If one name crops up again and again in discussions of techno, it is that of Derrick “Mayday” May. Alongside Atkins, Juan, Craig, Carl and Saunderson, Kevin, May is regarded as one of the kings of the Detroit sound. Inspired by Yello and Kraftwerk, he began to make electronic music with Atkins and Saunderson while studying with them at Belleville High, Detroit. Recording either as Mayday or Rhythim Is Rhythim (occasionally in conjunction with Carl Craig) and generally on his own Transmat Records label, he went on to carve out a new vein in dance music that synthesized the advances of the electro movement with the more challenging end of the House movement – a music that defined “techno”. Early cuts such as “Nude Photo” (co-written with Thomas Barnett) and “The Dance”, both on Transmat, were inspirational to many. However, it was the release of “Strings Of Life” in 1987 (co-written with Michael James) with its wide appeal to the house music fans of the 80s & 90s, simultaneously brought May his deserved acclaim and Detroit techno to European club-goers.
May went on to cut three tracks on System 7’s debut album, before Network released Innovator: Soundtrack For The Tenth Planet in 1991, a six-track EP that comprised some of May’s definitive moments to date. In the same year, May was responsible for what Carl Craig has called the finest remix ever, Sueo Latino’s “Sueo Latino”, itself a reworking of Manuel Goettsching’s epic “E2-E4”. It was followed in 1992 by Relics, a double album of Transmat’s finest moments, heavily featuring Rhythim Is Rhythim, which coincided with a re-release of “Strings Of Life” on the Belgium label Buzz, this time in a drumless version reminiscent of May’s “Sueo Latino” remix. More recently, Transmat has been revived following its signing to Sony. This has resulted in the long-awaited release of Rhythim Is Rhythim’s 1991 recordings, “Kao-tic Harmony” and “Icon”, and the Japanese (and subsequent American) release of a comprehensive Derrick May retrospective, Innovator, which contains all May’s work for the Transmat label including remixes and tracks released for the first time.
Detroit Techno landlord and head of the internationally respected Transmat Records, Derrick May continues to move dancefloors with his no-nonsense Techno grooves. One third of the Belleville Three, this electronic legend arranges classic Detroit tracks in a timeless fashion: frantically beat-heavy yet soulfully warm. Nervous beats and breaks pound away at curvy synths and digital melodies that stand in the background of these vibesome grooves like an electric scalloped fence surrounding a celebrity’s home. Confident rhythms charge at your chest through an invisible spiderweb of string samples holding your consciousness captive on the dancefloor.
Derrick May is one of the founding fathers of Detroit techno, a precursor of its many variants and particularly of acid house. His eastethic, skeletal, melancholy style gained him the nickname of “the Miles Davis of techno”. He introduced both a psychological element and a futuristic vision in dance music. Along with his high school mates Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, May began early in life to explore electronic music May sponsored the single Let’s Go by X-Ray, that introduced the hypnotic, repetitive electronic figures of techno, and then recorded Nude Photo (co-written by Thomas Barnett) (Transmat, 1987), credited to Rhythim Is Rhythim, one of the records that started the techno revolution world-wide.
Inspired by the legendary Detroit disco DJ, Ken Collier, May, along with High School friend Juan Atkins, formed Deep Space, a DJ and party outfit in the early eighties. Playing what they termed as ‘conceptual disco’ to the high school party scene that was very much alive in Detroit at the time, the duo set themselves apart from the other DJ and party collectives at the time. Atkins had already been very influential in shaping the emerging techno sound with his recordings as Cybotron, but May’s time was soon to come.
Whilst DJing with Atkins, May spent time visiting his mother in Chicago, where he was exposed to the emerging house music scene that was being championed by the likes of Frankie Knuckles and Farley Jackmaster Funk. His experiences in Chicago opened his eyes wider to the growing possibilities of electronic music and the euphoria and spiritualty it was capable of creating.
In 1986 May set up his now legendary Transmat label, taking the name from the early Atkins track ‘Time Space Transmat’ on his Metroplex label. May cut his production teeth with the label’s first release ‘Let’s Go’, developin his craft from the guiding hand of Atkins. His next release, under the guise of Rhytim is Rhythim entitled ‘Nude Photo’ (co-written by Thomas Barnett), with it’s bending synths, melodic staccato bass and deep bass drums would come to define the emerging techno sound.May then continued to develop his sound for Transmat. Utilising the familiar bass sounds with ever more complex beats, flange effects, twisting chords and deep strings, May produced a catalogue of music that pushed the boundaries of what could be accomplished with electronic sound ever further apart. To many, the techno of Detroit is very much ingrained within the character and history of the City itself. A City that was isolated from the rest of America, with a downtown area in financial and architectural ruin, a deteriating motor industry and the reputation of it being the ‘murder capital’ of America, Detroit, on the outset, seemed a desolate and empty place. In reality there was a spirit and soul there that lived on in the City’s urban communities from its glory days and its great musical heritage. This mixture of coldness and warmth, desolation and soul, was perfectly represented by May’s Techno experiments. The classic tracks that include ‘Beyond the Dance’, ‘The Beginning’, ‘Icon’ and his most famous release ‘Strings of Life’ all emphasise Techno’s most crucial componant, that this is the music of machines, cold and soulless machines, but May injected and extracted so much hope, spirituality and soul from them that the result was truly inspirational.
Inspiration is certainly one thing that all techno artists that came out in the wake of May’s recordings owe to him. An ambassador for Detroit and techno, May spent much time in the UK and Europe promoting the music at a time when America was not ready to wake up. At a time where the ‘Summer of Love’ was at its peak, May’s recordings, especially the seminal ‘Strings of life’ helped heighten and give further fuel to the movement. As well as his original production work, May’s ‘Mayday’ remix projects are also legendary. His re-workings turn average tracks into unique masterpieces, nowhere more evident than on his classic remix of pop band Dee-Lite’s ‘Wild Times’. This tune would also become a favorite of UK DJs at huge raves across the country, with its mixture of pounding hard basslines and tear rendering piano melodies, all combined with May’s trademark intricate and effect laden techno beats.
May spends most of his time touring the world as a DJ, continuing in the tradition of the likes of Ken Collier and Larry Levan, a tradition he started with his Deep Space parties all those years ago. He also still runs his Transmat label from Detroit, which has been given a new lease of life in recent years with the introduction of many artists that have helped kick start Detroit’s ‘third wave’ of dominence over techno.
Derrick May Mixes
Pioneering Detroit Techno DJ and producer Derrick May was recently invited to do a special edition of the BBC Radio 6 Mix, featuring three new exclusive mixes which showcase his musical make up, expect everything from Jazz, Soul,Ambient Electronica,Chicago House & of course Techno & Hi-Tech Soul. He also talks about his work as a producer and DJ throughout the mix. Enjoy!
NOT TOO LONG AGO, my good friends Dysqo and Rhyno called me, all hyped on a certain DJ they wanted to bring out. He uses a telephone as his headset (the old school kind) and scratches House Music better than any DMC DJ I’ve ever seen.
Enter Mr. Terrence Parker from Detroit. With over 100 productions under his belt and top 20 hits such as “Love’s Got Me High”, “The Question” and albums such as Detroit After Dark, he gives us hope that being a successful producer does not mean compromising to the hip and trendy.
He has a fairly young label called Parker Music Works that has churned out 28 releases in just two years. He is one of the true pioneers of Gospel House, and listening to his mixes brought me back to the earlier years of House with big churchy vocals, uplifting piano chords and deep deep basslines. In this day and age when every producer/DJ is screaming “tech”, “electro” or “minimal”, Terrence’s music is timeless.
But more than that, Terrence Parker is an inspiration. After just ten minutes on the phone with him it felt like talking to an old friend. Strongly rooted in his faith, he emanates an energy that was palpable as we talked about losing faith in the music industry, being saved and why even bigtime DJs still need to get a job…
You took a one year sabbatical from the music industry, can you tell me more about that?
Oh sure. Actually it was needed for a number of reasons. I knew that it was possible for me to have a career on the Hip-hop side but as I got into House Music, I didn’t see it so much as a career until I started getting closer to people here in Detroit like Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, Blake Baxter, Eddie Fowlkes… And looking and watching them really gave me the idea that, hey, I could really make a career out of this!
As I started to get more successful over the years, the business side of it became more and more stressful, to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it. The love never died, but I just wasn’t getting the same type of satisfaction. The passion was overshadowed by all the politics and business drama that goes along with the music industry. I was really beginning to lose faith in people.
Even beyond that I was going through this whole spiritual thing. I mean I always loved God, I grew up in church and that whole thing, but I hadn’t truly made the commitment or the sacrifice of myself. I said I’m going to turn my life over to God because I really wanted a change. So I went through that whole thing of reconnecting with God, being baptized, being saved… the whole nine yards.
Was there something in your life such as a tragedy that triggered it?
Well let’s just say that God has a way of getting one’s attention! In 2001 when we had the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was shortly after that that my bookings started to decline. I went from making quite a bit of money to basically nothing. Like no bookings coming in, nothing happening at all. Everything dried up. Things started going down. When you go from making quite a bit of money to not making anything at all… you wake up quick!
In Memory of MJ & just to get you a little hyped for the upcoming Terrence Parker live show we though we should pull out a classic mix we featured by the man himself.
Be sure to check out the gig Saturday 24th Sept presented for plenty of similar vibes.
Thank you for listening to the Terrence Parker Mix Show Podcast and making it one of the most popular mix shows on the Internet. This show is not brought to you by any corporate sponsorship and therefore I have completely creative control over the show’s musical content. Your generous financial support is needed to help keep the show going. Large or small, any amount you can give is greatly appreciated. However, for any gift over $25 US Dollars I will send you one of my latest TP Mix CDs (please allow up to 14 days for shippping and handling).
Detroit has been credited as one of the Soul Music capitals of the world, spawning legendary artists like The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross just to name a few. Detroit’s Underground Music Movement has brought rise to artists such as Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson and a host of others. But unlike the aforesaid names, Terrence Parker has established himself as a producer, remixer and DJ of the classic sound of House Music, and is known as a pioneer of the Inspirational / Gospel House movement!
Terrence Parker has performed as a DJ in more than 100 cities throughout the world. Since 1988, he has released more than 100 recordings, and had top 20 hits with his songs “Love’s Got Me High”, “The Question” and albums like “Detroit After Dark” in the U.K., The Netherlands, Germany, and France. As one of the headliners for the 2004 Detroit Movement Festival (May 2004), TP (along with his friend & Detroit legend DJ Mo Reese) performed a stunning Tagteam DJ set on 4 turntables with 2 live vocalists for a crowd of over 100,000 people. As part of the Detroit Historical Museum’s History of Techno International Exhibit, TP’s collective musical works and pioneering efforts have been recognized as a valuable contribution to Detroit’s music history, as well as the International History Dance Music. This exhibit is currently touring museums throughout the United States.
Ahead of his only London date, Legendary Detroit DJ and innovator Terrence Parker takes a few minutes aside from his ’30 Years Of DJing’ tour to answer a few questions on his esteemed career Grand Master Flash, his European tour, today’s music scene and his famous telephone….
1) Congratulations on 30 years of music and your current tour, I’m sure there have been many but can you tell us about some of your favourite moments?
WOW! There have been countless wonderful memories over the past 30 years. One of the events I remember the most is the very first party I ever played. It was our eighth grade graduation party hosted by my classmate named Mike Muirhead. Before that party I had been known for the mix tapes I made, but that party was the first time a large group was able to witness my DJing skills directly. It was a great party which launched my DJing career right into high school. After that party word began to spread and by the time I was a senior in high school I was DJing events at high schools throughout the Detroit area regularly.
I also remember in 1990 sending demo tapes out to many mix show DJs and record labels. Only one person responded. That one person was Tony Humphries! I remember when he first contacted me about the demo, telling me how much he really liked it. He played it on his radio show (which at that time was on Hot 97 in NYC). The track on that demo was “Hold On’, which was later released on Kevin Saunderson’s Trance Fusion label (a division of KMS Records). Tony went on to break my Seven Grand Housing Authority track “The Question” while he was resident at Ministry Of Sound in London.
Some of my most memorable DJ events were in Detroit, but also other countries like Japan, Russia, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Serbia, Belarus, and many others! The largest audience I ever played for was at the Movement Festival in Detroit with over 100,000 people. It has truly been a great 30 years!
2) What’s your opinion on the current state of the music scene?
People do not seem to value music they way it use to be 20 (and more) years ago. Music is viewed as an intangible audio file rather than a tangible piece of artistic work. There are a lot of fantastic creative people today making some amazing music. Unfortunately they are not being recognized or appreciated as perhaps they would have been years ago. The advances in technology are great but it allows for easy pirating and file sharing. Hopefully people will realize the best way to show support for your favorite artist is to buy their music.
3) Working with labels such as KMS Records, Serious Grooves, 430 West and Simply Soul, do you feel this is where you gained the experience and confidence to launch your own labels and what would you say to people who would like to launch their own labels?
Yes I learned a lot from watching Kevin Saunderson, Santonio Echols, JD Simpson, The Burden Brothers, Mad Mike Banks and several others. My advice to anyone who wishes to launch their own label is simple. Find some people you feel are successful with their labels and watch how they operate. If you do not know the person directly, read any books, blogs, or other material they have available.
4) Being a such an icon for so long, does this put a lot of pressure on your life as a whole?
I do not feel any pressure because I stay true to who I am. Many years ago I use to feel a lot of pressure to live up to a public image. But now I have my life priorities in order of God first, family second, and everything else follows behind.
5) What was the determining factor that made you want to pursue a career in music and what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Even as a young boy I have always enjoyed music. Watching people like Michael Jackson and George Clinton made me consider a career in music. However, it wasn’t until after I saw Grand Master Flash rocking the turntables that I knew for certain I wanted to enter the music business. Over the years there have been many challenges. Perhaps the biggest and most common challenge I faced was getting someone to listen to my demo and ultimately sign me to their label. Although I have released my music with many labels over the years, the process was very difficult and often times quite discouraging. My frustration with the “demo shopping” aspect of the industry is what motivated me to launch my own label (known at that time as “Intangible Records”).
6) With so many achievements including top twenty hits with tunes including “Love’s Got Me High“, playing in more than 100 cities around the world and hit albums in the U.K like “Detroit After Dark” are there currently any goals you set yourself?
I would like to do more television & film projects. I have a few under my belt but I would like to get deeper into this area. I would love to DJ on the African continent, South America, South East Asia, Australia, and many other interesting places in the world. Most of all I would like to help others (not just with DJing or music, but in life).
7) Your current tour started way back in March taking you all over the world, we are looking forward to seeing you appear here in London at East Village on the 26th November, what can we expect to hear and will it differ from what you have played in other countries?
Although the tone of my DJ sets are the same (strictly positive) I play a different set everywhere I go.
I plan to play a lot of inspirational house music, funk, soul, and disco classics. You may also hear a few of my own productions tossed into the mix.
You come from a golden era in music when the whole world seemed to be taking inspiration from Detroit, what was different there and how was it different to what was happening in other music capitals around the world?
Respectfully I cannot accurately compare Detroit to other areas because I do not know their music history from a personal level. I can only speak from the perspective of a Detroiter. Many years ago music was regional and strictly localized. But in today’s world with the internet, it is much easier to become familiar with music and culture from a global perspective. As I have personally traveled to various places throughout the world I can see the Detroit influence in the up and coming producers in various countries. But I will say that Detroit was very unique because of the tough economic climate, and it’s rich music history from our classical symphony, to jazz, to Motown soul, to hip hop.
9) Your known for mixing with a telephone, how did that come about?
I started using my telephone headset back in the 1980s. A friend of mine went to Chicago, saw a DJ there using the telephone headset, and then he came home and made one for himself. When I saw the headset my friend made I asked if I could use it at a party. I used it at a party and liked it very much. So I asked my friend to show me how to make one and he did. I was very good with electronics so I figured I could make one with no problem. I went home that night and made my own telephone headset. I have been using one ever since. The one I use now I have had for 18 years, and I still enjoy it very much.
10) Your set at Fuse-In during the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2005 was a master class in scratching and working a crowd, do you have an idea of what direction your going to take a set in or do you just see where the vibe takes you?
I usually vibe off the audience. If the energy from the people is great, it tends to boost my energy as well.
11) Lastly, if you could give budding DJ’s and Producers a word of advice what would you say?
Take time to develop your craft (do not rush). Be true to yourself (do not compromise your principles). Be professional at all times. Do not look down on anyone unless you are reaching down