Derrick May Hi Tek Soul: This Is Who We Are
Derrick May is as necessary to electronic dance music today as he was twenty years ago. When you take into account that he helped create, mould and define techno, such a statement should not be taken lightly. But why is May still relevant? With no solo releases in over ten years and the hyper amphetamine induced life cycles of the electronic music industry (post dubstep, anyone?) taken into account, the answer is simple. Passion. When May gets on the phone from Detroit his candid, insightful and honest take on his career illuminates why he remains the man that could redefine a genre once more.
But back to the beginning, “The story goes where Juan (Atkins) became my friend through his brother. Juan and I didn't really care for one another, well I didn't have a problem with Juan, as a young teenager he didn't like me. He thought I was a bit of a square, he used to call me an 'L Seven', that was based on a record that Rick James made and Rick James used to always use the sign of L seven for squares and that's what I was to him”, May lets out a snicker then careens on. “One day I noticed that he liked to play chess and he tended to play chess by himself, sort of like Spock, know what I mean? I said to him, 'Hey man, I like to play chess' and he gave me a look out the side of his face like yeah right. So we started playing chess and we actually became friends from playing chess.”
May has always been a staunch supporter of developing and helping new talent, Carl Craig for instance, with this in mind it is somewhat perplexing as to why he isn't interested in releasing his own solo work. “I just really ran into a point where I thought I had done enough, I was really happy with the things I did, I didn't like the music business, I never really cared for it, I never really made music to make money. And with making music, if I didn't feel that I could really give my best then I just felt like I didn't want to do it. I felt like I gave my best when I did it, I felt like I did it for a purpose, I had a reason and something in my heart and until I feel that again I don't want to make music.
When it comes to his hometown of Detroit, you can hear the emotion grapple him instantly, his demeanour almost entranced by this bittersweet sense of what the city has become, but also what it has given him. “It's not an easy environment to live in because you live in a stagnant environment, where people are unemployed, people are walking around with very little ambition or adventure in their lives. The economy is bottomed out, the government can’t do anything to help, the locals are mostly illiterate people that are left here, the city had 2.2 million people here in 1980 or 1975, now it's about down to 700 thousand. It borders on the abyss, as the city is concerned, you know? But part of that abyss is the reason why the desire to make music was always a priority in this city, you have this sort of struggle, Detroit has never, ever been a city at piece with itself.”
May is quick to point out the elements that make up Detroit techno and in the same breath distance him self away from techno. “When I use the motto Hi-Tek-Soul, it's not just a marketing campaign, Hi-Tek-Soul is really what Detroit techno is.” May draws a breath, then rapidly fires off, “It's not that we're trying too change the name of Detroit techno, it's just that we're trying to bring the awareness back to the core of what this music was always about. This music was always about technology and it was always about soul, it was always about the people that made it, it was always about those elements. We just sort of have to stand tall and say look, this is who we are, what we represent and at the same time we have to look forward, plan and do our best and show this is where we come from. Where we go from here, where techno ends up I can't really tell you. But all I can say to anyone is, Detroit techno is Hi-Tek-Soul.”
The mission statement has always been clear-cut and to the point for May, he will never be one to rest on his laurels. “I'm looking forward to playing in Australia, I've got lots of friends down there, man I've spent a lot of time in Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, even Cairns for that matter. I've had a really wonderful opportunity for years to comedown there and have a great time. People are always receptive, they always love the music, everybody's really nice. When we get down there we're just going to do what we do, like I told you and like you said, we're on a mission to save the world from bad music.”
Derrick May [USA] plays Creamfields with Surkin [FRA}, Skazi [ISR], Gabriel & Dresden [USA] and more on Monday April 25 at the Melbourne Showgrounds.