Mixmaster: Meet a local Jewish DJ at the Movement Festival
A local DJ joins the lineup at the Movement Festival — an annual celebration of techno music in the city of its birth.
Chuck Daniels, born Charles Daniel Bletstein, is extremely proud of his heritage — even if he did choose a less Semitic-sounding alias when playing and producing dance music.
“We have to market ourselves in a certain way, and I figured Daniels would be a little bit more marketable than Bletstein,” he explains. “Now if I was a baseball player, I might have kept the Bletstein,” he laughs. The name serves as an ongoing joke with his father, Jack, who quips that it would make him Jack Daniels were he ever to follow his son into the music industry.
Growing up in Southfield, Bletstein’s family was active in their congregation, B’nai Israel, first in its Pontiac location, then following it to West Bloomfield, where his grandfather served as mashgiach. He credits the synagogue as playing a major role in his lifelong love of music; it was even the unintentional catalyst for his first-ever concert experience.
“My temple had a booth at the Pontiac Silverdome to sell concessions and raise money for the temple,” Bletstein recalls. “A friend and I decided to volunteer to help out. When we got there, the Silverdome’s people came over and said that we were too young to work because we were selling beer. We weren’t allowed to even be in the area of the concessions.
“Instead of getting picked up, we snuck off and ran out into the crowd. We didn’t know anything of what we were listening to. We saw the lasers and all the crazy stuff going on.”
It was November of 1987 and Bletstein, who was just shy of his bar mitzvah, had just attended Pink Floyd’s local A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour stop.
Bletstein’s bar mitzvah was no ordinary affair, either. “Not only did I have a bar mitzvah, I trained for three years to lead the entire service,” he says. “I did everything from the Musaf and Shacharit to reading the Torah portion, the whole kit and caboodle.”
He also was in the choir for a while, and had stints at Yeshivah and the Lubavitch Center. “I distinctly remember the music from Fiddler on the Roof and things like that. And the music that we sang at temple and at Hebrew school,” Bletstein says. “I think music in general was a big part of Judaism [for me]. It helped relate to what I do now. I always loved music and have always been around it.”
In addition to the religious-leaning melodies he was exposed to as a child, he fondly recalls being introduced to the likes of Captain and Tennille, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire through his mother. Add his father’s hi-fi stereo system, turntables and vinyl albums to the mix and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an audiophile and avid record collector.
At the age of 14, Bletstein befriended a classmate named Ross, who had Technics 1200 turntables and a Numark mixer at home. After spending many afternoons in Ross’ basement practicing mixing and beat-matching records together, the two formed their own DJ company. The young entrepreneurs offered their services at weddings, school dances and the occasional topless bar.
Now a respected DJ and producer with 25 years’ experience — he founded label Sampled Detroit in 2002 — and gigs all over the globe, Bletstein is preparing for an especially momentous Memorial Day weekend ahead. Getting ready to make his fourth appearance at Movement — Detroit’s annual electronic-music festival held in Hart Plaza — he says, “People recognize Detroit as the birthplace of techno. [Movement] is very important to us and it’s very important to everybody to have an event of this stature in ‘the Motherland’ of this music. If you can think of Detroit as our synagogue of techno music, we are holding one of the biggest services of the year.”
The analogy is not an overstatement to the fans who see the dance floor as a spiritual place; it’s common for religious rhetoric to be used when discussing exceptional DJ sets and the experiences they facilitate. “Music can be very spiritual,” Bletstein says. “I think it takes you places [in a similar way] as religion does. It makes you connect with your inner self, and I think dancing in general is a direct representation of who you are, because when you dance you don’t really think about how to dance, you just do it. It comes naturally.”
Given dance music’s local legacy, Detroit’s DJ pedigree is one of the richest and revered the world over.
“I imagine it’s got to be very difficult [for the festival’s organizers] to choose local artists to represent our city because we have so much incredible talent here,” Bletstein says. “For me, it’s an absolute honor to be asked to play.”
By Reisa Shanaman, Special to the Jewish News
Movement Music Festival will be held in Downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza noon-midnight May 28-May 30. Chuck Daniels will perform Sunday, May 29; he will also play a kick-off party at Populux on Friday, May 27, as well as his own party, Cosmic Disco, at Marble Bar on Saturday, May 28. Among the more than 100 acts performing, notables include Kevin Saunderson, one of techno’s forefathers, who will curate the Origins showcase on Monday; Carl Craig, a “second wave” Detroit DJ/producer, who is producing the Detroit Love showcase on Saturday; Israeli DJ Guy Gerber, who performs on Monday; and Kraftwerk, the German electronic-pop pioneers whose sound is a direct predecessor to Detroit techno. They will be making their Movement debut with their 3D show to close out Saturday on the Main Stage. For a full lineup and festival tickets ($75-$300), visit movement.us.