Interview by Tajh Morris • Photos by Crawdaddy Chris
Eddie Fowlkes is a living legend. Undeniably one of the founders of Detroit Techno culture, his roots go back to the Prep days on the west side of Detroit. Having an older sister in the 70s meant that Eddie was exposed to the high school progressive scene and after attending a Sharevari party his fascination with dance music was cemented. Recognized as the “Belleville Fourth,” his 1986 debut ‘Goodbye Kiss’ released on Juan Atkins’ Metroplex label was essential in furthering the expansion of the Detroit Techno sound. Being a part of this movement since its inception has given Eddie a front seat to the ups and downs of electronic music. He is known for speaking his mind and has the pedigree to back it up. In this interview we delve into how the last few years have affected his views.
Tajh: As of now we’re opened back up from COVID lockdowns. How are you feeling about everything? Are you excited? Do you have any concerns about how rapidly we’re opening back up?
Eddie: Man with the new variant and the way China’s shut back down… that speaks volumes to me. This is going to be the norm for the next three years. And if you don’t get on now, you’re not gonna get a gig in Europe, unless they really want you. If you don’t have a hell of a booking agent for America right now, you’re going to be shit out of luck. Everybody wants to come over here in the winter months. America’s going to be wide open to Europeans. Not only Europeans, but to the rest of the world because Americans just don’t want to be shutdown again. It’s an economic fuck up.
Tajh: People should be prepared for something like this to keep happening over the next few years, but I think it’s difficult for artists to wrap their heads around. If you don’t have some savings you’re shit out of luck. If stuff has to be shut down again, the government’s not going to help us out.
Eddie: No, that shit ain’t coming again. That’s why I’ve been hustling. All my gigs, like 99%, are over in Europe. I didn’t really care about America because my market was over there. I never thought all this shit was going to occur. Now I have to find some management in America because my European people don’t know nothing about America. [This year] I had gigs starting the second week of January. I was supposed to play in the Eastern Bloc. So the war kicked off and fucked all my shit up. Then I started thinking about China. Shit is going to be buck wild again. I guess you and I are going to have to hit the lotto.
Tajh: We’re like 30, 40 years into dance music being a thing and there’s still no market for artists to survive in America. You still have to go overseas to maintain your living. With COVID and the war, it shows that might not always be so possible. Do you think that we need to finally start building up America so that we can be self-sufficient?
Eddie: There’s no more small clubs that people can make good money out of, in my opinion. You’re down to about two clubs in Detroit, when before you had tons of clubs in Detroit. You know Americans like big things, like Texas. Money, greed and power bro. That’s always been the staple of America.
To be honest I don’t see it changing. If you say something bad you’re a hater. You just got to come up with a plan. Come up with a plan and it can knock some walls down. You know what I mean?
I’ve been turned down by some of the best booking agents in America in the past week and a half. But that’s okay. I see how this game is going. Excuse me. I already know how the game goes. I’ve gotta re-prove myself to muthafuckas in America.
Tajh: Even in most American cities there’s not even enough clubs for real DJs to have residencies or anything like that. The whole experience is different compared to when you came up. They treat club nights like concerts, you know what I’m saying?
Eddie: <laugh> You got that right man.
Tajh: I feel that now a large part of it is social media driven. If you don’t have a large social media presence, you’re kind of shit out of luck.
Eddie: I wouldn’t even say that, because I’ve seen cats with no social media presence, at all, that can’t even crack a thousand followers. And they get all the media attention with the top manager and booking agent. I won’t drop names on these individuals. It goes to show my point: it’s who you know. Black, white, straight, gay don’t matter.
Tajh: America is supposed to be a meritocracy, but it’s not. I think that applies to all the industries, especially ours. I feel like there have been ebbs and flows over the decades of hype. It gets over saturated and eventually the bubble pops. Then people start looking back to like the real shit. You don’t think that that’s going to happen again?
Eddie: No, I don’t think so. Everybody plays this synthetic techno shit, where it has no peaks and valleys. It’s just flat. Nobody is thinking about creativity. All the change is coming from viral bullshit. I don’t see the DJ changing things like before. Everybody is focused on everything but the studio. There’s too much me, myself and I.
Tajh: Is there a favorite spot that you used to play? Let’s say, in Detroit and/or America.
Eddie: You ever heard of Ice Breakers?
Eddie: Ice Breakers were parties at the beginning of college season. All the Black fraternities would have their parties and get together in a big gymnasium. If you weren’t one of the top 5 DJs, you weren’t playing.You played the hits but also you could put in some progressive stuff. And they got down to it.
Tajh: Now with Black fraternities it’s mostly pop culture music. At what point did house and techno get pushed to the wayside by Black youth culture?
Eddie: My record came out in ‘86 and then Public Enemy came out. I remember my 12” was next to their album on the wall at the same time. That’s when radio stations started to just play hip hop. They put the house and techno on late night. Jeff Mills was on, but playing music at double it’s speed.
Tajh: What was your perspective on the whole Jits versus Prep thing? Where did you fall in that?
Eddie: Oh I was a Prep all day. To me preps are the Eastside of Detroit and the Jits are the West side. When the BKs (Black Killers) and the Errol Flynns started doing they dance, they was jittin. Everybody was dressed up back then. They had on dress shoes and jingle boots. It started with the East side gangs and spread over to the West side. A lot of Black kid’s parents were like, “Hey leave that shit alone.” They became Preps. Kids who went off to college were the preppy kids.
Tajh: Was there really no co-mingling of Preps and Jits except for the DJs and the producers? What side do you think had more influence on techno music?
Eddie: I think there were a few Jits going to Prep parties, but the West side cats had a whole different style of music. The East side cats were stuck on older, stuck in the past. With the West side, even my Uncle was playing more progressive music. Jazz, The Time, Grover Washington, Earth Wind & Fire, then Funkadelic came in and took over the whole town. When Run DMC came in it was on both sides. People mixed rap with the Eurythmics (new wave), things like that.
I met Juan at Eastern Michigan. He grew up on the West side but lived on the East side. Derrick May was a downtown kid, which was preppy. I didn’t know Kevin Saunderson at the time. I was big in the party scene on the west side before I met them. Sherwood Forest, University District, and Palmer Park were neighborhoods where kids parents had some money. Those three areas were where the whole backyard Preppy/6 Mile shit started for our age group. Backyard parties were real important from ‘78-‘80.
Tajh: Was there any crossover or anyone from your uncle’s disco scene, for instance, that had any influence upon what y’all were doing?
Eddie: Oh yea (DJs) Ken Collier, Duane the Mixx Bradley. They were my uncle’s age. They had a little twist to they shit. They were in the gay scene so their collection went a little bit deeper. My uncle was into a lot of funk and jazz. He’s the one who got me into a lot of music, always showing me new music.
Tajh: Did you know John Collins (Underground Resistance) back then?
Eddie: I met John at Cheeks (night club.)
Tajh: He was a resident there right?
Eddie: I can’t remember. The only people I remember there were Al Ester and John, but I used to go there man. I was mainly listening to new records and looking for hot girls. I didn’t really pay attention to who was playing.
Tajh: How much awareness did you have of what was going on in the Chicago scene at the time?
Eddie: When I went up to Western Michigan my sisters were up there too. I started hearing people play this radio station WBMX. Late night you could catch the frequencies and hear the mix shows that you couldn’t hear during the daytime because there was too much interference. People would bring tapes back from Chicago. The first opportunity to go there, I got to hear Frankie Knuckles.
Everything happens for a reason. How could I know that I would stay friends with Frankie until the day he died? How could I know what I was hearing and playing as a kid would change the world? I tell my kids everything you do now will change your future. You’ve got to see all the angles. You have to plan ahead. I seen muthafuckas lose their minds in this business.
Tajh: That’s a real thing. People paying you, feeding you drugs, feeding you alcohol and all that gets caught up real quick.
Eddie: Yeah I didn’t see the drug side but I saw the ego side of it. Cats lie to get into a position and get a little success. Their ego goes crazy and they lose it. It’s like they never realized the game is bigger than them. You know what I mean? You have to put in work. They want that instant gratification. They fucking lose it. I’ve seen some fucked up shit.
Tajh: Last thing, let’s say a best case scenario happens. You became the head of entertainment and nightlife in Detroit. You have a full budget. What are some of the first things you would do to change the industry?
Eddie: If you want to change the nightlife in Detroit, you have to control the radio waves. You’ve got to have a radio station because you can hit the masses. People say they don’t listen to the radio. That’s bullshit. When you turn on the car, you’re going to hear some shit. The
radio station would be a podcast too. That’s the first thing I would do because that would manifest so many changes around here.
I would make sure I had the right people playing the music too. You would have to have at least ten to twelve years behind the turntables. Your music collection should go far, it should be able to take people on journeys. If your collection is too small, only place you taking people is to the bathroom when they are drunk.
If you don’t know your market, you don’t know yourself. The best DJs older than me were gay. So you got acclimated to their style you learn how to play both sides of the fence. I was the first Detroit person to play at Panorama Bar. The place had only been open a few years. People were trying to figure out what I was playing and it was all vinyl, old school Detroit shit. That’s why I say the older the DJ the badder the music. The young kids will disagree with you, but that’s why their shit sounds flatline. They have no peaks and valleys. If you get to a certain age and you’re DJ’ing, people will love you because you can take them on a journey.
Tajh: How can we keep up with your projects?
Eddie: All of my music is on all major platforms like Beatport, Traxsource, Apple music, Spotify, etc. Vinyl is available on my Bandcamp under Eddie Fowlkes.
Tajh: The “AK1” track on the DEQ compilation (part 2), how did it come about?
Eddie: I caught a nice groove and decided to name it AK1. Ace is my wife and I am the king. My daughters are the 1s so I just abbreviated everything. No reference to guns. I come in peace.
Tajh: What is the name of your favorite smoothie?
Eddie: I call it “Keep It Moving.” It has kale, spinach, pineapple, ginger, blueberries, strawberries, basil (for thought process.) You’ll be surprised how much basil helps your memory functions.