DJ Minx Selects: Techno Icons of Motor City’s Underground Sound

DJ Minx Selects: Techno Icons of Motor City’s Underground Sound, presented by Document Journal and Ray-Ban, chronicles the rich history of dance music in Detroit through the stories of five pioneering artists. Representing Detroit techno’s First Generation forebears and the next-generation icons shaping its future, each artist will also DJ a special set live Monday, March 15 at 3:30pm EST / 9:30pm CET from Marble Bar and streaming on LostResort’s Twitch channel.

DJ Minx, whose real name is Jennifer Witcheris, has established herself as an essential voice in dance music history with her record label Women on Wax that seeks to create and distribute electronic music deeply rooted in the unique rhythm of Detroit. Believing in herself, her community, and the power of the electronic funk and post-disco music, DJ Minx would spend the next three decades building herself up as a DJ and musician while helping others. Her most recent release “Blind Amerikkka” came on the cusp of the transition of power between Donald Trump and current president Joe Biden. The 7-minute song features vocals from E-Man that denounce the unmasked racialized terror and injustice that defined the last four years of a much longer 500- year-old struggle for Black civil rights in the United States.

Known as the “First Lady of Wax,” DJ Minx’s three decade-long career was recognized by Detroit’s city council in 2018 with the Spirit Of Detroit award for her “exceptional achievement, outstanding leadership and dedication to improving the quality of life.” In 1988, the album Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit compiled and released a decade’s worth of tracks outlining the progressive music that had been simmering amongst Detroit’s Black youth counterculture at a pivotal moment in American history, but the recognition of the sound’s origins in middle-class Black America did not spread as far or wide. After Motown records relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972, the progressive electronic music that would become techno, house and hip hop was being innovated and shared within regional communities that together absorbed and repurposed tropes of disco and funk at a much faster rate, taking over both dancefloors and the airwaves via radio stations in the American Midwest between 1973 and 1985. DJ Minx began her career engineering and hosting the electronic music-focused “Deep Space Radio” on WGPR sharing airtime with and spinning records at Club Motor in Hamtramck, a Polish neighborhood within the city of Detroit before DJing the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival that would later become known as Movement.

“There was a line outside and that made me want to be in there. The music was banging through the wall and their door person was kicking people out like it was Studio 54!”

“When I started getting into it, I heard techno on the radio and this was on an R&B radio station here in Detroit, WJLZ, and on Fridays and Saturday night they would play house and techno music,” DJ Minx was initially disinterested in techno thinking that it was “repetitive and continues on and on and on,” but came to know techno and Motor City’s underground sound in 1989 while dancing at the Music Institute, a short-lived but essential prototype club meant to be the home of Detroit techno. “Every weekend my apartment was the party spot,” she began to explain, “I’d have eight, 10 people over and we’d play video games and chit chat or whatever. And one weekend, a friend of mine says, let’s go to the Music Institute. And I thought, ‘Is it open, though? What do you mean? Is this like an art museum?’” DJ Minx and her friends walked from her apartment to the club and she was immediately impressed, “There was a line outside and that made me want to be in there. The music was banging through the wall and their door person was kicking people out like it was Studio 54!” She jokes, “I’m six foot one and all my friends were taller than me, so it was like you could see us and the doorman was like ‘oh my yeah you guys come on in’.” Founded by former fashion designer George Baker, Alton Miller, and Anthony Pearson, who DJed on WJLB as Chez Damier, the Music Institute was a members-only club lit with a single strobe light and a mural sourced from local student artists intended for serious dancers who were looking to let loose rather than serve looks. DJ Minx’s invitation from her friends opened up a new world of self-expression within a city like Detroit experiencing the financially harsh times of the Reagan era.“ You walk in and down a little hall and then to the left, and there’s the party. So when we finally got in there and I saw that my mouth dropped, I was like, this is amazing.” She recalled, describing the “must-see” spot for music journalists and even the English band Depeche Mode—who opposed the venue’s strict no alcohol policy.

DJ Minx wears State Street sunglasses by Ray-Ban. T-shirt, jacket, and jeans by Levi’s®. Necklace and belt DJ Minx’s own.

DJ Minx remembered that the atmosphere of the Music Institute was resounding, and gave her the inspiration to find her own unique voice within the Detroit techno sound. “It was just so big for me, I had an instant love of music at that point, keep in mind, I don’t know what that shit was, but that was the best, quote unquote, revelation for me.” The Music Institute would eventually close, throwing one final party in November of 1989, but the feeling that techno gave DJ Minx never went away. Though she wasn’t heavily into disco, DJ Minx’s love of R&B radio would lead her to the Electrifying Mojo’s radio show and his infamous regular segment The Midnight Funk Association. “He’s the reason that all the Detroiters love techno, regardless of whatever they’re used to listening to. It’s because everyone listened to Mojo, and he always played techno music. It was absolutely amazing,” DJ Minx excitedly recollected nights of listening to funk and R&B alongside the futuristic sounds produced by earlier innovators of techno like Juan Atkins.

In the early 1990s, the Electrifying Mojo eventually went underground, but DJ Minx insists that “people all over know about the Electrifying Mojo.” Speaking fondly of the radio personality, she outlined that he helped to put techno on the map, “I mean, this guy Mojo would be on the phone having a conversation with Prince!” DJ Minx’s personal love for the Minneapolis multi-instrumentalist was shared by much of Detroit; she would say, “I still am a huge fan. There’s nothing that he couldn’t do musically. As far as pieces of equipment, you could play everything, but it sounded great. And he was sexy. I mean, come on, five foot tall and you got on heels. I loved everything about him!” In 2016, over 30 other Detroit DJ and producers performed at the Flint, Michigan benefit “There’s Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” named after a Prince song notable for its early use of the LM-1 Drum Computer. “That was when the water crisis happened. I’m not sure if you heard about it? I knew there was lead in the water, but they didn’t have safe drinking water, so that party was pulled together to raise money to help the people,” DJ Minx said of the benefit that saw Michigan communities uniting to pool together and donate money and bottles of water in lieu of a state government led by former Gov. Rick Snyder that was failing that community. “Everyone took out their hats and they just went in to donate because that was definitely a crisis and no one should have to go through that. That was unheard of. I’ve never seen anything like it. And people were dying and sick and all that from that damn water.”

“It was just me mentoring young ladies and women that wanted to become DJ’s because they saw that I was making a bit of headway with being respected and actually getting paid.”

Collective community effort was instrumental in DJ Minx’s getting started as a record label owner. She cites Moodymann as an early supporter: “Moodymann, Kenny Dixon would always come to parties where I played and he would just sit and watch them play and they would always leave before I could even say anything to him like ‘hi’ or ‘thank you for coming’. He’d always disappear.” She talked about how Moodymann would sit in the audience with his sunglasses on “like Prince,” but one day he finally approached her. “He came up and said, you know, ‘Ok, baby, it’s time. It’s time for you to start your label.’ And I’m going, ‘What? What are you talking about?’” Her early goals for her Women on Wax label began with supporting women as a collective, “It was just me mentoring young ladies and women that wanted to become DJ’s because they saw that I was making a bit of headway with being respected and actually getting paid.”

Continuing the story of her first meeting with Moodymann, DJ Minx recalls him saying, “I’ve been watching you and so you’re getting better and better. So it’s time to move to the next level. You need your record label. I will help you.” They got to work that very next week and DJ Minx’s EP Introduction would be pressed in 2001 with a follow up entitled Airborne released in 2003 under the Women on Wax imprint. After being laid off from her day job as an information technology project manager at General Motors–one of the big three automotive manufactures of Detroit alongside Chrysler and Ford–in 2019, DJ Minx set out to take her music to the next level with her newfound freedom from the pressures of a work-life balance, “When I left General Motors that’s when the time for music came. Before I could travel on the weekends, but I have two daughters making dinner and taking care of the household… It was a full-time job on top of working every day and coming home and helping my daughters with homework, etc. There weren’t enough hours in the day. Now I have the time to do a lot more and learn my craft.”

DJ Minx wears State Street sunglasses by Ray-Ban.

The first track on DJ Minx’s Airborne release, “Got House?” articulates the transcendent and soulful qualities of the house and techno that she first experienced at the Music Institute. More recently, a year into the global coronavirus pandemic that grounded international tour schedules, DJ Minx spoke about living a healthy vegan family-oriented life. She’s cautiously optimistic about the future and has begun work on new music. “Right now I am deep into music production. I’ve tried to take advantage of the time and started getting heavy into production again, learning more about it and getting more in depth with some of the things that I didn’t know before.” DJ Minx has been working with new technology working towards a “tech house” sound that combines her favorite elements of the Detroit and Chicago iterations of the regional progressive music. She explains that techno is a lot faster than house, and that for her own productions, she tries to find a sweet spot between the two genres. “You may have like a 132 or 140 beat that has the element of techno, but you may want to use the synthesizer in it from on it at a slower 120 house-style BPM to draw out a more soulful vibe.” But with all of the genres that would branch out of the initial Chicago house and Detroit techno formula, DJ Minx would conclude, “I play music that I like, which is faster, you know. There are all these genres that come out with people trying to name the music, and then you start going, ‘OK, that’s too much.’ But I totally understood, you know, the tech house kind of thing. That’s where I am.” Trusting her own instinct, DJ Minx has begun to hit the ground running, turning her music career into a full-time venture, “I am looking to do more with it. I mean, expand on it. So I’ve learned so much more, and I just want to continue to be creative and hopefully get back to traveling the world again. There are a lot of artists that I would love to work with. I’m just prepping myself for that. Just for advancement.”

Ray-Ban’s #YouAreOn campaign celebrates visionaries and authentic people who are true to their roots, and push the boundaries of creative expression for themselves and the world. Tune into the DJ Minx Selects livestream presented by Document and Ray-Ban and featuring sets by DJ Minx, Kevin Saunderson, DJ Holographic, Delano Smith, and Carl Craig Monday, March 15 starting at 3:30pm EST / 9:30pm CET on LostResort’s Twitch channel.

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