Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Inner City: Back To The Cityâ¦.

Inner City
Inner City Inner City Kevin Saunderson (Inner City) Kevin Saunderson (Inner City)

Kevin âReeseâ Saunderson is in London to discuss his return with wife Ann and fellow singer-songwriter Paris Grey as legendary club collective Inner City. Itâs a dreary, drizzling autumnal day, reminding him of 1988, when he first hit Blighty to promote the group.

Inner City had released their debut single "Big Fun" in the States the previous year, a bouncy, life-affirming slice of vocal house cut with the futurism of Detroit techno. The track would very quickly crossover, all over the world in fact, and entrench Inner Cityâs position as one of clublandâs most influential ever acts. "Big Fun" entered the national UK pop chart at a lofty number 8.

âThe weather was absolutely crazyâ Saunderson recalls, âlike it is now. We were getting soaked between every meeting and interview. But we were so focused on the group, and it was at a time when house and techno were so fresh and new, which was incredibly exciting, that we didnât pay too much attention to anything other than our future music. It made everything better. It was a unique time.â

Which surely, today, puts pressure on Inner City whom many still bind tightly to the late 1980s when all dance music was pioneering and when classic records were truly, truly born. Wonât it be hard for the group to maintain their immense heritage and, in turn, advance it? There are always expectations with revivals of this nature.

âWeâre in a good place,â Saunderson calmly replies. âThe release of 'Elevate' [an album of Saunderson remixes, and Saunderson âremixedâ] a couple years back gave Inner City a good platform; there were a few shows around that too. The response was great; the younger kids and DJs are more aware of us now, which helps with whatâs coming next. Weâre not really worried at all; weâre having a ball.â

Inner Cityâs big comeback track, the aptly-titled Future, treads a darker, tougher path than their last original material over 10 years ago, but the trademark funky techno flow is still irresistibly in tact, as is all that soaring emotion. Saunderson doesnât sound surprised at how things have turned out: âThe song started out downtempo and evolved over several months but we gave it the same process and approach as our older material. Ann and Paris played around with the lyrics and melodies, and I added the structure. Of course itâs quicker to produce stuff these days; back then we were cutting 7â tape which was kinda laborious.â

Inner City will celebrate their 25th anniversary next year and are planning to coincide it with further productions and performances â a global anniversary tour no less. âWeâve been working on a few ideas, on our own and with peers like Derrick May and Stacey Pullen. We already have five tracks that are good to go,â Saunderson confirms. âThere will be more new releases⦠an album in due course, but weâre still working on things and, as I say, some of the production is being outsourced this time; thereâs no need to trip over ourselves.â

One would be forgiven for asking about dates being that Inner City are fresh off of a decade-long hiatus. Why were they away for so long? What, too, has prompted their reformation?

âWe all had changes in our circumstances; families and so forthâ Saunderson offers. âWe wanted to sit back and enjoy those things⦠not miss them. Then again, Ann has been involved with other projects over the years, and Kevin Saunderson has been doing his thing with KMS [his label], with Hi-Tek Soul [the Detroit collective also including Derrick May and Carl Craig], with the solo DJing and such. Paris, I think, missed Inner City the most. There was no music for her at all whilst Inner City was away; she had this passion to make it happen again. I got chatting with her a while back and thatâs how the whole thing came round. Sheâs really talented⦠sheâs on an emotional mission. Weâre all really enjoying working together again.â

Inner Cityâs current momentum should intensify in the coming weeks by virtue of a new Kevin Saunderson album, "In The House," also due for release via Defected. The record, a mix comp accurately summarising Saundersonâs sonic personality, will, he advises, cover tracks âacross the board.â Listeners should therefore expect material by Inner City and Hi-Tek Soul, yes, not to mention some choice Detroit techno, but a significant dose of house also and plenty other dancefloor fayre. âItâs going to be a cool albumâ he says. âI sometimes get annoyed when people automatically pigeon-hole me as âMotor Cityâ so this record will be a perfect opportunity to set the record straight. Thereâs a lot of variety; itâs a proper imprint of me, and how I see things.â

No one can dispute just how much the club landscape has changed since those early, pivotal days of dance when Saunderson, and Inner City, first came into being.

He was one of three Detroit students â the famous Belleville Three, also including Juan Atkins and May â who started making electronic music in the early 1980s, influenced by the likes of Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra. The three would eventually pursue solo projects; Saunderson dropping early electronic tunes under monikers including Kreem, Reese and Inter-city, and giving gradual rise to the techno sound. Inter-city, a partnership with Chicago-based Grey, would quickly evolve onto Inner City â the outfitâs forward-thinking mix of techno verve and uplifting house sparking mainstream celebrity through singles such as "Good Life," "Hallelujah," "Pennies From Heaven" and, of course, "Big Fun."

The electronic dance landscape must in some respects appear alien to Saunderson these days. It has expanded beyond measure since he started out in the preceding century, much of it now digitised and accessible to all; new records operate to around-the-clock release schedules, and the turnover of beats and b-lines is astonishingly quick. The mind can very easily boggleâ¦.

âLook, I think itâs [the dance scene] in a great state of health. Itâs a solid industry with strong influences and inspirations. Technology has been and continues to be good for the music; people shouldnât fight it. There are a lot more good parties and festivals too. Taking my own recent calendar, Iâve played to young, really receptive crowds at mainstream events like Bestival and then hit the purists at Awakenings [techno festival in the Netherlands] and the Defected party at ADE [Amsterdam Dance Event 2011] which was overwhelming; the events are so much better these days, better supported and programmed. The variety of music is great.â

Technology can, however, cause problems as Saunderson well knows. It was only a few months ago that he was posting furious open e-letters to senior industry figures after Italian outfit Supernova grabbed an unauthorised sample of his 1987 cut The Sound for their own hit single "Beat Me Back" (a long-running Beatport number one). The situation was amicably resolved but raised industry-wide questions about technologyâs role in shaping the attitude and approach of young producers.

âTechnology makes the production process so quick and easy today that young producers are often tempted to steal samples; they think itâs the normâ Saunderson comments. âSamples are OK but the kids need to think about the implication of using them, and how exactly they fit in to the music. Samples need to be used creatively, as does technology. Itâs great that itâs easier to make records today but that canât be a substitute for talent.â

Saunderson is supremely confident about his and Inner Cityâs long-term prospects in the modern, super-charged music world. âIâve never taken a back seat, Iâve always been a part of the movementâ he stresses. âIâve never concerned myself with whether or not the music Iâm involved in is dated or visionary; Iâm not trying to reinvent the wheel, simply write great songs. It is songs with musicality and feeling that will live on and on through everything; that is most important.

âI was the beginning⦠I am the beginning. There are people who were born to make music and change the game and I strongly believe I am one of them. I am blessed to have this gift and I intend to keep on making a difference with it.â

Inner Cityâs new single "Future" is out on Defected Records early next year, to be followed by album "Kevin Saunderson In The House."

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