Q) Unlike most of your
colleagues here in Detroit, your background wasn't
mainly electronic music and funk. What were you into
before you got into the electronic music scene?
A) I have always liked all kinds
of music from hard rock to classic soul to old-school
funk to New Wave to alternative. I went thru a Mod
and Ska phase; I was a 2-Tone rude boy. Me and my
friends dressed in long coats, pork-pie hats, penny
loafers and skinny ties! I was heavy into industrial
in the early 80s. I liked some hip-hop, but I was
into the more Daisy Age/Native Tongues-type shit.
I got hip to Miles Davis in the 80s, in college. I
was a pretty weird black kid.
Your first major contribution to the development of
the early techno scene in Detroit was when you took
over the 'Fast Forward' radio show. What was the show
A) It began in '87 as a free-form
radio show on WDET-FM; which meant I could play anything
I wanted, from the Lounge Lizards to the Flying Lizards.
At the time, though, I was in my industrial dance
phase; 242, Cabaret Voltaire, Section 25, etc., the
stuff I was hearing at the clubs. It was during this
same period that Detroit Techno and Chicago House
began, so I ended up mixing everything all together.
About a year later, the show went all electronic.
Detroit had a great radio scene back then, not like
The story goes that you gave a lot artists who have
made it to the top now their first break on the radio.
Who did you promote and who would come over to the
A) Fuck, it was a who's who
of Detroit artists who all big stars now. Richie Hawtin
used to hang out all the time, John Acquaviva (I played
their very first States of Mind record on "Fast
Forward"), Joey Beltram and Mundo Muzique, Speedy
J came on once, Derrick May (I used to play a ton
of his unreleased tracks off reel-to-reel, many of
which I still have), Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson,
Carl Craig (I played his very first tracks on-air),
Blake Baxter, Jeff Mills and Mike Banks used to come
over to the show and bring their reel-to-reels, this
was before UR! I had the Burden Brothers on when "I
Believe" was hot, I played the very first track
Sean Deason ever made off cassette ! It was called
"Burning the Flies". I still have the tape
! I had Kenny Larkin on during the time of his first
EP for +8, Moby was a friend of the show, I saw him
last fall, he still remembers me ! We had A Guy Called
Gerald on, Nitzer Ebb, a whole lot of people ! Whenever
somebody was in from London, Derrick would bring them
by. I still have a few of the shows on cassette and
I'm thinking of archiving them on the site when I
get a chance.
Besides your musical talent you're also a gifted graphic
artist. Where did you pick up this love for drawing
A) I'm a born artist, I've been
drawing as long as I can remember. I was a published
comic-book artist before I even got into music.
In 1990 you released your first EP on the Dutch Djax-Up
label. How did you end up on a label thousands of
miles away from home?
A) The first instance of Detroit
ingratitude, but not the last. No Detroit label wanted
to pick it up. Actually, Juan wanted to release that
EP on Metroplex but he was so busy he never got around
to it. He did the same thing with a little record
called the "Sonic" EP which turned out to
be UR001. Juan sat on it for so long that Jeff and
Mike decided to put it out themselves! Juan unwittingly
started UR as a label! As for me, I came across the
Djax fax number at the record shop. My cousin lived
in Holland at the time and I figured that I could
send him to Eindhoven if Djax turned out to be shady!
As it turned out, I have been friends with Saskia
now for over ten years !
Shortly after the release you also started doing the
artwork for the label, a thing which you have been
doing for some ten years now. How did this come about
and why do you still do it?
A) After I did the Signal To
Noise Ratio record, Saskia found out that I was the
one who did the label art for Transmat and got all
excited. Next thing I knew, I was drawing everything
for Djax ! I still do stuff for her, but not as much
as before, my schedule's pretty full. She is my number-one
artistic benefactor and patron and I love her.
In the beginning of the Nineties you hooked up with
the crew of UR. How did you get involved with this
A) It's weird, I've known Mills
since forever. One day, he told me that he was hooking
up with this guy Mike Banks and they were going to
start a label. I started stopping by Mike's mom's
house, they were running UR from the basement, shipping
out records and T-shirts and what not. Pretty soon,
they started having hits and Mike started giving me
little stuff to do.
I've read somewhere that you and Robert Hood operated
as 'ministers of information' for UR. What kind of
tasks were linked to that title?
A) I used to write press releases
for UR. They had this terrorist strategy of bombing
people's fax machines with cryptic statements and
upcoming release news. I used to write the sheets
and Rob used to draw and design them. Eventually,
Rob moved up to making tracks with Jeff's help.
In '92 Jeff left UR just before the Australian tour
and you were called to duty to fill his shoes. How
did this make you feel and to what extent has this
event influenced your carreer ?
A) I was shocked ! I was asked
to be in UR and left on tour two days later! Needless
to say it changed my world completely and put me out
there on a world stage overnight. I only have Mike
Banks to thank for that, even today. Ten years later
almost and I'll never forget it. I had dinner with
Carl Cox when he was in Detroit back in March and
he was telling me that when he was in Australia, they
were still talking about the time I played this hotel
called the Arkaba, and this was back in '92! I was
amazed by this! And that was when I was there with
UR! So again, I owe it all to Mike.
At the time of the Austrilian tour you also settled
for your artist name : DJ T-1000, a reference to the
shapshifting robot in Terminator 2. Why did you opt
for this name?
A) Everybody in UR had a "codename"
so I had to have one too. The T-1000 cyborg could
do anything, be anyone, shift into any shape, and
was unstoppable. After my days in UR, the name just
Your artwork also is about the gloomy future, lots
of robots involved. Are you a science-fiction fan
? What does appeal to you in this image of the future?
A) I like comics and science
fiction. I'm a big fan of the retro-future, where
old styles like Art Deco are refitted and used futuristically
like in the Johnny Gambit comic I used to draw. The
reason I drew lots of robots for Djax was because
Saskia liked them though =)
In what way were you involved in starting up Submerge
A) Generator was one of the
first labels that Submerge distributed.
Around the same time Mike Banks encouraged you to
start your own label. Generator had a pretty open-minded
approach and eclectic roster. Why did you choose for
A) Good question. It's just
that I liked all kinds of music and I was getting
demos in all styles, from all over the world, so I
decided we should be open in our approach. It wasn't
like it is today out there, all hyper-compartmentalized
with sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, it was
all techno back then. Good music was good music.
Why did you decide to stop the label in 1996? Techno
scene splintering up?
A) The records weren't selling
like they had been and a look back at the catalog
showed me that the best-selling records were mine,
anyway, so I decided to end the label. We had some
good guys on Generator who were ahead of their time,
like Marco Passarani, whom I loved, but we had to
let them go.
After ending Generator in '96 you immediately moved
on to start Pure Sonik. Which strategy had you lined
out for the new label ?
A) Pure Sonik was 100% DJ T-1000,
no other artists. Straight-ahead, minimal, DJ friendly
techno, nothing really experimental. This is still
the philosophy, although we're more bangin' in our
With Pure Sonik on track you also managed to strike
up an alliance with Tresor. How did this come about
A) Well, I got a strange phone
call out of the blue one day from Carola Stroiber,
who runs Tresor. This is 1997, I think. She was in
town doing research on a book about Detroit Techno
and wanted to interview me. I told her I'd let her
interview me if she agreed to listen to the demos
of my new EP. She came on over, we did the interview
and she then listened to my DAT. I guess she liked
it, because that DAT was the "Jetset Lovelife"
EP and I made my debut at the Tresor club in Berlin
a couple of months later. We've been good friends
as well as business associates ever since. We just
had dinner with her here in Detroit over Memorial
Day weekend and we plan to hang out during Love Parade.
Last year you released your debut album 'Progress'
on Tresor. What does the album mean to you personally,
how do you feel about it ?
A) My God, you have no idea.
"Progress" was such a personal milestone
for me, a validation. I'd been through a lot personally
during the making of the album and it was good to
get it out and have it be successful. I really felt
as if I was on the world stage after that. I've been
out DJing non-stop since it came out, almost a year!
Rumours go that you are already working on a new album.
When do you think it will be finished and will it
be much different from 'Progress' ?
A) The tentative title of the
new album will be "The Best Revenge". It
will be more driving and DJ-oriented than "Progress".
I've got a lot of new gear so there will be an improvement
in sound. Other than that, it's too soon to tell!
You are also finishing up a new comic book. What can
you tell us about that ?
A) Wow, you are well-informed!
It's called "The Sexy Adventures of Orietta St.
Cloud", completely written and drawn by me. No
computers! It will be accompanied by a various artist
techno soundtrack produced by some pretty big names,
none of which have been formally signed yet, but I
have verbal agreements and interest so far from a
number of them. The book will launch Pure Comics,
our new comic division.
Why is it that techno, as a musical and cultural phenomenon,
didn't take off in the US like it did in Europe ?
A) For the same reason that
jazz took off in Europe first. Europeans don't have
the same hang-ups and resistance to new things that
Americans do. Plus, Europe is smaller and new ideas
travel better there.
At the moment crossover acts like The Chemical Brothers,
The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim are promoted in the US.
How do you feel about this and do the black techno
artists benefit from it?
A) I think it's typical of the
American music business to promote those acts that
most closely resemble traditional rock and roll and
no one should be surprised by this. The black techno
artists don't benefit from this one bit. So the Chems
mention Kenny Larkin and Derrick May in interviews,
so what ? It's not like the kids put down the magazine
then run out and buy their records. At least the Rolling
Stones put Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry
on tour with them and put some money in their pockets.
According to you, what is needed to give techno its
big break in the US ?
A) Techno doesn't sell enough
units for US majors to even care. For me, 2500 12"
units is a hit, to them, it's not even a promo mailing.
How do you explain that techno was conceived in the
city of Detroit. To what extent have the city's history
and its decay in the mid-eighties played a role in
the development ?
A) Deep question. Detroit used
to be very open-minded musically, a big melting pot
of sound. We had many radio stations here that played
all kinds of music from disco to soul to stuff like
Japan and Visage. Great stations that never get mentioned
like the old WDRQ or WLBS and New Wave/New Romantic
club DJs like Charles English. Shows like "Radios
in Motion". Clubs like Cheeks, Todd's and City
Club. A Number of Names "Charivari" ! The
black progressive high school club scene. The black
gay scene. New Wave TV shows like MV3. Mojo wasn't
the only influence in Detroit ! This musical open-mindedness
led to those first tracks from Juan, which led to
Detroit techno. Plus, there's nothing to do here like
New York or London, no good jobs, and it's cold most
of the year, so you make tracks or die !
What do you consider to be the most important turning
points in the history of Detroit techno ?
A) The release of Model 500
"No UFOs" .
You were not invited to play on the DEMF. How did
this make you feel ? + suspected reasons ?
A) Well, it was pretty obvious
from my essay on my website (www.puresonikrecords.net)
that I was hurt by being excluded. The DEMF was the
complete homecoming for this music to the city of
its birth, and was literally history in the making.
A lot of people have been working for years, representing
Detroit abroad, staying in Detroit when they could
have left, making music, flying all over and working
hard no matter what, and to be left out like that
was horrible. It was a smack in the face with a dead
fish. So many people on the bill got to play who never
did shit for Detroit, who aren't even really known!
It was vindication for techno in Detroit. My mother
called me at home because she saw the festival on
the news. "Were you down at Hart Plaza ?"
"No, Ma, I was out of town". My mom has
never understood what I do, and now it's on TV, now
she gets it. My girlfriend wanted to go on the last
day to see Hawtin and Derrick-we were home from Philly
by then-but didn't out of loyalty to me, so she couldn't
enjoy the festival. I got the "there's always
next year" speech from a couple of different
people, but this was history, the very first one.
It's plain to see how I'm regarded by the people in
charge of the festival, and we all know who's in charge
of it. I can't say I'm really surprised, though. They've
been trying to write me out of Detroit history for
years, and they've succeeded. I'm leaving Detroit
by end of 2000.
What can we expect from you in the future ?
A) My first Love Parade DJ appearance,
the comic book project, the relaunch of Pure Sonik
(which is on hold at the moment) and a new EP and
album for Tresor. I will also be winding down my DJ
schedule so I can stay home and work on all these
projects, so if you see me on a flyer, please come
and hear some good techno!
by John Osselaer - co-written by Ali Wade (Overload)
Partly published in Bassic Groove #6/2000 - Pictures
by GV Horst; courtesy of Tresor Berlin
Original interview is from Overload: http://www.overloadmedia.co.uk