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Indie L.A. Is Singing Detroit's Tune

November 04, 2001|LAURIE PIKE

Somehow it's fitting that underground music from the Motor City is finding champions in we-love-our-cars Los Angeles. While Detroiters Kid Rock and Eminem have grabbed headlines in recent years, the Motor City's alternative band scene is also burning rubber--aided and abetted, it seems, by L.A.'s indie recording fraternity.

The breakout success this year of the White Stripes, a gritty two-piece blues rock band from Detroit, was greased by the Long Beach label Sympathy for the Record Industry, which has issued the band's three albums. Down-and-dirty Detroit bands the Dirtbombs and the Demolition Doll Rods share the L.A. label In the Red, while the Witches and the Sights have found an eager ear at Fall of Rome, a West Hollywood label.

Why have the Michigan bands gone so far from home? Certainly, the recent demise of Detroit indie rock club the Gold Dollar and the adventurous local label Spectator has left the town short on the fuel that legendary labels Stax and Motown offered emerging bands in the '60s. "We're happy to have other people put out our records as long as they're not carpetbaggers," says Jim Diamond, who co-produced the White Stripes' first album. In tune with his sound-bite-free hometown, Sights drummer Eugene Strobe declines to offer PR spin on the L.A.-Detroit music connection. "I guess the grass is always greener," he shrugs.

On the L.A. end, the attraction seems to be the joy of putting out the word that Detroit is hot. "That seems to be where the action is right now," says Fall of Rome owner Mark Rome. Long Gone John, owner of Sympathy for the Record Industry, says Detroit's underground lineage of '60s bands MC5 and the Stooges continues on his recent compilation, "Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit" (produced and recorded by Jack White of the White Stripes).

Nevertheless, L.A. indie-label stalwarts protectively quash any mention of Detroit as "the next Seattle" (a phrase recently bandied about in the British music press). "The whole idea of a scene in a city is the kiss of death," says Long Gone John.

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