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jeff mills

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...a couple of anarchic archaic interview/articles
by Andrez with Mills - the first (below) in 1998,
and the second one in 1996 - for Melbourne's
Zebra magazine, and Sydney's 3D World...

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new link:

jeff mills' old skool 'life cycle' video-clip @ de-VICE #2

In the latter half of the 80's Detroit was a veritable
hotbed for electronic music creativity, as evidenced
by the output of people like Juan Atkins, Derrick May,
Alan Oldham, Eddie 'Flashin' Fowlkes, Anthony Shakir,
Kevin Saunderson, and Jeff Mills. It was a musical
putsch unique to the Motor City at the time, a wave of
machine-based sounds seared with funk and the reality
of life in a post-industrial, post-modern state. You
can call it techno.

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While much praise is heaped upon the roles of Derrick
May and Juan Atkins throughout this period, Jeff
Mills' own impact should not be underestimated - for
instance when I spoke to Stacey Pullen a year ago, he
referred to Mills as the biggest influence on his own
career. "Back in the 80's," recalled Pullen down the
line from the Motor City, "he played on the radio
station WJLB in Detroit under the alias of The Wizard,
and it was definitely he who made the public here in
Detroit aware of two turntables and a mixer. It was
totally different from what regular radio was playing
- I mean we're talking about over ten years ago!"
Coming through from an obsession with Kraftwerk, 'The
Wizard' was spinning techno-industrial tracks by the
likes of Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Meat Beat Manifesto
and early 900ft Jesus, mixing it all up on the
airwaves and creating some diabolical new sounds in
the process.


By the end of the decade Jeff Mills had graduated from
the decks and mixer to the keyboard and sampler, and
more particularly specialised in the analogue excesses
of Roland's TB-303 bassline and TR-909 drum machines.
It was at this juncture in his career that Mills
collided with fellow producers 'Mad' Mike Banks and
Robert Hood, alias The Vision, and Underground
Resistance was born. Dubbing their sound 'hard music
from a hard city', the collective maintained an
obsessive sense of anonymity and combed the darker
colours of music. If anything Underground Resistance
wore their emotions on their sleeve, combining harsh
yet strangely compelling techno with military
references and the outright suburban guerrilla
symbolism of balaclavas. In many ways they were the
Black Panthers of the burgeoning Detroit style, the
Public Enemy of the electronic set, and these
intentions showed up in the music that they produced.

A mature man; Size=180 pixels wide
No, this is not Jeff Mills, either. I have no idea who the heck it is...

In around 1992 Jeff Mills departed Underground
Resistance to start up his own label. Called Axis
Records, it's a preoccupation that Mills has pursued
since and he recently added sibling label Purpose
Maker to the equation. There is a difference between
the labels, however. "The Purpose Maker material is
much more DJ-friendly," advised the man behind the
labels just last week. "It was designed for the DJ to
simply put the needle down and immediately start into
the track without intro or any dramatic build up;
basically to use those particular compositions as
tools. They're made for enhancing other tracks or
layering upon each another in order to make one new
track. The Axis material is much more conceptual so
it's designed to try to draw a picture in one's mind
as to a location or thing. It's similar to a book I
suppose in that there's a title and each track
represents a chapter; each composition kind of tells a
story and they lead into one another."

While Underground Resistance was overt in nature and
so obviously reactionary in its stance, the music Jeff
Mills produces himself is far less a written text than
something rather intangible and precious by nature.
Brutal, blunt, ferocious and intimidating are some of
the terms used to describe his musical heritage, while
at other times think of ethereal, melodic, beautiful
and mesmerising. Reactions are everything in terms of
his creative output. "Because I don't use any vocals,
I have to rely upon reaction. If I touch you in a
certain way - actually physically touch you - then
that's quite similar to the way my music is created.
For example by fading the intro in, rather than just
starting on the first beat, it gives the impression
that the music has already started and that in fact
you're tuning in later; the composition could have
been started maybe a million years ago but you
actually tuned into it at this particular point. So
there are ways of making an impression and creating
ideas by using texture, by harnessing the music and
steering it various ways so that it gives an
impression far deeper than the one you actually hear."

Partly as a result of Underground Resistance's tactics
at the turn of the decade and more likely due to the
success of people like Derrick May and Kevin
Saunderson, Detroit has become - in electronic music
circles at least - a word used to describe a style of
music rather than the city itself. Yet the sounds
coming out of that city have always been diverse. On
the one hand you've got the music of Derrick and
Kevin, then on the opposite end of the spectrum Jeff
Mills, Mad Mike, Claude Young and Robert Hood; in
between there are a whole lot of other people
including Stacey Pullen, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig,
Jay Denham and Drexciya. So the question just has to
arise: has the designation of a particular Detroit
style become as redundant as calling all electronic
music 'techno'?

Mills seems to think so. "It always has had a broad
definition by default. I mean right from the beginning
when there was me, Kevin and Juan [Atkins] - our
styles of music were very different, and I think it's
partly reflective of the city itself because we all
had really diverse influences of music. My background
involved hip hop and industrial, whereas Mike was
influenced by gospel and R&B, and both Derrick and
Juan were no doubt influenced by other formulas. We're
all basically the same age, and that's what we have in
common, but the baggage we carry in making music is
quite different."

So what is it about the city of Detroit? "If you've
ever been to Detroit you'd find the city kind of dark.
It used to be a very lethal place, a very dangerous
place to grow up. There was always this fear and you
were always on guard, so I think that affects things."

It's strange then how this came to affect Mills' music
more than, say, Derrick May's. "Well I think Derrick's
a happier person than I," laughs Jeff in retaliation.
"He has more to celebrate, maybe . . ."

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JEFF MILLS - 1996 - BY ANDREZ

Jeff Mills
Andrez Date Added:
Decoding the Millsean myth is an interesting proposition. To begin with there's the lack of hard facts to go by, which in turn has led to the construction of a whole mythology around the era of mid-80's Detroit.


Then again, one has to start somewhere. Jeff Mills currently runs two separate labels - his long term Axis imprint and the fledgling Purpose Maker. "I'd noticed the wonderful response to the 'Purpose Maker' EP [Axis #11] and that gave me the idea to create a separate label with the same title and format of music," he says, then goes on to infer in a rather mystical way: "The basic difference between the two labels is growth and existence. Diversity is the consistent format I use with Axis. Simplicity is used with Purpose Maker."
I find myself checking through previous interviews for further clarification on this point. In Generator magazine Jeff assessed that "If I'm not completely satisfied with a record, if I don't feel right about it, then I don't release it. I don't care how much money I put into it, how much time. If it's not right then it's not right. Money was never really the issue for me." In a recent copy of Wax he went on to say that "The name of the label [Purpose Maker] is significant - I do have a purpose. The idea behind the label was created out of a need to make records that I wanted to play . . . They didn't have to be so complex, they're more DJ-oriented. It's all about concept and each record I make has a concept."


So does the man himself have long term plans for both? "I don't know, because it's impossible to forecast the future."


Perhaps the best known and most promoted Jeff Mills release was his recent effort for Sony Japan, the now almost legendary 'Mix-Up Volume 2 Featuring Jeff Mills', a completely live recording of a set he did in the Liquid Room in Tokyo in which he mixes an incredible 38 tracks within 70 minutes. This is Millsean techno at its grandest, at its most experimental and darkly defined yet oddly uplifting and fresh. Mixmag declared that he 'tangles drums like an arc-welder . . . while playing hard, twisted beats and sharp, atonal funk . . .'. Listen to Jeff Mills' set as recorded for posterity here and you'll hear a stark, dry, inspiring journey complete with all the hiccups and vulnerable glitches that go with it. Mills wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to mixing in his notorious three-deck fashion, perhaps even more so than when it comes to making his own music.


On that 'Mix-Up' CD Jeff's set took in much of his own work as well as fellow artists such as DJ Funk, Richie Hawtin, iO, Joey Beltram, Claude Young, Luke Slater and Ron Maney. Did his choice of these guys reflect current interests in music as a DJ? "These producers made compositions that sounded good to me at the time," Jeff explains in his patient, methodical fashion. "I played them because I thought the people should hear them, but time changes as with people and the music you like."


Much ado is made about the city of Detroit, and we're all guilty of this sin. It's the place that spawned such a wide variety of talented producers that it's hard to ignore what seems to be such an urban legacy. The litany of names is as expansive as it is bewildering: Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Eddie 'Flashin' Folkes, Alan Oldham, Carl Craig, Stacey Pullen, Claude Young, Kevin Saunderson, 'Mad' Mike Banks, Robert Hood, Kenny Larkin, Suburban Knight, Octave One, Jay Denham, Anthony Shakir, Aux 88, Blake Baxter . . . And along with all of these people Jeff Mills placed the city of Detroit very firmly on the techno map as a place for developing and progressive sounds. So, quite inanely, I find myself asking this particular producer what is it about the city of Detroit that makes it such a prolific base of operations. Jeff is as brief and poignant in his response as he can be: "Nothing," he says without hesitation.
No compromise. That's Jeff Mills. After a decade of making his own music and sticking to his own particular niche, it seems that the rest of the world is finally catching up.


When I spoke to Stacey Pullen recently, he referred to Jeff Mills as the big influence on his own career. "Back in the 80's he played on the radio [station WJLB] in Detroit under the alias of The Wizard, and it was definitely he who made the public here in Detroit aware of two turntables and a mixer," explained Pullen down the line from the Motor City. "It was totally different from what regular radio was playing - I mean we're talking about ten years ago!"
Coming through from an obsession with Kraftwerk, 'The Wizard' was spinning techno-industrial tracks by the likes of Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Meat Beat Manifesto and early 900ft Jesus, and then began to make his own music. "The programming director gave me full control of what I could play at any time, as long as I wanted to play it", Mills related in an interview published in Generator a couple of years back. "It was a unique situation. So a lot of Detroit techno was getting played. After awhile I got tired of playing everybody else's records so I started buying equipment and bringing it into the studio to play. I was making the stuff before the show and during the show I would play it live, mixed in with the records. I would mix a drum machine into a record and then out of it, and so forth . . . Then I quit radio and started Underground Resistance with Mike Banks."


Underground Resistance was the loose collective of Jeff Mills with 'Mad' Mike Banks and occasional ally The Vision (aka Robert Hood), who worked their subversive tinkerings from their base of operations at Black Planet Studios in Detroit.


While fellow Detroit-based producers such as Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson became the darlings of the emerging European dance music press, Underground Resistance grafted out their own particular stylized take on techno: rough, menacing and at times unlistenable, the UR soundscape was self-titled 'hard music from a hard city' and they pursued a path that remained true to their underground spirit. In one early subversive press release the collective declared that 'Underground Resistance is a label for a movement. A movement that wants change by Sonic Revolution . . . Techno is a music based in experimentation, it is sacred to no one race, it has no definitive sound'. "Underground Resitance was created as a boundless label," Jeff tells me, "and this was our most important goal. We looked at what Derrick, Juan and Kevin were doing and we used them as a guide - not doing what they did, but doing what they didn't. They were licensing stuff all over the place, so we did the opposite . . . we had a really 'back the fuck up' type attitude. We wanted to make all the tracks very strong and ones that you'd remember." With record titles like 'Riot', 'Punisher', 'Sonic Destroyer', 'Adrenalin' and 'Eye Of The Storm' they definitely got this point across.


After departing UR, Jeff again worked with Robert Hood on a number of projects including the 'Drama' EP on Axis Records, but things change over time. "The working relationship with Robert Hood has expired," he advises, although he's philosophical about it. "As with life, each day - or person - is a different adventure. There are good ones as well as bad ones . . ."


Here in Melbourne Jeff Mills - and before him Underground Resistance - has been a huge influence on local producers such as Voiteck, FSOM, Zen Paradox, Soulenoid, Blimp, Viridian and Little Nobody. Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, Melbourne has a strong tradition of experimental techno tied to the needs of the dancefloor, and as such producers and in turn their audiences are far more adventurous, open-minded and accepting - precisely the kind of territory the Jeff Mills soundscape needs to occupy.


To date Mills has heard music from Australian labels such as Juice, Dirty House and If? Records, exposing him to artists such as HMC, Voiteck, FSOM and Zen Paradox. "The Australian music I've heard thus far sounds fine," he remarks, "but I'll gather a clearer picture of the country during the tour. Everyone I've spoken to regarding Australia gave very positive recommendations."
Jeff sees his DJing sorties as a direct connection with like-minded people on one very basic level: music. Given that he'll be DJing on three decks for three hours when he comes down, what can we expect of a typical Jeff Mills set? "Diversity and simplicity," he says simply.