Its nigh-on impossible to imagine the electronic music landscape without Kevin Saunderson. Actually born in Brooklyn, he went on to make his biggest mark over in Detroit when – along with school friends Juan Atkins and Derrick May, he laid the foundations for what would become Techno music. After inventing one genre he would go on to help another achieve mainstream acceptance with his group Inner City and their international House music mega hits ‘Good Life’ and ‘Big Fun’, whilst he also invented The Reese Bassline with his track ‘Just Another Chance’ in 1988 – something that went on to become a fixture of nearly all the best Jungle tunes. Not one to rest on his laurels, Kevin continues to juggle family life, running his label KMS and touring around the world to this day.
Formed from the ashes Simian (of ‘We Are Your Friends’ fame), James Ford and Jas Shaw have been making music together as Simian Mobile Disco for nearly a decade. From 2007’s ‘Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release’ to this year’s ‘Whorl’, the pair have put out big room leaning Electro and Techno with an ever present degree of considered nuance to critical acclaim. The latest artists to take up the Saturday residency at London’s XOYO, they’re calling on a stellar cast of guests for the occasion.
Before he plays for them this Saturday, Kevin took some time out to have a chat with James and Jas about cover versions, sporting careers and dance music’s mainstream acceptance.
Simian Mobile Disco: You’ve been travelling almost constantly to play around the world for going towards thirty years – how do you make sure it doesn’t ever wear thin?
Kevin Saunderson: You know, first off I think I enjoy what I do, I try to take care of my my health as best as possible. I’m inspired by playing in different countries, different markets, seeing new young talent coming up. Technology helps because it changes, it gives different kinds of inspiration. New clubs open, different festivals come along and y’know it’s all very positive, so when you have a positive atmosphere, or a lot of positive things around you, then, it helps. And I absolutely love what I do.
S: You played American Football at university, and we read you had dreams of maybe taking that professional. Do you ever think how that might have turned out?
K: Yeah of course, I still love football. I love watching it, I see college players, I see pro players, I have friends who play professionally, so for me it was a dream at that time and some dreams come true, some dreams don’t – some dreams evolve and change. Mine evolved into a world of technology and music and that caught me off guard, but I believe I was truly gifted and meant for it so I don’t really think about it too much.
Y’know, I might not have ever made it to the highest level to play NFL and I could have got injured. My body still hurts sometimes from playing football all those years that I did play it so in a way it’s a blessing I guess. I still get to travel like athletes do and I get to compete because I’m playing against other DJ’s in a sense and I want to do my best.
S: As someone who had to deal with the marginalisation of dance music in America, how does it now feel to see it achieving mainstream acceptance (to a degree)?
K: I always had a vision that the world could dance as one, including my country.It took many, many years and it feels great because I just remember back in my college days, it was this music we were creating – me, Juan and Derrick. It was really just the Detroit, cool kinda preppy urban black kids that were going out to these events, like 200 at the most. We started to develop a little more in time, but our music got take over by Hip Hop, and white America was listening to Rock and Pop, and they weren’t dancing at all so they didn’t have an idea about dance music. I used to see these fraternities and I kept saying, this music is not just for black people it’s for everybody so it’s a great feeling to see where it is now.
It went to Europe, took off, came back to America, probably in a different aspect but, through time and through history, people were now finding out about the origins of this music and our involvement – you can see the younger generations really getting down to our sounds now. It’s more diverse music but I think it’s opened up a whole new avenue of generations to listen to our music and it opened up the underground in America, finally.
S: Considering you lived through it – does it ever feel weird to hear your early times starting out with Derrick and Juan mythologised – are there any weird reinterpretations of your story that made you laugh?
K: I don’t know if there was any weird reinterpretations, but y’know, kinda how me and Derrick met, we became friends because he annoyed me and I had to punch him out a bit – that’s honestly how we became friends. If that wouldn’t have happened I don’t know how my connection would have happened with music so that’s one of the stories that people mention a lot – it was really important.
S: ‘Good Life’ and ‘Big Fun’ have been remixed and covered countless times – have you got any favourite versions of those tunes? Any versions that you thought sounded weird?
K: My favourite version is the Carl Craig remix, and probably Pig & Dan’s. It’s between those two y’know – Carl’s was remixed quite a while ago and Pig & Dan’s came out on my label but they’re both really, really great remixes. The weirdest remix may have been the C.J Macintosh one. It was a great production but it was just put into this sound – it was really Garage-y and y’know, it just felt a bit bizarre because it was a little out of place. But it still sounded good.
Kevin Saunderson plays Simian Mobile Disco’s XOYO residency this Saturday. Buy tickets here.