Charismatic and down-to-earth, Karim is the underdog of the Techno scene. He has always stayed true to himself, distinguishing himself so much from many others. 20 years after his first gig, he has found himself working with just as many labels no longer existent today as infamous labels of the music industry such as Transmat. A few years ago, Derrick May took him under his wing ; which gave him the opportunity to travel, more than once, to the inevitable pilgrimage site of every techno-lover : Detroit. A place that not only influenced his work, but also his vision of the music industry and of the majors.... We were lucky enough to cross paths with him, once again, for a very interesting interview.
Jacker/ When and how did you first get into contact with electronic music ?
Karim / My first experience in electronic music was when I started in 1993 as a DJ. One of my friends was mixing in some underground clubs in Italy (where I lived for a few years); it was him that introduced me to electronic music and that lent me his MK2. My first experience as a composer was in 2000 on a Miami based label, a label that doesn’t exist anymore (like many of them).
J / We used to know you very well under the name of Djinxxx, Soul Monkey and Electronic Resistance. Why this choice ? Was it a question of musical environment ?
K / I made this choice, depending upon the different musical projects that I was signing for at the time. The labels were diverse, musically speaking, and I thought it was a good thing to differentiate my pseudo name, but I think that nowadays you have to do the opposite. If I could start all over again, I would have kept my real name, for many reasons.
J / We met together with Derrick May, while you were producing an EP on Transmat. How did this meeting go ?
K / The first time I met Derrick was in ‘96. We played together at a party organized in a club in Montpellier called “le Bus” which, by the way, doesn’t exist anymore. The funny thing is that he ended up playing with my records because his didn’t arrive with his flight ; I was just sitting on a stool passing him the records.
J / Let’s get back to the well-known labels, you just signed for Cocoon records, right ?
K / Yes, I just re-signed for two projects. The first one was released this month on the collector compilation “O” ; The track is called “The Comforter” and the second will be an EP with two tracks that should be released around november.
J / Do you have up-coming projects ?
K / The second part of my EP “Eternal Life” on Transmat should be released by the end of the year; Another EP on an Italian label called ARTS around the end of October, and lastly my EP on Cocoon will also be released by the end of the year.
J / What is the funniest DJ story that you bring up every time you’ve had a bit too much to drink ?
K / Firstly, I barely drink! But there is one story I will always remember, it happened during my first solo-trip in November 2005 in Detroit. I spent ten days with the Underground Resistance crew, especially with Mike “Mad” Banks and he showed me the real side of Detroit.
J / Are you proud to have signed with Derrick May’s label and to have been one of the artists of Transmat’s comeback ?
K / Yes, I feel very proud to be recognized by Derrick. What mostly touched me was last year during my trip to Detroit when Derrick told me : “I am not signing tracks, I am signing artists” ; I felt like a great adventure was just starting.
J / What kind of “mentor” is Derrick May ? How do you work together ?
K / Derrick always supported my compositions, he is straight and critical and this made me move forward in my creations. How could I not listen to the advice of someone that launched such a great number of artists ? The way we work together is more about our relationship and sharing our perspectives in order to have the same vision.
J / In your personal “Hall of Fame”, what does the trio Atkins-May-Saunderson, otherwise known as “the Belleville Three” represent ?
K / Out of the three, Kevin is the only one I’ve never met. These guys brought their talent together; their strength has always been in the unity of the group and their common vision. They recognize the complementary nature of their differences and this is what has brought them to success. Full respect.
J / Do you think that the original founders of Detroit’s techno -and of Chicago’s house music- are recognized for their true value, especially by the younger audiences ?
K / No, I don’t think that their value is fully appreciated because the younger audiences still have to develop their knowledge of this type of music. There is still an obsession with what’s new, a desire to get the latest released track. If people still felt that same curiosity, to discover what has been done previously, then the original founders would be front stage. There are a lot of Detroit and Chicago artists that have been surfing on the waves of their past, never questioning themselves. Some other artists are still on the stage after decades of working, continuing to innovate while respecting their roots.
J / How would you describe your tracks ?
K / It is always very difficult to speak about yourself. I would say that I try to make the electronic music that I compose as musical as possible. In my opinion the atmosphere and the story behind a track are both very important ; I try to bring life into my music.
J / What are the ideas or feelings that you want to express with Eternal Life ?
K / The idea of Eternal Life is to dive into Detroit’s original universe, by mixing some Jazz tones that recall African American music while keeping a futuristic aspect to the sound. The title Eternal Life comes from the Bible which is my favorite book.
J / In your opinion, how has techno music evolved over the years, from Strings of Life to your productions, for example ?
K / In my opinion, good quality music is timeless, it doesn’t lose any of its value with the passing of time and never gets old. If you’re trying to get into the “Hype” movement, you won’t last. In my own works, the actual music is pretty similar. There hasn’t been anything new for 20 years, it’s only the way of pro- ducing that has evolved thanks to new technology.
J / Do you think that the professions of both DJ and producer has changed over the years ?
K / The major change in the DJ profession is the artist’s fee ! Besides technology and musical support, what’s really changed ? You can put a good DJ with 2 basic turntables either in a small empty room or in a big crowded room ; he will always make people dance. However, the profession of producer or composer has changed a lot. The positive aspect is that things are much easier thanks to new technology. Before, you had to use tons of material to reach a “similar” result. On the other hand, the negative aspect is that instruments, software etc... are now much more affordable and accessible to the public. Producing a record or releasing a track does not have the same value anymore. Today, everyone can pretend to be a composer.
J / Is the “collapse” of the majors a good thing for artists ?
K / Yes, it has liberated access to the process of producing music. However, it has brought quite a few amateurs to the electronic music scene. Before you had to take money out of your own pocket in order to produce a record, which had a lot to do with the energy and the rarity of it. Each new record was a big event and the crowd was waiting for it ! Producing a record was a hell of a lot of work !! Nowadays there are almost 1000 new records in digital and almost 200 in vinyl. Quantity will never be a substitute for quality.
J / Original techno is seen as a kind of “activist’ music, opposed to the system, majors, social barriers ; it can even be seen as radical sometimes (ex: Underground Resistance of Mad Mike and Jeff Mills, which you make reference to in Electronic Resistance). Is electronical music still a music of opposition, today ?
K / Yes, there are movements and music that remain underground and they are still influencing their time. If you consider all the labels that press 500 vinyls and make 300 uploads, THAT is underground and that’s a kind a resistance. There is a revival of passionate people, of new labels and there is, once again, risk-taking. I’m really pleased to see that the original techno movement is having a strong and powerful comeback.