“I was born in Detroit city, a city known for the big three auto makers which is why it’s also called the Motor City,” says Blake Baxter. “It was also where Motown defined ‘60s music and R&B soul. More recently, from the late ‘80s through the ‘90s, Detroit became known as the Techno Mecca or just plain techno city.”
But Baxter has a disclaimer he’s keen to share. “These days I’m homeless – I’ve been without a home for two years now.”
When it comes to Detroit, Blake Baxter’s is one of those originator names you tend to proffer up alongside Derrick May, Jeff Mills, Kevin Saunderson, ‘Mad’ Mike Banks and Eddie ‘Flashin’ Fowlkes. And 25 years after the world first became aware of the Detroit techno groove Baxter is as much in-demand for his DJing as he is for his production work – though he’s quite clear about which of the two outlets fuels his own fire.
“Making music comes first, then collaborations. While I like to DJ, sometimes it’s more like a job… producing is what I love most.”
Baxter has been making tunes for over a quarter of a century and the EP ‘When We Used To Play’ (1987) on KMS was his first record per se.
“I was signed to and worked with DJ International in Chicago, and recorded two tracks for an EP in a Chicago studio – but after waiting too long for its release thrugh DJ International, it was remixed and two years later released on KMS Detroit. So ‘When We Used To Play’ was my first ever 12-inch.”
He in fact worked on this debut record with none other than Derrick May (as May Day), Kevin Saunderson, and Stoney. As with most things there’s a story behind the collaborative effort.
“The lyrics were a poem I wrote, based around a girlfriend I had in high school; I had that bassline in my head and played it to Kevin and he liked it. It was recorded in Saunderson Studio. On remixes back then, Derrick often used Stoney for tape editing – he was brilliant. I still love that record… it’s a time capsule for me, from the poem lyrics to the production. It’s also part of me growing up in the city and as an artist.”
Baxter’s also made records under the aliases of B Basic and Dream Sequence (for Tresor), Prince Of Techno, The Underground Track Master and Rebel Alliance (for his own label Mix), and Pump Da Bass (for Serious Grooves) – although most of these projects seem to have been short-lived. What was the intent behind them, and would he explore the notion of aliases again? Or is ‘Blake Baxter’ enough?
“Back in the day, artists did aliases when then they produced different styles or were on different labels at the same time. Aliases are fun I’ll still do them – they’re like different sides of me as an artist.”
“I tried different sequences, as in a dream state of consciousness,” he says. “Most songs where based on dreams I’d had interpreted through sound.”
It’s a fantastic record – but if Baxter were George Lucas, he’d have to continually tinker with it. Most of us have felt a similar feeling about past pieces of work; as we change we think we could easily upgrade or tweak the stuff to get added effect.
Baxter sees this two ways. “I’m blessed to do what I do, and I love what I do,” he says. “But… knowing what I know now, hell yeah, I would do a big time remix and change it! And to be honest I’d first of all change how I did business and with whom I did business – that’s the thing that’d be first on the list of changes.”
His own current musical directions Baxter describes thus: “Poetry and rhythm is my style, and then electronic music and techno/tech-house mostly.”
Currently he’s working on another Blake Baxter LP – “classic original and remix versions,” he hints – and maintains that he’s always busy.
Some of that pace has been directed toward recent releases through labels like Carl Craig’s Planet E and Mike Grant’s Moves & Grooves – although apparently the name of the outlet doesn’t make so much of a difference.
“I just like doing new ideas – trying something new – but I always have worked like that, even with [earlier labels] KMS, DJ International, Incognito, UR, Go Bang, Tresor, Disko B… it’s all good. For me it’s just working and releasing new tunes.”
Then there’s his own label Mix – which, despite a dearth of recent records, has not yet been shelved.
“I’ll always do releases through Mix Records. All in good time. I’m not one of those producers who uploads a tune every week – nothing I do is finished. I am an artist who’s a work-in-progress.”
In the studio things are obviously a lot different from the one he was using in 1987 – and yet very similar all the same. “For me now it’s Logic, along with the 808, 909, 303, and SP1200 Moog…. On the road I use Abelton MPC 1000. I’m not big on software. My number piece of equipment is my mic, followed by my monitors.
Recently the man has also done a lot of collaborative work with people like Abe Duque, Psycatron and Trevor Rockcliffe.
“I like group projects; having different minds involved in the one project. I can produce music on my own, but I also like to work with other producers and artists whose music is a bit different than what I do. It’s just all about trying something new, doing something different, staying creative.”
Remix-wise he’s worked with Marc Romboy and is currently doing my Little Nobody track The Thin Flan for Gynoid. Different producers obviously have diverse approaches to the whole remix thing, so it would be fruitful to understand how this particular producer gives the mixes the ‘Blake Baxter’ stamp.
“I just try to be honest stay true to the root of the tune or music, and insert a little bit of me in the mix,” he assesses.
With more than two decades in the business, there would no doubt be an array of experiences both negative and positive to talk about. Baxter however says he tries to see it all with proactive eyes.
“My love for the music keeps me motivated and I just turn the negatives to positives. I speak my mind sometimes and people do like it, but I would never say something that’s counter-productive or negative. I try to educate. I’ve been there and done that, so things change; names change, technology is now changing, and the music business too. A lot of misinformation is being used for hype – people say what they want, play on words, copy concepts from other artists, and download any and everything they can for free on the Internet.
“So where I came from to now… wow, it’s scary, not much originality – everyone’s a DJ and a producer! All you need is a laptop,” he laughs.
So is vinyl dying a slow death?
“We’re all dying a slow death – that’s life. I love vinyl and will never stop DJing it… I will not DJ with a laptop. Vinyl is an art form for me. I don’t care if the next DJ plays with a laptop; do what you got to do. But I do tech – I don’t let tech do me. I personally like the human feel and the warmth of the vinyl.”
If digital download really is the future of music, it scares Baxter. “Yes, the future is now… and it’s a cold world,” he says.
Given Detroit’s role as a hotbed of activity in the late ‘80s and 1990s, how is the scene in that city these days when compared with the rest of the world?
“Pretty much the same, just a smaller scene. There’s more house then techno, and more old skool than new stuff. I think techno, house and electronic music is more international now – but Berlin scene is definitely different from Detroit, which is different from Chicago or New York or LA. The way they dance and the style of music and when an artist from Europe produce a so-called ‘Detroit techno’ track – well, nine times out of 10 it doesn’t sound like Detroit at all to me. I think where you come from and grow up, along with family, food, school and hood, shapes you as a person. Your life experience can’t be duplicated or sampled. The ‘www’ Internet made the world much smaller, but time periods when and where and how life is experienced will always have a different effect on people and their music.”
© 2011 Andrez Bergen