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The Oscillator

A New DJ Mix Showcases The Many Sides of Detroit Techno Legend Carl Craig

Maurice Blanco

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 3/5/2008

Recently, dance-music web site Resident Advisor interviewed Detroit techno legend Carl Craig about his new double CD, Sessions (K7), a DJ mix of lightly retouched old material Craig has issued under the monikers 69, Paperclip People, Tres Demented, Innerzone Orchestra, and under his own name, and remixes for 11 other artists. RA: "Why release a two-disc compilation of largely previously released material?" Craig's response, in part: "[S]ometimes you gotta revisit the past to go to the future . . . It's a bit of revisiting the past, but I think that now is a better time to do something like this than it would be to wait another 10 or 20 years." This sounds remarkably like code for, "It's because I don't really have much good new material," a statement Mick Jagger might have pulled out to justify any of the Rolling Stones' tours over the past three decades. Especially since, before Sessions, Craig's last new release was a live 12-inch featuring two reworked older tracks.

Granted, Jagger isn't an entirely fair comparison. For one thing, the Stones make albums to tour behind, not the other way around; their shows rely heavily on their deep catalog, and though they can still put out onstage when they want to, whether they can is beside the point. Their hits compilations and catalog remasters make more news than the new stuff, largely because they deserve to. Craig, on the other hand, is venerated in techno circles not only for the mid-'90s work that put him in dance music's first rank but also for the remixing tear he's been on over the past couple years. Since 2006, Craig has reworked Tony Allen's "Kilode," Hot Lizard's "The Theme 2008," Goldfrapp's "Fly Me Away," Brazilian Girls' "Last Call," Adult.'s "Hand to Phone," Siobhan Donaghy's "Don't Give Up," and Dave Angel's "Tokyo Stealth Fighter," to stick with the stuff that didn't make it onto the new collection.

In the absence of new material, Craig's remixes have probably done more to enhance his legendary status than if he'd gone ahead and released a classic album. Getting a Carl Craig remix guarantees a receptive techno audience the same way a Lil Wayne guest verse does with hip-hop fans.

The big difference is the rate of output. Wayne's prolificacy has spiraled almost out of control--he probably issued as much music last year as the undead Tupac Shakur has since his death 12 years ago--but Craig's remixes have come in a steady flow: each has been absorbed by DJs, dancers, and critics in its good time before the next one comes along.

Sometimes that's mere genuflection at the legend's altar. The endless nickel-plated synth washes of Craig's 2007 remix don't really add anything of note to British duo Faze Action's 1996 strings-driven classic "In the Trees" (though mixed between a couple of Craig's Tres Demented tracks, which ape the crazed feel of early Chicago acid tracks like Sleazy D's "I've Lost Control," it sounds right at home). That's hardly new for Craig: For years, people have insisted that "Bug in the Bassbin," a single he released in 1992 as Innerzone Orchestra, is a precursor to drum 'n' bass. Listening again on Sessions, where "Bug" is the final track, you can hear broken beat's DNA--the tune's loop of jazzy drum flourishes and spare organ, whose main riff is a hat tip to the beginning of First Choice's "Let No Man Put Asunder," certainly prefigures the likes of Bugz in the Attic. But jungle, even really early jungle, sounds nothing like it.

Craig's current vogue is partly due to his work being remarkably in line with the current generation of minimal techno artists. Though given how dishwater much of that stuff has become, the association doesn't necessarily reflect that well on him. (Maybe a better comparison than dishwater would be early-'90s Neil Young.)

But Craig is too smart to get lazy, and Sessions benefits from it. That isn't to say it's perfect. Even if you love what he does with his Grammy-nominated remix of Junior Boys' "Like a Child"--swaddles the vocal in oscillating plinks and nicely weedy bass and strings, basically--there's still the maudlin original song and vocal to contend with. But for a showcase of the many things Craig does and has done well, Sessions is frequently fierce.

This should actually go without saying. Flashy, everything-culminates-here individual moments aren't Craig's forte; he goes for long builds that work great in DJ sets but are iffier outside of them. That's why dance aficionados adore him and outsiders aren't likely to know who he is. So of course a two-and-a-quarter-hour continuous blend like Sessions is Craig's ultimate showcase, even when he disrupts his own flow. He truncates the rising tension created by the guitar stabs of Craig's "reconstruction" of Chez Damier's "Help Myself" and unwinds his masterpiece, the 1994 Paperclip People single "Throw"--probably the '90s' most perfect détente between house and techno sensibilities--from the top. Then there's the odd downshift from Paperclip People's "Clear and Present" into Craig's remix of Theo Parrish's "Falling Up." Moments like these are when Craig signals that he's not your average track master or floor filler, and they're the points when you realize how right he is.

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