I have already introduced you to the Belleville three, the three DJs who are credited with founding the Detroit techno sound. The first one I talked about recently was Derrick May. The other two are Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins. Together these three revolutionized the electronic music industry and put Detroit music on the map once again.
Today let’s look at the second of these three great DJs. Today let’s examine the life of Kevin Saunderson. Kevin was actually not originally from Belleville. Instead, he was born in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Belleville in Michigan, just outside Detroit, at the age of nine. It was during his time at Belleville high school that he met the other two DJs who make up the Belleville three.
But even before this, he had music in his life. Growing up in Brooklyn he was exposed to the music of the streets there and it made a lasting impact. It can be heard in his sound to this day. The influence of Brooklyn is definitely there in his mixes and it is something that is much less detectable in his two friends. Of course they were influenced by Kevin and the whole Detroit techno sound has some Brooklyn influences, but these are definitely the most notable in Kevin’s music.
Kevin Saunderson became friends with the other two in high school over a cup of coffee, but at first they did not necessarily get along. He actually had a bet going with Derrick May and when Derrick lost the bet, he decided not to pay. Kevin punched him in the face and knocked him out cold. Somehow this altercation developed into a lifelong friendship.
Unlike the other two guys, Kevin became a DJ a bit later. He first decided to pursue his original interests and went to university to study communications and also to play football. This was at Eastern Michigan University, so it was not a large program and he was not a superstar, but he was a pretty good athlete nevertheless. He also worked as a barista to make money and learned all about making the perfect coffee and espresso with a professional espresso machine. During this time, he watched Derrick and Juan Atkins go through the process of creating a musical track and this awakened his interest in DJing.
The three of them and always been interested in music and listened to a lot of it in high school. They then played around together and made their own music, but after high school it took Kevin a while to get back into it. Once he did, the other two showed him the ropes and taught him how to DJ and how to produce songs and he was soon making his own.
At first glance it would definitely seem that Kevin was nowhere near as prolific as the other two founding members of Detroit’s techno scene, but that is not entirely true. They did generally have bigger tracks and more of them, but Kevin had a lot more than you might think. The problem is that he created them under various pseudonyms. In fact, he had over 20 different names under which he created music. He even has a bass line named after him, the Reese bass from his full name :Kevin ‘Reese’ Saunderson. To me the fact that he used so many pseudonyms shows that he was the least worried about fame and really just did it for the love of the music.
Even today, he continues to produce and release great music but more importantly, he uses his label to bring along new talent and to get the next generation interested in music and get them creating some of their own. He has not lost his interest in athletics either. He sponsors several youth baseball teams and helps kids both through athletics as well as music. I only wish he did more to promote the study of singing. Nevertheless, he will go down in history as one of the creators of the techno sound for the work he has already done, but he is nowhere near finished and will likely add several pages to the historical documents that will illustrate his life.
For more on Kevin Saunderson, check out the Wikipedia article.