Interview: Eric Cloutier

Eric Cloutier

It’s a few weeks before Movement 2015, and Eric Cloutier and I agree to meet up at a classic downtown Detroit restaurant called “Smallplates.” I have never met Eric before, and we choose the restaurant primarily because of its vicinity to the club that he’s playing at that night, The Whiskey Disco. It turns out that Eric used to be a regular at Smallplates, noting how much the space and the menu had expanded. It makes sense that this would be one of his old haunts – as a booker of Whiskey Disco (back when it was known as Oslo), and also a regular partygoer at the former nextdoor venue 1515 Broadway, Eric was always around. Unable to hold back a mischievous smile as he glances around, he says things like, “all I can think about is this party we did down the street for Untitled, on the 7th floor, with Magda. We basically had to break in and sneak into the elevator. It had to be 115 degrees in this loft. I’ve done some dumb things around here.”

In some ways, this set the theme of our conversation that night – whether in Detroit, New York, or Berlin, Eric has always been the guy who knows all of the places to be. But maybe more importantly for us, he serves as a living library of nightlife culture during a relatively undocumented (but massively important) era of Detroit techno history: that gray area after the second wave of Detroit techno, but before what we could really consider to be contemporary.

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He says he can vividly remember his first house, in Birmingham, Michigan. He recalls how, as a kid, he would flip through the channels on his TV and see the New Dance Show and not understand it at all. But eventually the city and its sounds drew him in, grabbing a job at Oslo (now Whiskey Disco) and moving to Oak Park. At Oslo, he was working during Richie Hawtin’s parties, Stacey Pullen’s parties, and more. But he was mainly playing at the Works – a couple times a week. “The back room [at the Works] has always been a cavernous death hole, but everything else has completely changed. Even when I wasn’t playing, I was always there. We did the Input/Output events on Tuesday nights, and we did our nefarious Detroit Luv parties on Fridays or Saturdays, and then I’d always be filling in for other events, too.”

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But it didn’t stop at The Works and Oslo: “I played Menjos a few times, I played at The Necto in Ann Arbor quite a bit…Foran’s Irish Pub [now known as Grand Trunk]. Corktown Tavern. Hoot’s on the Avenue. The Shelter, for Untitled. I played Bleu multiple times.” I have to ask him about Necto, which is where I had my first residency (in the Red Room). He says that “if the Red Room changed, I’d probably have an embolism.” Thankfully, when I run him through the changes (moving the bar, wooden floors, the tunnel from the front door), he makes it through unscathed. “Even when I was playing at the Necto regularly, I’d open up for Kenny Larkin or Stacey Pullen, but it was a struggle to fill the place. They like their trance there. I used to go to the Necto all the time on Thursday nights.”

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If you’ve been in the Detroit scene for more than a handful of years, you probably remember a web forum called Detroit Luv (“D-Luv,” more popularly). “I didn’t run it, but I was one of the moderators. These people knew their shit and knew where the parties were. I went on there and realized really quickly how cut throat the places were. It was not friendly at all. But I fought back.” Gradually he started showing up at their family nights at clubs like Motor – and they became friends. “I talked mad shit on the forums, but I knew what I was talking about. I could hold my own in arguments.” Of course, Detroit Luv is gone now – it fizzled out. “It would go from having a couple thousand posts a day to around fifty. You can only talk shit on the internet for so long before it gets exhausting. And I had moved to New York, so it didn’t interest me enough. I didn’t need all of my horrific shit-talking to perpetuate, so I sort of walked away from it. I’m still known as an internet tough guy, but in a much lower capacity.”

Eric lives in Berlin now, coming back to Michigan around once a year – but not for Movement. “I did 12 in a row, so I got it out of my system.” Usually when he comes into the city, he doesn’t play or even tell anybody – he just wants to visit his family. He eventually moved out of Detroit (first to New York) because he felt like he had plateaued; he was playing as a resident at The Works, but knew there were greener pastures outside of Detroit. He played a show at The Bunker in New York, invited by fellow Detroiter Derek Plaslaiko, and it changed everything. “I played at The Bunker in December, and had officially moved to New York by the end of January. I just cut and run, out the door, quit my job, let’s go.”

But after a few years in New York (Bushwick, specifically), the reality was it was just too expensive, and too far of a flight from the larger European techno scene where he was spending a majority of his time as his career expanded. He moved in with some friends for a year to save money, but he knew that it wasn’t a permanent solution. Berlin was the answer.

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Eric’s been in Berlin for two years now. It’s cheap, but maybe not cheaper than Detroit. “The rents [in Berlin] have gone up quite a bit. You can’t get an epic loft for 250 euro per month. But utilities, phones, and food are cheap. And there’s public transportation.” The gigs are also more consistently well-populated in Europe – “You really have to fuck up to throw a bad party in Europe. It’s really rare, I’ve only played a couple that were complete disasters.”

Looking beyond Europe, Japan might be the future hotspot of techno, according to Eric. And it’s not just limited to Labyrinth: “It’s fucking brilliant. Maybe better than Berlin. They perfect everything – even the smallest bar has an insanely good sound system. And the dancing laws are gone.” Eric’s most recent release comes paired with a remix by Donato Dozzy, whom he met through Labyrinth. Right now, he’s working on some remixes for Craig McWhinney and Archivist, and two EPs for Sistrum and Mora Music. “And I still haven’t finished the Bunker EP that Brian asked me for four years ago,” he laughs.