Over the past couple of years, electronic music producer SuperDre has been on a trajectory that has taken her from Grand Rapids to Los Angeles and back to Detroit. These days she balances film and television work with her own recording projects and international gigs at huge festivals.
Even though she’s part of a generation of up-and-coming musicians who are expanding techno’s palette in exciting new directions, Dre continues to do her best to bring quality electronica to West Michigan. That’s a tall order given that Grand Rapids has never been a particularly hospitable home for the genre.
Every Monday for the past five years, Dre has curated BassBin, a weekly event at Billy’s Lounge (1437 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids). The free event showcases area talent and offers a sorely needed beacon of beats for the dance floor deprived. But she didn’t have high expectations when she launched it.
“Good timing, a good venue and good people all happened to converge at one time,” she said.
Part of electronic music’s problems in Grand Rapids stems from the rave culture explosion of the 1990s, which resulted in mammoth busts of druggy illegal parties. After that authorities looked askance at all things electronic.
“I didn’t know anything about any of that stuff because I was too young,” Dre said. “But coming along after that we have to deal with the aftermath of bans on stuff in Grand Rapids because of drugs.”
While she may be too young to remember those legal troubles, Dre does have early memories of electronic music. As a child growing up in South Haven she was first exposed to techno on family trips to visit her grandparents in Detroit.
“It was just part of normal radio, it wasn’t like this indie thing,” she said. “It was just what was there in Detroit all the time.”
At the time she didn’t realize she was hearing the music in the land of its birth. Techno’s innovators — the Belleville triumvirate of Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson — are hailed as visionaries across the globe even though they are largely unheralded in swaths of their native Michigan.
“Techno was legitimately a new thing that three guys were making in their basement, they had no idea it was going to end up like this,” Dre said.
Music has been a huge part of Dre’s life for as long as she can remember. As a child she took piano lessons from her mother. In the fourth grade she took up saxophone, followed by violin in junior high. Outside of school she played electric guitar in alternative and funk bands.
“Pretty much every musical thing that was available, I was in. I was that band geek,” she said.
Thanks to her grounding in classical composition and jazz theory there is a great deal of musicality in Dre’s work, something that’s often lacking in electronic music. It’s a world filled with a perplexing variety of subgenres, from melodic disco-tinged house and the aggressive wobble-wobble of American dubstep to the metallic minimalism of drum and bass. When pressed, Dre calls her music somewhere between minimal techno and deep house.
“I need something funky in there or I get lost,” she said.
In that respect, Dre’s music hearkens back to the early days of Detroit techno.
“When you listen to the old stuff, it actually has a lot more soul than it does now,” she said. “What used to be called techno ... it’s more like an electronic form of jazz than what people now call techno.”
Dre originally moved to Grand Rapids to attend Grand Valley State University where she graduated in 2004 with a dual major in music and business and a minor in advertising and public relations. She has been a fixture on the local music scene for years, but in 2013 she headed to Los Angeles to take a job working on TV and film music for Universal.
In that gig she racked up a series of credits on TV shows, films, commercials and other kinds of projects. She said she’s enjoyed learning to take creative direction in the process.
“For the most part music for me has always been: I do what I want to do, I create what I want to create,” she said. “(The film work is) different, but not in a bad way. It’s forced me to be focused a little bit more.”
She was in L.A. for about a year and then an opportunity with Universal cropped up in Detroit and she jumped at the chance to come back to Michigan. She still keeps a place in Grand Rapids and splits her time between the two cities.
“It worked out miraculously,” she said. “I couldn’t have planned it better. I’m happy to be in Detroit but it’s nice to still be able to come back here when I want to.”
Dre recently finished her follow-up to 2011’s Follow the Fro, an October release is expected. The still-untitled album is the product of three years of intense work.
“It’s been one of those things where it would be done and some time would go by and I’d learn how to do something else. I wouldn’t like it anymore so I would scrap the whole thing and start over,” she said. “I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m like, ‘You need to stop.’”
Along with label shopping she’s working on some videos for the new album and gearing up for some fall shows — including a swing of dates in Croatia. But, through it all, she intends to make it back to Billy’s when she can. n
Listen to SuperDre on Soundclound: soundcloud.com/superdre.