Part of the Deep Space DJ collective – alongside Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Art Payne, Keith Martin and others – Fowlkes took the nascent electronic scene by storm with 1986’s Goodbye Kiss on Metroplex Records, one of the tracks that helped forge the Detroit techno sound.
In 1993, he coined the phrase ‘Techno Soul’ to describe his sound – taking in aspects of Detroit techno, Motown, Chicago house and 70s funk – a term that was immortalised the same year with the release of The Birth of Technosoul on Tresor, alongside 3MB (Moritz von Oswald and Thomas Fehlmann).
With countless releases on labels such as Metroplex, Tresor, Sony, Peacefrog, and his own imprints CityBoy Records and Detroit Wax, under his belt, Fowlkes’ latest cut is the Bahama Man EP, which lands on Rekids on 23 June – click here for more information. The four-track EP follows on from the recently-released Forever EP on the same label.
909originals caught up with him.
We’re getting a real old-school vibe from your latest release, Bahama Man, on Rekids. Did you take a ‘back to basics’ approach when producing these tracks?
No, my vibe is up to date – 2023! Current music might be echoing back to what I created. Some newer artists are trying to sound like we [Detroit] did back then – retro is their approach because the kids are trying to sound analog now.
But my music is always futuristic, never the past. Good luck trying to catch me… if you can!
You’ve clearly got the dancefloor in mind when creating music. Is that a key factor in your music – it has to work on the dancefloor, or it isn’t going to work?
Yes, always. The dancefloor is always on my mind, in production of any kind. I was never good at making ‘cocktail music’ – the kind that makes for side-to-side, slow movements.
It’s more than 30 years since you coined the phrase ‘Techno Soul’, which encapsulated a blending of musical influences. How do you define ‘Techno Soul’ these days and how has its definition shifted (if at all) from when you first developed it?
Techno Soul is still here in my opinion. Music comes and goes in waves, such as trance, EDM, 150-bpm-plus euro techno, etc. But Techno Soul will always be here, because the Soul has to be fed with Techno to survive.
It must frustrate you when you see so many artists – including many successful ones – devote themselves to one particular sound, and not deviate?
No way – I’m never frustrated! I’ve had fans from 1987. The music I hear these days is just regurgitated in sample-based tracks with louder production/mastering.
The Detroit style of music of any kind will always trend in the world because Detroit music has changed the world, from Motown to techno!
People fail to realise how we brought the Detroit sound to Germany through Tresor. Dimitri Hegemann [Tresor founder] could have gone anywhere in the world to start his label. So, let’s not forget there is no ‘frustration’ in my style of music and production because I – and we – changed the world forever.
We’ve spoken to some of the early Chicago artists in the past, and they always mention the fact that when the scene started out there, everyone was hanging out with everyone else, and working on each others tracks late into the night. That must have been the same in Detroit?
Well, not in the beginning. Juan had his studio first, and then I got my studio next, in 1986 – then Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Juan was dropping hits in America since 1981, but we just helped each other out on gear – like learning midi, editing sounds in synthesisers etc.
The cool part was bringing your production to the guys for their opinion and playing your production at parties before sending them to the pressing plant. Then, with the next generation – James Pennington, Blake Baxter, Santonio Echols, MK – that’s when collaborations really started.
Do you all still have the same camaraderie today? You must run into each other quite regularly?
I talk to and visit Juan Atkins and Santonio Echols the most. I see Kevin Saunderson from time to time.
With something like Goodbye Kiss, which is very much at the birth of techno, did you realise how groundbreaking that sound could become?
No, not at all! I just wanted to have my own track to play at parties, which the next DJ did not have.
That was the groundbreaking thing to do, because if the party people like your crate digging, or music selecting and mixing – my best attribute – the city of Detroit will support you at your gigs.
In the past, you have often spoken out about the use of samplers, compared to producing something organic (i.e. performed live). When you are producing, does it always have to be played live?
No, I have changed my stance, because there is too much good technology out there to enhance people/groups/bands’ production.
But I do enjoy making organic production sound like it was done by a computer – that’s when you know you are good in your studio secrets.
We saw that you recently delved into your archives, with the re-release of Deepcover on Muga Recordings. You must have so many tracks that you are eager to re-release from over the years – to introduce a new audience to your music?
Yes, I have too many tracks, and I am still trying to bring quality up-to-date for release. It’s just not my style to release bad quality versions of my old productions.
What sort of health is the Detroit techno scene in today, in your eyes?
That’s a good question! Well, I think a lot of people want to DJ before trying to make hits like we did.
Detroit and Chicago brought the DJ game to the world with our hit records to back it up – then we travelled the world teaching people how to DJ as we go. We were kids then, not bands. The Djing scene came from the black gay community in the 70s and 80s before any electronic music hit the rest of the world.
So, I think a lot of Detroit techno kids are looking for an easy fix instead of making hit records or tracks.
What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
I’m looking for a good booking agent! You know any?
Thanks Eddie for talking to us. The Bahama Man EP is released on Rekids on 23 June, for more information, click here.