Carl Craig – We ain’t dead yet

Carl Craig - We ain't dead yet

Planet E. Twenty f*cking years. Twenty years of amazing releases. Twenty years of nurturing the finest and deepest music – all under the leadership of Carl Craig. Planet E is Craig’s label through which he channels his music, business nous and support for many a fledgling artist. Now the label is twenty years old and with such an anniversary deserving a big celebration the Detroit native is doing it in style – a new compilation called 20 F@#&ING Years – We Ain’t Dead Yet featuring the best of the imprint and a Planet E global tour that kicked last Saturday in Berlin. We caught up with the techno mastermind to talk about the story of Planet E, what’s really going down in Detroit and getting people to pay for music.

Hey Carl. You set up Planet E twenty years ago as a vehicle to be independent – could you tell me some more about the initial impetus when you began?

It was just about wanting my own independence. I wanted to do what I love in a way I wanted to. I didn’t want anyone else to make decisions about what music to release.

Was there a creative interaction between Detroit labels such as Underground Resistance or Metroplex when you were starting the label?

Detroit is a funny town because it’s about the biggest car companies in the world but it’s also about independence. UR, Metroplex, Transmat and KMS – we were all doing our own things. I had a label before Planet E, Retroactive, and UR kindly gave us a track to use on this imprint. From that point we just always knew each other – we were friends. Yet when UR were releasing a lot of artists, they were doing this for their own label – for Submerge, for UR. The same thing goes for Metroplex. But I think because Metroplex and KMS were in the same building they had quite a few artists that they were borrowing from each other, like Anthony Shakir. Jay Denham was releasing on Transmat and KMS…

How is it these days?

It’s not as collaborative as it was 25 years ago. Although you do see people like Omar S or Kenny Dixon doing collaborations. They all still have their guys that they like to be involved with.

Do you still have this dedication to the city?

We all have the dedication to Detroit, that’s the thing. We are all dedicated to the city, to the music. We stay here.

It’s interesting because not so many artists are so tightly bound to their cities.

We have the dedication to the city because the city needs it. We’ve been shit on for a lot of years. You spend most time with the child that’s the problem child and make sure that child grows into a beautiful adult. We put all our efforts into staying with Detroit in bad times and good times.

Is there an awareness of the legacy of electronic music in Detroit?

It’s opening up a lot more. We do our best to let people know what we do and that we do this kind of thing around the world. Because the radio has died here people are going to Pandora and looking up this other types of music.

Who pushes new music these days?

There’s nobody on Detroit radio that does that. It’s difficult to really know how much of the new music that people are playing is actually music that you can get in comparison with if it’s exclusive. Guys like Gilles Peterson have always been at the forefront in pushing new and good music. The same goes for Benji B and others – all those English guys are doing a great job at pushing new music and hopefully getting people to hear it because it’s on BBC and it’s webcast.

Things have changed with the Internet..

Without the Internet there would have been music that doesn’t get discovered, [but] with the Internet there’s still lot of music that does not get discovered.

Has the conception of a label changed over those twenty years?

Definitely. You can’t sell physical products in the same way. If you had a hit in the past, you could sell 20,000 [copies] of a 12”, whereas if you have a hit now, you sell 1000. It has really changed over time because of what has happened with the Internet. You don’t get as many people buying music. Most of the time people are trading it. In some ways it’s like when I was a kid, we traded music on cassette tapes. We’d record stuff off the radio and then play it to ourselves and play it over and over again but it got to a point when the tape started degrading and you were hungry to get the song again. Now with files a lot of times you just misplace the file and forget about it because there’s always something new that you can get. I think it really takes away the desire for a lot of people to discover new music.

How can this be prevented?

I think the only way that we can work through it is to encourage our kids or friends that it is about the ownership of the music and not about getting it for free all the time. Our society is greedy as hell. We get everything we can for free. This doesn’t really stimulate the need to go out and buy it. If you get a free sample of something that’s physical like food than you will go back. And maybe you will buy the product. With music it’s different. For some reason people feel that they should get music for free because it’s in the air. Just because you can smell the food doesn’t mean that you can get it for free.

If you were setting up Planet E now in 2011, how would you do it?

I’d set it up as a fashion brand. I’d make blue jeans because you can still sell blue jeans (laughs).

The Compilation 20 Years Of Planet E – We Ain’t Dead Yet is out now on Planet e.
Make sure to check out the Slices feature with Carl Craig from issue 1-10, too: