In May, techno luminary Carl Craig will release Versus, a new LP that takes classics from his lauded back catalog and re-works them with an orchestra. The result is a lavish hybrid of electronic and classical music.
Craig has a point to make here. "With electronic music, there's always been this fight for validation with the world of close-minded listeners or critics," he tells Billboard Dance. "In many cases, people would say that electronic music 'isn't real music.' The same thing that was said about rock and roll back in the '50s." Working with an orchestra allows the producer to take the fight directly to the close-minded listeners who insist on preserving artificial walls between the worlds of classical and electronic music.
In 2008, Craig's project made its live debut in Paris with help from the Les Siecles orchestra conducted by Francois-Xavier Roth. The same orchestra assisted him with the Versus album, as did the pianist Francesco Tristano, whose last record appeared on Transmat, the famed label of Detroit techno legend Derrick May.
The orchestral rework of Craig's "At Les" is premiering exclusively on Billboard Dance today. Listen below, and read a brief Q&A with Craig.
What was the initial spark for this project?
My partner on the project, Alexandre Cazac, he had the brainstorm to do something like this. Sitting around with Derrick May and myself for years, we've always discussed the concept of soundtracks and all that. Alex started with the release of Francesco Tristano on his Infiné label, and he wanted to do something incredible with techno and an orchestra. Of course I was open to it, because we'd always been dreaming of an idea like this to come together.
What appeals to you about mixing electronic and classical?
Doing it with orchestra, there's a type of musical validation that happens outside of the people who know. You can bring people in from the outside that don't know anything about electronic music. They hear what we've done here and they're like, "ok, well who's this composer Carl Craig?" Then they can walk into my world. I'm leaving the door open; I'm luring them in.
You still feel that electronic music is still looked down upon even today?
Electronic music is something that even within the electronic music community you have people that decide to diss other styles of it. When EDM was coming in, it's like, "EDM's shit." It's like saying the Kenny G kind of jazz is bad jazz -- there are good things to come from it. You have naysayers within your own world as well as naysayers outside of your world. I like the idea that we've been able to do performances for people that know techno music but also to people who know classical music and we've had great responses from both.
How did you select the songs that you were going to redo in a classical meets techno format?
Francesco and I, when the project was being put together, we had a couple meetings about the pieces. He had some ideas and I had some ideas. Some of the ideas that he had, which from his angle probably would have been something ultra revolutionary like a Paperclip People track, I felt like maybe it didn't have enough movement to make it where the players were entertained as well as the people. We tried to put as much in there that had melody. A song like "At Les" that is a repetitive loop but has this melodic quality that grows and pulsates. It took a couple of sessions for us to really go through the ins and outs of the material and figure out what we both could agree on.
Were there lessons you took from the first performance event in 2008 that helped you make the album?
That event gave me a clearer idea of what could be done, what I should do. Playing for an orchestra was a huge deal for me, because I walked into that and I wasn't the boss. I wasn't the cat. The boss was the conductor. I had to stand there and wait for him to tell me when to play. On my own music! It was a great learning experience for me.
Do you people still dance to the techno when you perform it with an orchestra?
Classical music for the most part, in my opinion, is dance music. There's tons of dances -- waltzes, other types of styles -- and Beethoven, Bach, whomever have made dance music. It just happened to be classical music. Sitting back and listening in the way we know now for classical music is not really the whole intention of what the music is or what it represents. We have this idea of being a stuffy thing, but that's not really where it was when the music was being written for kings.