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
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
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."
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.