When it comes to techno music, few, if any, names loom as large as that of Carl Craig. Alongside several peers from his native Detroit, Craig is considered one of techno’s pioneers, but one would be hard-pressed to name an electronic musician of any kind who can match the sheer volume and breadth of Craig’s musical output. His first release came out in 1989, and in the 30 years since then he has put out an impressive library of music that spans the genres of techno, house, jazz, funk, soul, downtempo, and more under his own name as well as under a series of monikers and aliases.
In addition to his own releases, he is an accomplished remixer, working with the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Theo Parrish, Junior Boys, Caribou, and many more. His latest endeavor, called Versus, is a collaboration with a Parisian orchestra and classical pianist in which over a dozen of his classic tracks have been re-arranged and performed by an orchestra. 2017 saw the release of an album featuring these compositions as well as the launch of a tour called Versus Synthesizer Ensemble, which features Craig and his collaborators performing the re-works live in select cities around the world.
While Craig is a musician and DJ first and foremost, he has made a career out of supporting music and artists coming out of Detroit. He was the driving force behind the creation of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, a festival which still brings thousands of people to Detroit each Memorial Day weekend nearly 20 years later under the name Movement. In 2014, he launched a series of events called Detroit Love, which sees Craig serving as a proselytizer spreading the gospel of Detroit music all over the globe, both through the music he plays and the fellow Detroit DJs he brings with him to share the bills.
After making his Minneapolis debut in 2015 with one of his Detroit Love showcases, Craig returns to Minneapolis tomorrow to play Midwest Funk Association, a Prince tribute at the 7th St Entry. (Full disclosure: I am producing and promoting this event alongside First Avenue.) As I explored last year, Prince had a very strong bond with the city of Detroit — largely thanks to a radio DJ and tastemaker named the Electrifying Mojo — at a time when Craig and his peers were on the cusp of inventing techno music in the early 1980s.
I connected with Craig ahead of the show to ask him what it was like growing up as a Prince fan in Detroit and how the Minneapolis icon has influenced him as an artist.
Do you remember your first experience with Prince?
When I first heard “Soft and Wet” on the radio…so 1978, I think. We used to have this station, WKRQ. I guess you’d call it an alternative pop station, but it was leaning more urban. I remember hearing that song, and then I was at Musicland, or one of those kind of chain stores, with my sister, and she pulled out the For You album. I remember seeing the cover, and seeing the big ‘fro and everything, and her going all googly-eyed. I didn’t put two and two together that that was the same record. Later on, with “Bambi” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”, I knew the music, but I didn’t realize it was by the same guy.
Then when I really got into Prince, I was in my bedroom with a friend of mine and we heard Dirty Mind coming from the basement, where my brother was sleeping. We listened to it through the heat vent, and my friend said, “Yeah, that’s Prince!” So we went down to the stairway of the basement, just listening, almost like listening to Richard Pryor albums that our parents would play in the basement that we weren’t supposed to hear. We’re hearing all these things like “Head,” and in 1981 I was 12, and I think that was really the beginning of my love affair with Prince’s music.
What was it like growing up as a music fan in Detroit when Prince made his debut, with Motown having moved to Los Angeles?
Yeah, I really didn’t care so much about Motown being in Detroit, because I didn’t even really know it was in Detroit until I was six or seven years old, at the Turkey Day Parade, and this is when they had the Motown building on Woodward and I-75, and there was the Motown logo that was on top of the building. I knew the logo; it was something that always stayed in my head. Of course, [I also remember] seeing the record labels from Motown, whether it was the Motown label for Jackson Five’s “Dancing Machine” or the Gordy label for “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” or the Tamla label for Stevie Wonder.
It was those memories I had in relation to Detroit and Motown, but the Electrifying Mojo was the catalyst for me even really knowing about Detroit music that was coming out that was outside of Motown. We had other labels like Inviticus, and there were these disco labels that were coming out, Westbound Records that had Funkadelic, Ohio Players, that kind of stuff…but The Electrifying Mojo was where it all came together. He was playing Cybotron’s “Alleys of Your Mind,” A Number of Names’ “Sharevari,” and these records that we knew came from Detroit. They were being produced by kids, pretty much. Paulie Lesley lived down the street from me when I was a kid, one of the guys from A Number of Names.
How much of an influence would you say Mojo was on the musical tastes of the people of Detroit?
He was the chief tastemaker. He was the general of music in the ’80s, definitely. He dominated the ’80s for Detroit radio. He was the guy, if he sneezed on a record, motherfuckers would still play it. He was that dominant. When he played “Irresistible Bitch,” of course you couldn’t have bitch on there, but the edit was “Irresistible, sistible, I love the way you talk. Irresistible, sistible,” you know, that kind of thing. Then other stations did that edit too, because he made it so hot in Detroit. They were even playing it during drive time.
How important a figure was Prince on Mojo’s radio show?
He was huge. He was huge because Prince, from what we knew didn’t do interviews, but he did one with Mojo, and that was a big deal for us. Michael Jackson wasn’t calling in to the show. Michael Jackson was definitely a heavyweight, but Prince was the guy who co-signed the Electrifying Mojo and his show, more than what we already knew.
I think Mojo’s radio career was probably made mostly from playing these competition segments, so Prince versus Michael Jackson, Rick James versus Prince, that kind of stuff. We all sat waiting for the show to come on so we could hear these things. He was playing great new music, great electronic music, like Kraftwerk, and then the music that was inspired by Kraftwerk like Afrika Bambaataa, Model 500, Nucleus, and that kind of stuff. We waited by the radio for these Prince versus Michael Jackson shows, but he was playing all this other stuff that was very influential to us.
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