In the beginning, there was an explosion of sound and fury that rocked Detroit. Now, as the 21st Century takes its baby steps, three veterans of the MC5 come together to play again. Michael Davis (bass), Wayne Kramer (guitar) and Dennis Thompson (drums)—DKT/MC5—embark on their first tour together in three decades, again traversing a troubled planet with their message of rhythmic passion and universal love, transcendence and survival. They’ll be joined by a revolving cast of special guest musicians and vocalists from North America, Australia, and Europe, all set to coincide with the premiere of a new DVD, Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5, to be released on July 6th.
Revered by generations of rockers, from Rage Against the Machine to the Hives to the White Stripes, and credited as forefathers of everything from punk to metal to grunge, Davis, Kramer and Thompson and their musical legacy are more popular today than they were in their heyday, when they were the bad boys of rock and roll who “kicked out the jams.”
Roiling from working-class Motor City in the late ‘60s, they raged against the “human being lawnmower” of a society that—then as now—ground up young people in the pursuit of power. Louder, tougher, and wilder than any of their contemporaries, they fought that power with an uncompromising wall of “total energy”—lacerating guitars, propulsive drive, howled vocals—thoroughly ungentrified by the niceties of commercial pop. Seamlessly welding hard rock, soul music, rhythm and blues, and avant-garde jazz, they put their fans through a cathartic ringer, rescuing them from bourgeois lives and leaving them feral and empowered and on another plane entirely.
“I called us the band of pissed-off pirates,” Thompson recalls now. “We just had this swagger. New generations of musicians hear this stuff, get turned on to it and say ‘who the hell are these guys?’ We’re like the missing link. We synthesized these different forms and made something called ‘MC5 music’ that operated through human dynamics—as opposed to the mechanical, the manufactured, the prefabricated.”
“We strived for passion and fervor and commitment to what we were doing,” adds Kramer. “That was captured on the records. That’s the same fervor that all great art strives for—I’m not saying we hit it every time—but we strived for that. That’s the message that people get back out of it. If it’s put in, then it comes back out.”
“I don’t feel like we’re from the deep, dark past,” says Davis. “What we’re bringing to the stage is just as urgent and relevant as it ever was and not out of step with 2004. It’s not like doo-wop in the Time-Life reissues. We might’ve recorded this stuff last year—and, in fact, we did!”
Davis is referring to the tribute concert taped at London’s 100 Club in March, 2003, where the three musicians were joined by Lemmy (Motorhead), Dave Vanian (The Damned), Nicke Royale (The Hellacopters), Ian Astbury (The Cult), and jazz legends Dr. Charles Moore and Ralph “Buzzy” Jones on horns. The full show is contained in the previously mentioned DVD, Sonic
Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5. In addition to the hour-long concert, the disc includes a 30-minute documentary originally broadcast on UK Channel 4 featuring interviews with Jack White (White Stripes), Mani (Primal Scream), The Go, Richard Fearless (Death in Vegas), and dozens of fans from around the world who converged on London for this historic event. Mojo editor Andrew Male and BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe narrate the backstory and emphasize the 5’s enduring influence.
Kramer recalls the singular nature of the tribute concert: “There are artists today who play their songs and the crowds sing along with them. This was the first time that I ever experienced the whole house singing along—word-for-word, line-for-line—for whole songs. It was special. They knew the songs as well as we did, maybe better. That was gratifying and surprising.” Also included are behind-the-scenes rehearsal and interview footage as well as historic early live performance and TV footage that bridges the band’s incarnations as garage rockers, psychedelic ear-splitters, and outlaw troublemakers. And, available for the first time, are John and Leni Sinclair’s Kick Out The Jams promotional film; the band’s contemporary narration over home videos of their communal living days; and their gigs at the infamous police riots from the 1967 Belle Isle Love-In and the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention as well as rare early television performances. In the process, they were banned, beaten and jailed and targeted as subversives by the Nixon White House. Hearing Davis, Kramer and Thompson’s joyful commentary on their youthful mischief reinforces the camaraderie and history that the three men share. It’s a new fan’s guide through the pioneering musical and sociopolitical world of the MC5 as well as a collector’s dream come true.
“We never resorted to gimmickry,” says Davis. “It was all about playing hard and having a groove and a unity of sound. How could I possibly have foreseen thirty-five years ago that this little thing that came and went in a matter of a few years would still be alive and more prominent than ever? It seems to be growing. I’m just in it!”
“The MC5 was hard-chargin’ and all out,” sums up Kramer. “There were no reservations. That’s a rare thing in today’s world. Everything is auto-tuned and locked-in nowadays. The MC5 was visceral—all sweat and muscle and the whole concept of high energy. It’s a real thing. It’s not just a theory. It’s a way of life and a way to play music. It’s wonderful to share it.”