Dancefloor experimentalist and top Detroit techno producer Carl Craig has few equals in terms of the artistry, influence, and diversity of his recordings.
Carl Craig is described as a creative visionary, an electronic music icon, an esteemed Grammy-nominated composer, a world-class DJ and an ambassador for his native Detroit. Yet the common thread that runs through Craig’s broad musical canon and creative projects is a resounding fascination with futurism. The prolific producer has cultivated a unique path as an artist, entrepreneur and civic leader, guided by his tendency toward forward thinking.
“My livelihood is making music that I can perform, whether I’m doing orchestral production or modular strangeness or generating club music. I don’t restrict myself,” said Craig. “I defined myself by being who I am. The ultimate self respect is when you say you’re going to do something and you go and do it to the best of your ability.”
Craig released his first track in 1989 on a Virgin UK compilation album, with two singles following on labels run by his first collaborator Derrick May. After a series of ambitious releases for his co-owned Retroactive imprint, in 1991 Craig launched his second record label Planet E with the groundbreaking EP “4 Jazz Funk Classics”, under his alias 69. Planet-E turned 20 in 2011 and Craig celebrated the label’s history by taking Planet-E and its artists and collaborators on a world tour for the first time ever. He also previewed the 69 Live show for the first time, at select festivals around the world, fusing masks, darkness and the music of 69, Craig created 69’s own entity. As well as this, Planet-E invited friends of the label – like Luciano, Kirk Del Giorgio, Loco Dice and more – to pick their favourite Planet-E track to remix and re-release. Reflecting a year that was packed with events and releases, Craig readily admits that when he started the label he was hoping “it would last forever.” He cites artistic freedom as the highlight of running the label and adds, “It was never a struggle for the label to be an outlet for my or other people’s music. It was always a struggle to stay in business, actually a war to stay in business.”
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Factory, Recloose, Reference, Kevin Saunderson, Big Tone, Tribe, Urban Tribe, and Chaz Vincent, it has also been serving as a distributor for Detroit imprints including Derrick May’s Transmat and Stacey Pullen’s Black Flag. “The reality of the business is that you have to change. That’s a very difficult process, especially as an independent. I made a conscious decision a few years ago to invest in what I do. It’s turning it around and putting it into the studio and the label for my music to develop. We’re fighters around here. We fight to find new ways of selling. We do manufacture vinyl and there are people who want it. We’re fighting to keep it alive. Fighting for music that we have a vision for,” Craig say about Detroit. “My commitment to the city is like a commitment to your family. I’ve been here all my life and I’ve seen great things happen elsewhere, why not be involved in making my home great?”
When Craig explains his philosophy, his wry sense of humor seeps into his
explanations of far-reaching concepts that merge worlds together. “I have a very special career. When I feel that I’m tired of going on the road I can go in the studio.
When I’m tired of concentrating on the studio I can go on the road. I can work with concert pianists, jazz musicians or rock guys. Very few people have that range of interests. Very few people juggle a career that they choose specifically.” No one else can pull it all together quite like Carl Craig.