Grand Rapids Music
To find more about Michigan's electronic music scene, be sure to check out the Rapidian's Music Beat.
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Over the weekend, Andrea Wallace (otherwise known as SuperDre) performed at Grand Rapids’ City Lights Music Festival. Wallace is a staple of the Grand Rapids electronic music scene and holds a weekly music night at Billy’s called Bassbin!!!
The first beat
Wallace, a self-described “full-blown band geek,” shared her experiences and contributions to Michigan with the Rapidian. She began her musical journey at the age of 8 and was a member of symphony, jazz, marching and concert bands in the South Haven area where she grew up.
“At some point I decided I wanted to be a rock star,” she explained. “Luckily my parents supported my dreams. In fact, I got all my musicale from my mom – she is a classical pianist.” Wallace eventually added the recorder, saxophone, guitar and drums to her repertoire.
Can a musician succeed in Grand Rapids?
Over the years, many people told Wallace she would have to move to a bigger city to find success – L.A. or New York, yet she did not leave Michigan. She arrived in Grand Rapids in 2005 to study music and business at GVSU and her decision to stay relied a lot on her brother. “We are really close,” explained Wallace.
Wallace graduated early from school because of her tendency to be a “geek in everything.” She felt staying in Grand Rapids could be fun.
“I didn’t honestly think I’d be here this long. But I’m glad I stayed here and sorted things out. I figure, if you can’t make your own city appreciate your music, you have no business going somewhere else,” says Wallace.
Case of the music Mondays
Every Monday night, national and international electronic artists perform at Billy’s in Eastown.
“[Billy’s] approached me about running a night. I debated it, and decided if they would let me do whatever I wanted then I would do it," says Wallace. "I mean, Mondays suck ‘cause it’s a Monday, but maybe I could make something out of it.”
Make something out of it, she did.
“The first night I did Bassbin!!!, 150 people came out. Two and a half years later an average 350-400 people consistently show up. If someone had told me that in the beginning, I would have said ‘no way – that’s crazy.’”
Wallace believes that Monday nights at Billy’s cannot be replicated.
“To have a music venue that plays different genres every night is unique. It exposes people to sounds they’ve never heard before and draws a very diverse crowd. Eastown is an area where people are willing to listen to new music,” Wallace says. “I see other musicians there. Everyone knows we’ve all started somewhere.”
Wallace plays shows across the country, and many agencies and DJs consider Monday nights at Billy’s legendary.
“People from other cities always talk about how I have that ‘crazy Monday night’ and will ask if I can book artists from Chicago and Detroit," says Wallace. "I appreciate Billy’s for that -- I wouldn’t have had creative control anywhere else.”
Wallace didn’t have the easiest start in Grand Rapids.
“Especially being a female – a black female – I wanted to play but didn’t know where to go," says Wallace. "The scene was tied up by the good old boys club. Everyone wanted to know who this new chick was that was trying to play shows.”
Many venues only hire professional musicians, says Wallace, and don’t always provide opportunities for budding artists.
“I wished there was an environment that was safe and friendly for people that are new back then– I mean, some people have simply never had a chance to play,” she says. Wallace describes the time when artists are just starting out as “bedroom djs” and believes the crowd at Billy’s is forgiving because they are a “music-loving crowd… I would have had a much harder time finding a following without Billy’s.”
Wallace is concerned about a lack of information on the music scene.
“My biggest beef has been that people have trouble knowing what exactly is going on in the city,” she says.
Visibility of the music community continues to improve with events like City Lights and DJs like Wallace.
"To see the things I did when I first came here and started – and then to look out and see nearly 14,000 people [at City Lights for the first time] - I almost cried. I never thought this would happen - not here! It was a big deal to see so many people listening to the music," says Wallace. "I mean, I had so many of those days where I asked myself: ‘why am I doing this?’”
When asked about the long-term impact her work has done for the Grand Rapids community, Wallace smiled.
“I’d like to think I’ve helped build something – when I moved here there wasn’t much going on for the music scene, especially electronic music. You’d have to drive to Detroit or Chicago,” she says.
“We need to bring Detroit people to Grand Rapids – that bridge needs to be solidified. We’re too close to not have more synergy,” says Wallace. “I hope the next females [DJs] in GR have it easier. I want to help budding artists out and hope to hear from more people that want to be booked. I mean, I’m not going to be 150 years old and be a DJ.”
“Grand Rapids has not historically been a place to lift up its own but we can change that," believes Wallace. "We have to support each other.”