Flick through the Detroit bins of any record shop worth it’s salt and you’ll be greeted by a raft of familiar names. But amongst the pillars, the likes of Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, you might be forgiven for spotting someone less familiar. Karim Sahraoui had been producing music since the early ‘90s under a variety of monikers, and with many big names, but things came to a head and he almost completely gave up. Since his return he has been influencing the newer sound of Detroit, seemingly from everywhere except Motor City itself. We chatted about one man’s rebirth into the industry, chasing seminal labels, and bringing light into the dark.
It all began in 1993, Karim tells me. As a teenager, he was already part of the club scene, in a group of hip-hop dancers. In Italy, where he was living at the time, certain clubs were open on Sunday afternoons for teenagers. Naturally, Karim and his friends would go along and hang out. One day the DJ didn’t show up, and he was asked by the club’s owner to go into the booth and play. Despite the fact he hadn’t even previously touched a record, the experience sparked something in him.
Fast-forward a number of years to the worldwide financial crisis of 2007-2008, which left no stone unturned. The music industry had slowed immensely; a lot of distributors closed down, as did a lot of record shops. Karim was living in the South of France at the time managing 3 labels, Mezzotinto, Electronic Resistance, and Såhkåtek. He was releasing under his Djinxx name, and was quite prolific at the time. He tells me he was putting out maybe 2 releases a month, and was releasing on labels such as Bedrock Records, F-Communications, and Cocoon Recordings, and whilst he seemed to be weathering the storm, all wasn’t well.
“I was fed up. Everything was collapsing, and I was really busy. I became really disappointed about some people in the industry, so I said to myself maybe I should just quit - have a break, or something like that. I was married, I had my first kid, my wife and I had a hairdressing shop. I said to myself, maybe I should change the way I live and have a break, a long break. I was really tired. So we decided to move to Asia.”
From 2009 to 2011 Karim found himself in Malaysia on some sort of spiritual journey. He tells me he was looking for peace - something that would enhance his life or lead to him being a better person. He was meditating a lot, thinking, and searching for something bigger. One day, he had an encounter that would change him forever.
“It was in Malaysia. We were inside a church for the 2nd time and we just… we were listening to the pastor preaching, and then something came from above, and we fell down on the floor. I was weeping… weeping, weeping, for 2, 3 hours, and then when I woke up I was completely changed. I was not the same anymore… It was like the old Karim had died, and the new Karim had risen up.”
Karim first met Derrick May in 1996, at a club called The Bus in Montpellier. Derrick had lost his records catching connecting flights, and spent his set with Karim sat next to him, selecting records for him to play. In 2011, the pair played together again, this time in Singapore. At the time Karim was working on Nightflow, which would eventually feature on his first Transmat EP. He tells me that whilst he thought he had quit the industry for good, he never actually quit making music. When the pair played in Singapore, they talked a lot. It was a reconnection, but Derrick, seemingly, also wanted to help him. Back at his home in Malaysia, the pair talked on Skype. Derrick was positive, suggesting he release Karim’s new tracks on Transmat, but then Karim disappeared. His life had changed; he was serving God, and was to eventually return to France amidst flooding and chaos in Thailand where he was living at the time.
One day in late September 2012 when he was back in France, Karim received an email asking, “Where are you?” It was Derrick May. He explained that he’d been looking for Karim for over year, that he wanted to sign him, and put his music out on Transmat. Whilst, Karim explains, he wasn’t fully “made” yet, a degree of excitement bubbled inside him. He thought he could still find a place in the industry, and that he could give his music his new touch. He then made Stella, over the course of a few months, and completed Eternal Life (Part 1). The key to this, however, was that Derrick didn’t want to sign him under his old Djinxx name. If he was going to be on Transmat it had to be under his real name. Karim’s music had evolved in his absence from the scene, and he explains to me the greater depth and emotion to it. I ask about the underlying themes of spirituality in his work given its prevalence, and its seeming prominence, in his life.
“It’s like a mission for me now, it’s like a calling, I would say, to bring light into the darkness. I don’t make music anymore just to please people, or just to play, I just try to understand who I am exactly, and what God wants me to do for people. Like I choose the titles of my music, really, on purpose, and it’s a concept. Whilst it’s quite difficult, every time it’s a concept.”
I make the point that surely it has to be difficult, that it’s only really worth doing if it is, which Karim lights up to. He tells me that, really, he could make it easy. He could make a track workable for everyone, formulaic, but that’s not how he wants to approach it. Coming back from zero, he tells me, was a huge challenge. If he’d come back under his old alias it would have been much easier, but instead there’s some inherent devotion behind his new approach, that he’s making music in a particular way to reach out to people as the new Karim.
This, he tells me, is followed in his work on Mirakles Music, his own imprint, that aims for a more mellow, personal sound. Sometimes releases come as collaborations but the main idea, Karim explains, is to give it away for free. The idea is not just to give out b-sides, or unwanted archival tracks, but to put together quality music with good mastering and good artwork. Again, there’s a huge sense of devotion to the cause, and Karim once again lights up, describing how his next release should be a bit different, more mellow and emotive, with an overlay of his daughter talking. He tells me that whilst he’s received criticism since he could be making money off the label, doing so is just not the aim.
As our chat comes to an end I ask about the other projects he has on the go. He’s getting through his neo-Detroit series, the idea being to select and showcase lesser known tracks coming out of Europe that reflect/emulate the Detroit sound. There’s an upcoming EP on R&S, and he enthusiastically tells me that he’s “following the path”, the path being signing on legendary labels. There’s a new EP on Transmat, a remix for Francesco Tristano, the next Mirakles release and more. He tells me that he’s got a lot of labels asking for EPs and stuff like that, but his voice tails off, saying he doesn’t know. I suggest that it has to be organic, really, if it’s going to follow this careful sense of vocation so evident in his work, to which he agrees, pleasantly amused.
Gang of Love EP is available now on Compost Records. Find out more HERE.