Recalling Power: Tygapaw on The New Dance Show, Detroit techno, using history to envision Black liberation & revolutionary acts of defiance

, 12 August 2021

Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, a Black-owned television channel in Detroit broadcasted The New Dance Show, a popular local series that hosted dancers and artists pioneering the city’s techno sound, which was a style of Black electronic music that garnered worldwide acclaim over the past four decades. The series captures a sense of joy and freedom within the Motor City, especially during a time in its history marred by racial hostility and an oppressive economic downturn. When New York-based artist Tygapaw (aka Dion Mckenzie) discovered the show’s archive, they embraced its revolutionary power. 

Tygapaw (2020). Courtesy the artist.

The multi-disciplinary musician, producer, and DJ, known for infusing their experiences across Mandeville, Jamaica, and New York into aggressive and emotional dance music, draws from the series on their debut album, Get Free, released via NAAFI last year. The record opens a world of combative techno stylings and ethereal instrumentals, with the prose of cultural theorist Mandy Harris Williams guiding its arc. Ahead of Mckenzie’s performance at Creamcake’s ‘Paradise Lost’ installation and concert series happening at Berlin’s Kleiner Wasserspeicher on August 12, they describe the importance of the The New Dance Show’s archive, alluding to the impact that knowledge of such a history has on determining their revolutionary intentions, particularly for a music genre that has had its origins obscured by its worldwide proliferation. 

Understanding the past as the basis for revolution is at the core of Mckenzie’s work, an approach that transcends cross-continental boundaries and unites siloed experiences. The act of reclaiming lost histories and the feelings within them provide the groundwork for imagining a liberated future. Over email, the artist known as Tygapaw explains these ideas a bit further.

**Part of your work focuses on transforming or refuting socio-cultural boundaries between Jamaica and the United States. Would you agree and if so, can you explain this more?

Dion Mckenzie: I’m definitely very interested in transforming and reimagining ideas around those boundaries in my work. Both the US and Jamaica are incredibly patriarchal societies, and drowning in ‘misogynoir’. I’ve experienced a lot of the oppression that aligns with that, so my natural response due to my ancestry is to dismantle all of that, just by living in my truth unapologetically. By default, it comes through in my work as a revolutionary act of defiance. I refuse to accept that just because things have been done this way for centuries under colonial domination, that we should fall in line and accept things the way they are, especially when these systems are not in favor of people like me. 

**Your latest record draws from techno history in Detroit— from a local television series to the hardware you decided to use. What about these inspired you, are you offering a reinterpretation?

DM: The sound and visual elements inspire me. The New Dance Show was really impactful for me because of the discovery of that archive and seeing Black folks in Detroit in the 80s dancing to Techno made by black pioneers of Techno. It was incredibly inspiring to see proof of Black Liberation at a time where there was intentional erasure of Black Liberation. These are references I drew inspiration from, in the same way that I work when I’m painting my Technotubbies, and using Teletubbies as my visual reference. I’m flipping them, transforming them, and making them my own. I work the same way when I’m making music. I collect a sound palette and I apply the paint to canvas—the hardware being the paint and the DAW being the canvas. I might have that thing where you see sounds in color, ’cause I definitely create music visually.

Tygapaw (2021). Photo courtesy the artist.

**Do you think imagining the future depends on understanding artifacts of the past? What are your thoughts on access and its influence on what people know?

DM: I believe strongly that knowledge is power. Just seeing that footage from The New Dance Show opened my eyes to the possibility of a past I grew up with no knowledge of. Imagine if we knew the extent of the erasure of our ancestors contributions to the development of modern society? That would empower us, no? 

**In a previous interview, you mention feeling, in terms of liberation, safety, community, and sound. Is there a relationship between this and the knowledge we discussed previously? 

DM: Yes, there is a relationship because knowing that our ancestors were pioneers gives us that validation we so desperately seek within ourselves and our communities to feel more connected to each other. 

**Lastly, I want to bring up your intention to leave an archive of music for future revolutionaries. What do you hope it will impart onto them? 

DM: I grew up not seeing people like me make electronic music. I’m leaving the archives so that they know we didn’t wait for permission to make art that has the potential to influence and impact the world as it is today. There’s so much pain we have endured, and all I want for us is to have a chance to live free of all that weighs us down.**

Tygapaw is performing at Creamcake’s ‘Paradise Lost’ installation and concert series closing event at Berlin’s Kleiner Wasserspeicher on August 12, 2021.

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