You may have a dim recollection of the name Scott Grooves. He's the one that Daft Punk remixed that one time. "Mothership Reconnection." Grooves likes it that way. "To be honest," he tells me, "sometimes I do purposely sabotage myself. I find every reason in the world not to do something." We're talking about the fact that he's never played at Detroit's Movement Festival, but it's been a recurring theme throughout his lengthy career in the music business: "[When I did my album on] Soma Records, they let me be me. And I really appreciate that. We had a good album, and they really did a good job of doing what they had to do as a label to make it profitable, to make it accessible to the masses. And, at the same time, I was able to stay in character and be the type of person I wanted to be."
1998's Pieces of a Dream was, indeed, a good album. Perhaps even a great one. The first project released under the Scott Grooves name, it took in nearly all of the many influences that had touched Grooves growing up in Detroit. There was the aforementioned Parliament and Funkadelic-sampling "Mothership Reconnection," a cover of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery's "Bumpin on the Underground" and, of course, Roy Ayers singing on "Expansions." Eclectic but coherent, it sounded like the work of a man eager for the opportunity to work on a full-length. And one that was also afraid that they may never get the chance to do so again.
Grooves played keyboards for Kevin Saunderson's Inner City before crafting Pieces of a Dream. But his background was firmly rooted in jazz due to his father, a jazz guitarist. "[I first thought to do] just a whole album of jazz covers like that Wes Montgomery song," he says. When he first saw a 909, he was highly suspicious. "Me being a drummer, I didn't like it. It's like working at an automobile plant and they unveil this new robot, they have this big ceremony, and you're looking at it like, 'OK, how long am I gonna have this job?!' I saw it as a machine that was going to put the drummer out of business. I was thinking 'How can you have a device that has drum sounds and you can't hit it?!'"
It was only after sitting down with a techno legend, in fact, that Grooves began to appreciate the instrument's power. "I remember the first time I saw a 909. I was over at Mike Huckaby's house, and was kind of looking at the thing like it was the enemy. But then I was talking to Derrick [May] about it, and he helped me to have a not-so-rigid viewpoint of it. He talked about how it could accentuate—not replace—the drummer. And, you know, I would listen to those Chicago records sometimes—those old Chicago records with just a 909 in it and no music at all—and it was amazing. I learned from those that if you've got it in you, then you can interface with anything."
Like many in Detroit, the radio also had a major impact on Grooves. The Electrifying Mojo's show was a favorite, especially because Grooves didn't go clubbing much in his teen years. Instead, he was gaining his musical education at home. "Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, B-52s, Kraftwerk. I could just listen without the whole club culture thing—paying to get in, being cool enough to get in. On the radio, also, they didn't exclude types of music. There was no prejudice. I mean, they'd play Phil Collins. I'd play along on my drum set, then I'd grab my guitar when he'd play a Prince song. And then he'd play something by Hendrix and I'd be so blown away I wouldn't even try to play along at all."
Similarly diverse in his own sets, it was Mojo that served as inspiration for Grooves to begin DJing in Detroit again a few years ago after a long layoff. "I didn't start doing things here until Rick [Wilhite] said, 'Yo, we havin Mojo Parties.' I was like 'Now that's something I can get into,' because I could bring George Benson, Wes Montgomery, The B-52s." His positive experiences there have also led to a renewed interest in playing bigger clubs around the world. Gooves recently played at fabric for the first time in a decade, and concluded a short tour of Europe that included a stop at Berlin's Watergate and Frankfurt's Robert Johnson.
To that end, Grooves has set up two imprints for his work, Natural Midi and Modified Suede, labels that were highlighted on his two CD mix compilation Journey Into the Riddum / Does Not Compute last year. Similar to his DJing ethos, it's a way of making sure that people can understand the full breadth of his musical interests. "When you eat dinner, it's defined as dinner because it has a variety. You have your vegetables, you have your meats, you have your dessert. What I like to do is to lay out the table with all of the above instead of just giving you dessert the whole night."
A reasonable sentiment, surely. But when was the last time you heard it actually enacted on the dance floor? At Watergate, Grooves followed up a dub techno introduction with Moodymann and then made his way toward an almost trance-y climax in which he furiously pounded out rhythmic accompaniment on a CDJ. Patrice Scott was moved enough to try to cool Grooves down by fanning him with a 12-inch. The crowd couldn't stop moving, seemingly unbothered by the fact that it was the type of track that wouldn't have worked in a set that hadn't been carefully built to get there.
When I spoke to Grooves before the night, he said that he always takes a track that he would never get asked to play. Just in case. "My mantra is: 'Before the night is over, you gonna hear something you like, you gonna hear something you didn't know you liked.' When I go out to eat I always order what I know I like, but then somebody I'm eating dinner with will maybe order something and I'll always try something and I might like that. The next time I go out, I order that. To me, that's a complete meal. Because, you know, you accepted something new, which is what this is all about. It's all about growth. I don't really want to get to that point where I think I know everything, because I don't want to get apathetic towards it all."
So is that one of the reasons that you didn't DJ as much over the past ten years, I ask, as we circle around again to the question of humility. "That, and also I kind of felt when I was DJing out that me as a person, me as Scott Grooves, the people necessarily didn't know or didn't have any connection with me. When I wasn't DJing, I don't even think people would say two words to me. I'm always thinking about, you know, if you take the music away, if you take the music out of the equation, am I still important?! People readily accept the music a lot of times, but it's nothing like being around people that—whether you make music or not—are really your friends. What's important to me is if you take away this whole music thing from the equation, I still add up to something."