Playing Favourites: Alan Oldham

Posted: July 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Weather Report – River People ( CBS, 1978)

You once told me that you were raised on jazz fusion.

I was. That was the kind of music of my early and mid-teenage years. In those days that was grown people’s music, it was very sophisticated. If you wanted to feel cool and grown up and everything, you were into Weather Report and Chick Corea. Lenny White, who drummed for Chick Corea’s band Return to Forever, was one of my all-time favorites. This song, “River People,” was from Mr. Gone and Mojo used to play it every night. He really made a hit out of a track.

Would you say that Mojo kind of planted a seed in some techno heads with this music?

I would say so. Mojo, for the black community, was it. And this was in the pre hip-hop days where black people listened to everything in Detroit when I was growing up. It was that open atmosphere that allowed Detroit techno to form I think. And Mojo was definitely ground zero for the black community. I mean this guy would play The Isley Brothers, Prince, Alice Cooper, Weather Report. He was the first DJ to play B-52s in Detroit. He broke a lot of music to the black community that we would have never heard.

What was the main inspiration of the things that Mojo played for the first wave of techno producers in Detroit?

I would say the real ground zero for this music was Kraftwerk. Which Mojo also used to play. I was in high school—I’m really dating myself [laughs]—and they released “Man Machine” and “Numbers” back-to-back in America. In Europe, there was a gap, but in America they released those two records almost at the same time. That made a really big impact.

I played this because I wondered if there is some kind of connection between a lot of Detroit techno records and jazz. Juan, of course, said “Jazz is the teacher” at one point, and there are a lot of harmonies in Detroit techno that are pretty jazzy, really complex. I was wondering if Weather Report was the source for this connection.

I think it’s a source, but not the source. I think that Detroit techno came from a lot of different influences. You have to remember that, at the same time, Parliament/Funkadelic were big. So you had a lot of futuristic connections with those guys; Mothership Connection was a big thing. Detroit was a huge melting pot. If you look back, it’s pretty incredible. Everything now is just so market-tested.

Nitzer Ebb – Join In The Chant (Mute, 1987)

That was a classic. There used to be a club named Todd’s in Detroit. It was the big new wave punk rock bar in the ’80s. The main DJ was Charles English, and he had the new stuff all the time. When I was in college we used to go every Thursday. He broke that out, and that was it. I was like, “Wow, who are these cats?”

Later, I was hanging out with Derrick May over at his place. Derrick had just gotten back from London, and he was a pop star. I was doing a radio show at the time and he gave me the double pack, saying “Hey man, take this and play it tonight.” He was in with Mute, and they were giving him everything. I still play it out today, the original version.

I don’t know how much influence it had on Detroit techno, but back in those days we were listening to everything. So when Nitzer Ebb came down the pike, it was like, “Oh, that’s really good.” There was a radio show called Brave New Waves out of Canada on the CBC and we used to hear them play Nitzer Ebb.

This track is from 1987, when you began your own radio show, Fast Forward on WDET. That was a really important year for you.

Yes. I had done the artwork for Derrick [May]‘s “Nude Photo,” got my radio show. The night of my first broadcast, I went over to Derrick’s place, and he gave me all these records. He said, “Play these.” All of these records are what turned out to be the first techno records, a bunch of white labels. I was playing Detroit techno, what was then industrial and EBM, jazz fusion, a little hip-hop. WBLS, Brave New Waves, Mojo; those guys were my influences. I would go to see Charles play on a Thursday night at Todd’s and buy those records and play them on Friday night on my show.

How did you get the show?

Well, I was an intern at the station the summer before. I was putting the records in order. I started talking to the program director, and told her how much I was into Lenny White. She was like, “You know who Lenny White is?” I was super young compared to her at the time. So I said, “Yeah, one of the greatest fusion drummers to walk the Earth. Lenny White, Tony Williams.” She was impressed, and she asked if I had a demo tape. Fusion jazz got me the job, so that’s why I kept playing it. It was a whole mish-mash of genres, though.

Were the listeners appreciating that, or did you get criticism for being so eclectic?

I was on super late. It was from 3 AM to 6 AM. The graveyard shift. People dug it, they dug it right away. I’ll never forget playing “Acid Tracks” from Phuture, and some guy called me on the phone and was going insane. “What is this called? What kind of music is this?” It was the early days of electronic music, so nobody knew anything.

In those pre-internet days, doing research wasn’t easy.

Luckily, I worked at radio stations. So they had all of these libraries where you could go in and listen to whatever you wanted. Read the rest of this entry »


Rewind: Alan D. Oldham on “Presents The Adventures Of The Astral Pirates”

Posted: October 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

In discussion with Alan D. Oldham on “Presents The Adventures Of The Astral Pirates” by Lenny White (1978).

When and how was your first encounter with “Astral Pirates”?

My late grandmother used to work at Wayne County Community College in the ’70s in Detroit and was friends with the music reviewer for the school newspaper. When she finished reviewing a record or didn’t want it anymore, she gave it to my grandmother and she gave it to me. I was in my early teens. I got a few albums that way. This was 1978.

Why did you choose this album of all his works? What makes it so
important for you?

I didn’t choose it, it chose me! It was one of the records that my grandmother gave me. There was a stack of them. Queen “Jazz,” A Jan Hammer album. Stuff that was on Elektra in those days. But this one stood out  for me because of the Mike Kaluta painted cover, the  comic-book element and sci-fi concept. Read the rest of this entry »