DT: Recently, I was watching a film by Jim Jarmusch "Only Lovers Left Alive" (2014) and was struck, and amazed at the same time, by the way that the city of Detroit is portrayed. It seems that it is so fucking isolated, dark and slow. It feels like you have all the time in the World, you know...That scares me but at the same time it is so tempting to go there and start new life back there because you can hide from all these glittered realities as offered for example in well developed cities such as London or New York. Is it really so empty and slow over there, in Detroit?
KR: I love Jim Jarmusch's movies and I've been meaning to check his new one, filmed here, in Detroit. Actually, it is funny that I have watched his "Down by Law" (1986) just because I kept hearing about this film in Hip-Hop tunes when I was a kid. Then it all came full circle when Jim did "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" (1999). The movie is based around Tsunetomo's book "The Way of the Samurai" which I have read when I was 14. Also, I had taken Aikido since I was a little kid, which is really based on the same principles. At the same time, Hip-Hop hugely influenced me, so "Ghost Dog" blended two of my passions. Now Jarmusch has made a movie that is based around something that I live at and love. It's kind of funny, I think.
Is Detroit empty, dark and slow? Arrogantly, I'm going to say nope. See, Detroit is... Detroit is whatever you make it to be. That's the beauty of this city. During the 50's, Detroit was one of the most futuristic cities in the world. We had over 2 million people living here. Now we are almost a quarter of that population living in the same sized city as it was during its peak time. So maybe you are right about the empty thing. But that notion of emptiness varies for different people. When I look at an empty lot of land and that home that I used to live, I see a promise, I see the future. Dark? Yeah, OK, more than half of the streetlights in Detroit are out because either they don't work or there is no money to switch them back on. My streetlight in front of my house was out for five fucking years until about nine months ago.
But Detroit is a very bright city too because of the people that are doing shit here that you can't do in the rest of America, or even, at the rest of the World. Slow? Well, we do have a bit of the Southern culture in us. A huge population arrived to Detroit from the Southern states during 40's/50's. These were the people willing to work in the plants. They also desired to escape racism of Jim Crow or the stifling poverty of the Appalachians'. Many people, white and black moved to Detroit in search of a better life bringing a Southern sensibility.
Don't get me wrong. Life in Detroit is pretty vibrant and no matter which neighborhood you will walk into. If you need details, I'm quite good at showing people the real face of Detroit. Mainstream media enjoy to sending reporters on the weekly basis who write about how fucked we are all here. I guess that's how you sell newspapers / clicks on the Internet.
DT: What does Detroit means to you? As a DJ, you could, literally, find another city for your residence.
KR: Detroit is my home number one! But lets get something straight - I don't DJ. I never have. I compose and I create my music and I only play live. I have been playing live since day one, when I fell in love with this kind of approach to music. I have made a decision, a long time ago, after seeing a performance by Rob Hood and Dan Bell, here, in Detroit. They where playing live behind stacks and stacks of various equipment and holding flashlights by their necks, altering each piece of sound that was coming out of the speakers. I remember thinking at that moment that "this is what I want to do!" Have in mind that this was way before laptops and Ableton. 1994, I think? I have the utmost respect for DJ's, but that is not what I'm trying to do. For me, every time I play music I'm pouring every ounce of my soul, for the people that turn up to see me. No offense, but I never want someone else's soul or song to represent me. I always felt that if I would DJ, I wouldn't be able to convey that message that I want to let out - at that very moment. Again, no disrespect for all the DJ's cause, but that is a skill that is beyond me and how they weave a concept together blows me away sometimes.
And coming back to Detroit...Sure the first time (hell, every time!) I went to Berlin, I thought about, "man, I should just move here. I could really explore my art full-time in here." But then I go on to say "dude, you've paid your dues. You've lived it, you could be on Mars and Detroit would always be in your heart and mind." And there are some mysterious powers, something brings me back to Detroit all the time. Tons of my friends and contemporaries have moved away and word up. More power to them. But here, is where I get my juice, my juju, and my soul. And to be fully honest with you, I think Detroit is getting better, and at some point, Detroit will be the next Berlin.
DT: You grew up in the family that was working class civil rights activists. Would you say that your music is very much influenced by that protesting atmosphere that you grew up with?
KR: Without a doubt! You know I was that kid that grew up reading Marx, Lenin, Engels, Steinbeck, Baldwin, Reed, Fanon, London, Mao, Cleaver, Jackson and Newton. That's all my parents had around in addition to my dads Sci-Fi books. TV was kind of regulated, and that is why, out of boredom I dove into these titles when I was around 10 or so. I was always the kid getting in trouble for asking too many questions. Thinking too damn much.
When I was a baby my parents where doing all right. Both of them have worked in the auto industry, at plants assembling cars and they were making good money during the mid 70's. But my parents saw injustice happening all around them, so they fought back, and eventually both of them were pushed out of the plants because they were accused as agitators. My Dad became a labor organizer, down South, constantly getting his head knocked in, and my Mom hustled waiting tables. We were never hungry - but we were poor. I think that had a huge impact on me, that is why empathy is a huge part of what I do in music. I want people to have an understanding that the World is bigger than they think. Yes, I can say that my music is to help, to heal people.
DT: As being a white kid, have you had to protest yourself? I mean, you are a white city kid, from Irish immigrant family. What was that like growing in Detroit's suburbs? I heard that Detroit was and still is racially segregated.
KR: Growing up in Detroit was normal experience for me, even though me and my brother were the only non African American kids in the room. You know, it was never really an issue for us. Sure, you have to deal with some racist shit sometimes, on both ends of the spectrum. But I will say this for the most part that it was never an issue or a problem. Now, later in life, my mom and dad have divorced with my mom remarrying to my stepdad who is African-American/Cherokee. They had my Sister and that's when the race became to play a stronger role. This was mid 80's and America was still extremely racially segregated. I could write a book about the shit that my family went through during the 80's and early 90's.
Then, amazingly, you see how people change right before your eyes, for the better, of course. It's nice that people's stereotypes are getting broken. I think what made it easier for me to cope with that is that my family instilled pride in who I am. I'm Irish-American and I don't make any doubts to that. Take it or leave it. Humor is one way of healing people but music is another. That's why people like Dave Chappell or "Underground Resistance" who are very important whilst making change in the world.
DT: Why do you think the city of Detroit is musically very rich and produces exceptional musical minds starting with jazz scene, Motown, punk, rock, hip-hop or techno?
KR: This is like an every week discussion. Is it the water? Was it the automotive industry? But I think it's because everybody's cousin, brother, niece, uncle, granddad in Detroit does something with music. Its almost like your daytime job is a waiting room for you to create music. "What the hell is wrong with you? Pick up a guitar, a mic or MPC!"
DT: Can you talk about your influences? Who are these people that constructed your musical mind?
KR: Number one for me is Kraftwerk. Then it would be Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire or Luther Vandross - the stuff that my folks listened to. When I was young, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Native Tongues, Wu, and Gang Starr made a huge impact on me. Then, when I fell into Techno, it was thanks to Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Stacey Pullen, Claude Young, Carl Craig, Octave One, Sterac, Kevin Yost or Bjorn Torske. Lately, I would say Caribou, Four Tet, Radiohead, Osunlade, SBTRKT, Aril Brikha, Nick Wilson, Jon Hassell, Little Dragon, MCDE, Koze, Prins, AND I LOVE TODD TERJE.
TOO MANY TO NAME.
DT: How did you come across techno music and how have you started playing live?
KR: When I was growing up there was this dude on the radio called Electrifying Mojo. He was like God! My parents listened to him and I listened to him too. He used to play a combination of Prince, Mozart and Model 500. Then, there was Jeff Mills known as The Wizard. I used to tape every show he did in my grandmother's basement. When he did his shows, I used to get the same feeling, as if I would listen to the audio stories of Star Wars on the radio. Just pure excitement. So I could say these would be the foundations of me coming across towards techno.
Later, when I was 14, I started going to these high school frat parties with DJ's playing wax. I was way too young to be at these things, way too young, but I was still there for the music. DJ's used to play A Guy Called Gerald, Art of Noise, Kraftwerk, Magic Mike, Newcleus - stuff like that. Then, the first time I heard proper underground stuff was a week after I bought my first sampler "Ensoniq EPS-16+". I still remember that it was Tim Baker and Twonz. At this point, in my life, I was a straight hip-hop head who was delving into jazz, classic rock and fusion jazz because of the samples. But coming across with house and techno in its proper form at basement party totally blew my mind. That was the moment when I realized that this music is for me.
DT: What is your philosophy of playing LIVE for the people?
KR: I'm just trying to take people on a journey. It's a point A-B situation for me. I'm here to educate people about the past, but also, I want to introduce people with music from somewhere else in the World. At the same time, I want to make them think about the possibilities of the future too. That is why, it's so important for me to play live instead of DJing, because I need to have a complete control of the situation.
DT: Tell me, how the notion of a DJ-ing or LIVE performance differs today, from let's say 15-20 years ago?
I am not even going towards 80's or early 90's, but, when you think, more accurately, it comes to mind that, "for fuck's sake, the new millennium started 15 years ago already!" I am 34 years old, and I am dancing and absorbing techno since I was 14-15, so in the last 20 years I have witnessed a massive shift from artist being a cult hero to being a ...well, sometimes a dick-head, throwing tarts at people who in their turn enjoy the latter more than the actual music itself.
KR: I was thinking the same to myself recently when I read an interview with Steve Aoki, out of curiosity. I like to read about what the mainstream people are doing. Just the same, when I was younger, I enjoyed reading about what the right wing was doing. You must know the whole thing about your enemy in order to defeat him.
Pop music always capitalizes on underground music. It has to. Otherwise, pop would die without sipping into the well of the creativity that the underground has on offer. Hell, let's go back 30 years ago, and look at what Madonna did with Vogue-ing. She straight jacked it from the Gay House scene of NYC! Even further, Elvis and what he did or look at Jazz and Swing. Culture built by African-Americans in the United States was always capitalized, repackaged and white-washed in order to be sold for the rest of the World as easily digestible bull-shit. This has been true for over a hundred years now, but the things are changing. Now, it's even weirder to see pop-rap groups that are hacking from the underground bush, they always search for what they can steal. What's that old saying? The oppressed becomes the oppressor, something like that.
DT: How do you choose where to play? What are the main criteria's?
KR: Food. No really, most of my bookings come from people that I know and people that I respect. I get weird gigs often, true, but it's because I know a lot of people. Like my performance with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's String Quartet. Weird and nice at the same time.
DT: During last "Digital Tsunami" party, I had a chat with Mario Moretti about the amount of tracks played by contemporary DJ's during one hour set. It is widely expanding and mixes for Fabric, DJ Kicks or even many parties include between 20 to even 30 fucking records! Literally, you can hear just 30 seconds of the track, which leaves no space to dive into what the DJ is trying to say. Are you aware of that in terms of protesting? Because I have noticed that you have 12-13 tunes playing in one set...is it because you are a live performer so your music selection is shorter, or something?
KR: Have you ever heard Jeff Mills Live at The Liquid Room Japan? That shit is the bible for me. And he uses probably 50 tracks in one hour! That being said, most of the stuff you hear on my live sets, you might think they are one song, but really, I play from five to six concepts (or songs for me) simultaneously. Sure, there is the main sample of disco or boogie or African music. But also, I let playing the other stuff which is all me, and it is easily 5-6 different concepts.
Back to the DJ question, honestly, I never want to hear a whole song. I am paying to hear how that particular DJ can mold that particular song into something new. Theo Parrish is a perfect example of that. Every time I hear him play, I hear him in a new context. DJ-ing for me is not only a form of selection but also serves as a context. Anybody can play jam after jam, but when you elevate it to the point where I don't recognize the OG song, then you are a master, true master in my eyes.
DT: You mix together Jazz, African music, Funk, Soul, Motown music and many other genres. I can honestly say that it requires talent to mix such diverse genres together. How do you know that certain record will fit within your set?
KR: I sample. I chop. I work. You know, when I first started playing out in Detroit, I always thought that I had these eyes burning down my neck whilst I was playing. These eyes were making sure that I was representing Detroit properly and not playing some bull-shit. During one of my first big gigs at DEMF, in 2001, I felt that the presence of Mike Banks and Scan 7 were looking over me. Luckily, I was giving all that I had in that performance so I wouldn't have to worry about bad or shameful consequences. Playing live is a lot like sports. You better play hard or coach will pull you out and put you on the bench.
The sad thing is that lately there isn't enough of that going on. A lot of shit happens even in Detroit lately and that makes my stomach sick. I am talking about the use of backslapping and gig hounding. It wasn't like that in the past. When I have started, if you would play some wack shit, your boy would better come up to you and say "that shit was wack!" In my opinion, critical critic is the only one that can help for music to progress towards the right direction.
DT: Coming back to Detroit and you playing: is the nightlife flourishing over there? Are you playing often down there?
KR: Its super weird, I'm playing almost every weekend. 5-10 years ago I was playing maybe 4 times a year. But now it's almost every weekend. I tend to play for a lot of young 18-28 year olds, as well as for the older, 40-50 something crowd. Its cool, cause I get to do what I want, and pay my bills. Nightlife, here in Detroit, always goes in cycles. Well, at least it seems for me in this way. But I think now, that we are living in the information age, everything is and will be growing rapidly.
DT: What about warehouse parties? Are they still going?
KR: Not so many warehouse parties, but more gallery/loft parties. In my opinion, the warehouse stuff died in 1999. Still, recently, I threw a party here, at the old "Auto Car Photo Studio", with a friend from Japan DJ Bushmind. That party was that was out of control! I didn't mean to make it as crazy party, but it turned into as something from 1996. It was crazy.
DT: You were working at Derrick May's Transmat label and now you run your own label. What are the benefits of having a label these days and what is your future perspective with Todhchai Records?
KR: Working at Derrick's label taught me everything about the music business and industry. Working with him taught me a lot about life as well. That was a boot camp for me. Something like "Ranger School for Techno". I must admit that running a label is super hard job if you are trying to be creative too. You have to push really hard in order to make things happen. I think the big take away from working with Derrick is understanding that the only limits that you have in your life are the ones that you impose on yourself.
DT: Speaking of labels, who, in your opinion, define the sound of today's underground dance music?
KR: OK, you want me to pick out my favorite food too :) Jeezzzzz.
DT: Yes please! Some mainstream media's approach - I know what you shop for, now I want to know where you do your shopping :)
KR: I really like what "Golf Channel", "Don't Be Afraid", "Phonica", "NSYDE", "Yoruba", "PTA", "Workshop", "Dolly", "L.I.E.S"., "Burek", "Peoples Potential", "Wild Oats", "Dixon Avenue", "Future Times", "R2", "Ostgut Ton", "NDATL", and "R&S". Oh, and anything Todd Osborn is on. To be honest, I follow artists more than labels. But of course, usually dope labels have dope artists.
This is really not fair, I feel like I'm missing like several joints.
DT: Can you tell me how do you make your music? Are you a bedroom musician with one laptop and Logic Pro installed or you use a wider array of technologies?
KR: I started in 1994 with "Ensoniq EPS-16+". That was the days of 1 MB of sampling. I was lucky enough to go to a wealthy high school at "East Lansing" because my mom was going to Medical School there, at Michigan State University, about an hour northwest of Detroit. I talked to the Choir/Marching Band director into starting a Music Tech classes. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing then and I knew we couldn't get SP12's or MPC60's in there so we got Proteus, O1W's and Cakewalk. It was a nightmare. All the music sounded like if a car crashed into the set of "Hill Street Blues" soundtrack. But at the same time, it was pretty awesome because there where no rules.
One of my friends from high school taught me how to sample using a "Sony Discman" and the "Ensoniq". I made the worst music ever! You know, I played a violin for years in Detroit as a kid and I even had performances although I couldn't read a note. So I had to do it all by ear. I used the same graph charts that you use for math to help me to write my own music. I mean I understood the 16 count and pitch but that was it.
So it started with that workstation the "EPS16+" in 1994. Then with my friend Kaku Usui I went for the "MPC2000XL" in 1999 and later I have discovered that it was limiting. That's why I bought the "Yamaha RS7000". Kaku Usui and I, well, we had a decent amount of gear. Mackie 24, tons of delays, pedals, 808, 303. But anyway, I was a sampler kind of guy, probably, that is why Yamaha appealed to me for almost 10 years. I toured a bit with just the "Yamaha RS7000" and the "TR-808". Then a few years back, I had my "TR-808" up at "Corsica Studios" in London and it blew the transformer. Luckily, they had another one but it almost ruined my gig.
After that, I made the choice to switch to "Ableton" purely because of power issues. Now I could never go back. I use "Ableton", "APC40", "Apogee Duet 2" and "Maschine Mk2". I love that not everything is linear. I don't think I could go back to a linear sequencer. The fact that I can make a song today and dump it into my show tonight makes me a very happy man. You couldn't do that back in the day on boxes. And yeah, "The Octatrack" is on my radar for a minute. So you see, what kind of musician I am.
DT: I cannot help but feel more optimism whilst listening to your music. I mean, if Detroit's techno pioneers were building new bridges, they were darker and more robotic but more futuristic in my opinion. Track names such as "Time Space Transmat", "Celestial Highways", "No UFO's", "The Haunting" or "Off to Battle" differ very much from your "You Search for a Means", "Afrik", "On a Clear Day" or Omar S's "Wayne County Hill Cops" or Theo Parish's "Wonky". What are the agenda's of the new generation of Detroit's artists?
KR: Well I can only speak for me, and the concept of my music is to heal. To move people in a forward direction but at the same time to remember where we come from. My music does get dark cause I come from a dark place sometimes. I lost a lot of people in my life too and it's really difficult to deal with that at times. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The people that I have lost, the people in my life today and the people I meet around the World - they are my light. This is why I do this. I have to have the darkness in order to have the light. Yes, my life is very much like the city that I love, which you know by now is Detroit.
DT: Shall we await for your new releases in the very near future?
KR: "The Yoruba" record is set for next year. I also have an "NSYDE" and "Pittsburgh Track Authority" record coming out sooner. I have other stuff, but I've found its better to keep my mouth shut about these things.
DT: And finally, what can you say about Detroit - Berlin alliance?
KR: Bitte, Natürlich.
DT: If you can, it would be interesting to see this year's (latest music releases) your recommended playlist, between 5-12 tracks. I mean, music that drives you today.
KR: Too tough to answer, but I'll give it a go:
Todd Osborn "November"
Caribou "Can't Do Without You"
Amadou & Mariam "Ce N'est Pas Bon (JD Twitch Edit)"
Seven Davis Jr. "Friends"
Generation Next "The Tomorrow People"
Little Dragon "Nabuma Rubberband".
Also, the new Brian Eno/ Hyde new album "High Life".