Carl Craig is generally known as the central figure in Detroit’s second wave of techno, the leader of a talented slew of producers who began appearing in the late ’80s and early ’90s and who followed in the footsteps of Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins. Of this group, Craig was often recognised as being the most artful and the most willing to engage the rapidly growing shape of techno outside Detroit. An extremely prolific producer, he has released well over 200 singles, remixes, and albums across more than a dozen aliases. More than any other Detroit producer, Craig’s enduring popularity has to do with his adventurous tastes, which over the years have incorporated European synth music, post-punk, jazz, funk, and R&B into the mix to create techno hybrids that still thrive today. He also unwittingly delivered the breaks foundations of drum & bass and propelled Detroit’s legendary status as the home of electronic music through his controversial relationship with the Detroit Electronic Music Festival.
From the time Carl Craig emerged from under Derrick May’s wing in the late ’80s, he’s led a pretty charmed career. "I was shy when I was coming up,” he says from Planet E headquarters in Detroit, "and I might’ve had a thing about getting attention when I was younger, but over time I’ve found that it’s sometimes better for me to play it low profile instead of trying to be the big bad wolf.” He’s had his fair share of ups and downs, not to mention high- and low-profile moments, but as we look back over nearly 40 years of life and 20 years of music, Craig is clearly enjoying yet another up. Some would say he’s higher now than he’s ever been.
1969 to 1989
Carl Craig is born on May 22, 1969, in Detroit, a city still recovering from the 1967 race riots that left 43 dead and over 2,000 buildings burned down. Craig is the youngest child of a post office worker and a teacher. "My sister is the same age as Derrick [May], and my brother is three years older than her. My mom always complained that while she was trying to get me to listen to Alvin & the Chipmunks, my brother was always playing Led Zeppelin and Parliament/Funkadelic, which was ‘too old for my tender young ears,’” he says. "But that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me, because it opened my mind to a lot of music. I was being spoon-fed good music at a young age.”Craig attends Detroit’s Cooley High School, where he discovers the local funk of Motown and George Clinton, as well as the music of nearby Minneapolis upstart Prince. In high school, he grows interested in the new European music, including darker post-punk acts like the Cure, Bauhaus, Throbbing Gristle, Mark Stewart, and Art of Noise. Most notably, his interest in funk leads to the more austere ends of European dance music, where Craig discovers Italian progressive disco and Kraftwerk. He performs in several bands, playing guitar, but his interest in synthesizer music goes back to his ’70s childhood. "The biggest influence for me, in terms of the first synthesizer music I heard, was ‘Popcorn.’ I have no idea who made it, but it was a song they used to play on television during the lottery here. It was a real gimmicky song, but it was a huge hit. They showed the lottery numbers between the 7 and 7:30 TV shows, and we’d sit there looking at the lottery balls, but I was mostly listening to the song.”
In the mid-’80s, Chicago develops a thriving house scene, where DJs like Frankie Knuckles and clubs like the Warehouse take disco in more minimal and epic directions. Detroit radio DJs pick up the Chicago sound for Michigan airwaves, and soon people such as Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May pull Chicago house into less emotional and more futuristic directions. The Detroit variation of Chicago house scene becomes known as techno.
"My first experience going out to those parties was with my cousin, Doug. He used to do lights there, and I would help him. He introduced me to Jeff Mills, so I would go to these parties and listen to Jeff play.”By 1986, at the age of 17, Carl Craig develops an interest in synthesizers and Detroit techno through his cousin, Doug Craig, who has co-written a track called "Technicolor” with Juan Atkins (as Channel One). Curious, he explores techno further through a WJLB radio program where Derrick May DJs. He also begins experimenting with recording techniques. "All the guys here, we’re all tremendously influenced by radio. So I would use a double-tape deck to tape stuff from the radio and then make these extended versions of the songs I liked, kind of like a basic remix.”He soon takes an academic interest in the history of electronic, synthesizer, and tape music, studying the techniques and music of Wendy Carlos and San Francisco Tape Music Center acolytes like Morton Subotnick and accordion-experimenter Pauline Oliveros.
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