With beaming smiles, we bring you the latest guest mix on mntothat.com. Recorded live in Detroit by producer, sound engineer, label boss and closet hip hopper, Kevin Reynolds, it’s an excellent live set made entirely of his own compositions, remixes and re-edits. Kevin has earned his stripes working in almost every facet of the music industry and counts the who’s who of the music we love as his trusted friends. After several conversations with him, it’s obvious that this is a man who lives and breathes music. His infectious enthusiasm can barely be contained.
Before we get to the good stuff, we’ll learn a little bit more about the man and the music…
First off, tell us about yourself. A name like Kevin Reynolds sounds more Dublin than Detroit!
Well, I’m Irish-American. My great-grandparents came from Ireland on both sides, and my grandfather actually went to go play football for Ireland when he was in his twenties. My Dad and entire family made sure that my brother Sean and I carried on our heritage. We were taught a lot about Irish history as a kids, 1916, James Connolly, Bobby Sands and the ancient history of Ireland. In Detroit, he would take us to the Gaelic League (Irish-American club) where we would TRY to learn some Gaelic while my dad sat at the bar talking politics. So as a young kid we knew where we came from so that we could move forward.
How did you come to get involved in electronic music?
I guess it started as a kid. Listening to Mojo and the Wizard in Detroit was something everybody did. Wanting to make music was something that was always in me, I had a huge love for Hip Hop coming up but at the same time my Mom got in Medical School in East Lansing at Michigan State University. We lived in family student housing that at first seemed like the projects with woods. The cool thing was that everyone was from a different part of the world, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, China… Music and food was everywhere. I talk about this because without my love of hip hop and music from around the world I don’t think I would have ever gotten even close to Detroit Techno. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a techno DJ (Twonz and Tim Baker) fresh out of high school and was completely moved. I had just bought my first keyboard and Ensoniq EPS16+ a week earlier simply cause that is what the RZA used. My whole thought process changed after that and then I picked up a CD by Kenny Larkin called Azimuth on Warp. This was what I was looking for and it’s from my home city! After that I started going to underground parties in Detroit and our own house parties in East Lansing/Lansing. I saw so many artists over those years of 1995-1998 in the golden era of midwest rave scene. I ended up in Arizona going to school out there for Audio Engineering and part of my graduation process included a internship at a studio. The school wanted me to go to NYC or LA but I explained I belonged in Detroit. I had to prove to my liaison at school that Detroit is where to go, she kept going “You are in the top percentile of your class, why the hell do you want to go to Detroit?” I showed her magazines such as Jockey Slut with Jeff Mills on the cover to prove to here this thing is real. I ended up getting an internship stuffing envelopes at Transmat with Derrick May. I remember shooting hoops behind Transmat with Derrick one day and he says to me, “Kevin, we know why you are here. Things will happen.” That pretty much started my journey in the summer of 1999.
Tell us a little bit about the set: where was it recorded, what was your setup and what is the inspiration for the music?
I recorded the set in my studio in my house with the windows open on a summer day. I used my new setup which is really new for me, I never used to use a computer to compose music or play out but after years of fighting it I have seen the light of Ableton. I feel like a new door has opened for me, music is not linear as it much as it used to be. I’m using the APC40 which I bought after talking to Brendan Gillian who gave it the thumbs up, the NI Maschine as a drum machine.
My inspiration comes from living in Detroit. Detroit is a tough city to live in. There is not a day where I don’t say I hate it and I love it. My music has a lot to do with travel about going somewhere you’ve been and spaces and places you haven’t.
How does the combination of old and new tech work in your setup, with the likes of an analog 808 running beside Maschine? Do you see it as a best-of-both-worlds situation?
Yes, old and new are the key. They have always been. Just like life, to know your history is to know your future. I used to run an MPC, Ensoniq, Juno 60/106, Roland delays, Mackie 24, 808, 707, 727… so much gear. When I played the DEMF in 2001 my friend Kaku Usui and I loaded up 2 full cars of equipment. Times have changed. I was touring Holland back in 2006 and was carrying my 808 and RS7000, and my clothes. I looked like somebody out of the military. I was like why do I have this $2700 Mac strapped to my chest? To surf the web? So after that I decided to try to use Ableton. I’m still trying to re-incorporate the 808 but I’m having some midi/sync issues at the moment. I’m sure I’ll sort it out.
This side of the Atlantic, Detroit is held with great reverence among house and techno circles – how would you describe the scene there? Is it the vibrant electronic music hub that people might imagine?
In Detroit there is not much to do. In my parents generation you worked in the plant and then you went to the bar or home and did some sort of music. This was passed on (minus the plant jobs) to my generation. You will be hard pressed to find somebody in Detroit that doesn’t have a family member that does music of some sort. It’s ingrained here. As far as the Electronic scene. We have our magical time every year for 5 days or so at the end of May. There are a parties all day and night and Movement Festival is in full swing. It truly is a special time of the year. But the rest of the year it is hard to get 100 people to a party. It vibrant in a way that so many people are involved making things happen but its hard to make things happen here. Everyone in Detroit has to make their living elsewhere. I will say this though don’t ever expect to hear run of the mill bullshit music in Detroit even if there are 5 people at a party you can bet that DJ/Artist will ALWAYS be playing their heart out. That is just how it is. You don’t ever want to be caught slipping cause you will get your shit took. And every time you think it’s done we have a rebirth. This happens to us every few years, its like a rule in physics or something.
I spent most of my time in this music helping others with their careers and music exposure. After my brother died in the war in Iraq, I took the words he said to heart and finally decided to put my own shit out. I never feel like my music is good enough and I will probably never feel that it is as good as it should be. But as far as putting it out on my own label Theo Parrish was the one that pushed me on it. He told me to just do and don’t let anybody control your art or your money. I’ll be honest the first release sold really well and 4 years later it is a struggle to match to numbers due to not as many people buying vinyl. I love reading articles about how vinyl is coming back, sales are up 25% but yeah that’s in ALL music. Indie Rock has a lot to do with that. More of those kids buy vinyl now, which is awesome but in Dance music it can be hard to sell that vinyl because of the digital but it may even out after a while. Now I’m at a point were I want more exposure so I will be talking to other labels about doing music for them as well as my own label.
What are your plans for the next year; for the label, your own releases and gigging?
I’m planning on coming to Ireland as I’ve never been there! I plan on coming to Berlin as I have a new release* coming out on a newer label by my friend Richard Zepezauer** called Nsyde that was mastered by Pole. Spain is on the map and hopefully Stockholm. Really I just want to see what the magic is about Berlin as I’ve seen so many Detroiters move there lately. I’ve very curious and I love to travel.
Interview by Philip Watson
* Due in October ’11
** Richard promoted the Sun Ra party that we attended back in Oct ’10 which inspired MN’s Mike Huckaby weekender