Keith Kemp‘s long been a fixture of the Detroit underground dance community as a graphic designer, artist, producer, DJ, promoter and stage manager for Paxahau’s Movement Festival. A Jack of all-trades. Now a days most of his time is spent in the studio and as Paxahau’s lead resident DJ, where he can be heard in cities across the globe bringing his take on Detroit techno to the masses.
We’re excited to welcome back to San Francisco to represent both Detroit and Paxahau as part of our Movement pre-party featuring DVS1 and John Osborn. We’ve long been a fan of Kemp’s sound and energy on the dance-floor. This marks his second AYLI appearance in three years.
In preparation for Friday’s Monarch performance, Kemp put together an exclusive AYLI podcast and AYLI friend and Direct to Earth cohort Patrick Gil interviewed Kemp. Please take a moment and take in the mix and interview. Quality.
Patrick Gil: How long have you been DJing? How long have you been producing music? How did it all start for you?
Keith Kemp: I played my first gig about 20 years back. While working at Record Time in Detroit, I had become friends with a promoter from Windsor, and he put me on a bill stacked with Detroit heavyweights like Dan Bell, Claude Young, Mike Huckaby. After that gig, it kinda just started from there.
During high school I was learning a sampling keyboard. After I started DJing I messed around with Cubase and MIDI connections, later jumped into Ableton Live, and I’ve since graduated to a collection of synthesizers, sampler, plug ins, DAW’s and computers. I’ve got a room in my house filled with a gear and a couch, fish-tank, all the good stuff. It’s like the war room and the chill room and the design room and the studio all together.
P.G: You’re from the Detroit area. How do you see Detroit in relation to Techno, both at its beginning and nowadays? How does Detroit relate to you?
K.K: I’m 100% a product of my city, and my sound is derived from my experiences as a DJ as well as my surroundings.
P.G: What do you use to DJ? What do you use to make electronic music?
K.K: I’ve been a vinyl DJ for 20 years, but I’ve added digital components since 2005. Currently the best way for me to express myself is by using 4 virtual decks inside NI Traktor, with 2 NI X1 controllers and an Allen & Heath Zone 92 mixer. I’ve been running with that setup for the last couple of years, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Occasionally I ad a looper to the mix.
I still play vinyl. I have a pretty big record collection that I’m constantly adding to, and if the gig is right I’ll definitely bring out the heat. I love making vinyl DJ mixes and still I’m constantly practicing. I use turntables in my productions as well, so I’m never far from a studio or a DJ set up.
My “recording studio” is a collection of odds and ends. FM synths. A Moog. 6 Hardware samplers if you count my MPC. LOTS of MIDI. I also adore using my amazing collection of apps with my iPad 2 and the Alesis iO dock!! My studio is also pretty similar to my writing partner and my DJ partner’s studios, so it’s pretty easy to go back and forth, plug in and exchange ideas or perform.
P.G: Anything forthcoming in the pipeline? Both gig wise and/or release wise
K.K: I just finished a remix for my techno homies from Detroit-Stone Owl. It’s part of a release on Thoughtless Music from Toronto, and I’m pretty pleased with the result as well as my inclusion in the project. That should be released soon.
I’ve also just finished a remix for DJ 3000, and that should be released hopefully before Movement.
After that I’m kinda back to personal projects and working on my studio. The summer is wide open and I’ve got a lot I want to accomplish.
P.G: Is vinyl important to you, whether you’re releasing it, playing it or buying it? How much vinyl do you buy nowadays?
K.K: Everything about vinyl is super important to me, and that’s never changed. I buy as much as I can, I try to shop and dig in every city I travel to. Detroit’s got a few great shops left, and I’m there as much as my budget permits. I’m running out of space at my house, so I’m building shelves in my mom’s basement for the “secondary” collection. I buy everything. I buy jungle, classic house, punk, soul 7”, things with weird artwork or colored vinyl..
I would love to release more music on vinyl, so that’s something I’m always working towards as well.
P.G: You’re friends with Luke Hess. Who else in the Detroit scene do play with/collaborate with/hang out with?
K.K: I guess you would need to come to Detroit and hang out with us.
P.G: Tell us about your 2 most memorable experiences on the dance floor; one as an attendee and one as the DJ.
K.K: Dance Floor? Carl Craig Landcruising Live PA. Any Hawtin DJ gig that involved total blackness or just a strobe light.
DJ? All the Detroit Syst3m warehouse parties I’ve ever played. Any gig that involves as much as my friends as possible, with Mike Fotias controlling the rig.
P.G: Do you have any core beliefs, practices, or mindsets that you take with you, and define you as a DJ and/or producer?
K.K: Only that the options for creatively expressing yourself today are enormous, and I would encourage everyone to educate themselves and practice. Start putting in your 10,000 hours.
P.G: How important is it these days to market yourself as a DJ or producer? Techno began as something that was most special when it was as low key as possible, but it seems to be changing. Do you agree? How important has the amount (or lack thereof) that you’ve marketed your own self been, in relation to your gigs and releases?
K.K: I think there a lot of opportunities to market yourself these days, if that’s what you are into. I like the idea of growing your audience
organically, whatever that means to you.
I definitely use social media to promote my music, my DJ gigs and my adventures. It’s all really fun for me and I’m pretty fortunate, so I pick the things I share with everyone.
P.G: Tell us about this podcast. Where and how did you get most of the music? How did you make the mix? Does the mix represent a classic Keith Kemp set? A Keith Kemp warm set? Peak time set? Somewhere in between?
K.K: This is a pretty ambitious DJ mix. I pulled everything from my collection and there were a few records that had been burning up my DJ bag that I wanted to include, like the Kyle Hall cut.
I also wanted to make sure I cover different types of Detroit and Detroit-techno based ideas and melodies. I then dug really deep to include some of the more esoteric stuff I have in my collection. I also adhere to an ideal i took from David Mancuso, is that the arc of the mix contains a beginning, middle and an end. I need to make sure I tell a story, connect the dots to take you on a proper journey.
Coming up in Detroit, you could always count on a DJ to finish his set by dropping something super deep, super crazy or maybe just completely left of center, and that’s never left me either. The Passage is a more esoteric Model 500 cut, but it’s one of my absolute favorites and I felt like including it in this mix.
This mix definitely represents a classic Keith Kemp vinyl techno set, but that’s just one sound that I like to present when I DJ.