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Techno innovators bring the beats back home
You can take Kevin Saunderson out of Detroit, but rest assured his heart is still shaped like and beats with the spirit of an Olde English D.
The techno music pioneer -- one of the Belleville Three trio of innovators along with Derrick May and Juan Atkins -- spends most of his time these days in Chicago, overseeing the development of young talent for his KMS label and production company, whose roster includes his two sons. But Saunderson promises that his home town loyalties remain rock solid in the Windy City.
"I'll always be a Lions and Tigers fan," Saunderson, 48, says by telephone from Chicago. "It's in my blood. It's funny, because with baseball last year the Chicago White Sox and Detroit were right there together at the end of it all. People I met out here were like, 'What do you mean, 'Go Detroit!' ' I'm like, 'Hey, I'm Detroit all the way.'
"Those (Chicago) teams come second if my main team is out, but it's always better for me if it's Detroit, y'know?"
Saunderson returns to the Detroit area this weekend for what's becoming a regular early-year club show at Pontiac's Elektricity. Last year it was with his famed late 80s group Inner City, while this time he'll join forces with Belleville mate May, sharing the turntables and tag-teaming ideas, something Saunderson says comes naturally for the duo all these years later.
"Even though we're still getting older, we feel young and we feel energetic and we feel like we have much to offer still -- which is amazing after doing this for so many years," Saunderson notes. "We do it well together, too. Being around each other since the beginning of this whole thing, going to junior high and high school together, there's an unbelievable history there, and that definitely comes across when you see us on stage together.
"It looks like we practice for hours and planned stuff, but we don't. We just click. We have a good feel for the direction we want to go in and how to play off each other. We have some amazing moments, and none of them are planned."
Saunderson himself is enjoying some notable moments these days. Last year he celebrated the 25th anniversary of KMS, and this year marks the silver anniversary of the first Inner City hits -- "Big Fun" and "Good Life," each of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart and Top 10 in the U.K., defining the new wave of electronic dance music that stepped into the disco breach during the late 80s.
Saunderson understands it's a momentous occasion -- but, he notes, Inner City doesn't have any kind of commemoration in the works.
"I don't have any plans to do anything special this year. Maybe five years from now or something we will," Saunderson says. "I think we're going to just work on getting a new record out." In fact, Inner City regrouped in 2010 after a seven-year hiatus, releasing a new single, "Future," the following year. It's been working on several other songs since, and Saunderson adds the group might also "do a special remix package or something and a little special tour to go with it. But we really try to move on towards the future."
Inner City is just part of the Saunderson universe, of course. "I'm really working with a lot of young new talent, from Europe and from Detroit," he says, and he also continues to play DJ sets around the world and would like to make another album by his underground E-Dancer project. But with electronic music enjoying greater mainstream acceptance, Saunderson is also enjoying his stature as one of the genre's elder statesmen.
"I'm working at my leisure, no real pressure," he says. "I've been doing this for so many years now, and the scene has changed so much in the last year and a half, and is continuing to change in America, where all the kids in high school and junior high now are into electronic music.
"Now there's so many forms of it, but it seems like it's been introduced in a big way with all the commercialism that's happened. That helps the underground as well, and helps the whole scene, so when we come back home we can play in front of all these kids who are really into it and really excited about it. That's really exciting for those of us who got it started."
Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, along with Aquarius Heaven and Phil Agosta, perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, at Elektricity, 15 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac. Tickets are $10. Call 248-599-2212. or visit www.elektricitymusic.com.
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