Meet the man who practically invented techno ahead of his label's twentieth birthday celebrations in London
What were you doing 20 years ago? It's all right, you don't actually have to answer that, we're not really bothered. It's simply a device intended to bring home to you what a long time it has been since techno visionary Carl Craig established his personal label, Planet E Communications. Primarily intended as a home for Craig's own output, the label also released legendary material by the likes of Kevin Saunderson, Kenny Larkin and Moodymann, and today is one of the few surviving imprints from techno's golden era.
Craig is celebrating his label's china anniversary with a splendid retrospective compilation, aptly entitled '20 F@#&ng Years - We Ain't Dead Yet' and a special birthday bashment at Ewer Street Warehouse on Saturday. Hoping to blag an invite, we spoke to him at his Detroit studio.
What were your intentions on first starting Planet E - was there a concrete label philosophy?
'The ultimate goal was independence. I didn't like people A&Ring my music, and I hold on to that right to be able to determine what I want to put out or not, so that I can be picky about it and take my time with it. Deadlines are something I don't really have to adhere to. But you also know that if you fail and you crash and burn, that you only have yourself to blame.'
You're also particular about the live aspect of dance music…
'Yeah, because the music was made not only as an outlet, but in order to perform it. But you perform it as a DJ, and the concept of performing as a DJ is a lot more restrictive than it used to be. You used to have to scratch, and get on the mic and talk shit if you were a DJ, and scratching is the epitome of improvisation. If you're not a scratch DJ, you have to find other ways to make it interesting.
'I made comparisons with jazz and techno almost as long as 20 years ago. People used to think I was fucking crazy, that I was out of my mind! But I saw what the possibilities were in that sense. And many of the similarities with techno and jazz are, especially the early techno stuff, that it was really improvised. The machines were doing a thing, but improvisation might have come from turning over the beats, or how you actually mix it - you're making an arrangement in real time. That's the way techno is, that's the way all the guys I know mixed their stuff and it was definitely a point that you could be John Coltrane without soloing.'
You recently got a lot of praise for your re-edit of Ramadanman and Appleblim's “Void 23”. What do you make of the rise of dubstep?
'I think it's a natural progression from where drum 'n' bass had gone. In England it's very easy for there to be these movements that happen very quickly. It's in and it's out. Drum 'n' bass had got to the point where everybody as trying to do it - it was in commercials, it was in movies, it was in everything. I see dubstep as being the recreation of drum 'n' bass, and it will go back and reform into something else - but always in the UK, it changes names.'
It's certainly very different from the spacey, psychedelic work you did with Etienne Jaumet…
'You know, I was on an airplane watching 'CSI Miami', and one of those tracks popped up. It was an episode where there was a murder on a tourist space shuttle. Oh yeah, because that happens all the time in Miami! And the body dropped from the sky while this guy was trying to carjack somebody! It was really strange, but they were doing this investigation on the plane where they went into a simulated airlock where they lost gravity, and the music was playing while these little blood splatters were floating in the air and stuff. [Laughs uproariously]'
How has the decline of Detroit over last 20 years affected the city's music scene?
'The soul of Detroit, its musical soul, has changed quite a lot, because of the availability of good clubs and the local music being played here. So with that, we have this kind of we-really-don't-care attitude. Nothing affects us, we just let it roll off. I think that we have more soul when it comes to a crisis - we have more to complain about when it comes to a crisis, but we've been in a crisis for as long as I've been an adult. You look at a movie like 'Blue Collar', which shows struggles of auto workers, and that was in the '70s, so it's nothing really new.'
You've spent a lot of time in London, particularly in the early stages of your career. Last time you were in town, you enjoyed a pizza and a bottle of wine while DJing at Plastic People.…
'It was cool - Plastic People's one of the greatest places. It's great that you can go and you can feel comfortable about the club that you go to, it doesn't have to feel so forced. You can go there and anything is possible, as an artist and also as a listener. It's like: “Okay, what's gonna happen today?” It's not just: “Okay, give it to me hard, play consistent at this BPM. It's like: “Damn, the guy played Donald Byrd right in the middle of the whole thing!”. I feel that people in England, when they get into something, they really get into it. Especially in London. They get into their music, the same way that they get into their football. Ha ha!'