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Black Catalogue

P.O. Box 44707
Detroit, Michigan

Monty Luke

By Tunde Wey
June 27, 2013

Detroit winters are blistering and biting. The cold attacks bone and flesh; the wind usually blows against motion and will, until near its end there is a collective audible prayer for spring. And when spring finally arrives with the memory of winter still on its heels, Detroiters are still not satisfied. They want the real thing; the unrepentant summer sun. Memorial Day in Detroit is the end of the tease, the beginning of warmth, music and happy days. It is also the weekend of Movement, Detroit’s global electronic music showcase, when DJs and musicians spin to an undulating mass of people in Hart Plaza.
Monty Luke played a couple of parties at this year’s Movement. He was playing to crowds eager to revel in that authentic Detroit underground sound, that gritty sonic sweat bleeding from the speakers, and Luke delivered.
Luke is a DJ, producer, record label executive, and owner of small boutique label, Black Catalogue.
Motown made Detroit an attraction for musicians eager to break into the music business. In Detroit, electronic music has found a pilgrimage site; electronic music lovers from around the world come to the city in puritanical pursuit of the genre’s essence. Luke, in a way, is one such pilgrim. While he journeyed to Detroit in search of music and fulfillment, his first steps were hesitant and begrudging.
Luke moved to Detroit in 2008, a decision he came to after being laid off.
Luke says, "After I got laid off I was trying to figure out what I was going to do and I made the decision that I was going to do music full time. I was friends with my current boss Carl Craig. We were talking on the phone and he said he needed help on his label. I said I needed a job. It was a really good opportunity, it made sense at the time, so I moved out to Detroit, and the rest is history."
It was double jeopardy of sorts for Luke, whose arrival in the city bleakly coincided with Detroit’s continuing financial decline at just the time when the rest of the country was readying for impending peril – Detroit, long throttling into an ever-falling bottom, was hit especially hard.
Candidly recalling his initial feelings about Detroit, Luke says, "I’m not even going to lie, it fucking sucked. I grew up in California and coming out here – not really knowing anybody and having to deal with this weather, I’m not even going to candy coat it; it was straight-up bullshit. Being far away from most of my friends was hard. Everything was bad here, Kwame was getting put on trial, auto companies were closing…" For all the talk of renaissance and recovery, opportunity and entrepreneurship now, those who were here during those dark days remember it all too well. It was five years and a lifetime ago … and yes, it really was that bad.
While Luke might have been affected by the dysfunction around him, the opportunity the city offered was equally overwhelming, and like many of the other migrants before him he stayed.
"I was like, 'Basically this is it – I don’t want to be 60 years old saying I never tried.' And I really didn’t want to go back to some random desk job, so I was like, "Fuck it, how do I make this happen?" and that's when I decided to start my record label."
It took Luke another four years to start his label. In this intervening period he continued working with electronic music legend Derrick May at May’s Planet E Communications, learning the business and developing his own contacts.
Black Catalogue launched in 2011. Luke is the sole employee of his label, making his labels achievements all the more impressive.
"Running a record label is tough, especially when you are the only person doing it. You have to do everything. From the straight-up business stuff, money and finances, to researching, negotiating and dealing with artists, to making sure I have time to be in the studio to create music. Quality control, managing the marketing and promotions – you have to be on it all the time. It’s very rewarding. It's something you do always. It's kind of relentless but at the same time I'm working for myself and that makes it worthwhile."
Black Catalogue has had six releases featuring work from ten artists. Black Catalogue presses its music on vinyl, distributing nationally and internationally. The quality of music produced and released is top-notch, curated by Luke himself to reflect his tastes in underground and obscure tracks.
Luke is currently working on collaborative efforts with other labels and a digital subscription service in conjunction with other local labels offering new releases to the public.
Luke is finally settled in Detroit, feeling at home, even if not quite enamored by the weather. His work is growing beyond a personal pursuit as he looks to continue Detroit's electronic music legacy. "Detroit is recognized as an important place in electronic music. It is important to have labels based out of here, especially new labels."

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography

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