We chat to the Detroit legend about his new two-disc compilation.
One of the originators of Detroit techno, Derrick May certainly hasn't rested on his laurels. Through his role as a DJ and head of Transmat he's continued to push new music and new talent. That's his project on Beyond the Dance, which contains cuts from current techno luminaries like DVS1, under-the-radar veterans like Rennie Foster and Transmat associates like Greg Gow. At the moment, the label has only set a release date for Japan, a country that's been central to May's career for many years.
That's where May was when RA caught up with him recently to find out more about the project.
So you're in Japan right now?Tracklist
Yeah, in Tokyo.
What are you doing out there?
I got a new album coming out on December 15th, so I'm out here for that, and I've got gigs out here I always do. I've got a couple of shows. I had one last week. I've got three this week. And then I'm going home Monday.
Tell me about Beyond the Dance.
It is the definitive Transmat. I do one every ten or 15 years. It sounds ridiculous but it's true. I will always do one every few years a definitive compilation of artists I believe are going to be next. This is that. It's a huge project. It's a three-album vinyl project, two CDs, 32 tracks, full-blown booklet. It's a huge project, for real.
How do you find out about the artists?
I have been really fortunate to be surrounded by creative people that are always looking to do something left of what everybody else is doing. These kind of people always search me out, and I've always tried to make myself not—let's not say open, but I will always try to make myself susceptible to people that want to give me something, give me music. I've never been standoffish about people giving me music or I've never put a barrier between myself when I'm some place or where I'm playing so that people can't talk to me.
People receive all these demos, and a lot of guys just throw this shit in the garbage. I tend to listen, and then I have to decide if I think some of these guys have not just a great track but the potential to keep making great tracks.
What's the kind of thing that catches your ear and makes you think it's pretty special?
I would think what catches my ear is not what I hear but it's what I want to hear later. Let's imagine Stacey Pullen is 19 years old, and I could listen to Stacey's music, and I knew that he had the potential to be a great artist. I could hear it in what I couldn't hear. There were pockets and holes in his music, but there was so music going on, so much effort to try and fill the hole, to try to do some strings or make some chords or make some sort of melodies. Maybe he wasn't able to do it [at the time], but I could tell he was trying to do it. I could see the potential in that way. I could listen to it and say there's room here to grow. Here's a guy that I could show something to, and he's not going to walk away or feel like I'm invading his space.
It seems like you enjoy that role as something like a creative mentor.
You know what, I must be honest: I hated it. I didn't mean for it to happen. It was never my intention to be that guy I swear to god, man. I'm not kidding you. I never wanted to be somebody's mentor. When I met Carl [Craig], when I met Stacey, it just happened. But I didn't want to be anyone's mentor. I was still just trying to figure my own shit out. The last thing I wanted to do was spend the time with some kid and have him waiting for me to give him a big break or give him a hand or whoever it was or whatever it was, it's hard.
You give a lot of your self—more of yourself than you realize, and when you finish, guess what you got? Nothing. Now you've got to replenish your own spirit. Either you got to go to your own mentor or sensei, or you just have to wait for your turn time to come back around.
So you mean it's hard to put yourself out there and then not really have it be your own? Like to not be able to take credit it for or something?
Oh no! Not at all. That's not the issue. No it at all. I'm talking about the actual energy and effort that it takes to little-brother somebody, to big-brother somebody, to mentor somebody. Just that energy. You're talking years to mentor somebody.
So you feel it's your responsibility to make sure there's another generation coming up?
Not any more I don't. No, I've done that. I've done my part on that level. With the compilation, what I'm doing is what I did before—look for the most talented people around the world, who are innovative and want to do something really special, and in the process can be a vehicle to make their music and qualify their product by putting it on a label of substance. Believe me: Transmat still has some substance, and people still respect it, so I'm giving those people that I think are the next levels a chance to put their music up, but I'm not mentoring these people. Ain't nobody living in my building or my house no more.
Why is this the release coming out so much earlier in Japan than in the rest of the world?
Because Japan right now is the only place in the world that appreciates the music. There's a lot of places in the world where people like to go to the music. They like to go to the clubs. They like to go have a great time. They like to listen to mix shows, and like to go to the cafes where the music is being played. But there is nowhere in the world right now where people are actually being consumers. In Japan, you can still sell 10,000-15,000 records, be it vinyl, CD, whatever the format you can sell product. It's one of the last markets in the world where people are paying attention, and all of the world has turned their backs not just on dance music but on any format of music.
Here there's still just a touch of honor and respect left for the artist. It's all here, because let's be honest: I've got a project coming out, [and] that just doesn't happen anymore. It's a seriously real thing with a fairly decent budget spent on it. Every artist got paid in advance. There's marketing and promotions—it's real!
Was there anyone on the compilation that you are particularly excited about that you want to hype up individually?
Karim [Sahraoui, aka Djinxx]'s music is incredible. I'm so happy to be working with him. I've got to tell you this kid's story. He gave me this song three years ago [in Malaysia]. I was playing the CD like crazy, and then I decided to do a mix CD and I started contacting all the artists about releasing the project. The record company contacted all the artists, but we couldn't find Karim. I mean, we called all across the fucking planet. Finally, I said, "You know what? We're going to put it on there, and when he contacts me we will give him the money." I didn't even know the name of the track! So I had to put it on the CD as an unreleased. The thing comes out.
Another year goes by. Finally I find him through Greg Gow, who's one of my Transmat artist. That song that I had put on the album two years, he gave it to Greg, but Greg never told me that he had the song to release on his own label, nor did Greg do a very good job promoting it. Sorry Greg.
Anyway, kid was living in Malaysia, in the jungle, got married, quit the music business, didn't have anything to do with the music business. Heartbroken, completely discouraged, was a devote Muslim, totally not interested in being anywhere near the music industry. Talked to him. Convinced him. Encouraged him. Got back into being a mentor again, didn't want to, and what the hell did he come out with? Some beautiful-ass music. So I am completely overwhelmed to have this guy on the album. He made those songs overnight and he also did like nine more. So we're going to be releasing a beautiful project on him after the compilation comes out, because I mean it's just phenomenal what he did and what he's been through and how he feels about music again, so I have to take advantage of his warmth and love and energy right now and show him some respect by putting his music out.
01. John Arnold - Sparkle
02. Digital Justice - Theme From: It's All Gone Pearshaped
03. Choice - Acid Eiffel
04. Louis Haiman - Seedling
05. Psyche - Crackdown (Remix)
06. Double Helix - Silent Company
07. Tony Drake - One
08. Sans Soleil - Moulinex
09. A Scorpion's Dream - Aqua Dance
10. Silent Phase - Fire (Rewired Mix, excerpt)
01. Karim Sahraoui/DJINXX - Mr. Teleportation
02. Microworld - Signals
03. Rennie Foster - Floatilla
04. Yotam Avni - Heliotropism (Tons of Piano)
05. Chronophone - Eiffel in Love
06. Kenny Larkin/Dark Comedy - War of the Worlds
07. Greg Gow - The Bridge
08. Zak Khutoretsky/DVS1 - Pressure
09. Deep'a & Biri, Gene - Ocean Swell
10. Craig Sherrad - Sattelite Exstasy (Monty's Maple City Remix)
11. Stephen Brown - Vocal Slices
12. Karim Sahraoui/DJINXX - Nightflow
13. Derrick May/Rythim Is Rythim - Hand Over Hand
Transmat will release Beyond the Dance: Transmat 4 in Japan on December 5th, 2012.