Record Store Recs: DJ Carl Craig Selects Some Of His Detroit Faves & Talks Planet E’s 30 Years Of Independence – The GRAMMYs

For the first IRL iteration of Record Store Recs since its launch in May 2020 to support record stores and artists during the pandemic, a few of the DJ/producers who played electronic music festival CRSSD Festival 2021 joined us at the Stellar Remnant popup. Detroit techno forefather Carl Craig stopped by to check out the Detroit section, sharing personal stories about the seven fellow Motor City dance greats whose records he chose.

The “Forever Free” producer also discusses the DIY magic of his hometown, celebrating 30 years of dancefloor independence with his label, Planet E, and his hope to hear more dance records that cut through the divisiveness of society.

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There’s something about Detroit, a coming up-from-the-ashes feeling. People create so much beauty out of abandoned buildings, and out of the hard times of living in Detroit and what it means to grow up there.

Detroit is a city that has had a lot of the odds against it. Detroit’s a city where we put all of our eggs in one basket, as far as the automotive industry. So, the people who were left in Detroit were able to take those little scraps and turn them into something. Detroit’s really good at taking negatives and turning them into positives. We had white flight, we had the recession.

We were able to take what was given to us and flip it however we wanted to flip it.

We had our big riot in 1967. Musically, I’m trying to talk after Motown, because Motown was happening when there was a great movement as far as industry and money coming into Detroit. Punk is considered actually from Detroit, with Death, Iggy the Stooges, MC5, those cats. Death came before the Ramones as far as punk is concerned.

Then we get into Parliament-Funkadelic and that kind of stuff.

Detroit was still lucrative as far as business was concerned, but that was one of the moments that contributed to what we call white flight in Detroit. We had Young Boys Incorporated, all these drug gangs. We had the Big Four, when the police would go around and just kick ass. It was just craziness, but the music has always persevered. The music’s always been there—the ideas, the struggle—and it brought us to what we know as Detroit techno.

Carl Craig. Photo: Ana Monroy Yglesias

That’s a great segue to talk about the records you picked up. For each, tell me why you picked it and what you love about it.

M5, Celestial Highways (1999)

M5 makes a great Detroit techno record. It originally was released on Metroplex Records, which is Juan Atkins label. But now it’s [reissued] on Raw Wax. It’s Gerald Mitchell who did this record. Gerald did “Knights of the Jaguar” along with “Mad” Mike Banks and DJ Rolando, and it’s a beautiful piece of—one of my favorites, actually. I’ve been waiting a long time for it to be rereleased because it’s a beautiful, beautiful record.

Kenny Larkin, Azimuth (1994)

This is a reissue as well. Kenny reissued it on his own label, Art of Dance. I think it originally came out on Warp Records. Beautiful piece of music from the mid ’90s. Kenny’s always been a great musical visionary, someone who’s not formally trained but knows how to get his ideas out. He’s my brother. I love him. If he was a woman, then I’d love him even more. [Laughs.]

Dopplereffekt, Linear Accelerator (2003)

Dopplereffekt is Gerald Donald. Gerald’s a very interesting character. I’ve known this guy since he was a little punk. He used to come to my house and play my music—or play his music, which was crazier back then than any of this stuff. He would try anything. He pushed buttons. That was great about Gerald. He’s a huge Kraftwerk fan, a huge Juan Atkins fan. He’s also had another group [with James Stinson] called Drexciya.

Amp Dog Knight, “Over U” (2005)

The next one’s Amp Dog Knight, also known as Amp Fiddler, a wonderful musician. He started off playing with George Clinton. He was on the road with the P-Funk All Stars, Parliament, all that stuff. Amp is a wonderful guy, an amazing musician, amazing singer.

We played together many times, but he was also on The Detroit Experiment record that I did [in 2002] that had Bennie Maupin, Karriem Riggins, Marcus Belgrave, and Francisco Mora. But this is a beautiful, beautiful record from Mahogani [Music], Kenny Dixon Jr. — Moodymann’s — label.

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Of course, Dilla is a legend for rap music, for hip-hop, a genius visionary, beatmaker, producer. His group was Slum Village, which I love. He was also part of tThe Ummah, which Q-Tip was also in [with Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest]. There was also the Soulquarians, which featured, Dilla, Common, D’Angelo, and Questlove.

Dilla was mentored by Amp Fiddler, who taught him how use the MPC.

Floorplan, Music / Tell You No Lie (2016)

I play a lot of Floorplan when I play. This one is with “Music” and “Tell You No Lie.” Floorplan is Robert Hood and his daughter, Lyric Hood. I’ve known Robert since we all started making music together. He was part of [musical collective] Underground Resistance at one time. He’s a great DJ, and his music sounds amazing. The label is MPlant, which is his own label.

This record is a bit more disco-y than the stuff Robert usually does. He is more of a straight techno guy, but the Floorplan stuff has more disco, with vocals and everything.

Shake, …waiting for Russell (1998)

This one’s by Anthony Shakir, [a.k.a.], Shake, on his label, Frictional Recordings. I’ve known him since I started making music, since 1988 or something. He was making records before I was, but he’s one of those unsung heroes, who probably should have gotten further than he did. He’s like, “Carl always tells me shut up and make records,” and I do. I tell him all the time because he is always theorizing. He’s always talking about stuff and it’s like, “Man, just f*ing make the records.” [Laughs.] That’s Shake.

I want to ask you about Planet E’s 30th anniversary this year. What does it mean to you to have made it to this point and still be putting music out, still be doing this thing?

Planet E’s always been my independence, me putting out my own music. When I would do remixes, I looked at the money I made from it as guerilla warfare. I take that money and put it back into my label in order to keep the fight going. The DJ income has been the same thing. So, it’s the ability to keep my independence so that I could stay in business as Planet E and Carl Craig. I could just try to work on everybody else’s labels and be at the mercy of other people’s tastes, other people’s finances, any of these things. But I’m my own boss.

I used to work at a furniture store and I would go to my supervisor and say, “Hey, I’m done with this task. What should I do?” And he’d go, “Be your own boss.” It’s like, “Okay.” I knew what it meant: find something to make yourself look busy. But I took it and said, “Well, f* it. I’m going to be my own boss.” And that’s what I did.

The independence is necessary. In Detroit, Motown, the independence of Berry Gordy made a big impact on me and a lot of my other brothers in this business. So Moodymann, he’s got his own thing. Derrick May has his own thing. Kevin Saunderson has his own thing. Everybody has their own thing. We’re a very DIY-orientated group of artists in Detroit.

“Planet E’s always been my independence.”

And you have an anniversary release coming out soon. Tell me about that.

Our 30th anniversary is in October, and we’re marking it with the release of 69’s 4 Jazz Funk Classics, which I relate to the death of Miles Davis. I did a dedication to Miles on the inside of the vinyl. We’re working on other releases as well.

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And who are some of the artists on the anniversary releases?

The majority of the early releases were mine, so that’s what we’re focusing on. But we have a release from DJ Minx that’s coming up. We reissued Marcus Belgrave’s Gemini. We had DJ Holographic’s Detroit Love compilation that we released this year. So we’ve had some nice things.

What do you hear when you listen back to the music you made 30 years ago?

Youth and energy. When I listen to Wu-Tang records, I hear that hunger, I hear that youth. That’s important to capture in records. It’s important to capture that personality. So if you hear a record like The Last Poets, you can hear what they were going through when they put that fire into that music—and I hear that with my early releases.

What has you excited about making music right now?

I have to make my own excitement, to tell you the truth. I think that there are some good records that are coming out, but a lot of records follow the same formula, and that’s been the music industry for a long time.

What I would really like to hear — because we’ve gotten so divided — are some new records where people are actually talking about unity and love, because we need it. “That’s The Way Love Is” by Ten City, or “Good Life” or “Big Fun” from Inner City, or even Deee-Lite records—these are records that were talking about how the world and life can be so much better.

We’re so divided by politics right now. We’re divided by whether people want to wear masks or not. Anti-vaxxers, pro-vaxxers. We’re divided by cancel culture.

We’re drawing lines constantly and it makes it difficult to come together. We need to come together, but who knows what’s going to happen. But we do need some music that’s about peace, love and harmony, and all that kind of stuff.

I love to ask this question because the answer is always different. What do you think makes a great dance track?

Space. Miles [Davis] said it: “It’s not the notes you play. It’s the silence in between the notes.”

And most dance music that we have now has so much space taken up and not enough silence in between it. Again, it’s formulaic. That’s one of the nice things about soundtracks: they deal with a lot of pauses, a lot of space.

With the world that I’m in now doing sound installation, I can deal with things based not on what the dancefloor is about but about telling a story of what the dancefloor is about. My art piece, the Party/After-Party, was great because the pandemic happened and nobody had dancefloors to go to. So, when you came to my piece, you got another impression of the dancefloor.

We were so jaded before the pandemic. It was like everyone had an idea of what dance music is. We needed a reset and the pandemic helped to do that reset. We had 15, 18 months or something. Of course, in Miami they were still going [to the club].

But it helped people appreciate music and not be just like, “You’ve got to play this record.”

But when people were able to come back, it’s like they’re hearing music in a way that they couldn’t hear it before. It became more of a social thing again instead of being a spoiled brat, jaded, like, “I know what techno music’s supposed to sound like and this isn’t techno.” Just all the ugly things that became dance music.

Now I’m happy where we’re at and I hope it doesn’t go back to being a jaded view of dance music. I hope it stays the level where we’re at, where people are actually appreciating the music that’s being played and appreciating that you’re playing instead of taking it for granted. I took a lot of it for granted as well, so I’ll take a brunt of the problem myself. We all did.

What does Detroit sound like to you?

The actual pulse of the city, it’s a mix of cars and nature, because we don’t have a big city sound in Detroit. We have 600,000 people in Detroit, so there’s not a lot of horns honking like in New York. There’s not a lot of people walking in the street. The best time in Detroit to me is usually at nighttime because you have the steam that comes out of the ground and you can drive through it and it feels like what you see in Taxi Driver. It’s got that vibe to it where New York doesn’t even have that vibe. New York has become full of people that aren’t from New York.

Detroit, luckily, we haven’t gotten there. We still have enough charm of real Detroit. You can hear the animals. When you drive through neighborhoods, [you hear] a lot of dogs barking, but there’s not subways going like in New York. You might get more street racing. That’s the sound Omar-S, Kenny Dixon Jr., Theo Parrish, “Mad” Mike Banks, and those guys, they loved being in that street race world.

What does it mean to you to rep Detroit?

I’m always going to rep Detroit. Detroit is the unsung hero. It’s the underdog and I’m glad that people represent Detroit for Detroit. I come from Detroit. I went to public school in Detroit. I got shot at in Detroit. I saw all kinds of sh*t. I’ve got to rep because I’ve experienced it. I’m always going to rep Detroit.

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