Detroit DJ and techno legend Kelli Hand, known as K-Hand and the First Lady of Detroit Techno, has died at age 56, according to the Detroit Metro Times. Her Tuesday, Aug. 3 death was mourned by friends and fellow artists on social media. A spokesperson for Hand had not returned a request for additional information at press time.
Hand was one of the first Black female DJs on the Detroit scene and her impact was outsized thanks to her deep catalog of albums and singles of progressive house and techno, as well as her production in the 1990s following the 1988 launch of her Acacia Records imprint.
In a 2015 interview with the Metro Times, Hand recalled logging endless hours at the iconic Paradise Garage nightclub in New York in the 1980s, as well as clubs in Chicago, where she acquired her fever for spinning for sweaty crowds. “After frequenting Paradise Garage so many times I wanted to buy the records because I loved the music,” she said. “So the next step was, I got to play these records in order to hear them! That led to purchasing a couple turntables which also led me to DJing in my own bedroom and to do a residence at [Detroit’s] Zipper’s Nightclub.”
She recalled that at the time there were few other female DJs in general and almost none on the burgeoning, influential Motor City EDM scene that would produce such stars as Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Carl Craig. In fact, Hand explained to the Times that she chose her somewhat cryptic name because she “didn’t want people to know I was a girl, because I was just minding the music business,” worried about what would happen to her prospects if people found out she was one of the few women in a male-dominated club.
She needn’t have worried, as future classics such as “Think About It,” “Flash Back” and her 1994 break-out single on UK label Warp, “Global Warning,” put her in league with the city’s other leading dance lights. She released a string of records on a variety of labels in the 1990s, including her 1996 full-length debut, On a Journey, followed by Ready For Darkness, Soul, Art of Music and Fantasy, in quick succession.
While Hand was long considered a matriarch of her hometown’s legendary techno scene, the Detroit City Council made it official in 2017 when they honored K-Hand with a certificate officially designating her “The First Lady of Detroit Techno.” She was also honored with the Spirit of Detroit Award in 2016 along with several of her contemporaries, including Saunderson, Atkins, May and Jeff Mills.
In addition to dozens of singles and EPs as K-Hand, she also released music under the aliases Kerohand, Etat Solide and Queen Mecca. Kelli Hand was born in Detroit in 1965 and fellow DJ Tommie Sunshine tweeted that she was the first female house/techno producer he ever heard of and was “sweet & spent lots of time in Satellite Records Atlanta when I ran that in the 90’s. wicked producer & great DJ; she passed away & may her glorious Detroit legacy live on as she traverses The Great Beyond.”
Listen to some of Hand’s handiwork below and check out some tributes from her peers.
Mad respect for Kelli Hand. We finally met in London of all places a few years ago. Those Acacia records; she was pioneering! You leave us with an inspirational Detroit music legacy. Thank you. Rest eternal, K-Hand 💜 pic.twitter.com/wmxyn3EtXK
— Mike Servito (@mikeservito) August 4, 2021
K-Hand was the 1st female House/Techno producer I ever heard of. she was sweet & spent lots of time in Satellite Records Atlanta when I ran that in the 90’s. wicked producer & great DJ; she passed away & may her glorious Detroit legacy live on as she traverses The Great Beyond.💫 pic.twitter.com/U7ms7tGcVB
— Tommie Sunshine ✊️ (@tommiesunshine) August 4, 2021
RIP K-HAND, one of Detroit's best. pic.twitter.com/iIBlYNpQBW
— Warp Records (@WarpRecords) August 4, 2021