Tight knit as it is, the Detroit techno scene is not without its controversies. We provided a brief history of the genre to supplement our recent coverage of Movement 2016, but even we admittedly left out one of its most outspoken early figures: Eddie Fowlkes.
Fowlkes released music shortly before any of the Belleville Three, the trio comprised of Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson whom are widely credited as the originators of Detroit techno. As he told us in an interview during Detroit Techno Week, he wishes to not be associated with the Belleville Three and believes that it was devised by May as a means of keeping him and other early techno pioneers from receiving proper credit.
Fowlkes’ resentment towards May is nothing new. We asked May about it as a side note when we met up with him on the same day, and he told us the following:
Eddie has a lot of resentment towards me because he’s under the impression that I was somehow the culprit behind him being exed out, which is not true – but it is what it is, I’ll take the hit. Eddie knows I’ll take the hit. If he wants to blame me for it, that’s cool. But I still consider myself Eddie’s friend.
Eddie Fowlkes’ strong opinions don’t begin and end with the Belleville Three, though. Over the course of our interview, he also trained his crosshairs on Ellen Allien, Sven Väth, the gabber genre and techno without vocals.
Take a look below, and enjoy.
For an artist so close to the origins of techno, certain elements of your music seem really contemporary – it’s almost like your arrangements are Detroit, but your sound design is German. Do you think perhaps you owe that to your time being signed to Tresor?
Eddie Fowlkes: I don’t think I have a German sound, it’s just the environment that I’m in. Sometimes you don’t wanna put people to sleep, and sometimes you’ve gotta understand what they’ve been hearing all day. If I were to play what I wanted to play, it would be a shock, and I don’t wanna put a shock to them. I wouldn’t even say German. It’s like this, I like to play some Euro-based and some funk-based so I don’t just sound like the average DJ. To me, I just can’t play that same four-to-the-floor sometimes, but you get stuck in that shit. I can’t play what I want, because if I play some hot vocals, they’re gonna leave the floor. They’re not ready for that.
The Detroit Sounds – Double Pack 1 is your most recent release. What kinds of of influences were you feeling when you put that together?
Eddie Fowlkes: What I was trying to do with that was just bring some swing and funk to it and do something different. Different for me is to not have vocals on it, because I keep telling people that techno is with vocals. Whatever motherfucker tells you techno doesn’t have vocals, they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. If you go back to the original shit that we started, and then go back to the Kraftwerk shit, motherfuckers have vocals – so all this shit without vocals, they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, and that’s how I look at dance music. If you wanna make some shit with no vocals in it that’s your thing, but don’t tell me it’s techno.
That’s interesting, because before Tresor you were signed to Juan Atkins’ label, Metroplex, and he was the member of the Belleville Three who mostly embraced Kraftwerk.
Eddie Fowlkes: Well, stop – to cut you off, I don’t partake in anything that has to do with the Belleville Three because it’s isolation. I put my studio together before Derrick May, and he was my roommate. Kevin didn’t have a studio, and while all my shit took off I was here in Detroit, so Belleville Three doesn’t apply even as a cross-reference to anything I’m saying. I’m, like, anti-Belleville Three because it’s isolation. All this shit came from Detroit, not from Belleville – but if you wanna say, “Hey man, we were from Belleville and we met in high school,” that’s cool, but don’t equate that with the music. It’s just not there.
It’s not like I’m saying something behind their backs; Kevin, Juan and I discussed this shit four months ago. This is some fucked-up shit, because it makes us look not together. That’s why you have cats in the underground saying, “If it weren’t for Fowlkes there wouldn’t be any of these motherfuckers.” Derrick May was my roommate and he doesn’t wanna acknowledge it. Kevin will acknowledge it. Kevin goes on YouTube saying, “Eddie Fowlkes was a DJ before me, and he was making music before me,” but Derrick always had it out for me. In front of my face, he won’t say that shit, but I’m a grown motherfucking man and I’m not playing these childish-ass games anymore.
If you wanna congregate with Kevin and Juan, run with some shit, and blow smoke up their ass they might fall for it, but Juan will tell everybody I came before him. It’s Derrick. If I came out with the real, it would expose Derrick like a motherfucker, and he doesn’t want that because he was my roommate.
They went to high school together, Kevin, Derrick and Juan. Juan was in Detroit, and he moved out there, and that’s how he met Kevin and Derrick. Kevin was born in Brooklyn, came here, and moved out there – but that was all in high school. This shit all happened out of high school. Juan was the only one who fucked with that shit in high school. I met Derrick in high school in Detroit, in my senior year. I’m 53, and it was my senior year, so that’s how long ago it was. I’m older than Derrick and older than Kevin, but Juan’s older than me – so Belleville doesn’t apply to me.
When I was doing my shit and getting my studio, it just so happened that Derrick was my roommate. I said, “Juan, what do I need to do to make a record?” He said, “This is how it’s gonna go down,” and we got me a studio. Derrick worked at night, and I worked in the daytime because somebody had to watch our turntables and records. When he was at work I was doing my studio stuff, because we never went into each other’s bedrooms, that would be disrespectful as a roommate. The Belleville thing was an entity for, like, “Okay, this is how we’ll exclude Eddy.” It was a Derrick concept and Kevin followed suit, but Juan was like “Whatever,”
I noticed that Ellen Allien’s set on the Made in Detroit stage abruptly cut off before yours started. What happened there?
Eddie Fowlkes: Oh, so when I came up there, she said, “Can I play one more?” and I said, “Yeah, cool.” Usually what happens is that each DJ says “How do you want to go, do you want me to ride into you or close it out?” because you give the last DJ that respect. She just said she wanted to play one record and that was it, and from there, I’m waiting for her to give me the cue. It got down to two minutes left, then a minute left, and then it went off. That’s what happened. She didn’t give me a cue, and she didn’t have a cue. All she was doing was this (waves hands), and then she looked at me and I looked at her, like, “It’s your music!” My shit was down. The sound guy was just like “Okay, okay go ahead and play,” so that was what happened.
Movement is a big convergence between the Detroit techno scene and the more recently established European techno scenes. Have you ever noticed very much hostility between the crowds?
Eddie Fowlkes: No hostility whatsoever, man. None. I would say that back in the day there was when Sven Väth was starting off, because I felt that he didn’t have any rhythm. And then, you ever hear of gabber house? There’s no rhythm, there’s no nothing – it’s just some shit that to me doesn’t even make sense. There were trying to compete with techno, and we were making hits, bro. That gabber isn’t making any hits. It’s not going anywhere but that little community. That was the only rift that we used to have in Germany: Gabber versus Detroit Techno. Man, please, you motherfuckers haven’t even sold close to a million records yet. We did this from our studio in our cribs, man.
That concludes our interview, but we would like to thank Eddie Fowlkes very much for his time.