Producer Spotlight: Kevin Saunderson
Producer Spotlight: Kevin SaundersonOctober 13, 2022
Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Derrick May – three names that are inextricably linked with the story of electronic music. The Belleville Three (so called after the Detroit suburb where they first met) each played their own part in birthing and developing the techno genre, but Saunderson, nicknamed “The Elevator,” is particularly revered for his role in bringing it to the attention of the mainstream public.
Born in Brooklyn, Kevin moved to Detroit with his family when he was nine years old. The Michigan city was where the young producer would eventually make his name, but it was in his old haunt where his love affair with dance music started, attending club nights at iconic New York venues like the Loft, Zanzibar and the Paradise Garage. Buoyed by the feel good energy of those environments, and with the percussive rhythms of ’70s disco as well as European outfits like Kraftwerk reverberating around his head, Saunderson developed a soulful, swinging brand of electronic music, often with sung vocals, which was unique at the time.
Working under aliases such as E-Dancer, Kreem and Reese, as well as in collaborative projects like Inner City, Kevin Saunderson established himself as a pioneering producer and DJ with signature sonics. Contemporary techno, drum and bass, and dubstep artists still rely on his Reese bass sound from ‘Just Want Another Chance’ in 1988, and the Inner City layered chord sound is just as pivotal. Inner City tracks alone have earned him 12 UK Top 40 hits and over six million records sold worldwide.
His record label, KMS, has set many artists along the same path to success he himself trod on, including R-Tyme, Blake Baxter, MK, Chez Damier, Derrick Carter and Bicep. Kevin’s fervent passion for the craft of electronic music production has been passed down to his children Dantiez and DaMarii, both of who have become producers in their own right, with the former even reforming Inner City with his father alongside vocalist Steffanie Christi’an.
Kevin Saunderson’s new sample pack, “Past, Present, & Future,” is exclusively available on Loopcloud, released through Beatport’s own sample pack label, Beatport Sounds. To hear more about the pack, as well as some insight into Kevin’s creative philosophies, read our interview below.
You played a central role in bringing electronic music and remix culture to the fore. What was the initial reaction to what you were doing back in those days?
Back in the day, remixes were more or less an extension of the radio version of a track so that DJs could play it, give it a good intro and break, and extend it. In 1988, I visited the UK, and was asked by Zomba Records to do a remix for an act called Wee Papa Girl Rappers. I went in and sampled a part of the vocal and found a way to make it work with my style. Instead of using the original music I created new music for it, so it was totally different.
Once I’d finished it, the record company didn’t know what to do with the track because they’d never heard anything like it before. They weren’t sure whether they even wanted to show it to the artist! I think they played it to some people though, and the reaction was amazing. The whole thing blew up, and ignited a chain reaction that led to the way we hear remixes today.
What are the processes of inspiration and creation like for you?
For some tracks that I’ve created, within the first thirty minutes the essence of the track was all there. Of course, it takes some time to bring it all together and develop it, but a lot comes out in the beginning when you’re in that creative mindset.
You never know what can inspire you to create a track. I woke up one day after having a dream that I was in Africa, and I couldn’t understand what it meant. I went straight into the studio, and I had this vision of a sound that I had heard in the dream. I created a track to match the parameters of that sound, and it ended up being huge in the Paradise Garage and New York as a whole, and doing quite well around the world too.
Is there any hardware or software that is essential for you when creating a track?
The Roland TR-909 was always essential for me. I had the 808, the 727 and a LinnDrum, but the 909 never failed me and I always felt like it fit with almost all the tracks I created. When it comes to software, I use Scaler 2 a lot, and I love Loopcloud. You can pull it right up on a channel, take a sample that inspires you and chop it up and rearrange it to create a whole new sound.
What’s your philosophy behind the way you sample?
The Inner City sound is a sample of a chord that I replayed – not a loop. I was able to take a chord, sample it, and then replay a new chord from it that was totally unique. Then I layered it up and it became this unbelievable sound. So If I’m going to use a sample, I’ll always use it in a creative way like that.
Can you tell us a bit about your new sample pack with Beatport Sounds, ‘Past, Present & Future’?
The idea behind my pack was to do a collage of my aliases: Inner City, Reese Project, Kevin Saunderson, E-Dancer, Tronic House. There’s maybe three or four more too! My sounds have been sampled many times under these different aliases, so I thought it would be a good idea to put my own sample pack together that represents my sounds over time, and everything I’ve done with these projects.
I didn’t want it to just be about the past. There’s sounds in there that we’re currently working on and stuff for the future as well, things that I haven’t worked on yet, or sound different to anything I’ve worked on before. I hope people enjoy using the sounds in the pack, and are as creative as possible with them.
With a career that goes right back to the early days of dance music, how do you see things today?
I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’m known for my sound. Where did drum and bass DJs get the famous Reese bass from? From a record called “Just Want Another Chance” by Reese – that was me! That bass that I created has gone on probably 3000 records or more since then.
I had a vision that I shared with some of the other Detroit guys as well, which was to use technology and create music that would bring people together to dance. It doesn’t make a difference what race or colour you are – music is for the world. Here we are today, 40 years from when Juan Atkins first started, and it’s still growing. That’s exciting!