Nineteen years later, Planet-E Communications was formed. And while Motown is now little more than a neglected “brand” in the Paris-based Vivendi/Universal portfolio, Carl and Planet-E remain in Detroit, still releasing music, still recruiting talent & exploring new sounds, and still nourishing an intense connection between the label and the city.
I wanted to start out asking your thoughts, as a member of the community, about where Detroit stands right now, economically, politically and culturally. Few people who visit Movement will see much of the city.
Detroit is having a tough time economically. We are trying to hold on to an industry (the automotive) that is making a rebirth, but the majority is farmed out to other states and other countries. The dollar that Detroit depended on for a long time isn’t there, the industry is in the toilet and it is really difficult. Politically it is all in the shits.
Culturally, we have a lot of potential still here in Detroit, because there are a lot of people making music. We’re looking for a new scene to spark. There is a lot of the visual arts and appreciation for the visual arts. We have more music and homegrown talent – that we will always have here.
It’s odd to remember that you were one of the Detroit artists that looked most often outside of Detroit for music and inspiration… and you’re one of a handful of your peers still living there. Can you envision (or have you ever contemplated) a future for Planet-E outside of Detroit?
No, Planet-E is a Detroit label. It’s necessary for its identity to be here in Detroit, and it’s also my inspiration for being in Detroit. It does better in order to recruit people to become Detroiters to help Planet-E to become strong, instead of moving to London or New York or whatever.
Your relationship with the Festival Formerly Known as DEMF is well-documented; rather than rehash it, I’d like to ask your thoughts on what your relationship is now? How do you feel about this, and do you think the organizers have heard the call for a better representation of the Midwest?
Yeah, I think Paxahau are doing a great job. They have been able to take a festival that started as a great idea but kind of fell by the wayside a bit because of a change of hands, and make it into a real international attraction for the city. They are party promoters and concert promoters, and they listen to what the people want, so they give reputation to the Midwest as well as they give to Europe, from around the US and globally.
Planet-E turned 20 in 2011, and it’s strange to think that these labels I grew up with like Cajual, Relief, Planet E, etc. are now old enough to order a beer in any bar in the United States. Rather than ask for highlights or some such: what are the qualities you’re looking for when a young, up-and-coming cat submits a demo?
I am looking for something that is unique, something that stands the test of time. It’s so easy to have manufactured music. We try not have music that is manufactured, but different.
Some of your contemporaries have turned over their careers to the DJ circuit, with few new recordings, remixes or releases of any kind. Do you find it different to compose and release music in 2012 (both in terms of age as well as the age we live in)?
Yeah, I do find it a little more difficult. I try not to copy myself too much. I want to make music that I feel strong about, that I can always feel that makes a difference. So to have such a rich history of making music, it’s kind of difficult making music I love.
But of course I have matured and my ideas have changed. I really loved listening to the radio growing up and I still do. But I feel influences aren’t as exciting as what they were when I was first making music. It’s like I’m trying to create something new but I have, unfortunately, heard it all before.
I wanted to ask about Francisco Mora Catlett, best known as a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and who you’ve recorded with over the years, including that crucial period around ’99/2000 when a lot of your peers began searching for new inspiration. Many of us love jazz and soul and boogie music and other roots music, but few have had the opportunity to sit in the studio with some of the giants of the era. I’d love to know more about that experience and the influence you feel working with these guys on Innerzone Orchestra had on you.
I mean, Francisco is like my jazz mentor – he’s the guy who really turned me on to listen to jazz, to open up my mind to more of Miles Davis’ stuff that I had missed. And he was really there in order to give me insight to how the music was made and what was the focus – socially, politically, etc. – in all the things that I might not have understood, because I was too young to understand at the time. So this was great. He had crazy ideas that we would sit and talk about, and insane ideas that we would sit and talk about. He really had and has an impact on me, as far as expanding my ideas and my mind.
I notice that you’re currently bringing the “Carl Craig presents 69 live” show throughout Europe. I’ve got an interview with Octave One in this same issue, and as you know they ONLY play live. In terms of the audience, what’s the difference between a C2 DJ set and 69 Live? You’re well known for re-arranging and evolving music long after it’s committed to wax – does this give you a chance at some kind of improvisation?
Both ways, the way it goes is that I am experimenting all the time and trying to find something new within myself. A live set is my own music in comparison to a DJ set, which is mine and other peoples’ [music].
I treat both situations as if I was in a studio, so it’s quite important to have that feeling when I am doing it, as that is something that I feel can be quite special.
If there’s any track that bridged Chicago and Detroit more than the first (“Strings of Life”), it was probably Paperclip People’s “Throw”. I understand you’re re-issuing the entire The Secret Tapes of Dr. Eich. Can you tell me about that? Why now and… as I’ve asked Chez about “Can You Feel It” and Caj about, well, a half-dozen tracks… can you still look back on this older material with a fresh perspective?
Yeah, I mean I am always very surprised by what I got out of making those tracks. There was a raw feeling that was important for me. Sometimes if I haven’t heard anything for five years, to hear it again is great. I feel like I did when I did it originally – What the fuck did I do when I did that, and How do I do that again? • • •