Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his adventures in sound. This month: Detroit techno pioneer Blake Baxter
One of the best things about covering house and techno for NME and Black Echoes (now Echoes) 30 years ago, was meeting heroes previously shrouded in the kind of mystery that gave their trailblazing music its irresistible unknown pleasure pull.
When they appeared in the 1980s, Derrick May, Frankie Knuckles, Mr Fingers, DJ Pierre and Underground Resistance were little known beyond their names on shapeshifting electronic milestones, suggesting their creators may carry the same mystique in person. Yet every US legend I encountered usually turned out to be warm, co-operative and great fun, including the above (weirdly, it was often the more self-important UK elements who expounded earnestly from po-faced buttocks).
Take Blake Baxter, possibly the most overlooked figure in Detroit’s first wave even before such fearlessly idiosyncratic electronic innovators started fading from memory as the music got more health and safety. Admirably inspired by Barry White, Prince and P-Funk, Blake’s initial salvos on Incognito and UR had already established him as the dark lord of todger techno when he popped up on the Logic label in 1992 with the magnificent ‘One More Time’. Like many US pioneers (and jazz titans before him), he’d relocated to Berlin, finding a more receptive audience in Europe.
That same year, I found myself sitting on a boat going up the Thames for Blake’s UK press launch. Dreadlocked and beaming, he was affable and full of stories, and the laughs continued when we hooked up again at Love Parade. Blake told how he started DJing in mid-80s Detroit, before blueprinting erotic house on DJ International, Incognito (‘Sexuality’, ‘Fuck You Up’, ‘Crimes Of The Heart’), KMS (‘When We Used To Play’) and UR (‘The Prince of Techno’ EP). He also appeared on the 1988 compilation, ‘Techno! (The New Dance Sound Of Detroit)’.
Draping his sensual croon and X-rated declarations over evocatively minimal groove glisteners, Blake seemed to have it all. But he reckoned without the narrow-minded puritanism that increasingly riddled a movement supposedly based around freedom. Being ahead of his time stalled Blake’s rise. He returned to Detroit and opened his Save The Vinyl record shop.
His immense legacy is an elephantine stiffy of a catalogue that also ejaculated ‘Sexual Deviant’ and Chemicals-sampled ‘Brothers Gonna Work It Out’ on Logic, ‘The H Factor’ on Disko B, and ‘Dream Sequence’ and ‘The Project’ LP on Tresor, collaborating with Orlando Voorn as the Ghetto Brothers, and many more.
I’m writing my column on Valentine’s Day, by the way, and it’s a perfect soundtrack for that too.