Remembering Detroit techno trailblazer Kelli Hand – Michigan Radio

Kelli Hand, who went by the moniker K-Hand, was an artist’s artist. The kind of person who friends say kept her apartment furnished with a bed, a couch, and a swarm of music equipment. The kind of person who preferred hardware over software and was known for insisting that “if it’s not on vinyl, it’s not final.” She was meticulous in her life, which largely consisted of arranging syncopated rhythms.

The lauded “First Lady of Detroit” techno dedicated her life to the weird and wonderful world of electronic music. An entrepreneur, Hand was one of the first women to own her own label. She’s known for opening the door for other women to follow.

In the last five years or so, Hand was beginning to receive the credit she so clearly earned. She signed to Nina Kraviz’s трип (pronounced trip) recordings, and toured internationally with the label. Detroit City Council recognized Hand for her contribution to techno music and her work is memorialized at the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.

Kelli Hand (born Kelley Hand) died on August 3 at her home in Detroit. She was 56 years old.

The techno sound

Techno today is often associated with the Berlin nightlife. It’s known as an international genre, but its roots are in Detroit. In the 1970s and 80s, young Black musicians influenced by Motown, disco, house, and funk — as well as the emerging sounds of Kraftwerk — created a new form of electronic music. Techno is often referred to as “high tech soul.”

But like any genre of music, the best way to get a sense of Detroit techno is to just listen to it. Ethnomusicologist Denise Dalphond noted that you can listen to any one of K-Hands 300 or so odd tracks, and you’ll hear it.

“You could think to yourself, I need an example of classic techno or I need an example of techno with some acid sounds in it…and then you could find Kelli Hand and you wouldn’t really have to look any further,” Dalphond said. “She has a great musical legacy. There’s so much to listen to.”

K-HAND Boiler Room Detroit DJ Set

Hand took risks with her sound. Her music ranged from hard acid techno to more romantic, synth-driven tracks.

Music producer and artist Alan Oldham was a friend of Hand’s, and went to Henry Ford High school with her. Oldham hosted a radio show on WDET called Fast Forward and got a hold of Hand’s first record in the 1990s. At the time, Hand went under the moniker Etat Solide.

“Her use of samples just grabbed me from the very beginning,” Oldham said. “That’s my impression of her sound, just very diverse and well put together. The first stuff was…low-fi, but you could feel the passion in it.”

K-Hand’s techno beginnings

Hand was born in Detroit on September 15, 1964. The city was in flux, and so was its music. Motown and disco dominated, and Hand was on the forefront of a new culture.

Credit: The Scene Dance Show

Kelli Hand (center, holding the microphone) pictured with other dancers on The Scene.



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