have the time or energy for artistic pursuits. In a place with affordable housing, you can strike a balance: work a part-time job that just pays the bills, maintain a decent lifestyle, and have time leftover to focus on your art and participate in the local scene. In Philly, we have so many affordable rowhomes, places with basements where bands can practice comfortably. Like-minded artists often congregate to cost-share in large rowhomes. Some of those homes double as concert venues.
2. Small, independent venues.
Philadelphia has plenty of these, but many are somewhere between formal and informal. Many concert venues, including the one where I used to work, relied on bar revenue to make up for any losses on the talent side of the equation. In a state like Pennsylvania, where liquor control is comparatively tight, it’s challenging to run a formal all-ages venue. But perhaps owing to Philadelphia’s affordable rowhome supply and relationships that independent promoters have with social hall operators, the semiformal and informal venue scene thrives. When a traditional club like Kung Fu Necktie, Milkboy, or Johnny Brenda’s isn’t a feasible option, spots like Upstairs at Abyssinia, PhilaMOCA, or Foto Club might have you covered. Better yet, your friends might have a house or a warehouse studio, where everyone has more freedom to let loose.
Musicians, staffers, and concertgoers need easy ways to get from place to place. In Philadelphia, not all transit runs frequently all day and night, but 24-hour subway service on the weekends is crucial for enjoying the city’s extensive nightlife options. With venue options across the whole city, Philadelphians have comparatively easy access to any show happening on the weekend. Many bus routes are night owls, too, so the options are out there. Cycling infrastructure is improving, and if absolutely necessary, it is not absurdly difficult to drive to one of Philly’s venues and find free parking nearby.
Perhaps the important question to ponder: is your city a “24-hour city?” Are you supporting the “nighttime economy?” With the constraints we face as planners, we often sacrifice infrastructure that makes the city active for 24 hours: transit lines reduce frequency overnight, street lighting is poorly maintained, policies around sound or business activity skew towards conventional residents and entrepreneurs who serve the 9-5 community. While the amount of 24-hour drug stores, late-night eats, and overnight transit service outpaces many similar cities, Philadelphia isn’t perfect in this regard.  But what it has offered has made Philadelphia a hotspot for experimental rock, with artists like Japanese Breakfast, Spirit of the Beehive, TAGABOW, and more attaining new levels of indie cred.
Halloween Cover Set, by Katie Hanford
Maybe It’s the Friends You Made Along the Way
Above all else, people make the music scene. At first, it seems like a chicken-egg problem: do you need people that care about having a good music scene in your city and will plan the town to ensure its germination, or do you need the affordable housing, the venues, and the interconnectedness to catalyze a scene’s development? And, in 2023, how did that scene weather the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? Some cities are coming around to supporting nightlife because it can mean tax revenue, new real estate ventures, tourism, anything.  Arguably, the best thing that cities can do for artists is to work deliberately towards a future where creating art is feasible: encouraging safety and harm reduction in informal spaces, investing in robust transportation options, preserving and cultivating diverse housing options that accommodate nontraditional live-work arrangements. In Philadelphia, a working group of nightlife and cultural workers have been recommending amenable policies to the city and sharing best practices with each other as part of 24HrPHL.
Unsurprisingly, the urban components that make for a good music scene, one where people flock to capture a fleeting moment in history, like Detroit for techno or Seattle for grunge, are largely the same things that make any city function well. People need places to live. People need easy ways to travel. People need gathering spaces. But, as planners, we’ve been taught to milk as much potential tax revenue out of our cities as possible, with the hope that additional dollars will mean better services, perhaps losing sight of the prize of a vibrant city. It’s a terrible balancing act.
About the Author: Devon Chodzin
Devon Chodzin is a Master of City Planning student obsessed with overhauling our arcane zoning codes and updating our crumbling sewer systems. When he’s not studying the impacts of sea level rise on our transportation and utility infrastructure, he can be found in any given Philadelphia basement attending a show or writing music features for Bandcamp Daily, Paste, FLOOD, and more.
1 McKenzie Wark. “Raving: Second Chances on the Dancefloor.” Frieze 232, January 31, 2023.
2 Thomas J. Segrue. “On the Line.” Driving While Black: The Car and Race Relations in Modern America. The Automobile in American Life Society, 2004.
3 Christoph Schaub. “Beyond the Hood? Detroit Techno, Underground Resistance, and African American Metropolitan Identity Politics.” Forum for Inter-American Research.
4 For more on Detroit techno history, I recommend Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture by Simon Reynolds (Routledge, 1999).
5 Burnley, Malcolm. 2016. “Why Philly Refuses to Become a 24-Hour City.” Philadelphia Magazine (blog). September 18, 2016.
6 “About Studio West 117 | Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ Neighborhood.” 2023. Studio West 117 (blog). February 25, 2023.
7 “Home.” 24HrPHL.