Subculture presents Derrick May

  • ///DERRICK MAY BIOG In discussions about the techno movement, one name crops up time again and again - Derrick ‘Mayday’ May. Alongside Juan Atkins, Carl Craig and Kevin Saunderson, he’s regarded as one of the pioneers of the Detroit sound. First inspired by Yello and Kraftwerk, he began to make electronic music with Atkins and Saunderson while studying with them at Belleville Highschool. Inspired by the legendary Detroit disco DJ, Ken Collier, he and Atkins had previously formed the early eighties DJ and party outfit, ‘Deep Space’, playing what they termed as 'conceptual disco' to the high school party scene that was so prevalent in Detroit at the time. Though Atkins became very influential in shaping the emerging techno sound with his recordings as Cybotron, May's time was soon to come. Inspired by the emerging house music scene that was being championed by the likes of Frankie Knuckles and Farley Jackmaster Funk in Chicago, he became aware of the growing possibilities of electronic music and the euphoria it was capable of creating. In 1986 May set up his now legendary Transmat label, taking the name from the early Atkins track 'Time Space Transmat' on his Metroplex label and making his production debut with the label's first release 'Let's Go', after developing his craft under the tutelage of Atkins. Going onto to record either as Mayday or Rhythim Is Rhythim (occasionally in conjunction with Carl Craig) and generally on his own Transmat Records label, he carved out a new vein in dance music, a sound synergizing electro with the cutting edge, more challenging end of house movement - a music that came to be defined as ‘techno’. May’s early Transmat productions, ‘Nude Photo’ (co-written by Thomas Barnett) and ‘The Dance’, were inspirational to many, however, it was the release of ‘Strings Of Life’ in 1987, that saw him earn widespread acclaim, gaining Detroit techno a new level of awareness amongst European club-goers. Derrick went on to contribute three tracks to System 7's debut album, before ‘Innovator: Soundtrack For The Tenth Planet’, an EP featuring a selection of his most definitive moments to date was released in 1991. That year, he also produced what is now considered one of his finest ever remixes; a take on Sueno Latino's ‘Sueno Latino’, itself a reworking of Manuel Goettsching's epic ‘E2-E4’ track. A double album of Transmat's finest moments, ‘Relics’, with several Rhythim Is Rhythim productions came out the following year, coinciding with a beatless re-release of ‘Strings Of Life’. A fallow period for the label followed, but after its signing to Sony in the mid-nineties, its fortunes were revived, resulting in the long-awaited release of Rhythim Is Rhythim's 1991 recordings, ‘Kao-tic Harmony’ and ‘Icon’, as well as the Japanese and American releases of Innovator, containing all of May's work for the Transmat as well as a number of previously unreleased remixes and tracks. May introduced both a psychological element and a futuristic vision to dance music; his skeletal, melancholic sound gaining him the nickname, ‘The Miles Davis of techno’.Utilising familiar bass sounds with ever more complex beats, flange effects, twisting chords and deep strings, he produced a catalogue of music that pushed the boundaries of what could be accomplished with electronic sound for ever more. To many, the techno of Detroit is very much ingrained within the character and history of the city itself. By the eighties it found itself isolated from the rest of America, with a downtown area in financial and architectural ruin, a deteriorating motor industry and a reputation of being the 'murder capital' of America, it was a desolate and empty place. In reality Detroit had a spirit and soul there that lived on in its urban communities, borne from its glory days and great musical heritage. This mixture of coldness and warmth, desolation and soul, was perfectly represented by May's techno experiments. His classic tracks, 'Beyond the Dance', 'The Beginning', 'Icon' and most famous release 'Strings of Life' all emphasised that techno was a machine music, but all of these works displayed May’s ability to inject it with such hope, spirituality and soul, with truly inspirational results. Indeed, Derrick has acted has an inspiration to producers the world over, acting as an ambassador for Detroit and techno over the years, at the outset spending much of his time in the UK and Europe promoting the music when America was not ready to wake up to its . He now spends most of his time touring the world as a DJ, sometimes in conjunction with UK DJ Jim Masters, for his Hi-Tek Soul Parties, at other times in partnership with François Kervorkian, the pair calling themselves The Cosmic Twin, continuing the tradition of such legends as Ken Collier and Larry Levan, one he started with his Deep Space parties all those years ago.
  • Subculture presents Derrick May - Flyer front