He is Family: The Fierce, Hot, Messy Times of Adriel Fantastique

If someone had to thread through the Detroit underground dance party scene, from its renegade beginnings in dusty warehouses and decomposed factories to coffeehouse chill to superclub swank (Packard Plant to Zoot's to Motor, all in the span of a few years in the 1990s), the guy doing the weaving would be Adriel Thornton.

No relic of a bygone era, the ageless promoter (perpetually 30 years old and looking it, if not younger) has never stopped pushing the beauty of the beat-driven moment in a city where techno was born out of passion and was built to last out of desire. Adriel Thornton is better known now as Adriel Fantastique, a perfect new monicker for new millennium dance culture, which has morphed into an anything goes, multiple-genre, cross-generational, racially-blended, polysexual lifestyle.

Fantastique anticipated the game in the mid-1990s, when he packaged his party aesthetic into a weekly residency at Hamtramck's Motor (UK raver zines like Mixmag and DJ  loved the club, and it became a regular stop for performers on the electronic global circuit) Calling it Family, he says he knew he had hit on something big, but didn't expect that clubbers would circle the building at Caniff and Klinger waiting to get in -- on a Tuesday night. For three flippin' years, no less.

"I wanted to bring the underground to anyone who was into good music," Fantastique says. "It was all-inclusive -- black, white, gay, straight, guys and girls." 

And so he did, and still does. Family rolls on in its 15th year, with special events like an annual holiday reunion bash each December. But Fantastique also hosts Skintight Thursdays at Midtown's Majestic Cafe and Fierce Hot Mess -- an event that remixes other successful franchises like Dorkwave, Sass and Family into a colorful new Detroit party animal -- which will celebrate its one-year anniversary this Friday (July 3) at downtown's Oslo. Model D caught up to him on the fly, via messaging on the interweb and last month's closing night reception at CPOP.

Model D: Where did you grow up and go to school, and how did you view the city as a kid?

Adriel Fantastique: I went to various Catholic and public schools until third grade. We moved to Newport News, Va., then, and I attended school there, through high school. I spent the summers in Detroit. As a kid, I thought Detroit was such a big and busy city. There was a definite enigmatic charm about it. I liked the electric vibe of the city.

MD: You've promoted extreme, totally fun dance parties in Detroit longer than just about anyone ... but you don't seem to age at all. What's your secret?

AF: Ha, thanks for the compliment. My secret? An ancient Mayan recipe of herbs, plants and tonics. I saw it on "Oprah." A healthy dose of good genes helps as well. Really, I think that it has to do with me not believing in the linear concept of time. I try to live as if the lines between past, present and future don't exist. When you view life with his concept in mind, you stop paying attention to the rules of time.

MD: What was the first big event you produced?

AF: Define "big." If you mean the first one with a massive attendance, it'd have to be the "Family" event in 1996. That was the first one with over 1,000 people. But if you mean talentwise, my very first event's line-up was Kevin Saunderson, D.Wynn and Daniel Bell. That's massive. It was at 1515 Broadway. The scene was smaller then, but deeper. The vibe was incredible, and all of the scenesters then were so into the music. There was a real sense of community as well. Everyone was into the arts, culture, etc. Very free-thinking. Few limitations.

MD: How about taking us back down memory lane some more and give us your personal best three parties you were involved in...

AF: Wow, that's a tough one to answer. I think "World Party" at Joe Louis Arena was a great event. That was a massive event to be involved with. It was during the World Cup. Actually, I produced the after party for it at the United Shirt Factory. That was a sweet event. I have to say, even though I'm not sure you can just call it just one party, but helping to produce the first three years of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival was incredible. I mean, really, I feel blessed and honored to have been a part of something that meant so much to people.

MD: Who are some of your favorite Detroit artists to work with?

AF: Bone, Rob Hood, Daniel Bell, Derek Plaslaiko, Carlos Souffront, Patrick Russell, "Mad" Mike Banks, D.Wynn, Minx, Kenny Dixon, Jr., Theo Parrish. The list could go on and on.

MD: Describe the Family franchise and what it means to you -- and its importance to the Detroit scene.

AF: Family will always have a special place in my mind. As an event series, it has gone form a one-off event to a weekly to an annual event to a monthly to an annual. I think that Family is an all-inclusive celebration of quality dance music, the scene and an indescribable sense of positivity. For the scene, it was an event that truly defined what was important to the people. Friends, diversity, music, openness, freedom of expression. Family made everyone feel like they belonged. That, to me, is the most important contribution.

MD: Tell us about Fierce Hot Mess and the crowd it attracts.

AF: FHM is a celebration of hedonism at its best. The event is basically a dance party featuring everything. Really, there's no musical genre that's off-limits. Well, I can't really see country being played there, but you never say never. Ha! The crowd consists mainly of people from Midtown, Downtown, WSU and CCS. It's a great mix of ages and lifestyles. It's hard to try to define the crowd as the point of the night is to be undefined.

What are your other projects you're involved in now? Anything cooking for the near future?

AF: I'm involved in a few top-secret projects, but one plan is to expand on the mission of FreshCorp. The parent company, Fresh Media Group, is expanding to include public relations services, artist management and experiential marketing services. We'll be launching the website later this summer, in addition to a few other things. I just want to continue to offer quality in whichever way that means.

MD: What makes the Detroit party scene so special? I mean, we really know how to push it to the max, don't we?

AF: Detroit does indeed know how to push it completely over the top. Part of what makes it special is that we're constantly trying to outdo each other. Unlike other big ciites, we don't have a huge influx of tourists every week, so we get used to each other. We see the same people party after party, so a family feel is created. I think we become really comfortable with our scenester family members, allowing us to be uninhibited.

MD: If you were named ambassador of Detroit nightlife, what would you do to get the word out about the city? What would you tell all the club kids in Brooklyn, Berlin and San Fran?

AF: I thought I already was the ambassador! Hold on, let me make a call! One thing I'd do, I get all the labels, producers and promoters in a room together and make them fight. When the weak are killed off, I'd take the remaining folks into another room and make them all agree to a few things. We need to be conscious of messaging and how we frame the scene and each other. We also need to get more support from city government and local media. People forget that culture is a commodity that is exported and imported. I would try to re-frame what we do here as a viable cultural export. As far as the kids in other places, I'd tell them to get here as soon as they could. They need to experience the deepness of the D, live and in person!

Walter Wasacz is FilterD editor and encourages everyone to experience the deepness of the D on a regular basis. Send fierce hot messy feedback here.


Adriel Fantastique at Oslo - Marvin Shaouni

Fierce Hot Mess pics  - courtesy Fierce Hot Mess

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D Contact Marvin here

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Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.