Circuit Cities

If you came of age during the glory years of local rock and funk, watching the rise of the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and Prince, you could be forgiven for thinking that, with some small exceptions, the Twin Cities music scene has been creatively dead ever since.

Still, you would be very wrong.

You would know you're wrong if you'd been packed into a cave in St. Paul two weeks ago at 2:30 a.m. with nearly a thousand revelers, as a group of local and international DJs hammered the crowd with rolling, abstract jungle beats. Or if you turned up at any of the mega-parties hosted by DJ ESP (a.k.a. Woody McBride) that pump techno through arena-size sound systems in close warehouse spaces. Or if you slipped into an armchair with the new CD by Uptown residents Sukpatch on your headphones, wondering about the connection between breakbeat DJing, the Beach Boys, and heavy cannabis use.

The local electronic underground is not underground solely by choice. With a core audience between 16 and 20 years old and a zeitgeist that has little to do with alcohol, it is mostly shunned by club owners--especially on weekends, when liquor sales dictate programming. And as with rock & roll in its early years, mainstream fearmongering has made the music an even greater pariah. Techno parties and raves "have a reputation for being big drug orgies," as a local daily recently put it. And hip hop--the original DJ music--is still stigmatized by its association with fan violence and gangsta culture.

Still, the music has managed to thrive locally, as the artists profiled below can attest. And it's worth noting that techno, like house, is music born in Middle America (Detroit and Chicago, respectively). The current Twin Cities scene can also trace its roots back to local industrial artists of the '80s (see sidebar), as well as Prince's early experiments with drum-machine-driven funk. With modern electronic musicians suddenly getting attention as the Next Big Thing, it remains to be seen how much of a mainstream impact Twin Cities artists will make. In the meantime we can enjoy the sounds, and look forward to saying we knew 'em when...

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