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It's A Shame - Matt Cogger's adventures in Chicago

Matt Cogger, 1989

Twenty years ago Matt Cogger left London’s southern suburbs and the UK’s nascent acid house scene for Detroit and ended up working for Derrick May’s Transmat label. Since then he’s gone on to release music as Neuropolitique as well as pursuing a career as tour manager for acts such as Robbie Williams.

We’re pleased to present here for the first time an episode from Matt’s trip, told in his own words, that simultaneously ranks as one of the most surreal, funny, well observed and horrifying stories we’ve heard for some time.

Many thanks to Matt for the original photos and to Mike Clark for the hook up.



Detroit in 1989, even through my young eyes, was still scarred both visibly and in its general feel. After the riots in ’68 most of the money moved out via ‘white-flight’ to the suburbs of Dearborn Heights, Southfield and Ann Arbor. Drive along any street in the metropolitan area to this day and you will see that the decrepit buildings outnumber those that were more fortunate.

I had been living there for the previous six months and did consider myself rather lucky that I hadn’t come even close to any danger. Derrick (May) had regularly imparted the wise words that when walking about at night, one should keep both hands in one’s jacket pockets and never look down at the sidewalk. He added that were you approached by anyone the best thing to do was act ‘fucked-up crazy’ and perhaps they’d be put off the idea of mugging someone more insane than themselves.

It was indeed quite nerve-racking even popping over to the Seven Eleven store – albeit only a hundred yards across the street. Being the only white boy for several miles in any direction certainly livened things up a bit. One night Derrick and I had walked over to the store where a girl, who in my estimation must have been about fifteen, greeted us at the doorway with the salutation, “honey, you can fuck me up the ass for five dollar.” Derrick immediately retorted that he would kick her arse for five dollars and that she should be addressed similarly to a female dog.

Yes, Detroit. Charming place back then.


Derrick May, Transmat building roof, 1990

A few weeks later we rented a car and drove the three hundred or so miles down to Chicago. We had been invited to the Mid-Western Music Conference as representatives of Transmat and Metroplex.
The charabanc comprised myself, Mike Clark, Marty Bonds and Art Payne – a very respectable bunch of fellows we were. It was a Saturday night as I remember and we arrived at the hotel around seven. Time then to freshen-up and head off into the windy city to have some fun. We had been fortunate enough to have invitations to Tyree Cooper’s birthday party at the Music Box – the seminal house music producer and his party at one of the most prolific clubs of the time. Unfortunately, this is where hope of any joy now dwindles.

Mike and Marty had been to Chicago many times (apparently!) and were adamant that our destination was more fleetly gotten to via a place called Ogden Avenue. However, Art was equally sure that this wasn’t the case and lay it on rather heavily that we should take the safer option of the expressway. How I wish they had listened to him.


Eric Dewberry (left) and Alton Miller (right)
Almost an hour and a half later we had become completely lost. The music from the radio was now quite irksome, as was the deafening silence of four men who were too proud to admit that they were wrong. So it was decided that we would kill two birds with one stone and venture into a liquor store to stock up with booze, cigarettes and directions.

I should explain at this point about our appearance that night. Marty, Art and Mike were a bit older than me and were dressed appropriately for a night on the town – conservatively. However, I was wearing faded jeans, a green bomber jacket and sporting a head of double peroxide white hair. I wouldn’t have wanted to of stood out now would I?

So we stopped outside a very dilapidated and sorry-for-itself looking liquor store. The only marque giving away its credentials being the bulletproof glass and wire mesh over all of the windows. Mike stayed in the car to look after our belongings and the three of us rather cautiously ventured inside.

Now, there is a scene in the movie Goodfellas where Joe Pesci’s character Tommy is going to become ‘made‘ and is taken to a house for the ceremony. He is lead through a door into an empty room where he exclaims “Oh-no” and is promptly executed double-tap style.

As soon as I walked into that liquor store, situated as I was to find out later in a housing project named Cabrini Geeen, I felt just like Tommy. I knew immediately that I shouldn’t have been there. I also knew very well that Marty, Mike and Art should be nowhere near the place either.

Inside most liquor-stores in Detroit, one could choose whatever was wanted from the shelves and refrigerators but was then faced with bulletproof glass and mesh at the counter. What we had walked into was a shell of a store – one could imagine it being twenty years since the shelves were taken away, leaving it’s present patrons having to ask for whatever they needed through a cubby-hole. I really had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.


Transmat studio, 1990
So, there we queued in a line of half-a-dozen people. Marty had managed to get to the front and between him and me was, for the want of a better word, a bum. Art and Marty then took leave of their senses and in front of the whole world produced their wallets and started asking each other if they could make up a pool. I became invisible at that moment and probably started whistling. Marty, still with his brain on a leash, announces to us that he’s going to see what Mike out in the car would like to drink/smoke/how he’ll have his epitaph worded. He’s out of the door for no longer than twenty seconds when a guy shouts into the store, “Yo, white-boy!”

This was no two-pipe-job Watson. I turned to the door and was faced with a very agitated chap wearing long yellow shorts. He was beckoning me to come outside and gesticulating that something wasn’t right. I thought about the situation for about, hmm, five milliseconds and then turned my back on him and hoped he would go away. He then called at me again, this time even more frenzied. “Hey man, yo fellas need ya, yo fellas need ya!”

Was he telling the truth? Or was he merely appealing to my fraternal instincts and tricking me to come outside? Again, I ignored him. Art had flicked me a look over his shoulder that translated to ‘you’re fucked’ and with that I suddenly felt two hands around my waist and a knee in my back. I was being pulled backwards out of the store. It was at this point that I noticed that his right hand was holding a Snubnose .38 Special revolver. All I could think of was my Mum.


Zena and Heather, Transmat studio, 1990

Have you ever owned a bomber jacket – proper name MA1 Flying Jacket? They’re quite slippery and easy to remove. So that is what I did - my brain also temporarily sitting with Art’s in a flower garden somewhere in Regent’s Park. I slipped my arms out of the sleeves and my assailant fell backwards with it in his hands. He then scarpered out of the door with the jacket. My jacket! Which incidentally, contained only thirty dollars in the zipped forearm pocket.

In a very dignified manner, I brushed myself down and smiled a nervous grin. Art, whose face was now strangely white came to me and took me by the shoulders. “Matt, I’m so sorry man – by the time…”
His words were just hanging around in the air and not making any purchase. “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.” I lied stoically. Then three youngish girls, who were obviously a tight-crew, approached me slowly as if I were an injured wild animal and one of them raised her hand to my forehead and said, “Oh honey it’s a shame.” She turned to her two fly-girls and repeated to them: “it’s a shame girls – ain’t it a shame?” She then bizarrely moved into what looked almost a choreographed form and the three of them began singing the Spinners’ song It’s a Shame whilst snapping their fingers to the offbeat and swaying gently.

I thought Jim Jarmusch was going to walk in and shout, “Cut!”


Derrick May and Steve Hope playing a video game, Piccadilly Circus arcade, 1989

This strange tale does not end here though. Unbeknown to us, when Marty had gone out to the car to see what Mike wanted from the store he stumbled upon Mike being mugged for his bum-belt. Mike yelled “COPS!” and the arrival of Marty scared the mugger off so he got in the car and they drove around the block.

So there Art and myself are, outside the store thinking to ourselves that our car has now disappeared. We wondered only briefly though since seconds later it almost knocked us over as Mike pulled up completely on the sidewalk and screams of “Get in!” abounded.

As you can imagine we sat in abject silence for a long while as what had just happened to us sank in. We seemed to be just driving around the block again and again until it dawned on me that Mike was intently scouring the streets and traffic. “There’s one” he yelled. He wasn’t looking for the muggers was he? We shouldn’t even be in this neighbourhood, we got off lightly for fuck’s sake!

No, he was looking for the cops and had spotted a patrol car just ahead of us. Still, same thing, why didn’t we just call it a night and get back to the hotel and live to tell the tale?

But Mike was rightfully incensed and was now in hot pursuit of the local fuzz, flashing his headlights and honking the horn right behind them. They stopped very quickly indeed and we pulled up behind them. It took a further ninety seconds for them to get out of the car, their hands hovering over their gun-holsters. One of them came to us whilst the other radioed-in the license plate. Remember we are in Cabrini Green, now since demolished and once cited as the single most violent housing project in North America.

Marty started the dialogue in feverish tones: “Man, we just got mugged in the liquor store there on Division and Wells, they took his jacket and money and they had 38 specials, those small ones, like a… like a lady’s pocket book gun kinda’ thing, man they was young too officer…” The cop, a big, hulking black guy, had probably been on the force thirty years and seen everything. He took his flashlight from its belt loop and shone it straight into my face as I cowered in the back seat. He still hadn’t said a word, he was saving it for it was pure gold!

He finally turned the flashlight off, he looked at Art, Mike and Marty and said: “You boys are driving around Cabrini Green in a rental car, with Michigan plates and a white boy. Go home.

Reader Comments (12)

Classic Cogger tale - hilariously told.

I met up with Matt shortly after his Chicago 'adventure'. He also ended up hiding under a car outside Detroit's Music Institute whilst locals had a shoot-out. Crazy times!

August 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterART

"“You boys are driving around Cabrini Green in a rental car, with Michigan plates and a white boy." Great!, thanks for posting, and the pics.

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermuggerscum

That was a crazy moment in time The interesting thing is that during that incident we all have our on version of the story since there were different approaches. Art (who Matt accidentally got confused with Marty) Has his version since was attacked from the door to the car, I have mines which I blogged On myspace being held up at gunpoint watching Art Scrap with 4-6 of them, and Art is such a good scrapper I watched him fight the 4 of them off while sticking his hand out with his wallet to me telling to grab it! And in the meanwhile I discovered this whole time since the incident Marty assumed that I got scared and drove off! Which 9in actuality I stopped the intended robbery with my tactics. Maybe someday it could be an interesting

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermike Clark

Nice one..
I as I saw he was wearing faded jeans, a green bomber jacket and sporting a head of double peroxide white hair, so he wouldn’t have wanted to of stood out now would he. I think he must play strategy games that time which didn`t disclosed here.

January 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralicia

I agree that was a crazy moment in time The interesting thing is that during that incident we all have our on version of the story since there were different approaches

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFighting games

Yap "“You boys are driving around Cabrini Green in a rental car, with Michigan plates and a white boy." Great!, thanks for posting, and the pics.

March 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteronline games

Yap "“You boys are driving around Cabrini Green in a rental car, with Michigan plates and a white boy." Great!, thanks for posting, and the pics.

Matt Cogger RIP. Best wishes to your family.

December 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Tai

Although I never met Matt when I was a neighbor to Transmat/Derrick in the 90s, much respect to him as a producer... R.I.P.

December 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn "Nels" Highberg

Matt lived life to the full. May he RIP. Much loved.

December 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrussell

Matt Cogger R.I.P. His track Artemis is truly brilliant.

December 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSpacemanT

This is really cool I never seen Like this before and cool

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWhatsapp Status

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