by Andrew Duke
Despite what many might believe, most musicians don't have it easy. They don't have sick days, paid holidays, a go-to-work-for-9-and-leave-it-all-behind-at-5 routine, and a steady pay check every two weeks. While some find financial success and have their various needs attended to, for most musicians, making music is something that has to be done when time permits, after working the day job that pays the rent and buys the groceries.
Mike Grant has been paying his musical dues since he joined the DJ group Men Of Music back in 1980, but he readily admits "real life" keeps getting in the way. "One of the difficulties I find is that in trying to run a label, traveling and DJing, working a job, and being in the army reserve, it doesn't leave much time to be a producer," he explains over the telephone line, just days after returning from DJ gigs in Tokyo and Osaka. "There are times I want to come home and work on material, but my body's so tired and I really can't get any kind of vibe going."
2000 looks to be the year when it all comes together for this hidden gem from Detroit. His house label, Moods And Grooves, has released four superb slabs of wax with more scheduled, a companion techno imprint is in the works, and, despite the day to day duties of life, Grant is finding the time to record for a number of interested companies.
A brief history is in order to understand from where Grant comes. Back in high school in the early '80s, Blake Baxter schooled Grant in the art of beatmixing. He went on to join Baxter's Beat Sound Company DJ crew, and by 1983 the word was getting out that Grant was someone to watch on the ones and twos. A local promoter heard him at a party and got him a residency at Detroit's hottest club at the time, Studio 54, playing with legends like Jeff Mills and the late Ken Collier. Grant also got the hookup to do some guest spots on Detroit's "The Scene", a video dance show airing on WGPR TV. By the summer of 1985, Grant was a member of Detroit's first Hot Mix radio show, "Street Beat", spinning with Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Mills, and Kevin Saunderson.
1985 looked to be Grant's year in Detroit, but before things had started to fall into place in his DJ career, he had already made the decision to join the military. While in the forces, Grant DJed as often as he could wherever he was stationed, and while in Seattle inadvertently managed to work a little bit of Detroit into a certain rumpshaker from the city's Sir Mix A Lot. "I wanted to remain involved in the music while I was in the army, so I told Juan (Atkins) I was in Seattle and I knew of some people who were playing music in the area. He sent me some records, one of which was 'Technicolor' [a 1996 Metroplex single from Channel One-Atkins and Doug Craig]," Grant remembers. "At the time the radio station was called KFOX and Nasty Ness was the DJ on there, so I went down to the station, took some Metroplex releases to Ness, and wanted to see if he could get them some airplay. A few months later, all of sudden you turn on MTV and you see Sir Mix A Lot with 'Baby Got Back' and listening [to the background rhythm] you say, 'hey, that's "Technicolor"! I didn't really think anything of it at the time, but eventually that record really blew up and Juan mentioned something to me about it. He was like, 'Didn't I give you some records?' And I was thinking, 'Damn, you know what? You did!' Consequently, a lawsuit resulted." Atkins got his deserved royalties, and Grant can laugh now at his involvement in this now infamous footnote in electro history.
After his discharge, Grant attended college in Chicago and pursued a career in telecommunications. His time in the Windy City has lead to a Detroit-Chicago connection on the newest Moods And Grooves releases. "The I-94 series," Grant explains, "is a collaboration between Detroit and Chicago artists. I have a couple of tight EPs from Brian Harden to start. He's come out here to work on some things and I've gone to Chicago to work with him on his upcoming album." And the reason for the series' name? "I called it the I-94 series after the expected world series in '84 between Detroit and Chicago--I-94 links the two cities together. You could say we're cousins because the cities are so close. I'm planning some more work with other Chicago artists as well; Gene Farris and Roy Davis have offered to help."
"The Nature Of The Beast" single recorded in 1997 as Black Noise with Damon "Baby Pop" Peterson (based in Chicago at the time) was Grant's initial foray into recording. By early 1999, Grant decided that he wanted to start his Moods And Grooves label to help encourage new Detroit artists to record as well as provide a home for himself.
Despite the quality of the material on the label, though, Grant is understandably annoyed that while sales overseas are strong, they're not as healthy at home. "For some reason," he says, "things are more appealing when they come from overseas. Maybe there's some type of intrigue to someone who's not in your own backyard." This has its disadvantages and advantages. "I'll tell people here that I go overseas to DJ and they'll say, 'well, don't they have DJs in Germany or wherever?' It's frustrating record sales-wise and even getting work as I DJ. I get much more appreciation over there [overseas] as a DJ and with the record sales too. You would think that you would get your most love at home." Grant has a few reasons why Canada and the United States might not be showing the love due. "I still think that America is not quite ready to embrace this music. People have to be a little more open minded here. That's the main advantage I see going on in Europe--they seem to be more willing to try things than we are here. I mean, you have to be more flexible as well." Grant pauses for a moment before summing up his thoughts. "People need to look at the big picture and not just 'OK, here's this formula and if it doesn't follow this formula, then I can't follow it.' We need to take more risks here. There are people here who if they were exposed to the music would be willing to purchase it, however the powers that be", radio and major labels, Grant says, "are not exposing them to that. Those that are making the decisions are saying, 'no, I don't think this is going to work well, so let's go with this. Well, this is selling big over there, so let's go ahead and market that and I think we can get more sales out of it'."
Is there hope for the situation? Grant figures if we can get back to the soul of this thing we love, we've got a good chance. "It can be changed, you just have to keep working at it. Look at Carl Craig. He's been doing it for a while and I see him getting more acceptance over here. He's getting play on MTV and doing a tour here. The soul is gone from a lot of the music," he says. "I was talking with a friend of mine and we were talking about why Blacks don't listen to house music as much as they did in the past. And one of the reasons because of that is because it's watered down to minimal beats or sampled loops. We need to get back to the origins of real music."