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Carl Craig

Artist Biography

Monikers: Paperclip People, 69
Genre: Detroit Techno

Born on May 22, 1969, in Detroit, MI; married Hagi Craig; children: one.


Joined Derrick May's Rhythim Is Rhythim DJ group, 1989; cofounded RetroActive label, 1990 (label dissolved); founded Planet E Communications record label, 1991; signed with Blanco Y Negro; released Landcruising, 1995; released More Songs about Food and Revolutionary Art on Planet E, 1996; organized and served as creative director of Detroit Electronic Music Festival and Ford Focus/Detroit Electronic Music Festival, 2000-01; released Designer Music: The Remixes (Volume One), 2000.

Life's Work

More than a million people flooded downtown Detroit over Memorial Day weekend in 2000. They were music lovers who had come to hear their favorite artists play the first annual Detroit Electronic Music Festival, which set the record as the largest electronic music event in history. If over a million fans came to listen to the sounds of artists like DJ Spooky, Mos Def, and the Roots, among many others, the artists themselves were there because of their allegiance to the festival's creative director, celebrated techno artist, DJ, and producer, Carl Craig.

Though acknowledged internationally as one of the genre's most influential and visionary artists, Craig's music has gone relatively unheard of in his hometown. However, he has gained recognition for breaking new ground in techno by incorporating jazz, soul, hip-hop, and avant-garde music influences. Throughout his career, Craig has used an alias for each of his musical moods. He has recorded futuristic house beats under the moniker Paperclip People, Psyche has been reserved for his more ambient sounds, 69's ("six-nine") recordings have a harder techno edge, and he has explored his experimental jazz tendencies with Innerzone Orchestra. According to the Washington Post, "Craig's musical expression has always gone beyond the artistic purity associated with techno." Craig admitted in Billboard, "I've always had a concept of dodging boundaries."

Experimented with Electronica

Born in 1969, Craig listened a variety of music that included Prince, the German avant-garde duo Kraftwerk, Parliament, Led Zeppelin, and the Smiths as a teen while attending Detroit's Cooley High. He found great inspiration in the music of Motown legend Stevie Wonder. "Stevie just did it," Craig said in an interview with MUSE online. "He was bad; he was doing techno before it was techno... . Stevie just had it." As a teen Craig fiddled around making music on his guitar, and was exposed to the dance-music scene by a cousin who was doing lighting for parties around Detroit. He first became interested in electronic music while listening to Detroit techno pioneer Derrick May's radio show on WJLB. Craig experimented with recording on dual-deck cassette players until he convinced his parents to spring for a synthesizer and sequencer. He studied electronic music, including artists such as Morton Subotnick, Wendy Carlos, and Pauline Oliveros.

In an electronics course, Craig passed along a tape of his homemade productions to a friend of May's. May was taken with Craig's work and invited him to re-record one track, "Neurotic Behavior." Craig did not own a drum machine, so the track's original mix was completely beatless, but inspired nonetheless. As the British became solidly fascinated with Detroit techno music, May invited Craig to join his Rhythim Is Rhythim DJ group on its 1989 European tour. Craig subsequently lent his hand to May's classic "Strings of Life" and the Rhythim Is Rhythim single, "The Beginning." While on the tour, he also recorded several of his own tracks at Belgium's R&S Studios, some of which were released on the Crackdown EP that Craig recorded as Psyche on May's Transmat record label.

Craig and partner Damon Booker founded RetroActive Records in 1990. Between shifts at a copy shop, Craig recorded tracks in his parents' basement, and from 1990 to 1991 he released six slick singles on RetroActive under his own name and the monikers BFC and Paperclip People. A falling out with Booker led to RetroActive's demise, but Craig wasted no time and founded his own Planet E Communications to record a deliberately lo-fi and funky EP called 4 Jazz Funk Classics, which he released under the name 69. Craig's work during the rest of 1991 bounced from hip-hop to techno. His 1992 single, "Bug in the Bassbin," which he recorded as Innerzone Orchestra, was considered an early influence on the British drum 'n' bass and jungle genres--DJs and producers played the 33-rpm single at 45-rpms to create a ready-made, high-speed beat. His Paperclip People release "Throw" showcased Craig's disco and funk influences.

Remixing As Modern-Day Songwriting

"In the past, remixing was simply layering some percussion over a track and maybe adding a few samples," Craig said in an interview with Billboard. "Now, it seems as though the art of remixing has morphed into an almost completely new method of songwriting." Though he turns down more remix opportunities than he's offered, he made his mark in 1994 on the music of Tori Amos in a ten-minute rendition of her song "God," and on songs by Maurizio, La Funk Mob, and others. The Amos remix led to Craig's first deal with a major label and he signed with the Blanco y Negro European imprint of Warner Bros. Records. Landcruising, Craig's subsequent first full-length release, exposed his broad range and vision to a market far wider than he'd known before. The swell of popularity led to R&S Records re-releasing 69's The Sound of Music, a compilation of two previously released EPs.

Craig's 1996 single with Paperclip People, "The Floor," released on Britain's Ministry of Sound label, was so complemented by a grooving bassline and disco sample that it found favor in many house-music clubs. Craig began to be recognized more for his broad vision and drifted from his Detroit-techno contemporaries. He became increasingly uncomfortable putting the Detroit-techno label on his music, and opted to call it "urban" or "soul" if it need be labeled at all, he told the Washington Post. Craig released arguably his most important full-length collection, More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art, on Planet E in 1997.

In 1999 Craig released Innerzone Orchestra's Programmed, and played a number of very well-received dates with what Billboard called the "free jazz meets techno" group. Craig remixed live instrumentation by former Sun Ra drummer Francisco Mora, jazz keyboardist Craig Taborn, and bassist Paul Randolph, and added vocals and digital enhancement. The result, according to Billboard critic Amanda Nowinski, was "21st-Century jazz whose roots are grounded in the past but technologically enhanced." The release, she continued, "signifies the aesthetic maturity of an artist whose training began in the early days of techno." Citing what experimental artists like Sun Ra, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane did with jazz, Craig told Billboard, "You need to know the history in order to learn and develop the future."

Craig showcased an extensive collection of his remixes from the previous eight years in 2000's Designer Music: The Remixes (Volume One). Rolling Stone music critic Pat Blashill wrote that Craig reworked the music of such artists as R&B's Incognito, Belgian Euro-disco act Telex, Ron Trent, and Italian synth-pop/disco artist Alexander Robotnik "with the discipline of a gene splicer." The release's standout piece was Craig's rewiring of Detroit techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson's 1988 anthem, "Good Life," renamed "Buenda Vida" on Designer Music.

Festival Brought Fans to Detroit

In 2000 Craig served as creative director for his brain child, the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival. He used his influence in the music industry to get big names to perform, and expected a turnout of maybe 200,000 to 300,000 over the course of three days. His estimate was wrong--over a million dance-music fans flocked to downtown Detroit to listen to acts on four stages. Though national and international acts performed, Craig's emphasis was on Detroit talent. The festival "instantly catapulted Motown's techno artists from almost total anonymity in their own hometown to front-page news in the local papers," according to writer Mike Rubin in Rolling Stone. "It was definitely a feeling of vindication for all the Detroit-based artists that have been in the business for the past ten or 15 years," Craig told Billboard.

The second annual festival in 2001 was even bigger than the first. The world-class artist roster, which included Kid Koala, Mix Master Mike, and De La Soul, still emphasized Detroit talent, with performances by Stacey Pullen, Kenny Larkin, Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson, among many others. Eighty artists played on four stages. The crowd grew and downtown hotels were packed full of foreign tourists. Ford Motor Company and Miller Genuine Draft beer, honing in on the festival's prime promotional value, sponsored the event and it was renamed the Ford Focus/Detroit Electronic Music Festival, much to the chagrin of fans, who lamented the festival's commercialization.

In an abrupt turn, festival organizer Carol Marvin fired Craig days before the festival for "very murky reasons," according to Rubin in Rolling Stone. A subsequent outcry and e-mail campaign flooded Marvin's inbox and those of higher-ups at Ford and J. Walter Thompson, Ford's advertising company. Ford responded by claiming it was not "the corporate monster you worry about," according to the Wall Street Journal. Craig struck back by suing Marvin for breach of contract.

Honored by Detroit

Despite the controversy, Craig was validated when, on the final day of the festival, he was honored by Detroit's Mayor Dennis W. Archer. Just as the second DEMF was coming to a close, Craig accepted a special commendation from the mayor that recognized his founding role in the festival and Detroit music. "Craig has endeared himself to an international audience of electronic music lovers with his artistic vision, intellectual curiosity, and his willingness to identify with and promote the work of other artists," the mayor's proclamation read. "He has ... enhanced the image of the city of Detroit"

Craig's vision extended far into the future. He told Code magazine, "It's about making your mark and leaving something behind for the generations to come, so they can expand on the concepts and ideas and take them to the next level." He believed, as he told Code, that contemporary music, "especially black music, is just so stagnant. It's so focused on materialism ... Chasing money, being greedy ... there's just no future in it." But, he continued, he understood his calling: "To get people to understand what it means to go beyond the norm and push the boundaries... . Someone has to stick his neck out and take that chance. The way I see it, if that person isn't me, then who's it gonna be?" In 2001, Planet E celebrated its ten-year anniversary. Craig and wife and business partner Hannah Sawtell were expecting their first child.


Best Label Award for Planet E and Best Remix Award for "The Climax (Basic Channel Remake)," Musik Und Maschine Awards, 2001; honored by Detroit's mayor for contributions to music and the Detroit community, 2001.