The Soul of Detroit: In Interview with DJ 3000

Author : Marco Sgalbazzini
May 30, 2019

The Soul of Detroit: In Interview with DJ 3000

Detroit techno label Motech Records, now entering it’s eighteenth year, has consistently continued to support the development of underground artists through its diverse and imaginative A&R policy.

“Motech has always been about finding and exposing new exciting music whilst still collaborating with the more established and distinguished artists in the field” says label head honcho and Detroit legend in his own right, artist DJ 3000.

Key to Motech’s longevity, in a scene where only a handful of labels manage to maintain such underground consistency, is 3000’s resistance in compromising his signature sound, resisting pressure to place commercial success over creative passion, and maintaining true authenticity. 3000’ sunmarises, “We embrace current trends in techno whilst always remaining true to their creative roots”.

The latest release on the label, Illyrian EP, takes inspiration from 3000’s Albanian heritage. ‘3000 describes it as “a mix of Detroit style techno and signature ethnic rhythms, whilst still keeping the current overall sound of what’s today”, and this package is perfect evidence. Filled with luscious jazzy fills and stabs DJ 3000 doing what he does best, capturing the Albanian Warriors connotations attached with the translation of the ‘Illyrian’ title. The remix of ‘Illyrian’ comes courtesy from the ever-experimental Frankfurt-born artist Michael Klein of Pan-Pot’s Second State Audio Label fame. Klein adds his trademark dark groove, providing a track that once again highlights Motech’s ability to appeal to generations of techno enthusiasts.

The second track from DJ 3000 is ‘Kahvë’. Based around a Turkish-Albanian rhythm, the track is juxtaposed with techno chords synonymous with ‘3000’, the overall result is super funky. Canadian techno don Carlo Lio also makes a long and highly anticipated debut on the label with his remix of ‘Kahvë’. Lio utilises the percussive elements of the original and layers serious floor shaking weight, resulting in a chunky slammer full of soul, completing an EP that has something for everyone that likes to dance.

We took the chance to speak to DJ 3000 about his Detroit roots, the soul of the city that gave birth to techno and, of course, the A&R vision and direction of Motech Records.

Hi Franki, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. What are you up to at the moment?

Hey, my pleasure! I’m currently building a new studio as well as working on the forthcoming releases we have planned for the label this year, as well as working on a number of tracks and remixes for other labels and artists

I would like to tell you some complex artistic process I follow but, really and truly I follow my heart when I’m making music … my Albanian roots have always played a prominent part of my musical identity and were something Mad Mike Banks encouraged me to remain close to from an early stage of my career. So creating an ethnic groove and incorporating rhythm and instruments that connect with my heritage is what inspires me creatively. I don’t and can’t make music to fit current fads, I just make what I feel is good music!

Your DJ name DJ 3000 is rooted in Underground Resistance, with the ‘3000′ coming from the building number of Submerge which is where you worked in distribution and sales for Underground Resistance. Can you talk about your time with Underground Resistance? What are your most prominent memories?

3000 E. Grand Blvd in Detroit is where the original Submerge building was. When UR first bought the building it was this bustling hub of Detroit artists, stopping in to see how it was coming along as well as people from around the world. Once it was done, it became the sort of mecca for those traveling to Detroit, especially during the early DEMF (now Movement) years. There were Detroit only releases and it caused people to lose their minds. Those early days of crazy progress and non-stop activity are definitely fond memories for me.

Submerge has now been turned in Exhibit 3000 which takes you through the history of Detroit techno. Why do you think it’s important to conserve this history?

Its especially important because of the sort of mainstream status that pop-electronic music has gotten over the last 3-5 years. You’ll notice that a lot of the most popular pop-electronic DJs and Producers have two things in common, they are white, and they are male. And it’s important to have a reminder in Detroit that that’s where the music came from. So people can see the faces of the producers who made the records that laid the path for what is now pop-electronic music and realize how starkly different they are from those gaining fame and money from the sound today. Detroit will always have an untold story, even amongst the “originators” from Detroit, there are producers and musicians who were on those records or helping the innovators make those records and people don’t know their names.

And it’s important to see, much like Detroit itself, these were working class people. These weren’t flashy rich producers with $150K studios, these were working class people who made a record on a piece of gear they saved their paychecks to buy and also used a hand-me-down synthesizer, then if the record sold, that gear was sold, and better gear was bought to make the next record, and so on and so on. That is and was the Detroit DIY spirit. And you have to remember, for every one record that was a moderate success, there were 15 others that sold maybe 5-10 copies. Hopefully having a conservatory for that spirit will keep it alive.

Underground Resistance were all about facilitating political and social change. Does this ethos still inform your music now?

Being from Detroit, it has to, even if you aren’t acutely aware of it. A lot of people who don’t or have never lived in Detroit don’t realize that there’s a commitment to living here. It’s not easy. It’s a little better now, but a lot of the progress that’s happened in Detroit over the last 10-15 years is not meant for the people that live here. It’s meant to draw in people who work downtown 9-5, and the people coming in for a sports event.

The DIY spirit is still there, but some of it is now more about cultivating the potential profit from those moving in to be closer to work downtown or those visiting. Again, you go 3-4 miles out from Hart Plaza and the real Detroit, the one that has been there for the last 25-30 years, is still there. You got a national crisis in Flint, that’s only 60 miles from Detroit, that has been going on for years now, and no one seems to really care. So, yeah, as long as you have a set of eyes, and can comprehend some of the things going on around you on a daily basis, its virtually impossible not to let that slip into your production somehow.

We saw an interesting quote you recently shared from Mayer Hawthorne: “Nowhere on Earth has more soul that Detroit”. Can you expand on that? What for you defines “soul”?

I think “soul” can mean a lot of different things. Of course, when most of the world sees the words “soul” and “Detroit” their minds automatically think of Motown which, of course, is the original DIY story when it comes to music in Detroit. I think most people who live, or have lived, in or around Detroit hold deep regard for the city. The fact that you have to hustle and be persistent to make it, makes you become attached to it on a level that may not exist if you live in a place that is easier to make a living.

Having to grind creates a connection, and that stretches back 75-80+ years through the auto industry. People came to Detroit to work and make a better life for themselves and their families, and through that, they became fiercely proud of where they lived. That pride can be defined as “soul”. Of course, there are other places around the world where people are proud to live, but Detroit and its history, especially musically, contribute to the feeling of soul that is here.

Do you think new productions of electronic music are lacking “soul” currently?

This is a tricky question. If someone sits down to make music, and by that, I mean, really takes the time to learn what they are doing, and through experimentation and influence from their favorite artists, churns out something that they are feeling, can you say that it lacks soul? I think the term “soul” in terms of music is loaded sometimes, and somewhat weaponized. What is soulful to me, may not be soulful to you and so on and so on. And that’s OK. But, that doesn’t mean people are going to like it, and the contrary is true too, tons of people like shitty music, electronic or otherwise.

So, that question is a double-edged sword. I think that the people with the most “soul,” regardless of the genre of music they are making, are the ones that take the time to learn about the music they are making, who came before them, the history of the music they are making and what that history feels like, and then try to capture that in their own production/creation/composition.

The same applies to DJing, although, I think its easier to lack soul or even credibility as a DJ because it’s much easier and approachable for the average Joe than music production is.

We’ve noticed that you are continuously supportive of your fellow Detroit DJs. Is this sense of community important to you?

That’s really something that happens organically in Detroit. Because those are the same people you see if you go out to someone’s show, or DJ gig, you see those people and know them personally beyond the music. And that sense of community goes back in waves. Now, once you leave Detroit, it becomes a little harder, as you are out of sight, out of mind.

Your label Motech was established in 2002 with a “vision [born] from the dust and destruction of the automobile industry in the Motor City”. Can you expand on this and talk more about the story behind the label?

The name Motech itself comes from the auto industry, a play on Techno and Mopar, which is/was the legendary Chrysler/Dodge auto parts division. So, it definitely influenced directly by Detroit’s automotive history. But it was also about the do-it-yourself, gritty self-made influence of those that worked in that industry. Motech was about creating a place not only for myself to release music, but also as a way for me to showcase lesser-known producers, both from Detroit and around the world.

In 2002, the world was a little smaller, and there wasn’t this vast network of ways to find and release music. So, it was about creating my own outlet that reflected the kind of music that I wanted to produce, the kind of music I wanted to hear, and to allow that music to show the influence of those that made it.

Your Illyian EP has recently dropped on Motech. Can you talk to us about your creative processes for this EP?

This one is all you homie!

Throughout your career you have been involved with a wide array of labels as well as your own, including OFF Recordings, Elementra Records and Planet E Communications. Do you adapt your style to fit different labels?

Like I said earlier, I think no matter who you are, as a producer, when you sit down to make music, you are influenced by the sound of those that have come before you. Now, I’m not saying that anyone sits down and says, “I think today I’ll make a track that sounds like XXX label.” But if you are listening to records that have come out on those labels, and hearing what those producers are doing, you might be like, that’s pretty dope, and you try something the next time you are making music, and that slips in, whether consciously or unconsciously, but you are still the one making the track, so your own style, process, and sound continue to come through.

What can we expect from DJ 3000 and Motech Records in the near future?

We have a number of really hot EPs in the pipeline from myself DJ 3000 in addition to a number of Motech artists, and some new really exciting artists we believe we will make big impacts on the scene in the near future as well as continuing the steady growth Motech Records is still achieving after all these years!

Illyrian EP is out on Motech Records and available on Bandcamp

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