Interview: Mike Grant on his beginnings, his inspirations & sharing his love for house music in South Africa
Legendary Detroit producer, DJ and record label head, Mike Grant, is a pioneering force in the global deep house scene. With a career as a music industry professional spans over three decades, he has been an integral influence in developing and sustaining deep house as an individual who loves and appreciates music. Having started his career as a DJ in Detroit — a city of that is known to a house music hub in the world — in the early 80s, he has built up a strong legacy as a house music purveyor.
Towards the late 90s, he founded his label Mood & Grooves Records, which was a move that allowed him to position himself right at the center of innovation in the deep house culture and providing a platform for the nurturing talent, inspire people and consistently delivery quality music. We got an opportunity to chop it up with him ahead of his performance at the Coquette Session event happening at Kitcheners in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on the 3rd of January. Check our conversation with him below.
Your journey and career in the music industry started in the early 80s and you have kept and sustained your love, passion and drive for dance music for over three decades. New generations have come up and are still coming up each with their own unique stories. For you, how did your journey or fascination with music begin?
My journey followed the footsteps of my father and uncle. They both were fans of disco and jazz and there was always something playing on stereo or the radio. My uncle became the general manager and principle DJ of a radio station in a city not too far away and in the summer my brother and I would take a bus to visit him. Seeing what goes on behind the scene fascinated me and I remember he once let me try to mix two songs on the air! He would give us promo records all the time and my friend who wanted to DJ noticed it and asked if I wanted to be part of a DJ group they were starting. From there, the seed was planted.
Having been in the industry for such a long time and still being an active dance music stalwart in the game, what inspires you to keep pushing, growing and striving for progression as a professional in music?
I’m involved in many things, music, the military, information technology, and photography. I’m not able to devote as much time to music as I have in the past to music, but it is the fire that burns the brightest in my belly. It along with photography are things for which I have total control as to how they operate. Continuing to independently run a successful business is what keeps me pushing. Responding to changing tastes, fluctuating sales, and other challenges, keep things fresh and interesting.
DJing has been an integral part of your career and it has opened many doors for you over the years. Towards the end of the 90s, your label Moods & Grooves claimed its position in the international house music arena releasing classic records from great artists. What prompted you to start your label and how has the journey been?
While I enjoy running the label, DJing is my passion as you can see the results of your efforts immediately. In 1996 I was living in Chicago working for AT&T and went back to Detroit for a visit. I was speaking with Juan Atkins and he noticed the frustration I was experiencing from Corporate America and asked me to come back and run Metroplex Records. I did move back and that experience along with discussions with other label owners I met at Submerge such as Mike Banks inspired me to venture out on my own. My experience from the military and courses from my college degree were helpful to get operations started. I never started it as an outlet to release my own music but a full-fledged label to include publishing and licensing. The journey has been rewarding as at one point the label and DJing were all I did for a living. Lately, it’s more challenging as vinyl sales for this genre have slowed a bit, distributors are becoming more cautious with their orders. Success was measured by selling 5,000 units and now for some it’s down to 500.
You’re currently in South Africa and are set to perform at the Coquette Sessions in Johannesburg. South Africa is one of biggest House music attractions in the world. What are some of your thoughts on the South African scene?
I’ve heard how much deep house is loved here so to play in the current mecca with so many people of color is a dream come true! The slower tempo is a bit of an adjustment as I’m used to varying tempos up to 125 BPM. But, I’m always looking to challenge and push myself; finding ways to move the crowd at something like 116 will only help my skills as a DJ. There are people in Detroit that call themselves “house heads” but that term left them long ago and they only recognize old school house. It’s beautiful to see a crowd that is educated on not only the older things but are hungry for new music as well.
What are you looking forward to the most when playing for your South African supporters?
I was most looking forward to playing in front of my family members here. I did that the other night and it was the greatest feeling I’ve had while on the decks. One guy came up to me and said “welcome home.” My one cousin has been saying “the son of the soil is here” the entire experience was very moving. The welcome I received by the crowds and the DJs is humbling, I’m mad it took so long for it to happen. Since being here, I’ve had about 100 Facebook friend request from South Africans! Hopefully, we can turn that into return bookings, collaborations, and new artists on the label in the future. I’d love to come back.
In closing, what message do you have for the new generation of creators, artists and music professionals carrying on the tradition of house music well into the future?
My advice would be, get into deep house because you love it, not because it’s popular. I’ve heard so many artists who started out with house then moved on to whatever was popular, such as electro. It reminds me of a song Farley “Jackmaster” Funk from Chicago used to play called “You Ain’t Really House.” If you’re a good musician, get with a DJ to help structure songs for DJs. If you’re a good DJ trying to be a producer, don’t depend on software to make the music for you, find a musician. Dedicate yourself.
Listen to Deep Energy, a mix curated by the legendary DJ, producer and record label head.