No Auto-Tune, Thank God: The Dropout at the Melody Inn

Credit to The Dropout's Facebook page.
Detroit-Area EDM Artist The Dropout Wows at The Melody Inn With a Singular Performance.

Electronic Music has been around in one form or another since the mid-1960s. Even so, it took almost 20 years before the paying public was willing to give it the time of day. Heck, before the late 70s, the chief makers of electronic music were fringe acts like Suicide or Throbbing Gristle. With names like that, is it any wonder mainstream audiences didn’t know what to make of them? This is not, of course, the case today. EDM, synthpop, trance, the music of chips and circuits pervades, as mainstream as Perry Como. And that’s where we bring our discussion to The Dropout. Who isn’t mainstream.

I’m not trying to make him sound like the culmination of the art form. In all likelihood, that’s a place we’ve yet to arrive. But, I am saying is that he’s pretty darn good. And if you’ve made it through the intro, I will tell you why.

But first,

A Brief History

The Dropout, alias Andrew Ficker, hails from the Motor City itself, Detroit. Quite fitting really, considering Detroit’s dense industrial framework and certainly its vibrant musical culture. In fact, I’d say his home city likely inspired him the same way grimy old Manchester inspired Throbbing Gristle. Of course, that inspiration took them in entirely different directions, but we’ll cover that later.

The Dropout has shuffled between various acts over the years. At one time or another he has formed one half of the duo Nigel and The Dropout as well as collaborating with Assemble Sound, a Detroit-based musical collective. More recently, he has broken away as a solo act. With, I must say, considerable success. Reddit’s “Listen To This” subreddit put his music on their front page, and some of his collaborations have been heard on Showtime’s series “Shameless”. Furthermore, he frequently features on Detroit’s WEDT 101.9 radio. Since then, The Dropout has focused his efforts on composing, with a self-imposed challenge of rolling out a new tune every two weeks. Not exactly resting on his laurels.

Now that we’ve waded through the obligatory history lesson, let’s get on with…

The Show

Before anything else, I’ll say this: The Dropout does not do long shows. Perhaps this is for the best. Not because his music’s of poor quality, since that’s hardly the case. Rather, since he puts so much energy into his performances he’d be at serious risk of injuring himself otherwise. While I have seen plenty of energetic artists over the course of my (brief) career, there are only a few artists I’ve seen who match The Dropout for a mixture of fun and intensity. Brother O Brother, maybe, but there are significant genre differences to take into consideration. Regardless, it’s obvious how much fun The Dropout has on stage. It’s equally obvious that he takes this seriously.

A brief note on venue. Like many bar venues, the Melody Inn has a stage roughly the size of a hamster’s life savings. There’s enough room up there for the band, their equipment, the odd burst of stage movement, and not much else. This actually works to both the venue’s and the musician’s advantage, since it brings the music closer to the listener. And with a performer who has The Dropout’s energy, this allows us to really appreciate where their coming from.
And he’s coming from a place where parties never end, but also tend to be oddly introspective affairs. As danceable as his beats are, and believe me are they ever, his lyrics are almost melancholic. Even wistful. It’s almost like attending a rave where people spaz-dance while reading Sartre. Well, maybe not Sartre exactly, but you get the idea. The point is, it creates a rather unique concert atmosphere, one which I was quite pleased with. As were the other barflies, if the enthusiastic dancing of some of the Melody Inn’s other occupants was any indication. Even if their weren’t any actual noses in philosophy books. After all, it’s not everyday and EDM artist pulls out a saxophone.

Did I forget to mention that? Because if I did, I’ll say it again: The Dropout plays the sax. And he has a full drum kit operated by an actual person. I creates an interesting stage dynamic, with The Dropout multitasking between his laptop and his sax and the drummer pounding away beside him. Sort of like the best IT department ever.

Which reminds me, we still need to discuss…

His Sound

Now I know that I’ve said a few things about his sound in my concert description, but I think it warrants a more focused discussion.

Now, you might remember that I mentioned Throbbing Gristle. He doesn’t sound like them, kind of the opposite really. For example, he’s certainly a lot less with the morbid depression. In fact, there’s an admirable thread of hope that weaves it’s way through his melodies. Speaking of which.

While there’s plenty of percussion in The Dropout’s music, real drums crashing as synthetic beats bump bump bump along, his voice and his sax tend to be the focus of his songs. Or, at least, significant portions of his songs anyway. Better yet, he’s not big on auto tune. That last one is really more a pet peeve of mine, but I’m grateful for it nonetheless.

The upshot of all this description is that, in terms of genre, The Dropout is something of a Casanova. He never allows himself to become so invested in one genre that he loses sight of all the others he can explore. An approach that’s good for a budding artist, bad for forming lasting relationships.

In fact, the approach he takes is rather like hip-hop. He creates a mosaic of different styles and uses the resulting gestalt to create his music. And then there’s his fondness for half-beats. Of particular note is his sax playing, which reminds me very much of Latin jazz. The sax in that particular genre manages to combine a mellow swagger with dynamic energy, which works very well with the frenetic busyness of electronic music. Most kinds of electronic music, anyway. The point is, I never expected to hear electronic music, especially not the upbeat kind, co-occur with Latin-esque sax. Looks like I need to adjust my expectations again.

Final Thoughts

So, here we have a creative electronic artist who gives great live shows. Is he the best artist I’ve ever seen? No, but he is one of the better show’s I’ve caught in Naptown. And he’s certainly the best show I’ve seen in a while. Even better, he’s still at the beginning of his career and has plenty of room to develop and improve. I was impressed by what I saw, and even more by what I heard. I hope to hear more.

Keep Listening, everybody.


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