Detroit techno music pioneer samples Ford plant sounds

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
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Electronic music producer Kevin Saunderson toured Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant to collect sounds.

The daily clanks, thuds, buzzes and other noises inside Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Assembly Plant could soon be the backdrop to the next dance-club hit.

Kevin Saunderson, an electronic music producer hailed as a founding father of Detroit techno, recently toured the Wayne factory to collect sounds as inspiration for future music. Saunderson — tailed by a film crew documenting his visit — wound his away through most of the 5 million-square-foot facility, holding a microphone as presses stamped steel into parts and Focus and C-MAX bodies moved down assembly lines.

"It's hard to say what it will be used for," he said in an interview. "You take samples, put it in the machine, and you never know what vibes it might bring. It could bring nothing, it could bring something amazing."

Saunderson, who had never been in an assembly plant, said he was inspired by the rhythm and frequency of rattling chains that sounded to him like a roller coaster. He was surprised by high-pitched tones from machinery that reminded him of how he creates tones through the oscillators of a synthesizer.

"It had nothing to do with music, but it actually does," he said. "The way (workers) use it is totally different than the way I'd use it."

Michigan Assembly isn't new to music. Earlier this year, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra played a concert there.

"It's very Detroit," Saunderson said of the scene. "You know people who work in a plant, you see the cars in a store or on the street. Coming in and seeing the machinery, seeing the whole process, I think it's amazing."

Saunderson recently returned to Detroit after two years in Chicago. He wanted to reconnect with Detroit and its music.

He's finishing a small studio inside his Novi home to start making more of his own beats, and is looking for space for a larger studio in downtown Detroit.

Reconnecting with Detroit

"We never stopped having talented artists in our city," he said. "It's nice to have that (presence downtown) and be more accessible."

Even when he lived out of state, Saunderson visited Detroit and performed at the yearly Movement electronic music festival at Hart Plaza. He said the city has a well-established international reputation for good electronic music and he's constantly asked about it when he travels abroad for shows.

"Detroit is still movin' and groovin,' " he said. "We've gone through a few generations and there's a lot of young talent that's coming up. It's keeping the pulse going."

Saunderson said he's keeping busy, having just finished a remix for artist David Guetta. He is working on a three-track EP that he hopes to release next year.

Kevin Saunderson wound his away through most of the plant holding a microphone as presses stamped steel into parts.

'Impact of techno'

Saunderson said the noises and sounds he heard at the factory likely would have heavily influenced his music if he'd taken the tour when he was new to the industry.

The documentary crew with which he toured the plant will soon release a piece about his life and the Detroit scene.

"It talks about the impact of techno and how I started this music along with other guys," he said. "We were young college students making this music, but we were creating an industry."

Saunderson likened himself to auto pioneer Henry Ford for the way both men innovated their respective fields.

"There's a connection there," he said. "Henry Ford moves people with cars, I move people with music."

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