Interview: Derrick May flies a new flag for 'techno'

THE LOFT (above Barfly)

Contrary to what you have read in the history books--and there's actually been a few on the topic--Derrick May doesn't play techno music. Since 2007, May and several of his proselytes, Carl Craig, Stacy Pullen and Kenny Larkin, play Hi Tek Soul. And while the distinction is missed on most lay folk (and many serious dance music followers as well) it's the logical step in a 20 year career that is two parts part musical innovator, three parts global superstar and one part snake oil salesman...

"Look at techno, the name as a brand. It's a bad brand," May told an interviewer in June of 2007. This coming from the man who, while a member of the "Bellevue Three" along with Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, was far and away the most vocal when it came to promoting "techno" during it's first run of popularity in England in the late-'80s. An era when "future music" seemed like it would actually take over the world, and we would all live in hermetically sealed bubbles in outer space, listening to "Strings of Life" with a fidgity black Lothario from Detroit as our musical savior.

So what really happened? May became an international icon, traveling the world a hundred times over, while never failing to voice his malaise over the fact that the rest of the black kids in America preferred hip-hop. But even that trend ended a decade ago and ever since, May has been fighting his own fight--trying to stay relevant while failing to release new music in 15 years. Re-branding or not, Hi Tek Soul sounds a whole lot like techno from days past.

Which leaves the last ingredient in the Derrick May recipe, eight parts entertainer. Behind the decks, May performs with the animal energy of Iggy Pop and the swagger of Jay-Z. Lots of currently fancied jocks might bang their heads and punch their fist in the air, but Mayday comes like an experience gladiator, always fighting one last battle to stay on top. And as long as the crowds--big or small--give the thumbs up when the lights go on, the warrior will live to fight another day.

Derrick May Five Star Interview (with six questions):

You've put in a lot of effort this year trying to push the Hi Tek Soul concept. They're screening the documentary High Tech Soul about the history of Detroit techno before your set at Shelter. I assume the two are connected?
Hell yeah. The goal is one an the same. There are so many lost souls between now and then who still have no idea of what real electronic music is or that Detroit techno is it's origin.

What was wrong with Techno? Do you think the music has changed significantly enough to merit a new name?
It's important to continue to try and set an example and show merit for the cause. In the process, we have to make it entertaining and interesting. Promoters rule the day and sadly its a business.

Detroit hasn't really been a hotbed for electronic music activity for a while. Berlin was hot, but is probably boring now as well. As a world traveler, is there still a hot spot for this music?
Tokyo is it for me. It has been since I first went there to help jump start the music scene back in '94. Its like my second home. And Berlin is only calming down to a common sense level. Detroit is a victim of its own demise. To much, to fast, to hard, all at once.

Is it tough being in a club at 44 years old?
45 brah! I love what I do and it loves me back. I'm one of best if not the best in world at what I do. Very few if any can stand next to me on any given day. When my time comes to walk away I'll know it. Until then I stay true to my cause, like a jedi on the hunt! On a mission to save the world from bad music.

Some Detroit classics like "Good Life" and "Strings of Life" have been picked up by a new generation of "hipster DJs." Does that surprise you?
I would be surprised if they didn't play the stuff.

You grew up in Detroit and spent a lot of time running around the Midwest. Is there still a significance to playing places like Minneapolis?
At the moment I think its very important. Back to basics is the project today. This is most important because so many people lost to the idea of Detroit Techno ("Hi-Tek Soul"), or just good dance music.

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