Introducing: Huey Mnemonic, the Unstoppable New Detroit Techno Talent
In an Alameda County jail cell in 1968, 10 months into what would be his most prominent incarceration for the accused act of killing a police officer, Huey P Newton sat down for an interview with The Movement Newspaper, a California-based publication. In a lengthy and oft-quoted back and forth, when asked about the role of youth in the revolutionary movement, Newton said: “The younger people, of course, are the ones who are seen on the streets. They are the activists. They are the real vanguard of change because they haven’t been indoctrinated and they haven’t submitted.”
At 25 years old, with a taurean grounding, Huey Mnemonic, aka O’Shay Mullins, represents just that — a new vanguard of change. Armed with a few beat machines and a revered respect for the Black roots of techno, Mnemonic is poised for a long career aiming to create music that expands Black consciousness and pushes back against the whitewashing of the genre. The producer and sometimes DJ takes his name partially from Newton, and partially from the 1995 cyberpunk film Johnny Mnemonic, a cult classic portraying a dystopian future controlled by mega-corporations. Johnny, played by Keanu Reeves, is a “mnemonic courier” responsible for carrying sensitive data implanted in his brain.
“All the sci-fi movies I would watch as a kid, there was like maybe on black character, always supporting the white character that’s meant to be ‘the one.’” Mullins says. “[But] why aren’t there more people who look like me?” Mullins, a long time Star Trek fan, counts his love of deep space as a foundation for his sounds, and it’s easy to recognize. His song titles, like “Control Mission,” which was one of his first releases, or “Emissary” from his breakout out Vanity Press release, tend to incorporate exploration narratives. When I ask him about afrofuturism, a term that’s long been associated with the goals of techno, he says, “Afrofuturism to me is a future where Black people thrive and are a part of the technological advancements and philosophical advancements.”
Mullins has always had a penchant for technology; for taking things apart to figure out how they work before putting them back together. His entry into making music started back in 2010 with chiptunes, a style of music made using old video game consoles. Over the next decade, he moved into collecting hardware; old things he could use to create his new sound. He now utilizes eccentric signal flows to add texture to his music, and has been open about his nods to Drexciya with his electroish basslines.
Growing up in Flint, Michigan, he was influenced by R&B singers like Monica, Aaliyah, and Brandy, who he heard through his mom, or in local rap mixtapes given to him by his dad. His love for dance music went even further back. His granddad, who had a big influence in his childhood, was a dancer in local clubs. When he passed away when Mullins was in 9th grade, there was a shift. “He was just this beacon of light for me. I’ve even been told by family members that after he passed, I wasn’t the same. Sometimes I wonder what I would have been like if he had lived into my teen years.” He twists the ring on his finger, a hand me down from his grandpa.
While in high school, Mnemonic found radio stations like NTS and Rinse FM to find and connect with electronic music. EDM, dubstep, LA beat — nothing was off-limits. In 2011, he began producing in earnest, moving from Fruity Loops to Ableton. He uploaded his early experiments to SoundCloud, but he’d usually end taking them down after just a few days. Rather than being too embarrassed to keep going, however, he relistened to old work and used it to grow and sharpen his craft.
When at 19 years old he left Flint for the western Michigan city of Grand Rapids, Mullins hunkered down making music while maintaining a job at a fabrication factory. While not as well known as Detroit, Grand Rapids holds its own with dance music, with crews like Calder City Development Corp and Vinyl Fetish doing regular parties. In 2017, Mullins also started Vibrations Radio — a precursor to his Vanity Press track of the same name — on local radio station WYCE. Dedicated to “diving into the vast spectrum of electronic music,” Vibrations Radio featured a rotating cast of Grand Rapids DJs and producers.
By 2018, he’d released Control Mission, a three-track EP “inspired by one night at a warehouse party.” As an amature graphic designer, Mullins made the cover art for Control Mission by creating a collage from old comics. He parallels this process in approach to music, taking something old and making something new again. The following spring he released Joyous Occasion, a “rhythmic ebb & flow dedicated to celebration” with cover art also by Mullins.
And then there was the Vanity Press release. Mullins is humble about his budding celebrity, but if you were on a dancefloor during the summer of 2019 (or anytime after), you were probably dancing to at least one of his tracks. Vanity Press has a reputation for breaking unsung artists, but all credit really goes to the labor of the producers really, deeply, authentically doing the shit. The four-track EP by the virtually unknown Mnemonic blended house, breaks, and aquatic funk to create classics such as “Hydrocity” and “Vibrations Radio.” He followed that with a track on Argot’s American Dance Music Vol. 2 and the three-track Aquatek Assortments EP.
But just before 2020, Mullins finally moved to Detroit in order to be closer to the pulse and roots of techno. Since then he’s been regularly jamming with friends like Sard, Rawaat, Joey 2 Lanes, and Shigeto. And he’s found himself embracing the more soulful house sounds of the city, thanks to black Detroit natives Bale Defoe and Ash Lauryn.
Most recently, though, Mnemonic launched his Subsonic Ebonics label this summer with the excellent Virtuosity EP, featuring a remix by NYC’s MoMa Ready. The EP fires on all cylinders and the title track especially has a timeless quality that belies Mullins’ youth. It’s Detroit techno at its finest. True to his humble nature, when I ask what’s next for Mullins and about the legacy he wants to leave behind, Mullins casually says, “I’m trying to not predict the path. Just walk it.” An emissary indeed.