2011 is a big year for Carl Craig – even more so than normal. It’s the year that marks the 20th anniversary of his Planet E label, a landmark that he and his fellow DJs are celebrating with a big world tour and a new compilation, ’20 F#@!ng Years of Planet E – We Ain’t Dead Yet!’ When DMC comes to call, however, he’s on the move. “I’m running around Detroit at the moment, picking up my brother and some stuff, doing interviews, everything really!”
He readily admits that despite the achievement of two whole decades in techno, life with Planet E has “not always been an easy road. I never understand when people have that ‘giving up’ feeling about music, though. Planet E is me, and it will be around as long as I’m alive. I don’t think about doing anything else, I live and breathe it”.
He explains why it has taken twenty years to get the label out on tour. “The 10 year anniversary came and went, and we didn’t really do anything. This time we are going to make it a year-long party with the tour, the compilation. We have a lot of great music that has come out. Other people can celebrate with us, and other people can experience it with us. Hitting 20 years in the business is like 50 years of marriage!”
Does the compilation accurately reflect Planet E’s musical achievements in its 20 years? “Definitely”, he asserts. “Planet E’s usually about instinct. When I try to calculate something it usually goes wrong! Martin (Buttrich), my label manager and I wanted to represent what we do in a nice package. I really look forward to doing more material with the tribe. Sometimes you can get locked into the idea that it’s a dance label. I’m also known as a dance ‘meister’ because of the DJing and remixes, but it’s good to have several strings to your bow, a lot of movement and diversity”.
On the tour, Craig says that the music played will be “mostly Planet E, but I don’t tell anyone else what to play. It’s good because we have all of the new fans that are coming out to join us, and the old friends coming out in Detroit. There is a lot of love for Detroit, love for artists that come out to play, and a great sense of the Detroit the vibe. With Planet E dates I at D2J I reserve myself to play totally Detroit music. The last few years I haven’t played a lot of my own stuff so now I can get full of myself! I remember when Todd Terry was big, and I remember people complaining that he used to play his own stuff a lot, but I don’t think it really matters in something like this.”
As part of the project, Craig invited several remixers to pick a classic Planet E track and remix it. Did this prove difficult for some? “On the whole I don’t think so. There are some people who have very distinct ideas on what Planet E is about, and their favourite tracks. When I take on a remix very often the client has to tell me what they want. Sometimes I get too attached to it, and sometimes it’s best to step aside and not to continue making the remix. That’s part of being a producer sometimes.”
Is the label well positioned for its third decade? “I’m trying to do that, but I would like to continue doing things that are interesting and diverse, moving in the direction the music wants to go. I’m definitely interested in expanding the idea of what the label’s about, and growing musically with the kids who are doing great music. We’ve been very fortunate because it’s been an influence to others, whether it’s drum ‘n’ bass or dubstep. It’s been very interesting to see that unfold. As for this year, it’s a big year, and I’d better be ready! I’ve been preparing, so I can find time in the studio. When you tour a lot you get into your mode and your area.”
Several weeks ago DMC Update asked Kevin Saunderson about his take on Detroit and its problems as a city, but as a full time resident Craig is in an even better position to shed light on the current situation. “I think it’s great to be positive about it, but we have a long way to go”, he says, now more serious than at any point in the interview. “Now, the world sees it because General Motors made bankruptcy, and that’s like a whole city going out of business. That opens the eyes of the people around the world, and hopefully that will now push the button in Washington. We lost a lot of government funding because the population dropped by one million, so we need this interest from people recognising what’s happening, and then I think people will start to come back. With Kevin and Juan Atkins, it’s great they have hope that things are turning around, but it’s going to take so much time and effort to compete as a city. We need a pro-Detroit, nationalistic approach to the city.”
Musically of course, Detroit remains in rude health. “Yeah, it’s always been a hotspot for creativity”, he agrees. “Part of it has been through rock and alternative music; it’s not just about techno. One of Kiss’s most famous songs is ‘Detroit Rock City.’ We take it for granted; it needs to be nurtured and cultivated a lot more. You get people listen to the radio but in Chicago they’re really pro-Chicago. In Detroit we need more people to learn it, and we need to support the shit out of it.”
Returning to Carl Craig’s own musical developments, I ask if he would like to extend his forays into classical music, begun with his contribution to the ‘Recomposing’ series for Deutsche Grammophon. His response is perhaps surprisingly modest. “I have a lot of learning to do. Doing a 15-minute groove is in some ways a preface to doing classical, a potential to become a music that is as much routed in James Brown as Steve Reich. I would really like to see my abilities develop, but I don’t have the knowledge yet. Guys like Quincy Jones who did so much great scoring have a lot of history in learning to arrange. I would have to take the time to learn how to make music I have never made before. Recomposing was a fantastic experience, but it’s not the same as adaptation on music done in a classical way. Once I can feel comfortable with my abilities I would like to undertake a project where I sit in front of a piano and work through it.”
Carl Craig is celebrating 20 Years of Planet E. ’20 F@#&ING Years – We Ain’t Dead Yet’ – Best of Planet-E compilation is released February 22nd. Planet-E event comes to London on March 5th at Ewer Street Warehouse.