It's all too fitting that Julien Temple's 2010 documentary, 'Requiem For Detroit?', is being screened at The Arches as part of this year's Glasgow Film Festival prior to a night hosted by Pressure that features Detroit Techno legend Carl Craig. It's not just reflecting the two cities' mutual interest in club culture. Nor does the fact that the event takes place in the former derelict space beneath Central Station that became an institution in any way compare with the near apocalyptic collapse of Detroit's once thriving industrial epicentre depicted by Temple in his trademark cut n'paste fashion forged in his years filming the Sex Pistols.
Yet, as other film-makers have recognised, there are similarities. Detroit's success was built on the automobile industry, a gas-guzzling personification of what in his epic verse poet Heathcote Williams dubbed 'Autogedden', a title later appropriated by eco-primitive pop star, Julian Cope. Glasgow's fortune was founded on ship-building.
The industrial ebb and flow that gave both cities their rhythm in turn drove their musical cultures, from Motown to Techno in Detroit, and from the 1960s dance-halls to the sort of club nights that fill the Arches today in Glasgow. Pressure in particular has hosted guests from Detroit, including Craig, Jeff Mills and a myriad of others.
Yet, with auto manufacturing crashed and burnt-out in Detroit, and shipbuilding a rusting hulk in Glasgow, the responses have been starkly different. Where Glasgow's post-industrial reinvention has been built on a glossy façade of large-scale cultural events married to high-end consumerism, Detroit, as Temple's remarkable film shows, is getting back to its roots and building from the ground up.
The scenes of devastation in Temple's film look not unlike Britain's abandoned factories of the 1970s, where Derek Jarman made his own recession-riven collage, 'The Last of England'. Here too, 'metal-bashing' provocateurs like Test Department used remnants of the collapsed buildings as instruments, before dance culture created temporary autonomous zones to go beyond their surroundings towards something transcendent and utopian.
So it is in Detroit, where artists are reclaiming abandoned spaces and urban farmers are getting back to the land as post-capitalist pioneers finding new ways of being. Closer to home, Requiem For Detroit? has proved to be both warning and inspiration. As warning, it points to the impending collapse of capitalism, a notion which until recently would have been dismissed as the fanciful preserve of pop-eyed Trots. As inspiration, one need only look to another film made by activists living in Glasgow.
After watching 'Requiem For Detroit?', American ex-pat Don MacKeen recognised similarities between Detroit and Glasgow in terms of social deprivation, falling populations and staggeringly bad urban planning. MacKeen visited Detroit, where he filmed the city's thriving urban farming communities. The result, 'Detroit to Glasgow', is a seventy-minute study of self-determination and survival on both sides of the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, while austerity is preached on the one hand, billions are spent on the circuses and bread of international sporting events, while, along the M8, a commerce-driven Babel called Caltongate is being built. As with Detroit, there can't be many more car crashes left to come. (Neil Cooper)
Requiem For Detroit? is screened at The Arches, February 28th, 8pm. Pressure featuring Carl Craig will follow later the same night and in the same venue. 'Detroit2Glasgow' can be watched here. http://www.awayyegrow.org/index.htm
The List, February 2014