Chicago, Detroit, all the cities of the Midwest techno scene and the techno scene worldwide are in mourning today as we’ve lost one a great DJ, a great producer and an even better human being this weekend.
Tim Baker belonged to both cities, and left a part of himself in every city he visited. But he was a native of Michigan and it’s there that he started. For people from that era, the 1990s, Tim will always be identified with Elephanthaus. I first read about it in a zine (Milwaukee’s Massive, I think) and it sounded like the coolest place on earth. It was a party promotion engine, a streetwear fashion line, a brick-and-mortar store where turntable freaks sold mixtapes, a collective and eventually a label.
But even before that Tim Baker was a DJ. He played parties while at Eastern Michigan University and Nectarine in Ann Arbor (where some fellow nightclub alumni have shared their memories). His bio says that was his first residency, from 1987 to 1988. Six years later he played in Europe for the first time at Tresor.
His production career began in 1997 on Elephanthaus with Black Machines. You can already hear it on the B side tracks “Steamer” and “Funkateria” — that funky bounce that Tim’s techno tracks would be known for:
The second release was called Detroit Transplant and with a 773 number on the label, he already was one, having driven south down the I-94 to Chicago in 1998. Here he founded Real Estate Records. RER is one of the lost gems of the era, founded when the next generation of Chicago house was blowing up but vinyl record distributors were “blowing up” in a very different way. Some bona fide legends were on Real Estate Records, including Gene Hunt and Tyree Cooper; it also featured I Can Feel My Blood Pumping, one of the first real releases by Paco Osuna. Tim also released music on Ovum, on NovaMute and Options.
Over this weekend, I was reading through Long Relationships, a new book from 5 Mag’s Harold Heath about his path from “unknown DJ to small time DJ.” There’s this section that I highlighted, and I wanted to put it in the review but I think it works here too. It’s hard work to become a DJ, Harold says, but once you cross the threshold you can never stop being one.
“There’s no such thing as a last gig for a DJ,” Harold writes. “There’s never a final gig. A true DJ is always ready for the call, should it come. DJs may pack away their decks, put their records into storage and deactivate their Soundcloud account, but they never really stop being a DJ. The DJ instincts are always there in the back of their mind, subconsciously noting the BPM of the tune on the radio in the background.
“Deep down, a DJ never truly retires.”
Here’s Tim Baker, DJ: