CARL CRAIG with TODD SINES and NATACHA LABELLE (live), PANTIKI SOUNDSYSTEM (live) and DJs MOONSTARR and CHRISTIAN NEWHOOK at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Saturday (January 25). $15 before midnight, more after. www.scalestudio.com
the days of thinking of carl craig as Derrick May's young protege are over. In the late 80s, Craig was hyped as the one who'd take Detroit techno to the next level; now he's in the father-figure role. He's been using his critically acclaimed label, Planet E, to expose the next generation of innovative electronic producers to the world (see sidebar, this page, for an example) while at the same time pushing the boundaries with every release of his own.
Being a Carl Craig fan isn't easy. As soon as you wrap your head around what he's doing, he reinvents himself and you have to look at him and his music in a whole new light.
His first releases, under the name Psyche, added rich chords and ethereal textures to the electro disco rhythms of techno. As the Paperclip People, he took on the house idiom, not only laying much of the groundwork for the filtered disco house popularized by Daft Punk but also helping inspire what would be known as tech-house.
Under the name of the Innerzone Orchestra, he transformed electronic jazz, foreshadowing the current broken beat sound as well as the mid-90s jazzy drum 'n' bass movement. He also records under his own name, producing dark, brooding experimental electronic music that captures the desolation of a decaying Detroit city core. The newest chapter in his unpredictable career is a project called the Detroit Experiment, which brings together several generations of jazz and funk musicians.
Fans who love him for the weird mind-fuck techno he produced under the name 69 might not be feeling the electronic jazz side, and vice versa, but at least he doesn't have to deal with label expectations any more. He parted ways with major labels long ago, and running his own label, Planet E (the E stands for earth, but many mistake it for a drug reference), has allowed him to go in whatever direction he pleases.
"I do a whole bunch of shit -- it's not just the jazz aspect. Don't be surprised if I hook up with some pop music, folk music or blues. Maybe me and Bo Diddley will hook up and do something," Craig explains from his studio in downtown Detroit on the eve of his Una Mas gig Saturday (January 25).
He not only makes music, but organizes it, too. He's the founder and brains behind the hugely successful but controversy-marred Detroit Electronic Music Festival, which in 2000, its first year, surpassed everyone's expectations by drawing over a million to Detroit's centre for a weekend of beats and bass. Just before the next year's fest, he was dismissed by organizer Carol Marvin. A flurry of lawsuits prevent him from discussing it. Note, though, that the bid by Derrick May to run this year's DEMF has won, returning control of the festival to the people who were intimately involved with the birth and growth of techno.
Following on the heels of the acclaimed Philadelphia Experiment, the buzz around the Detroit Experiment has been huge. The cast of musicians on the album reads like it came straight out of the fantasies of a fan of Detroit black music, including players like Bennie Maupin (known for his collaboration with the Headhunters), Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.
Joseph "Amp" Fiddler, familiar because of his work with P-Funk but now starting to be known in DJ circles for his work with groundbreaking Detroit house producer Moodyman, also makes appearances throughout the album, along with Marcus Belgrave of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Jaribu Shahid, whom some will recognize because of his association with Sun Ra, Roscoe Mitchell and David Murray. In total, 15 hiphop, jazz, funk and electronic musicians are featured, which made scheduling the recording a bit of a mess.
"It ended up working out like two divisions of the same football team; you've got the first string and the second string," he says. "It turned out that way because of the opposing schedules some people had, especially those who don't live in Detroit any more."
This isn't Craig's first foray into jazz territory; he's been exploring many of these ideas in the Innerzone Orchestra. The first release under that moniker, Bug In The Bassbin, dropped in 1992 and ended up providing inspiration and in many ways writing the blueprint for what drum 'n' bass was to become in England.
Deceptively simple, the track surprised techno fans with its chopped-up jazz drumming and deep double bass drenched in cool techno chords. The original was fairly mellow, but UK DJs started playing it at 45rpm instead of 33, and after that the track took on a life of its own.
"The label Rope-a-Dope was really interested in what I'd been doing with the Innerzone Orchestra and wanted to go to another level with it," says Craig of the new Detroit Experiment.
"Most of it just came out of jamming in the studio, but a lot of the tracks were also things I'd been working on that were first translated into sheet music for them to work off. Afterwards, I took the whole thing back to my studio and fucked it up a bit, added pieces, took away things."
Unfortunately, the independent dance music economy isn't what it once was, and Craig finds himself wrestling with how to interpret people's changing ideas about buying music, in particular the impact of file-sharing à la Napster.
"I think the idea of music and buying records now is that it needs to be a major event. There has to be some controversy or something to make it important.
"I think it's also partly because of the recession. Since Bush came into office, things have been pretty tough. A few years ago a kid would think nothing of going out and spending $100 on eight records, but now it's all about that one album."
Craig isn't known as a particularly political artist, but once the topic of American politics comes up he sure sounds like one.
"They're trying to build up patriotism in America for someone who doesn't deserve the respect. I think most people have come to the conclusion that Bush is an idiot, but they don't want to say it.
"I was on a plane about a month ago, and some American guy was talking to a Dutch guy, and he said, "You know, Bush really doesn't want to go to war.' I heard it, the woman next to me heard it and the stewardess heard it, and we all broke out laughing at the same time. The woman who was sitting next to me had a really hard time admitting she voted for Bush. People understand they fucked up by electing him, but at the same time they're going to sit by and just try to live through it. It seems like he's just taking us deeper and deeper into the shit."firstname.lastname@example.org