INTERVIEW: Kevin Saunderson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Kevin Saunderson has been one of the most prominent figures on the DJ circuit for over thirty years. Known as one of the Belleville Three – alongside Derrick May and Juan Atkins – Saunderson has continually been successful both as a solo DJ and alongside others in the house circuit. In 1987, he formed the legendary group Inner City with Chicago native Paris Grey, going on to have two worldwide smashes with Good Life and Big Fun.

Saunderson has continued to be successful as a DJ and on 1st January he is headlining Shindig’s New Year’s Day party alongside MK, Jaymo & Andy George and Christoph at Digital, Newcastle.

Ahead of his set, I caught up with Saunderson to talk about his early life, his Deep Space Radio Project and what he’s got in store for Shindig.

You’re closely associated with Detroit but you were born and spent a lot of time in Brooklyn. What was different about Detroit compared to Brooklyn? Did the space of Detroit inspire you (since it’s known for being quite an industrial city)?

Brooklyn was very busy, it was violent and it was dirty. There was a lot of noise, gambling and gangs. I was 11/12 years old when I left and the projects were very close to where I was living.

I was staying in the suburbs of Detroit so I wasn’t really in the city. I lived and I grew up in Belleville. I Met Derrick [May] at my junior high school playing football and then Juan [Atkins]. So at that time there was no musical ambition even though I listened to a lot of New York Radio, a lot of master mixes back when I was living in New York. When I met Juan and Derrick, Juan had all these different tape machines and gadgets because he was a musician and learned how to read and write music but I didn’t really pay attention to him because my biggest thing was sports.

Belleville was a lot quieter than New York; it was more peaceful and very relaxed. Through time and as I got older, by the time I was maybe 18/19 I got a touch of The Electrifying Mojo, that was more of an inspiration to music than the city itself, because I hadn’t seen the city of Detroit except one or two times until I got to the age of 20. So, the industrial factor was really no problem. I think being around Juan and Derrick and going back to New York, once I became old enough to go to clubs like the Paradise Garage and the Zanzibar, had its influence on me and then I realised like Juan was making music and Derrick was his biggest fan you know so I kind of fell into it.

How did you get into the techno scene? I know you met Derrick May and Juan Atkins there but what inspired you to get into the genre and begin producing your own music?

After being around Juan for years I developed my own music taste and I wanted to be a DJ. I was living in Michigan, Derrick was living in Chicago, and Juan was actually putting out records that you would hear on the radio, so that inspired me. I also had a brother that was the tour manager for a group called Bass Brass production and also BT Express. They made a road trip because they had a concert in Detroit so they just stopped by the house and hung out for a couple of days. I think that had an influence. As I got older, when I was going Eastern, I decided I wanted to be a DJ. Derrick hooked me up with these guys called Artpaint and Keith Martin. Once I got into their apartment they had all this specialist music and I just fell in love with wanting to be a DJ. After a little bit of time went by, I just practiced on their stuff then eventually I got some belt driven turntables because I couldn’t afford my own.

Derrick was hanging out with the Chicago guys, then he moved back to Detroit and it just all fell together. We had this, like group: me, him and a group of guys who were just into the same music. I loved dance music in general and I felt like there was a void in music at the time and there wasn’t enough stuff like it. I was still, however, so attached to disco music, which was kind of over but still inspiring.

The new tools like the 909 and DX100 made it very easy to create your own music and do it by yourself. It became inspirational and my path was making music that people could dance to. That was my biggest thing: creating sounds that were unique.

Kevin Mixer Pic

Newcastle and the North in general has always held a special place in my heart, it’s a lot like Detroit, gritty, real and full of soul

For those who might not know, what makes Detroit techno different and special?

Well, Detroit was the beginning of the way we hear music today. In many different ways it inspired a whole industry, so that’s what makes us different. We were the forerunners that really kicked it off. Chicago had a big influence as well, but Detroit’s impact is that we came up with our sound that was called techno. It’s lasted the true test of time.

You masterminded the production of Deep Space Radio in the early nineties and then revived it again in 2013 as a monthly podcast. What’s your major aim with the podcast in the long term?

Deep Space Radio was great back then and I still love doing it. I love radio, I love putting mixes and concepts together and letting people hear it. It has always been something that I was into and I just do it really for my own pleasure and to give people a different twist on what they are listening to. Long term, I always want to play good and new music from around the world and Detroit.

What can we expect from a Kevin Saunderson DJ set?

I always try to have you expect the unexpected. Much of what I do is thought out but also spontaneous; you have to feel the crowd so you can bring them with you.  I really try to interact and communicate with the crowd through music and my expectations and hopes are that the music brings us together, almost in a unifying fashion. I just do what I am feeling.

Are you looking forward to playing at the Shindig New Year’s Day event?

Absolutely! Newcastle and the North in general has always held a special place in my heart; it’s a lot like Detroit, gritty, real and full of soul. And also, how often do you get to see me with my hometown buddy, Marc Kinchen [MK]?  I am definitely looking forward to this.

Do you have any special tracks or tricks up your sleeve for the crowd at Shindig On New Year’s Day?

I always try to have something up my sleeve, but if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise!

Kevin Saunderson will be playing at Shindig’s New Year’s Day Party at Digital, Newcastle on Thursday 1st January.

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