Carl Craig is a strong, defiant visionary that’s dedicated his entire life to his craft; someone that’s pushed by art, and someone that pushes art back. Continually shape-shifting and reinventing himself under an endless number of monikers (Innerzone Orchestra, 69, Designer Music, BFC, Paperclip People, Trez Demented, to name but a few), Carl has been at the forefront of many important movements over the years. Beyond his obvious contributions to the second wave of Detroit, he’s been largely credited for pioneering Drum & Bass (with Innerzone Orchestra’s ‘Bug In The Bassbin’), he’s presented a link between electronic music and films (creating a soundtrack for Warhol’s provocative ‘Blow Job’ earlier this year at Unsound Festival, for instance) and he’s artfully combined electronic music with orchestral compositions (re-interpreting Ravel and Mussorgsky with Moritz Von Oswald; or their Versus project Francesco Tristano and Les Siècles Orchestra). His latest musical venture, the experimental project ‘No Boundaries,’ fits the name entirely, with productions that are as creative and mind-expanding as it gets. Carl describes the project best himself: "Unexpect the expected!" Certainly a notion that has followed the artist throughout all of his work.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Juan Atkins’ seminal Metroplex imprint this year, Carl envisioned the D25 tour - a celebration of Detroit’s history of innovative electronic music. When discussing D25, he commented: “I think the economic devastation that the city has endured over the last 30-odd years helped us to fantasize about a brighter future, it is this fantasy that we put into our music.” Being an arts commissioner for Detroit’s government these days, Carl Craig’s proactively helping to create that brighter future for the Motor City. The rest of the world may dismiss the city as being trapped in dilapidation or dereliction, but bubbling deep in its roots lies an incredibly vast and wonderful heritage of music: from gospel to Motown, from The Electrifying Mojo to a vibrant legacy of jazz musicianship, from Dilla to Jeff Mills. D25 celebrates the D for all of its beauty and creative force, its progression and influence, and its character and indelible legacy. Starting this year with an immense WMC party (with a lineup that defies description: Carl Craig, Juan Atkins, Kenny Dixon Jr., Theo Parrish, Kyle Hall, Kenny Larkin, Kevin Saunderson, Monty Luke, Stacey Pullen), and a variety of events lined up throughout the year, D25 will come to our doors over the course of this weekend’s ‘On & On’ raveathon with Mr Craig, Stacey Pullen and Monty Luke. After that, Carl plans to take on the globe, and incorporate a more visual element to the tour, converging film and art into the concept. Read on to find out more.
How’s everything in Detroit today?
Great. I’m just driving to the car wash right now and it’s a sunny day. To me, Detroit is the most beautiful place in the spring or autumn. We have such beautiful trees, especially in my neighborhood – magnolias…and in my back and front yard, we have a lot of Japanese maples that are a burgundy, purple-ish colour. The city’s full of really rich colours.
We’re honoured to be given a chance to celebrate the city’s richness here…
Thank you. It’ll be great to keep it going because D25 isn’t just about me, Stacey and Monty; D25 is definitely about the other guys that started the whole shebang – Derrick, Kevin and Juan, of course. But it’s also about the guys that you might’ve seen a resurgence from recently, like Shake and Dan Bell. And of course KDJ and Theo Parrish and Mike Clark, Mike Grant, Mike Huckaby, Mike Delano Smith. And I wanna put guys out there that nobody knows – for instance, there’s this guy Al Ester that has been around for eons, you know – the guy has never left Detroit basically. And I can honestly say that he’s one of the best DJs that I’ve ever heard, not just one of the best DJs from Detroit, not just DJs from the US. I’ve known him since we were all going to the Music Institute back in 1988, ’89. So we’re talking serious stuff. That’s the plan with D25: we bring out people from the woodworks that have been some of the best in the aspect of music playing as well as the guys that are the best at music making. It’s to introduce people to all of the talent that comes from here in Detroit. Also, because we started this agency, Detroit Premiere Artists, the opportunity of having this booking agency is finding new raw talent as well from Detroit. Of course a new talent that’s out there already that a lot of folks already know of is Kyle Hall. But there’s the next step of guys that come from backgrounds like Kyle’s, and people from completely different backgrounds, that we have the opportunity to expose.
How did D25 all come about?
This year is the 25th anniversary of Metroplex Records. So that’s technically the 25th anniversary of techno. We have plans to do events around the Movement Festival here in Detroit, but also expose the music in a way that is relevant to both 25 years of techno. There’s also the idea that we’re going to show films as well, like some of Jeff Mills’ films that he did his work to. There’s a wonderful film by Jacqueline Cole that’s about the relationship between electronic music and gospel in Detroit. That includes Electrifying Mojo, who was a big influence here on the radio, and it’s just a really fascinating piece of work. And also some other projects – one of them is Versus that I did with the symphony. And a friend of mine has done some animated art – not animated in the sense of manga cartoons, she’s a painter that does some really beautiful and sophisticated work. At some point, it’d be good to integrate that visual aspect of what we’re doing with D25 as well. Hopefully we’ll develop it into a whole multimedia kind of thing. I’d like to see it documented in some way that we can have this as a legacy.
That would be amazing, that would be…
MURDER! That would be murder! (laughs)
A lot of times people are surprised when I say you have a great sense of humour - your music is obviously quite serious so I think people tend to expect you to be as well…
It depends on the situation, you know. Sometimes I can be truly serious and other times I’ll have some fun with it. I made this conscious decision a few years ago, when I started to really build up my studio, that if I couldn’t make records sound the way that I really envisioned it in my head…well, for instance, Dr Dre said something when he started producing. I think ‘The Chronic’ was the first time he really made this determination – he said, ‘We were trying to make ‘The Chronic’ sound as sonically good as a Michael Jackson record.’ And that statement really resonated with me because those records are sonically superior to mostly anything out there. So when I made the decision to go into finding all this crazy gear and really invest in my art, sometimes I get to that point where I think, ‘Okay, it’s perfect – I can die happy now.’ And then I go back in and listen again and think, ‘No, it’s not perfect! I can do better than this!’ I get really caught up in it sometimes, where it maybe gets too serious.
Being an eternal perfectionist certainly explains how you keep pushing your sound…
Yeah, you have to. That’s part of making progression. Electronic music is progressive music, and it can’t just stay stagnant. Especially with techno, the concept is futuristic music. That’s why a lot of people really piss me off when they think techno is, supposedly, specifically this sound - and if it’s not that sound, it’s not techno. The concept, for me, is making something that’s new and next level. Me and Amp Fiddler – whenever we’re talking, he’s like, ‘I want to do that next shit.’ It’s always about that next shit. And that’s what techno is, really. He’s talking from his side, but techno and electronic music is always next shit. If it doesn’t seem like it’s going forward, then it’s not going forward. Sometimes I can get wrapped in that forward mentality and all the comedy might get left out of conversations, but it always comes back sooner or later.
You made a statement in the press release for D25: “I think the economic devastation that the city has endured over the last 30-odd years helped us to fantasize about a brighter future, it is this fantasy that we put into our music.” I thought that was a beautiful sentiment.
There’s a documentary that you guys had on the BBC over there called ‘Requiem for Detroit,’ and when I was in Paris there was a documentary about Detroit (I can’t remember what it was called), there was a piece on ‘Nightline’ here in the US the other week…and, of course, everything that is filmed about Detroit is about the dereliction of the city, the empty buildings; it looked like Detroit had been through a couple of wars. This isn’t something that’s new; it’s something that’s been the case since the 70s. Detroit’s been this city that has been through some things that are, in most cases, not very pretty. Because of that, we’ve always had the concept of – what if Detroit was new Detroit, like Robocop? And in our ways, we made this music that was beautifying Detroit because that was our objective: to make our surroundings better through music. If we couldn’t do it through development of buildings or through state government or city government, we had to do it our own way.
(loud noises) Hey, it sounds like you're in outer space…
WHAT! HUH! I CAN’T HEAR YOU! (laughs) Sorry, I’m in the car wash. You know what’s cool about the car wash is the car wash has a rhythm, and that’s fantastic. Everything in life has a rhythm, whether it’s the pace that you walk, or machines…machines always have some sort of pace or tempo that they go by. That’s kind of the cool thing, too, about techno – we’re inspired by these machines that make music, but we’re surrounded by things that are making music all day long.
What do you personally think it is about Detroit that makes it such an inspired place creatively?
It’s just a special place. I’m a commissioner here in the city of Detroit, I’m on something called the Entertainment Commission. And yesterday, we had a meeting where I brought in J Dilla’s mother. There’s ‘Suite For Ma Dukes’ – it’s a performance of a 60 piece orchestra in LA that was done in February of last year. It’s brilliant, it’s a really amazing piece. I can respect it a lot because of the Versus work I do with Francesco Tristano and Moritz Von Oswald – we do a 40 piece orchestra. Some of what we were discussing was – what is it about Detroit that we have that inspires our people so much to not only make music, but to make incredible music? I don’t know quite what it is. One thing that the guys from Massive Attack said years ago - when they were asked why the music from Bristol is what it is, one of them said, ‘When you’ve only got 4 channels, you gotta make your own entertainment!’ (laughs) It’s kinda the same thing here in Detroit. In Chicago, you can leave from a club and walk down the street to a restaurant or walk down to check out something else – there’s always something that’s happening. When you walk out of a restaurant in Detroit, you gotta drive to the next stop. If you don’t have a car, you can maybe catch the bus to go to someplace specific, but we don’t have a lot of buses! We don’t have any subways. You get to the point where if you can’t go out to party or do something, then you stay at home, play video games and make music. So that’s Detroit.