Saytek and Kevin Saunderson go head to head to celebrate 30 years of KMS Records

KMS Records was established in 1987 by Kevin Saunderson and the label has since gone on to release classic dance music from the likes of Blake Baxter, Inner City, Tronik House, E-Dancer, Kenny Larkin, and Chez Damier. In celebration of 30 years since the label’s inception, Decoded Magazine has worked alongside Kevin Saunderson and Sarah at Favouritizm to bring you a new school meets old school theme where Saunderson interviews one of the label’s newest artists, Saytek, and vice versa. Saytek has just released his ‘Doppelganger EP’ on KMS Records so we thought he would be the perfect candidate for this head to head interview and we are pleased he jumped at the opportunity.

Saytek’s questions to Kevin Saunderson

Firstly, congrats on KMS, 30 years is a long time for a record label to be running, you must have seen a lot of big changes over the years, what’s it like running a label in 2017?

The label has definitely changed a lot over the years, for one when I started I basically did everything myself, whereas now I am able to delegate certain responsibilities. My son Dantiez is helping out on the A&R side of things and we have a few others working across the label. We are still a small team, still independently run but I don’t deal as much with the general day to day as I used to.

We continue to release vinyl, amongst other formats, but I tend to be more selective now on what gets pressed, generally saving it for more classic releases although new stuff can go out on record too. We still focus purely on music that we love but as I fully embrace the way in which technology has evolved, we like to champion music that does this also. Running this label has kept me energised and in 2017, 30 years later, I am still excited by it, particularly seeing Dantiez push its legacy onwards.

I see you have recently been performing as part of The Belleville Three, this really is great to see as I have always loved all of your music and DJ sets, to me you still play the best music around! Do you still get to hang out with Juan Atkins and Derrick May as friends?

Well, thank you! I am glad you have enjoyed what we’ve done so far. Of course, we still hang out, we have a long history stretching back to when we were just 12 years old and were always around each other. Obviously, we didn’t have as many opportunities to travel the world as we do now, which means we see each other less but we are still like brothers ND talk about all kinds of stuff: our past, our future, our families.

Your sons are now involved in the industry too and I regularly chat with Dantiez about KMS, it must be great bringing a new generation into the scene. Did they love Techno as kids and did they rebel against it in their teenage years?

Their involvement initially took me off guard, as they weren’t exactly techno kids growing up, much more into hip-hop. Things changed when Dantiez first moved out at the age of 19. He went to live with friends who had some equipment that must have got him inspired because when he moved back home he came back a DJ! DaMarii soon caught the bug also and now our studio is in constant use! When I look back though, they were definitely brought up with it, attending many of the events I played and going to every Movement since it started. I’m sure this played a part in some way or another.

So when you were working on Techno in the early days, did you have any idea that the rave, Acid House, and clubbing scene would emerge from this music? Were there already beginnings of a scene emerging and you knew the music would be played at such parties, or did you make the music with no idea or anticipation and the scene arrived out of the blue?

It was still the beginning, I had no idea the music would evolve or that England would embrace it in the way that it did, turning into the super huge year of 1988. My vision was that techno would be music for the world, not just for the black and gay communities that got it and listened to it initially. I could see this shift happening over the years with its appeal spreading across the globe and look at it now!

When I first started making music, there wasn’t too much of a scene, there was still disco, even though people were saying “disco is dead” it wasn’t dead at all, it was developing with four on the floor turning into techno and house. At the start Juan Atkins was doing Cybotron, which was called techno but felt more like electro to me, inspired by ‘Planet Rock’ and Egyptian Lover tracks. Derrick and I joined Juan right after Cybotron, the two of us weren’t ready to make music before then or even knew that we would make music at all but as we graduated into that league we aimed to make DJ-friendly music that people could dance to. We had the right ears for it because we, and when I say we I mean Derrick and I more specifically, had become very active DJs, connecting a well-rounded source of sonic inspirations from Detroit, Chicago, and New York.

It must be amazing to be credited for the creation of a form of music that has had such a massive impact all over the world. Did you have any idea that what you created would instigate a global phenomenon that would carry such longevity?

I didn’t have a clue that this was going to be considered a creation. I know people kept saying “what kind of music is this, it’s different, it’s weird?” and I would just say “Well I love it, you don’t get it but I do and I know it’s right!”. Again, my vision was that the world would dance to this music, that was my hope but it’s not like I saw this coming. It’s unbelievable to sit here 30 years on and see how much techno has inspired other DJs and producers and led to many other musical paths.

It’s always been said that the records made in Detroit were much more popular in Europe and there wasn’t really much of scene in Detroit itself. Is this factually correct and if so was it a strange situation to be in?

Well, I think to begin with our music was more popular in Europe as Detroit hadn’t fully connected with it yet. Saying that there was a club called The Music Institute that Derrick and I DJed at, playing our Detroit music, Chicago music, anything we thought was hot and the crowd there was very receptive to it. Overall America has always been late in picking up new forms of music, this isn’t just the case in Detroit but the country as a whole, luckily I think we are now catching up!

Techno seems to be big in the USA at the moment, in the UK we have always been sure that the scene in America was never quite the same as the UK and Europe. Do you feel this is changing post-EDM, or were we wrong all along and it’s always been great?

Yes, I think it is changing, now we have the internet and social media, people can access new or different strands of music quicker than ever before. I’m seeing this more and more in younger generations who seem incredibly open to underground electronic music. In many ways, I feel EDM kinda opened this door. You can see this growing support of the underground in festival lineups too, with huge brands like Coachella booking massive techno artists. All in all, it’s very positive!

You are one of the few artists that has achieved balanced commercial success with being an underground legend and it’s rare in this industry. How did you achieve such credibility, along with the Inner City productions still being played by underground DJ’s and going off? Is there a secret to this success?

First and foremost I make tracks from the heart, even though I had commercial success that is not what I set out to do. I just wanted to make something with vocals and melodies as a result of the music I was brought up on, people like Chaka Khan, Prince, Earth, Wind, and Fire, lots of stuff with prominent vocals. I was listening to that alongside lots of earlier disco stuff, Donna Summers and all that, which I would hear in the club spun by Larry Levan. He’d play those tracks next to 30 minute to 40-minute instrumentals. That’s what really inspired my underground side, my dark side which is a big part of me too. It’s that combo, that balance between the two that feels organic to me, it feels right.

Kevin Saunderson’s questions to Saytek

Firstly congrats on the release, it’s had a heap of support and I’m very pleased to have it as part of our KMS catalogue. You tell me it was born out of a live jam, is this how you approach all your beat making 100% of the time? If so, how long will you be jamming before you feel you have the bones of a song to work on?

It’s an absolute honour to be on the label! At the moment all the stuff I am releasing are my live jams, they are pretty much exactly as you will hear them in my live show, save a tiny bit of editing and of course mastering. It was quite a recent decision as I was trying to rework my live material into finished tracks. Then I heard someone in an interview saying “They wouldn’t release anything they wouldn’t play in their sets”, It suddenly occurred to me that I had been doing this for years and my live stuff was kind of out of sync with my studio tracks. My releases were much deeper and lacked the energy of the live music. So I started releasing live jams straight out of the stereo from my mixer and jammed them out live and suddenly loads of techno DJ’s were playing them on main stages at the biggest events in the world, so something worked! When I am jamming, I don’t spend much time practising, I know my kit, so it’s not long before I get the jams down. Sometimes I create the parts on the day of the gig and play them for the first time in a club.

Have you always worked predominantly on hardware or did you start producing in the box and branch out?

Actually, I started on hardware, the TR505 Drum Machine + a Jen SX1000 Synth with a Radio Shack mixer was my first kit, then later in the 90’s I loved groove boxes like the Roland MC505 and Korg Electribe stuff. The first computer I used was an Atari ST – running Cubase to sequence my Atari S900 + Synths and an Analog desk. So working in the box came much later to me, once Ableton came out I started doing live work with Ableton + hardware and have been doing the same for over 15 years now!

You’re from London, one of my favourite places and a city that has supported my music from the very beginning. I’ve been saddened to see so many incredible clubs close down recently, I’m interested to know which club’s closure has affected you the most personally?

I miss the End, Turnmills and The Complex, they all had a special place in my heart! But I think everything is ok with fabric and Studio 338 re-opened and we have exciting new venues like Printworks.

What do you think the wider effect has been on the UK’s club culture and do you feel optimistic that things could get better?

To be honest, things seem to be super healthy for techno at the moment. In fact, I haven’t seen so many UK kids into the genre since the mid 90’s. So I am pretty happy with the situation! I think the problems are more with our Draconian licensing laws and political opposition to clubbing. But dance music has always found a way round that!

Detroit techno has always had a distinct quality, signaling it’s from or has been heavily influenced by the Motor City. Do you think UK techno has a unique flavour that sets itself apart from other territories and if so what is it?

I love Detroit techno and its a huge influence on what I do. I also love what the UK did with the sound in the early 90’s, with people Like Aphex Twin, Orbital, The Orb, Underworld. and FSOL. Also the early UK Acid House & Rave scene, all taking elements of techno and fusing it with ambient, Reggae & Dub, Breakbeat and other elements, Then later, the likes of Mr C, Eddie Richards and Terry Francis for making the London Tech House sound. I feel Detroit merging with the European elements made techno a truly global phenomenon!

I see you prefer to play live shows in clubs rather than DJ. I do a bit of both myself but am intrigued to know the pros and cons you see between touring a live show and mixing?

I have never DJ’ed, I’ve only ever played live, so I am not sure. I am used to lugging huge amounts of hardware around with me! I really like it this way!

Like most musicians I assume you listen to a wide range of music but what genres outside of techno and dance music as a whole do you feel you reference the most when making tracks?

oh yeah, I listen to a lot of different stuff! I still think dub has the biggest influence on my productions, I think the ethos was very similar to techno, stripped back, percussive, recurring chord stabs and using effects extremely creatively! Lee Scratch Perry did a huge amount for making music production and engineering an art form!

I’ve been doing this for some time now, but I’m as passionate and engaged as ever. What do you feel is important in maintaining personal inspiration and how do you feel we as a whole can continue to push this scene forward, keeping techno fresh and exciting?

For me techno and underground house have played a huge part of my life for as long as I remember, Like you, my passion has never died and I think this is the key. With so many genres coming in and out of fashion and the latest trendy fad, I feel there has always been a core of people that are more interested in the evolution of techno and house than being cool. I think it’s these people that have pushed the genre forward!

Saytek ‘Doppelganger EP’ is out now on KMS Records.

Thank you to Kevin Saunderson and Saytek for taking the time to help put this head to head interview together, and special thanks to Sarah at favouritizm for her continued hard work and support with Decoded Magazine.

About the Author

Director and DJ, Ian French (Naif) is passionate about every genre of music from Breakbeat, to Drum & Bass, to Techno and House. A man that lives in a world of beats and bass, and total confusion about life!