Electronic Music Killed My Favorite Venue (An Obituary for The Magic Stick)
Posted on March 16, 2015
March 17, 2015 | by Jonathan Diener
The Magic Stick in Detroit was not only my favorite venue, but an important focal point in Michigan’s music history. Hosting shows from Detroit’s blossoming garage rock and indie scenes with the likes of The White Stripes to some of the best touring packages of all genres, it was the cool place to go. I will always remember loading up those endearing, awkwardly steep stairs into what seems like a massive room. For some reason it doesn’t seem so big when you walk onstage and see the faces of all of your friends. Whether you knew their names or not, it always felt like home. That is, until it was announced that the Magic Stick would become an electronic music venue and change its name to Populux.
The sound was never the best, but it didn’t matter when you had some of the best people going crazy at every show. When our venue in Flint closed down for a few years, it was Detroit that took us in, adopting us into it as a second home. The Magic Stick had this power over people and made them come out of their shells. To my recollection it was one of the only places my band could play where we were guaranteed kids singing along and stage diving throughout the set. Whether it was sold out or there were 20 kids were in attendance, there were always people caring enough to listen and watch new bands. With the help of Black Iris Booking, bands always know they were in good hands and were privileged to work with an awesome staff. Ramona, Chris and Sarah were great to us, paid everyone well and knew what was best for bands. After getting us on several touring band shows, we befriended Chris Speer who later became The Swellers’ official merch guy for years. Without the Magic Stick, we wouldn’t have a lifelong friend like him. The place just oozed with common interests and was a breeding ground for camaraderie.
Over time, some really cool improvements were being added to the venue including a patio and a side stage area for the smaller shows. The side stage was perfect when awesome festivals like Black Christmas would happen and you could stagger bands throughout the Majestic Theater complex. I also loved that the venue was open to putting on smaller shows so you wouldn’t have to draw three hundred people just to play in Detroit. The importance of a multi-faceted venue allowing bands from all genres and sizes to play is monumental, especially in a state that doesn’t have a massive built-in scene. Having the patio as an option to hang out during bands or in between sets was also a nice break from the monotony of a show. They gave you the choice to watch bands instead of keeping you locked in like a lot of places do. I did find it strange when DJs started playing on the patio and getting booked during big shows going on in the main room. Seemed like a precursor to the end.
It makes perfect sense that electronic music is more popular and generates more revenue than rock and roll. You look at the Top 40 charts and even standard pop music is all electronic-based again. Record labels and booking agents have been dropping rock acts and picking up EDM artists over the last few years. Businesses need to make money. I get it. The stubborn side of me wants to flip the bird to the world and keep trudging along. I just never thought it would happen to my favorite venue, especially when it seemed to be doing well. Fortunately, the large venue next door and the cafe on the lower level are having the torch passed to them to put on these intimate shows. Punk rock and hardcore aren’t going away anytime soon and neither are the shows. Populux will be its own, weird entity and our music scene will move on.
Instead of dwelling on different genres of music gaining popularity, venues closing or the industry landscape shifting in new, strange directions, I think we could look at this as a reminder to continue to support the things we love. I don’t just mean buying albums instead of downloading them, nor do I mean going to every single show, but getting involved a bit deeper in the music community. Start exploring more music in your area and take a step toward putting on your own shows. Rent out halls or churches, book shows in basements, do whatever you can to give bands a place to play. If you and your friends get a group of bands together, you’re not only doing yourselves a favor, but the community as a whole. Touring bands need places to play and they’ll return the favor with local bands from your area. The Magic Stick is gone and now it’s up to all of us to keep going out there and playing wherever we can, watching bands wherever we can and remembering why we got into underground music in the first place.