People rarely associate Atlanta with electronic music, but small currents of house and techno are always bubbling in the ATL. And when it comes to the city’s house music scene, no figure looms larger than Kai Alcé, a New York-born, Detroit-reared DJ and producer who initially got schooled at the Motor City’s infamous (and short-lived) Music Institute as a teenager. After relocating to Atlanta in the early ’90s, Alcé played a major role in forging ties between the city and house music’s northern power centers, founding a well-respected label of his own, NDATL, in the process. Given that RBMA Radio has set up shop in Atlanta this week, Kai Alcé was a natural choice to stop by Shawn Reynaldo’s First Floor show. In this excerpt of their conversation, Alcé gives Reynaldo a rundown of the local dance music landscape, including the next edition of his long-running, annual House in the Park party.
Listen to First Floor on RBMA Radio here every Thursday at 1 PM EDT.
When people think of music in Atlanta, it’s not often that house and techno come to mind. You’ve been down there for more than 20 years, so I figure that you’re an expert: is there a house and techno scene in Atlanta? And if so, what is it like?
Definitely, there is. It’s had its ups and downs – at times it’s been small, at times it’s been large – but I think right now it’s on an upswing. I got here in the early ’90s and I would say that it was actually a quite vibrant scene [at the time]. The music was a little more soulful than some other places, though. I probably had a lot to do with that because of some of the people that I brought down [to play here], like Ron Trent.
I started a party called MJQ, which we ran on a Saturday night from about ’97-’06. We brought everyone from Kerri Chandler, Larry Heard, DJ Spinna, Rich Medina, King Britt and Tedd Patterson – too many people to mention. That really solidified the idea that there was an actual scene in Atlanta, to the point where some of the other, bigger markets in America started to pay attention to what was going on here.
Why do you think more producers haven’t come out of Atlanta and gotten recognition elsewhere?
Because there aren’t many dance producers here. There’s an upswing right now because of some of the younger generation: Stefan Ringer, who’s put out some stuff for my label and on 2MR; Byron the Aquarius, who’s actually out of Birmingham, Alabama, and who we met about five years ago. He was a hip-hop producer, but he was a great keyboardist so I brought him in to help me with some remixes that I was working on. In the process of doing so he caught the bug for house music, and now he’s off doing his thing around the world. (We also have Matt Weiner, who runs a label called CGI.) It’s not so much Atlanta as it is the southeast part of the US, which generally hasn’t been known for house music. House music has always been New York, Chicago and Detroit, maybe as far as DC and Philadelphia. Under what we could call the Mason-Dixon line, house music hasn’t had that history.
Before you came to Atlanta, you spent years in Detroit and had gone to places like the Music Institute. When you did come to Atlanta, was there any house music scene at all? Or was it sort of a barren landscape?
There was, but it was primarily in the gay scene. Gay people were the ones who really listened to dance music at that point. You had a couple of New York transplants who were throwing parties here and there, but there were no actual clubs that specialized in just playing dance music. Tedd Patterson and Ron Pullman were some of the people who were playing when I came down here, maybe in ‘91 or ‘92, but then Tedd Patterson left for New York and Ron Pullman went back to Denver for a while and I kind of jumped into this empty space.
I started playing in a place called Velvet and got a residency at one of the gay clubs, which was called 688. 688 was the kind of a place where rock bands would play, but they also had a house night. Well, it wasn’t really house. It was more like trance breaks – Sasha, Jam & Spoon. When I played with those guys, I would bring more of the New York and the Detroit sound to what they were playing.
How did you keep up with new music in this pre-internet era? Were there record shops that were stocking house 12-inches?
Yes, there were a few. There were two stores called Let the Music Play and Edie’s Gourmet, which both were run by gay guys who were pretty prominent within the gay scene. There was another store called Wax n' Facts, too, which is still around. Wax n' Facts didn’t really stock house music, but because they were on the promo list of some of the major labels, and got promos from labels like Strictly Rhythm and Nervous, I would go in there and buy [those promos].
I know that you’re the co-founder of a party series called House in the Park. Could you tell us a bit about it? I know the next one’s coming up on September 4th.
I started it with some good friends of mine, and this year will be our 12th year of House in the Park. We originally just wanted to do a party outdoors and when we did the first one, we had about 200 people. The following year, we had 400 people, and it’s literally doubled in capacity every year. Now, we’re looking at 10-20,000 people, and I’d like to stay around that [figure]. As far as dance music in Atlanta is concerned, it really has become the event of the year. It’s become more than we ever could have imagined that it would become. At any given time, we can see generations of house music fans together. By now, we might see some people there with their grandchildren.