It wouldn't be far-fetched to assume that DJ and producer Will Clarke moved to Detroit from England to summon the greatness of local techno legends Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May, but that wasn't the case. Detroit is rich with music history as the birthplace for Motown and a hub for techno, but that’s not why Clarke is there. More important than a techno pilgrimage is the city’s reasonable cost of living, its geographic centrality and convenient airport.
Detroit is a cost effective, cozy writer’s nook for Clarke. There isn’t a robust, distracting weekly slate of club nights. Instead, Detroit favors one-off parties at warehouses. Clarke’s home studio is a hibernation den in the thick of Michigan’s harsh winters.
Berlin techno legend Ellen Allien echoes this approach.
“When I am in the sunshine and warmth, there are no ideas, and life is about the sea and sun. ... But when I come back to Berlin, the sea is gone," she says. "In Berlin, there is quietness, and then the process of creativity starts."
There is one weekend when Detroit shines brightest. Dance music seeps from every building and street corner on Memorial weekend with its legendary Movement Festival — but that’s it.
“People that come to Detroit for Movement Festival and think that’s what it’s like here year-round are mistaken,” Clarke tells the Observer from his home studio. “We don’t really have a scene here. When we do have a party, then it’s a secret location, and I do enjoy it because people go hard.”
Like his signature beard, Clarke’s music catalog is filling out nicely in the Motor City. He’s a regular contributor to Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird Records, Adam Beyer’s Drumcode Records and other labels. As a producer and DJ, he bounces between house and techno sounds. Not all DJs can produce and not all producers can DJ, but Clarke is quite nimble. He has a knack for mixing styles and creating feelings on the decks with techno-house blends.
Since 2015, most of Clarke's DJ dates have been in North America. He’s a fixture at Dirtybird Records nightclub showcases and their legendary sleep-away Dirtybird Camps.
The DJ says he uses a DJS1000 sampler, as a drum machine or trigger.
“For me, it’s not about simply playing one record after another," Clarke says of his style. "Sometimes I play three records at the same time, other times it’s two records and other times just one. I want to keep it different and keep people’s minds active.”
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The most significant release of Clarke’s career happened recently, on Jan. 31, when he dropped “U Take Me Higher,” the first release on his new label, All We Have Is Now. The trans-Atlantic label is proudly Detroit-based and British, and the release is symbolic of where Clarke is in his career. Perhaps in the past he released music out of need, but that is no longer the case. This track and others in the pipeline will drop because it feels right. And, he's earned that privilege before even turning 30 later this year.
“I’ve gone past the days of releasing music because I think I have to," Clarke says. "Every record I release now is because I want to, and this is one of the best records I’ve ever made."
“U Take Me Higher” is a house track that makes for a big moment in his set. It’s a looping vocal with a Berghain bass line and a thought-provoking melody, but mostly just a damn good dance track. It will make the playlist when he takes the controls at It’ll Do Club on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Most follow the herd to Miami, New York or Los Angeles, but Clarke bucked the trend and bought a house in good ol’ Detroit. It says a lot about him as an artist that he's determined to do his own thing, remaining more interested in supporting Detroit in its comeback than joining the masses in an established market. After all, Will Clarke is undeniably comfortable in his own beard.