INTERVIEW WITH STACEY PULLEN. LEGENDARY INNOVATOR OF DETROIT TECHNO.
Having grown up under the mentorship of legendary pioneers of Detroit techno, Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, Stacey Pullen is recognised as an innovator of electronic music the world over. R$N caught up with Detroit techno legend Stacey Pullen, ahead of his upcoming appearance at Wiggle's 18th birthday.
20 years and counting?! Blimey… been quite a ride I'd imagine. Not that you ever went away but you're currently going through somewhat of a renaissance with your label Black Flag and your blossoming relationship with Mr Fanciulli. Tell us a little a bit about what's been going on recently.
Well basically i had some licensing issues with Stacey Pullen/Blackflag and i was not able to do much with it until the terms expired, so it was a very fragile time for me as an artist and label but now it's time for me to make up the time lost with loads of releases coming from me and the label.
The whole thing with Nic is really interesting because we met each other 7-8 years ago when we both played Yousef's Circus Party and i remember we were walking to this after party drinking beers and chatting then we lost contact and now we're good friends.
"Pullen has stayed true to his one goal: to become and to always be an Innovator." You were part of the second generation of innovators of Detroit. How did the original "Innovator" and one of my biggest musical heroes Derrick May mentor you? From what I've read he was quite a hard task master!
When i thought i was ready to release my music he told me to go back and work harder because it wasn't quite there yet. I had to be patient and quietly make my move to be one of the 2nd generation innovators.
Tell us about Black Flag recordings. Where did the name come from? Do you still produce most of your music in your self built studio back home?
My Logo is the word black in Japanese and to be honest, i had no idea who Henry Rollins was until i named my label and many people were telling me about this punk rock band Black Flag, but the main difference is my (Blackflag) is one word not two words (Black Flag) like the punk rock band. Yes my studio is in my basement and it's some days where i don't leave my house because i don't need to, i have everything i need under one roof.
You spent 5 years away from production in the early 2000's. Do you think this was important for you as an artist to further your musical education and become an even better producer?
Depends on how you look at it. like i said, i had some legal issues and i didn't want to release music under aliases because that was so… 1980's & 1990's and nowadays it's all about your brand so instead of me releasing music under other names, i waited but it was an interesting time to watch listen and plan what i had going on.
Were you out at WMC this year? I hear that Circus Act was quite f a hit.
Yes i was in Miami this year some of the best moments of the certain parties was when i play Circus Act so yes i guess you you could say it was a hit.
These days travelling the world is part and parcel of the major league of DJs but what was it like to be one of the first people to travel the world playing records?
What was it like? well i'm still paying for it with my bad back LOL! All i can say is that we didn't know any different because playing records was all we had so it was just another day at the office or shall i say another day another gig, but i'm happy now not to get charged $800 for extra luggage fee like i was on my last Australian tour when i played vinyl.
"The Detroit legacy runs deep but you have to come to the city to understand the spirit" Tell us about the spirit of the place and what makes the city so indelible in modern electronic music.
In Detroit there is not much to do except perfect your craft and in this case it's me being an artist. When you see the struggle on the streets, it makes you work harder to want to make a difference. Our Motown history is the root because if you listen to those records, it was all about the snare and that Motown sound same goes for the Detroit Techno sound
Have you played at the legendary Wiggle before? 18 years young… surely you must've done.
Oh now why you want to put me on the spot? i would feel bad if i have and can't remember but it's been 18 years since wiggle and 20 years of me traveling so… i answered your question indirectly.
Your father was signed to Motown – what effect did this have on your musical upbringing? Definitely a good talking point at school!
My dad was in the touring group The Capitols ("Cool Jerk"). Of course there was music around the house, he was also in the high school choir with Melvin (the deep bass vocalist of The Temptations). My dad's sister (my aunt) dated Smokey Robinson in high school as well.
Tell us about local Detroit DJ legend called Alan Ester – the first DJ you apparently first saw – I'm going to show my ignorance and say I've never heard or read about him before.
I remember the first time i heard about Al Ester and that he could mix so well that he could have 8 turntables riding the same groove without missing a beat. He's the back bone of the the urban black house scene here in Detroit and he's dances like Michael Jackson while he's djing, well not really MJ but damn close. Carl had Al open for him a handful of times in the past couple of years because he was the only Detroit dj who at the time never traveled overseas before.
Where you playing in Ibiza this year?
I'm playing 4 dates on friday at Amnesia for Marco Carola's MusicOn night, 2 Vagabondos nights at Ushuaia & Pacha with Luciano and maybe more
DEMF – how important is it to you and how it represents your home town?
Very important and the guys seem to be doing a good job as well, we've got a chance to show Detroit what we've been doing for 25years
The Music Institute – truly the holy grail for anyone with even a passing interest in Detroit electronic music – was it really as legendary as what we've all read?
Oh yes!!! i use to travel home 8hrs from college in Tennessee just to experience "The Tute" is what we use to call it. You had Detroit Techno on friday nights with residents Derrick May & D Wynn and maybe an occassional guest then on Saturday's it was House with residents Chez Damier & Alton Miller. Club hours were 11pm-6am juice bar. We also use to take our disco naps and wake up and go. Everyone from all the chicago house producers to Depeche Mode to Nitzer Ebb were coming to the club.
I didn't realise that your first record that came out KMS was initially a remix you'd done for the Prodigy…?
Yes the Prodigy loved the mix but the record company did not, so i took out all of their samples and created my own vibe.
Groove and melodies is important to you and something your productions have always had. What is it that inspires you in production?
Yes with groove and melodies, you pretty much have all of the elements of a song. i use to play the flute so that gave me a sense of what melodies i had in me and i also played the snare drum in high school and in college and we had to know our rudiments and cadences so we were really particular when we were performing and i applied the same knowledge into my productions.
"Being in Amsterdam, DJing was the thing that kept me going." Will Amsterdam always have a special place in your musical heart and do you still go back much?
Yes it's my second home! it's the first place that i played on a regular bases and at the time it was the best scene in europe with the exception on the UK i go back about 3-4 times a year
You made a Silent Phase album for R&S – what do you think about the new direction of the recently resurrected label?
I think it's great that Renaat is doing the label again but my album was released on Transmat and they had P&D deal with R&S.
You're known for playing epic 5 hour sets – how do you feel about a lot of nights only giving the headline act a 2 hour slot?
For me, it's a struggle because i go thru so much music and most of the time i try to play a different set each gig just to play and see if a track works or not. 2hrs = about 22 tracks and i receive at least 22 tracks per day in promos so you go figure…
The digital age through the eyes of a man who's been there but still loving it. Discuss from both a producer and DJ's perspective.
First off, from a dj perspective i'm so tired of the whole laptop dj vs the vinyl dj for the simple fact that the reason why i switch to digital is because, i remember being at a club in 2007 and hearing Nitin from No 19. play this track and i went to him and asked what it was but i had no way of getting this tune at a record shop because i either don't have the time to get it because i travel so much and didn't have time to make it to the shops or even worse, get to the shops and they're all out of the track that i'm looking for. So i was speaking with Jonny White (pre Art Dept fame) and he hipped me to digital downloads and i got home and downloaded the track that Nitin played and i had the track for my next gig and i was hooked.
From a producer's prespective it's pretty simple umm.. what are we making? Techno. What is the meaning? Technology.
“I'd say I'm one coin with 2 sides." Tell us about the two sides.
Sometimes i can't choose on what i like better, djing or making music. when i make music, i'm communicating with myself and with djing, i getting immediate satisfaction and interacting with the crowd.
Who actually is the Kosmic Messenger?
"A No nonsense 4 to the floor Polyphonic Tone and one Psychotic Funky Mutha Funka"
Thanks for the taking the time to talk to us… see you at Wiggle.
By Wil Troup
Catch Stacey Pullen at Wiggle's 18th Birthday on Saturday 5th May. More info here.