Carl Craig is described as a creative visionary, an electronic music icon, an esteemed Grammy-nominated composer, a world-class DJ and an ambassador for his native Detroit. Yet the common thread that runs through Craig’s broad musical canon and creative projects is a resounding fascination with futurism. The 42-year old producer has cultivated a unique path as an artist, entrepreneur and civic leader, guided by his tendency toward forward thinking.
“My livelihood is making music that I can perform, whether I’m doing orchestral production or modular strangeness or generating club music. I don’t restrict myself”, says Craig. “I defined myself by being who I am. The ultimate self-respect is when you say you’re going to do something and you go and do it to the best of your ability.”
Craig released his first track in 1989 on a Virgin UK compilation album, with two singles following on labels run by his first collaborator Derrick May. After a series of ambitious releases for his co-owned Retroactive imprint, in 1991 Craig launched his second record label Planet E with the groundbreaking EP “4 Jazz Funk Classics”. Still running strong, Planet E turned 20 in October 2011. Reflecting ahead of a year that will be packed with events and releases celebrating the label’s history, Craig readily admits that when he started the label he was hoping “it would last forever”. He cites artistic freedom as the highlight of running the label and adds, “It was never a struggle for the label to be an outlet for my or other people's music. It was always a struggle to stay in business, actually a war to stay in business.”
Looking back now to Craig's early releases from 1989-1992, one can see how much the wild variety found in his early music set the groundwork for his diverse career. He's fortunate to serve as an inspiration and influence to countless artists in the underground electronic music scene as well as crossover acts like Underworld, Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem. His 1992 Innerzone Orchestra cut “Bug in the Bassbin” was credited as the spark that inspired the evolution of drum ‘n’ bass. In typical Craig fashion, “Bug…” continued to develop, morphing into a live jazz composition in 1996. In turn, those experiments laid the ground for Craig to incorporate jazz elements onto his 1999 I.O. album “Programmed”. Then in the 00's Craig explored jazz further still as producer on the albums “The Detroit Experiment” and “Rebirth” (2009) for the legendary Detroit jazz collective Tribe. This is but one example of Craig's continually evolving exploration of sound.
Craig’s prolific nature is reflected in the many recording projects he has used throughout his career including 69, BFC, C2, Innerzone Orchestra, No Boundaries, Psyche, Paperclip People and Tres Demented. This rotating cast of aliases has enabled him to continually explore new directions through a long succession of full-length albums, mix CDs and singles including “Throw” (1994), “Landcruising” (1995), “The Secret Tapes of Dr. Eich” (1996), “More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art” (1997), “Programmed” (1999), “The Detroit Experiment” (2002), “The Workout” (2002), “Just Another Day” (2004), “Fabric 25” (2005), “The Album Formerly Known As…” (2005), “Paris Live” (2007), “Sessions” (2008), “Recomposed” (with Moritz von Oswald) (2008), “The Legendary Adventures of a Filter King” (2009), “Modular Pursuits” (2010) and the upcoming album “Versus” (2011).
“Versus” is one of his boldest endeavors to date which Craig describes as “a fantastic eye opening experience," which has given him "a new way of thinking about music”. Craig opened himself up to working in a new format by collaborating with orchestrator/pianist Francesco Tristano, French orchestra Les Siècles, conductor Francois Xavier Roth and Moritz von Oswald. Inspired by well-received performances in large concerts halls in Paris and Milan, Craig started the process of developing the project into an album.
Craig’s interest in collaboration continually grows. Aside from "Versus" he also performs in the trio Shape alongside von Oswald and Tristano. His occasional appearances with the electronic collective jam band Narod Niki, alongside Ricardo Villalobos, Luciano, Richie Hawtin, Zip and others, have led to him appearing in part live, part DJ gigs with Luciano. Additionally he’s taken to occasionally bringing keyboardists like Mike Banks of Underground Resistance, Amp Fiddler and Tristano into the DJ booth with him for special one-off gigs. These mixed performances add some variety in a non-stop DJ schedule that finds him spinning at top clubs worldwide. Craig acknowledges, “Touring has always been the most important aspect of the music industry for artists. There will always be that desire for human interaction.” So do expect to hear Craig in a club near you in 2011, but don’t be surprised if he pops up with a special live show. Let's also mention that he has recently performed live soundtracks to films, first in Amsterdam, then in New York, where he improvised live to an Andy Warhol film at Unsound Festival. The fact is, unpredictability is the only predictable thing about Craig and his music.
Outside of his Planet E recordings, Craig also continues to be one of the most sought-after remixers in the world. Craig has produced a seemingly neverending list of remixes that now extends over 100 cuts, including mixes for the likes of Tori Amos, Can, Goldfrapp, UNKLE, Yello and others. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2008 for his mix of the Junior Boys' “Like a Child”. “It’s been proven that the remix is a valid art form”, Craig said. “When I take on a project, the ultimate goal is that it becomes my record. In many cases I’m actually recomposing the track and the time that I spend reflects how personal it becomes.” Fortunately there is no shortage of artists looking for that Carl Craig touch, so rest assured you'll hear Craig reconfiguring many of your favorite artists for years to come.
In the same way that he likes to make tracks he's remixing his own, Craig’s commitment to to his home in Detroit is also something very personal. After launching a festival to rival that of any in Europe with the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000, Craig has shifted his focus to even more ambitious goals with the creation of his non-profit 501-C3 Carl Craig Foundation. “The concept is to find ways to re-educate kids about what’s interesting musically that you can’t get on the radio”, says Craig. Partnering with other non-profits to set up music scholarships, in 2010 the Carl Craig Foundation presented a five-day workshop during the Movement Festival at the Detroit School of the Arts, which exposed the students to professionals in sound engineering, music festival production, record/music production and musical performance. Craig sees the primary goal of the foundation as a way “to develop a new music scene that follows the legacy of Detroit music being diverse and interesting, to spot out the most talented young musicians coming out of high school and lend small financial grants to encourage music education at a higher level.” In 2011, the foundation plans to tour ten high schools in and around the city of Detroit.
This commitment to Detroit music also extends to how his Planet E family of labels is run. Not only has it given a home to a wide range of Detroit-based artists including Francesco Mora Catlett, Naomi Daniel, Flexitone, Jason Hogans, Kenny Larkin, Monty Luke, Moodymann, Mike Agent X, The Oliverwho Factory, Recloose, Reference, Kevin Saunderson, Big Tone, Tribe, Urban Tribe and Chaz Vincent, it has also been serving as a distributor for Detroit imprints including Derrick May's Transmat and Stacey Pullen's Black Flag. “The reality of the business is that you have to change. That’s a very difficult process, especially as an independent. I made a conscious decision a few years ago to invest in what I do. It’s turning it around and putting it into the studio and the label for my music to develop. We’re fighters around here. We fight to find new ways of selling. We do manufacture vinyl and there are people who want it. We’re fighting to keep it alive. Fighting for music that we have a vision for”, Craig says about Detroit. “My commitment to the city is like a commitment to your family. I’ve been here all my life and I’ve seen great things happen elsewhere, why not be involved in making my home great?”
When Craig explains his philosophy, his wry sense of humor seeps into his explanations of far-reaching concepts that merge worlds together. “I have a very special career. When I feel that I’m tired of going on the road I can go in the studio. When I’m tired of concentrating on the studio I can go on the road. I can work with concert pianists, jazz musicians or rock guys. Very few people have that range of interests. Very few people juggle a career that they choose specifically.” No one else can pull it all together quite like Carl Craig.