Celebrating Black History Month: Carl Craig on Afrofuturism and Detroit Techno

March 4, 2024 News

In honor of Black History Month, the Michigan State University (MSU) Museum and WKAR Public Media presented an extraordinary event, “From Detroit to the Cosmos: Carl Craig on Techno and Afrofuturism.” This exclusive gathering featured Detroit Techno legend Carl Craig in conversation with Dr. Julian Chambliss and took place on February 21 at the Communication Arts & Sciences Building at Michigan State University.

Digital advertisement for the Black History Month program featuring Carl Craig, produce by the MSU Museum in partnership with WKAR Pubic Media.

The event began with a reception from 6:00 to 7:00 pm, offering guests a rare chance to connect and engage in an informal atmosphere. The main highlight followed, as Carl Craig and Dr. Chambliss took the stage from 7:00 to 8:00 pm for a captivating dialogue. Their discussion explored Craig’s remarkable music career, his creative process, and the defining elements of Detroit Techno. Furthermore, they delved into the genre’s profound connection with Afrofuturism, emphasizing its cultural impact and significance.

Carl Craig, the visionary behind Planet E Communications, has cultivated a platform that upholds his independence while providing a liberating space for a diverse range of international artists over the past 30 years. His open-minded approach has led to releases that encompass hip-hop, jazz, funk, and more abstract electronic compositions, deliberately steering clear of commercial sounds. With an extensive production and performance history under various aliases, including 69, C2, and Paperclip People, Craig’s work boasts six LPs and over 600 remixes, earning him a Grammy nomination in 2008.

His immersive installation “Party/After Party” has been showcased at prestigious venues such as DIA: Beacon, Los Angeles’ esteemed MOCA, Carnegie Hall, and the Venice Biennale. His commitment to black excellence is evident in his educational projects, such as the “All Black Vinyl” Instagram series and partnerships with Beatport and Quincy Jones’ Qwest TV, featuring conversations with Black artists and live streams with rising African talent.

Dr. Julian Chambliss, the Val Berryman Curator of History at the MSU Museum and a Professor of English with a joint appointment in History at MSU, is an esteemed scholar. His research focuses on race, identity, and power in real and imagined urban spaces. His expertise added a profound dimension to the discussion on techno music and Afrofuturism.

As I sat in the audience, listening to Carl Craig’s insights on techno and Afrofuturism, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my own journey with his music. My fascination with Carl’s work dates back to the mid-1990s when I first discovered his innovative soundscapes. His ability to transcend genres and create a unique sonic experience has kept me captivated ever since. The fact that I had the opportunity to take a class with Francisco Mora Catlett, his collaborator on the iconic Innerzone Orchestra album, during my undergraduate years, made this event even more personal and meaningful. Carl’s music and collaborations have not only shaped the techno scene but also touched the lives of countless fans like me, proving that his influence extends far beyond the dancefloor.

A picture of me with Carl Craig and Julian Chambliss in the WKAR Public Media studio following a facilitated dialogue with Carl.

“From Detroit to the Cosmos: Carl Craig on Techno and Afrofuturism” was an unforgettable event that shed light on the rich history and future of techno music, its connection to Afrofuturism, and the influential role of Black artists in shaping the genre.