Let's talk about Derrick May

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Really not interested in a C&D or S&D on this, as I have his mostly-complete-works 2-CD thingy. Why I am interested in is gaining a deeper understanding of his work & why it moves people so. I've had Innovator for a while and still haven't given it enough listening time, but at this point its difficult for me to see why people (particularly those in the U.K.) go crazy over what he did. As an aside, over half of what I listen to on a daily basis is instrumental electronic music, so I dig where May is coming from.

I think both versions of "Strings of Life" are very beautiful (in particular the remix w/ Cox), the way he overlaps sounds and melodies is brilliant, but nothing else on that collection stands out for me in any way. It sounds fine, for the most part, but I just can't see why it was such a breakthrough, and why electronic music freaks still go wild for it. I hear people talking about "soul" when talking about May, which sheds no light for me. Do his melodies move you? Is there something about how he programs beats? Does the textures he gets from his synths make you swoon? I'm really interested in hearing what fans of work find so appealing.

Did you have to be there?

Mark, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

...that should read "remix with Craig" not with Cox. Carl Cox, Carl Craig...you know.

Mark, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

to be honest, this is something i've never understood. detroit techno retrosnobberygoldenagism can be one of the worst going. what i've heard of his stuff is, um, ok, i guess. he's been living off strings of life for, like, how long?

and when he got all peeved about breakbeathardcore circa 91 because it was 'depurifying his vision' or whatever, well, that was just pathetic

gareth, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

I got a compilation of his stuff and was surprised by how weak and tinny and old it sounded. Not particularly funky either. I much prefer what I've heard of Juan Atkins/Model 500.

Johnathan, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

May isn't very popular amongst a good portion of the scenesters out here. I'm not one of 'em myself, but I've caught more than a few earfuls from plenty of people who share the negative sentiment. His arrogance isn't doing him much good, either. ("The DEMF was basically my concept, but I let Carl run with it," "I invented the wheel," etc.)

I agree that several of his tracks are quite pretty, but I'll take Craig, Saunderson, Atkins, etc. over him any day. From where I'm standing, the aura overrides the substance.

Andy, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

This may be boring and obvious but: the greatest thing to me abt Detroit techno seems like a drawback when you're just listening to tracks back-to-back: the relative sameness and consistency of the instrumentation (The Roland sound, etc.). I know this has been beaten to death but I'm going to draw a parallel that reinvigorates your interest in the entire genre ;) That sameness allows a gifted DJ (like uh... JEFF MILLS) to do things w/turntables that are literally impossible with other techno and house genres. When the handclaps from one track are the EXACT SAME handclaps in another, you can build a set that is sneaky, unique, and utterly seamless. I feel weird saying this because I have a kind of "anti-seamlessness" stance towards most DJ music these days, but minimal Detroit stuff allows the DJ to be much more of a "musician" than almost any other genre (besides hiphop tunrtablists of course).

The parallel: the World Wide Web. In the very early days of the web, every page looked exactly the same. Gray background, left-justified. No images. That was the vision: every page was just a page among other pages, the "site" was the entire web itself, cross-referenced with everything else. Nothing with its own prominence or personality. The value was in combination, not isolation. I personally get very bored with Surgeon, Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Blake Baxter, etc. on a track-by-track basis but I got bored with individual web pages in 1994 as well - the WHOLE is what gets me goin.

Tracer Hand, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Well Tracer - I'll send out that tape I promised you in a couple of days. I think I'll send you esntire Noise albums too - you could appreciate the all-out minimal in a non-changing way sound of them.

Kodanshi, Friday, 22 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

This guy is the heart and soul of what Detroit Techno is and should be. Innovator is not a complete view of his work, more just a series of familiar highlights. The thing that people should understand is that all dance music has to be viewed in a larger picture rather than as an individual work. If you look at what was going on in 1987-92, and the Chicago and Detroit records that would have been played along side his music it makes a lot more sense. Much of it is music meant to be played in public by a DJ in a mix...

If you view it from the perspective of a historical reference. The things that Derrick did completely blew open the doors for electronic music in the 1990's. There would be no UK IDM records, no Warp, no B12, no ART, no Plaid... his music was the reference for an entire section of European underground electronic music. He set the stage for the entire deep electronic soul scene in Detroit.

Derrick May was brilliant because it was the perfect synthesis of refined European Culture and African-American Soul. Because his music contains that cold cerebral elegance of Kraftwerk and New Wave at its finest, while simultainously retaining the warmth and soul of the American Black musical tradition. Between the cold strings and chord stabs, the sleek dx100 basslines, and funked out Roland x0x drum programming you can completely glimpse into the soul of Derrick May. His records are an utterly precise reflection of who he was as a person and of the time in Detroit when he made those records.

To really get those records you need to be in the situation that they were designed for. You need to be in a dark sweaty Detroit club in 1989 filled with people who are there to get down because they so desperately need an escape from the pressure of life as black people in the murder capitol of the industrial world. Those records are genius because they are dark, uplifting, elegant, and rawly sexual simultainously.

If you want to really understand why his records were so great, you need to listen to Icon and Strings of Strings, Nude Photo, and his other downtempo music on a walkman by yourself in downtown Detroit at 3am on a weeknight. When you can see places like the Music Insitute on Broadway, The Shelter on Congress, Save The Vinyl, The old Planet E offices off Boardway, The Transmat, ex-KMS, ex-Metroplex and ex-7th City offices on Gratiot and the old Submerge building on Grand River, then it will make more sense. The idea of going to a city that was one of the largest industrial centers of the world, and walking downtown after 2am and seeing nobody on the streets for blocks and blocks, hearing nothing because no one else is around. Looking at sections that are in decay juxtaposed with commerical building that are still functioning and in repair. The posters on the walls and the character of the architecture of the buildings that are the dark canyon walls of downtown...

you will get the strange sensation of desolation and warmth at the same time. When you understand that feeling in that context, Derrick May will make perfect sense to you.

Michael Taylor, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

yeh, but with may you get the priviedging of 'the man/the myth' over what he actually he did musically. yeh, he had a huge impact on the development of music, but that only makes him important, not necessarily good. i think his records, esp string of life, are overrated.

as for the seemlessness of mixes making everything samey, well, thats often posited as a criticism of dance music per se (and one i disagree with). for example, jeff mills dj sets bring a new meaning to the word samey, but it works (although i'm not sure you call mills mixing seamless!)

in the end i don't think may's work has dated that well (as opposed to say, phuture), and i think may's opinion on music that has developed away from his vision is unfortunate

gareth, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Well if you stay away from the endless myth-making of the man in mags like Muzik, you're on your way.

The music, I hate to overanalyze it because tracks like Strings of Life, Icon, Beyond the Dance and It Is What It Is? (probably my favourite piece of music ever) just mean too much to me. As seperate tracks and in DJ-sets (he's a great DJ btw, also from the jerky- scratch school of mixing)

So he dissed hardcore in '91, whatever, a lot of people did, doesn't change my opinion of his music.

One wonders though how influencial he really has been? Nobody really took his model any further, did they? May be Photek a bit, but I always figured Saunderson was the one in the end who got copied the most.

Omar, Saturday, 23 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

The annoying thing about the whole "if there was no Derrick May..." argument is that a) it's not true and b) it's meaningless.

a - because acid house and techno were, at the time when they crossed over originally, not terribly far away from eachother stylistically (techno was often considered a subset of acid house in the UK, apparently). Even if all the Bellevue Three had never been born, it would have only been a matter of time before someone, most likely in the UK (808 State, for example), would have made the connection between acid house and electro. Techno was always about a certain mindset rather than a particular musical approach anyway, and lord knows that beats + machine-futurism was a fairly obvious idea even then (remember EBM?).

Certainly Derrick's individual contribution could have easily been missed, notwithstanding the quality of the music itself.

b) You could just as easily say that but for eighties progressive dance from Italy there would have been no Derrick May. Does that really mean anything?

Tim, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

---- "if there was no Derrick May..." argument ----

Really, do people say this? Cause I've never met anyone who claimed this (because all the Techno professors would rubish that argument). But you're right techno was just a part of acidhouse and up till 1993 you wouldn't find any division between house and techno (I always wonder who started to make that division and why it caught on). Anyway in that light May created one of the anthems of acid with 'Strings of Life' as did many other artists now long forgotten. A Guy Called Gerald's 'Voodoo Ray' basically presented the same model from a Brit-perspective.

Mmm, running with this idea, didn't the division between house and techno also create/warrant an Author theory in dance music? I can understand why May has been pushed as an Author, since he had a very personal, recognizable and hard-to-copy style. Those weird jumping beats and string-stabs are pretty rare. Maybe most producers/DJ's felt those rhythms weren't as functional as 4-to-the-floor. Anyway, it's just a myth/story, over the years there has been enough documentation to put the birth of acid/rave into perspective away from Detroit.

Omar, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

re Derrick May's tracks aging well:

I guess it depends on where your tastes lie in dance music. You opinions are valid, and I was into that mills'y banging shit when I was younger. By I really think you are off base by saying something like Acid Tracks or Jungle Wonz aged better than Rhythim is Rhythim. As far as aging goes, have you tried to listen to the stuff that the UK answered back with stuff like Forgemasters, Nexus 21, Sweet Exorcist, LFO or Early Orbital, now there is electronic music that did not age.

I think what you really should say is that you do not like his disco influenced angle, and the fact that he was not coming across as banging music. Of the Belleville three, I think Saunderson was the least talented of the bunch. Granted, Kevin did essentially write the rulebook for what harder techno would eventually become in the mid- 90s. I do not think that May's music has aged poorly, it is really a matter of whether or not you care for a particular sound.

re Omar:

have you listened to 91 era hardcore lately? that is some rotten stuff. He was angry because it took the direction of european dance music down an entirely wrong part. Belgian hoover tracks and other picked up breaks tracks just ruined the whole scene. It was pure drug music, and it was the point when rave got ugly. There is not a whole lot of good to say about Dominator by Human Resource...

As for influence...For one thing listen to any Carl Craig records from before 92, it took carl years to get out from underneath his shadow. Check out John Beltran, Aril Brikha, Tony Drake, Detroit Escalator Company, or Sterac. His musical presense is absolutely felt in deep techno, but it is not a presense that is celebrated in UK drug culture magazines.

Kevin Saunderson played harder and I think dancefloor techno definitely picked up on that. Of the three kevin did probably pave the way for most of the bad techno that came out in 90's. Derrick on the other hand went in a completely different direction, he slowed down and started make deeper records. He figured out real quick that people don't buy those kind of records from black american artists that's what fake detroit UK IDM records circa 92 were for.) He got discouraged because the music he wanted to make was not selling and quit making records. It is a shame really, I would like to have seen where he would have taken it.


Tim the entire history of 90's underground dance music would have changed. With out Derrick May, there would have been no Neil Rushton. Without Neil Rushton and his connections in the UK music industry the entire dance industry in Detroit would have fizzled. Good Life and Big Fun never would have become international hits, there never would have been a situation that drew the scene together like the 10 Records comp. Derrick was the point man for that whole project, he was the one that rounded up the tracks. There never would have been a Music Institute, yet another locus for the nacent Detroit scene.

more importantly, there never would have been a vigor in Detroit for the second and third waves of Detroit techno. There would have been Underground Resistance, no Jeff Mills, Rob Hood, Rolando or Mike Banks, not Octave One, Carl Craig, Hawtin, Dan Bell, Shake... Derrick May like it or not set up a rallying point for the rest of the city. The city became a rallying point for the rest of the world.

And Frankly, 808 state could not have done it. They would have made it into nice glossy english music and fucked the whole idea up. The entire breadth of Techno would be song oriented tracks that sound like SAW 1 by Aphex. It would have been this glossy and clean melodic song oriented music with nice production values. Techno is not Techno without the black musical influence. The whole DJ style is different and the tracks would have come out completely different because of that. 808 just didn't have the grit or soul to really pull it off.

It is like saying "pop music would have still been good without Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds, the Beatles were playing with weird production on Rubber Soul anyways..." Like it or not the way he did things changed the game. Yeah, things were moving in that direction, but his music and personality were what crystalized the whole situation. EBM does not count, because it lacks the cross-cultural synthesis that makes Techno in Detroit important.

As for Italio-Disco, it is incredibly relevant to a conversation about Italio-Disco. The difference is that people are not trying to deny Martin Circus or Alexander Robotnik their places in dance music history. Derrick May is exactly why that music is relevant, because it is a continous cycle. Dance music continually feeds off its own history. I would get just a vocal if their influence was being denied. You have to study and respect the history, because that is where the future comes from. You cannot disscuss those Italio-Disco without bringing up Moroder or earlier guys in the Harlem scene, and you cannot bring up May without Italio-Disco, and you cannot bring up IDM without out bringing up Detroit and so on...

you have to recognize the personalities that made big waves and changed the way things were done. That is how music evolves, through the work of individuals. You cannot give Derrick May credit for everything, but you certainly cannot say that his music was irrelavent because of xyz would have done something vaguely similiar a few years later.

as for why I love Derrick May(as mark originally asked...)

On a strictly musical front, I just love his music. I love the way he arranges his strings, The way he programs his sounds, his knack for a good bassline and his drum programming. I really dig how he can create a total atmosphere and make you forget about the technical aspect behind the music. Most dance music is just a series of Cubase piano roll's, effects processing, and a vague musical theme for me. Rhythim is Rhythim has the ability to completely suspend that aspect of music for me. There is very little music that I completely lose myself and find myself in a completely different world.

The best example I can give is when you are a 15 year old kid and you are listening to your absolute favorite record in world, and you completely love music in a pure and complete way as only a teenager really can. No business, no scene, no musician crap, just a pure innocent love for how great music is.

Derrick May can take me to the place that every good middle aged rock critic is so desperately serching for.

Michael Taylor, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

I just read though my last post...

I am a little over tired so I apppolgise for the spelling and gramatical errors. I need a secretary to edit my rants before before I post...

Michael Taylor, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Thanks Michael, you (re)present the American take on techno quite nicely. But,

---- have you listened to 91 era hardcore lately? that is some rotten stuff. He was angry because it took the direction of european dance music down an entirely wrong part. Belgian hoover tracks and other picked up breaks tracks just ruined the whole scene. It was pure drug music, and it was the point when rave got ugly. There is not a whole lot of good to say about Dominator by Human Resource... -----

yes I have and that was exactly the *right* path music took at that time, higher intensity and in retrospect some amazing tunes that hold up pretty good incl. 'Dominator'. But then again I *like* drugmusic ;). I know that from a strict Detroit view this is "not done", which is why a lot of people were and still are irritated with May's comments. He didn't own the music and I've read enough interviews with Detroit producers who effectively have said as much: if you don't like it, start making better tracks again.

But hey I don't go for this "either-that-or" thinking. I find it perfectly normal to love both Rhythm is Rhythm and Human Resource, Psyche and LFO. (don't forget that for some of us in Amsterdam May, Pullen and Craig are honourary citizens since they lived here for some time).

One last comment: U.R. would have come out of Detroit no matter what.

Omar, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

lfo not aged well? nightmares on wax's aftermath not aged well? surely not, sound as fresh today as then don't they?

i cannot believe that even today uk breakbeat hardcore is being dissed as a bastardization of 'pure' techno/house. agreed it is a bastardization, but shouldn't this be celebrated not dissed? taking a blueprint and fucking it up, using breakbeats, giving it a uk slant, hybridising reggae, house, hip hop, italodisco and just about everything to create roughneck music thats FUN and EXCITING is bad? the house crew? manix? krome&time? sonz of a loop da loop era? some of the best POP music ever made.

the thing is, when i use to say this kind of stuff it actually seemed vaguely controversial, but now, post-simon reynolds, it hardly seems unusual to make this kind of point.

gareth, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

What Gareth and Omar said, really. The either/or thing about techno really gets on my wick. After a rather drunken discussion with a couple of old raving mates last night we concluded our perfect club would have two rooms: one playing messed up old-skool hardcore and the other more detroitish techno. That way we could float between the two rooms, going mental to the hardcore and grooving along to the detroit as the mood took us.

Richard Tunnicliffe, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Omar: yes. see Michael's post.

Michael: certainly I'm not denying Derrick May's talent - he made some great music. But he's certainly valorised (by himself and others) way way way above and beyond his equally talented peers. The idea that he's being denigrated more than the Italo-disco producers you mentioned is, frankly, preposterous - I didn't even know those guys names.

Also: Belgian techno/hardcore/ardkore etc = surely the most interesting lineage in dance music (spreading on into jungle and then uk garage). In comparison, the music that has remained true to the Detroit blueprint has trod over a relatively small plot of creative ground for the last fourteen years or so. Not to mention that most of the really interesting stuff happening in real techno for the last eight years ago has been the Maurizio/Studio One axis and everything that's flowed out of it - which is about as far from May as you can get and still be called techno.

Tim, Monday, 25 June 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

one year passes...
I've never walked down Detroit. But I've been listening to "Innovator" all weekend and it's fucking AWESOME.

Michael Bourke, Sunday, 15 December 2002 20:51 (seventeen years ago) link

three months pass...
I have just heard Beyond the Dance for the first time, and let me just say it is a fucking astounding piece of music. I can't really think of non cliched ways to describe it, I'm as far from a detroit snob as it gets, or pretty far anyway, but god it is a tremendous record. And I'm sitting at home on a Saturday listening to it, so it's not as though I had the proper awakening, ie in the middle of the floor dancing to it.

Ronan (Ronan), Saturday, 15 March 2003 23:36 (seventeen years ago) link

I really really enjoy a lot of what Innovator has to offer. I also think that May did have a great deal to do with the shape of Detroit techno and techno as a whole - a lot more people took his lead, as far as picking who to imitate, than they did Juan Atkins or other leading lights of the very early days. It still shows. To imagine that record labels like Rephlex and Warp would sound they way they do WITHOUT Derrick May's work in the late eighties seems patently absurd to me.

Also I want to take massive issue with the following quote:

To really get those records you need to be in the situation that they were designed for. You need to be in a dark sweaty Detroit club in 1989 filled with people who are there to get down because they so desperately need an escape from the pressure of life as black people in the murder capitol of the industrial world.

I really don't know if there is anything more absurd in the entire galaxy of music writing than statements like these. The people who write these sorts of things are evidently trying to write off the opinions of anyone else who doesn't fit the description, for example nearly everybody, and I for one see no other answer than to write off the opinions of anything they might have to say as well. To summarize - piss off, Mike Taylor, you make me ill.

Millar (Millar), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:12 (seventeen years ago) link

I don't agree with the statement either but I think Mike's post is brilliant.

Ronan (Ronan), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:16 (seventeen years ago) link

i take Mike's point to mean that listening to Derrick May makes you WANT to wander round Detroit at 3am in the morning in the locations he describes...and thats one of the best compliments you can give to an artist and his music (esp. when we're talking about an environment you would think you'd be hard pushed to really take sucn inspiration from i.e. industrial Detroit)

stevem (blueski), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:36 (seventeen years ago) link

I found the post in itself quite moving.

Ronan (Ronan), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:38 (seventeen years ago) link

yeh, its just reminded me that NOTHING has stirred me as much emotionally as this kind of music and i mean that totally.

stevem (blueski), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:39 (seventeen years ago) link

I find it bizarre yet uplifting that stevem and I agree on something.

Millar (Millar), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:45 (seventeen years ago) link

most people do ;)

stevem (blueski), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:48 (seventeen years ago) link

i bet you hate emoticons tho, damn i've broken the bridge straight away

stevem (blueski), Sunday, 16 March 2003 00:49 (seventeen years ago) link

He worked on a great 80s single "Tired Of Getting Pushed Around" by 2 Men, A Drum Machine, And A Trumpet!! (which was Andy Cox and David Steele of FYC/The Beat fame)

donut bitch (donut), Sunday, 16 March 2003 01:08 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm gonna start a band called "One Man, One Robot, One Hot Piece Of Ass" as soon as I can find a sexy female vocalist.

Millar (Millar), Sunday, 16 March 2003 01:54 (seventeen years ago) link

for me it's a few things

a) his beats are really really funky, and you can't say that about a lot of techno in my opinion--it's the hi-hat patterns, basically, the syncopation and the cross-cutting rhythms are outstanding
b) paradoxically, the restraint and austerity of his sound are what make it very emotional to me... not just obvious stuff like Strings of Life, but also things like the bleeps on R-Theme (and the way they build), the piano on Salsa Life set against the grating synth riff (his piano sound in general actually, its not straightforwardly anthemic like straight-up house, there's a certain hollow echo to it), the relentlessness of The Dance, etc... a long time ago i listened to his stuff constantly during a pretty painful period in my life, and it helped
c) he's a really really great DJ, one of the best i ever heard... too many techno DJs either bludgeon you over the head with kickdrums or bore you to tears with seamlessness... he mixes it up a lot, you can hear bits of other musics but they're woven into the overall sound, and he actually makes you want to dance (another thing i can't say of too many techno djs)... see that awesome Mayday mix, of course
d) ok, he should have done more stuff, probably protecting the mythos too much, but still--everything he did is very high quality

also, yes he does seem quite arrogant, but i may be more bored with hearing about his "purism"/that one quote about hardcore from eons ago than i am with just about anything in dance music... you'd think hardcore was like Dylan going electric or something (perhaps it was haha, but I think we're all tired of hearing about that too)

Ben Williams, Sunday, 16 March 2003 04:55 (seventeen years ago) link

innovator is one of my very favorite albums. i could do without 90% of any other techno.

jess (dubplatestyle), Sunday, 16 March 2003 05:00 (seventeen years ago) link

Ben, I can't believe you were the first person to mention that Mayday Mix on this thread. It is so classic. Basically it single-handedly got me back into dance music after an early 90's rockcentric phase.

Actually - you beat me to a lot of points on this thread. The thing about May - it's the hi-hats. So invigorating, so simple, so bountiful. It was what this music needed.

Yeah, "Beyond the Dance" is a piece of work, isn't it? What glorious music; it takes real imagination to create something like that. What a joy to sit in your room and listen to something like that. Screw the clubs. "Strings of Life"? C'mon, are you kidding me? Impossible brilliance (I'm all about the hyperbole tonight - blame the wine). Hell, throw in Carl Craig too. I take the two of them to be the best of the Detroit breed. Atkins and Saunderson are great, but really can't touch those two.

The funny thing is there really are a lot of traces in what these guys did in some of that late 70's stuff like Manuel Gottsching. I know that type of statement makes someone like Mike Taylor want to go on a rampage, but it's there. Hell, Craig made specific reference to it so it's not like it's a big deal. But yeah, problematic as they are, I love Taylor's posts. It's the Michigander in me.

Mr. Diamond (diamond), Sunday, 16 March 2003 05:07 (seventeen years ago) link

as much as i love 'Strings Of Life' its always bugged me how much of it is accident and how much is intentional - the way the strings come in really loud after being quiet always seemed so sloppy and amateurish - personally i never saw this as some 'amazing technique' or anything, just really poor execution, but then again May would not just leave them like that on the track right? if the strings were better timed and at a consistent level throughout, would that really change things?

stevem (blueski), Sunday, 16 March 2003 12:34 (seventeen years ago) link

it's just an intensification effect. turning up the volume/heightening a particular element in the mix is a way of increasing the intensity. it's a pretty basic DJ technique too.

Ben Williams, Sunday, 16 March 2003 16:21 (seventeen years ago) link

but i dont think it works like that on 'strings of life' - i always found it irritating and a sign of imperfection, it just doesnt sound right to me. if anything its not the spasmodic volume change but that the notes are played partly out of time, they're too slow and then too fast, its bizarre.

stevem (blueski), Sunday, 16 March 2003 19:27 (seventeen years ago) link

hmm. I can't say I ever noticed a time change...

Ben Williams, Sunday, 16 March 2003 20:48 (seventeen years ago) link

the string stabs just before the beat kicks in are just wild and chaotic. you could say this is a good thing, and its not a major criticism really but it always niggled me.

stevem (blueski), Sunday, 16 March 2003 21:32 (seventeen years ago) link

Sorry for the late response, I was not aware that there had been any further activity on this thread.

To address the point made about my being one of the most absurd writers; it is your opinion, and when you wear my shoes perhaps it might make a bit more sense.

Frankly Millar, have you ever been to Detroit? Have you ever wandered around downtown Detroit in the middle of the night? Hell, do you have any experience in the Detroit club scene?

I can answer yes to all three of these questions. I stand by my statement because I know people who actually were there. I know what they have to say about it, and I know how much it meant to them. You weren't there, you don't know. You are not from anywhere near this region and you do not know what it is like, because it is not nice like NYC, London, or San Fran.

When I say that you need to come down to Detroit to understand those tracks I mean it. It isn't something I read in a copy of Mojo, I know what those tracks sound like out there because I *personally* have listened to those songs in the areas where they were written. When you have a look around it will make a lot more sense to you. I don't know where you are from, but I would never claim to have the same kind of intimate understanding of your region's recordings as I do of the ones that came out of Detroit. I know from first-hand experience that they make more sense in that climate.

Also, What does not make sense about that statement? I was under the impression that it was a widely understood idea in dance music culture that the club environment was a communal experience. It isn't just the records, the dj or the system, it is the venue, the people, the times, everything. Those records made their dance floor debuts in the Music Institute or other local venues on 1/4" Reel-to-Reel tape. Those records were made to be played on the floor for the people who were there. You might not like it because it doesn't include you, but those are the facts jack. Those records were purpose made dj tools that were engineered for, and refined in that particular setting. Derrick May made records for the clubbers in Detroit in the late 80's, and those records set the stage for electronic music in the 90's.

This is something that is ridiculously obvious to me, if no one else. All dance music only really lives for the first time a record blows up, after that it dies in a way, it never really explodes like it did that first summer or that first year in came out because it gets covered with the dust of the cannon. I was 12 years old when the MI was going, so I way too young to be there. When I was finally old enough to be a part of the Detroit scene I paid my dues week in and week out for about 8 years. I have seen a lot of labels, dj's, producers, and micro genres come and go since 1995. If you were not there for a particular period of time, you can never really understand it like someone who was actually there. The records just don't sound the same because you do not have the associations that go along with that particular time. The records are just something that gets exported for cash, but the real experience of dance music is off the record. You are just receiving the mediated experience, the residue of club culture if you will.

Techno is a lifestyle; it is not a genre of music. I am not going to claim that I am a huge insider and that I was there when Ron Murphy cut the plates for Strings Of Life at National Sound, but I have had personal contact with more than a few of the people involved with it. Because I have been to the places where these records were made, dealt with the people that made them, and live in the region where it happened, I probably have a little more insight than most. I probably do understand those records a little bit better because of that.

I am not saying that because I think I am the top dog, it is just something that seems to be true to me. When I look at the Detroit records, vs. say Cologne minimal techno, I do not have the same understanding of it. It is foreign to me. It is external. I can enjoy them, I can understand them, but I cannot really know them in the same way that I understand a local record, especially a record from somebody I know or have seen around for years and years. That might be horrible and elitist, but I don't know what else to tell you.

I understand Derrick May’s music more than say someone like Lou Reed, because I have spoken with dm a handful of times, dealt with the people that work at his label, have all the local gossip, and live in the same region. I have never met Lou Reed, I have never been in NYC, and I have never had any business or personal dealings with anyone who is remotely close to him. If you had all three I would not flip out if you claimed to have a better understanding of the VU, it would strike me as common sense.

Maybe I am just nuts…

Mike Taylor (mjt), Thursday, 27 March 2003 00:10 (seventeen years ago) link

Also, Derrick never denied stuff like E2-E4 and italio-disco May. Derrick May didn't invent anything truly new, in the sense that he used chords that other people had used, used sounds and rhythms that others had used before...

What was important was that he took all these threads that were out there and weaved them all together while imposing his personality on them. And that was something NEW! Trust me, I know where Derrick May got his ideas from, and I don't think he has ever denied being influenced by what came before him. For the record, I am completely aware that there was music before Detroit Techno.

Thanks for the love Ronan and Mr. D. Believe it or not, I am not nearly as militant about Detroit Techno as I was a couple years back. It is hard to get my blood up about too much of anything when it comes to music anymore. It is a shame in some ways, when I used to rant, right or wrong, I used to kick up one hell of a racket.

Mike Taylor (mjt), Thursday, 27 March 2003 00:29 (seventeen years ago) link

yeh i don't buy the 'you have to be there' thing mike. are you saying we can never understand or love this music as much as you do period? does this mean you can never understand or love Slam's 'Positive Education', A Guy Called Gerald's 'FX', 808 State's 'Olympic', Bandulu's 'Crisis A Gwan', Dave Angel's 'Handle With Care' or Mark Bell's 'A Salute To Those Who Say Fuck You' because they were made in Glasgow, Manchester, London, Sheffield and fucking Swindon?! but all those tracks are totally influenced by Detroit techno, made in the same image and all just as good as the myriad of tracks that came out of Detroit over the years imo. Detroit seems like the archetypal environment for this music, the model city - industrial, bleak but also progressive and 'buzzing' - art born of frustration, emotional responses from objects and scenery rather than people etc. - that can come from anywhere really. Sure those guys were inspired by the stuff coming out of Detroit but I dont think they set out to rip it off or just copy it, its tribute, compliment, extension and development of the ideas put forward by the likes of May. Detroit does not have to OWN that sound, its just the place where it was crafted. i don't have to have hung out with Derrick May to have a pretty good idea of what drives him artistically - its actually fairly intuitive to me.

stevem (blueski), Thursday, 27 March 2003 00:29 (seventeen years ago) link

or to put it another way, we 'outsiders' enjoy the illusion of what we consider May's music to represent, regardless of how true it is. after all, is a painting only what its creator says it is or should it be left to the interpretations of its audience? 'strings of life' and its ilk are like 'robot dreams' or what happens when the human leaves the studio or goes to sleep in his bedroom and all the machines turn themselves back on and have a little secret jam. it does not have to be so tied to geography...

stevem (blueski), Thursday, 27 March 2003 00:34 (seventeen years ago) link

mike i respect the fact that you seem to be very knowledgeable about music in general and detroit techno in particular,but you simply cannot claim that derrick may is a great musician who is hugely important and a genius,and then at the same time say that you had to be there,this is a contradiction in terms
it may mean a lot to you that you know the area the music comes from,but at the end of the day if only people living within a specific set of circumstances can be expected to appreciate the music then it is not good music
and the fact that may's music has managed to touch so many people the world over means that it does transcend your local understanding

robin (robin), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:01 (seventeen years ago) link

as for my own opinion on may,i can't say yet
i love strings of life
but as has been said,techno is music made to be heard being mixed

so i obviously know a lot of early detroit tracks from hearing them being played,but i don't know specifically which ones

i would like some way to get to know the landmarks of detroit techno (other than the really well known ones-the bells,strings of life,good life,a few others)
and i would like to hear more from derrick may (consciously) but i dunno if there's much point buying a compilation of tracks made to be mixed into other tracks...
i am trying to download the mayday mix,but no luck so far
can anyone recommend other mixes that might give me some more understanding of detroit techno?
(i know the liquid room,obv,and am fairly familiar with harder,loop based techno,but i don't know a huge amount about the detroit stuff,or not as much as i feel i should,anyway)

robin (robin), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:07 (seventeen years ago) link

i realise i just made a post saying music shouldn't be subject to certain conditions,and then one saying i didn't know may's music because i hadn't found the right conditions,as it were,but i presume anyone on this thread will know what i mean-if not,i'll clarify tomorrow,but i'm tired and couldn't be arsed now...

robin (robin), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:09 (seventeen years ago) link

because it is not nice like NYC, London, or San Fran

this is one of the silliest things i have ever read

mike's posts always amuse me because there's such a cliche about this post-reynoldsian detroit pietist stereotype which after a while you can end up believing is a total construct until you run into one

jess (dubplatestyle), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:11 (seventeen years ago) link

Hahaha won't the residents of the South Bronx and Hunter's Point be shocked to know that they've lived in paradise all this time. Imagine their SURPRISE!

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:16 (seventeen years ago) link

the difference between detroit and those other cities is that there are semi-interesting things happening there. it is a near vacuum out here. There are poor people everywhere, but those cities have actual functioning urban environments. You know, like people walking around downtown after 5pm. Detroit is screwed up even in the nice places, if you want to see what happens when regional planning makes every decision incorrectly for 60 years, it will look a lot like southeastern michigan.

Mike Taylor (mjt), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:26 (seventeen years ago) link

I will answer your posts tomorrow Steve and Robin. Perhaps my writing is not up to par, because people are completely missing what I am trying to get across.

I brought up Lou Reed for a reason, and when I explain myself I think things will be a bit clearer.

and remember jess, you Reynolds accolades have a special place in our hearts as well. There are more of us "pietist constructs" than you are probably aware of, we have been right all along ;)

Mike Taylor (mjt), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:37 (seventeen years ago) link

heh, yes yes mike i'm sorry, i didn't mean to abstract you as if you weren't actually reading this thread

jess (dubplatestyle), Thursday, 27 March 2003 03:39 (seventeen years ago) link

Same could be said for Stacey Pullen who churns out pretty bland tech house when he dj's these days.

millmeister, Monday, 2 February 2015 10:06 (five years ago) link

Would anything different really be expected? ...same can be said for most, how many people are (currently) good producers AND (currently) good DJs?

saer, Monday, 2 February 2015 10:16 (five years ago) link

Levon Vincent
Omar S
Floating Points

There's probably some others

paolo, Monday, 2 February 2015 15:19 (five years ago) link

Of course it comes down to personal taste and who those people are will vary from person to person, but people trade manage to trade on their name for seemingly...ever

saer, Monday, 2 February 2015 15:35 (five years ago) link

There's probably some others...

Dan Snaith
DJ Pete
DJ Sprinkles
Theo Parrish

neilasimpson, Monday, 2 February 2015 16:42 (five years ago) link


paolo, Monday, 2 February 2015 17:14 (five years ago) link

"how many people are (currently) good producers AND (currently) good DJs?"

My experience has been... most? (Usually it comes down more to working with a sound than a particular aptitude, which is much harder to pin down in a set anyways). The real question is why do some people think being a good dj 25 years ago means being a good dj today. as mentioned here and elsewhere, derrick may, kevin saunderson, and stacey pullen, and even occasionally carl craig aren't stranger to sets full of middling tech house. DJ pierre played some of the worst electro-acid house ai've heard when I saw him, and more recently, Joey Beltram wasn't any better. None of this is the rule nor the exception, and it's heartening to hear about people like Tony Humphries still delivering, but what this comes down to is yeah, I'm not surprised Derrick May goes on records talking about the degradation of techno while playing sets of straightforward tribal tech house.

Also, I just read the post about whether he has copies of his records that stay on time. Ha! good question.

OK, I"m going to now add "Derrick May's quirks" to the things that make you irrationally angry thread.

ed.b, Monday, 2 February 2015 23:38 (five years ago) link

Carl Craig was fucking awesome when I saw him fwiw

aybaybayfan (The Reverend), Monday, 2 February 2015 23:40 (five years ago) link

mind you tony humphries played three tracks in a row that had sax solos so i'm not sure it's for all tastes

the late great, Monday, 2 February 2015 23:48 (five years ago) link

xpost: I seem to remember a lot of complaints about Carl Craig - mind you, back in like 2007/8 - about playing the sort of middling tech house that, well... was being released on planet e at the time. I still need to see him play proper (not the 10 minutes I saw at Mutek in 2008 where I literally could not figure out what he was doing - he was using like 3 CDJs but was on his laptop the entire time, and trainwrecking stuff), but don't doubt he delivers.

also, A+ work, Tony Humphries.

ed.b, Tuesday, 3 February 2015 00:00 (five years ago) link

I saw him 2 or 3 years ago he was mostly playing classic detroit stuff and ended with "Strings of Life", which he played air piano to in the booth.

aybaybayfan (The Reverend), Tuesday, 3 February 2015 00:02 (five years ago) link

when i saw carl craig in 2006 he did a laptop set that sounded exactly like his studio k7 "sessions" mix, it was pretty rad

the late great, Tuesday, 3 February 2015 00:05 (five years ago) link

or 07 or 08 i forget which year

the late great, Tuesday, 3 February 2015 00:05 (five years ago) link

i love that mix

languagelessness (mattresslessness), Tuesday, 3 February 2015 00:07 (five years ago) link

the time i heard carl craig play it was unfortunately middling tech house, but it was at a party that was part of festival in miami and the vibe there was not cool

karl...arlk...rlka...lkar..., Tuesday, 3 February 2015 00:16 (five years ago) link

Carl Craig, Darren Emerson and Mr C are the most disappointing DJs i've ever seen. Carl Craig played a very generic set that included a few detroit classics but was very dull. Emerson and Mr C just played the most obnoxious, predictable commercial house sets. I had a japanese DJ mix from Derrick May but the mixing on it was so awful I sold it.

brotherlovesdub, Tuesday, 3 February 2015 00:33 (five years ago) link

i heard a half hour of derrick dj'ing last night. not much fiddling with the eq, mixing still exceptional and full of energy, room with about 1000 people in it going nuts. tempo around 135 bpm. musically there was nothing i would have wanted to find out what it was and yes i guess it was "very straightforward tribal tech house".

stirmonster, Sunday, 8 February 2015 17:06 (five years ago) link

five years pass...


When Eric Morillo died, people talked on insider threads that Derrick May is next, that it's something people "known" for a long time. I'm not sure why people sit on that kind of "knowledge", as it only endangers more women to become victims, but no more: https://t.co/rGVUPogSnI pic.twitter.com/S3N4Z7agME

— ØPĮÛM HUM / Michail 🏳️‍🌈👌🏻Ⓥ (@opiumhum) September 9, 2020

Give me a Chad Smith-type feel (map), Wednesday, 9 September 2020 21:34 (one week ago) link

Michael James has been posting about that for months (years?). Also taking credit for collaborators work.

dan selzer, Wednesday, 9 September 2020 21:43 (one week ago) link

Jesus, that sucks

Mario Meatwagon (Moodles), Thursday, 10 September 2020 01:17 (one week ago) link

I don't understand pressuring the journalist for RA to publish the full interview. That's entirely her decision surely.

grebo shot first (Noel Emits), Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:02 (one week ago) link

Looks like I just deleted by accident the original post about Derrick May and the reporting done by Michael James on the matter. You can find all of it below and I recommend to go through his archive, as he's been covering this for quite some time.
https://t.co/3oeRj6CkqY pic.twitter.com/qiSsSoejO9

— ØPĮÛM HUM / Michail 🏳️‍🌈👌🏻Ⓥ (@opiumhum) September 10, 2020

Li'l Brexit (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 10 September 2020 12:34 (one week ago) link

this is a good thread (the ilx thread, not the twitter one about derrick being an abuser)

it's heartening to hear about people like Tony Humphries still delivering

did i mention he played seated with a lollipop headphone?

the late great, Thursday, 10 September 2020 13:49 (one week ago) link

sad news abt derrick, i’m still not convinced about his dj skills but “it is what it is” and “nude photo” are still in my all time top 10 of any genre. i wonder if i’ll ever feel comfortable playing them again

the late great, Thursday, 10 September 2020 13:51 (one week ago) link

also brimstead’s posts still fill me with joy

want to know if he can still listen to derrick

the late great, Thursday, 10 September 2020 13:52 (one week ago) link

I know it's less important, but I do want to learn more about who deserves credits for some of those classics. Stories about how collaborators contributed much more to tracks known solely as Mays, to entire songs actually being by Carl Craig. Relics changed me.

dan selzer, Thursday, 10 September 2020 14:46 (one week ago) link

This has always intrigued me. I see Thomas Barnett released Nude Photo under his own name. Does anyone know if this is the same Rhythim Is Rhythim version?

mmmm, Thursday, 10 September 2020 15:54 (one week ago) link

No, it's completely different.


These Derrick May accusations are extremely disturbing.

stirmonster, Thursday, 10 September 2020 16:26 (one week ago) link

I'm not shocked at any revelations these days but I still used to harbour ridiculously naive assumptions about unassailably cool musical hero types 10 years back. It still sucks shit though :(

calzino, Thursday, 10 September 2020 16:42 (one week ago) link

also brimstead’s posts still fill me with joy

want to know if he can still listen to derrick

thanks <3. It’s weird, I was just listening to innovator the night before this revive. I feel terrible for the victims. I can’t imagine listening to his music anytime soon, but that’s just me.

brimstead, Thursday, 10 September 2020 18:09 (one week ago) link

"nude photo"


the late great, Thursday, 10 September 2020 18:29 (one week ago) link

Have to say the May accusations have depressed me. Totally. He and Atkins created what’s, to me, some of the most beautiful and personal electronic music of the last 50 years - huge inspirations to me as a budding music maker. He was always amiable whenever I ran into him - best memory was at the 2007(8?) DEMF when I was watching Jeff Mills from above and behind the Main Stage close ( aka masterfully cap off ) the festival and May out of nowhere tapped me on the shoulder to ask “What do you think about this guy? Good,huh?” and gave a huge laugh when I responded, surprised it was May asking, with a jokey “He’s cool.” Never meet your heroes.

SQUIRREL MEAT!! (Capitaine Jay Vee), Thursday, 10 September 2020 18:34 (one week ago) link

to be honest, this is something i've never understood. detroit techno retrosnobberygoldenagism can be one of the worst going. what i've heard of his stuff is, um, ok, i guess. he's been living off strings of life for, like, how long?


I got a compilation of his stuff and was surprised by how weak and tinny and old it sounded. Not particularly funky either. I much prefer what I've heard of Juan Atkins/Model 500.

These two comments (both 19 years old, yikes) sum up my feelings on May. I bought that Innovator double-CD compilation years ago and had a similar reaction to it – mostly forgettable standard-issue techno.

The best thing on it by a million miles was a remix entitled Strings Of The Strings Of Life. May has been dining out on past glories for decades and there aren't even very many of them.

Not entirely surprised by these allegations, he invariably came across as a massively arrogant and sneery wanker in interviews.

does it look like i'm here (jon123), Thursday, 10 September 2020 21:36 (one week ago) link

that's interesting. i've personally not really heard many tracks that do sound like "it is what it is" or "nude photo". perhaps you could point us toward some standard issue techno tracks that do, so we don't have to listen to music by an abuser.

the late great, Thursday, 10 September 2020 21:48 (one week ago) link

mostly forgettable standard-issue techno

he made lots of music that is anything but standard-issue but I don't really feel like defending his music in light of all of this. I can't imagine wanting to hear it again.

I used to know him pretty well and once upon a time would have said I'd find it hard to imagine all these stories being true, but sadly life has shown me you just never know what people are capable of.

stirmonster, Thursday, 10 September 2020 21:51 (one week ago) link

Yeah this is just horrible. Worse it still feels like the tip of an iceberg.

nashwan, Thursday, 10 September 2020 22:31 (one week ago) link

that's interesting. i've personally not really heard many tracks that do sound like "it is what it is" or "nude photo". perhaps you could point us toward some standard issue techno tracks that do, so we don't have to listen to music by an abuser.

No thanks, although I'm sure this passive-aggressive bullshit probably sounded much better in your head.

does it look like i'm here (jon123), Thursday, 10 September 2020 22:32 (one week ago) link

your post was really awesome and worthwhile, jon123, thank you for your contribution

brimstead, Thursday, 10 September 2020 22:38 (one week ago) link

(sounded better in my head)

brimstead, Thursday, 10 September 2020 22:39 (one week ago) link

sorry if i come across as a massively arrogant and sneery wanker, it was an honest question

the late great, Friday, 11 September 2020 00:07 (one week ago) link

i mean i'm happy for you that you're not feeling the sense of loss the rest of us are ... it would probably help me process my grief and disappoint better if i wasn't so attached to my favorite music

guess i just have bad taste or something

the late great, Friday, 11 September 2020 00:10 (one week ago) link

tlg, you sounded fine. a little flippant, which given the “I was always right, this guy sucks” comment you were responding to, is relatable

stirmonster’s post is great and reminded me a lot of a guy I knew who had always been pretty nice to me and had some level of accomplishment (in the restaurant business, which... I’d say there are parallels to music) until similar allegations came to light and it was the beginning of an entire house of cards dropping.
of course, the first reaction from a bunch of people was “his food sucked”

I was listening to something today that had a spoken word bit talking about Detroit techno history and as soon as I heard May’s name my heart sunk

irn-scamp (mh), Friday, 11 September 2020 00:39 (one week ago) link

Carl’s reaction to this is dispiriting to say the least

sound of scampo talk to me (El Tomboto), Saturday, 12 September 2020 16:44 (one week ago) link

idk derrick was his like mentor and older brother. i was just looking at the liners to the psyche / bfc comp and he talks about how he recorded all that shit as a teenager at derrick's place with his guidance. i mean for all we know derrick molested him too

the late great, Saturday, 12 September 2020 16:46 (one week ago) link

i agree that it's dispiriting but honestly it's par for the course with this sort of thing

the late great, Saturday, 12 September 2020 16:47 (one week ago) link

i'm not trying to make excuses for cc but in my professional life i've seen moms carry water for spouses who beat them and teenagers do the same for relatives that raped them so i'm just not at all surprised when close friends circle the wagons around abusers.

the late great, Saturday, 12 September 2020 16:52 (one week ago) link

it's totally understandable why CC would defend him. Misguided and wrong, but understandable.

Kill yr idols.

stirmonster, Saturday, 12 September 2020 16:57 (one week ago) link

i never wanted to but more and more it looks like i'm going to have to ... i mean i really thought dance music was a plur utopia compared to, say, hip hop rock country or metal ... shows how dumb i was

the late great, Saturday, 12 September 2020 17:09 (one week ago) link

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