It's the end of the world as he knows it
Can Carl Craig turn apocalyptic paranoia into a great night out?
Carl Craig responds to dark times with a mischievous laugh, but that doesn't mean he's not taking things seriously. Demon Days, Craig's concept night, soft-launches at Smartbar this weekend. The event, while hazily defined, is reflective of his mood.
The Detroit techno producer, on the phone as he walks his visiting son around in a park, refers to the 21st as "the century of evil" and he's partly convinced that there's an apocalypse around the corner. "There's kind of this ominous air now," he says. "Something is not right. It isn't off to a good start at all."
Demon Days is conceived as "dark music for dark ages. Evil times deserve evil music." Craig says Demon Days will be about "good music that you can dance to, but music that can be inspiring—music that you would never envision in your life." And DJ Gamall, who has teamed with Craig for the launch, touts sinister sonics of vintage Cabaret Voltaire tracks and guests—the Pop Group's Mark Stewart, Tortoise's John McEntire and the painter Chris Ofili—as evidence of a weirder tint in the event's future programming.
Without hesitation, Craig says his muse and favorite jazzman is Miles Davis. Like Davis, Craig's career has been characterized by turns away from expected practice, coupled with experimental tendencies and a dark, slightly freaky outlook.
But Craig's not as out of touch as Davis, who thought his electronic-funk period would speak to the kids on the street. Craig's a big fan of the sounds from Michigan's Spectral imprint and Chicago label Still Music, digs minimal German stuff and Bloc Party, and listens to hip-hop for its production. He's constantly stocking up on fresh white labels from his favorite haunts in London and Barcelona–records so new that he often has no idea which titles he's playing.
Craig fell in with Detroit techno god Derrick May in the late '80s, then studied electronic music and began producing original tracks in his parents' basement. He played in May's group Rhythim is Rhythim on live dates before breaking out on his own. Under numerous aliases (Paperclip People, 69, Psyche), he's emerged from the Detroit-techno elite as a major name in electronic dance, later adding disco and jazz elements to his prodigious catalog.
And Craig is loyal to Detroit. "Living here is important to me for my identity," he says. "I grew up here, I've always been relative to what's been going on here." He lives in a townhouse designed by Mies van der Rohe that's ironically "not conducive to sound." And as the cofounder and creative director of the original Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000, Craig booked all the acts. "The first two years were amazing years and I wouldn't change it. But I got a lot of flack from people that didn't get hired." This year, he was an advisor.
He also melded live performance with electronics before it was fashionable. In 1998, Craig toured around the world with seven-piece outfit Innerzone Orchestra, fusing jazz and techno. "A lot of people were confused because I did things like live music," he says, noting that techno is largely a solo production–oriented genre. "But I've found that the best music is the music that is confusing. And for me, it's only natural." Craig also produced the jazz-influenced Detroit Experiment album and his next album, to be finished in his new studio in downtown Detroit, will feature extensive live instrumentation.
Craig's productivity continues to astound. He has remixes for Laurent Garnier and Terry Brooks coming out soon, a new 12-inch, "Darkness," on the way, and he's just completed his Fabric 25 mix-CD, due in December—all this while spending most of the year living out of a suitcase in Europe.
As for America, Craig is pessimistic. He finds hope mainly in the cities where there's an alternative to TV culture and good clubs where we can wait out the tough ages, look at each other and say "We're all demonic and we can have a party, this is great."
Carl Craig spins at Demon Days at Smartbar.