Music » Local Music

High-voltage mastermind

It might ordinarily be a bit disconcerting upon pushing the buzzer to your interviewee’s door to be answered with a "Come back later." Not so with Carl Craig, CEO of Planet E Records, world-renowned producer, DJ-at-large and artistic director for the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival. There’s a certain amount of frenzy, which can also be called excitement – and in the case of Craig’s opening response, comic relief – with just a few days to go before the massive undertaking hits Hart Plaza May 27-29. That, combined with a myriad of details that must no doubt be all-consuming, makes for a conversation that’s down-to-business and quite frank in its assessments of Detroit’s role in the music, and suppositions of what will be the outcome.

Metro Times: Looking at the overall picture of this festival, several years from now, what do you hope that it will accomplish?

Carl Craig: I hope that it will be a legacy. This festival does not have to happen 20 years from now, because times change, music changes. When you get into the situation where you start milking an event, that kills it. It can become less about the milestones in music and more about who’s going to bring the biggest crowd of people to pay money. Because the DEMF is free, I don’t have restrictions, like "Oh, shit! We gotta get 100,000 people in the door at $20 or $30 a head." All I have to worry about is putting on a good show. The same way that I look at the Music Institute 10 years ago ... That was a really inspirational time. The scene and the music were great during that time. This is for advancement and preservation of music. Not just techno and not just electronic music.

MT: On a commercial level, whether it happens quickly or not, it’s only going to become more widespread. Someone who’s less astute, who’s less aware, might be scheduling the Chemical Brothers three years from now.

CC: I don’t have a problem with someone like the Chemical Brothers doing it. For what they do, they led the way and are extremely good. They were on my list, because I felt that they took it to a level that was large, larger than any of us have done in America. And probably worldwide, with the exception of maybe Kevin’s (Saunderson) project with Inner City. They have a style, they have a name, they have something that is there for people who don’t know to be curious, and for people that do know it, to come out. It’s the same type of situation with the Roots (who perform Sunday at the DEMF). But it goes beyond, because it shows that electronic music is hip hop.

MT: Some people are a bit surprised that you do have hip hop. For those who are trying to figure it out, make that connection.

CC: In my mind, every music is electronic music right now, because they use means that are derivative of electronic music. The use of the synthesizer, drum machines and samplers. Stevie Wonder was doing electronic music in the ‘70s. Sly Stone was doing a form of electronic music with his little drum box when he was using and integrating it. I’ve always said that techno is a state of mind, and electronic music goes beyond that in some ways. I think that there are very valid points out there that people don’t realize are part of this whole genre. In order for people who like hip hop to understand techno, you have to bring them into the same arena. Or people who like space rock, to understand drum ‘n’ bass you have to bring them into the same arena.

MT: Why do you think Detroit needs something like this? Mainstream Detroit hasn’t cared about its electronic dance music for the nearly two decades of its existence. Why should it care now?

CC: I don’t think Detroit should care. I just think Detroit should have the opportunity to care. We had the opportunity before and the music thrived. In the mid- to late-’80s, whether it was Mojo or Jeff Mills with his mix shows as the Wizard, or Derrick May’s mix show ... Whatever it was, we had the opportunity to hear it, and then something changed.

MT: Do you think it was a marketing problem? Because if you think about it, someone like the Chemical Brothers had some kind of A&R team going for them, calling up radio stations, sending out promos, being extremely businesslike about it.

CC: Of course ... that’s part of it. Because our music is instrumental, for the most part, we don’t use vocals or sampling that much, we don’t attempt to commercialize our music, and for the most part, people like Mad Mike (Banks) don’t even want their face to be snapped. We could have all the promotion in the world, but those records aren’t going to sell past a certain point. And if they do sell millions of copies, they’re probably not going to for very long.

MT: But Inner City sold millions of copies outside the United States. Why better elsewhere than here?

CC: I think the push probably wasn’t as large in America as it was in Europe. A lot of major labels in America don’t quite understand the music, so they don’t quite want to promote it. You need to get the music to the people who really care and will try to understand it. In that situation, I don’t think that it was possible.

MT: Do you see this event in the eyes of the overground or the underground? Do you think that it really might help the quality music to come out into the mainstream?

CC: It can go wherever it wants to go, wherever the artists take it. For some people it will act as a launching pad for them. For someone like Richie (Hawtin), he could use it to build his image more in America. It could be great, but not everyone’s going to be able to benefit from it.

MT: I think techno-electronic music is a different thought process, but how many people are going to be able to watch the DJs and performers and actually know what’s going on? I just don’t know how many families will be there.

CC: It is hard to say. I hope that there will be quite a lot. We received a call from a mothers’ association that was really supportive of what we’re doing, and they’re encouraging people to come out. What better way to introduce your kids to that culture than for the city to expose them to a drug-free and violence-free environment? Liz Copeland writes about electronic music for Metro Times. E-mail until 5 a.m., on WDET-FM

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