The techno pioneer sits down to share his views on Black representation in the electronic music scene.
In a new interview with Billboard, Detroit Techno stalwart Kevin Saunderson spoke about the shortcomings of the music industry to respect its Black origins and support Black artists. As one of the Belleville Three and founding member of Inner City, Saunderson spoke about his own personal experiences with racism, the lack of equal opportunities given to Black artists, and the ignorance of the importance of Black culture to the development of dance music, among other things.
‘When we started creating the sound, it was only Black people who were listening to the music that was being made by myself, Juan [Atkins], Derrick [May], Eddie Fowlkes, Blake Baxter and the handful of people in Detroit who were making this music and were all Black artists. We had a handful of people who came out to dance — like, 600 or 700 — who’d come to just about every party. It was all Black. Simple as that.
‘It grew into a multi-billion dollar industry. It grew into these festivals. So much came from our imprint on this music that led to other influences that led to the music being made by whoever was inspired, which is fine. America’s take on it, at least previously, was that this music was made by Europeans or white people only and that Black people just didn’t touch it because it didn’t fit into R&B or hip-hop and didn’t have the same soul and feeling.
‘I think it became very commercialized with EDM, and you had all of these managers working with different promoters and bringing their acts in and trying to create a gimmick. Even the Kentucky Fried Chicken thing that happened at Ultra was just a disgrace to our music’, said Saunderson to Billboard.
He also explained how he believes that some styles, like EDM, fail to educate their younger audience on dance music’s origins with proper representation:
‘[What we do] just doesn’t have the same market value, and also people don’t know. People come in and they’re 18 years old and they go hear EDM, they go hear Deadmau5 or whoever, and they think, ‘Wow, that’s amazing’. But they don’t always get an opportunity to hear people like us. It’s perceived like the music comes from white producers from Europe and some Americans, when it’s not really true. We don’t get the big platforms as much as we should. It’s not equal, that’s for sure.
‘I hate to say this, but you almost feel like somebody is basically eliminating Black artists and producers from participating and being part of the scene. So once I go off and die, and other people who’ve been around from the beginning are gone, who’s left? We’ve been doing this 35 years. If there’s talent, they should have the same opportunity or better opportunities’.
‘The problem is that many of the people in power in these companies don’t really care, and they don’t know. Some of them also came in way after the fact and they don’t care about the history or integrity of music — they care about the money. So yeah, they’ve got a responsibility to correctly represent the culture they’re profiting from, but the responsibility in their mind is only to make money’.
Saunderson also recalls an interaction with a prominent US booking agency that had no idea of who he was; dives deep into the development of Black artists in the industry, his aspirations for the electronic music scene moving forward and what can white people do to help out.
You can read the full interview here.