New Book By Hiphop Photographer Normski Captures Detroit Techno On The Cusp Of Success

New Book By Hiphop Photographer Normski Captures Detroit Techno On The Cusp Of Success

As a photographer, entertainer and musician, Normski , a Renaissance man, is best known for his work in hip-hop, where he and his camera rose to prominence four decades ago.

Lesser known, but perhaps equally important, this Londoner played an important role in the emergence of techno music in Detroit.

In 1988, at a time when the city's new DJs and producers were barely known in their hometown, let alone the world at large, Normski traveled to Detroit to photograph them.

This role (the cover of English music magazine Record Mirror) would help build momentum in the burgeoning techno scene that would eventually become an international phenomenon.

Many of these classic photographs appear in “Normski: Man with the Golden Shutter” (ACC Arts Books), a new 272-page collection of his music and cultural photographs taken during his transatlantic tour in the 1980s and 1990s. It is one of the UK's leading figures in this field.

For photographer Norman Anderson, it was life behind the lens that took him to the studios, backstage and other havens of the era's hip-hop heroes, from Rakim to Public Enemy, KRS-One and Ice T .

And that summer in Detroit in 1988 – with a return trip the following winter – gave him up-close access to these pioneering electronic dance music artists.

"It's not a book about hip-hop. It's a picture book about a time in my life when hip-hop was very important," Nurmski explains. "But there were other events that were really important, and one of them described this kind of parallel universe of going to Detroit and some 'Brothers doing the same thing in a different way, in a different place.'

Record Mirror's work included some group shots at Hart Plaza with Juan Atkins , Blake Baxter, Santonio Echols, Eddie Foulkes , Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson; A rare photo session at the time, in which the main artistic figures of Detroit participated.

"Putting them all together was different," Foulkes recalls, adding that Normsky "didn't bring that British swagger." "It was nice."

Footage of the Hart Plaza band also serves as the narrative basis for the documentary "God Say Give 'Em Drum Machines," directed by Detroit native Christian Hill.

This is Virgin Records techno writer Matthew Cullen's inaugural visit to Detroit! Follow the leading group. The New Dance Sound of Detroit”, a double album that caused a sensation in Europe.

According to the photographer, there was a celebrity photo shoot in Detroit.

"I thought I was going to fly to a city with a lot of stars and photograph them," he remembers. “There was never an interview where I said, 'You know, you're the first one to come to our city and do something like this!'”

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Although they weren't considered household names, the people Nurmski met in Detroit techno were full of innovative artistic energy. As a photojournalist accustomed to moving “underground and above,” he felt a kindred spirit.

“I was industrial, more creative and came from the streets,” he says. "So it was a big plus when I met the guys, I was like one of them. They treated me like a brother. Honestly, I felt like I'd been there before.

Normsky and writer Matthew Cullen showed Atkins on tour in Detroit, promoting some of his ongoing work in the city. Normsky accompanied one of them with some improvised children's songs - "hip-house rap," he calls it - which earned him an invitation to Atkins' small recording studio.

The resulting song featuring Normsky's verse was titled "Yes, Yes, Yes" and was included on Saunderson's 1989 KMS Records compilation "Techno-1". Normsky designed the album cover.

He returned to England in June with a multi-page Detroit newspaper published by Record Mirror.

"People spoke immediately," Normsky says. "Techno was the coolest thing at the time and it made a difference to what was happening musically in the UK. It was an addition to what had become a very popular activity, which was clubbing.

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Normsky returned to Detroit that winter to document the next wave of techno musicians: Carl Craig, Mark Kinchen, Octave One, Underground Resistance and others.

As these early seeds of techno and house music transformed popular music in Europe and beyond, blending with mainstream genres called electronica and later EDM, Normski knew he had a taste for history.

"It quickly became clear that I had the opportunity to be part of something very big," he says. “But you would never have thought that years later techno music would spread throughout the world… while still having elements of using electronic equipment to create dance music.”

Normski's new book was an opportunity to reflect on his life and career, especially in a year when hip-hop celebrated its 50th anniversary.

And those two trips to Detroit are still great.

"I was lucky enough to be at the origin of the unique musical movements that our time has created. So I know what is special," he says. "I had high hopes that I wouldn't go somewhere really bad. And that wasn't the case at all. There was a different energy."

"It wasn't about the hip-hop coaches and all that, because it didn't sound like that. It was just about the music they were putting out and that hungry production."

Contact Detroit Free Press music editor Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com.

Written by Norman Anderson

Acc Art Books, 272 pages, $60

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: Nurmski's photo book recalls the beginnings of Detroit techno.

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