We sit down with Detroit techno native Stacey Pullen ahead of his show at the Music On Festival in Amsterdam next month. Take a look below at what he had to say about music now, living abroad and quitting school to become a musician.
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Stacey Pullen was born into a family that was engulfed in music. His father, a Motown singer, would also have records on in the house, starting Stacey’s infatuation with records from an early age. To Stacey music has always been a part of who he is. It is something that inspired him to pick up an instrument from an early age and also the catalyst so quit college to “make techno” as he put it. Making that leap of faith, completely into the unknown and following your passion is not easy, but it’s safe to say it’s worked out.
Now, Stacey Pullen is booked to play all over the world and has a career that spans three decades and many genres of electronic music. For Stacey, Detroit is often the inspiration that keeps him close to home. Growing up under the influence of Detroit techno pioneers Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins, allowed Stacey to see how influential music can be, even if it is made in someone’s studio (bedroom).
Fast forward to 2018 and the momentum Stacey has carried with him after all these years doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Gigs at Amnesia, Ibiza, as well as a whole host of festival shows, including Music On in Amsterdam and across the globe, means that the dreadlocked warrior of Detroit techno has no time to stop. Not that we want him to, right?
Hello mare, are you ok?
Yeah I’m good man, I’m good. Just in the studio trying to finish a remix in time before I leave for the West Coast of Canada down to Whistler and Vancouver.
Busy guy then!
Yeah, yeah! It’s nice because I haven’t been down there for a while but I’m not really ready for any more shows. I’ve got too much going on down here in Detroit at the minute.
So last year was really busy for you with the Ibiza season and festival circuit, what were some of the highlights?
Well for Ibiza alone; it’s got to be the Music On parties, you know? When I get the chance to play on the terrace at Amnesia, it’s just a magical experience. The vibes are just crazy. I look forward to playing that gig when I find out my dates always. In fact, right now, I have a “Terrace” section haha. I sit and hear a track and think “right, that’s a Terrace track for sure” and I get it ready. It’s so easy to listen to a track nowadays and just forget about it, especially as music is coming out so frequently nowadays. You save the ones that are gonna rock the dancefloor no matter what.
I saw you played Miami Music Week for Paradise, how was that?
For me being in Miami for the last five or six years have really been up there at the top of the list in terms of my gigs. 2017 was great too. You get an abundance of DJs on the lineup, you get a chance to see friends and peers, you can exchange tracks and test out new tracks. If the weather is good as well then you can’t beat it man. When you’re playing at Paradise as well, they have a 24-hour license at Space so the party just doesn’t stop! I have a good time playing with Jamie and all the guys over at Paradise, they’re good people and I like what they’re doing with their brand.
I also played at Paco Osuna’s night Mindshake Showcase with Cocodrills and Carlo Lio which was really good fun. Wherelse did I play? I played too many gigs it felt like they all blurred into one I’ll be honest haha! Oh, that’s it, It’s All About the Music. It’s always a great party there as it’s the spin-off with the Music On guys.
You touched on 2017 being busy for you, how is 2018 looking?
Oh man, it’s gonna be hectic! I’m playing at Kappa Futur Festival in Torino, Italy. I’m playing some festivals up in Norway, elrow in Barcelona next month as well as Movement Festival which is here in Detroit. That’s one of the highlights of the year because I don’t have to get on a plane haha! I just drive 20 minutes there, play my set, and then have a 20-minute drive home. I love that one. I’ve got a pretty busy schedule right now, changing agencies and all, but I’m glad I’ll the transition period so I can just get in the studio and work.
Just on the subject of Detroit, what was it like growing up in a city renowned for music?
For me, I grew up constantly listening to music, you know? My Dad was a Motown singer and my Uncle was a session drummer for local bands around here so there was always music playing in the house. Music was a way of forgetting about the current affairs that my parents would talk about. When you’re little, you don’t really take notice of what’s going on in the world so I just played music as a way to pass the time.
I started DJing when I was about 15 but before that, I was playing the flute and drums through school. I’ve always had that inclination that music was something I wanted to do. I never thought I’d make a career out of it but here I am 25 or 30 years later.
You grew up in Detroit at the time when you had Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson all pioneering techno, what was that like?
It was a super exciting time, man. I discovered Detroit techno back in ’85 when Juan Atkins had his first tracks out like Model 500. At that time I didn’t know these guys, you know? I was still 15 or 16 years old and was still in high school living at my Mom’s house. It wasn’t until I would say 1987 when I was at Tennessee State University out in Nashville that I really felt the calling for techno.
I used to make eight-hour trips to come home on the weekend to go visit family but mainly to go to a club called the Music Institute which is where all of these guys played all of their music out. They were literally just playing the music they were making in their bedroom out. It was our version of Paradise Garage or Studio 54 and it was the music box of Detroit, you know? That’s where everybody went to gig. It didn’t matter where you came from or what your race was, it was just an open door sort of place.
I met Kevin, Juan and Derrick I would say in ’90 or ’91. I had quit college for two years and had come back home and just got really into techno. I mean I literally left college and my reason was “I’m going home to make techno” those were my words haha! It took me another couple of years to get to those guys and for them to take me under their wing but the next thing you know I started doing remix stuff with Derrick. I was on a remix team with Kevin Saunderson and the energy down there was just crazy. We all just inspired each other, man. My whole thing was I just wanna wear T-shirts and blue jeans for the rest of my life and just make music haha.
You’ve got your new compilation Detroit Love coming out soon, are you excited for that to finally be released?
Oh definitely, definitely. For me to do the first inaugural Detroit Love mix series, is truly an honour, man. Carl Craig and I, we’ve been good friends for over 20 years and you know he couuld have easily said “I wanna do the first one” but he didn’t. Carl trusts my musical judgement and my musical knowledge and what I wanted to do with this mix compilation was a little different because I have that Detroit techno stamp on my name from a historical perspective.
I wanted to give a much more modern spin on what is going on with Detroit music right now and especially Detroit labels. It’s not the typical techno set that you would expect to hear with mine and Carl’s name printed on the back which makes it even more interesting. I’m featuring new artists, new labels, underground artists and making sure that artists that have that Detroit sound but might not be from the city have a chance to be heard too.
Was it difficult selecting 14 tracks that summed up Detroit as a city?
Oh man, it was hard. It wasn’t difficult for me to choose the tracks but when it came time to license the tracks, that’s when it got tricky. Not everyone wanted their tracks to be on the compilation album. I tried to get some unreleased tracks from some artists here in Detroit but, man, it’s difficult to get tracks from guys here in Detroit when it’s not been released, which I respect.
For us guys here in Detroit, our music is sacred to us. Sometimes you can say you wanna put it out and help them and give their career a boost but they don’t care haha! They wanna do it themselves and release it under their own terms, which I can fully understand and respect. I’m that way sometimes too so it’s all good. I did the best that I could with the tracks that I had and I think that people will be happy with what I have put out.
You’ve developed a very close relationship with the Music On team, can you tell us how that came about?
It was 2011, we were down at the BPM Festival and it was the closing party of the festival which Marco Carola was playing at. I was there just hanging out with friends and listening to the set. Next thing, we’re at the after, after party haha! The places where all the good ideas come together. I had started DJing because it was one of the first few times that Marco had decided that he didn’t want to play. He’s a machine so it was a big moment for him to decide not to. So, I DJed the party instead.
Next thing I know, I get a call a few days later from Luca, Marco’s manager, and he said “Stace, Marco’s doing a night at Amnesia and he wants you to come along. In fact, you’re the first DJ that he’s asked to come along for the ride” which was a huge honour, especially considering the history that Marco has. At the time I had played a couple gigs at Cocoon so I made the leap of faith and the rest is history.
You must have quite a close relationship with Marco then, right?
SP: Yeah, yeah we do man. More than anything, us being in the business for a while we understood how music has changed, you know? We have a mutual respect for each other because we’ve both been doing this for so long. We’ve both come from that techno background, Marco being from Napoli and myself being from Detroit, we understand what music did to people back then. Now to be able to still have that knowledge of music on how it has changed with the new generation and how they accept music that we play.
Are you excited to get back to Amsterdam for Music On Festival again?
Oh yes, absolutely! I used to live in Amsterdam so it’s a bit like my second home. I moved there right after I got back home from Detroit. I had just got to know Derrick, Kevin and Juan properly too. It was just after I had my first release on Derrick’s Fragile Records label. I had $500 in my pocket and a plane ticket to Amsterdam where I was supposed to go to for a month. I went just to see what was out there because I needed to see what else was outside of Detroit. One month actually ended up being a year and a half. I love going back.
Your career has spanned three decades but you’ve stayed very true to your Detroit techno roots. How important do you think it is to remember where you came from?
When I see the generation shift with music nowadays, I am always very conscious of my Detroit roots because Detroit is who I am. It’s embedded in me, especially with the more I travel and talking to the newer generation. They don’t seem to know too much about the Detroit techno sound but all they know is that they have heard the word “Detroit” before. That’s where I come in and give them a little bit of what they’re in to, what music has changed into and where that music came from in the first place.
What sort of advice would you give to anybody who is looking to produce their own techno?
The number one thing I would say is don’t be too eager to release so much music all at once. A lot of producers think that they need to produce so much, have this many releases a year, have tracks on this many labels to get noticed. Sometimes, less is more. Being able to cultivate your fan base and not oversaturating the market is important.
So many tracks are released every single day that even some of the best tracks often get overlooked because they get lost. I would tell someone young, take your time and develop being an artist instead of just wanting to get noticed.
I read that you played some music to Derrick May who told you “it’s cool, but you need to work harder” is that true?
Yeah, yeah he did! It took me about three years to get my first really good track out there. Of course, it was a completely different time back then but having someone like Derrick to tell me to go back to it gave me more drive and confidence to work harder. I pushed myself even further after that to be a better artist.
Finally, Ibiza or festivals: which do you prefer?
Ibiza, man. It’s gotta be Ibiza. The festival circuit is cool but most of the time you’re only playing an hour and a half set because you have 50 DJs on a line up and the crowd is so big that it’s almost like it and quit it then you’re onto the next one. With the Ibiza crowd, you get people from all over the world who are coming to see you which is so much better. They know the nights that are rocking and they know going in what they can expect, which you sometimes lose when you’re at a festival. It’s gotta be Ibiza, man.
On That Note
Stacey Pullen is a gentleman; period. A guy who’s so passionate about what he’s been doing for the past 30 years that he has flown over four million miles to do it (literally). Not only was he friendly, chatty and overall, a nice guy, he was still keen for people to hear about his craft. Detroit evidently runs through Stacey Pullen and Stacey Pullen very clearly runs through Detroit. The man embodies everything that a musical city should. It is easy to see why Stacey has lasted over three decades. Here’s to the next three.