Mad Mike embodies techno music from Detroit. That is to say his preponderant role in this cradle of techno. Quiet figure but very influential at the beginning of the 90’s, the boss of Underground Resistance is also an electronic music producer who has released and co-produced more than 200 tracks. On the occasion of a day off in Dijon, Mad Mike spent an hour behind the microphone – an extremely rare occurrence – in order to talk about his city and his music of course, but also about his musical background as a session guitarist in the 80’s and his learning of the work in the studio alongside George Clinton.
Mike welcome, thank you for being here. And how is Underground Resistance ? Thank you for having us here. I’m glad people are still interested in what we do. And how is Underground Resistance, right now : training, training new guys you know we form them. You know, time from time we lose some of the guys when they get to Europe (laughs) and they don’t come back no more so. Yeah we have to keep up new young guys coming sometimes. But you know it’s strange in a way the success of the techno music as it even reached Detroit ’cause I use to count on it thing nobody know nothing about anything and the guys always made the best records. They just kinda they only knew their environment. So now you get a lot of people to come and they wanna, of course, be the next jet-set DJ so they handed me the music hoping so they can get a way more so than just handed me the music so they can get a record you know. Before it used to be : I just want to see my record get made, that was a big accomplishment and now some think in a way the record is not enough, everybody wants to go away and become a famous DJ and get paid. So It’s difficult to find a really you know, they’re rare persons and they really don’t know a lot about the Europe or the rest of the world and because to me that’s a true detroit record it’s a guy you know he makes something out of his basement and he doesn’t have influences from everywhere else. So I have some new guys, it’s hard to find them but we got some guys I feel like really making some good stuff. That’s how we are right now.
What’s up with newly released UR-088 Dangerous ? How it is linked to the polluted water crisis in Flint ? If you look closely on the label, there’s the solution to the Flint water problem. On the label art there’s actually the solution it’s there. There a solution for it, it’s very very cheap and the information is available on Netflix, I don’t know why people just don’t use it. So we, Mark Taylor the artist that produced that is also my buddy on Model 500 and a long long time friend, decided what this project was gonna be about cause the water looks like « caca » you know he drink he look and say « Mike look at this, it looks like rust » I don’t know how they think somebody could drink that stuff. Everybody wanna do something about it and I thought by bringing more international attention to that, and what was gonna hurt people, what was gonna really hurt their heart and make it even a sadder story is the solution is right on the record. On the label art, there’s a website where people can go to and there’s an inventor that long time ago created a machine, it was for the third world countries so they can have clean water. And he tried to take the machine to the United Nations and they told him they’re not in the business of clean water, he was trying to get rid of the 2/3rd of the world water born diseases, he’s a really good guy but he didn’t have enough politics to cut through what obviously should get done. And again what’s sad is, here the situation comes again so in our way we wanted to, this is a very bad thing so we though this record could bring some attention to that.
Also with Timeline record UR-87, what can you tell about the track « A moment in Marseille » ?We had a gig in Marseille, there was some of the first time they would getting out and actually we did a radio interview at a near station. These new guys I talk about are very talented jazz musicians and very young. Sometimes I reach out to the hip-hop genre and I asked, cause we have producers in various other genres you’re looking for guys I go to and say « Hey how many times you’re gonna play John Coltrane ? That’s fifty years old what about the future ? » and most of them tell you « Fuck off » or whatever but these particular guys they’ve listened and they’ve understood what I was telling them. And they’ve started to get interested in High Tech Jazz, producing music with different machines in different ways. So I think that going to Marseille, France was such a big experience for them when they got back they decided to make, it was a moment and they decided electronic music was the new kind of jazz. And I can say, a lot of their friends, they start noticed cause they travel around : « Hey man how do you do that ? Hey man that’s another world to just jazz we got to keep pushing forward ». Because I was always a big fan of Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, these guys were experimenting with synthesizers, they didn’t have most of the synths we just play our synths, they didn’t have triggers or any of that stuff that later developed that Juan [Atkins] exploited to get that tech sound. In the jazz world they were kinda pushed away like « That’s not really jazz, not traditional jazz », it was weird but it influenced us a lot. So I feel like we need to get some of the kids because they don’t play fusion and stuff. Jean-Luc Ponty was a huge influence for a lot for us, we use to hear all that with Mojo. I know that that moment in Marseille was a big moment for them, that’s when they’ve decided they gonna leave the more traditional jazz and continue with this style. I think it’s pretty obvious but they really enjoyed their first trip to France.
This track is not a live extract from the Marseille gig ? No it was recorded afterwards.
What’s your point of view about the recent killings of black people by US cops ?
That’s been happening for so long I ain’t no point of view. It’s just a given. I think technology just caught up with them, the cell phones. Detroit riots 1967, 1943 it’s a long time history of handcuffed, we call it handcuffed violence, they got you handcuffed there’s not a lot you can do, it’s even worse when you get locked up in the prison, in the jails. So it’s a given, a way of life.
Look into Malice Green, there’s a brother in Detroit named Malice Green. They’ve just tore down his memorial. Obviously sometimes it’s a point of inspiration, you learn to take wrong and turn it into sound. There’s solution to it but I can’t really tell you it would be kinda hard to you to hear them what’s some of the solution to what guys do. It’s wrong but there is always another side to it too.
I think all of them, police, especially when they kill people you got it on the film, the lil boy in Cleveland and the other guy who was helping a handicap person and they just shot him. All it do is to face and show the rest of the world just how primitive the country mentality is. For any intelligent person watching the presidential elections right now, he can see how primitive. I hate to tell you all this but (laughs), when you’ve all purged some of Europe, you probably didn’t send the best ones over there, it’s kinda rough to say but…
I think if education was equal for everybody and had a national standard like free college and stuff like that, a lot of these really primitive actions will probably cut into a lot of it. There’s areas of US where education is the last thing you think about. As I travel and see education levels around the rest of the world, that’s the scariest part of the US, just a lack of cultural education makes it a volatile place sometimes.
What do you think about the new band « Prophets of Rage » with Chuck D, RATM… ? Anything they do I love, I’m all with that man. Lot of people wonder if there’s anything still resist, to fight about, all I can say is last summer in Detroit a city which has been ravaged by violent crime and crack cocaine, we have radio stations there instead of choosing a diverse program content our number one record last year was « Im in love with the coco » by O.T. Genesis. Now O.T. Genesis has got his right to be on the radio make his cocaine jam but really, really, is that what we get after 40 years of crack cocaine, Chinese and Israeli military firearms all up in the damn city ? Death after death after death after death police killed enough, is that what we get for the number one hit record ? No Carl Craig, no Flying Lotus, no Prophets of rage none of this and this is gone after radio. When I say education, what you guys are doing with this radio station and I know you ain’t got no band with enough power to do what you wanna do, you can’t compete with the heavy airwaves but don’t worry technology will make a way and that transmitter base dinosaur ass radio will be gone soon. People will be able to hear what they need to hear. Sometimes community needs to hear something different, something exciting that’s what happened in Detroit with Electrifying Mojo. We had got to hear something that prepared us way past the moment, even though the moment was messed up with drugs and heroin. You at least got to imagine something better and different and the thought of a future is what makes hope. For us we were very fortunate to have radio djs, they care about the community and play what they thought the community needed. The market was so discarded, who cared about Detroit ? So obviously radio wise, they didn’t care about what we listened to, it was a garbage market, nobody had no money to buy anything. So the djs actually could play what was needed. And when I say cultural education, lot of times it’s not you have to go to college or this or that is what comes in your ears and our kids is getting a prerequisite recipe for prison, drug and violence. That’s what they get fed, that’s what a lot of them look out as making it, and it also fuels a stereotype that the police have in their mind. You wear certain clothes, they’re wearing the clothes they see on their heroes wearing so the police they have a stereotype, the kids got a stereotype and it’s all ass backwards. Sometimes the mixture comes together and there’s a fatality. But to tell you the truth the one they never see is all of the drug guys that get killed by guys that hunt them, there’s guys that professionally hunt these dudes, they kill them everyday. That’s why to show that as a lifestyle as a winner, you don’t have enough guns to protect you from what’s eventually coming to you. Me and my friends call it casket bags : they get 2 years of fame where you walk around and get to be the man and then after that your ass is dead and the next one comes, next one comes, next one comes … That cycle never even gets televised but you hear it in the raps « yeah you never catch me slippin’ » no we gonna catch you slippin and your ass is going to slip and you gonna fall in a six foot hole. But there’s no video camera to show that part. And I ain’t gonna lie, I’ll be glad to see their asses go.
A lot of time, that’s why I got into futuristic music because sometime the hip-hop was just a repeat of what I really knew, I don’t have to, it’s like the news story for the day in the hood I don’t need hear cause already knew what’s going on. And I know I’m older, I made it through that low keyed stuff. I know there’s guys that get out of prison everyday, they’re hungry, they need money, food so they found a mellow fat dog boy and knock their ass off and they get paid. That’s how it rose man, no push-ups, no sit-ups, easy game, easy target, no kind of body structure, it’s like the jungle they just take the easiest ones. And that’s the reality of selling drugs in the inner city. You have to be a beast and that movie Scarface which is the most popular movie in the hood is unfortunately a fantasy. It doesn’t happen like that, you don’t go out in a blazer, you just go out in some low dark streets and you’re gone. Some of the UR records reflect those moments, that doodoo moment when you the guys shit in their pants before they kill them, because he’s so scared that’s got a sound to it too. And I’ve seen some of those moments sometimes the guys know they’re gonna be gone, it’s sad man. Your mama teaches you right from wrong from the beginning, minding the lure of money, power and fame, it’s sad. It’s a really really great irony living amongst that mentality, it’s the struggle that make profit raise out of that stuff every minutes that them guys fight back into something it really really helps. It would just help more if the radio stations thought more of their constituents than as a future jailed persons or people that can only accept one kind of music, it’s really sad when corporate america or corporate anything takes over music, art, culture; that’s what should scare people more than anything because they generalize people, they think all the black guys listen this, all the white kids listen this let’s market it down and [by] doing so you destroy potential with this generalization. WW2 should teach people that generalization is dangerous man. Again my cry out is always for more culture through the ears, sometimes culture through the eyes doesn’t reach everybody, artwork unless it’s graffiti sometimes through the eyes it doesn’t because the educational system doesn’t support that. I always make a reference to the Mona-Lisa, You can put the Mona-Lisa in Detroit hanging on telephone poll and it would just sit here if the correct car comes up, pulls up, pops the hood guys look at it mechanical if you’ve been teaching mechanical beauty for 40, 50 years you can’t expect people to appreciate this type of art but european art form a lot of times is expressed mechanically, sweet cars, hell of a bike, some type of engineering, good cement job or whatever. It’s almost like rich folks get a kick out of going to worker places trying to hit them over the head with their traditional form of art and see their reactions and they again generalize people. To us Kraftwerk was sweet.
Radio was really important back in the day to discover new music ? Yes it created Detroit techno, that’s how powerful it was. You know I don’t think anybody in Detroit techno is a genius, there’re some gifted guys like Derrick [May], I think he’s definitely gifted Carl Craig, I’ve worked with a lot of them Jeff Mills, extremely gifted, Robert Hood. But the truth of the matter is, is like when you go to a good DJ , when you go to a good club and there’s a good DJ, the dj really makes the record by mixing the 2 records together, all you have to do is listen and see the reaction of the people and it tells you what the next record could be, it’s not a genius thing it’s a being here thing, it’s a living it type of thing. I think our djs on the radio back in the day which was Jeff Mills, Jeff pretty much played whatever was funky, whatever he though whats happening and Alan Oldham was very important in a college radio WDT and Alan Oldham was really into industrial music of course that led him into UR, Richie Hawtin I think he was the first guy and I know he was the first guy to play +8 on the radio as well some of the UR stuff, John Collins was on the radio too. Radio was free, it had free moments, I’m sure they had programing as well but it had free moments that really made the recipe for Detroit and I think all the guys they really enjoyed music and kinda dj this well, they made what they thought should be made was and of course that parlayed through Detroit techno. Again I don’t think any particular person was a genius, i think we got some really brave radio pioneers like Jeff, but the main one was Electrifying Mojo because he literally broke people like the B52’s which you would never think would happen in Detroit, B52’s, David Bowie, Prince, anything. George Clinton brought, walked in his studio : « hey man play this » and put it on, it was real. I can’t stress enough what those guys did for us and in the end in return what happened for the world. The biggest disappointment is the gift of electronic music – or whatever it’s called now – Detroit gave away to the world and we never recovered by losing so many of the guys. Unfortunately we still got to endure a lot of bullshit on the radio. I think that was inevitable because again corporate was taking station by station, they’re probably doing the same here and if you guys want any kind of life here you’d better fight it, you’d absolutely better fight it and you should their intentions is not good for the people it’s sales and more sales, no recognition of local culture. It’s a culture eater, that’s a big problem in the US. You have all – like I said before – this corporate things are taking over art things they’re shouldn’t be tangible, you got not idea of how to deal with.
Before UR, you were playing bass with Parliament ? No we went on tour with Parliament, I played in a group Cherrybum we used to open for the Funkadelics and a lot of times we ended up on stage with them because some of the guys of the Funkadelics didn’t come to the show. Also we worked many times in the studio with George Clinton, him giving me and Jeff and the guys some personal mixing board lessons at United Sound. I played on some guitar stuff with them, many of my friends Amp Fiddler of course, Michael Payne, I played with many other guys and yes we went on extended tour with them. Like I said it was fun because off the times, he says « Hey you know Knee Deep ? Yeah ok, get out there cause I don’t know where the guitar player is », it was cool. Mister George Clinton is, a lot of people take him as a character or a comical figure but I can tell you in the studio he’s a beast. This guy, him and engineer Mike Lacopelli, they’re pretty much responsible for tape looping, which is, any producers out there know what I’m talking about, tape looping is so important it’s driven a whole industry of hip-hop, a lot of the machines that was designed to produce hip-hop, even Ableton and Serato when they hit the loop feature that’s a Detroit invention. I saw a lot of the operators stay here popsicle sticks, they made a giant looper for a 2 track tape. That was George Clinton and another engineer, I believe it was Mike Lacopelli or it could have been Tony, those guys they were at United Sounds. Of course George produced a whole lot of hits based on tape looping because he could get that huge crowd sound, he will dedicate two tracks to the rhythm section so they re-recorded the 2 tracks on 24 tracks which would leave you 20 tracks to guitar, vocals ; so he was a new way to do things. That’s been my relationship with the Funkadelics.
What was the name of your band again ? Cherr something .. It was an off shout of the Parlet, it had many offshouts. They didn’t last that long it was fun. I can tell you George Clinton always like with those sessions we ‘re having now, he would always explain to us the record industry, the way he saw it. First he always tell us « Don’t get in it », « Make your own records », « Do your own things » then he said « if you do get it, spend so much money in the studio so they have to make your record into a hit » that’s was his advice always (laughs).
Your band was once signed to Motown ? Yeah one of the band we signed up with, man that was a nightmare. We were really good session musicians down at United Sounds and they wanted us to make this band for girls only, it was like a pop commercial stuff, we didn’t like it. At that time Prince was happening, Prince was going down and they wanted us to wear like prince clothes and dress up like Prince and it wouldn’t happen. We were just session guys, we didn’t like it, we flew to New York looked at the contract and all this, it just won’t gonna happen. To tell the truth, we had seen too much of the music industry and how fake it was, we played on many many records, I can’t even tell you how many records, me, Scott [Weatherspoon], Raphael [Merriweathers aka UR’s Ray 7], Mike Harris and never got no credit because they put the pretty people on the cover. And most the major music thing is a lie, it was these three church ladies that used to sing on all the background on the major music stuff. The major record companies from LA, they would always send the tapes to Detroit or Chicago cause you’ve got good musicians for cheaper than the LA guys. So they send it there, you put your part on and send it back to LA and it says some other dude who looks good play the part that you really played and you get a hundred dollars or 2 hundred dollars which was big money in Detroit at the time. So I was seeing the underbelly of this machine, it’s corporate way of doing music and we were young and we had George Clinton in here saying : « You see what they’re doing ? ». One thing I can say about Funkadelic, they played on their records, he made sure who ever played on the records it was no fly-in guy, it was real. The Debarge was real, the group Debarge they really played on their records. But for most of the ones we played, the people you see never played or sing on the record. And then they would get the church girl to sing the lead and then the pretty girl from LA tries to match it and they would double it, so the girl on the back who is really singing is the strongest one and the other ones they got no projection, they’re up o on the mic real close so they can sing loud, they don’t have no damn stomach muscle or nothing nothing the big girls can hit it. And they would fake it or they get a guy with a sampler and tuner, a little bit at a time with the pitch wheel to put them in tone. It’s a real fake industry and people should just, I mean it’s so easy to make a star, it’s easy to make a star dj, shit all you need is 5 or 10 thousand dollars a month paid to a publicist then you’re the man.You’ve got the dj around the corner can kick his ass but this guy pays money to get promotion so if people really are that gullible to get fooled into who actually got talent and who don’t it’s a shame. Your ears should be able to tell you who can really throw down. If it’s a good dj you’ll feel it, you don’t need nobody to tell you, people around you are telling you it’s good but you know if you got to read everything out of the news magazine or the advertisement you gonna be in trouble anyway. I can give a formula for finding out fakes : if the person on the cover of the magazine or website has an ad inside the magazine then you figure it out.
What is like to be Mad Mike the famous and the infamous ? It’s dusty, real dusty. Right now we’re doing another building. Our neighborhood is getting really gentrified and we felt the greatest need was to preserve the fact that black folks from the inner city had a lot to do with the pioneering something of music that went really forward, a music that affected the world. I said about ten years ago trying to make the first electronic music living archive so the kids in Detroit can walk up and get inspired by what happened and that’s kind of growing right now, Kenny Dixon got an undisclosed place very close to us and that was really important cause Kenny is really an innovative guy. And recently my good friend from Tresor Dimitri Hegeman who I guess about 25 years ago, we helped him, he cares about the kids from east Berlin, he thought they needed something that something was UR, he thought they needed the sound of Detroit so we went there and annoyingly well kinda annoyingly cause it was really dump ass terrible places, he figured music could bring flowers and good stuff and we were : « yeah you’re kinda crazy but… », he told us the kids needed this. We challenged him back then « we gonna help you, you got help us one day » and that day came maybe couple of years ago. and Dimitri to his credit, is one of the few european guys who didn’t exploit the music and moved on. He always tried to do something in Detroit, help Detroit without him nothing would have happened he got big ideas and he ran into the bureaucracy of “hey I wanna get paid so what’s in that for me” but he did understand. We working on another building so for me it’s a great irony to be Mad Mike : two days ago I was just catching a rat in my damn house and I have to kill his ass in the end and two days later I’m doing a radio interview in Dijon. The airplane is a very cruel instrument of change, you change environment so quickly. It’s a weird thing it depresses many of the Detroit guys, they come here and see a culture, a way of life, they see street cars, mass transportation, they see it, they live it, they become a part of it and you go like back in time when you go back to Detroit. And then you listen to city officials telling you about future cities and you’re like I’ve kinda already been to the future. It’s a very difficult transition for djs, some of them have drugs problem, depressed, they wanna come to Europe all the time. So for me, when I come over here, I just band and hit the tracks, do the best I can at the shows and hurry up and get back home. I don’t like to spend no extra time here, fell like I get soft almost if I get used to the more efficient here. You can become used to it then you find yourself criticize where you come from, I’m not going to do that either. Detroit is not perfect in many many ways but of course isn’t that the sound we’re making anyway, I think we need Detroit, we need places that’s not clinically, esthetically clean for us if it’s funky that’s good enough. That don’t have to be recorded at a top quality, latest Protools. To be able to say that’s it that’s a powerful word because I noticed many people in their productions with so many options and many good tools, it’s almost like they become indecisive. In a sense Detroit is necessary, our effort in our block is to keep a low before they clean it all over making it look like an hospital. That’s what we working on now.
Which of the UR artists what the most complicated to work with ? That’s a good question. I would say Jeff [Mills] and Rob [Hood] because of their intensity and Rob, well I can add Milton in there too (Dj Skurge). Rob and Dj Skurge I would put at the same because of sometimes they’re so critical of their-self, they want perfection every time and it makes it hard, it makes it difficult. Rob is particularly artistic, sometimes with some other guys if the music is good that’s ok, that’s the end, you do the rest. The artwork has got to be perfect too, you know Rob he draws, he’s a very good artist so with Rob it’s got to be right. A lot of times with UR, it’s a bootcamp anyway, because it’s difficult to get along with me because I will say « Hey you know what I’m the boss that’s enough for that shit, the record got to come out », it’s like a baby to me If I sit on the record too long it’s gonna get thrown to trash or it come out now what’s the decision you wanna make. Cause if you’ve taken too long there’s too much perfection maybe, so obviously each guy eventually they gonna move on, you don’t want your daddy telling you all the time what you got to do. They kinda grow up in UR then they move on. All I ask is that they bring something back and I can tell for Robert Hood and Jeff, man they brought a lot back so much, I can’t tell you how much. And it makes me mad when sometimes people say what about them they left Detroit, like they’re mad. Well you try to have kids, children and raise them in Detroit, your mind change, your kids are supposed to have more potential, you should never judge somebody until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I can tell you both Rob and Jeff, sometimes when the UR is down to the last dollar, the last knee cause I take it there, I’m in the shit. The man came to cut the power off and I’m like « hey guys get off the porch you ain’t cutting off shit » and you got to do that sometimes to keep the lights on. Cause the guys wanna cut the power off in the middle of the winter. I got guys I can say very proudly, I never ran out of nothing with some of my guys. Some fo the fans even put in and there’s visitors : « Hey man it’s cold, what’s going on ? » « Well the heat’s off, that what’s going on. Shit ! Are you a genius or something ? » so people they won’t make a donation cause I don’t accept it but they’ll buy 200 of the same record of some crazy like that, that’s their way of helping us out. We had many times, we’ve been helped but Jeff and Rob always call and look out and ask about us and see if we’re ok, if I’m ok they don’t bother but if they know we’re trouble or hear about it they always step up. Carl Craig a lot of the guys do well, globally they always look out, Kenny Dixon big big help. We’ve got some good friends in hard places. Yeah I should answer that was the first question how was UR. We’re blessed, we ain’t got a lot but we’re blessed. What better thing to have than good friends ?
Is there some french artists that have asked you about making music with them or producing some of their music ? Humm. No, not really, if they did they were not really forceful. The only guy that ever gets on me is Laurent [Garnier], he always gets some me and ask : « Hey mike make some more Davina » (laughs). To tell the truth to be on UR, I gotta hear the environment. like Drexciya, people don’t think about, it’s special cause I can relate with James Stinson, there’s no ocean around Detroit, people don’t think about that, there water there, the only clue is that there is much much water underground. Me and him, I knew when I listened to his sound it’s like the shit I have seen, it’s how I knew where he was coming from. But you know it’s a particular lack of sometimes respect for perfection, some like guys explain less answers, some other they go forward, other ones is « This is my best I can do, like it or leave it ». I can’t tell there’s no question wether they think it’s good, it’s the best shit in the world to them. I like that when the people present their music like this, I like their feeling, I don’t like when you say « Oh I’ve got some better stuff ». This is it « I might not see tomorrow brother so put this one out ». That was Derek Jamerson, Jamerson he’s probably like a destructive genius, a genius that destructive to their self, this guy was like that. Whenever he presented me the music : « Hey mike, I might not see tomorrow » and he meant it, of course this is some intensity you have to listen to.
Words : Martial Ratel
Translation : Sophie Brignoli, Mathieu Roussotte
Illustration : Yas Munasinghe