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Electronic

The Detroit legends

These are the locals who put Detroit on the electronic music map

Ann Saunderson with Octave One.
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Published 5/25/2005

Many of these guys cut their artistic teeth in Detroit’s West Side neighborhoods. Juan Atkins, who will perform as Model 500 at this year’s festival, spent a lot of time on Seven Mile, producing records at Buy Rite Records that sonically addressed technological progress vs. the realities of the black condition. Kevin Saunderson (see profile this issue), this year’s festival producer, was at Buy Rite too in the late 1980s, imagining a new kind of house music. Before he was jetsetter and a performer on the UK’s Top of the Pops, he was a techno geek, attempting to liberate Chicago’s sonic stereotypes by wedding them to new synthesizer and programming advances.

Strand (Brian Boyer, DJ Brian Bonds, Kech Harrington) was inspired by Atkins’s tracks and the then-no-boundaries radio offerings offered up by the Electrifying Mojo and Jeff Mills to create their own instrumental Detroit soul music. Nearby, Mike Huckaby heard the late DJ Ken Collier play Alexander Robotnick’s “Problemes D’Amour” in 1984 at L’uomo, a famous West Side club. It would end up being the first 12-inch Huckaby ever bought. Carl Craig, who began the electronic music festival in 2000 and performs for the second time this year, attended the same Cooley High School as Huckaby; both play official Fuse-In afterparties during the weekend.

Lesser known though respected by their peers, DJs John Collins and Bruce Bailey flowed out of Detroit’s varied ’80s club scene, playing and organizing events at Cheeks, the short-lived but famed club on Eight Mile. Bailey would go on to run house nights with DJ Minx at places like Club 246 (now demolished by Mike Illitch and the city of Detroit) and more recently at Half Past Three. Collins now handles bookings for Submerge, where his long dreads and longtime DJ cred have influenced a whole new generation of black, white and Latino DJs and producers.

Another Detroit legend, Terrence Parker, started spinning at Southfield High School in the 1980s. Parker is one of the most dynamic DJs in Detroit, now touring around the world performing soul-stirring gospel-house sets. That international calling also affected the Burden Brothers (Lynell, Lenny and Lawrence), who formed Octave One in the late ’80s. They perform live for the first time at this year’s festival on the heels of a new album (The Theory of Everything) and are ready to begin a worldwide tour. Vocalist Ann (née Nanton) Saunderson, a native of Birmingham, England (and wife of Kevin Saunderson), will join them on stage for their performance at Fuse-In.

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