In Conversation: Claude Young
Claude Young Jr. is universally acknowledged as one of the most respected producers and djs to come from the legendary home of techno, Detroit. His best known studio mixes include: AX-033 Claude Young ‘Thoughts Of Phutura’ (the only official mix compilation for Jeff Mills’ Axis Records) and his legendary Claude Young DJ-Kicks Mix for K7! He has remixed & produced records for some of the most respected names in the game including Octave One, Inner City, Carl Craig, Jay Denham, Sven Vath, 4Hero, Slam, Joey Beltram, Gary Numan, Technasia, and many more, and his solo productions remain a staple in the sets of techno djs young and old across the world.
Semtek: You’ve lived in a number of different countries over the course of your career right?
Claude Young: I was born and raised here in Detroit, but I’m in a strange position as I left when I was about twenty to live in Australia for a little while. That was actually the first place I ever dj’ed outside of the States. I went over a few times. I was only supposed to stay for a week to begin with, but I stayed there for a couple of months and then returned again and again. So for the first part of my career I was going back and forth. Then I think I came to England in like, ’94 or ’95. So I subsequently spent the majority of my coming of age in London.
S: Would you say that the techno crowd in the UK and Europe were just as much into going out and hearing other styles of music?
CY: Oh no, all the people I hung around were clubbers. They were all Lost heads. They would always go to Lost, that was their thing. They were ravers.
S: Were they people who had gotten into techno via acts like Aphex Twin, or had they been listening to indie music and britpop?
CY: Oh, it was a mixture. I was fortunate enough to hang around with a lot of people with deep interests. They were into their pop, and I eventually got into some of that. I always enjoyed listening to the radio while I was there, cos’ there was always good music on. Most of the people I hung with were very multi-faceted, although I had a few friends who were super-purists. One of my flatmates, my buddy, Ed, he was a straight reggae, dub, hip-hop guy… But most of the people I hung out with, they discovered techno before I got there and they were the reason I was there; they invited me to play, and I just found that there were more of them on the continent, when I got there as well. That’s always the thing that surprised me, and why I wanted to move over there. I was like, “This is where I am at. I wanna be somewhere I can learn something new.”
S: And did you find that the people you encountered on the continent in Europe were just as passionate?
CY: I was just in awe that there were so many people that were so knowledgeable, and they had been for a while. And it wasn’t a new thing, but I think even today, I think for a lot of the younger guys from the US, who are like travelling now, I think they’re surprised when they go and see the love for this music. I think for a lot of people, it’s something they do when they’re younger, and then they immediately give it up, because they have to do the two point four kids, and a house thing… the American dream. But the thing about being over there in Europe, it’s a cultural thing. These are songs that people met their wives and husbands too. Do you know what I mean? Even the office worker hangouts have proper music in Europe.
S: So do you think that the techno crowd in the US is generally a bit younger then?
CY: The US, it’s weird, and I hate to sound down on it or whatever because I am discovering some cool hubs of people, who get it. But it’s none of what you see written about it. I just think, for a lot of people here, like I said, they get into it in their teens, but then in their mid-twenties, they’re done, dude. Just like, “OK, I gotta go work at this place or just don’t have time to go to this festival or that festival. Or if they do get it into it, it’s via some corny route, like Electric Daisy or whatever. Or that bullshit that they hold out at Burning Man.
S: How would you characterise the difference between the role of music in the US and the UK?
CY: In Britain in particular, it’s more of a class thing than a race thing, and in America it’s more of a race thing than a class thing. You have a generation of Brits who all came up together, and everyone was into what we were into northern soul. And there’s a Jamaican influence, you know? The thing about Britain is, there were so many colonies, so it’s more American than America. We talk the game, but you guys actually lived it, that’s how I see it. In the UK, that’s where I really learned about the music from those parts of the world, and where I got the hang of hanging about with a bunch of different types of people. People introduced me to all kinds of stuff. Whereas here in the US, it’s still so spread out, it’s still very segregated. Here, you know you still have people in Idaho or Oklahoma who never listened to ska or any reggae shit. And in the US often when we get techno, it’s like the lowest common denominator of the music.
S: So would you say that styles which originated in America like techno were really the musical lifeblood of the UK while you were living there?
CY: There are always dope British bands. Radiohead! You ask any of my friends who are producers, like Anthony Shake Shakir; we will have a three hour conversation about Radiohead. To me, that’s the pinnacle, the perfect blend of the electronic and the rock n’ roll. That’s when you do it right, there’s nobody who can really equal that.