It’s always seemed to us like Kai Alce is not really a man of too many words, that he’s more about letting experiences live on their own and allowing the music to speak for itself. So it’s kind of funny that we’re interviewing him about House in the Park (HITP), which, let’s make no reservations about it, is one of the truest and best ways to experience house music in the South East — also up there with other national gatherings like Chicago’s Chosen Few Picnic and New York’s Clubhouse Jamboree. It’s been over a decade for HITP, as they celebrate their 11th annual event this Labor Day Weekend. The 2015 installment is already set to attract a weekend-long festival of DJs like Tony Humphries, Theo Parrish, Alton Miller, and Roland Clark, as well as HITP’s usual mainstays: Ramon Rawsoul, Kai Alce, DJ Kemit, and Salah Ananse, who curate it all.
Ramon Rawsoul and Kai Alce started HITP in 2004 as a gift for the people who made their monthly parties, The Gathering, special and also as a way to give back to the city and greater community as a whole — it’s completely free, although not without serious costs, meaning they do ask for donations. Proving the festival’s deeper, civic nature, the City Council returned the love in 2013 when they officially declared September 1st House in the Park Day. To accommodate the thousands of travelers that make the trek every year, a weekend long showcase known as the Atlanta Weekender has popped in the main event’s past three years. Headed by Salah Ananse, the assortment of parties highlight the city’s various promoters and their knack for guest programming that Atlanta has on offer year round. This year’s schedule can be found here.
Starting from a humble picnic, HITP outgrew its two previous locations before finally finding its intended home in Grant Park for the 2012 edition. As Ramon said to Creative Loafing Atlanta that year, “Grant Park was always where I dreamed of being.” We asked Kai about a Piedmont Park scale and he quickly wrote it off, consistent with Ramon’s sentiments back in a 2007 statement in the same publication. “My intention is to not necessarily keep it small, but keep it intimate, soulful and family-oriented. In effect, we’re creating another generation of people who love house music.” This homegrown, community driven attitude is very unlike the careless stream of massive in-and-out cash grab festivals Atlanta has seen popping up in recent years. These behemoths seem to simply not recognize or care about the talented artists that are central to bringing people together in a city known for its urban sprawl.
One such artist is definitely Kai Alce. He’s come a long way from his early days at Detroit’s infamous Music Institute, doing all kinds of tasks, from running lights to guest services. Home to Kai’s cousin Chez Damier, Alton Miller, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and proving grounds for Kevin Saunderson’s hit factory KMS and producers like MK, the club was to techno what New York’s Paradise Garage was to disco or Chicago’s The Warehouse was to house music. Moving between these cities, Kai Alce had a really great vantage point as their nascent underground musical forms developed and solidified themselves across America. His NDATL label, a combination of New York, Detroit, and Atlanta, speaks to this. As much as he’s made his impact on its fabric, the southern city’s neo-soul thread has certainly had its influence on his sound as well, weaving itself into both his imprint and productions.
Worth mentioning here, we’ve also had the pleasure of hosting Kai Alce ourselves as a guest at one of our Orlando parties in the past. In our question and answer below, we ask Kai about his residencies, what makes Atlanta such a special destination, the dynamics at play during House in the Park, and more.
A lot of people have said that there was a sort of dead period for deep house in Atlanta, but that, for them, you were one of the ones that helped keep it alive. Can you tell us about Kaya and Deep?
Well, I came to Atlanta in ’90 and at that point there was Ron Pullman and Stuart Gardner at Traxx, Tedd Patterson at Colorbox, and a few other things. Ron and Tedd left Atlanta around the same time I arrived, so there was a major hole. I first got a residency at the famed club Velvet, and then started at Oxygen in Buckhead — or as we once knew it. Then I began to play at Kaya with longtime conspirator Karl Injex. Kaya was truly a time where it seemed that the commercial and the underground met harmoniously. That place held about 2–3,000 people every weekend, giving them, on different nights, latin, disco, house, hip-hop… truly a great venue. Then I moved on to Deep at MJQ, which began with me, Kemit, and Cullen. Kemit left after a year to go back to Kaya, which was then called Visions, but Cullen and I would keep Deep going for another eight years.
Why is there so much talent in Atlanta? You, DJ Kemit, Roland Clark, Daz-I-Kue, and now DJ Pierre… what is the draw of this city to keep such a creative musical class?
Atlanta is comfortable, I think, less hectic than a Chicago, New York, or London and leaves room to breathe and live a little.
Does Morehouse, the historically black all-male college where you got your degree, have anything to do with it?
I’m sure it has, Atlanta has definitely nurtured my sound, as I have nurtured its sound. Coming from places where dance music had its roots, I’m now in a place that had none, although it did have fertile ground to make something happen.
Why did you start HITP and did you ever think it’d become this big?
The vibe, it’s totally different from any of the other outdoor dance events I’ve been to; there’s a real sense of family.
With the team you have now, you could probably throw your own small festival and grow from there. Trying to imagine it, it’d probably be like America’s version of Southport Weekender. HITP/ATL Weekender is already sort of like this…
Slowly, but surely, it’s arriving there. Every year there are more and more events trying to take advantage of those who come to the city for HITP.
I noticed when I attended HITP last year that it was largely an older black crowd, but with all walks of life represented at the same time. How do you feel about this makeup? Do you think an event like this is important as something for that community to have for itself? Is it a way to pass the torch on? Could that cast possibly be part of its attraction to outsiders?
It is primarily an older black crowd, usually with the next generation (children, grandchildren, etc.), and this makeup is the truth — as what I know of house. It started within the black community so the only way to see, feel, and experience it in its truest form is to be within a setting like HITP.
It kind of amazed me to see a couple of teenagers with iPods in their hands and ear buds in. I traveled for HITP and it was a rewarding experience for me, but I wonder what I would have thought if I was exposed to it at that age and if it was my parent’s music or just another day in the park. It probably does all look a bit silly to them…
Definitely, the kids see it as their parents’ music now, but I think, as I did, you end up going back to what u grew up on and usually discovering more music of that era that u were not aware of.
So for past Atlanta Weekender guests, DISTINCTIVE has had Karizma, Moodymann, and Norm Talley. What is it about Theo Parrish that makes him fit in with such company, but also maybe stand out?
As all are DISTINCTIVE in their own right, I don’t think any one stands out. I think it’s about the party and what people have come to expect when me and my partners in crime get down.
The type of talent you book with your own events feels like the money can’t buy types, like if it wasn’t for your deep relationship with these guys, they might not come.
I think they would go anywhere that they know that the person is doing something good, which may take reference from someone they trust that has already been where they are being asked to play. And as long as the offer is reasonable, they’ll do it.
In true Kai fashion, when asked to leave us with one of his favorite memories or moments from House in the Park so far, he simply directed us to some footage of the event in its third year. Enjoy and see you in the park!