Carl Craig is happy enough to celebrate his past — specifically the belated 30th anniversary of his Planet E Communications, which takes place this weekend with a new compilation and two performances at the Movement electronic music festival in his home town of Detroit.
But given his druthers Craig would rather look forward, which is exactly what he’s doing as Billboard finds him in his Planet E headquarters in Detroit’s midtown area.
“I’m just trying to get my bones back,” Craig says. “It takes a bit of time. I look at it like I was a chemist, trying to find some new formula that’s going to change the world. Maybe I need to have a template, but I don’t. I’m always trying to recreate the wheel every time I come in here.”
While the future beckons, however, Craig will take a minute to bask in Planet E’s past. On Friday (May 27) he releases Planet E 30, a (you guessed it) 30-track compilation that includes his work under a variety of different monikers, including his own, as well as Paperclip People, 69 and Innerzone Orchestra and its worldwide smash “Bug in the Bass Bin.” The comp also features Planet E releases for the Detroit Experiment, Niko Marks, Fabrice Lig, Waajeed, Moritz Von Oswald, John Dixon and others.
During Movement, meanwhile, Craig will perform two sets — headlining the Stargate stage on Saturday (May 28) and teaming with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on Sunday (May 29) on the Waterfront Stage. “It’s great to finally see it going again,” Craig says of Movement, which was sidelined by the pandemic during 2020 and 2021.
Craig was part of the original creative team and artistic director for the event’s first two years (then known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival) but was controversially dismissed in 2001 and subsequently sued the original organizers for breach of contract. He was brought back in by new management to serve again as artistic director in 2010 and ever since has been a loyal participant and supporter, though he has no official role right now.
“When DEMF happened in 2000 I could only dream there would still be a festival still happening 22 years later, so that’s amazing,” Craig says. “I’m glad I was involved in the start and I’m glad it’s still going, and it’s coming back stronger this year — hopefully for another 20 years.”
As for 30 years of Planet E — which he started in 1991 — Craig sounds both unsurprised and gobsmacked. “Y’know, 30 years is one of those things where you start looking back at like, ‘I dated her 30 years ago?!'” he notes. “It’s, like, this romantic idea that I can’t believe it’s was 30 years ago, ’cause it doesn’t feel 30 years. Maybe… 10? But not 30.” Craig’s mission, however, has not changed significantly from when he left mentor Derrick May’s Transmat label to strike out on his own.
“The mission was DIY, do it myself,” he recalls. “When I worked with Derrick May, he was guiding me but I was doing so much music I just felt I didn’t need the restraint of someone telling me whether something was good or something was bad. Like most musicians you think everything is good, but I had those couple years with Derrick where he guided me, held me hand, guided me to help me understand what was good and what was bad. But you just get to a point where you feel like you have to go out on your own, and I did.”
Along with Planet E’s belated 30th, this year marks the actual 30th for the incredibly influential “Bug in the Bassbin,” which became a favorite of DJs around the world and especially in the U.K, where they sped up the 33 rpm release to 45 rpm and helped create a template for the drum ‘n’ bass movement that came in its wake. “It was a track that I just loved but… it turned heads in different ways for different people… and in different countries,” Craig muses. “Other places, they played it at the right speed, and in England they played it at 45 and look what happened.
“That’s the great thing about Planet E. If it were down to me trying to press that record on someone else’s label, it probably never would have come out. It’s one of those tracks you have to spend time with, and I don’t know if another techno label would have been down with that. Tracks like (Paperclip People’s) ‘Throw’ probably never would have been released if I didn’t have my own label. If I would’ve stayed on someone else’s label, I’d probably be retiring from the past office right now.”
The Planet E 30th celebration also includes reissues of classic label titles and recordings under Craig’s Detroit Love moniker. His landmark Party/After-Party installation at the Dia Beacon museum in New York state is ongoing, and he’s teamed with Detroit art curator Elysia Borowy for a new gallery called 1364, after its address in the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood. The minimalist space’s inaugural exhibit, timed to Movement, features just two works — a mixed-media creation by Chicago artist Cameron Spratley and a black-and-white image of Prince by veteran Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair.
“I’m always looking for challenges, something new,” Craig says. “If I harp on the 30 years then I start to think about age, my own age, my own mortality, all those things, and I’m not really interested in thinking that way. I’m interested in pushing forward and being a mad scientist and looking for that new formula that’s gonna push boundaries and change the world.”