“It's very hard for me to describe my sound. A friend of mine told me 'Kai, your sound is as real as dirt'. If that's any kind of compliment or indication I don't know, but I'll take it.”
Having dropped his remix of The DangerFeel Newbies last month, along with a huge remix of ‘Precious Cargo’ incoming and him mixing one side of Defected In The House: Croatia – we caught up with Kai Alce, who has also provided the latest guest mix for Defected In The House Radio show.
America has not only been responsible for the best house music, it has also been responsible for the best house music DJs. Detroit, Chicago & New York are not revered for nothing, that's where the best stuff comes from. It's the ability of particularly Detroit and Chicago DJs to seamlessly traverse so many styles and moods, from soul and disco through to energetic techno, that is so inspirational. And, as a DJ, Kai Alce displays the same kind of variation, having learned from the best.
Although he has been based in the American city of Atlanta for the last two decades, producer and DJ Kai Alce has a history with each of these pivotal places. New York is where he spent his first decade. “In New York, the multi-cultural environment you're in, it made me open to all kinds of music'” says Alce. “Also, my parents being Haitian, I was raised on Caribbean and Spanish music and jazz, which is what my father used to listen to. In the 70s in New York disco was all over the place, hip hop was just beginning. Then I moved to Detroit and it was the birth of house music and techno.”
It was in Detroit that Alce gained his first experience of clubbing and electronic music, not least the early Chicago tracks. “Growing up and meeting like-minded people, Kenny Dixon, Terence Parker, all those guys I knew in high school,” says Alce of his formative years in Detroit. “At that time I don't think anybody was really producing, but we all grew up in that dance culture, being provided music by Derrick May, Mike Huckaby. I was immersed in that sound.”
It was one specific Detroit club that left the most indelible mark on Alce. It ran for less than two years in the late 80s but The Music Institute club was inspirational, a black owned club showcasing, to a largely black audience, the emerging sounds of Detroit techno's pioneers Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Derrick May alongside Chicago house and disco. The club's futuristic Friday night, chiefly helmed by ferocious local DJ talent Derrick May, championed the newer sounds. Saturday night's residents (and co-owners of the club) Chez Damier and Alton Miller stuck to a more recognised formula.
“Derrick May was playing prototypes of all that music on Fragile or Transmat that hadn't come out yet, playing it on reel to reel,” says Alce. “Alton and Chez played more classic (Paradise) Garage, Ten City, Salsoul, more vocals, more organic. Friday nights were more tracky, more aggressive.”
The impact of The Music Institute can be heard in both the productions and the DJing of Kai Alce. It's a debt he's gratefully acknowledged in the compilation release on his own NDATL label, the label name being an abbreviation of New York, Detroit and Atlanta, the cities in which he's lived. As a producer he is incredibly varied but it’s the soul inflected themes of Saturday nights that shine through his productions, the playlists of Alton Miller and Chez Damier audible in exceptional recent remixes for Sandman & Riverside feat Jeremy Ellis 'Into Your Story' (FFWD) and The Dangerfeel Newbies 'What Am I Here For?' (Defected) which he produced in 2014 and in 2016 respectively.
“I learned a lot from Chez Damier.”
A distant cousin of Alce by marriage, Chez Damier looms particularly large in Kai's make up. He took him under his wing, mentoring him as a DJ and producer, and then via his benchmark deep house imprint Prescription/Balance, which he ran in the 90s with Ron Trent. Although Alce states that “all the old school labels, Strictly Rhythm, Nervous, Easy Street” were influences, it's the near unparalleled finery issued by Prescription/Balance to which Alce's own music can joyously and easily be compared.
“I throw out these limited 12”s. I have some that come out on digital, some that don't. I have different variations of the same 12” and I learned that from Prescription because they would have a dub 12” and another that would include tracks from previous releases. Not only the sound, I learned a lot about marketing and giving not too much but enough from them. Prescription totally helped with my blueprint for what I do.”
“Moodymann has definitely also been an influence on me, as has Theo Parrish,” says Alce of more contemporary peers, “Terrence Parker too. The New York cats Joe Clausell, Jovonn, Josh Milan, they always inspire me and there's always Larry Heard. He's number one, right?” He has remixed his hero Larry Heard and had the favour returned, while also releasing on other well regarded labels such as Prescription, Tsuba, Local Talk, Moodymann's Mahoghani Music and Omar S' FXHE.
“NDATL is a place not only for my own music but for everything I've grown up on,” says Alce. “I want to express it in the best way possible. I like tracky stuff, I like vocal stuff, I don't want to pigeonhole the label as being strictly Detroit techno or strictly Atlanta house, you know. So, I'm just really pulling on all my influences, the sounds that made me.”