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The Detroit Sound Machine

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It's impossible to go to any NBA game these days without noticing the never-ending stream of music filling every stoppage of play. The Metro Times noticed, and decided to talk to the man behind the curtain, Steve Conway.

It's 1989. The NBA Finals. Pistons vs. Lakers. The Bad Boys hold their own against Los Angeles and win the series in four games to secure their first championship. But what was it that drove them forward, besides mad-dog attitude, rock-solid defense and clutch scoring? In those moments when you could cut the tension in the Palace with a butter knife, what inspired the Pistons and their fans? One word: Europe.

"The Final Countdown" is all that remains of the poodle-headed Swedish pop-metal group. But its triumphant, laser beam keyboard intro has become a part of Piston lore, just like the post-up zen of Rasheed Wallace ("The ball don't lie!") and 22,000 rabid fans raining down calls of "DEE-troit BASKET-ball" on the heads of opposing teams. And as the Palace's chief audio engineer, Steve Conway is pretty proud of that. He was there during those heady days of the late 1980s, programming the minute-by-minute pace of the games with little more than enthusiasm and a few cassette decks. And he's here today, as the Pistons compete for their second championship in three years, coordinating the all-consuming entertainment experience that runs concurrent to every Pistons game. The technology has advanced, but the thrill remains the same.

Conway has come a long way since relying on just a few cassette decks, but interestingly enough, amid all the mixing boards and other hi-tech expensive equipment, he's actually using a bit of software that many of us have installed on our home computers:

Since he's reacting to the action on the court, Conway might only have enough time to play the first 10 seconds of a song.

"The hook that hits early is key," he says. But with iTunes and a cache of .wav files to choose from, he seems to nail it every time, whether it's Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," a brand-new jam like Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" or the simple but effective pound of a techno soundbed. Everything sounds better at 90 decibels.

Arena rock [Metro Times Detroit]