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Omar S: Up from the Underground

The man known as Omar S, buried so deep in the underground for the past decade that few in the Detroit technopolis have seen him or know how to find him, is inching toward the surface.

Suddenly, the cagey, reclusive, combative, and calculatedly funny Alex Omar Smith is virtually everywhere, granting interviews to journalists representing magazines he’s never heard of, getting chunks of the huge catalog of his homegrown FXHE label distributed on Beatport, recording new tunes, engineering others’ tracks, and releasing re-worked versions of his largely unknown classics to the world via London’s Fabric mix CD series.

In print, Smith comes off like a mean ol’ nasty bastard—profane and bitter, he bitches about the desperate state of club music, not just in Detroit but all across the USA. He rarely plays in his hometown and says flat-out he would reject an invitation to play at Movement, the city’s annual electronic music festival. “Fuck no to that,” he offers. “If they haven’t invited me already, I don’t need 'em. They can go to hell.”

But smiles and chuckles emerge after Smith’s little tantrums, which he says he uses to get a rise out of people and wake them up. “People have become so arrogant, you can’t tell them shit,” he says. “They won’t respond to anything different unless you fuck with their heads with some off-the-wall shit. I need to do my own hype, man.”

Get him talking about what inspired him to create his own personal sound factory in a modest house on Detroit’s far north side and he gushes like a little kid. Smith grew up in nearby Conant Gardens, an extraordinary square-mile area that produced such talents as Amp Fiddler, Slum Village, Frank-n-Dank, and Platinum Pied Pipers. As a youth, he was thrilled to the marrow by Detroit’s rich musical legacy.

“Man, it was Motown and Levi Stubbs—may he rest in peace—the greatest voice ever produced in Detroit,” says Smith about the Four Tops’ singer. “It was P-Funk and Prince … then Inner City, ‘Big Fun.’ Before Basic Channel it was Kevin Saunderson and [late mastering engineer] Ron Murphy that started all that dub [techno] shit.”

He says it like he knows it, because he does. He was there—he refuses to say how old he is (“Just write, ‘Between 20 and 40’”)—in the '90s at Detroit house parties, getting schooled on the dancefloor by Kenny Dixon Jr., Theo Parrish, Scott Grooves, and Mike Huckaby, processing drums, basslines, and melodies in his head, plotting new directions for the psychedelic soul-funk tech-house dubs of the future. What would emerge were tracks like “Just Ask the Lonely,” an homage to Motown joy and melancholy delivered as an exhilarating 10-minute rhythmic skip overlaid with gorgeous jazz piano riffs; or the spacier, tougher “Blade Runner,” which suggests the science-fiction fetish of the electro-fied 1980s without appearing dated.

Along the way he became a guardian angel to young (Seth Troxler, Luke Hess) and neglected (Malik Pittman) local talents who, like himself, have had to find love and respect far from the city that shaped their sound.

Why is that, Alex? What makes Detroit the fucked-up, schizoid, yet uniquely innovative musical incubator that it is?

“Oh, I don’t know, man,” he says, laughing. “That’s a Derrick May question. I can’t answer that. Ask him. I just do what I do.”

33 comments Omar S: Up from the Underground

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 07:52

“That’s a Derrick May question."

HAHAHAHA. awesome. love this guy.

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 09:34

hahaha, this guys awesome.

“If they haven’t invited me already, I don’t need 'em. They can go to hell.”

A Detroit Sexy Female Soldier (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 11:26

This is my first time visiting your sight and I see a person from my hometown telling the truth!!!!
Bravo to Omar S! I personally don't know him, but wish I did. He speaks the truth about how the D is. Movement is for ousiders to Detroit. It doesn't show the talent that Detroit has anymore. This is the concept that brought many persons to our little "city" from across the globe. No more are the local "gems" allowed to grace its stages and show the world what makes Detroit tick (unless you know someone in the promoter's click). If you tell Kelly Hand that she needs to send a demo to perform on a Movement stage...?
I just don't know how you can say this is Detroit Electronic Music. I'm beside myself and just plain dissapointed. I'm wondering how many persons from the Tri-County area surrounding Detroit will actually attend Movement and pay the $40 for the complete weekend to see the lineup given.
Give me the parties surrounding Movement...that's where the REAL DETROIT TALENT IS!!!!!

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 12:26

To Detroit sexy female solder aka k-hand..LMAO.. I like how you say there isn't any detroit talent on the bill.. cool.. perhaps you're blind? Lets see.. just to name a few--there is Audion, Buzz Goree, Carl Craig, Craig Gonzalez, Delano Smith, DJ Godfather, Kevin Reynolds, Kevin Saunderson, Lee Curtiss, Luke Hess, Mike Clark, Mike Huckaby, Octave One, Rick Wade, Ryan Elliott, Seoul, Linder, Seth Troxler, Shaun Reeves, and more.. Hmm...

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 12:50

“People have become so arrogant" ... yeah, i can think of an example after reading this interview... P.S. to that person: Prince is from Minneapolis, not Detroit.

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 13:00

Love all the white suburban techno boys............jacking up the shit ..........taking credit for techno

Matt Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 13:49

to Anonymous calling out Detroit sexy female soldier...

how many of those artists still live in Detroit?

tbh, i wouldn't want to play a festival that turned its back on me either. here's to Omar S!

lol @ Bassnectar on the lineup!

tomm (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 14:32

haha, legend.

Tone the white boy from London (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 04/15/2009 - 15:06

Who the F**K is Bassnecter?

I like Omar S for his personality and the way he says how it is. Real detroit attitude from a real detriot artist. oh yeah and his music blows my mind. so many so called artists make a 100 versions of the same track but not Omar

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 03:05

Omar S - The DON!

cecilia (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 05:09

please come 2 play 2southamerica!!!!!!!
i adore ur music,sooooo fine

cecilia (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 05:11

plis plis plis!!!!!!!

cecilia (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 05:13

ricardo villalobos many years ago was the FIRST to show me ur music..when nobody knew omar s ..u both genius!
thank u2

A Detroit Sexy Female Soldier (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 05:15

Hate on this. Anonymous who said "aka k-hand..LMAO.. I like how you say there isn't any detroit talent on the bill.. cool.. perhaps you're blind?"...Hmmmm. The folks on the bill are the SAME ONES that are ALWAYS ON THE BILL!! You have commented, but are YOU LIVING IN THE D?!?!? If not, just because you are on the outside lookin' in, in other words, YOU DON'T LIVE IN DETROIT(THAT INCLUDES THE SUBURBS OF DETROIT), you have NO IDEA of what is really going on!!! I am a REAL DETROIT SOLDIER and I LIVE, LOVE, WORK, AND EAT DETROIT!!!!! I was BORN and RAISED in Detroit and know WHAT UP DOE!!!!!! HOLLA!!!!

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 06:31

Is that picture of Omar-S?
I thought he was white, his music sounds white..

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 08:11

Is that picture of Omar-S?
I thought he was white, his music sounds white..

worst comment ever.

Anonymous Spirit (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 11:31

Haha.. living in the D? That is completely irrelevant to this conversation... But, I will answer this as simple as I can so you can even understand.. Detroit is my home, and it's a spirit thats inside of me.. so myself and any of the artists I mention that are playing the lineup have that spirit within whether you think they are 'too white' or whatever..
Of course I feel bad for you, and omar-s not playing, but there is always next year, and the year after etc etc.. but seriously...we are fucking lucky to have this festival still. yes, paxahau probably makes a shit ton of money, but they deserve it.. it's a lot of work & money involved to put on an event of this calibre. And there is plenty of opportunities for labels around the city to showcase their artists at afterparties.. As for them playing more than you or any of your associates... I think you need to lose your Detroit elitist attitude, and get on with making good music and PR. the "I"M FROM THE HOOD DOE HELL YAH DAWG" shit is getting quite played out.

THE BUTCHER (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/16/2009 - 23:50

At this point in time, the Movement or call it the DEMF.....either way, it is played out. It is done. Finished. How so? The focus is more on after-parties than the festival itself. Understanding that Paxahau is making a ton of money, DJs and Live PA artists know for certain that they can receive 3x their booking fee by playing an after-party. The Movement is dead. How did it die? The organizers decided that making a profit was the goal. Thus the event became a business venture.

Nonetheless, It is disturbing to watch the DEMF die slowly after the reigns were passed to Paxahau. Will it survive? Not really. This statement is based on the fact that the economy is not doing well which in turn means that sponsorship money may be reduced and/or eliminated all together. Why should a business company continue to give $10K in sponsorship monies to DEMF when those monies could be better spent elsewhere. If the economy swing up, then there is a slight chance.

As to Omar-S, his comments are valid. His bitterness and resentment should not be misunderstood as being an "elitist attitude". People come to DEMF to hear Detroit artists, musicians and DJs. It is the exact same reason why people attend the Montreaux Detroit Jazz Featival. Jazz artists desire coming to Detroit to play along side those Detroit jazz musicians that were influential in their music and their lives. However, the goal is to make money, turn a profit.

So if Omar-S never plays the DEMF, no big deal right? If Alan Oldham aka T-1000 never plays DEMF, no big deal right? So if you never hear new talented Detroit DJs and artists play the DEMF, no big deal right?

Cool. Then please dont moan, groan, cry and whine when a after party featuring Omar-S doing a DJ set or live PA costs $25.00 at the door during DEMF weekend and it is just him and other DJ on the line-up.

Not a word when you pay $35.00 at a DEMF after-party to hear Omar-S doing a live PA with Luke Hess and Seth Troxler.

The truth is that the DEMF gave the world what people wanted and what overseas DJ/producers desired.......What?

Simple...an opportunity to play side by side IN THE CITY OF DETROIT....with those Detroit artists, musicians and DJs that formed house, techno and electronic dance music........to experience that "true Detroit spirit"......that "one love, one music, one world".

FYI.....to hear Kraftwerk play in Germany aint the same as hearing Kraftwerk play in Detroit. You might hear DJ Bone or DJ Skurge or DJ Mark Flash from Los Hermanos play overseas......but it aint the same as when they play at home.....in Detroit.


Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 05:59

Is this the guy who did"Put Your Hands Up For detroit?"

A Detroit Sexy Female Soldier (not verified) Wrote

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 07:44

Let me just say this, the "Anonymous Spirit" person doesn't know WHAT IN THE HELL THEY SPEAK!!!! I have attended numeorous House, Techno and other Electronic Music events in and around the Detroit area and I KNOW OF WHAT I SPEAK! I don't need to be "Elitist" to speak my piece. I am very pro-Detroit in all I do and say. If you have been in this "Electronic Music Scene" for many a year in the Detroit music setting, my words are true. I guess this person may not see what I see...unless they are putting in a racial undertone, to which I am and will not address. I don't have to go to those ends and am an "Detroit Elitist" about that!!!
P.S. The comment regarding my "What up doe" statement is something a real Detroiter(what we call persons from Detroit) say to one another. I guess that answers my question about them being from Detroit. WHAT UP DOE!!!!!!!

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Sat, 04/18/2009 - 01:03

Isn´t it only about good music at the end?

That neverending, mostly stupid discussions are totally senseless.
Good music will always find a place and it doesn´t matter if it´s from Detroit, Berlin or London.

Just watch what happens in the world with all the "fanatics".

maninthebox (not verified) Wrote

Sat, 04/18/2009 - 10:09

LOL that Omar is classic. Yeah, he would say some crazy sh*t at times but at the end the day, there's some level of truth to his words. He doesn't seem like a person who can easily be bamboozled and takes no guff from anyone. All the power to him! =D I look at it like this... those who have a problem with what he says...then perhaps maybe, just maybe, you're who he's referring to when he says “People have become so arrogant, you can’t tell them shit,” he says. “They won’t respond to anything different unless you fuck with their heads with some off-the-wall shit."

Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Sun, 04/19/2009 - 02:28

most of his records sounds to me like all of this shit kids made back in mid 90's when first groovebox's came out on the market ..its exactly the same type of sound ... bad?,good? .. whos the fck care
just amateur and its what i think.i dont think about what he have to say coz i listen only to the music... and thats it.
anyway! .. good luck OMAR ..

Anonymous from the REAL Detroit! (not verified) Wrote

Tue, 04/21/2009 - 09:01

amen Butcher!

GT (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/23/2009 - 07:52

Movement/DEMF is dead. The Mutek festival is the future. Omar S should be playing there instead. Progressive music for a progressive crowd, regardless of affiliation.

deejaycountzero (not verified) Wrote

Thu, 04/23/2009 - 15:51

@A Detroit Sexy Female Soldier - you're absolutely right. The DEMF lineups have changed dramatically over the years, and especially since Paxahau took over. I did the research to prove it in fact. Anybody who wants the straight dope including statistics on the changes in the DEMF lineups over the years should visit my blog. I've been doing a series of posts this week detailing the way things have changed. I'm still going this year, because I have to support the D!


Anonymous (not verified) Wrote

Mon, 04/27/2009 - 12:52

Detroit Female writes a whole paragraph and doesn't say shit. You are ignorarnt and contradictory Doe! Anonymous Spirit made a clear and concise statement. You just talked ignorant hood shit, DAWG! Oh, yeah, I think Omar's comments are spot on.

Technoes (not verified) Wrote

Mon, 04/27/2009 - 12:59

LOL @ K Hand for b*tching about not getting booked when she fails to mention that she played the festival for 3 years straight. Back then we had such fine "real" Detroit acts that haven't DJ'd parties in years, but were peoples barbers and such. You can only hear "No UFO's" and "Knights of the Jaguar" so many times over the course of a weekend.

I hate to say it, but I think that a lot of the "old school" Detroit artists are out of touch. There's better people all over the world that are making "Detroit techno" better than what's coming out of here.

Fanny Hammer (not verified) Wrote

Mon, 05/04/2009 - 22:43

Technoes said:
"I hate to say it, but I think that a lot of the "old school" Detroit artists are out of touch. There's better people all over the world that are making "Detroit techno" better than what's coming out of here."

That has to be the truest word on this subject I've heard in ages.
Berlin is producing some of the coolest 'Detroit Techno' I've heard in freakin YEARS!!!

Btw, Omar S is seriously overrated imho.

Calitron (not verified) Wrote

Sat, 05/16/2009 - 13:52

Yeah, BERLIN is where it's at right now. I'm from London & I've loved music fors, lets put this right, he's got magazines clammering for him & recording for fabric?
& he's still moaning? There is people dropping sick dubstep tunes here & some of them not making a penny, nor will some of them rise above the underground, but they do it for the love of the music...

Jafakin (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 05/20/2009 - 11:14


Jafakin (not verified) Wrote

Wed, 05/20/2009 - 11:15

Next time ask him about toes and feet

Leo Zero (not verified) Wrote

Fri, 05/29/2009 - 22:13

I went on beatport and had to buy up nearly all the fxhe gear - what an amazing producer....techno, funk & house deep in his bones - super swing on those grooves like only a handful of people in this world can do - keep on OMAR S! KEEP ON!! www.leozero.com

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