1st Lady of Detroit et
MUSIC FROM A WELL KNOWN PLACE
As a way of staying ahead of the curve, today’s precocious house and techno DJs have taken to digging up underrated classics and serving them up side by side with contemporary offerings—In over two decades as a producer, K-HAND, has been responsible for more than a few of these vintage gems. No wonder the Detroit City Council named Kelli Hand “the First Lady of Detroit,” citing her “skills within a male-dominated industry” as a business woman and multimedia artist.
It’s true; K-HAND’s work is being celebrated once again, with brand new music for Nina Kraviz’s трип (Russian for “trip”) label and her own Acacia imprint on deck after 25 years of releasing undeniable techno and house tunes that remain in demand to this day.
Her turn-of-the-century cut “Clap Yo Hands” found its way onto Ostgut Ton’s Panorama Bar 06 mix compilation by resident Ryan Elliott; going on to receive the best mix of 2014 by Resident Advisor and reigniting interest in her music. “DJ’s DJs” Ben Klock and Ben UFO have also mined K-HAND’s classic catalog, utilizing “Starz” and “Project 5 (Untitled B1) for their respective Fabric 66 and FabricLive 67 mix CDs.
The media also caught on, with Little White Earbuds declaring K-HAND “criminally overlooked”—a sentiment Fact Magazine later echoes when stating, “Detroit’s first lady has still never been matched.” It’s hard not to agree, but it’s something that Kelli herself brushes off, keeps busy, and believing “Everyone will have their time”.
This pairing of patients and confidence no doubt comes from over three decades operating in techno’s boy’s club. In an industry sparse in female counterparts, Kelli took on the pseudonym “K-HAND” in 1990 to avoid gender stereotyping. Today, those boys have grown into men (some even legends) and Hand has grown right along with them, embracing her role as a female pioneer who challenged the status quo. “For me, it’s all about the music, not about how someone looks with or without any business, producing or djing skills. But, being “true” to yourself, and having the ability to express yourself creatively through your own self confidence that is within you”.
From the beginning, Kelli’s childhood revolved around music, specifically the drums. Her growing passion for rhythm culminated in her moving to New York to study music theory in college. While in the Big Apple, she picks up another kind of musical education—soaking up the sounds of Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage and absorbing the songs she heard on that legendary dance floor into her own record collection. Later, she picks up the pieces of the club scene from the late Ken Collier in Detroit, a considerable legend to the pioneering generation of house and techno first-wavers.
In a move that exemplifies her do it yourself ethos, Kelli turned down an offer from Jeff Mills to release her very first record on Underground Resistance saying, “I wanted to start my own label to see how the business worked. ” This quest for knowledge resulted in the Acacia label which became a platform for her own musical output as well as a launching pad for producers like Claude Young, Sean Deason, and the Wamdue Kids. Soon she forged aworking relationship with Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva, who supported label distribution and events through their IntellNET company.
Truly ahead of her time, Hand continued to rack up many accolades. From being the first woman to release house and techno at the start of the ’90s, she became the first producer from Detroit to release on Warp Records in ’94, and then the first artist to release an album to Studio !K7 in ’95. She also regularly represented her heralded city on compilations from Astralwerks, Sublime Records, Ausfahrt, and Tresor —going on to release entire Techno albums on the latter two Berlin-based imprints.
Other labels lined up for music, including London’s Third Ear, Paris imprint Distance, and Loveslap! from San Francisco.Her hometown peers kept her working as well, including Norma Jean Bell’s Pandamonium label., which released the “Super Natural” single in 1999, along with remixes for both Bell and Sharon Jones, and a collaboration with Kenny Dixon Jr. on Bell’s Come into My Room album,. Much of this music is hard to find, but repressings remain in demand, with the 1997 Acacia Classics compilation finding its way into Juno Record’s “Best of 2014 Techno” list.
When not releasing (or re-releasing) records, Hand continues to maintain a vigorous touring schedule, delivering sets at iconic venues like Ministry of Sound and Fabric (London), Club Yellow (Tokyo), and Tresor (Berlin)—plus regular hometown gigs during Movement Festival—that bridge the gap between house and techno while providing clarity to an often-confused industry as to what those genres really mean.
As Fact put it, “In her hands, the differentiations between different strands of house and techno become irrelevant: it’s all just source material for her sterling sets.”Or in Kelli’s own words, “I like to play different musical perceptions to the kids. It’s all just good dance music”.
Those who haven’t had the chance to experience K-HAND live can catch her celebrated set on Boiler Room. Or hold out for first time visits to Dubai and South Africa, as well as long overdue returns to Italy, Australia and Japan. Wherever she lands, fans can trust that K-HAND will continue to deliver the goods.