It’s 7:15am in Detroit, and Carl Craig has just paused our conversation to let his dog in. We’d been discussing the ingenuous boundary pushing ways of the Gemini spirit, most notably a cool cat by the name of Kanye West. Boundary pushing is a fitting aura to surround this interview as it’s exactly what Carl has been doing ever since his first forays into electronic music. He’s seen it all, and as time progresses the musical scene can stifle. This cannot be stopped and will happen for every genre.
When this happens, we turn to the innovators. The artists whose thirst is never quenched. The creative that shatters the very concept of expectation to showcase something both new and old, futuristic and nostalgic. This is just what Carl Craig has done with his decade long project, Versus.
We caught up with the Detroit techno legend ahead of his set at this year’s Celtronic in Derry to chat the forgotten importance of arrangement, the jazz world and the seriously mind blowing vibes of Versus.
How did the idea for Versus come around in the first place?
The music was already done. This was all music that I had worked on over the years. The melody is from Franceso Tristano, I remixed it some time ago. When it came to the opportunity to do Versus, the first Versus show in 2008, Francesco came aboard to do the arrangement, so we had a sit down and discussed which pieces of music would work.
How does the thrill of working with an orchestra compare with the solo work of production or a DJ set?
It was unbelievable. I’d never heard my music in that way before. I saw this documentary on Oasis the other day. There was something Noel said in the movie which is very similar to what I felt with Versus. Y’know, he’s sitting in his bedroom making all this music but finally he hears the perfect band play it, and it’s mindblowing. He’d never heard this music in this way before and that was quite similar with me.
I can make music on synthesisers, make samples, I can do all these things, but it’s another dimension when you actually see and hear players playing the parts. Francesco did a great job of the arrangement because I never would have been able to do that, especially in that way for orchestra, because I don’t have the training. It was unbelievable. It’s like seeing your child walk for the first time.
A few producers have now adopted orchestral concepts for their music. What do you feel makes yours stand out from the rest?
I think mine stands out because of the arrangement. The arrangement is really important. I think we forget how important it actually is because arranging music these days is putting blocks in order on Ableton, or putting a different colour for a different part or a different instrument. That’s modern day arrangement. The aspect of arrangement that I have the most respect for is somebody who can take a piece of music and adapt it to instruments with the same intent, but adding their own touch. If you look at Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, there’s an arranger that’s involved. That was how they were able to take the music from being this Spanish piece and turn it into this incredible jazz piece. That is super important.
We really watched what was happening with other people at the time, whether it was Jeff Mills or whoever, and the stuff that we had seen before with electronic music seemed to be that the orchestra did their thing and the electronics did their thing. There seemed to be a bit of a divide between the human and the machine, so we worked to mend the divide, so that together it sounded like a band. We’re getting the pieces together for remixes and there are a few elements of electronics in there that I didn’t even realise where actually trombones. When I noticed that I felt like my mission was complete.
Jeff Mills mentioned at AVA Festival that he never listens back or looks back to any of his tracks or records. Do you share a similar view, and if so how was it diving back into your extensive back catalogue to choose the tracks for Versus?
Jeff and I are both Geminis. Same with Kanye and the same with Tupac. They’re very forward moving people. You take Miles Davis’ career for instance; he was always pushing the boundaries. It’s the same with Kanye. Whether you like him or not he’s always pushing the boundaries. Kanye’s a genius, y’know?
I think with Jeff, not looking back is part of the Gemini spirit. With me, I have no problem with revisiting music because I’ve done it before, but again, within the jazz world, you do revisit past pieces and tweak ‘em and make them new. I don’t have a problem paying attention to what I’ve done in the past because there are a lot of great moments that were there. I didn’t do it to make it better I did it to make it sound new.
Are there any acts on the Celtronic bill that you’re going to try and catch?
I like to be pleasantly surprised. When I get there if something backs my body move, my ass shake, then great!
Any future projects coming from yourself personally or through your record label?
There’s always something happening. We have a new release from Terrence Parker that just came out; it’s called GOD Loves Detroit. That’s an important release; Terrence is a Detroit House legend. We’re doing more Versus dates too. Wherever the music flows, that’s where I’ma let it take me.