Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Kevin Saunderson

Easily the most dexterous in the stable of Detroit techno pioneers, Kevin Saunderson recorded some of the hardest and most mechanistic techno to come out of the Motor City but routinely hit the mainstream dance charts as well with productions for his techno-pop act Inner City. From his very first production, Saunderson forged an energetic, ground-breaking style for techno — a dense rhythmic assault of sound-samples and heavy percussion, often with a repetitive chanted chorus forming the only vocals. His Inner City productions however, consisted of much slicker, house-inspired tracks underpinning the vocal workouts by Paris Grey — and later, his wife Ann. The group hit Great Britain's Top 40 eight times, and earned four number one club hits on the American dance chart as well. After Inner City's initial success in 1988, the group remained his primary concern until the mid-'90s, but Saunderson never deserted his hard-hitting production style; throughout the 1980s and '90s, Saunderson recorded as Tronik House, the Reese Project, E-Dancer, Inter-City, Essaray and Reese & Santonio (the latter as a duo).
Saunderson accompanied Derrick May and Juan Atkins to Detroit's fabled Music Institute and formed his own KMS Records in 1986. Early Saunderson singles like "Triangle of Love" by Kreem and "The Sound" and "Bounce Your Body to the Box" by Reese & Santonio quickly made the transition from local clubplay to radio and finally, export to Britain, where they became underground hits along with Derrick May singles like "Nude Photo" and "Strings of Life." In 1988, Saunderson was working on a track when he realized that a vocalist might give it the sound he wanted; he was recommended to Paris Grey, and the two collaborated on the single "Big Fun." Released later that year on the British compilation Techno: The New Dance Sound of Detroit, it became a Top Ten hit in England. The follow-up "Good Life" also hit the Top Ten, and though Inner City's success didn't quite translate in his native land, Saunderson spent much of 1988-89 producing, remixing and recording in Great Britain.
Later KMS singles like Reese's "Rock to the Beat" and E-Dancer's "Pump the Move" continued Saunderson's commitment to hard-hitting Detroit techno, but he also signed Inner City to a major-label contract with Virgin Records and in 1989 released its debut album, Big Fun (the first full-length released by any new Detroit producer). Pressured by Virgin to move into more marketable R&B instead of strictly club music, Inner City responded in 1990 with Fire, an album which still made few concessions to pop audiences. Similar to Big Fun, the album did well in Britain and in American clubs, but never translated to the large-selling domestic audience.
In 1991, Saunderson unveiled his new alias, the Reese Project. A more gospel-oriented variant of the Inner City techno-pop sound, Reese Project toured Britain as a support act for Inner City and debuted with the 1992 album Faith, Hope & Clarity. Inner City released its third album Praise that same year, and though it wasn't received as well as their first two, the single "Ahnongay" showed a more experimental side of Saunderson on what had previously been his most commercial guise. Inner City returned to the charts with more mainstream dance tracks like 1994's "Do Ya" and "Share My Life," then released their fourth album in 1996.

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