The Sound of the Policed: Race, Gentrification, ​and Noise in Contemporary Detroit

Dr. Alex Blue, guest host

Join Signature Symphony’s guest host, Dr. Alex Blue as he guides you to a deeper understanding of the historical significance and exposure to the world of hip-hop in Detroit. Great for adults and kids, this interactive presentation allows you to participate in live chat and ask questions with real-time feedback.
Just a few miles outside of downtown, on Detroit’s Near East Side, rests a historic district and neighborhood known as West Village. The area is overwhelmingly residential, but disguised as a house amongst the others stood Paramita Sound, a record shop that hosted a free, monthly hip-hop producer night known as “The Beat Profile” on the last Friday of every month. The centerpiece of the room on those nights was the shop’s checkout counter, a partition connected to the room’s back wall that was effectively transformed into a booth for the producers, beatmakers, and DJs to setup their equipment. Two large speakers were set upon either side of the somewhat small room to deliver the sound – it did not take much volume to fill the room, but the volume was always turned up high. The crowd was typically a racially-diverse, tight-knit, enthusiastic group of people, listening and moving to beats, feeling good through their communion. The Beat Profile seemed the perfect embodied and sounded display of shop owner Andrey Douthard’s professed goal to use Paramita Sound as a space for the creation and maintenance of community. Thus, it came as a complete surprise one summer evening, when seven police vehicles arrived and shut down the street outside the building and nine uniformed officers converged on the shop – all in response to a noise complaint. As Douthard and many journalists and scholars in Detroit have noted, the rise in noise complaints is directly proportional to the increasingly large wave of gentrification overtaking the city, and the increase in policing that accompanies it. Furthermore, as racial and class demographics shift in Detroit, so shift definitions of ‘sound’ and ‘noise’, with the former being increasingly read as the latter. In this talk, drawing primarily upon ethnographic data gathered during his fieldwork, Blue follows a noise complaint and its aftermath to explore the complex web that connects gentrification, sound, noise, race, and policing in contemporary Detroit.