I’ve dug out another piece I wrote for Clash back in 2007 – an interview with Detroit techno’s eternal underdog, Eddie ‘Flashin’ Fowlkes, who at that time was promoting his album, Welcome To My World, on his own CityBoy imprint, via Submerge.
“One night I was dancing, my body shook and I heard a voice telling me to make a record. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the truth!” A lot of producers claim that higher forces inspired them to start making music, but you get the feeling that Eddie ‘Flashin’ Fowlkes really means it. The Detroit-born pioneer of ‘techno-soul’ is about to drop a new album, ‘Welcome To My World’, and when Clash caught up with him to get the lowdown he was on typically fiery form.
The established history of Motor City techno positions Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson – the so-called ‘Belleville Three’ – as the innovators of the sound. Atkins, the oldest, had already found fame as part of electro act Cybotron, and the combination of his studio expertise and May and Saunderson’s enthusiasm for early Chicago house music led to the first Detroit techno records, released on their own Metroplex, Transmat and KMS labels in the late 80s before being picked up by UK-based Ten Records for the classic ‘Techno: The New Dance Sound Of Detroit’ compilation. But there was a fourth person whose contribution in the early days was no less significant – and who is rarely afforded the respect he believes is due.
Fowlkes explains: “In the early 80s we used to do parties called Deepspace – the DJs were myself, Juan Atkins and Derrick May. In 1984, I started getting together some gear to make a record in Juan’s studio. The next year Derrick was my roommate, and at first he didn’t know what I was doing at night at Juan’s. But when he and Kevin Saunderson found out, they wanted to make a record too, and that was the beginning of Detroit techno. All that other bull you guys have been reading is not the truth, trust me. The Detroit Historical Museum put the real story out to the world, and now my kids and grandkids can see me forever in the museum. That’s what counts for me, the real history as the founder of Detroit techno – not this ‘Belleville Three’ shit.”
Eddie’s first record, ‘Goodbye Kiss’, was released on Atkins’ Metroplex label in 1986, followed the next year by ‘Time To Express’ – and while both were club hits they didn’t have the same impact in Europe as Derrick’s first Rhythim Is Rhythim releases on Transmat or Juan’s Model 500 material. He explains: “‘Goodbye Kiss’ was big for me in the US. I heard it from Detroit to NY to LA and it was a big record for the label. The other three guys had promotion on their releases in Europe, but not me at that time. My mind was all about the US, because the dance scene was new and growing in the 80s. That’s why my first record wasn’t so big in Europe.”
Nonetheless, ‘Time To Express’ was featured on Ten Records’ landmark ‘Techno’ compilation in the UK in 1988 and Fowlkes found his career gaining steady momentum. Releases soon began to appear on a host of European labels, and like many Detroit artists, Fowlkes formed a close alliance with Berlin’s Tresor, releasing a string of albums during the 1990s. But by the end of the decade that relationship had begun to sour, as he explains: “In the beginning of the Tresor era, it was cool. But as history goes, they were another label doing black exploitation – there were issues with royalties and back door licensing. I haven’t had a relationship with these guys for many years now – you can’t hustle a hustler.”
Since 1996’s ‘Black Technosoul’ LP – his last for Tresor, Eddie’s career has shifted down a gear, though he has been working on establishing his CityBoy label as the primary outlet for his music. He explains: “Me and Juan Atkins moved to the West Coast for a while, then I decided to have a family before I get too old. I put out a 12-inch on CityBoy while I was on the West Coast and now it’s up and running again. The new album, ‘Welcome To My World’ is a CityBoy release as well. And this fall I will release vinyl-only remixes of the album on CityBoy. I don’t do production for other labels any more – all my music is on CityBoy Music.”
Fowlkes is a unique figure – sometimes bitter (“I speak to Juan Atkins all the time but I don’t have any contact with Derrick and Kevin any more”), sometimes illogical (“It’s a six-year gap,” he insists, when I ask about the 11-year break between his new album and 1996’s ‘Black Technosoul’), but musically he always delivers. ‘Welcome To My World’ is classic Eddie Fowlkes – a blend of timeless house and techno rhythms with warm synths and lush progressions. It’s the classic ‘techno-soul’ sound that he’s known for and it’s right up there with his best 90s material. And Fowlkes, born in 1962, wears his Motown influences on his sleeve. He says: “I loved to listen Stevie Wonder in the 70s. And my uncle Terry would pick me up on the weekends and play me a lot of jazz. But DJing is my true passion, that’s how I got here. I just happen to make music.”