Rock music in Detroit reached the bottom of a valley in 2005. The preceding years climbing down the mountain had disabused everyone of the notion that fame and fortune could be found in aping the White Stripes, a realization punctuated by Jack White’s punch-out of The Von Bondies’ Jason Stollsteimer. Touring bands complained about underpopulated and unsafe shows in the city; most of Detroit’s best bands, the ones not recycling garage-rock riffs and used-up ethos, came and went undocumented and unappreciated.
But during 2005 two important events lit the path back up the mountain. The first was the release of the amazing Human Eye self-titled debut on In the Red Records, the second was the start of local label X! Records.
Most of the identity of Detroit’s excellent space-punk and loud-rock scene has sprung from Human Eye’s front man Tim Vulgar (and his previous band The Clone Defects) and the output of X! Records founder Scott Dunkerley.
After two years of just slapping his X! logo on his own bands’ CD-Rs, Dunkerley’s move into serious distribution came with a bang. In 2005 and 2006 Dunkerley put out the debuts of Terrible Twos, Tyvek and his own band Frustrations, three bands whose unique sounds still stand as paragons of Detroit music.
“There were a lot of bands in Detroit that were doing really good things that had never recorded before, and they had been a band for maybe two or three years and still had never released anything,” Dunkerley says. “And I was like ‘man why isn’t there any label in town to put out any of these bands? They’re doing really good stuff and they might just die out before anyone finds out.’”
Since then the size and renown of X! Records’ brand of Detroit music has only grown, as the bands Dunkerley helped launch have released dozens of records on different labels throughout the country.
“For the size of the pool of people [in Detroit] there are a surprisingly large amount of bands that are making music that is really good,” Dunkerley says. “In some other cities there will be a lot of people, but it doesn’t seem like there are as many good groups that take [their music] seriously and practice all the time to create something original. And it’s cheap to live here and just work somewhere and focus on music.”
Along with the label, Dunkerley focuses his time on drumming in the loud-rock band Frustrations, who just put out their second album, Negative Reflections on Dunkerley’s X! Records label. It is a step forward for the band, into some darker and more challenging spaces, and it is the best record to come out of Detroit since J Dilla’s Donuts.
“The songs on Negative Reflections aren’t quite as straightforward as some of the tracks on [Frustrations’ first record Glowing Red Pill],” Dunkerley says. “Some are darker and more stripped down and others have more complex structures and with sections where we can open up and improvise a bit.”
The band is setting out for Milwaukee’s Look Out Fest on April 6 in support of the new record, and stopping by Chicago’s Crown Liquors in April 5 to play with Chicago’s space-punk outfit ET Habit, Galdron and Hellkite.
“I’m excited to play with E.T. Habit,” Dunkerley says. “I think they’re a good match for us since both bands are hard to pin down to one style or genre but we both have a similar aggressive and weird approach to songwriting. Maybe it helps that two of their members are from Detroit originally too [laughs].”