FACT mix 192: Mike Huckaby

By , Oct 11 2010
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Mike Huckaby is at the controls for FACT mix 192. And what a mix it is.

“I’m just vibing, man,” he told us over e-mail. “I’m just going off of a lot of my experiences that I’ve accumulated from DJing, clubbing, the Music Institute in Detroit, the Shelter in NYC, touring, and selling records. So this mix is another set of classics from the vaults of Mike Huckaby…”

Yes, Huckaby has real pedigree. He worked for many years behind the counter at the Record Time store in Roseville, releasing his first 12″ on colleague Rick Wade’s Harmonie Park imprint in 1995, the aptly named Deep Transportation Vol.1. Its four tracks were rooted in the Chicago house tradition, but their shading and sense of space owed a great deal to Motor City techno and its P-funk ancestry, its percussive swing a great deal to jazz – it’s no surprise that Huckaby today counts not just Larry Heard, George Clinton, Stevie Wonder among his heroes, but also Sun Ra. “Larry Heard is the sole creator of deep house, and Sun Ra possesses the entire realm of all possibilities within jazz,” he asserts. “Jazz is the umbrella under which deep house resides.”

Huckaby released a second volume of Deep Transportation on Harmonie Park in 1996. Both records have since become part of the deep house canon, something which has come as no surprise to Huckaby, who was determined from the outset to make music that was future-proof.


“We made sure that our first releases behind our names would last, and stand the test of time.”



“We tested out our early productions in the record store religiously,” he recalls. “We would test our tracks out on the system, while people were shopping, just to see if we could get someone to look up and ask us what was playing.  That’s one of the reasons why those EPs are considered classics, and are very rare to this day.  We made sure that our first releases behind our names would last, and stand the test of time.”

Another reason that Huckaby’s productions sound eternally fresh is that he’s not in the business of pastiche. Though he’s quick to express his debt to Heard, Ra et al, he doesn’t live in the past. Indeed, when it comes to music-making technology, Huckaby is almost aggressively forward-looking, always on the look-out for interesting new equipment and keen to master it. He’s generous with his knowledge too: he’s taught students at the Youthville centre in Detroit for the best part of 4 years, coaching them in Ableton Live, Reaktor and other music production technologies.

Since those early Harmonie Park 12″s, Huckaby hasn’t exactly flooded the market with releases, working instead on honing his skills, and remixing the likes of Pole, Vladislav Delay and Norm Talley. His process-driven way of working reached a conceptual apogee on 2007’s My Life With The Wave: an EP recorded using solely the legendary Waldorf Wave keyboard. “I challenged myself to see if i could do it. Now I feel like a boxer who has trained with ankle weights and removed them on fight night.” Huckaby being Huckaby, he also released a limited edition Waldorf sample CD for other producers to work from.


“I feel like a boxer who has trained with ankle weights and removed them on fight night.”



Having recently contributed a track (‘Mathematics From The Jazz Republic’) to a split EP release with Jose Rico on Downbeat, Huckaby is about to embark on a European tour. At Berlin’s Farbfernseher on October 14 he’ll be playing a Sun Ra classics set as well as special reel-to-reel edits set; at the Unsound festival in Krakow on October 22 he tops an incredible bill at Klub Fabryka that also numbers Shackleton, Kyle Hall, Actress and Raime. There are further shows planned for Holland, Croatia and Russia. and the final stop of the tour is Plex’s 4th Birthday Party at London’s Corsica Studios.

Huckaby’s FACT mix is, of course, masterful – rooted in classic house but wild, even a little unhinged at times, with a rare energy and sense of funk that works in tandem with, rather than counter to, its immersive depth. He’s asked us to delay posting a tracklist for one week, to test your knowledge and get you track-spotting [tracklist now below]. Once a record store guy, always a record store guy, eh?

Tracklist:
1.  Sleezy d – Ive lost control  – Trax
2.  K’alexi Shelby – Vertigo – Transmat
3.  Jesse Saunders  – On and on rhythm tracks – jes say records
4.  Jamie Principle – Its a cold world – Trax
5.  Dj Raahan – Edits Vol 1.  Kat 004
6.  Jesse Saunders – on and on rhythm tracks = jes say records
7.  Anne Clarke – Our darkness
8.  The Garden of eden – The Serpent in the garden – Pepper records
9.  Baby Ford – Ford Trax – Torso records
10.  Risque 3 – Essence of a dream – House music records 006
11.  Master C and J – dub Love – Trax
12.  Mr. Fingers – Children at play – Jack Trax
13.  Baby Ford – Crashing – Ford trax – Torso Records
14.  Robert Owens – Im strong – Alleviated records

See the next page for an illuminating Q&A with Mike which touches on his future projects, formative influences and frustration with groupie culture: “The definition of a groupie is praising or being entertained by another artist while he is making money doing what you want to do, while you’re talking shit, and not working as hard as he is.”





Can you tell us a little about the mix you’ve recorded for FACT?

“Im just vibing man. I’m just going off of a lot of my experiences that I’ve accumulated from DJing, clubbing, the Music Institute in Detroit, the Shelter in NYC, touring, and selling records. So this mix is another set of classics from the vaults of Mike Huckaby.”


“To begin with, Rick Wade actually worked in another department within the shop  – the lame department.”


What have been your most important formative musical experiences? What artists or releases or moments really made you sit up and think, “this is something I want to do, or at least try to match”?

“Well, that’s an easy one.  A lot of primary influences came from Detroit. Weather it was George Clinton, Parliament, Stevie Wonder, or Detroit Electronic Music, the primarily influences were always from home.  Immediate influences outside of Detroit came from Larry Heard, and later on Sun Ra. Larry Heard is the sole creator of deep house, and Sun Ra possesses the entire realm of all possibilities within jazz. Jazz is the umbrella under which deep house resides.”

“Taking music theory and piano lessons for 10 years, studying chord progressions, listening to Sun Ra, and studying synthesis heavily has equipped me with many possibilities to explore.  Larry Heard’s ‘Slam Dance’ on Alleviated Records is the best example of something I tried to match or achieve.  That EP demonstrated early on for me the range of production skills a single producer had to be equipped with. It brilliantly incorporates house and techno, on a single EP.”

Your first couple of solo releases were on Harmonie Park. How did you get to know Rick Wade, how did you come to release music on the label?

“We both worked at a record store in Detroit.  He actually worked in another department within the shop  – the lame department. We were into many similar things, musically. So I rescued him and hired him in the department I ran. We immediately formed a friendship. But what most people don’t know is that Harmonie Park was originally formed between Rick Wade and Dan Bell. I was immediately selected as a person that the label would release music from.

“We tested out our early productions in the record store religiously. We would test our tracks out on the system, while people were shoping,  just to see if we could get someone to look up and ask us what was playing.  That’s one of the reasons why those EPs are considered classics, and are very rare to this day.  We made sure that our first releases behind our names would last, and stand the test of time.”


“Deep house is just a water drop in the ocean compared to its primarily influence, which is jazz.”




How would you describe the development of your sound over the years? Speaking in the abstract, do you feel you’re trying to push towards something that’s ahead of you, or rather trying to refine and perfect something that’s already in your grasp?

“A combination of both. You’re always trying to look ahead while trying to maintain the level of production standards of the times. Things are different these days with the advent of computer production, and digital software. In terms of hardware, you only had to worry about the warmth and clarity of the audio signal. In terms of software and digital production, you have an additional concern, and that’s the workflow which can be achieved through the software. I mention this in my workshops I do around the world quite heavily.”


For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us about the My Life With The Wave project?

My Life With The Wave was a EP that I recorded on my label, S Y N T H, which solely uses the Waldorf Wave Keyboard for all musical parts.  Every track on the entire EP solely uses the Wave for musical parts. I challenged myself to see if I could do it. Now I feel like a boxer who has trained with ankle weights and removed them on fight night. Furthermore, a sample CD was included with 200  limited copies of its release.”


“I was obsessed with Jean Philippe Rameau, a French composer who wrote the Treatise on Harmony.  I hired a mathematician, and even went to Czechoslovakia where I consulted someone to create a device in Reaktor which could further develop his ideas…”



You mentioned jazz when we first spoke. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship to jazz? Do you still follow contemporary stuff or is your interest rooted in the classic era? Who are your heroes in the field?

“My heroes in jazz are Sun Ra, Lonnie Liston Smith, Doug Carn, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, and Stevie Wonder. Again, as I’ve already said, jazz is the umbrella that most, if not all deep house is derived from. It’s really strange too, seeing that deep house is just a water drop in the ocean compared to its primarily influence, which is jazz.

“I’ve been trying to combine Sun Ra, jazz, and Reaktor for quite some time. I was actually obsessed with Jean Philippe Rameau, a French composer who wrote the Treatise on Harmony.  He translated music theory into algebraic terms. I hired a mathematician, and even went to Czechoslovakia where I consulted someone to create a device in Reaktor which could further develop his ideas. I’m still convinced by those ideas.”


“I got tired of all the bullshit presets most synthesizers shipped with. So I had to do something about that. Your next goal in life can always be identified by your dissatisfaction with something.”




What have you found the consistent pleasures and pains of making music over the years to be?

“Searching for new sounds, and creating them. That’s actually been a pain and pleasure.  This is the reason I went so heavily into synthesis. I got tired of all the bullshit presets most synthesizers shipped with. So I had to do something about that. Your next goal in life can always be identified by your dissatisfaction with something.”

Plus I had to break up a lot of groupie shit in the D. A lot of guys like MAW, Blaze, Kerri Chandler, and Louie Vega. But at the end of the day, can you play like Blaze? Can you create chord progressions like Kerri, or Louie Vega? If not then you’re just a groupie, or a Masters at Work cheerleader. People need to learn the production skills that make their favorite producers who they are.   The definition of a groupie is praising or being entertained by another artist while he is making money doing what you want to do, while you’re talking shit, and not working as hard as he is.


“The definition of a groupie is praising or being entertained by another artist while he is making money doing what you want to do, while you’re talking shit, and not working as hard as he is.”


You actively teach music production, right? How and when did you first begin doing so, and how would you say this experience feeds back into your own work (if at all)?

“I started teaching at Youthville in 1996. Nearly in the beginning. It just feels good to be able to contribute to a kid with talent, and enabling him to find a way out, while being able to see the world from the point of view of his blossoming talent.  Native Instruments and Ableton really have made a contribution to Detroit by lending their support in many ways.  They enabled me to teach classes there, and the effects from this will continue for quite some time. It makes me accountable for a workflow that I have to be able to describe. Both it terms of my own work and for other people.”


“The more you know, the less gear or software you need.”



Are you always hungry for new technology and additions to your studio set-up? Or are you content with your present lot?

“Absolutely. But I will admit that the more you know, the less gear or software you need. I’m always saying that I’ll never buy another piece of gear or keyboard again, but I’m just a sucker for technology when it comes to that.”

Can you tell us about any projects or releases that you’re working on at the moment?

Another sample CD, Deep Transportation releases, My Life With the Wave Vol. 2, and a few other remixes, and releases on both labels. I’ve been getting a lot of requests from some professional companies to do sound design, and thats what I wanted to get into (Loop Masters, Twisted Tools, etc). There are over 20 EPs that have used my sample CD on records, so that lets me know that people are listening across the spectrum.”

Kiran Sande


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