A few minutes with Kelli Hand, the First Lady of Detroit techno



Even though she's been a part of Detroit's techno scene since its early days, DJ Kelli Hand — better known by her alias K-HAND — may not be a household name (FACT magazine recently included her on their list of "100 underrated DJs who deserve more shine"). But she's been around, emerging as one of the first female DJs in the scene. K-HAND makes a rare local appearance as the guest DJ for the monthly dance party Fierce Hot Mess on Saturday, April 4 at the New Menjo's Complex. We caught her on the phone to look back at nearly a quarter century of techno.

Metro Times: Do you have a lot of memories of Menjo's?

Kelli Hand: I used to frequent Menjo's for a while with some friends of mine. The soundsystem, I always remember, was very pumpin'. It was more eclectic in its selection. It wasn't about electronic at the time. I think Chad Novak was the resident DJ at that time. 

MT: Can you talk more about what the scene was like back then?

Hand: I pretty much was frequenting Paradise Garage in New York, for the most part. There were a few clubs in Chicago. After frequenting Paradise Garage so many times I wanted to buy the records because I loved the music. So the next step was, I got to play these records in order to hear them! That led to purchasing a couple turntables which also led me to DJing in my own bedroom and to do a residence at Zipper's Nightclub. That was recommended by the late Ken Collier.

MT: So you had some encouragement, even though there weren't really female DJs in those days.

Hand: Yes. At that time, there weren't any. As far as getting into the electronic dance music era, there weren't any around.

MT: Where'd your moniker, K-HAND come from?

Hand: What happened was, one of my first releases was on Tresor Berlin, and I didn't want to exactly put my full name on the record. I wanted to come out with something that was kind of catchy. At the same time, I didn't want people to know that I was a girl, because I was just minding the music business. I'm like, OK, what's going to happen if my name comes out, and I'm a girl, because mostly it's a lot of guys? This was back in the day. So the label suggested "K-HAND." I was like, OK, that's it! Sounds good to me. I do all of my productions as K-HAND. Pretty much in the last quarter of a century, that's the name I stick to. Some people use my name spelled out, but K-HAND is the artist name.

MT: You just mentioned the past quarter century. Have you been working continually for that time?

Hand: I have. It doesn't mean I appear, because there's not a whole bunch of new releases out at this moment. I've kept at least one or two releases coming out fresh to keep my name in circulation on the market, and let people realize that I'm not dead yet!

MT: Just a reminder.

Hand: Right. Back in my production world, it's like a tornado coming.

MT: Do you spin often these days?

Hand: Quite often, but not a lot — not like every weekend. I know there are some DJs that constantly travel. I'm currently just returning from San Francisco — prior to that, Europe. I still keep little reminders, a little circulation going, until I get into my tornado mode. Then everything goes BAM! It's been picking up quite a bit lately.

MT: Looking back at 20 plus years, are you surprised at how electronic music has taken over?

Hand: It's really interesting how the turn has come about. When I started, there were no cell phones, no computers. We were using the caveman style back then! Now, everything is so convenient. Computers are supposed to solve problems, so it's a lot more easier to get things done — although we have to watch out for crashes now! It's amazing how the industry has grown and continues to grow. It's not going anywhere at all.

MT: When you create sounds, do you use older equipment or do you use newer computers now?

Hand: I like the old-school style, preferably. I actually use both. I'm pretty flexible. I have different studio set-ups. All digital, I can work; live set-up style, or old school, I can work. I prefer old-school. Computer-style is like, it doesn't seem like the sound is as warm. Working with the instruments themselves is much better.

MT: Is your studio here in the Detroit area?

Hand: It's an unknown destination. [Laughs.]

MT: Do you go out a lot to check out other DJs?

Hand: I haven't lately. I would love to, but because of my production schedule, it just deters me from going out. When I get a chance, I will. I love to go check out other artists and see what they're doing. It is relaxing when I don't have to work that night.

MT: Are there any DJs you're particularly into?

Hand: My daily listening is more like, elevator-type music, actually. Believe it or not. I'm not listening to boing, boing, boing, boing all day! It keeps me level. When I'm working on productions, I don't want to be influenced by other people's music.

MT: You did Movement a few years ago. Any other great local shows?

Hand: I did Dally in the Alley. That was huge. I loved it. I headlined that event last year, that was very nice. Dally in the Alley has grown so much since I last hung out there. Again, speaking about hanging out and checking out other DJs — if I go out too many times, people are like, "Why aren't you playing?" [Laughs.] That's one of the reasons why I stay low-key.

MT: Anything else you think people should know about your work?

Hand: I have a website, k-handmusic.com. There's digital tracks, new releases, as well as re-presses of all of my back catalog. New releases are forthcoming. We are moving. I'm alive!

Fierce Hot Mess starts at 10 p.m. on Saturday, April 4 at the New Menjo's Complex, 928 W. Mcnichols Rd., Detroit; newmenjoscomplex.com; 313-863-3934; 18 and older only, no cover. Residents Gin & Tronic and Peter Croce round out the bill.

Find more K-HAND at Beatport, iTunes, and Juno Vinyl.

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