Kyle Hall on how Mike Huckaby shaped the Detroit house sound.
On what he learned from Mike Huckaby
Musically, he set a template. He was so consistent. That's what I think when I think of Mike Huckaby. It's very functional. He's serious about it. And he collected records, he was serious about that too! I was making music on my own [when I started studying under Huckaby at YouthVille aged 13], but he exposed me to other methodologies, other ways of doing things and different software. There was always something to learn from what he had to say, or even just his general approach.
I don't think any of his lessons were very direct. He was a very quiet dude, you know? But he just showed by example how to do things. One thing was just his level of commitment. You catch a vibe from him, it's not always like, "Yeah, always remember to do this or that." With him, you see how people's character—their way of being—is channeled through their music. It's more observational. He didn't really have a lot of words. Sometimes Huck would be off in another place. And when he'd talk, it'd be kind of cryptic. That's just how he was. At least as far as my experience. I think a lot of people might say the same.
My parents are of his generation. It was a natural connection in that sense. His friends are my close family friends. It's a small community here. There weren't many other people my age, especially at that time, who were into dance music, so I think that was probably something that was inspiring to the older generation. It's important to show people how you enjoy things so they can get into it as well. If you're not there in that era, you don't have that point of reference as far as how to really get into something. So I think just his presence, being there and showing how you can get into it, it gave a template in terms of approach.
You don't really appreciate something until you see somebody else who is really immersed in it. Around 2009 or 2010, going to Europe, people didn't understand how to get into the music that I thought was good and that I enjoyed. Sometimes it takes somebody to present it to them in order for them to understand the language. I think that's kind of what it is. It's just projecting a framework from a path that others may not have experienced. And Huck just lived it, man. This was his thing. From teaching to producing to traveling and sharing it with people who don't even speak the same language. That in itself, it's a certain drive. Which I feel is important, which we need to keep in mind.
Mike was generous with his knowledge. He told me about Sun Ra when I was 14 years old, and it was liberating for me. I was looking at Sun Ra stuff and then I started fucking with keyboards in the hallway. I was messing around with synths and what people generally perceive as randomness, how it had a certain beauty to it. I think the avant-garde mentality, adopting that, that makes it more dreamlike and fun. Visually, that's when YouTube was coming out or Dailymotion, I watched Space Is The Place at school and people would be like, "Whoa what is this?" So you're sharing this with your friends.
As a kid it's good to have imagination. Your imagination, man, that's just how you end up deciding what to do, what gives you the motivation. It starts with how you imagine something just to entertain and enjoy yourself. Then you're compelled to act. Having an older generation put you onto these figures that you wouldn't have known about. For someone to hold onto the information, like a gatekeeper of the culture, and share that kind of stuff, so that the next generation can do something new with it, that's paramount.
On the Mike Huckaby sound
Real deep house shit. Underground kind of stuff, stripped-down stuff. He played techno sets as well, hypnotic and hard stuff. There are definitely two sides to him, but I would say that the unifying thing was pretty focused.
You've seen him play, you know his style. It's always pretty consistent. You always know what a Huckaby set is gonna sound like. Which is great. There's a certain comfort in that. In Detroit, you're hearing all these records that he was probably purchasing, that were of a certain time period—along with new stuff as well—but it's still coming from the same place. I feel like a DJ's bag never completely changes, it just kind of morphs. Sure you have tons of music, but even though you may not have made the music, your voice is being projected. That's how you get that consistency. People can hear it. And whatever you're adding into it, it's still a solid piece.
I think his work at Record Time laid a palette in terms of appreciation of a certain sound. That translated into what was then played out in the clubs and into what people were interested in buying at Rick [Wilhite]'s store Vibes later on. Mike wasn't working at Record Time by the time I was going there. But his influence, in his tastes and selection and just the community he helped build, were still evident.
People really trusted his ear, and rightfully so. It definitely set a template for a sound, even for myself. A lot of the records from New York from the early 2000s come to mind. Kerri Chandler, Masters At Work, getting people purchasing that music and playing that music. Imports as well. He made a huge impact in that sense.
Mike Huckaby's Detroit
It's where you're from. It's always gonna be with you. It's deep, you can't really help it. I think he was just doing what was natural, what he thought was the right way. That's maybe what I take away—do what comes natural to you, in your sound and your feeling. You know what I'm saying? I don't like to always compartmentalize music by region but it does play into it. It's valuable to be truthful to where you're from. But that doesn't mean it's where you have to always be. I don't believe in boxes. Just get in your own wave, you know?
Don't worry about what other folks are doing. It's cool to take inspiration, but find your drive within yourself. Huck was on his own wave. He was creating sample packs from music that he was into, the sound that he wanted. He wanted to provide people with tools to be able to access that. So it's about sharing. He was trying to share his vision, so that other people could participate in it.