Easily the most dexterous in the stable of Detroit techno pioneers, Kevin Saunderson recorded some of the hardest and most mechanistic techno to come out of the Motor City, but routinely hit the mainstream dance charts as well with productions for his techno-pop act Inner City. From his very first production, Saunderson forged an energetic, groundbreaking style for techno — a dense rhythmic assault of sound samples and heavy percussion, often with a repetitive chanted chorus forming the only vocals. His Inner City productions however, consisted of much slicker, house-inspired tracks underpinning the vocal workouts by Paris Grey — and later, his wife Ann. The group hit Great Britain's Top 40 eight times, and earned four number one club hits on the American dance chart as well. After Inner City's initial success in 1988, the group remained his primary concern until the mid-'90s, but Saunderson never deserted his hard-hitting production style; throughout the '80s and '90s, Saunderson recorded as Tronik House, the Reese Project, E-Dancer, Inter-City, Essaray, and Reese & Santonio (the latter as a duo), and also developed a roster (including Blake Baxter and Chez Damier) for his own label, KMS Records. After a Saunderson retrospective appeared in 1997, he began to make a higher profile in the album ranks. The following year, he recorded a mix album for Studio !K7 as well as a debut solo LP (as E-Dancer).
Saunderson is the only one of the fabled Belleville Three (himself, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May) not born in Detroit. Born in Brooklyn in 1964, he was the ninth and last child in his family. His parents moved to Detroit when he was 12, and he met up with Derrick May and Juan Atkins while attending Belleville Junior High. All three were fans of the local Parliament/Funkadelic machine, but Atkins introduced both Saunderson and May to synth pop pioneers like Kraftwerk and Gary Numan. While Atkins was recording with Cybotron and May was inaugurating his DJ career, however, Saunderson studied telecommunications at nearby Eastern Michigan University and dreamed of playing professional football. Saunderson began to reconsider his quest by 1984, and turned to DJing instead. He had accompanied May to Chicago several times to go to the essential house clubs, and he had also spent time in New York listening to Larry Levan spin records at the Paradise Garage.
Saunderson accompanied May and Atkins to Detroit's fabled Music Institute and formed his own KMS Records in 1986. Early Saunderson singles like "Triangle of Love" by Kreem and "The Sound" and "Bounce Your Body to the Box" by Reese & Santonio quickly made the transition from local club play to radio and finally, export to Britain, where they became underground hits along with Derrick May singles like "Nude Photo" and "Strings of Life." In 1988, Saunderson was working on a track when he realized that a vocalist might give it the sound he wanted; he was recommended to Paris Grey, and the two collaborated on the single "Big Fun." Released later that year on the British compilation Techno: The New Dance Sound of Detroit, it became a Top Ten hit in England. The follow-up, "Good Life," also hit the Top Ten, and though Inner City's success didn't quite translate in his native land, Saunderson spent much of 1988-1989 producing, remixing, and recording in Great Britain.
Later KMS singles like Reese's "Rock to the Beat" and E-Dancer's "Pump the Move" continued Saunderson's commitment to hard-hitting Detroit techno, but he also signed Inner City to a major-label contract with Virgin Records and in 1989, released its debut album, Big Fun (the first full-length released by any new Detroit producer). Pressured by Virgin to move into more marketable R&B instead of strictly club music, Inner City responded in 1990 with Fire, an album which still made few concessions to pop audiences. Similar to Big Fun, the album did well in Britain and in American clubs, but never translated to the large-selling domestic audience.
In 1991, Saunderson unveiled his new alias, the Reese Project. A more gospel-oriented variant of the Inner City techno-pop sound, Reese Project toured Britain as a support act for Inner City and debuted with the 1992 album Faith, Hope & Clarity. Inner City released its third album, Praise, that same year, and though it wasn't received as well as their first two, the single "Ahnongay" showed a more experimental side of Saunderson on what had previously been his most commercial guise. Inner City returned to the charts with more mainstream dance tracks like 1994's "Do Ya" and "Share My Life," then released their fourth album in 1996. Saunderson continued to record, releasing tracks for KMS and circling the globe as a DJ. The Faces & Phases compilation was released in 1997, covering Saunderson's hard techno work as Reese, Tronik House, E-Dancer, Kreem, and Reese & Santonio (and including only one Inner City track). One year later Saunderson released two LPs, one volume in Studio !K7's X-Mix series plus a new E-Dancer LP, Heavenly. [See also: Inner City,E-Dancer] ~ John Bush