From the moment you first hear an Andrés record, his unmistakable sound tells of a producer whose output has defined a genre, a scene and a city. Winner of RA Track of the Year in 2012, the Detroit stalwart has masterfully traversed both house and hip-hop for over two decades, releasing on some of the most iconic labels in the game. Ahead of Andrés’ debut in Liverpool next Saturday, Kelvin Slesser-Marriott takes some time to delve into the roots and influences of the man they call, The Drummer from Detroit.
Andrés 101; he’s from Detroit. Check. A post-industrial city of vacant factory spaces and, until recently, a dwindling population. Detroit has suffered a four-decade hangover caused by the collapse of automobile production in the 1970s, a capitalist failure that left the “313” economically broken. Regeneration has started; student numbers are rising and Midtown Detroit is suddenly burgeoning with coffee shops, club spaces and record stores. Yet, it is Detroit’s history of adversity that is key to the development of one of the world’s richest destinations for electronic music and underground culture.
At one time, growth in Detroit’s automobile industry was so large that the city saw mass immigration of black, Latin and white Americans, as well as European new comers too. This diverse migration inevitably brought with it varieties of cultural influences, but it also left the population largely dependent on the industry that attracted them, and ultimately, low-paid. When industry dwindled, the shortage of income and levels of poverty that were left behind forced people to explore the alternatives to their usual ways of living. In this systematically-damaged and eventually bankrupt city, the arts became an important part of the people’s resiliance and resistance. As a result of this, Detroit became home to generations of instrumentalists; responsible for pioneering the sounds of jazz, hip-hop, Motown, progressive (house) and techno. Today, the Motor City is characterised by an tangible history of musical influence and a unique sense of soul.
Our man Humberto Hernández is archetypal of the above narrative. Born to a Caribbean mother and a Cuban father, Andrés landed in Detroit in 1988 after moving north from California. In Europe, we probably know his name better for his house music, but DJ Dez is the alias rooted in hip-hop. This was the music first behind his passion for DJing, a taste picked up in California through listening to the music of Egyptian Lover. By the time he moved to Detroit, a number of musical heavyweights were already centred around Buy-Rite Records, the very place where Andrés received his education in house & techno, while likes of Theo Parrish drove the genre forward.
In 1992, Hernández was first introduced to J Dilla by fellow pioneer and collaborator, Amp Fiddler. The two created beats in rotation on Amp’s MPC, nurturing a friendship that led to Dilla recruiting Dez for his newly formed hip-hop collective, Slum Village. This period in the company of hip-hop royalty determined a DJing style that offers so much more that simple, linear beat-matching. Like Terrence Parker, he’s one of very few DJs who will scratch house records into the mix, an aberration impressive in skill as much as in its disregard for convention.
Andrés’ DJ career is no doubt influenced by his father, the jazz musician Nengue Hérnandez who gave his son the gift of a drum machine at the prodigious age of three. Between learning percussion through his childhood and spending his early adult life surrounded by records, he built the perfect toolbox for bringing the sampling techniques of hip-hop into house production by chopping up old funk & soul records and layering them underneath a 4/4 drum track.
This is where Kenny Dixon Jr comes in, the stoic Buy-Rite colleague who released the first Andrés 12” on his label KDJ in 1997. ‘Trues’ is a three track EP kicking off with a steady deep house title track, driven by a prominent snare over a circling crowd noise loop familiar to KDJs own material. ‘Piece Of Mind’ gives us a snippet of Andrés’ Latin affection, before releasing a funky bassline over a classically warm set of chords, and the EP gets rounded off by ‘And This Club Song’, a 9 minute jaunt erring just on the side of techno, to be deployed exactly as titled.
This set the tone for twenty years of releases by one of the most revered musical characters of Detroit. KDJ, AKA Moodymann, would continue releasing Andrés records for the next fifteen years before he went solo with the La Vida imprint in 2012. Straight off the bat, the label earnt international acclaim, with his first self-release ‘New For U’ being championed as the Resident Advisor Track of the Year. Even the latest releases sound as if they could’ve been made in one marathon session back in 1997. ‘Mighty Tribe’, released in 2016, follows the signature pattern of dusty, sample-based house absolutely soaked in uplifting jazz keys and a vocal sample you can’t avoid getting hooked on.
Somewhere in the middle, Andrés made his third release for KDJ’s Mahogani Music in 2008. The record takes energy from the romantic ties to the soul of Detroit that we can only hope to emulate here in the UK. Andrés features his father on the record, a sentimental testament to the impact their relationship had on his own life as a musician. Andrés has also remixed for everyone, from Youandewan to The Far Out Monster Disco Orchestra, all the while maintaining that distinct Andrés touch. There are still some hip-hop releases over on Japanese Root Down Records that are worth a check too. Plus, a collection of three Long Plays through Moodymann/Mahogani Music, take us on an exploration of latin, jazz, hip-hop that stitches together the DJ Dez and Andrés monikers in a collection of downtempo goodness fit for a Sunday afternoon.
At a time where dance music is influenced by visiblity more than ever and sub-genres have become saturated and fleeting, Andrés cuts a light-hearted figure that simply wants to throw down some vinyl and make you groove. It is completely refreshing to have somebody so consistent and ever-quietly-present, gracing the dance floor here in Liverpool. Like big brother KDJ, Andrés boasts an authenticity and credibility that makes many of his peers pale in comparison, just Remember laptop DJs, your girlfriend prefers 12 inches. With such familiarity and authority in their records, neither Hernández nor any of the Detroit cohort need a press release to shout about it.
Detroit is a story largely untold to the world, a city so unique in its raw and unrefined soul that made it a cornerstone for today’s dance music. The Motor City is now a hub for the finest purveyors of underground music and still connected to the jazz, funk and soul creators of the bygone generations. In Andrés, we’re welcoming a veteran producer with a record bag that stretches far, far into musical history. An artist devoid of genre boundaries with only one guarantee – it’s sure to make you wanna get down.
For now, wrap your ears around this fresh new mix from the very man himself…