Interview: Mike Huckaby

AMAR EDIRIWIRA speaks to American DJ and producer Mike Huckaby ahead of his performance at Fez on Sunday.

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Mike Huckaby has been a legend of Detroit’s dance scene for over two decades. Both in the studio and behind the turntables, he’s gained a reputation for creating exceptional house and techno with a classic yet refined style. But his contribution extends beyond merely making music himself – he’s also passionate about education. As a mentor for the non-profit Youthville programme, Huckaby teaches courses in music production technologies to kids with an interest in electronic music. The project has nurtured the likes of Kyle Hall and is a strong part of Detroit’s ongoing heritage.

Mike recently told Resident Advisor that he’d rather spend his time teaching in Detroit than DJ’ing in Europe – but Klubnacht have managed to lure him to Fez tomorrow night to share some music with a very lucky Cambridge crowd. We managed to speak to him ahead of his appearance.

How did your love for electronic music begin?

“I didn’t find it, it found me. That’s the way it usually happens in Detroit. You can’t miss a movement when it’s happening in your own city. At that point, you either want to be down with it, or not. I saw myself fitting in with the electronic movement in Detroit, and the rest is history.”

What makes Detroit a special place for creative output?

“Survival. In Detroit, as an artist, you either make music, or succumb to the 9-5 world. 100 dollars in Detroit is equivalent to 1500 dollars in New York. It’s a blessing in disguise really. The worse the economy in Detroit gets, the more creative output you hear from Detroit. That’s the ironic truth about it.”

Do you think the fact that the Belleville three were from the suburbs of Detroit, and came from relatively affluent middle class backgrounds influenced the fact that techno has not become widely popular among the inner city and African American population of Detroit?

“Hell no. We don’t look at the world from the outside point of view like that. When we hear stories about how bad Detroit is declining in the press, it’s new news to us. We just keep doing what we do without any external observations. And especially negative ones.”

How did you get involved with Youthville?

“I was doing demonstrations for Reaktor by Native Instruments. A one-time discussion about doing a workshop at Youthville turned into a discussion about actually doing a class there. The rest is history. It’s a very rewarding experience on all levels. Basically, I just try to represent the kid who has nothing – the kid from the inner city who is largely ignored by society. If that’s the losing team, then I’m on the losing team by choice.

“I’ll never forget the words of Gerald K. Smith (the founder of Youthville): ‘We try to prepare the students of Youthville to avoid circumstances of racial, social, and cultural isolation.’ That statement struck a chord inside of me. That is also the ultimate goal of my work behind teaching at Youthville.”

Is there anyone to look out for in the future from Youthville?

“Yeah, I have a few students under my wing. I have one new kid that’s very hungry; I’m preparing him.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring producers?

“Train your ears how to listen. Follow this rule for mixing down your tracks too: if you are not too sure about what your levels should be regarding the parts in your track, just remember that each part on every channel in your track should be as loud as the role it plays in the track. So if the track is centered around the bassline, then the bassline should be predominantly loud, and everything else must be determined around that.”

You’ve been in the game for years now, how has your style changed?

“My style hasn’t changed – I just know WTF im doing now, and that has helped me increase my speed in terms of finishing projects.”

Are there any records you never take out of your record back?

“Tons. Eddie Grant – Time Warp. A few Masters At Work, Kerri Chandler, Glenn Underground and Ron Trent tracks. And a couple of white labels I’ve been playing over several years I don’t even know the names of.”

There’s a growing electronic music scene in Cambridge and it’s a real breakthrough to host someone like you. Have you ever been to Cambridge and are you looking forward to playing here?

“No, I’ve never been to Cambridge, and I look forward to being there!”

Mike comes to Fez to perform at Klubnacht on Sunday, 10th March.