I nearly peed my pants when I heard that Kevin Saunderson was coming to town. Sure, I'm a bit obsessed with Detroit techno, but Kevin Saunderson isn't just another Detroit techno artist. As one of the Belleville Three (along with Juan Atkins and Derrick May), Saunderson is one of the creators of techno, twisting the futurism of Kraftwerk, the instrumentation of new wave and Chicago house, and the musical legacy of Detroit into the genre that's grown into what you (should) know and love today. He's not just a producer or DJ; he's a legend. The thought of interviewing him was absolutely terrifying.
Turns out my worries were premature. Saunderson is completely down to earth, more than willing to talk about his place in the world of techno and the American scene even as he was rushing to get his kid ready for trick-or-treating. I even managed to not shriek in elation like a crazed Menudo fan.
It's a shame that more aren't aware of techno's domestic roots. Sure, it had a large European influence, but it was the aforementioned trio from a Detroit suburb who took their various interests and made them into something new in the early '80s. That original sound then spread to Europe, making the innovators ambassadors of their creation.
"I was stimulated with the way you could create without knowing how to play an instrument," Saunderson says over the phone from Detroit, the hometown he's never left. "I could make a whole song and I didn't need nobody. You could do exactly what you heard [in your head]. It was great to inspire people in London and introduce them to all of these new sounds."
Saunderson found commercial and chart success with his project Inner City, but techno (and electronic music in general) never fully integrated into the American musical fabric the way it did in Europe. Despite the constant presence of the underground, after 20 years, Saunderson doesn't see things changing.
"If it was going to happen, it would have happened immediately," he says. "You just need too much support from MTV and radio. Our music is nontraditional and doesn't deal with the clichés of sex and love, so it just doesn't fit." He drives home the point: "[In the U.S.], it's not about the DJs and the music and the dancing. It's about the hype."
Even with those strong opinions, Saunderson comes off as only slightly cynical, instead expressing genuine excitement over the longevity of techno and humility over his status as one of its architects.
"I'm a pretty laid-back cat," he says. "I'm affecting someone's life, making them smile, and that's very powerful. It means I was meant to do what I do. It's just who I am."
Even with nothing to prove, Kevin Saunderson has no plans to stop creating music. "I keep going because I love the music," he says. "I'll probably retire from extensive travel over the next four years, but I still feel creative. I play out because I still love playing and there's great music out there to play." That goes for his creative offspring and beyond: "I'm not a straight techno guy. I'm not a purist. I play good music. Including techno."
Kevin Saunderson plays Krakt at Rebar (1114 Howell St, 233-9873) on Sat Nov 10, 10 pm, $10 adv/$15 DOS, 21+. With Travis Baron and Kristina Childs.