By Rebecca Bulnes
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By S. Pajot, Liz Tracy, Kat Bein, & Sean Levisman
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A dark juggernaut of destruction is about to be unleashed upon the city of Miami. And we don't mean the Mayan apocalypse.
No, we're referring to the unforgivingly hard-hitting beats of Punisher, one of Detroit underground techno's enduring talents. We almost hate to kill the myth that Punisher (as the name suggests) is some big, menacing, masculine comic-book character, but the reality is this moniker belongs to none other than Michelle Herrmann, a female producer who took on the identity as a way of fighting gender stereotypes in the sausage fest that is the EDM industry. She also happens to be one of the international scene's most innovative artists, constantly pushing the possibilities of sound and technology in her repertoire.
Herrmann, a new resident of the 305, spoke with New Times about raving in the Motor City back in the day, getting ahead as a female DJ, and running her label, Hej Records.
New Times: How were you drawn to electronic dance music? Were you hitting up a lot of parties and raves while growing up in Detroit?
Herrmann: Back in 1993, I used to listen to some radio shows that were on late at night, playing a mix of industrial techno and ambient experimental jams: Autechre, Aphex Twin, FSOL, the Orb, Moby, etc. I had a lot of older friends who would talk about these underground parties where you could dance to this type of music.
I started sneaking out of my parents' house to go downtown to loft and warehouse parties where you could hear people like Moodymann, Richie Hawtin, Eddie Fowlkes, Kevin Saunderson, and all the Detroit legends play for only $5. The collective energy I experienced immediately made me want to be a part of what created this environment.
When did you first get behind the decks? Did you find it at all challenging to earn credibility as a female in the male-dominated DJ game and especially in the insular Detroit techno community?
I bought some crappy direct-drive turntables and a cheap Radio Shack mixer from a pawn shop within a few weeks of going to my first party, near the end of 1993. I had so many people telling me that I couldn't accomplish being a DJ, which in turn gave me the motivation I needed to do just that.
That's one of the main reasons why the name Punisher came about. I wanted people to judge me on my music alone, not my gender. The name was a front to gain respect for my music. I didn't want to lose opportunities because of my gender or receive opportunities for the wrong reasons. I have always wanted people to respect me for my music above all else. On many of my earlier productions, I didn't even attach my real name anywhere.
When did you transition from spinning records to playing live PAs with hardware? How did your sound and creative process evolve because of it?
The constant evolution of my sound stems from the need to always be one step ahead of the game. Back in the day, everyone was fighting over playing the same records at every party. I figured the best solution was to make my own tunes and always keep it new. I bought my first drum machine in 1996 and continued on that path with my production. Still, to this day, I play live sets with all hardware. You cannot program the sounds you can create by being spontaneous.
What prompted you to launch Hej Records, and where do you plan to take the label in the future?
Hej is an outlet for cutting-edge music, tunes that take you on a journey. I wanted to release all of the sounds and artists that are an inspiration to me. I have done most of the releases in both vinyl and digital form and plan on sticking with that format on future releases.
How has the scene in Detroit changed since you started playing shows? Has it been negatively affected by the city's economic downturn?
The Detroit scene has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years. Parties are no longer at underground warehouses. People dance at various bars and clubs around town. And just like the rest of the world, the electronic music styles have changed a lot. Since the introduction of computer production, it has opened the doors for all walks of life to make music and the genres to become basically limitless.
What were some of the highlights of 2012 for you?
Moving [to Miami] was a highlight for me. Trying something new can change your perspective on life and be a real inspiration in ways you could never imagine. I had lived in Detroit my entire life and decided to move twice in the span of a year. Aside from that, there were many new producers that I discovered throughout the year who I really respect — people who are taking this music we love to the next level.