A schoolfriend of Juan Atkins and Derrick May (the three of them together are known as the Belleville Three) Kevin Saunderson‘s one of the most influencial electronic musicians of the last fifty years.
In fact, if you’ve ever listened to Carl Craig, DJ Hype, LFO or El-B – and you’re reading FACT, so you probably have – then chances are that the blueprint for basslines that Saunderson set in the late 80s has shaped some of your favourite music of all time. Anyway, Saunderson’s latest offering to the world is History Elevate, a compilation released by KMS in partnership with Fabric that compiles one disc of Saunderson’s remixes (including Cameo and Hercules and Love Affair) with a second CD of Saunderson classics re-jigged by contemporary producers like Luciano, Carl Craig and Mathew Jonson.
Tomorrow night Eastern Electrics plays host to both a DJ set by Saunderson and a live performance from Inner City, his collaboration with vocalist Paris Grey and Ann Saunderson, and like the rude types we are, we ambushed a jetjagged (but still stupidly cool – in fact, he has to be the coolest Lighthouse Family fan in existence) Kevin to talk about the way Detroit’s changed since the early days of techno, scoring films, and newer producers like Omar-S and Kyle Hall.
Do you still live in Detroit? How has the city changed over the years, both musically and otherwise?
“Yes I still live in Detroit – I live in the suburbs, about twenty minutes from downtown. The city’s changed… [laughs] Musically, there’s not as many clubs. There’s not as many places to play out for us. It’s a lot smaller, the scene; a lot of us Detroit guys are travelling the world, playing everywhere else other than our own home. It has the Movement festival, which was the original Detroit electronic music festival; that’s musically the best thing that happens in Detroit.
“It started, I think, in 2000 or 1999 – I think 2000 actually – so it’s on its tenth year. That’s what we look forward to the most musically in Detroit. The city’s changed from in the past, because of the riots, it was really torn down, but now they’ve put a lot of construction into it, trying to build it back up. But unfortunately now it’s changed again, because of the crisis, and the car industry – ’cause Detroit is the capital of the car industry – er, that’s kinda affected the whole economy of Detroit. So right now things are in kinda a depressive state, with the car industry and the housing industry. So yeah…that’s Detroit!”
What made you decide to do the History Elevate album and why now?
“Well now was the right time because I’ve been doing this since 1983 – at least DJing, I’ve been making music since ’84 and my first record came out 1985. It’s a project I’ve always wanted to do, but time needed to pass by…generations have passed by, not just in terms of the fans going to the clubs, but also producers and DJs. There’s a whole generation that plays my music from the past and the new from the future, and into the future. A lot of people have sampled riffs from the Reese Bass to the Inner City sound – just different parts of projects that I made – and I thought it would be a good thing to let people inspired by that to have the real parts and let them work with it from there and see what they came up with, instead of just seeing a bunch of remixes that sound part of Kevin Saunderson.
“Though, you know, I wanted to do it for that reason too, and also for the history of the remix; since I was the first to change the way remixes are heard today, by completely putting all my music over the vocals, not using their music but using all of my production. So it’s an important part of my legacy.”
How did you narrow it down to just eleven [remixes] for the album?
“Well some are my favourites, and some, in part, I couldn’t get cleared in time, or just the companies wouldn’t cooperate or Fabric couldn’t clear them…you know, I was proud of probably 90% of all my remixes anyway, so it wasn’t hard to select: I just tried to select ones that really worked; the ones that I thought had passed the test of time, and my favourites of the ones that I recently did.”
‘Money’ by Cameo is a FACT office favourite; what’s your favourite one on here?
“Maybe my favourite remix on this album…ooh boy. [kisses teeth] I’m tryin’a get my thinking cap on. I think it’s the Lighthouse Family. I think it’s just so melodic; it’s such a hook, and it just builds, and builds, and builds, you know, and the way I used the vocal…that might be my favorite. The Wee Papa Girls is special because it was just such an impact remix, but my personal favourite is Lighthouse Family.”
Who are your current favourite producers and remixers?
“Carl Craig, ever since he started and still now, he’s amazing to me. Lately, I’ve been into Luciano, Claude VonStroke…Luciano’s probably the guy that’s been doing it the most for me lately.”
What do you think about the new school of Detroit producers like Omar-S and Kyle Hall?
“To be truthful, I’m not a real big name guy, and I don’t even know who they are. I might even be playing their music but I don’t know. Because we all travelling the world, and there’s no real scene that connects us all anymore in Detroit. I’m a bit a lost on this one, but you know, I’m gon’ find out now – I’ll tell you that. I might be playing their stuff, but we’re not really connected to everybody like it was back in the day, so I can’t really give you an honest answer, besides that Detroit is a place where talent comes from; it just happens, from Motown to the invention of techno, to Eminem, to Madonna, to Kid Rock. We produce talent in our market.”
You’re playing in the UK this weekend…it’s been a while since we heard you or Inner City live. Do you have anything special planned?
“Nah, nothing special, I’ma DJ a little; it’s special for us to just be performing our songs, you know? It’s me behind the computer controlling the songs, and it’s gonna be Paris, the original singer with Ann Saunderson who wrote several of the songs for Inner City, and sung on some of them also. We’re gonna go out there and do our thing; people’ll hear mostly the hits, and that’s it. Maybe some stuff’ll be re-edited a little, but that’s kinda our plans.”
Do you still get the same buzz when you play out now as years ago?
“Yeah I get a buzz, always, I’m always excited, I’m always a little nervous, but I enjoy this and I get my inspiration from the crowd. So yeah, I definitely get a buzz whether I’m DJing or playing Inner City live.”
What are you favourite memories of DJing and performing in clubs?
“I have one memory, when I played in…I think it was Hungary, and it was this big air hangar, maybe ten, fifteen thousand people, and they flew me in on a helicopter, like on a red carpet, and right from there they rushed me to the stage. It was just different, it was like wow, something that you couldn’t imagine when I started playing – that I’m gonna fly in on a helicopter, land on a red carpet, all these people going crazy…it was a great party, that was a very memorable experience. Also playing space in Ibiza; I always love playing there, playing with Carl Cox, it was a great gig; it worked very well.”
What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
“That this is music from somebody who was around from the beginning; it’s a true blueprint of where music – electronic, and techno, and house music – has formed from, this was cutting edge when I started it, and you can hear the influences throughout music today, in many, many different genres of electronic music.”
What are your plans for the future?
“My plans for the future, now this is finished, is to start working on some new music – from the Kevin Saunderson project, and maybe some Inner City records if Paris is up for it. Just to get some music out, and eventually scoring some music and films. Alright, that’s it. Peace!”