Carl Craig is a multi-disciplined visionary whose eclectic tastes and influences all converge into his “main discipline” – Carl Craig. The Detroit pioneer’s lifelong pursuit of independence and self-gratification is the catalyst behind three decades of innovation and achievement within the realm of electronic music. His standing within Motor City’s highly influential techno fraternity places him at the forefront of the global community, inspiring future generations of techno enthusiasts since he got started. As the mastermind behind Planet E Communications, Carl conceived and nurtured a platform that preserves his independence, while also providing a liberating space for a range of international artists. From the beginning Carl and his label have consistently pushed the boundaries of creativity, in turn stimulating the growth and evolution of techno, ensuring its progressive ethos is at the centre of his endeavours. A natural born fighter, Carl’s determination, innate gift for channelling emotion into his work and unwavering commitment to his freedom have established him as a master of his craft.
Carl epitomises the notion of selfishness as the key to success and personal fulfilment: make no mistake, he does this for no one but himself. This singular drive to satisfy a deeply entrenched hunger to please himself lies at the core of his relentless momentum. It’s been 30 years since he launched his seminal label Planet E, during which time the outlet has withstood the rigours of the electronic music industry – even staying afloat during 2020’s unprecedented pandemic. A testament to Carl’s tenacity, he has done everything he can to maintain this liberating space he has cultivated for himself, and others, to create without limits. Using a typically Detroit analogy, he says, “I’m driving this car until the wheels fall off… “, in other words, he won’t stop until he absolutely has to.
Along the way, Planet E has supported lesser known acts, while also offering a home to more established artists, always with the vision that techno is a broad spectrum of sounds and influences. Carl is a conduit for the multitude of sounds he grew up on and was inspired by, from the legendary Electrifying Mojo, to icons such as Kraftwerk, Visage, Gary Numan, Sun Ra and Miles Davis. This open-minded approach has led to the release of releases that dip into hip hop, jazz, funk, and more esoteric electronic compositions, purposely avoiding commercial-sounding music. Being an extension of Carl himself, Planet E “keeps it real” with every release – an essential component of anything he does, such as his Ride Or Die “Uncle Carl” persona on Twitter.
In celebration of Planet E’s 30th year anniversary the label released a series of seminal projects including a full length electronic jazz album from Sun Ra collaborator Francisco Mora-Catlett, DJ Minx’s ‘Do It All Night’ EP featuring a remix from Honey Dijon and the ‘Planet E 30’ compilation comprised of 30 tracks from the label’s discography showcasing Detroit excellent and beyond.
As a producer and performer, Carl’s history is well documented. Even from his earliest forays into making music it was clear he had a unique sonic identity; emotional, funky, mature, daring and poetic. Under a variety of aliases – 69, Paperclip People, C2 and many more – as well as his real name, Carl has expanded the techno sphere into unexplored realms. Projects such as Innerzone Orchestra have imbued the genre with new flavours, while also inspiring the evolution of affiliated styles, such as drum’n’bass. Coming up in the late eighties, alongside his mentor Derrick May and the first generation of techno pioneers, Carl was revered locally, and internationally when techno was exported across the Atlantic. His releases on his own label, along with solo cuts and remixes across a wide variety of respected outlets, inspired generations of techno disciples across Europe and the rest of the world. He began touring and lived in London for a while, soaking up the culture as techno and house morphed into homegrown styles, such as jungle. This fed back into his global outlook and laid the foundations for his continued success.
Carl’s boundless creativity has resulted in a discography that contains an exhaustive collection of nearly 40 solo cuts, plus a wide array of collaborations, remixes and albums. He has produced six LPs, the most recent being Versus, with his back catalogue including credits on over 600 remixes for a diverse cross section of electronic music artists, from Depeche Mode and Tori Amos to his friends Kenny Larkin and Kevin Saunderson, plus many many more. In 2008 Carl’s tireless remix work was recognised at the Grammys where he was nominated for his rework of Junior Boys ‘Like A Child’.
Carl has always sought to express his creativity beyond the confines of orthodoxy; resulting in innovative projects such as his ReComposed collaboration with longtime friend, and dub techno pioneer, Moritz Von Oswald. Similarly his Versus album, released in 2017, reimagined key tracks from Carl’s back catalogue as orchestral interpretations. Forever an ambassador for his hometown, Carl pays homage to Motor City with his Detroit Love compilations and events, while also spearheading the city’s electronic music festival way back at the turn of the Millennium, and also runs his own artist agency – Detroit Premiere Artists. Of course, also fully representing wherever he is in the world, simply by exuding his pride and presence as a black man from the D.
Carl’s creative dedication to black excellence and the championing of its creative leaders has led to a series of educational projects in recent years. His ‘All Black Vinyl’ instagram series, in which he showcases a record from a black artist each day of February evolved into the 2022 ‘All Black Digital’ partnership with Beatport and Quincy Jones’ Qwest TV. The program saw Carl conversate with black visionaries King Britt, DJ Holographic, DJ Minx, and DeForrest Brown Jr., followed by a series of live streams with rising African talent from South Africa’s Constitution Hill, the former apartheid incarceration site of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Joe Slovo and many others.
More recently he has taken his outward explorations a step further by working with the prestigious art establishment DIA:Beacon. His immersive installation Party/After Party is the result of five years of development and occupied the huge, warehouse-esque 40,000 square foot basement at the gallery during its 15-month showing. The piece combines a soundscape and programmed lighting effects to engage participants in Carl’s interpretation of his experiences on the road while touring; from the club to the after party. After showing at the DIA:Beacon, and now acquired as part of the DIA’s permanent collection, Party/After Party looks set to tour the world with esteemed venues such as MOCA LA in 2023 and European Art Museums on the agenda.
2022 saw Carl’s prominence in high art and culture furthered through the presentation of the Carl Craig Synthesizer Ensemble at Carnegie Hall’s AFROFUTURISM Festival. This fascinating musical exploration of futurism featured Kelvin Sholar as the music director, Underground Resistance’s Jon Dixon, young jazz icon Ian Finkelstein, Dr. Nikki Mooney and Darrius Quince. To similar esteem, Craig performed a special set at the 59th Venice Biennale in the cavernous naval complex Tese 98, in celebration of artist Stan Douglas’ participation in the Canada Pavilion.
As a young man Carl was always falling in love with girls, showing off and trying to win their hearts. Those formative years fed into his output and he cites several key tracks from his discography as being ‘love songs’. This open hearted approach has encouraged a level of fearlessness that ensured Carl has never got in the way of himself. He sets his mind on something and makes it happen, musically or otherwise. Always taking chances, never playing it safe – “Balls to the wall”, as he says. Here lies his true legacy: embodying a bold, boundary-defying outlook and never straying from his true calling. In doing so, Carl Craig sets a compelling example to younger generations. Put simply, you don’t need to compromise your integrity to achieve, and maintain, a high level of success.
Through more than 30 years of embodying his truth, doggedly preserving his independence and innovating within his chosen craft, Carl Craig has demonstrated a staunch will. Refusing to be bound by external limitations, Carl operates in a world of his own, Planet E, where he has consistently channelled the spirit of Detroit and its diverse cultural influences into his work. His contribution to global electronic music culture has been vast. Despite widespread critical acclaim and success, he continues to inject his innovative energy into everything he does, establishing a legacy that will stand long after the wheels of his car finally fall off…