Who the Fowlkes is Eddie? 7 Insights from the Godfather of TechnoSoul
The narrative surrounding Eddie Fowlkes has been an interesting one in recent years, with publications trying to get the story straight on his actual role in the birth of techno. For decades “The Belleville Three” of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson dominated the discussion of pioneers of Detroit techno, but the tune has changed in the past few years, even Resident Advisor released an article called “The Bellville Fourth” and many publications have followed suit with their own post.
“Cream always rise to the top but if you’re a visionary and you have a vision, you can’t stop this. That’s how I got started, with an epiphany. I was at a deep space party and I had an epiphany that I wanted to make a record and everything went from there. Before that I was just on girls and DJing.”
Eddie was an essential element in the foundation of Detroit Techno and has quietly put together an impressive discography that spans over 30 years. His DJ sets are full of soul yet contain that driving bass that keeps the dancefloor moving. In addition to his flawless mixing, Eddie’s music selection is his secret weapon, and these will be on full display when he plays the Defected Gets Physical Tour in London, Ibiza and Berlin- you can view dates and buy tickets for the event here.
We caught up with Fowlkes this summer and he shared some fascinating insights with us. We hope you learn something new about the Godfather of Technosoul, enjoy!
1. “That’s something a lot of cats just don’t have—they didn’t grow up with the music running through them.”
Eddie Fowlkes tells me how he’s always been into music, ever since he was a child.
I was the youngest in a single parent household and my mom worked for the state so she went to work early. My sisters were older so they left for school before me and sometimes I just didn’t feel like going to school. So I would stay home and beat different drum patterns on the windowsill and all over the house. I’d be watching TV and on a commercial I’d be making beats with my hands and knees…and that’s something a lot of cats just don’t have…they didn’t grow up with the music running through them.
His sense of rhythm developed at a young age and it would later help him with DJing and music production.
2. “Nowadays you can pull a loop into Ableton or Logic without having any rhythm. So it carries over into your music selection— you’re stale.”
We discuss the biggest differences in the music production process today versus when Fowlkes began making beats in the 80s and his answer is a fascinating one:
The sequencing. The sequencer was a box so your timing had to be just right and a lot of guys couldn’t make it because they didn’t have rhythm. Nowadays you can pull a loop into Ableton or Logic without having any rhythm. So it carries over in your music selection [when you’re DJing]— you’re stale. You’re trying to choose music, but it chooses you. There’s a spirituality to DJing— when you play music for people, they can feel it.People read about these DJs with million-dollar contracts and think, ‘I can do that,’ but there’s a lack of passion and it’s apparent when they play. The crowd isn’t into it. You can’t bring that shit in Detroit- these mothaf*ckas coming to party. I came here to bang, bro. That’s Detroit. This is what DEMF is all about.
DEMF, known now as Movement Detroit, has always prided itself on showcasing the best underground electronic music. Eddie played the very first DEMF back in 2000. Fifteen years later, DEMF has evolved under different branding and management. I ask him how Detroit’s iconic music festival has changed since its inception.
3. “Before you would see your school teacher, someone you used to work with in college, all walks of life…now it’s paid clients and more roped off.”
Eddie talks about the transition of the festival from a local event to an international affair.
The first fest was free, so you had a lot of Detroit cats—in a way it was more energetic because you had more family and more kids so it was really intense. This is more structured now. Before you would go and see your former schoolteacher or someone you used to work with in college… all walks of life…now it’s about paid clients and more roped off.
I ask him about the evolution of the dancefloor, specifically in Detroit, and how it has changed since he began his career.
4. “The whole gauntlet has changed in a good way…. it’s better because now the party is not just in Detroit.”
Dance music culture has changed in many ways- business-wise, clothing wise, music style…the whole gauntlet has changed in a good way. Detroit’s music scene is really different, too. A lot of cool people left. Now the suburb kids come out which is cool but the big difference is—Detroiters will come at like 11 and leave 1:45. Suburb kids come in later and leave later—it’s extended. It’s better because now the party is not just in Detroit, but in Ferndale, Royal Oak, Pontiac, Ann Arbor— it’s more spread out.
5. “…DJs come and go— I’ve seen them all come and go even the best of them.”
When these kids grew up, they grow up on music. So subconsciously they know some good music when they hear it. If you’ve been playing music for a lot of years, you get an idea of how you’re going to play at any given time depending on the crowd. If you see more girls you know what to play or you see less girls you know what to play. But a lot of cats come in with their egos, their manager, and get their money. I put it this way- those DJs come and go and I’ve seen them all come and go, even the best of them. And there’s only one DJ that’s stood the test of time and it’s Carl Cox. He’s the only one.
6. Derrick [May] wanted to call this “Best of Detroit House” and Juan [Atkins] said, “No man, I make Detroit techno.”
I ask Eddie about this record (pictured) – the first techno compilation. His first single “Goodbye Kiss” is on the record, but his face does not appear on the gatefold alongside Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Mike Banks and Blake Baxter. I’m curious why he was left out, because he was a catalyst in the birth of Detroit techno. Eddie shares his memory of what happened:
Derrick’s manager put this together and he didn’t care for me so that’s why I’m not pictured on here. Derrick wanted to call this “Best of Detroit House” and Juan said, “No man, I make Detroit techno.” At the time Juan and I were living in LA when this went down. It was around the time when NWA had “F*ck the police” coming out and LA Dream Team, MC Hammer, all them cats got their album deals. So we’re out there struggling and trying to get a record deal when Derrick calls us and tells us we’re about to do this record with Ten Records (sub label of Virgin at the time) so we said, ‘f*ck it, let’s go back.’ Backstory: Before this, Derrick and I were roommates, so this is some roommate bullshit with his manager I didn’t like. And it turns out I was right his manager was a rip off artist. So when the press came out, they focused on Juan, Derrick and Kevin because his [Derrick’s] manager didn’t like me and that’s how it went down.
7. “It was a business move.”
Eddie is known as the Godfather of Technosoul. When I ask him what the word means to him answer is honest and unexpected.
When you put out a track, they’re always trying to define your music with genres. I play house and I play techno— to me soul is just another word for house so I just made that name up to make people curious—now they want to hear the track because they want to know what is Technosoul. It was a business move. A lot of cats, they say ‘hey I’m a minimal DJ,’ or ‘ I play tech house,’ and as trends change the genres change. Trance was hot then Progressive House caught on and then Minimal was really popular a few years ago and now EDM is in and everyone wants some chords and shit. EDM is on its way out and Technosoul will never go out of style.