fri 06/12/2019

theartsdesk Q&A: Producer/DJ Carl Craig | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Producer/DJ Carl Craig

theartsdesk Q&A: Producer/DJ Carl Craig

Detroit originator looks back over 20 years of techno and jazz

Carl Craig is extraordinarily easygoing. Most dance producers of his seniority and level of achievement would come with at least a publicist in tow, but when we meet him in his London hotel, his only entourage is his nine-year-old son, playing happily with an iPad or chatting to the photographer as we talk, and Craig is very easy and engaging company. One might expect someone more driven-seeming, given that, in the notoriously fickle world of club music, he has managed to keep both fiercely snobbish techno fans and mainstream club audiences on side for over two decades, branching out succesfully into the worlds of jazz, classical and experimental music into the bargain.

Along with artists like Richie Hawtin, Craig was considered part of the second wave of Detroit techno music, following the initial creativity of the forefathers Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, and consolidating the city's links to the global dance underground. Unlike Hawtin, however, Craig was a Detroit resident from birth, and is still resident there today. His Planet E label, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, still conspicuously supports Detroit talent, he has recently collaborated with local garage rock band Dirtbombs on a cover of his own electronic jazz/funk anthem "Bug in the Bassbin" and is also active in trying to support education and regeneration in the stricken city. His music has allowed him to travel widely and forge creative links with diverse artists around the world, and has covered bases from stunningly dreamy ambient pieces to out-and-out jazz jams, but it was natural that we would begin with the city with which his techno music is naturally associated.

Listen to Craig's 1993 "At Les"

JOE MUGGS: As you're looking back over more than 20 years in music, I've been trying to get a sense of the environment in which you started, and I've been watching old clips on YouTube of The Scene – the local Detroit show that played dance music. It's quite strange now to see a programme that must've had quite a following playing such radical music.

CARL CRAIG: Well, that wasn't a techno show, or it wasn't meant to be, and it wasn't meant to be an underground show – but really it was underground as hell, because all the dancers and everything were so wild and so defining of the scene... It was meant to be like Soul Train, but it played all local stuff, so it started with disco, went into funk, then it went into new wave and electronic, and into the techno stuff – and by the time it ended it was more kind of booty bass, Miami bass stuff, so it was whatever was popular in Detroit at the time.

It's very strange watching clips of the show now - you really see the collision of black, inner city music with this very sexually ambiguous, European, new wave look.

That's right, it was also a funny time because it's a time when Prince was big in Detroit so everyone was dressing like Prince. They'd get Press'N'Curl on their hair, wear some new wave piece with an asymmetrical shirt, baggy pants, long shoes, frills, maybe a little bit of eyeliner here and there. It was really funny but that look was huge in Detroit.

So for you personally, all this was an influence early on? You've talked about being really into Prince as a young kid, but also things like The Smiths and Led Zeppelin...

Yeah, sure – actually Led Zeppelin before Prince, they were one of my big early things that turned me on to music!

So did you live in quite a culturally integrated area? Detroit is, and was then, a very predominantly black city, right?

1994_C2_scooterRight. And no, we lived right in the city. I went to a private school for a while, aged about eight to 13, then I went to public school after that – state-run school, you would say. And the first one I went to I got kicked out of because instead of going to Spanish class I went to McDonalds and then to play Donkey Kong and Galaga, and I was buying records – that's when “Last Night a DJ Saved my Life” came out, which was a real big deal for me as a teen. What I was interested in was video games, records and trainers – Top 10s, Airforce Ones and all that – forget school. So I went to another school, Cooly, after I got kicked out of that one... But in my neighbourhood, a friend across the road, his uncle came over and murdered his aunt in their house, and shot his sister-in-law in the hand; the police came while he was there, he tried to get away and they shot him up and killed him in his car. That was my neighbourhood. When I was making music, a couple of years after Planet E started I got shot at, almost murdered. That's Detroit. I didn't live in the suburbs, I didn't live in Oz...

And was it as run down as it's portrayed? We always hear about “city in decay”, empty lots, broken-down factories, all that...

Yeah, it was that bad. I was born in Detroit, I was born in the 'hood – I was sheltered to some extent by my family, but I've seen things... I've SEEN things [his eyes flash, then he laughs]. I should do that speech that Rutger Hauer does at the end of Blade Runner now! “Attacked ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion...”

Politicians would make promises like, “Vote for me as governor and I'll kill all niggers,” and y'know - that sort of thing'll make you nervous

So did you feel you had roots there? Had your family moved to Detroit or been there for a couple of generations?

Well, my mother came from Georgia, from the South, while my dad came from Detroit. So growing up I used to go down South in the summer, stay in Detroit during the school year. And there was this real sense of apprehension about what was happening to Detroit, because it was changing after the riots happened in 1967, and after the mass exodus happened in the Seventies, the recession and the oil embargo, and the YBI [Young Boys Incorporated, one of the USA's most influential early black organised crime groups] with the heroin drug scene and then into crack, all these things, all these movements that were happening in my lifetime.

My parents were very protective, but my mom, coming from the South, grew up at a time when politicians would make promises like, “Vote for me as governor and I'll kill all niggers,” that kind of thing, and y'know, that sort of thing'll make you nervous. Like I say, I was protected; I had two older siblings so I didn't get it as heavy as they did. I was the little one so I was protected more I guess. And it helped me, but it helped me want to get the fuck out too, and see the rest of the world and understand more. And that understanding is what I'm trying to bring back to Detroit, so that people can grow consciously and spiritually and musically.

Listen to Craig (as 69)'s 1991 "Ladies and Gentlemen"

Was there a counter-force to that, though? Something that held people there, told them, “This is your lot in life”?

For me, no. But a lot of the people I grew up with never left – I remember one of those hip-hop movies that came out in the Nineties, Juice or Fresh or one of those, they're in Brooklyn and there's a scene where they walk to the river and say, “One day I'm gonna go to Manhattan,”... that's their idea of “I'm gonna make it big”, and yet they never do. There's people in Brooklyn or the Bronx or wherever who never leave that borough, even if it's only over a street or right across the river or wherever. And there's too many people in Detroit who never leave Detroit. They might go to Canada on occasion to go gambling or go to strip clubs, and that's their excursion, but really they go nowhere.

So as you grew up, and you discovered video-game arcades and sneakers and club music – did you begin to feel part of any subculture? Was there such an idea, of dance music subculture?

Well, I used to always hear about Luomo, and these places my brother would go to, concerts he'd see – but by the time I was 15, my cousin was doing lighting, and he was doing that at parties and clubs and stuff, and he took me to a college party. This was when Breakin' [1984 breakdancing movie] had just come out, and “Reckless” [electro record from Breakin' soundtrack with early appearance by rapper Ice T] was the hot record of the time. Now you'd see these guys on TV breakdancing and scratching, but then you'd go to a university party and nobody's breakdancing but the DJs were scratching their asses off, and this was amazing.

Jeff was playing a lot of Italo-disco and early rap records and it's just like, “Ah man gimme more gimme more I'm hungry I'm hungry!”

Now one of my cousin's best friends was [key techno DJ and producer, renowned for his frenetic beat collages as a DJ] Jeff Mills, so I met him when he was just starting out, right before he went on the radio as The Wizard, and I got to see him play a few times in clubs which really blew my mind as a 15-year-old. I did get a little bit of that opportunity, and then I dived for it, I was hungry for it from that moment on. And as we were getting into “progressive music” as we called it at that time, which was Italo-disco, which was becoming big at that time – Jeff was playing a lot of Italo-disco and early rap records as well as electro. He's playing all this stuff and it's just like, “Ah man gimme more gimme more I'm hungry I'm hungry!” And then my cousin made this record called “Technicolor” with Juan Atkins, and I got to touch a synthesiser, and that was it, it was aaaallll done! Done, man!

So technology was excitement as far as you were concerned?

Ahh yeah!

I interviewed Mark Bell from [seminal UK techno act] LFO some time back, and he was an arcade-game fiend too as a kid, and he thinks that a generation of electronic musicians got their sense of music from that, from the sound of the machines, and even more from the co-ordination and rapid movement you needed to hit the buttons to play the things.

Yeah – and even more than the rapid-fire aspect was the rhythm you needed to play them, the rhythm that you made when you had to do it, you were hearing that rhythm all the time. So you're doing this [he taps out a vigorous syncopated pattern on the table with two fingers] when you're playing Galaga or whatever, and sometimes you have to do this [the pattern becomes more complex and swung] as the game becomes harder, and this rhythm emerges.

DSC_8698bSo that was important for sure, but then when I was about 19, I started working in a copy shop, and the constant rhythm of the machines there influenced me even more. The video game thing was important, but the machines were really important to me because it didn't have the music of the video game, it was purely the machines' own sound. One of my jobs was to do stapling, or we'd call it stitching, so I had to take the items out after they're collated, stack them square, put 'em under a stapler, hit it on the floor, and put it to one side. So the machine'd be going [he becomes really animated as he mimes] “Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh fwoofff! Wsh-sh-sh-sh-sh fwoofff!” and it's going like that the whole time, and you start getting into this thing...

Going into a photocopier trance?

Yeah!

So did you and your friends have a sense that technology, musical technology, gave you a way forward in life?

Oh yeah. I mean, I was ready. I remember my parents, and my mom in particular because she was a schoolteacher, wanted me to go to college – but fuck school: as I told you, I hated school. So they asked my cousin to talk to me, to tell me to go to school, maybe get a job at the post office and stuff, and my cousin tried to convince me and it was just, [utterly impassive face] “Uhh, OK... no.” And when the first opportunity came to fly to London and perform with Derrick May as Rhythim is Rhythim, supporting Inner City [duo produced by Kevin Saunderson] at the Town & Country Club, it was just [clicks fingers] and I was gone.

And when the first opportunity came to fly to London and perform with Derrick May... I was gone!

And that must've been pretty crazy, I mean this was 1989, you were coming right into the middle of the cultural explosion of rave over here...

Oh yeah... oh yeah. I mean that was incredible, although actually what was even more incredible was that – well, the Music Institute had already started in Detroit, Derrick was playing there, and we were listening to Detroit records but also to English records that were happening at the same time - “We Call it Acieeed”, “Adrenaline MOD”, and Baby Ford “Ford Trax”, that was a really big one for us. “Ford Trax” was huge, and “Lollipop”, which was the B-side to an S'Express tune, it was an acid S'Express tune. And I'd already met [Mancunian producer] A Guy Called Gerald in Detroit, and I'd maybe met Peter Ford – Baby Ford – in Detroit, possibly, this is where I'm a little confused on detail...

But the woman that I was dating, that I met in Detroit but was from London, I went and stayed with her that first time I went over – and she said, “OK come and meet my friend whose birthday it is,” so we went to this Greek restaurant and I met Mark Moore [of S'Express] who became a really great friend of mine, and I met Peter Ford properly. And this girlfriend of mine, she used to be married to Glen Gregory from Heaven 17, so on that trip or the next one I met a whole lot of other motherfuckers from the times that fed into that kind of music – new wave, new romantic and all that kind of thing.

And then in the hotel that Derrick and I were staying in the first time, Was (Not Was) were staying there too – Detroit band – the B52s, which was one of my favourite bands of all when I was a kid, were staying in the hotel. All these things were happening, and I'd been told by my parents, “Don't go! Don't go to England, go to school and I'll pay for you to go over when you graduate,” but for me it was just, “No! Now is the time! I'm a man! Now is the time!” I was 19, 20 then, and it was all over, it was decided for me.

Yet another great thing was that because of the Rhythm King [record label] connection, via Peter and Mark, they were in the Mute building and said, “Hey go down and go through the catalogue,” so I run down to the store room and I start going through these records. Now all I know on Mute really is Depeche Mode really, and I start seeing all these covers that I love, I pick up 20 Jazz Funk Greats, and I take it back and show my girl and she's like, “Oh yeah, Throbbing Gristle, I know them,” and I put it on and it's just, [almost leaps out of his seat] “What the fuck is this shit?? THIS IS GREAT!!” And if I'd have stayed in Detroit, I would never have had those experiences. It's made everything that came after that to the point where I'm here talking to you.

I just had to input myself into the surroundings – but it wasn't that I was making music for the surroundings

Now this British club culture was about to blow up internationally in a big way at this point – did you feel like you were plugging into something with potential, in the same way you maybe did when you discovered scratch DJs and synthesisers and what have you?

1994_C2_hand_to_phoneCMYKYeah, but only in the sense of the friendships that I made. I didn't try to input myself into the scenario in order to be part of the crowd. If I'd wanted to follow the whole acid house thing, because that's what was ruling the UK at that time, I could've gone to Chicago. But the records I made at that time, well I made some over here – like “Wrap Me in its Arms”, the things I made with Sarah Gregory – it was a different way of making my tracks from me from the way I did it at home; the equipment was a little bit different, the surroundings were different. So I just had to input myself into the surroundings a bit in that sense – but it wasn't that I was making music for the surroundings.

So you kept Detroit as your base – who around you were inspiring you most as techno became a global force? Obviously Derrick...

Yeah, Derrick was my mentor – but really I was being influenced by anything that I liked at the time, and that was very broad. There wasn't anything much in the contemporary dance culture that really influenced me as such – or no, wait, [British godfathers of rave] Shut Up and Dance, they really kind of blew my mind. They really did something that took what Todd Terry was doing and moved it a step on, made it into this collage of interesting sounds; they took Prince, they took De La Soul, they took Whitesnake, they took anything and made these records. And then they did these Ragga Twins ones that sampled “The Humpty Dance”, and they did those records with Nicolette, and at each turn it was just “Wow!”, a new thing.

So did they inspire you to experiment with sampled breakbeats yourself, rather than just the electronic drums of techno?

Yeah, yeah, I think they did. They started doing it maybe a year, a year and a half before my 69 stuff came out, and I guess they were a really strong influence on me at that time.

One thing that fascinates me about them is that they were originally jazz-dance guys, from that scene, and really the reason they first sped up their hip-hop breakbeats – prompting all these developments in UK music that would follow – was simply to bring them up to a speed that the jazz dancers could dance to.

That's a trip, yeah, that's a trip.

What happened then was that I was interviewed by Kodwo Eshun, and he said, “There's this guy called Goldie, and he's influenced by you"

But what about other Detroit people? Underground Resistance were making their mark, Drexciya were starting to appear at this point...

DSC_8699Well, you know what, Underground Resistance started doing “The Punisher” and all that really hard stuff. When I started hanging out with Mike [Banks] and Jeff on that level – re-meeting Jeff again – it was like “Nation 2 Nation” and “Galaxy 2 Galaxy”, and I love that stuff. But when they started doing the really abrasive stuff I felt it was going quite ravey, I didn't quite agree with it at the time, but as it started to evolve and involved what Rob Hood was doing, all these guys who took what Underground Resistance were doing and the heavy stuff from Germany at the time, and from Belgium, then it started being like, “OK, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” but for a while it was like, [mimics howling synthesiser noise] RAAAARRRRR “Woah, what is this?” Although “Mentasm” [the defining tune of early-1990s hard techno] was the shit, by that kid out of New York, Mundo Musique – it was just that you got it when you heard it, it was insane.

Well, it was that very sound, the synthesiser riff from “Mentasm” that was put together with those sped-up breakbeats from Shut Up and Dance to create hardcore. How did you feel about hardcore, was that another thing you found too “ravey”?

Yeah, yeah, most of it, especially when it started turning into gabba [the Dutch ultra-aggressive form of hooligan techno; he pronounces it in the correct Dutch fashion: “habba”], but when it was done with soul, then, of course, it was interesting.

There's one of the points of reconnection: when rave started turning into jungle and drum'n'bass, and those guys were sampling your “Bug in the Bassbin”, which in turn I guess was inspired by the breakbeats of Shut Up and Dance, there was a kind of feedback loop...

Sure, and I found a lot to inspire me in jungle. I mean to listen to Shut Up and Dance and hear jungle coming wasn't hard at all, it was a logical step. And I heard that [hardcore, and later jungle, DJs] Fabio & Groovrider were playing “Bug...” sped up to 45rpm, maybe they even told me themselves – but the first person I really saw do it was actually DJ Dimitri in Amsterdam, he was playing it at 45rpm, but then slowing it to minus eight with the pitch controller, so this wasn't hardcore because he was playing a lot of house, but in this Dutch scene they played house really fast.

But what happened then was that I was interviewed by [British writer and academic, now member of the Turner Prize-nominated Otolith Group] Kodwo Eshun, and he said, “There's this guy called Goldie, and he's influenced by you,” and that he and these jungle guys were using the Reese bassline from Kevin [Saunderson] – and he played me [Goldie's] Timeless. Well, I just thought, OK man, this is way beyond "Bug in the Bassbin". I mean, maybe he was influenced in some way or another but this shit is something else, this is a masterpiece! And I think that kind of mutual respect that comes from musicians, whether they were influenced by something I did or not... I love the music if it taps into some similar thing.

I thought of myself really as a producer around that point – a visionary and a producer perhaps!

So did you consciously go, “I need to do things that are not straightforward techno,” then? You were forging connections with [UK jazz/breakbeat label notorious for inventing the term “trip hop”] Mo Wax, with the drum'n'bass world and so on?

I was just doing music, man. For example, when I started doing stuff that was more of a jazz thing, that came from doing a remix of “Bug in the Bassbin”, for the [1996] Mo Wax version of it... And a girl at the time that I was hanging out with, Ife Mora, her father Francisco – who would become a major part of Innerzone Orchestra – he was the one that really turned me onto Sun Ra, onto Seventies Miles Davis stuff, like really turned me on to it. He was a real mentor to me, especially when it came to “out” music and music that had a very different structure to it than what electronic music had – and he introduced me to Rodney Whitaker, who was the bassist on that, and plays with Wynton Marsalis, and to Craig Taborn, and on to Kelvin Sholar, who I do a lot of work with now. And he really helped me to press forward with my ideas – I think if it wasn't for him it is very possible it would have been a very different direction I would have taken, and the experiences I've had to get to where I am now would've been very different, and maybe I would've been working on a gas station by now. You never know.

Listen to the 1996 jazz version of "Bug in the Bassbin":


So did you at any point realise you had a new role via the Innerzone Orchestra project? Was there a moment when you went, “Hey, I'm now an arranger...”?

No, because it began before I ever had any interest in the jazz thing, and it was just me.

But as you began to bring other musicians into it, did you think, I'm not just a techno producer any more, I'm something else?

Ah. No, I just thought of myself as having a vision and moving with the vision. I'd never call myself a jazz musician, because I don't have the history to be one. I think I thought of myself really as a producer around that point – a visionary and a producer perhaps!

And what about the Urban Tribe project [a loose collective around Detroit DJ Sherard Ingram, generally dealing in more experimental electronic sound]? How did that come about?

Well, Urban Tribe first came out on Retroactive, which was my first label, and we had a track called “Covert Action”. [Ingram] had been doing music, but it was always kind of weird because his idealisms were always much higher than his output of actual music. And when I started working with [Mo Wax founder] James Lavelle, he was a fan, and he said, “Man, I really want to do an Urban Tribe album,” so I said, “Let's do it,” and he signed it, we do it, he had some tracks that were phenomenal but we couldn't use because they were on a really bad cassette, so we had to recreate some things. And he wanted to include Shake – Anthony Shakir – and Kenny Dixon, and we all just kind of got together and did various things...

Listen to Urban Tribe's "Nebula" (mixed by Craig)

And you knew all these guys socially anyway?

Yep.

And musically – were you already acquainted with one another's ways of working?

Shake I knew musically from when I was a kid, when I first started working with Derrick I met Shake. Kenny Dixon was already putting out music as Moodymann on Planet E, so of course I knew him. When I first met Kenny, one of the first things he said was that he really loved “Bug in the Bassbin” – he was the only guy in Detroit who ever said anything like that, the only guy in Detroit. [Laughs.] That was a trip for me.

So it was a “prophet is never recognised in their home country” situation? I mean, “Bug...” was an important record that opened up a lot of possibilities for you...

It really was!

...but at home it was not really seen as anything?

It was a weird record at home. It was strange. And anybody at home who would say they like “Bug in the Bassbin”, I'd be like, “OK, you're my kind of guy, because you're not taking what everyone says as normal.” “From Beyond” was a really big record in Detroit, so if you said, “Ah man, I love 'From Beyond',” I'm just, “Yeah OK,” but if it's, “Ah, I love 'Bug in the Bassbin',” it's straight away, [mimes putting a friendly arm around someone] “Heyyy, Okayy! Let's do this, yeah you're cool,” [laughs].

Shake is an interesting figure, because the quality of music he's produced the whole time through has been amazing, yet he's an unsung figure – do you get any sense of why that might be?

[Without hesitation] Shake thinks too much. And like with Sherard, it can be more idealism than actual musical output. One of the things that Shake always says I told him is, “Shut up and make some music” - and it's true: just shut up, make some music, quit thinking about it and do it. Shake has MS too, he has issues with his health, but from the beginning he's always been a great producer, he used to make great rap records when he was making techno records too – and he's a guy who should've been making a lot of productions for other people, the guys who were making house and wanted to do hip-hop records at the same time, he should've been doing both in 1991, 1992, but he wasn't.

Listen to the 1989 original version of "Neurotic Behaviour"

Anyway, before techno I'd started as a guitar player, I wanted to be Prince, that's all I wanted!

With your music, did you ever get a single moment where you thought, OK, this isn't a club record any more, this is something else?

The first track that I made that wasn't released as it was originally was “Neurotic Behaviour” - and when I made that originally it had no drums in it, just a sequencer and a Prophet 600 synthesiser making that sound [sings the bouncing riff], and me playing chords on top and a little solo and stuff. Now that original version didn't come out until Kirk DeGeorgio's ART label put it out in 1995 or something, but another version came out on Transmat, on the Psyche release, very, very early on. So I was doing non-dance music when I started. And anyway, before techno I'd started as a guitar player, I wanted to be Prince, that's all I wanted!

And you mentioned earlier that you have club stuff and experimental stuff – is there a dividing line, or is it a continuum from one to the other.

Oh it's all just a continuation of my basic creative process, totally, it's all part of the same thing. I've always been interested in everything and anything – except country and western. Although I can dig Willie Nelson. But yeah, it's all stuff that I'm interested in, it's not calculated or contrived like, [mock English accent] “Today I shall make a classical recording” - if the opportunity comes [claps hands] let's do it. I keep all my options open, I'm a free agent.

Do you ever get moments when you hear critics in Japan talk about you, or you see festivals like Sónar, when the kind of cultural legitimacy that techno has got surprises you – where you think, wow, we've come a long way from when I first saw Jeff Mills play in a Detroit party?

Yeah, sometimes I do. When we played at the Royal Festival Hall last year [blending classical and electronic music in a trio with German techno producer Moritz Von Oswald and Italian pianist Francesco Tristano], it was kind of a big deal but we just went on and did it – I didn't think about the Town & Country at the time, like my first time in London versus this experience, but looking back I had come a long way, and this was just an amazing opportunity, it was great getting from people standing around or dancing, to people sitting there and really absorbed, really listening.

Watch Carl Craig and co live at the Royal Festival Hall, 2010

I think the Royal Festival Hall was a pinnacle, but even before that we did an opera house in Bologna that had never had any music but opera since it was created, two and a half centuries before or whenever. And that was incredible, the seating spread out and all those boxes around the walls where people sit, and this dark red, burgundy upholstery on the walls, a real proper opera hall. And we're doing this thing, me and Moritz and Francesco, we're rolling and no kick drum, and I kick the kick drum in – now Italians love kickdrums – I kick it in after half an hour playing with no kick drum and every person in there just goes, “WAHHHHHHH!” [waves arms, wide eyes], just amazing.

I kick it in after half an hour playing with no kick drum and every person in there just goes “WAHHHHHHH!

So you still get these moments, then – these moments where you feel there's a breakthrough, that you're doing something that's really moving forward.

Yeah. Move forward, it's always forward [smiles].

And do you still find it funny the connections you make through music? Moritz, for example, is from North-European aristocratic stock, quite far removed from inner city Detroit.

Yeah. Yeah, it's kind of revolutionary because you can get together people from any point that's making it. It's not poor people making music for the rich folks, it can be rich people making music from the poor folks. With Moritz, he comes from a background of learning classical music, but now he's making music that you can relate to on a classical side, but you can relate to more on the just straight-up street level, like heady street cats want to listen to it.

It's funny because I was hanging out with [notoriously hedonistic German techno fixture] Sven Väth in Ibiza, and P Diddy just came up to Sven and said, “I just want to give you respect” – and it's just a funny point in time: Diddy is supposed to be the epitome of hip hop, the epitome of street and this player culture, and he's going to this German DJ and giving him respect in some way or another.

That is really funny, but do you think this is one way US mainstream music could get a boost of club music's creativity, if they connect on that level of high living and hedonism, as people like Diddy and Kelis seem to be doing?

Well, there's a lot of dance beats going around, that's for sure, Kelis and Will.I.Am and all these people, you can see them in Pacha in Ibiza.

And do you think there's the possibility of more interesting dance music having an influence on urban pop music that way? The Black Eyed Peas and Will.I.Am seem to veer between teetering on the verge of doing something amazing, then making the worst records ever... Can techno have an influence? Would you even want it to?

Some good stuff may happen, I don't know. I guess it would be cool. My cousin that I was telling you about, Doug, he gave me a suggestion that I sort of wish I had taken – when he heard [Craig's 1995 album] Landcruising, he said, “The title track, that's really great, but you know what, you should get Biggie on it!” And I thought, ah, that's just stupid... isn't it? But then after Biggie dies, two years later, I thought, dammnnn, I could've been a millionaire!

Listen to Craig's 2005 remix of Theo Parrish's "Falling Up"

The great thing about techno is that it goes out of style but it always comes back in really unexpected forms

Then another time, Derrick calls me, he's heard some songs on the radio and he's going, “Hey, they're using my sounds man!” And what it is, these pop records are using preset sounds off some keyboard or other, and these keyboards have “Detroit techno” settings which these producers are using, same way Timbaland uses “trance” settings on his Justin Timberlake productions or whatever. And then my brother, he heard Jim Jones, his big hit, I forget the name, and he says to me, “That Jim Jones, that's a techno record!” I'm laughing, saying, “What do you mean?”, then I listen closely and it actually is [Afrika Bambaataa's Kraftwerk-sampling] “Planet Rock” slowed all the way down. And it's amazing, my brother's nine years older than me, and not into techno – he's into hip hop – and for him to spot that is pretty amazing, and it shows that these guys have already taken the influence and done what they need to to support their type of performance. So techno's already made its way into that music.

And so that's happened often as not via the technology; techno music was created by the availablility and influence of the music technology, and it in turn spawns new technological innovations which take its sounds into wider culture?

That's right. And the great thing about techno is that it goes out of style but it always comes back in really unexpected forms.

So what about the new generation music that's taken your influence more directly? You recently remixed [dubstep producers] Appleblim and Ramadanman's track, is there anything else that's caught your ear?

I'm not that well versed in the younger artists I have to say – Burial, obviously, is amazing. I recognised straight away that he sounded like [Moritz Von Oswald's mid-1990s] Basic Channel records, with slowed down, really shuffly drum'n'bass beats – but it's beautiful stuff. That was the first point, I've been to a couple of nights here, I've listened to [Appleblim's sometime label partner] Shackleton via Ricardo Villalobos – so when I was asked to do it, I tried to work with the style of these producers, kept in line with their arrangement while doing my own thing.

But I relate myself to that Warner Brothers cartoon frog – dancing with the top hat and everything

And in amongst all this, in amongst the ever-faster shifting of technology, do you have a sense of something over-arching you're trying to achieve that unites your interests?

DSC_8690Well, yeah, I guess, in the variety of it all, I'm trying to preserve my soul and sanity first of all. And then by the time he [gestures to where his son is sitting] wants to start making records and my daughters maybe start making records, that maybe I'll have an idea and technique to be able to teach them – like Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk, his dad used to make these big pop productions, and it's obvious that he learned his craft from his old man. So I want to be at that point where my children learn from me, like you would if you were a blacksmith or shoemaker or carpenter or whatever, and they'll actually take that craft and knowledge and want to pass it on themselves.

And that needn't be in club music? You said you keep your hand in, but if your musical relationships changed, or club music took a different turn you weren't happy with, your craft is not dependent on it?

Oh I've thought about this many times over the years: what if nobody ever called me any more? How would I relate to it? Who would I make my music for? But I relate myself to that Warner Brothers cartoon frog – the one where when the guy finds the frog, the frog's dancing with the top hat and everything, [sings frantically] “Hello my baby, hello my darlin', hello my ragtime girl”, and he's like, “Oh shiiiit, I'm gonna make millions out of this frog,” and he takes the frog and he rents the hall, he has the frog in the back singing, going nuts and stuff, then the minute he opens the curtains the frog just turns into a normal frog again going “ribbit”, and people start throwing fruit at the guy and this frog, and he just can't figure it out.

And that's kind of how I feel – when I'm there, I'm not there to be like some dancing buffoon. I don't feel like I have to be the guy that everyone pays attention to all the time; I'm interested in the making of the music, I'm interested in the process of making something great, and that's my first goal. And my second goal, only after that, is to take it and get people to hear it.

  • Find Carl Craig on Amazon
  • The Planet E collection 20 F@#&ING Years - We Ain't Dead Yet will be available to download from 22nd Feb via CarlCraig.net

Comments

Great interview!

Thanx, C2 a true originator

A really great work !

Nice one. Lots of information. Thanks for this. One funny thing: we also played our copy of "Bug In The Bassbin" at 45 (pitched down) back in the days. The same with DJ Shadow "InFlux". Both sound awesome on both types of speed. :)

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