Kevin Saunderson is one of the world’s most influential electronic music producers, often credited with creating the form of music known as techno together with Derrick May and Juan Atkins (aka the “Belleville Three“). Saunderson has graced numerous recordings (under various monikers), some of the most notable being “Clear” by Cybotron (Saunderson and Atkins), Inner City’s “Good Life,” and Heavenly, his highly-praised solo album under the E-Dancer guise. As a cornerstone of Detroit’s techno scene, Saunderson also runs the highly-respected KMS label, which has helped launch the careers of numerous house and techno producers.
Cybotron – “Clear” (Fantasy Records, 1983)
Kevin Saunderson and KMS are still holding it down today with classic-sounding Detroit techno. During our visit to Detroit’s Movement Festival this year, we stopped by the KMS’s Tribute to Detroit afterparty at St. Andrew’s Hall where performers such as Inner City, Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin, Stacey Pullen, Kyle Hall, Terrence Parker, and Mike Huckaby performed late into the night for a packed crowd of guests. Dubspot’s Nate Mars caught up with Saunderson the next day at Hart Plaza to get his thoughts on the KMS party as well as some insights into his production and DJ techniques.
Inner City – “Good Life” (10 Records, 1988)
Nate Mars: How are you doing?
Kevin Saunderson: Got back last night but just barely.
NM: How do you feel about the party last night?
KS: I think it was a great turnout. People came, good respect. Doing events though, it’s different than playing for someone else because you gotta deal with guests, friends, issues. In the end it still comes back to me, cause someone going to ask something that needs to be answered.
NM: What’s different for you about playing in Detroit?
KS: Well, Detroit is different because it’s home, it’s where it started. So you always are trying to educate people here. I think the education level here in America is different than other parts of the world. You’re always breaking new ground it seems like. You break new ground always, especially if you’ve been doing it as long as I have, but the real difference in Europe you break ground but there’s always a mixture of history and breaking new ground. But over here 5% really understand the music the rest they just follow because it’s trendy.
NM: How do you come up with ideas in the studio?
KS: I use Logic a lot, so it depends on what I vibe off of. Sometimes I vibe off a drum track or a sound. The most important part for me is creating a sound that is unique. Getting within the parameters and the oscillators, you know, I like that kinda shit, create magic. Most people don’t know that, they are a bunch of new kids, they just look for presets. I look at presets too but then either I have a vision or a feel I’m trying to picture. And I start out that way and kinda vibe off that to get going.
NM: How has your production process changed since you first started? You’ve been in the game a long time…
KS: When I first started I had an eight-track recording system, quarter-inch tape. That’s what I had to record my shit to. Two-track bus for the mixdown. I was using a Commodore 64 r28 using Dr. T software, it was like the beginning of the shit. But I found it interesting still right from the front. That’s the kind of stuff I worked on. I used to work on remixes and sometimes it would take twelve hours just to get it in sync. That time just to get it to lock, then I had all the problems with it back then. The great thing about now with it going all digital, you can move a lot quicker.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RniTdPE_YxIE-Dancer – “Banjo” (Play It Again Sam, 1999)
NM: And on the DJ side?
KS: I’m straight-up Traktor, S4, F1. It’s exciting for me, you know, some people say “oooh once you play with vinyl…” I had some great times with vinyl, I used it for years but one of the reasons I stopped was I was having neck problems from carrying records for years. So I was like, “this is great.” For me I can play the S4, if I wanna go traditional I can go traditional, if I wanna sync I can sync, if I wanna now get down with the F1 and create my own loops similar to Ableton [I can]. It takes you on a whole different creative process that makes your set more unique now. So it’s to that point that I like. I’m still working on it like I said because the F1 just came out. I can straight up mix, I can sync, I just move more quickly.
NM: Are there any projects you’re working on now that you want to talk about?
KS: I’m working with Inner City, we’re doing some tracks. We had a track called “Future” that did very well. Also working on E-Dancer. And then me and Mark Insion are working on a track together.
NM: Do you prefer to play on tour more or work locked away in a studio working on tracks?
KS: I think it’s in the middle because I’m making a track so I can play it. So if I was creating tracks and wasn’t playing them that wouldn’t be my ultimate goal. So I would have to start there but I love playing them too so I’m kinda split. There’s no one over or the other. But I have to tell you I play more than I create music now. Back in the day it was reversed I was making two or three tracks a day.
NM: What would you say to anyone just getting started with production and DJing?
KS: Whatever you create, don’t be in such a rush to release it but more in a rush to test it out, work on your sound, the sonics of it, test it on a big system, get a feel for how it really sounds, you know? Slow down. It’s okay to make a track and not be able to complete it cause you can always come back to it later. If it ain’t working at the time, if you can’t find out how to connect it, leave it. Sometimes you go to the next idea and that’s the track. And get into the parameters of sounds, get into creating your own different sounds.