Tell me about what inspired you early in your career, as opposed to what inspires you now. How and why has that changed (or has it)?
Growing up as a teenager in Detroit in the 1970s-1980s, I think there was much inspiration coming from main media sources in the city at that time, TV and radio being the most important. What was played on radio felt more genuine and most, if not all, the musicians and artists were attempting to convey a message from their soul. Music appeared to have more meaning and substance. Growing up, I assumed the definition of music is something of a device to explain how someone is feeling, how they see the world and everything in it. That the provocation of music is to be taken seriously, not as the means to become famous and well-known by reducing your creative capacity. I think the type of friends and schoolmates I grew up with helped steer my creative interest in the right direction too. We all felt the same way about music and that it should never – no matter how many advantages it could provide – be dumb and reduced down in order to get ahead. My thinking on this position hasn't changed. I still very much believe that music is served best when there is a message and has a purpose to exist. For the past 30+ years, we've mainly focused on what music is – trying to define it by titles and genres, conjugating it by certain cities and the type of machines/software used to make it. This tells me that the art form of dance music is still very new and young – that we're still stuck in the frame in which it evolved. I think we're heading towards an era of dance music that focuses on what music does [to the listener]. A time when we can clearly see the result of what has been created three decades ago.
Are you a planner by nature?
No, I'm a planner by necessity. I wish I could have trusted a music company enough to take my music and distribute/sell it in the best way possible, but I learned very early in my music career that a large part of the music industry was a bona-fide hustle. Filled with too many people wanting to get ahead by doing little or nothing at all, so I decided to take the responsibility of my music myself.
It seems as if your music, your performances – they tend to have a very specific concept?
Over the years, I learned to realize that music can be used as a great communicator. The occasion that someone is giving their undivided attention is something that should be greatly respected and handled with responsibility. Bringing ideas that relate to the lives of others I see as being the least a musician/producer/DJ should do. To say absolutely nothing with music should be considered a wasted opportunity.
Do you prefer to perform at festivals, with larger crowds, or to a more intimate room in a small venue?
I prefer both. Each situation has unique aspects. Festivals are interesting because of the amount of people they can accommodate. Though things like the weather can greatly affect outside events, when the conditions are perfect, the atmosphere can be fantastic. Intimate settings are great too, because the DJ can see and focus better on who's there. It's possible to get a better gauge on the party – as a composite view – because you can see the movement within the four walls. The sound and light is often better because it's confined to a space.
Talk to me about the impact that performing not just in Detroit and not just in the United States has had on your global awareness – both in terms of music and otherwise.
People in other countries are in somewhat of disbelief and amazed that dance music in America isn't as popular as it is and has been in Europe and other parts of the world. Considering that most forms of it originated in the US and many influential artists and DJs are American, one would assume that the US would be the most profound place on the planet. The reality is that the American music industry just barely recognizes it. Collectively speaking, while Americans were too busy rockin' and rollin', dance music was bring adopted – like jazz – and cultivated elsewhere. In recent years, there has been a fractional awakening in the US due to a few European DJ/artists who were greatly influenced by American DJs/artists come to US with half the amount of talent. We should be grateful for them because without their presence and persistence, dance music in America would be near silent. At the same time, America has and always had a city like Detroit. A place, that for the past 30 years has been consistently churning out some of the most important dance music ever. Despite all the accomplishments, fame and success the artists/DJs in the Detroit techno community has, it still doesn't seem to be enough to convince the Americans as well as the black American music industry.
Do you feel that, in your attempt to merge the art of music and film, you've had some success achieving that goal in recent years?
Yes, I can see that in some places, the idea of mixing art forms has become common and quite normal. It's a giant leap forward from what was happening in the mid-1980s-1990s. In France and other European cities, I get the sense that some people are assuming that the message from music is more important than the medium itself. I can only hope that this attitude sticks around long enough to convince artists/DJs to produce with compassion and to be more compelling with music. | RDW
The wizard aka Jeff mills • 10/14, 9 p.m. • necto nightclub • 516 e Liberty, ann arbor • necto.com • 734.944.5835 • $15 advance