Nearly 30 years after the release of their last album, Inner City is back.
The seminal dance music project began in the late ’80s, when Detroit techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson linked with singer Paris Grey for the 1989 debut Inner City album, Paradise. That LP generated a pair of all-time genre classics in “Good Life” and “Big Fun,” with the latter track hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Club Songs chart in the fall of 1988. The duo then followed up with 1990’s Fire and 1992’s Praise before letting the globally successful project rest for the next 28 years.
Now featuring Saunderson, his son Dantiez (an accomplished producer in his own right) and vocalist Steffanie Christi’an, Inner City has today (July 17) released We All Move Together, a dozen emotionally and physically moving house and techno tracks out via Armada. The eponymous opening track is a six-minute spoken word epic featuring Idris Elba, whom the elder Saunderson got in touch with when he saw footage of the actor/producer playing “Big Fun” during his 2019 Coachella set.
“We just turn tables, we must burn labels because no hate will chase away the faithful of 30 years,” Elba declares on the track, over a heartbeat drum pattern. The song’s lyrics are loaded with references to Detroit’s Hart Plaza, Ministry of Sound, Saunderson’s alias “The Elevator,” and other historical dance music references that altogether connect the origins of the scene with the present moment.
It’s a moving, truly, jump-off point for the LP, which is being released now with the hope that it helps uplift and unite listeners in the way that dance music has always been able to, ever since Saunderson and other genre pioneers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Jeff Mills, Larry Levan, David Mancuso and others created the genre in the late ’70s and early ‘8os.
To jumpstart their return, Inner City played a run of US and European shows in 2019 including Albania’s Kala Festival, the U.K.’s legendary Glastonbury festival and San Diego’s trendsetting CRSSD event. While they had intended to keep touring behind the new album, quarantine has kept the trio at home, just like the rest of us.
Here, the two Saundersons and Christi’an discuss We All Move Together, the first dance music they really loved and how they’re keeping peace of mind during a challenging time.
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?
Kevin: We are over in the suburbs of Detroit, and Dantiez is over at my place. He has his own place, but we’re hanging out at mine today. It’s a pretty rainy day and we got all my daughters animals in the house, I’m feeling like Dr Doolittle, we got cats, dogs, birds, guinea pigs and all sorts…
2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourselves, and what was the medium?
Kevin: Alexander Robotnick’s “Problèmes D’Amour (Ah Ou Ah Version)” on vinyl.
Dantiez: Ludacris’ Chicken & Beer, on CD.
Steff: I can’t recall! I got away with ordering cassettes from Columbia House though when I young, but can’t for the life of me remember what.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?
Kevin: My mother grew up as a nurse, but was also a very good singer. She applied to go on the amateur night at the Apollo Theatre; she was really good. My dad was in real estate, being a business man. My mother loves my career, and she absolutely loves dancing; she is always there on the floor joining in dancing to the music. My career used to bring tears to my father’s eyes, he was really proud of the music that I was making and couldn’t believe the effect it was having.
Dantiez: Well you know what my dad does [laughs], but my mum is also a songwriter and singer, an arranger — and still writing music now. She is a big part of Inner City and of course loves music. We are a musical family for sure.
Steff: My father was in the army and my mother held many jobs while she earned her PhD. She eventually became an educator. My mom took me to audition for Star Search when I was about nine. She has always supported and encouraged my journey as an entertainer. My father has passed away, but he was always supportive as well.
4. What was the first song you ever made?
Kevin: Kreem’s “Triangle Of Love.”
Dantiez: My track “Can’t Stop Us“
5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into dance/electronic music, what would you give them?
Kevin: Cybotron’s Clear.
Dantiez: Depeche Mode, Vialotor.
6. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as a DJ/producer?
Kevin: I bought a brand new BMW car!
Dantiez: I just pumped the money back into my music and bought maybe like, 100 plugins.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
Kevin: Art Of Noise, “Moments In Love“
Dantiez: An unreleased track of mind called “Let Me Breathe.” Details to come.
8. What’s one song you wish you had produced?
Kevin: Rhythim Is Rhythim, “Strings Of Life“
Dantiez: Dennis Ferrer, “Hey Hey“
9. How are you filling your time during quarantine?
Kevin: Staying at home, reading books and trying to develop in other areas such as video and learning new skills, also working out and doing a lot of core exercises.
Dantiez: Social distancing, [spending time] in the studio working a lot on releases, live streams, Netflix, meditating, boxing workouts.
Steff: Spending much-needed time with my husband and son. Studying piano, bass and DJing. Working out. Currently obtaining certification to become a Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist.
10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?
Kevin: I actually grew up in Brooklyn, so yeah, a very cosmopolitan setting with a huge mix of all different people — Whites, Blacks, Jews, Caribbeans — very multicultural, and oh God, noisy as hell. But it was so cool, and a bit dangerous.
But then I moved to Detroit, which was completely different because it was predominantly a Black community. Then I moved to Belleville, which was predominantly a white community. So you know, I didn’t understand the racism. However, the mixture of neighborhoods made me strong, and shaped me to be a worldly person, and a people person. I treat people fairly, and I like to project that through my music.
Dantiez: I grew up in a mixture of different Detroit suburbs, and I had a really good experience with all kinds of different neighborhoods and people. We moved around a lot, so I was constantly making new fiends and meeting new people. This taught me how to deal with different life situations and how to get along with everyone, and that it’s important to treat everyone equally.
Steff: My neighborhood was like one big family. The kids couldn’t get away with much because every adult was like a parent.
11. What’s the first dance music set that really blew your mind?
Kevin: Larry Levan at Paradise Garage. The atmosphere just blew me away, and the style of music being played.
Dantiez: The first time I was blown away by a set was 10 years ago in Ibiza at Space nightclub, when I saw Carl Cox play his residency party there, wow.
12. The world is going through a dark time right now, with the pandemic, racial inequality, politics. In this challenging moment, what gives you hope, and what do you do a personal level to achieve peace of mind?
Kevin: We are all going through a dark moment in time. I just try to just stay positive and do uplifting things, appreciate life and not take it for granted. I like to think that we will use this time to reflect and look back on this time as a learning curve, so that we can all move together and work together rather than work against each other.
Also just being healthy and smart, staying clean and social distancing. I’m just looking forward to thinking about us all being on that dance floor again.
13. What is the first thing you do when you get back to your hotel room after a show?
Kevin: Take a shower and wind down, depends on what time it is. Sometimes Netflix or watching something like a classic sci-fi film. Also I like to call back home to check on the family.
Dantiez: Look for the afterparty, of course! Haha, not so much these days though; usually a shower and then bed.
Steff: Wash off my makeup and take my bra off.
14. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happening in the crowd during one of your sets?
Kevin: I remember in France at an outdoor festival, people all barricaded the stage past security and were dancing all over the stage, but the stage couldn’t take the weight and started breaking and sliding! The atmosphere was amazing, but in the end I had to stop the music before it fell down.
Dantiez: At Movement, there is a famous techno grandma that always comes to the festival in her wheelchair and parks up at the front of the stage. She’s never been seen out of this wheelchair before. So about two years ago, we were playing and then all of a sudden I look down and she has gotten out of her wheelchair, and was dancing away front centre of the stage! We must have given her the light! [Laughs.]
Steff: Nothing too crazy. I’ve been flashed a few times.
15. It’s been nearly 30 years since the last Inner City album. Why is this the right time for a new one?
Kevin: The reason there wasn’t another is because of many factors, but now is the right time — it’s an uplifting and positive album, and I think the world needs it, to be honest. It’s a blessing that the album has come now at this time; it was meant to come now during this dark time.
16. “Good Life” remains one of your most enduring hits. What does the “good life” look like for each of you?
Kevin: The good life is all about enjoying life and giving people something to make them feel a certain way too. People have told me how my music has touched them and helped them through dark times. It’s all about helping people and raising the spirits of those around you. That’s what the good life is all about, and also staying healthy.
17. What’s the most rewarding/challenging aspect of making music with your son/father?
Kevin: To see Dantiez fall into music and also seeing the same work ethic in him that I used to have. Being able to see this extension of himself is so rewarding, it’s like watching myself all over again.
Dantiez: It’s really cool, I get to fuse the two sounds of the past and the present with my dad. We join together to make this nice hybrid in sound, and that’s rewarding.
18. Kevin, you’re of course a key pioneer of dance music. What do you want younger audiences to know about the roots of the scene?
Kevin: It’s important they know that this music didn’t just pop up overnight. There was a vision behind it, which was to bring people together to dance and unite. It was created by technology first, and then Black people started making music out of it over in Chicago and Detroit.
It was true passion, love, faith and hope for this vision which grew so much bigger than we could ever imagine. So it’s important that people understand where it comes from so that they push through with the same drive for passion. We need people to be aware of that, so that we can have true and real music purvey into the future.
19. How’d you get Idris Elba involved in the new project?
Kevin: I see Idris pop up now and then one day a friend of mine, Dennis White, sent me a video of Idris playing “Big Fun” at Coachella. The crowd was going off, and he was going off, so it something sparked something inside of me to get in touch with him. I told my management, and they connected our teams. Idris was amazed, so we had a conversation together and then he came to Detroit to record something with me. It was a great experience, and everything flowed so naturally between us.
20. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger selves?
Kevin: I would tell myself not to have as many alias’. I had around 30 different alias, and I just think I could have kept that to a minimum. I just had so much energy with music back then you know.
Dantiez: That patience is a virtue. Take your time and develop your craft. When I started out, I made so many releases in a short time, I would say just be patient take your time with it.
Steff:Don’t take everything so seriously. Enjoy life while you can.