Finding the beat in the city where dance music was made.
[Editors note: In this ongoing series, we explore the best and most buzzworthy dance scenes throughout the United States and beyond.]
As of late, Detroit’s most popular musical exports have been rappers like Big Sean, Kash Doll, Sada Baby, and Tee Grizzley. Fun fact: Lizzo was born here too. But before we get into the artists putting up big numbers on streaming platforms, we have to start in the soil.
Detroit is more than a hotbed of hot artists -- it’s indisputably the birthplace of both the Motown sound and techno. Detroit has been making feel-good music for the sake of feeling good for more than a half century. The city's rhythms are smooth, solid, intricate, and intimate.
What's more, if you’re from here, living here, or just visiting, you get the privilege of sharing dance floors with pioneers like Moodymann, Carl Craig, Stacey Hottwax Hale, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, and Wajeed. There’s something sacred about dancing among the people who invented techno and continue to share it with the world. You have Detroit to thank for the surprisingly soulful groove that swells up in your favorite techno track -- accept it as a gift and understand that it is a legacy.
Even though most official clubs in the city close by 2 am, neighborhood parties can go into the wee hours of the night. If you’re trying to cut up with people who aren’t afraid to sweat, move, feel and flex, here’s where to start.
Walk down the cobblestone streets of Corktown and you’ll encounter Motor City Wine, one of the city's most unexpected and unassuming venues. Inside, there’s wall-to-wall wine from all over the world, and most of the time local legends like DJ Dez Andres and Shigeto can be spotted too. In the ten years since opening, Motor City Wine has become the place where musicians come to watch other musicians play, so you never know who will sit in on a set. Motor City Wine has an impressive outdoor patio where you can still hear the vibes from inside. They also host occasional food pop-ups, and sometimes there’s a taco truck in the parking lot.
Marble Bar is a must-dance destination thanks to their impressive roster of DJs like Eddie “Flashin” Fowlkes, Norm Talley, Mike Agent X Clark and John “Jammin” Collins. A classic disco ball hangs in the middle of the ceiling, and there’s a cool little upstairs balcony reserved for onlookers so devoted dancers can get to work. Marble is the perfect choose-your-own-adventure hangout spot because different, carefully selected DJs are booked for the inside and outside decks. The dreamy, jungly outdoor patio is covered to shield you from the elements and ensure that you can get down all year round.
Perhaps it feels like you’re at a house party every time you come to Marble Bar, as it’s nestled very closely to the house next door. Either way, here everyone feels like family. Coincidentally, there’s a monthly called House Party that happens there too.
Located right behind the legendary Cass Tech high school -- which boasts alums like Alice Coltrane, Jack White, and Big Sean -- TV Lounge is the premier house and techno venue for people who take partying seriously. There are two rooms of dancing plus an outdoor patio with too many disco balls to count. Aside from the optics, TV consistently books major house and techno DJs from Detroit like Stacey Pullen, DJ Al Ester, Rick Wilhite, Bruce Bailey, Kyle Hall, Jay Daniel, and Delano Smith. TV regularly hosts the official Movement after party with Detroit Movement Festival promoter Paxahau, during Memorial Day weekend in May, where partiers pack in shoulder-to-shoulder to dance all night long.
There is a Coney Island in damn near every neighborhood of the city, so after you’ve danced your way to exhaustion and need some late-night nourishment, stop by the nearest one for a Coney dog — a signature Detroit dish that consists of a hot dog lovingly covered in meat, mustard, and onions. Longtime Detroiters stick to Lafayette or American Coney Island right in the heart of downtown. If you’re sticking to the old school spots, bring cash -- cards won’t be accepted. For the meat-free iteration, check out Chilli Mustard Onions, a cozy little spot in Midtown that closes at 8 pm.
Tucked inside The Siren Hotel is the chicest, lushest gathering place for a luxurious late-night drink after the club, Candy Bar. Guests are guided through a draped velvet curtain and seated at a series of velvety cushioned booths or at the bar. Every corner of this place is cute as hell. It’s the kind of hideout that disco-era Diana Ross would find comfortable — lots of soft pinks, deep emerald greens, Hawaiian Punch reds, and an eye-catching chandelier. A huge disco ball lights up the subtly lit room and the playlist isn’t bad either.
Clique is a Detroit breakfast staple stationed right outside of downtown. It closes at 3 pm and the after-church crowd packs it out on Sunday mornings, so you’ll have to wake up early from your Detroit dancefloor slumber -- or just go straight from the party to breakfast -- to get your salmon croquettes and grits fix. It’s safe to stick the basics here because everything on this menu is OG Detroit-tested. Any musician who is familiar with the city is sure to stop by here before hitting their next stop on the tour.
In Detroit, the best way to discover off-the-radar digs is to find and follow your favorite local DJ. Turns out, they have stellar requirements for where they play, and an even more calculated method for getting closed arms open and empty dancefloors full.
A handful of DJs have broken through the boys club and mastered the art of turning a foot tap into a full body sway and finally, a full-on sweat. These include DJ Beige, who has a monthly called Chaotic Neutral at the neon-dipped downtown club called Deluxx Fluxx. A nonbinary DJ, Beige credits Seraphine Collective’s marvelous “network of women/femme/nonbinary musicians, artists & DJ’s” for training them up on vinyl and digital gear. “Detroit sets the tone for the rest of the world,” says DJ Beige.
DJ Holographic mixes disco, techno, and house during her sets and regularly tours all over Europe. Holographic can spot a Detroiter on any dancefloor around the globe, simply by their funky style of dress and self-awareness. “Dancing in Detroit is completely different than dancing anywhere on this planet," explains DJ Holographic as she phones in before a set at Berlin’s hallowed Tresor nightclub.
Kenyan-born, Detroit-based DJ Problematicblackhottie is an R&B kid at heart and does deep listening and rigorous quality testing to serve fun and entertainment to crowds looking for substance. She prefers sounds with a vibe and a personality. “DJs control what the public listens to,” says DJ Problematicblackhottie. “If it’s not spoken, the language dies.”