We profiled legendary Detroit DJ/producer Kevin Saunderson last year around the time he released his latest effort Elevate. Saunderson told us an interesting story of remixing his first track in 1988 for Wee Papa Girls [“Heat It Up”]. As Saunderson recalls, you never forget your first time.
“The Wee Papa Girls remix was my first and something special. As the remix as we know it today, I feel like I’m responsible. Back then it was guys like Shep Pettibone, Jellybean Benitez and other producers who did some edits, maybe added some drums, but really just extensions of the album mix. When I did the Wee Papa girls remix for Jive, I didn’t even listen to the track first. At the time, I just though about doing a remix as it was done. Maybe edit it, make it longer, make a break and make a vamp at the end. When I listened to it I didn’t like it. I realized I only liked the vocals.
So I was in this big studio and was a bit intimidated by all the buttons. I’m used to eight tracks and was in this studio with 48 tracks! So I used the vocals and created my own whole new tracks. I made the vocals work with my music. I just got a 24-hour block and got it done. We had 24-48 hours back then and there’s wasn’t this two-three month waiting time like today. When I gave the label my remix they thought I was nuts. My manager talked to them and convinced them to send out some test copies and they got a great response.
They ended up releasing my remix and then made a radio edit for top 40 radio. So how about that—quite interesting for a mix that was never liked in the beginning. Because they were clueless, and I was ahead of the time.”
It’s been more than two days since I’ve eased myself back into life in New York after Detroit’s tenth annual Movement Festival, formerly known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. I’m not sure what it is about the experience that makes writing about it so hard. Maybe it’s my lack of distance from the event — the fact that I came of age in the Detroit techno scene in the late ’90s, the festival the culminating event of every summer for the past ten years. Maybe it’s the joy of revisiting the cultural space that once provided the only meaningful context for my young life I could find. Or maybe it’s the bittersweet satisfaction of seeing, no, hearing and feeling the violent outcry of a city that never seems to get a break ringing out from its damaged core, the specter of recent blows to its already ailing automotive industry casting an uneasy shadow over the festival’s vibrant lights (The General Motors building is, after all, adjacent to Hart Plaza. It figures as a vague reminder of the once great city’s ongoing struggle.)
Because Detroit has always been a place where one can experience, in a deeply visceral way, the sharpest of contrasts between life, death, anomie, and post-apocalyptic decay. When I first heard the sound of techno 12 years ago, stepping into a rave at the infamous Packard Plant, I discovered in those pounding, anarchic beats a startling palimpsest of soul and warmth — a warmth Derrick May brought back during the festival’s closing set this past Monday when he dropped Aril Brikha’s 1998 breakout record “Groove La Chord.” But yes! About the festival…
This year’s personal highlights include:
– Steve Bug rocking the main stage with his trademark funky grooves
– Derrick May’s closing set, which would have blown off the roof, had there been one.
– The crowd a spasm of fever and arms during Loco Dice vs. Luciano
– Ryan Elliott rocking the Red Bull Music Academy Saturday
– Octave One: ’nuff said
– Ghostly’s Todd Osborn and friends tearing shit up with a brutal mix of minimal, electro and acid house at the Blank Artists showcase (Saturday night festival afterparty)
– Los Hermanos rocking the main stage with a sublime live performance of Detroit’s own DJ Rolando’s classic “Knights of the Jaguar”
– Ghostly’s Mike Servito and Derek Plaslaiko along with New York’s own Bryan Kasenic (aka Spinoza) of Beyond Booking throwing down mad beats at No Way Back (Sunday night afterparty)
– And, of course, Audion dropping dark, wicked grooves Monday evening at the underground (or Made In Detroit) stage.
All in all, it was an amazing weekend. Techno-philes, if you didn’t make the trip to the D this year, be sure to book plans for next year now. Hotels are reasonably priced and there’s nothing quite like experiencing the spirit of techno brought back to its roots. And when you hear the pounding rhythms of Jeff Mills’ “Steps to Enchantment” filling all the Motor City’s majestic and tragic evacuated spaces, you’ll know that your recession dollars were dollars well spent.