On my own Time – An Interview with Whodat

Cologne: the leading automotive centre in Europe; birth place of Nico, Can and Wolfgang Voigt; and home to clubs like Gewölbe and Heinz Gaul and the Kompakt label. Detroit: USA’s leading automotive centre; birthplace of Motown and Techno; and home to Moodymann, Theo Parrish, Jeff Mills, Derrick May and Juan Atkins. Two cities, stretched halfway across the world, speaking foreign languages, with so much in common, and that includes club music. Throughout electronic music’s discourse both cities have held a seat of power for Techno and House at different and similar points, and in early 2017 they consolidated their relationship when a creative exchange between the two cities was documented on a Meakusma record that brought Viola Klein and Whodat together for the aptly named Exchange EP.

“I really like Cologne”, says Terri McQueen, the woman behind the Whodat moniker on a call from Germany, taking time out of her tour for an interview. A regular visitor to the German city since 2007 in the capacity of a DJ, Terri admires the city for its “laidback” and “soulful” air. In “Love for Köln” a track from her 2013 Recovery EP she documents her affections for the city quite openly. Today whenever she comes to visit, it’s like she’s coming home to family. “It’s like Whodat’s here… damn we gotta go”, says Terri with a deep chortle in her midwest drawl.

It was through Viola Klein, the Cologne-based House artist that Terri would make a connection to Europe. After meeting Klein at a “birthday party in the motown mansion”, the two quickly struck up a friendship and in 2007 Klein invited Terri to play at her “Bring you Ass” party in Cologne. It was undoubtedly a success and in 2009 Terri returned, this time with Kyle Hall making his debut in the city that welcomed Terri. It’s not in Cologne however that I find Terri when I call her up, but rather Berlin. She’d just played an event at ://about blank the weekend prior and was in good spirits, reeling from the energy of the night. An accident in the shower has left her slightly immobile, but not lacking in jovial spirit or mood, and her only real regret is not being able to enjoy her favourite pastime in Berlin – digging for records.

Terri had “always been into records” and some of her earliest memories are going record shopping with her mother. As a kid she “listened to a lot of Jazz on AM stations”  and as she grew into adolescence and eventually adulthood she “was still buying and collecting records”. Inheriting crates of records from her aunt and cousin her tastes expanded from listening to Prince’s Erotic City and the B52s to “some Detroit stuff” with “a good edit and a bootleg” always piquing her interest. Those “jazzy elements” from her earliest musical experiences would remain central to her tastes, but a career as a DJ had never even remotely occurred to Terri until much later in life. And then only with some peer pressure from some very persistent and notable characters in Detroit.

After losing her job while in hospital and through a period of “dealing with a lot of personal issues”, Terri had found some solace in House music and through a colleague had been introduced to the scene at the latent TV Bar, which was then still known as Half Past Three then. “I ended meeting Marcellus (Pittman), (Rick) Wilhite, Raybone, E-Smuve and Theo (Parrish)”, remembers Terri. Wilhite still had his Vibes record store (a store she sorely missed today) and Terri soon found herself falling in with a clique of some of the most noteable selectors to ever come out of Detroit, through a shared love of music.

One particular day at Vibes “Theo (Parrish) walked in and said, ‘are you a DJ, because you look like one’” and handed Terri a record, but even at that significant moment she “was still very resistant” to the thought of becoming a DJ. “I was turning thirty and I was like that’s just too old to start.” Terri breaks out in laughter over the phone, mocking the significance of the moment with her pragmatic humour. The moment’s gravitas however is superseded by what would happen next and eventually lead her on her path to a career as a DJ.

“Marcellus (Pittman) was the one that was like; ‘when you gotta stop bullshitting and buy your turntables’, and I was like man, ‘I aint fucking with you and no turntables.’” Hoping to stop Pittman’s constant nags and taunts, Terri made a bet with the man, agreeing to start DJing if she could find a pair of Technics 1200’s for $400 or less. With kismet smiling down on her and the rise of the popularity of CDJs in the wind the first link that cropped up on Ebay was a Texan man selling a pair of decks for $375 and a $25 shipping fee, Terri’s fate was sealed. “Marcellus just slapped me on my back and said ‘I guess you are about to start DJing’”.

Terri had never really been part of a scene and just “kind of fell into it” and although today we think of Detroit as this Mecca for Techno and House, throughout the years the music was very rarely appreciated back home at the same level as it has been in Europe. “Even when I was old enough to hang out, if I happen to be at an event that was playing House, I would be like, they are playing some House music, but I didn’t necessarily know I was part of a scene.” Artists and DJs remained dedicated however and today it’s still the dedicated few “that want see things happen in Detroit have to make it happen”. A big part of that is to encourage a new generation DJs like Whodat to break out. What Pittman, Wilhite and Parrish laid down was a foundation of support for Terri, and new DJs and artists like Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel to carry on that legacy of what they established back in the early 1990’s. “To see Jay Daniel start at (Theo Parrish’s) Sound Signature, while they’re celebrating twenty years… that’s really a beautiful thing” for Terri,. Although she might be Parish’s contemporary in age, Terri can also count herself as a big part of this latest motivation out of Detroit, bringing “Kyle Hall, Jay Daniel, Sector 7-G Ben and Mike, Vanity Press / Dave Marroquin, Zach (Shigeto) and his brother Ben (Bassist for Ritual Howls) Saginaw, who started Portage  Garage” to the attention of an international audience.

With the help of the Sector 7-G guys, Terri started getting bookings in Detroit and found an early audience in her hometown. “People were like, ‘you weren’t shitty when you started’” says Terri about first tentative steps towards a career as a DJ. Starting out with a large record collection she’d amassed at that point, Terri was goaded on by her love for the music… and finding a bargain. In a suburb of Detroit she had found a store with a section dedicated to 12 inches at 50 cents each. Terri would scrape together $20 every week by returning bottles for their deposit and “would take that $20 to buy a crate of records every Sunday.” “The store owner would be so happy people were buying them, he’d bring out more” every week whenever Terri exhausted a section of records. Records from “Masters at Work, Mr K and  Kelly Hand” remain in her collection today and in Detroit Terri is still known as the “queen of finding records really cheap.” A recent addition is Patrice Rushen “Forget me Nots” which Terri picked up for $1 and I wonder what are some of the other records in her bag at the moment? “I got a little Disco: Phyllis Hyman ‘You know how to love me’; Linda Clifford’s ‘Runaway Love’ was just playing in my head so I had to bring that; Waajeed’s Winston’s Midnight Disco; a Mike Clarke edit on third ear; and D Train ’You’re the one for me’ is one of my favourite tracks.”

Terri’s love for the physical format was also once channeled into Ya Digg recordstore, but “another illness” meant she had to close it prematurely before she could properly get it off the ground leaving an ever growing hole in Detroit where only “one pressing plant and one distributor” remain, making “it difficult for anyone” to make a career out of the business end of music. Terri claims there “really isn’t any support for the industry” in her hometown where even the thrilling prospect of playing in Europe is met with some cynicism. “You’d think people would get excited, but most people are like; ‘what are you doing that for?’” DJing is still not considered a “real job” in Detroit, an unlikely reality granted for a city that birthed so much of this music, but a reality nonetheless.

Terri is currently considering re-opening her record store and also perhaps starting her own label, but needless to say there’s some trepidation. “There is no room for error” she explains as limited funds and no support structure means she “can’t afford any mistakes” and “the people working with you need to be as dedicated as you are”.

“Nevermind” thinks Terri as she ponders these points. These are future concerns however, and for the moment Terri seems content on DJing at regular intervals in Detroit and playing abroad as well as making music. Much like DJing, producing came somewhat unexpectedly after avoiding it for years, determined in the thought that she’s “not doing that” for the longest time. One MPC3000 later and a Rhodes Piano bought on layaway and Terri has released an EP on Uzuri, appeared on two of Viola Klein’s EPs, and is about to release a third collaborative work with Klein on the Meakusma label. As a person who “loves gadgets and tinkering with gadgets” Terri found an affinity for machine music. Hers is a style all her own, calling on the innate human expression outside of the fixed grid of the machine. She relies on her “own time” out of necessity as she often finds herself unable to “keep up with the metronome” and mostly discards it for the sake of an internal clock. A lot of the first Uzuri record, Recovery “was mistakes” she admits, but they were welcomed mistakes. “If you make a mistake, just leave it and see what you can do with it”, explains Terri and that adds a very human dimension to Whodat’s sound, a sound where it’s not difficult to pick up those early jazz influences from Terri’s childhood.

An avid collector; a DJ with an innate capacity; and a producer who’s only reserved output hides a nascent talent, Terri McQueen not only looks like a DJ, but sounds like one too and who knows, perhaps if she caught on a little earlier she might today be sharing the spotlight and the legacy left by her peers Pittman, Parrish and Wilhite. She’s not spending a lot of time between Detroit and Berlin quite like her peers yet, but as she reminisces about her last event at ://about blank she’s optimistic and hopes like Cologne, Berlin marks the start of yet another new relationship as a DJ and yet another “new beginning” for Whodat.

* Whodat joins Charlotte Bendiks for the second instalment of  IRONI