The Detroit electronic music group Inner City, one of the most influential dance acts of all time, commemorating 30 Years!
The story of Inner City is intractably linked with its founder Kevin Saunderson, widely created as one of the progenitors of techno and a landmark figure in dance music. But while it intertwines with his own career, the group’s longevity – spanning wildfire success, indelible club classics, a handful of full-length albums, and sales of over six million worldwide – is a result of multiple independent chapters over a remarkable 30 year run time. In 2017, with Kevin’s son and creative protégé Danitez as a new addition to the group, a new one is unfolding.
The beginning of Inner City as a project came in 1987, one of many creative outlets that could be traced back to Saunderson. The music he was playing and producing in Detroit at the time, alongside fellow The Belleville Three members Juan Atkins and Derrick May, laid the path for what came to be known as Techno, and birthed an entire global culture to follow.
Inspired by marathon sets by pioneering DJs Ron Hardy and Larry Levan, Saunderson set out to break from the strictures of Detroit techno’s tracky, dark machine funk by adding vocals to his productions. Work with contemporaries at the time had led to a unique sound based on colourful keyboard chords and snappy drums – and, crucially, a chance collaboration with Chicago vocalist Paris Grey (née Shanna Jackson).
With Paris Grey’s soaring vocals atop the catchy tracks, a winning combination was found for Inner City. The marriage of Detroit techno’s propulsive, insistent rhythms and pop’s vibrant, melodic uplift proved a winner; it was neither too positive for the underground, nor too gritty for commercial success. With a defining sound in place, Inner City songs began to spring up on influential compilations chronicling early Detroit techno music and the material was heavily bootlegged, before seeing official release in 1988.
What followed was a whirlwind: “Big Fun” and “Good Life” dominated not only clubs but the charts, sweeping top 10s all across Europe, and starting a run of four consecutive No1s on the US Billboard Dance Chart. Their enduring popularity in club and radio rotation continues to this day, standing out as top-tier classics in the pantheon of modern music.
The act arrived just at the right time, with the door wide open for dancefloor-ready anthems – especially in the UK, where a new culture based around free-spirited dance music and warehouse parties was developing rapidly. Paradise, their debut album, went Platinum in the UK, setting in motion years of high demand on the live touring circuit, and spawning further hit singles such as “Ain’t Nobody Better,” “Do You Love What You Feel”, and 1992’s “Pennies From Heaven” – featuring Kevin’s wife at the time and musical partner throughout, Ann Saunderson.
Standalone releases split between Saunderson’s own KMS and Virgin’s 10 Records imprint continued through the 90s, and a greatest hits collection followed in 2003, but through the 2000s the Inner City project largely lay dormant. Paused out of respect for Grey’s desire to raise a family, the Saundersons continued their careers elsewhere: in Kevin’s case, as a popular producer, DJ, promoter and label runner; in Ann’s, as a fêted vocalist, most notably on Octave One’s “Blackwater” smash.
To the delight of fans, Inner City was revived in the early 2010s with gigs at key clubs and festivals worldwide, with both Paris Grey and Ann Saunderson taking dual vocal roles. New material was forthcoming, too: 2011’s “Fantasy”, 2014’s “Bad Girl” – featuring remixes from a then 21-year-old and fast rising Danitez Saunderson – and, most recently, “Good Luck” in 2017, with Danitez integrated as a full member of the group.
And so to the present day, with over three decades in the game under their collective wing: with a renewed commitment to live performances featuring a strong family core, and two generations of Saunderson men in the studio, Inner City look set to enjoy the good life as much in 2017 as they did in 1987.
United States of America