Emergency Nothing, as a title and concept, seems to be about Dones’ and Nowak’s frustration with the prevailing mis-diagnosis of their city by their peers and contemporaries from other cultural hotspots around the country. Artist exposure is important of course, but the co-founders of Haute to Death seem to be focused primarily on shifting the narrative of Detroit from a wasteland of doom and gloom, to that of a fruitful hub for some of the countries most exciting artistic voices. That is not to say that conditions there aren’t tough for aspiring artists. They are. It just that Detroit hasn’t exactly reached Thunderdome levels quite yet. Spiked shoulder pads aside, the Haute to Death aesthetic lurks somewhere between gritty film noir and glossy high fashion. The core of it’s over arching concept, according to the artists, is that death is inescapable. Pretty heavy stuff, no doubt, and it’s not doing any favors for our bleak outlook on the city, but we must concede that the greatest art in the public sphere is that which goes for the jugular-the most insane poles of heightened human emotion. This is a psychological arena that most contemporary artists eschew like the plague, mostly because they are afraid of alienating their audience and potential buyers. Dones and Nowak have no such fears, and for that alone, they and their superb selection of Detroit artists deserve to be commended. The stunning work should speak for itself, but if New Yorkers are too cool to commend, the least they (we) can do is listen.
Kurt McVey: Before we talk about Haute to Death, I want to talk about Ass Falcon, which might be the greatest name for a dance party in the history of dance parties. Where did that name come from?
Ash Nowak: Thanks! Isn’t it awesome? I actually saw it scribbled on a bar where I used to work and a light bulb just went off. It was totally irreverent and really set the tone for these crazy parties we were throwing in the early 2000s. I would charge one dollar at the door just so we could pay a guy to clean up the atrocity of a mess once the party was over.
McVey: Glitter, blood, feathers, and other indistinguishable bodily fluids-I know what that looks like, and it’s not pretty. [laughs]
Nowak: Some broken glass, always some ripped nylons…[laughs]
McVey: Did Haute to Death come directly after Ass Falcon?
Jon Dones: No, first we got pulled into Dorkwave, which has been going on in Detroit for about a decade now.
McVey: Tell us a little about Dorkwave; another amazing term from the dark annals of the Urban Dictionary. [laughs]
Nowak: [Laughs] Our city definitely has the best party names.
Dones: Dorkwave was really great because it was a confluence of all these different scenes that were happening at the same time. You’d go there and run into garage rockers, kids in Detroit Techno Militia hoodies-straight, gay-it was all over the place, but totally inclusive. Djs and mixing wasn’t a concern as much as the actual song selection. It wasn’t a total free for all, but it was close to it.
Nowak: The Dorkwave years were very much our Detroit coming of age years.
Dones: Around this same time other formative parties like Untitled and Sass came to an end. Either the djs who threw those parties left or maybe the club closed, regardless, there was a void to be filled. We had confidence that we knew enough people, and knew what good art looked like and what music really got people dancing. So in October 2007, we threw our first Haute to Death party.
McVey: Ash, can you tell us a little bit about what Haute to Death means for you?
Nowak: Sure. We play rather heavily with dichotomy; the “black and white” of the issue, if you will. “Haute” of course, is the highest, most frivolous form of adornment. It represents the very top of whatever medium, industry, or universe it represents. We want to set the barometer and bring a balance to this idea. We want to showcase the inescapable gravity and inertia that inevitably connects the streets to the high art world. I like to say it’s the art of making one dollar look like a million.
McVey: How did you come to be involved with Playground Detroit, the non-profit organization and art collective that is helping you produce Emergency Nothing, your February 20th show at Culturefix.
Dones: We’ve actually known its founders, Paulina [Petkoski] and Sam [Banks Schefman] for a couple of years now.
Nowak: They came to a bunch of our parties in the past and we’ve been trying to contribute to their events for some time, but for one reason or another, we couldn’t make it happen.
Dones: We’re happy to finally be able to collaborate with Playground Detroit because, in all honesty, Detroit has a terrible P.R. problem. The city is historically bad in telling its own story. Mainstream media focuses almost entirely on the negative. These diminutively systemic corporate and financial issues, though this sounds strange, actually have little to do with most people who live there. So there exists this blanket of gloom over a city that’s actually quite positive, warm, supportive, and resilient. This is what’s great about Playground [Detroit], they shine a light on the positive aspects of our city.
McVey: It’s true. I think New Yorkers especially tend to fetishize about this post-apocalyptic atmosphere in Detroit. It’s this consolation type attitude; things are bad here in New York, but they can’t be as bad as Detroit. Is this the idea behind Emergency Nothing? Are you essentially telling people outside of Detroit to relax, no need to ring the alarm? Are you attempting to tell Detroit’s true story?
Nowak: Hell yeah, we are! [laughs]
Dones: [Laughs] Well, we’re touching on a very small facet of a really big city. There are many different artists in many different mediums in Detroit who have their own story to tell. We represent one voice that has come to prominence in the last six to ten years. Detroit like many cities with polarized voices, is a place of contrast with drastically different points of view, where amazing things somehow emerge out of a place without many resources. This is the experience and ethos for most artists, but for Detroit in a macro way, it becomes slightly amplified.
McVey: Have either of you ever lived in New York City, or Brooklyn?
Nowak: Oh, Jon has.
Dones: Yeah, I lived in New York for most of ’05 and ’06.
McVey: What do you miss the most?
Dones: To be honest with you, not very much. [laughs]
Nowak: New York is cool, we’ll give you that, but Detroit, that’s our home.