There’s a story about Eric Dulan, aka DJ Bone, visiting a Lucky Strike bowling alley in LA, where he met The Roots’ Questlove.
Questlove notices Dulan’s t-shirt, spelling the word ‘Detroit’ in letterman font. ‘Hey man,’ Questlove smiles, ‘Detroit has the most talented people living there. All Detroit needs is a good agent.’
If anyone deserves Questlove’s accolade as international representative of Detroit, it is DJ Bone. From the late 1980s onwards, Bone played a significant role in the city’s techno movement. Spanning over two decades, Bone’s residencies at clubs such as Shelter and Motor have become highly mythologised. Continuing to release almost all of his music on his own imprint, Subject Detroit, and having recently established his performing alter-ego, Differ Ent, we ask Dulan about his creative sovereignty and how he still represents the city he had to leave.
1980s: Learning to listen, attending the Music Institute
When I was young, my dad would play me Gil Scott Heron’s Angel Dust. I had family members who struggled with drugs. I think through Angel Dust my father was telling me ‘don’t mess around with that stuff’. That was a big thing, and it led to a hunger to actually listen to music. And that’s ultimately what drew me to the Derrick May’s Mayday Mixes, Jeff ‘The Wizard’ Mills and The Electrifying Mojo. At the same time, my friends [introduced] me to the Music Institute club. I was too young to get in, so I’d sneak around the back. Detroit is a rough city and this club wasn’t somewhere you’d want act like an idiot. There was no alcohol served. They didn’t tolerate any drugs. They wouldn’t just kick you out, they would beat your ass. It wasn’t about fashion. It was dark and [it had] some of the best music you could imagine.
Motor was a whirlwind. The club itself was a cigar martini bar with a humidor in the backroom. So corny. Steve, the owner, asked what it would take to have me play. I made some ridiculous demands like revamping the DJ booth and paying more money to the DJs who actually lived in Detroit. You’d get $70 if you were a local DJ, but guys from places like New York were getting around $1500. In Detroit, clubs have to close at 2am. It’s really sad but that’s the case. So I said I wanted one night a month where I had full control. That’s when we started getting acts like The Advent – Live, Dave Clarke, Goldie and DJ Funk. It was bumping. [The club] sadly fell apart because of greed. New owners started booking shit straight out of the magazines. I gave them an ultimatum: if they carried on booking mainstream EDM acts, I wouldn’t show up the following week. They booked them and I didn’t show up. That was it. They thought I was crazy.
1998: Meeting Drexciya’s James Stinson
One night at Motor, I was just chilling in the booth when security opens the door. There was this guy there who wanted to kick it in the booth. It was James Stinson. He kept on returning every other Friday. That was the relationship. We wouldn’t talk in depth about a lot, but it was a mutual understanding of respect and admiration. He was amazing to me. When he passed, Underground Resistance’s Mike Banks organised for me to say some words at his funeral. I spoke about him as a man, about what he meant to the techno community and to the world. I was half crying the whole time, it was so difficult.
2001: Performing live as part of John Peel’s Live Sessions
I still get goosebumps when I think about John Peel’s live sessions. Apparently John said “I’ve been hearing about DJ Bone and I’m wondering if he could do a set. I also hear the way he plays needs to be seen so we’d like to do it live”. Up until that point, as far as I knew, the only DJs who had done a session live were Ritchie [Hawtin], Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke. They had to change the location to a larger venue because of the response. We finally get there and John answers the door. He says “Nice to meet you, let me get the record box, it’s an honour for me to carry the records”. That was the one time I was ever nervous.
00s: Moving away from Detroit
You can live in Detroit, but I can tell just by looking at you whether you’re from the D. It takes a lot to live in that city. When people try and test me on leaving, I’m like ‘Man, I went from kindergarten all the way to college in Detroit.’ I paid my dues. But guys like Jeff Mills have done more for the city by leaving. Like Jeff, I still represent Detroit even if I don’t live there.
2015: Releasing M.O.M
I’m a family-centric man. And that’s why it hurt so much when my mother passed. I was grieving through machines in my studio and wrote this track. It was something for me to listen to everyday until I could get back to a place where I could cope with what happened. Like medicine. I swore up and down that it wasn’t going to see the light of day. But my wife came to me with a whole proposal, where DBA records were going to release it on my mother’s birthday. I gave in. It was very moving and it helped people understand what type of person I am.