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Detroit Bootytech Legend DJ Assault Actually Gets Oberlin to Shake its Ass

by Saffron Forsberg


art by Saffron Forsberg


Until last Friday, when DJ Assault finally found his way to the ‘Sco, I hadn’t danced at Oberlin in a while. And that’s because I love to dance. This is not to say that I dance well, but that I love some ugly, sweaty, nasty-ass dancing – that which makes you sore the next day. It’s what I know. I hadn’t danced at Oberlin in a while because, in my experience, Oberlin is not really the place for it – not usually.

Obviously, we’re not a party school by any means – we don’t claim to be and I don’t necessarily want us to be – but even beyond that, there’s not a lot of recreational dancing to be had on even the most pheromonal Friday nights in town. I cannot understate the number of times, over the years, that I’ve entered a dark room pounding with a fantastic beat, only to find people sort of…bobbing…in place?

We Obies are not necessarily the most laid-back people alive. We dwell in the home of the four-person moshpit, the inert and subdued porch cigarette, the check-in-question queer kickback, the startled-to-wincing-stoicism noise show, the polite and nodding free jazz jam sesh, the debilitatingly earnest co-op open-mic, the basement-middle-school-dance-but-you’re-in-your-early-twenties-very-stoned-clutching-a-Modelo-trying-not-to-make-eye-contact-with-some-former-beloved…not the twerk nor the grind. The best houseparty I’ve been to in all my time here was advertised as a rave – it took a pseudo-rave for us to have a good, nasty houseparty.

So it's impressive what Detroit “bootytech” pioneer DJ Assault did to the ‘Sco Friday night. Because people were dancing…like dancing dancing. Body-to-body, sweat-slicked dancing. It takes a next-level DJ to get that to happen here.

And the thing is, I was sort of worried about the ever-celebrated, intoxicatingly raunchy DJ Assault visiting the ‘Sco. I worried we didn’t deserve him. I worried this genius old-head would haul ass to Oberlin only for…some swaying. “Ass-N-Titties,” Assault’s most known ‘97 track, is nothing to sway or bob or nod along to. It’s sweaty; it’s nasty and crass; it’s that shit which makes you forget everything else.

And to say that DJ Assault has a rare gift for making music to throw ass to is no novel thesis. DJ Assault, though a duo in the ‘90s, is now just techno powerhouse Craig Adams. He’s been at it since 1995, when he spun and rapped at teen house parties and clubs in Detroit at the height of techno. And he pioneered his own genre of Detroit scene-specific techno – once deemed “Ghettotech” by fans, but referred to as “Bootytech” or “booty music” by Adams himself. The genre is characterized by absurdist stripclub lyricism and hot-and-heavy rhythms. Ray Philp writes of it as “the indigenous music of Detroit.” DJ Assault’s first albums – as a duo, at the time, alongside Ade’ Mainor – were instant club hits. So much so that Adams and Mainor started their own label, Electrofunk Records, in ‘96. That same year, Assault’s seminal Straight Up Detroit Sh*t was released.

In a 2017 interview with Yog Sothoth, Adams explains:

“My music has a wide fanbase. The term ‘ghettotech’ doesn’t accurately describe anything. I would describe it as Detroit booty dance music. I write and produce all my own stuff and do the lyrics on the records. Most people do collabs where it’s like ‘you do the beat, I’ll do the lyrics’ or something like that but not me, I do it all.”

Indeed, original heyday Detroit techno is distinctly club-use-only. Those who made the best shit were those who spun every weekend, who knew what the scene wanted to move to. If you’re not dancing while listening to Detroit techno, you’re listening to it wrong; it’s music with specific utility.

“Most dance music is made for DJs to play – ghettotech was, ultimately, a product of DJing,” writes Ray Philp. “Even in dance music, there are few genres in which that relationship is so inseparable.” DJ Assault is special because he’s both a musician churning out original tracks – over 800, at this point – and an active club DJ. If I didn’t kind of resent the concept of raw-talent prodigiousness, I’d call him one.

But let’s return to DJ Assault…at the ‘Sco of all places. Along with the Obie urge to just sort of…stand there…I was also concerned about the reception of Adams’ tracks by those unacquainted with his lyrical style. Bootytech is distinctly explicit club music – which is saying something. It’s not feminist-beloved music. I was no Dworkin shaking my ass last night. But Detroit techno producer Keith Tucker shrugs this off. “You know why the music is so popular and will always be popular?” He said in an interview. “The women like it. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. The women like to feel sexy and dance to that stuff. Whatever women do, men follow.”

K-Hand agrees. “When I was playing the [Club Zippers] residency every week, it was majority women in the club, dancing. Women really enjoyed that [raunchy] style of music a lot. This was ’92, ’93.”

DJ Godfather chimes in. “People just looked at [ghettotech] as a certain thing, just a bunch of dirty records with swearing in it, when it’s not about that. It never was. There are a lot of records that talk about that, but then there’s a lot of records that talk about footworking and jitting and dancing. Doing different dance styles. And a lot of the records don’t even have words in it.”

And though I’ve been known to be a bit of hairy-legged Lisa Simpson about some male producers, I think I mostly agree. The jams played at the ‘Sco on Friday were raunchy, of course, but also often explicitly prioritized women’s sexual pleasure. It’s clear that DJ Assault, through all the larger-than-life horny machismo, has a certain admiration for women, particularly those intent on their own sexual satisfaction. And dammit, what can I say? I also enjoy some ass and titties.

What I’m getting at, in the end, is that my concerns were mostly for naught. DJ Assault’s dirty Halloweekend set was one of the best I’ve seen at the ‘Sco recently. Maybe we do deserve him after all.

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