While this year's ADE festival had a lot to offer in the way of young, burgeoning talent—check out bothparts of our festival wrap-up for proof—it also brought some absolute legends to Amsterdam for the five-day event, including the "Godfather of House," Frankie Knuckles. Amidst DJing two separate showcases on two different nights, and joining in a panel discussion with another electronic-music pioneer, Derrick May, Knuckles found a few minutes to sit down and talk us about where he's been and what he's been up to since reappearing on the scene, and also shared some passionate words on the current state of the US' electronic music scene.
XLR8R: You've lived between New York and Chicago, where are you based now?
Frankie Knuckles: My primary home is in Chicago. I was born and raised in New York, moved to Chicago in '77, moved back to New York in '87 and we started Def Mix, and then I moved back to Chicago in '99.
Why have those been your two main spots?
Well, it's easy. I know the territory, speak the same language.
It feels like there's been a resurgence of attention on the Midwest's techno and house lineage. Have you felt that at all?
I've been more busy I think in these past three years. I had to take some time off for health reasons a little while ago, but I just dove back into it and it's been non-stop ever since.
And you're enjoying it?
Yeah, I sort of reinvented myself to a certain degree with Director's Cut, [a production project] which I do with my partner Eric Coupler. We started off kind of small and just tried to stay under the radar and the product was coming out really really well. That began to accelerate and here we are now. It's pretty non-stop, but I'm having a great time and I'm doing exactly what I want to do, working at a pace and level that works really well for me. Plus, I'm working with everyone I wanted to work with.
It sounds like you're pretty comfortable with where you're career is at now.
Yeah, it's nice to go after something and have them say, "Sure Frankie, take it," [laughs] versus, "Well, we'll get back to you, we'll consider it."
You've been DJing around a lot lately, have you found time to keep producing?
I'm producing a lot. I had two singles out with Jamie Principle earlier this year. The first one, "I'll Take You There," which went to number one, and "Your Love" is still number one on the Classic House Charts. And several different other projects in between. I've worked with Human Life, on Defected, and several other smaller projects. I'm not going after the superstar projects, even though I won't turn them down, but with Director's Cut I'm trying to help along some other people that are trying to get their foot in the door. It's always been my motto: the minute a door of opportunity opens up for me, I try to drag as many people in as I possibly can. Once they're on the inside, they're on their own. But everybody needs a little help along the way, and a lot of people helped me along the way, so I figure, why not? Not everybody has the money and nobody has money right now. In this particular end of the business, you'd be hard pressed to find a dollar right now. The only way the music actually survives is when we help each other, and so I make myself available for it.
So, you see what you can do?
Yeah, exactly. Maybe I'll get a dime or two on the back end of something later on. [Laughs] Right now, the focus for me is to make sure the quality of music gets back, [the music] that's coming from our side of the pond, because it's been kind of poor and it's been missing.
Do you see any places like Chicago, New York, or Detroit having a new crop of producers that can carry their cities?
Well, there's a new crop of people and you have some of the champions that are still there. Seeing Kevin Saunderson last night, he sounded fantastic. It's nice to see people like him and people like MK, all these people that are beginning to resurface again. I'm doing work with Joe Smooth back in Chicago. You know, Marshall Jefferson and all these different people are just beginning to float back to the surface. It's nice because hopefully it will inspire and help along a lot of the new jacks, the guys trying to come along and do something. Show them to not limit their product to just a two-dimensional whatever, cause it's just a track. If the song isn't there, it's just a track.