ITM's Honour Roll #9: Derrick May
Mon 16th Apr, 2012 Features 3156 viewsin
I have to admit I was a bit nervous going into this conversation with Derrick May for the ninth edition of the inthemix Honour Roll series. Not only is he one of the very few musicians whom I can honestly call a hero of mine, but he has a reputation for being a bit difficult. As it turned out, he is one of the friendliest and most down-to-earth guys I’ve ever interviewed. He was very patient during a cringe-inducing technical delay at the start, and stayed on the phone afterwards just to chat for a while.
So where does the reputation come from? Maybe some people can’t handle his very candid nature – he certainly doesn’t hold back his opinions. Maybe it’s all the fanboy journos nagging him about his relative lack of production output for the last 20 years or so – maybe he gets tired of being the J.D. Salinger of dance music.
If anyone deserves to rest on his laurels, it’s Derrick May. The series of records he released on his Transmat label over a period of just a few years in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (how many are there? A dozen? Two dozen?) are an unassailable creative peak, about as close to perfection as electronic music has come.
Like a handful of French New Wave films in the ‘60s, or punk-rock singles in the ‘70s, they changed their form forever, and their impact hasn’t been fully measured yet. The fanboys call it techno. May himself calls it High-Tek Soul. Some of us feel that what he really did is elevate the art of house music – and the rest of us are still struggling to catch up.
And as this session made clear to me again, he certainly hasn’t retired. He’s parlayed his towering early accomplishments into a career travelling the world, spreading the gospel of Hi-Tek Soul, and enjoying life. His restless energy, intellect and passion for sharing his experience are palpable, and it’s given him impressive vision.
Not only does he see outside of the little box that is the club scene, he has a way of making every community he talks about – whether it’s the community of his native Detroit or the community of music lovers around the world – feel like part of something larger. You start to sense connections between things – between economics and culture, between the past and the future, between the old and young, between people everywhere.
How do you enjoy playing here in Australia?
It’s always good to come. I’ve been coming to Australia for 17 years. I was one of the very first international DJs to come to the country. I’ve been from one end of the country to another – there’s nowhere I haven’t been in the country. I’ve spent so much time in Australia, and I’m going to tell you, it is the perfect place to live. There’s still so much room and space and good energy in that country. It’s still the place to be.
It’s fair to say you did some pioneering on the music scene here?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I spent most of my days in Melbourne, because at one point years ago Melbourne was the epitome of what was happening with new music in Australia. A young force was brewing there, with a lot of creative people that wanted to make music. They were migrating there because the club scene in Melbourne was very, very strong.