A Conversation with Mark Dancey

One of the co-conspirators behind Motorbooty Magazine for more than a decade, Mark Dancey has been producing works in oil since 1999. Now living in Detroit, part of his visual production is inspired by techno music.

How did the collaboration for the Redbull article on the legacy of Drexciya come about?

The author, Mike Rubin, is an old friend of mine. We used to collaborate on a magazine called Motorbooty, which was named for Parliament’s “Motorbooty Affair,” the one with the Atlantis theme. Mike is a great scholar and evangelist of Detroit Techno, he has been writing about it for years and has gotten to know most of the creators. I have learned about this music mostly through Mike.

Was it the first time you produced work related to techno?

No, I did illustrations for a previous Rubin article on Cybotron’s Richard Davis.

What is your understanding of techno art? Is there such a thing as a techno aesthetic?

I grew up listening to punk rock and later got into Funkadelic. In contrast to punk, as embodied by wild anarchic frontmen like Iggy of the Stooges and Darby Crash of the Germs, or funk, as embodied by George Clinton, the techno artists were self effacing and cultivated an invisible persona. They seemed to follow the lead of the never-seen radio DJ, The Electrifying Mojo. Instead of the loud insistent punk graphics I was used to, the graphics for techno releases and gigs I saw were cool, even cold, impersonal, futuristic and interstellar. I saw a lot of graphics that looked computerized, that were obviously made on computers and did not show the hand of the artist who made them. I came out of the tradition of comic art and punk zine art, almost everything I was doing was hand made and black and white and the flyers I was making were printed on xerox machines. The early techno handbills I saw were these beautiful full color geometric designs that I couldn’t get to; I didn’t own a computer and I did not know how to make things like that. I was working with the technology of the past and the people who were designing for techno were already in the future.

How do you think the myth of Drexciya maintains relevance in today's society?

I think it has staying power because it describes what happened in the new world, and we are still living with that. White slaver fathers and black slave mothers gave birth to a new race in the Americas. Not one that could breathe under water, but one that survived under the surface of the mainstream society. As soon as they were brought here, many slaves escaped and formed their own communities, and they eventually founded an independent black republic in Haiti. Black people didn’t grow gills but they did learn ways to live and develop a deep culture under an intolerable system. The guys who dreamed up Drexciya were living with the limitations of their surroundings—Detroit is racially segregated and poor—but they possessed unlimited imaginations and created a whole self-determined utopia. It’s a powerful and appealing idea.  

What are the main influences behind your work and the origins of your Iluminado project?

I learned to draw from looking at Jack Kirby’s drawings in Marvel comics, from Mad Magazine, and later from the Zap Comics artists, Robert Crumb and Robert Williams and those guys. I did not go to art school and learned everything backwards. My friends and I started publishing Motorbooty, which combined the sort of comics I wanted to do with satire and writing about music. The guts of the magazine was black and white and there was an extra color on the cover. We stopped doing the mag in 2000, I thought it was a waste of time taking months to craft these pieces making fun of bands that sucked. Who’s a bigger fool? The fool who blissfully sucks or the fool who angrily mocks him? Anyway, I was determined to concentrate on work that didn’t refer to someone else’s work and formed Iluminado as a place to display and promote what I was doing. I was learning how to paint with oil paints and I was learning how to use the computer to digitize and color my drawings, trying to get better. You’ve got to keep trying to get better forever!

What are your links with the electronic and techno scene today?

I get all my information second hand, from Mike Rubin. The last time we spoke about it, he was telling me about all the great things the guys from Underground Resistance have achieved. When I was in a band and working on the magazine we talked a lot about getting a building and instituting a self-contained culture factory that would produce music and art and printed matter from our point of view. That did not happen, but he tells me Underground Resistance have really done it, they’ve got their Detroit headquarters/recording studio/museum and they are working with the kids. From what I understand they are totally independent, plus their black and white graphics look good! 

Do you have a particular approach when translating music into images?

I don’t think I can translate music into images! I am coming at this from a literary direction. I read things, phrases or lines that are poetic or lyrics and think "what would that look like, I’d like to make a picture that looks like that.” With music that has a lot of lyrics, it is a matter of providing a picture that goes with that lyric. With music like Drexciya, it was the back story, the legend of the world of Drexciya that determined what the pictures need to be. I suppose I could have come up with pictures to go with wordless musical tracks, but in this case it wasn’t necessary, they had designed the scenario as well as the soundtrack.