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Juan’s the man
Along with Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, JUAN ATKINS is responsible for creating techno. He has a new Model 500 album out soon and he's coming to Glasgow this weekend. Words: Jim Byers
‘l’m just having lunch with my grandma actually,’ laughs Juan Atkins, between mouthfuls. ‘lt’s cool though, I can talk.’ (Even techno pioneers have to eat).
Juan Atkins is the producer most commonly associated with the evolution of Detroit techno. Alongside school friends Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson (who are slightly younger than Atkins), Atkins was responsible for creating a whole new style of music, and. in the process, some of the most influential techno records ever.
Inspired by European electronic music (Kraftwerk, Gary Numan. Giorgio Moroder) and American funk (Parliament, Funkadelic), Atkins started making music as early as 1980, initially as Cybotron, though later, from I985 onwards, as Model 500.
Using an arsenal of cutting-edge equipment, Atkins, like May and Saunderson, explored new musical territory, producing a raw, futuristic sound that revolved around stripped down rhythms and frequencies. Between the three of them, Atkins. May and Saunderson. as Model 5()() (‘No UFO’s’). Rhythim ls Rhythim (‘Strings Of Life’) and Reese & Santonio (‘The Sound’) respectively, drew up a blueprint for techno that is still being followed today. Their labels too, Metroplex (Atkins), Transmat (May) and KMS (Saunderson) have played an important role in the evolution of techno.
Sadly, Atkins and May have been less than prolific in the 90s. although May has a compilation of his work on Transmat out soon, while only Saunderson has continued to make quality music regularly. This looks set to change however, with the imminent arrival of a new Model 500 album, to be released in mid-summer.
Atkins, who is coming to Scotland for the first time in over a year with Mike Grant for an exclusive Metroplex Records party, explains: ‘l’m interested to see the reaction the album gets, because I think that when you say Model 500 or when you say Juan Atkins. people expect a certain thing and l’ve always
’l've always been a guy that's been up for a challenge. l don’t back down from a good challenge or a good fight. i get stimulation from the struggle.’
Juan Atkins: style-blending
tried to remain unpredictable.‘
The album, Mind And Body. features contributions from Detroit producers Rob Hood and Mike Banks. as well as a number of male and female vocalists. ‘This onc’s gonna be a change of pace.’ he continues, ‘l‘ve been style- blending . . . yeah, style- blending. that‘s what I call it. it's gonna run from 92bpms right up to l55.’
In the meantime. Atkins is to open a Metroplex Records shop in Detroit. whilst also working on his live show. which is expected to be previewed at this year’s Universe Festival. and possibly around the UK later in the year. He continues to DJ around the world and spread the word through his label.
But after almost twenty years in the business, how does he maintain his enthusiasm? ‘I think I was put in place to keep things progressive and fresh.’ he muses. ‘That’s my task, to say something positive and meaningful. I‘ve always been a guy that’s been up for a challenge. I don’t back down from a good challenge or a good fight. I get stimulation from the struggle.’
Juan Atkins and Mike Grant DJ at the Metroplex Records Party, Aquaplanet, The Arches, Glasgow, Sun 3 May as part of the Funct '98 festival. Green Velvet also plays live.
You might not be too familiar with future trance label Hook Recordings or the names X-Cabs and De Niro, but if you've been out to hear Judge Jules, Paul Oakenfold, Sasha or Digweed lately you’ll know the tracks.
'They’re all going through a Hook phase at the moment,’ says Chris Cowie, Hook Recordings' founder and the man behind X-Cabs. Along with Hook, which he set up five years ago, he also looks after another five labels, covering nearly 100 releases ranging from techno to cheesy disco, plus a string of remixes for the likes of Perfecto and Positiva.
Rather surprisingly, all this is masterminded from the dance desert of Aberdeen. It is here that Cowie works with a selection of home-grown talent, with a view to developing artists rather than just licensing in material from abroad, which does nothing to help the local scene.
So you might think he'd get a bit of respect at home then. ‘No,’ says Cowie. ‘We hate Aberdeen — it's a small-mentality, parochial city. The people up here are just minkers. None of us can ever get a gig up here. De Niro goes all over the world DJing, but he can’t get a gig in his own town.’ Things are so bad, in fact, that the pair have decided to move down to either Glasgow or Edinburgh within the next couple of months. 'You can't strike up a deal or go to launch parties in Aberdeen,’ complains Cowie. ‘All you meet is sheep up here.’
It's a sad state of affairs for the bloke who set up Scotland's first dance label - Angel Recordings, in 1990 - and who worked with Limbo on Havana and Soma for Percy X. He definitely deserves more home support. (Rory Weller)
I Chris Cowie (X-Cabs) plays live at The Tale Of Two Cities, The Tunnel, Sun 3 May.
Hook star DeNiro: He's no minker
16-30 Apr 1998 THE [131' 85