Detroit Techno Legend Carl Craig on Miles Davis, Andy Warhol, and Other Recent Interests

May 29, 2020 3:06 pm

The legendary Detroit techno DJ Carl Craig recently created his first project for an art institution: the sound installation Party/Afterparty, which debuted at Dia:Beacon in early March. Shortly before the installation opened, Craig shared five things on his mind. —The Editors

I recently bought a few pieces by Sheefy McFly, a Detroit graffiti artist. His style reminds me of Keith Haring’s. He’s also a musician—house, techno, and rap. Last year, Sheefy was commissioned by the City of Detroit to create a public mural as part of a city beautification project, and the police arrested him because they thought he was just graffitiing a building. The incident became a big news story here, which is how Sheefy got on my radar. Something negative turned into a real positive, because now he’s definitely a star in Detroit—his name is on everybody’s lips.

I get a lot of inspiration from architecture: I pay attention to buildings and landscapes wherever I go. In part, that comes from being from Detroit, which has an important history of modern architecture. Cranbrook Academy of Art is right outside the city, so people like Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Eero Saarinen all studied or taught here. I live in a Mies van der Rohe apartment complex, so modernist design is something I experience every day.

Tyree Guyton is a Detroit legend. I first stumbled across the Heidelberg Project [1986–] when I was around nineteen or twenty years old, in 1988, and it made me understand that it’s possible to make art out of anything—he turned an entire street of vacant houses into an artwork. I’ve seen the project change over the past thirty years: some of the houses have been demolished by the city, or burned down, or just fallen apart. One that really made an impact on me was the House of Soul, which had vinyl records all over it—unfortunately that one went up in flames in 2013. But with that kind of living artwork, you know it isn’t going to be there forever.

I’ve thought a lot about the space at Dia:Beacon and how the sound in my installation reacts to the architecture. The building is really vast, so I’ve had to compose around the room, thinking about its tempo. That’s something you see with the installation of artworks there too. My favorite is Andy Warhol’s Shadows [1978–79], which has its own gallery—the canvases line the walls, going all the way around the room. You get a sense of a progression, even though the individual components are all very similar. Shadows is amazing to me not only because it’s by Warhol, but because of how it works with the architecture—the airiness of the space, the skylight, the lines of the building.


One of my strongest musical influences is Miles Davis. Miles wasn’t just a great musician; he was a visionary. After making records like Kind of Blue [1959] and Sketches of Spain [1960], which are jazz classics, he got turned on to a younger generation of musicians in the 1960s—people like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone—and started making music that people found really challenging. The jazz guys hated things like Bitches Brew [1970], Live-Evil [1971], and Agharta [1975], but those are my favorites. Miles was constantly re-creating himself, re-creating his style, and doing things to push his music forward.


This article appears under the title “Sightlines: Carl Craig” in the March 2020 issue, p. 20.