10 Moments that defined Jeff Mills
Pioneer. Visionary. Genius. Without reverting to all-out hyperbole, there can be no doubt that Jeff Mills is one of the most significant music producers of the modern age.
From co-founding Underground Resistance to helping to define the blueprint of what we now call ‘techno’, 'The Wizard' is a musician of the sort we’re unlikely to ever witness again...
With all this in mind, we decided to embark on a trip down memory lane, highlighting some of Mills' most celebrated moments...
An alias that’s still often used to describe Jeff Mills today (even though he officially dropped it a few years back), Mills first adopted this guise in the early 80’s during his early days at Detroit’s WDRQ radio station. A precocious talent almost from the off, Mills used his nightly show to showcase his skill to a receptive audience, and it was here where his penchant for turntablism began to be appreciated outside of his core circle. He also used the show to highlight local talents such as Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins AKA The Belleville Three. Naturally, Mills learned a lot from the so-called “inventors” of techno, but we can also state with some assurance that’s he’s heavily influenced May, Saunderson and Atkins along the way too.
In 1989, Jeff Mills and Mike Banks established Underground Resistance (UR), a militantly outcropping of modern Detroit techno that’s known throughout the world for brilliant music and a strict ‘underground’ ethos. Vehemently anti-mainstream, the collective is known for its political leanings and futuristic aesthetics. Such was the popularity of UR’s music that their music (and their ethos) is still felt keenly around the world to this very day. Without Underground Resistance, we may never have encountered Mills, Mike Banks, Robert Hood, Rolando or Drexciya. And where would techno be without those trailblazers?
UR isn’t the only label which has housed Mills’ productions. Axis Records is another, and it’s here where Mills released some of his finest ever tracks. Established in Chicago in the early 90’s by Mills and Robert Hood, Axis has hosted a plethora of astute Mills productions and has also housed similarly-inclined artists a la Claude Young and of course, Robert Hood. Check out the below video from the excellent 'Exhibitionist' DVD, whereby Mills spins a few Axis classics...
The Wizard aside, Millsart is perhaps Jeff Mills’ most renowned alias. A medium for traditionally ‘deeper’ cuts that deviate ever-so-slightly from Mills’ more wholly techno-focused efforts, Mills has produced some of his most sublime work under this alias. Loved by house and techno fans alike, one particularly stunning example of Millsart's work is the Humana EP. The title track aside (which is in itself a classic), another particular favourite of ours is ‘Gamma Player’, which we've included for you to listen below. That both tracks still sounds futuristic and haven't dated an iota speaks volumes of Mills’ impeccable production nous. A true masterpiece in a discography littered with similarly exceptional gems
It’s often said that the cities of Berlin and Detroit maintain a “techno alliance”, and much of this can be traced back to Jeff Mills and Blake Baxter, both of whom carried the UR torch to Berlin way back when. It’s worth remembering that back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Berlin was a largely desolate place and vastly different to the city of today. So when legendary Tresor owner Dimitri Hegemann invited the pair to his notorious club way back when, he helped invigorate Berlin’s love affair with techno. In a city yearning for a new, positive future after the fall of the Berlin wall, the music of Jeff Mills and his UR contemporaries was a perfect fit. What's more, it's a relationship that still continues to this day.
Look, you just can’t mention Jeff Mills without mentioning ‘The Bells’. By a distance his most iconic and famous track, it’s also arguably one of the top techno tracks of all time. And for good reason too: any time Mills (or indeed, any other DJ has the gumption to let it out of its cage), it’s pretty much always the cue for absolute pandemonium. A fast-paced, raucous banger that’s simply impossibly to replicate, ‘The Bells’ is an absolute masterpiece.
Nowadays, orchestral renditions of electronic music classics have become big business: one need only to look at recent endeavours by Pete Tong and the Hacineda crew for proof of the fact. But it was Mills who was among the first to take to the stage in a similar vein alongside the Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra in 2006. A brilliantly fresh and unique approach to showcasing his music, the collaboration was also shaped into a DVD album, ‘Blue Potential’, which captured the attention of the French public (and many others besides) in truly thrilling fashion. Ten years on, it’s no less spine-tingling.
'Man From Tomorrow'
Jacqueline Caux is a French director whose work regularly touches on experiments in modern and contemporary music. So it’s hardly surprising that she chose Mills as the main subject in her 2014 documentary, ‘The Man from Tomorrow’. An undoubted nod to Mills’ futuristic leanings, the film is less a straightforward profile of Mills than it is a piece that emphasises the themes that define his body of work. Screened in Paris, New York and Berlin, the film provides a fascinating insight into the mind of a producer like no other. Mills also released a cinematic album to coincide with the release; dark, trippy, dramatic and eerie but also utterly captivating, it stands up expertly alongside some of his most accomplished productions.
Once again Mills proved a pioneer when he embarked on a four-month residency at Paris’ globally-acclaimed Le Louvre. The home of Mona Lisa proved a fitting stomping ground for Mills’ works, and emphasises how his talents transcend the electronic music community. Yes, it’s conceptual and maybe not for everyone, but Mills' work with Le Louve also works as a timely reminder of an unrelenting determination to push musical boundaries. After all, isn’t that what Jeff Mills has been doing his entire career?
The 909 is to Jeff Mills was the guitar was to Jimi Hendrix. A piece of machinery that practically defines him (and one he’s very much mastered), it’s been his weapon of choice for some time now and is always used by Mills to devastating effect. He might have carved out his reputation on a set of decks, but it’s Mills' relationship with the 909 for which he'll be best remembered.