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Mixing it!

Mixing up the motor city

Kevin Saunderson

Article from The Mix, April 1995

As a hothouse of garage artists and remix projects, the city of Detroit is fast reclaiming the title of 'Music City USA'. And Kevin 'Reese' (Maurice) Saunderson is one Detroit artist who has gained respect as one of the most creative forces in the field of electronic music in the last fifteen years.

Kevin was among the originators of the genre we now know as techno and house. If you've been anywhere near a dancefloor in the past few years, you can't have escaped such monsters as Inner City and The Reese Project. The impressive portfolios of these and other projects confirm Saunderson's reputation for innovation.

As far back as 1982, Kevin's friend, Juan Atkins was making energetic electronic music inspired by the likes of Kraftwerk. This music could be described as an early form of techno, and along with Derrick May, they went on to produce some of the deepest, most inspiring dance music of their generation.

I expected a feisty, streetwise interviewee, but far from being prickly or full of attitude, Kevin turned out to be a genial university graduate.

So what attracted him to the Detroit techno scene?

"I've been into music for about ten years now. I was at university, and seeing Derrick May and Juan Atkins because we had been at high school together." After high school, they all went their separate ways. Derrick went to Chicago. Juan went to Detroit, but both continued making music. It was when Derrick became a Chicago DJ, experimenting with music, that Kevin caught the bug:

"I guess when I saw him. I thought 'Man, if he can do it, I can do it!'"

While at university in New York, Kevin had been to the Paradise Garage club, gaining catholic tastes in vocal garage and disco.

"Parliament, Funkadelic and things like Prince were big, and all those things gelled together."

However, when he met Derrick again, he got more into things like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. He insists that in the beginning, it was Juan if anybody who was making techno first. Before the Chicago scene, he had been doing the Cybertron project.

"It was very experimental funky techno Cybersonic music - it was unbelievable. It was massive in Detroit at one point and it rubbed off on Derrick and me." Chicago had its house grooves earlier, but Kevin believes the way his crew were doing it was different.

"We used effects, we had more energy, and we did something different to the Chicago guys - raw, dry, grooving tracks and we took it to another level."

Kevin was fortunate enough to have a brother who was hip to all the latest musical equipment. He borrowed some money from his mum to buy a mixing desk, a tape machine and all the necessities to create.

"I remember when Derrick started, all he had was a board, a DX100 and a sequencer. He made 'Rhythim is Rhythim' off that one little keyboard."

At the moment, Kevin is trying to get his new Inner City album out of the way, after which he is going to do a Reese Project record full of experimental techno ideas. This album, he claims, will go back to his original roots in a "dark, innovative vein."

To a large extent, it was Network's Neil Rushton who was responsible for breaking Kevin and friends in Britain. He became Kevin's manager for a while, and got him signed up to Virgin.

"Neil was in the right place at the right time, and we were making the right music. I really believe that we were making the best music at that particular time. There weren't many people doing it."

Kevin now has such a large equipment collection that it would be hard to list it all. He did, however, mention some of his favourite units.

"I work with Studio Vision on a QuadraMac 900. I use the Waldorf Wave a lot, the TX81Z, Vintage Keys. The list can go on. The Wave handles most of the old analogue sounds for me. I don't know if I could think of a favourite machine to be honest. There's still some patches on the TX81Z from the old days that work really well."

He still does some engineering from time to time, and believes it is a necessary part of the creative process.

"You've got to know how to get a certain sound. You might want to gate something, expand, or compress it. If I'm not in the mood, however, I'll just tell an engineer what to do."

Kevin Saunderson has always managed to remain fairly anonymous. But why is it that he would rather remain in the shadows?

"I think it's better to remain fairly anonymous." said Reese. "As long as the records are appreciated, that's the most important thing to me. I couldn't realistically be several artists at one time, because the record company is always promoting you. I never really wanted to be promoted at all. It just happened. I just want to stand in the background and create. That's what makes me tick."

If you want to know more about the early Detroit stuff, Retro Techno on Network Records should more than satisfy your appetite. It includes such classics as Reese and Santonio's 'Rock to the Beat', 'Rhythim is Rhythim', and Derrick May's 'Strings of Life'. These are the tunes that paved the way for the techno and house sounds of today...

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The hills are alive

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Roland XP 50 and VG8

Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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The Mix - Apr 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Chris Needham

Mixing it!

Interview by Rob Green

Previous article in this issue:

> The hills are alive

Next article in this issue:

> Roland XP 50 and VG8

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