Techno legend Carl Craig talks about his musical influences, new projects, Detroit techno scene, favorite sets and his passion for breaking expectations
Carl Craig is one of the leading forces of Detroit techno – a musical genre that was born in the mid 80’s of the previous century and reflected a sorrowful atmosphere of a dying city with closing car factory’s and serious social problems, as well as the passion for futurism, new technologies and desire for a brighter future.
Carl Craig made his first steps in music with a mentorship of one of Detroit’s techno godfathers – Derrick May, who saw a large potential in young 17 years old Carl and helped him to release his first track. This was a lucky start, which helped Carl to get noticed by the expanding audience of followers of the new and groundbreaking for that time techno music.
Right from the start of his musical career Carl Craig achieved a reputation of the artist that was always breaking expectations and had a deep passion for experiments with different musical forms. For different kinds of projects, he had a bunch of monikers like C2, BFC, Paperclip People, 69, Innerzone Orchestra. Mainly the originality of his style is based on bringing the influences of other musical genres into techno music, starting from classical music to jazz, funk and disco. As Carl perfectly describes his adventurous approach in doing music: “I have a bad habit of getting my hands dirty in every little thing, and I really do enjoy it.”
The status of a true legend that formed and influenced much techno music is not having Carl Craig resting on the laurels. He is, maybe even more than ever, full of creative energy that helps him to play dj sets and different kinds of live shows in the best festivals and night clubs all over the world, do new music and run his own label Planet E Communications with a fantastic catalogue of releases that can be described techno’s best golden collection music.
We had a lucky chance to talk with Carl Craig about his new exciting projects, musical influences that formed his style, Detroit’s techno scene, his social activity with running his own foundation, favorite sets as well as many more interesting things.
Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov
Hi Carl! It will be interesting to know what you have been up to recently in your musical production – some new releases, remixes, interesting collaborations?
Hi! I’ve been working on a new project with my longtime partner Moritz von Oswald and we are almost done with it. Also there is a new Kenny Larkin record coming out that I did a remix for and I’ve done some things with Seth Troxler for his project Lost Soul of Saturn. Also, I’m continuing to do the series of “Detroit Love” compilations on my label, and we just had Stacey Pullen’s record released in this line and a lot of releases are yet to come.
I’m continuing doing the series of “Detroit Love” compilations
Seems that your label Planet E Communications is coming close to an impressive anniversary date – it will be 30 years old in just a couple of years. Any plans for celebrating?
We did a 20 year anniversary of “Planet E Communications” in 2011. It was cool to do it. But you know when you are marking your label, especially in the music business like 30, 40 or 50 years, maybe it is too much and it’s better for the music not to get dated in that way. One thing is when turn yourself 50 years old and another when your label on which you want to release new and contemporary music turns 50, kids can just can say in this case: “What the fuck, it’s older than our parents!”. So I don’t want to get really tied with the labels age and yell to the world about it. I would prefer just to do the music, to stay consistent about it and to be timeless and ageless.
You used to have many artistic alter egos and when releasing your music on Planet E Communications under different names like C2, BFC, 69, Innerzone Orchestra, Paperclip People. Do you still use these monikers for different projects or mostly releasing new stuff under your real name?
My online personality is now Uncle Carl, otherwise known as Uncle Sweet Dick. Also I’m going to do a live of a project Paperclip People on the Polar Festival, I haven’t done anything under this moniker for a while.
Seems that you have a passion for different kind of ways of putting live elements into electronic music. You have done a tour with orchestra for your last album “Versus” and were involved in numerous different kinds of projects with combining electronic and acoustic instruments. Actually, a lot of people are doing experiments in the same field – for example, Jeff Mills or Brandt Brauer Frick which are making records and touring with an orchestra too. Do you think that this approach is a tendency of the future development of electronic music?
I think it is great that there is a range of people that started to do these projects with orchestras; it gives electronic music a bit more validation. For me techno should use the elements of musicianship and traditional instruments and must be known as the style of music that does not need the help of electronics. You actually can play techno live without using any electronic equipment. Like a root hip-hop that was played on traditional instruments without being programed – techno needs the same thing.
For me techno should use the elements of musicianship and traditional instruments
For me feeling for the necessity of using the live elements in techno came from playing guitar. I’m always putting this live element into my music, this has always been my style.
Now talking about your personal style that you have – I always had a feeling that your music has more of an impact on black music like funk and soul than the music of other techno pioneers that have a much more machine-like sound. In my mind, I marked your style like soulful techno or techno with a human touch, do you think that it is a correct definition?
Yes, you can say it like that. I put as much as I can of myself into the music. I really like the kind of soul that Moodymann and Theo Parrish puts in their music that is based on the idealistic history of Detroit’s music, with a big impact of Motown sound. But I don’t see my sound as a continuation of that, my soul is mostly based in the things that I have been influenced, there is a lot of funk in it, I really love funk and can call myself a funk guy, as well I was influenced by much 80s European music.
I really love funk and can call myself a funk guy
I noticed that you are playing, from time to time, sets that stand far away from techno and mostly consist of different eclectic stuff like funk, soul, hip-hop and other musical genres. Looks like you’re really enjoying these kind of sets. Do you often have a chance to play them?
When I’m playing, I play what I want to play and what I feel is needed to be played. It is not unlikely for me to put in the set something from New Order or even Donna Summer. The best set for me is when I can play all day and start for example with Miles Davis or Rhythm Devils for warming up the people in the room and myself.
I am a music lover, I was brought to this planet to make music, and I don’t want to be type cast in something that is expected from me. It’s like when your parents want and expect that you will become a doctor and you think: “Fuck it, I want to be a skateboarder!” Why should I let the people to hold me down in what their expectations are? My hall career has been about breaking expectations, I was always breaking the rules and it is important to me to continue to do it when I’m DJing. And think that playing Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” in a techno set is a serious break of the fucking rules.
In some way we can say that this playing of music that people might not know is like bringing an educational aspect into your sets?
It is educational in some ways but I do not want people to feel, as they are educated. I want to entertain them and to give in this entertainment something that they do not expect.
When I was a kid diversity in music was really important. Especially on the radio dj’s played different kinds of stuff, you could hear something old, something really new. And I am following this kind of approach all my career.
These kinds of sets that you enjoy, which cover different genres, as mentioned, are better when they are long ones. What is the longest set that you have ever played?
Well I don’t go really crazy with it like guys like Dubfire of Joseph Capriati that play really long sets, which can be 48 hours. I think the longest set that I have ever played is 8 hours, like a typical workday.
How is the current scene in your home city Detroit which meant to be the motherland of techno music?
We have a scene that is built in a legend and in an idea that people get through with the music. But actually, there was only one techno club in Detroit – Music Institute in the late 80’s. So it is really a strange feeling for anybody that comes to Detroit with expectations to see a developed scene and there is no techno club. There is no club to which you can show up and see there Detroit techno legends like Juan Atkuns playing every weekend. And I think it makes Detroit techno even more interesting as we are building here our own church through music, and it is not a church that must have walls, it is a church of perception and idea, and the church’s worship is the music itself.
Probably on one hand, early Detroit techno was a form of escaping from the depression, but on another it had this sorrow vibe and feeling because it was reflecting the reality that you saw?
Yes, that’s what we saw – closed factory’s, isolation and it came through us and was reflected in our music. We were serenading Detroit and building our idea what of the musical future.
We were serenading Detroit
What about Detroit Music Festival in which you were involved, are you still in it?
I started the festival in the beginning 2000’s, then I left it as the relations with the person with whom I started didn’t work out. After a few years, another entire team of people started to do the festival, it is now called Movement Festival and I’m involved in it again, I’m having a great relationship with the organizers, we have a great team work over the last 15 years, and I’m doing my own stage at the Movement Festival.
I’m doing my own stage at the Movement Festival
How do you see the cultural vibe and the atmosphere in Detroit in general at the moment?
Detroit had many problems during the last 50 years, which started something like from 1968. We had problems in the automobile industry, recession, then the oil embargo happened, it all had a big impact on the city and at some point it was dying in a slow death. But now the city managed to come back out after bankruptcy. I think now it’s important for Detroit if something that will be interesting for the younger generation will appear, as it is important for any kind of city – some things that young people will really want to be a part of, it really pushes the development further. And think it is quite possible as we didn’t have this billionaire investment hysteria in to the city, so there is still a lot of options for the young generation.
Detroit must have this feeling of going to a casino. I don’t mean it literally that it has to be like Las Vegas, but it must have this feeling that you have when you walk into a casino and see somebody with a hot hand winning at the crap table and you want to be a part of it and want to know what’s going on. Detroit really needs this hot hand at the craps table.
Besides doing music, you are involved in a really noble social activity, you have your foundation that is helping musically talented kids. How the things with foundation are going at the moment?
The foundation started with an idea that it will be helping the next generation of talented musicians from Detroit. But I have been touring so much recently that I haven’t paid much attention to the foundation as far as it is concerned, yet I hope I will be able to work on it more when I will have a break from the road. Also I’m looking forward for cooperation with other foundations like Marcus Belgrave Foundation which still exists even after he passed away. Think together in team we can do some great things.
Since you are touring so much, do you have some favorite cities and places where you like to play most of all?
Panorama Bar in Berlin is good. Also I like to play in Japan, people there are very open, more open than anywhere when I’ve ever been as far as music is concerned. New York and San Francisco are always great places to play too. But I played actually at a lot of great festivals, clubs or more private situations like back rooms or even at Ricardo Villalobos basement.
Have you ever had a chance to play in or at least visit Andorra?
I played in Andorra at least twice. It’s a nice place and the ride from Barcelona is really good. The only problem I had in Andorra was surfing the internet on my phone, it was very slow.
Really hope to see you in Andorra with your great shows in the future and really hope that there will be no problems with your internet surfing next time here. Thank you very much for this interesting talk, Carl!