Like many great ideas, Detroit House Guests—a Motor City residency for musicians, hosted by electronic duo ADULT.—started as a joke.
“This was years ago,” recalls Nicola Kuperus. She and husband Adam Lee Miller (shown above in a photograph by Steven Miller) cracked themselves up with the notion of inviting former members of industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle into their Detroit home: “Wouldn’t it be funny to collaborate with Chris & Cosey and serve them pancakes in bed?”
Anchored by taut and jerky electronic grooves, and Kuperus’s unmistakable half-shouted/half-deadpanned vocals, ADULT.’s music doesn’t immediately sound like the product of a band that plays well with others. But the duo’s discography indicates otherwise. Since its inception in 1997, ADULT. has collaborated with myriad musicians, from split singles with Detroit garage rockers The Dirtbombs and San Francisco indie rockers Numbers, to remixes for Fischerspooner and Felix Da Housecat during the “electroclash” boom of the early 21st century.
But long-distance collaborations, simply swapping electronic files, didn’t sustain their interest. Working from scratch with another band to compose a track, à la “Hands Around My Throat” on the 2002 Death in Vegas full-length Scorpio Rising, yielded results they approved. Simply adding vocals or additional instrumentation to a pre-existing track (as they’d done on Swayzak’s 2002 single “I Dance Alone”) sometimes didn’t.
Regardless, ADULT. didn’t have the necessary elbow room to carry out the original “house guests” idea. “We were living in an apartment at the time,” explains Kuperus.
Fast-forward to 2004. When their landlord raised the rent to $700 a month, the duo decided they’d rather pay a mortgage instead. They settled on a historic home built in 1907, which also included a commercial property that had been attached to the house in 1968 and used for car photography.
“It was trashed,” says Miller of the latter. The main house wasn’t any better. Even in shambles, though, the historic property had charms—cars are prohibited on its brick street—but uncovering them required seven years of renovations. “There were points where we preferred being in our dirty van over being home,” admits Kuperus.
“Now we’re finally at the point where the house is giving back,” she continues. The 1968 addition serves as their visual arts studio, where they also build sets for music videos (“our ADULT. films,” quips Miller). And the refurbished house includes more than enough amenities—two guest rooms, two and a half bathrooms, a spare office—to welcome extended-stay visitors.
When ADULT. caught wind of the Knight Arts Challenge, a grant offered by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to engage and increase audiences for the arts in select urban areas, they resurrected this idea of breaking bread and making beats with out-of-town colleagues invited into their home.
“This is a new model, especially for the music industry,” says Kuperus. “It’s not something that’s done.” The Knight Foundation agreed, and awarded them a grant.
ADULT. chose simple but strict criteria for participating Detroit House Guests:
A. They had to sing and play one or more instruments (“We didn’t want somebody who was just a vocalist or a guitar player”);
B. They had to be actively working (“You couldn’t have just made a great record six years ago”);
C. And they had to have met face-to-face at least once before. “We’re big believers in the idea that you can feel somebody’s energy pretty quickly,” says Miller.
With a year to complete the project, the biggest potential challenge—scheduling—was largely eliminated. All six of the artists who topped the couple’s original wish list signed on: Dorit Chrysler (NY Theremin Society), Shannon Funchess (LIGHT ASYLUM), Michael Gira (SWANS, Angels of Light, Young God Records), Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (Lichens), Douglas J. McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb, DJMREX, Fixmer/McCarthy), and Lun*na Menoh (Les Sewing Sisters, Jean Paul Yamamoto, Seksu Roba).
Their guests’ ability to get to work almost immediately in unfamiliar surroundings, however, startled them. “That was something we didn’t think about ahead of time,” admits Miller. “Everyone who’s coming has toured a lot. And one of the things you have to have built into your brain to be a touring musician is, wherever you are, that’s home. So people arrive and within three minutes it’s like, ‘Oh, you know where the towels are . . . you live here.’”
—Kurt B. Reighley
Read the full interview in DINOSAUR No. 4 to find about the forthcoming Detroit House Guests album with all six visiting artists, and whether ADULT.’s collaborators can expect breakfast in bed. Subscribe today or find out where to buy an issue.