Kyle Hall and the Rebranding of Detroit Techno
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Back in the summer of 2009, a week before his 18th birthday, Detroit’s Kyle Hall made his live debut outside of his hometown at Brooklyn’s ecstatic and sweaty outdoor dance party, Sunday Best (now known as Mister Sunday). The anticipation was high, as Hall had been highly touted as the next generation of Detroit dance music producers, in the fine lineage of Carl Craig, Moodymann and the like, a show sponsored by dance music website, Resident Advisor. Hall’s set on that hot and dusty eve began to build and build and then, just as the bass kicked in, it all went dead. No power. And when it was restored, the first hits of bass again blew the fuse. It seemed to be a young DJ’s worst nightmare come true.

“Aww man, it didn’t bother me a bit, I was happy,” he tells Hive. “It was a blast to be at Sunday Best.”

Now about to turn 22, Kyle Hall’s Midwestern drawl is evident as he recalls that gig, chatting with me by phone while driving around Detroit in his Mitsubishi Outlander. After a series of singles and collaborative releases, Kyle Hall is finally dropping The Boat Party, his debut full-length on his own Wild Oats label. “After the singles, I needed to present people with a body of work so that they can reference a certain sound,” he says.

The Boat Party’s eight tracks are succinct and invigorating. Some are raw and in the red, while others are carefully built up from modern soul and sweet boogie samples to counterbalance the wicked house bludgeoning to be had on cuts like “Crushed.” And even though his touring schedule now carries him to Europe more often than not, he finally found the time to come home and hone the album: “I get writer’s block when I travel too much,” he says. “But once I get back home and get grounded, I’m able to get back into it.”

Despite the city’s proud electronic music lineage, when Hall was coming up in Detroit as a teenager, it was considered passé to make such music. “The perception of dance music was either: it was your parents’ music, and then the other side was it undesirable because of the Eurocentricism attached to it,” Hall says. “That European Caucasian white vibe for me and my peers it was a turn-off. We were into ‘Laffy Taffy.’” It was up to Hall and a new generation of producers like Manuel Gonzales (M Gun) to reclaim their sonic birthright.

As far as the album’s songs go, the title of one, “Dr. Crunch,” fits perfectly with the kick crunching at 127 BPM while Hall sprays sparks around the metallic high-end. “Spoof” has its bass and high-hat distort at the edges, turning fuzzy and intimate as synths swirl about like silt at the bottom. “I made ‘Spoof’ in my bedroom closet, trying to see how much I could get out of the limitations of using only three pieces of equipment,” Hall says of the track, which he rendered with only an MPC, a home entertainment EQ and hard-disk recorder. As to why he holed up in his closet rather than his studio though? “I was just trying to catch a vibe,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll change up my environment: I change my studio around a lot in the house, just to catch different feels to it.”

So it’s house music made around the house. And at all hours as well: “I work day and night,” he says. “I’ll start in the daytime, take a break, move on and then revisit it later in the night.” Leading up to making The Boat Party, Hall estimates he got, on average, about three hours of sleep a night. One of the album highlights, the ghetto house flurry of “Finnapop,” was a spur-of-the-moment creation. “I was just eating some breakfast in the kitchen with my girlfriend when that happened,” Hall says. “We were just hanging out, listening to some records, and I just went in there and we started dancing to the loop and freaking it out.”

Ever so slyly, the cover art and title of The Boat Party comments on outsiders’ perceptions of Detroit. Hall said he gets flown out to DJ luxurious boat parties in Croatia, Italy and elsewhere, and readily admits to benefiting from “Detroit dance music being glorified abroad in Europe.” “They fly Detroit guys out to play,” he says, “but there’s a lot of issues going on in the city that they don’t know about.” So while driving around the city last winter, Hall found an abandoned, dilapidated boat and decided to give his fans a real slice of what life in Detroit really looks like. He goes on, “They think it’s a techno city here. They think that Juan Atkins is just rolling around bumping techno. They think the party scene is thriving here. I wanted to make a reality check and show a juxtaposition between the two worlds, between the concept of Derrick May driving his Porsche down the street or Omar S. in one of his cars and what Detroit is really like.”

But it cuts the other way for Hall as well. Having never ventured far from his hometown until he began to tour, there were surprises to be had in other major metropolises. “I was traveling to Europe and I would come back and it was a strong culture shock,” he says of his earliest overseas trips. “I felt my normal was everyone else’s sense of normal, but it wasn’t. I’d come home and feel I was on another planet. I had just thought every place was dysfunctional like Detroit.”

The Boat Party is out now via Wild Oats.

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