Alton Miller: A Detroit legend in Sydney

A brief chat with a techno legend.
Henry Johnstone
Alton Miller: A Detroit legend in Sydney

A key figure in the ‘first wave’ of techno in Detroit, Alton Miller is a true legend of the scene. Inspired by Frankie Knuckles’ private loft parties in Chicago, Miller founded Detroit’s legendary after-hours club The Music Institute with George Baker and Chez Damier in 1988.

More than three decades since those heady formative days, Miller remains one of underground club music’s most in-demand DJs and producers - forever chasing the sun and digging for musical delights to move dance floors in far flung lands.

Hi Alton, how was your gig in Adelaide?

The gig in Adelaide at Sugar was great thanks to Driller and the crew. Being able to play a four-hour set is a must for me these days, as I always have so much to say musically as a DJ. Peaks and valleys, you know what I mean!

You live in Johannesburg now. When did you make the move to South Africa and what is the house and techno scene like?

I started touring in South Africa in 2011 and immediately fell in love with the country’s culture, landscape, music scene and the people. I started residing there between 2017 and 2018. The house and techno scenes are very strong due to large support from radio and it’s been like that since day one I hear. All genres of music in South Africa thrive big time because people really love their music and the radio stations do a great job a feeding the masses and continuously exposing the youth to good music.

Your mixing style is described as ‘eclectic’. What does this mean in terms of a house DJ?

Hmmm, eclectic they say? I cover different genres of house at different times in my sets based on a feeling that I get from the crowd. With that I can create a start and a finish – a story if you will. I truly believe in playing tunes that resonate with me, be it house, classics, afro house and so forth. I try to never put myself in a box during a set, nor get hung up on genres, but keeping it all in context.

'90s sounds are coming back around again and much faster tempos too. What do you make of this and does it inspire you or affect how you play?

I haven’t really been tuned into it - it doesn’t inspire me or affect how I play. Things come and go in cycles, right? I have been playing music from different eras since I began playing music. There are some things that I play that never leave my box or playlist and they sound different every time I play them.

What is one of your favourite memories from The Music Institute days?

The opening day, definitely! I really enjoyed the events we held during that first week as they were more private and intimate. What a blast man!

Where are you heading to after your trip to Australia? Any plans for the rest of 2022?

After Australia I go back to Johannesburg to finish some projects and to rock some gigs. I started a non-profit in South Africa implementing youth development programs and a beard product line, so those two things alone are keeping me really busy. I head to the States at end of July to do a tour and work on some projects that side as well. I am forever chasingb the sun, that’s for sure.

What’s happening for you on the production front? Any exciting projects you can share?

The second single from my album ‘Now Is the Time’ on Sound Signature is soon to be released. A couple of other releases here and there and remixes as well, including one on the Quinessentials label called ‘Essentials Ya Dig’ EP – that’s out in September. I feel like I’ve got something to say after a long hiatus from writing, so I’m going to start on a new album project too.

What do you love to do when visiting Australia?

I hit up as many restaurants and markets as I can! I really love catching up with people that I have been friends with since the very first time I came to Australia. I do prefer it in the summer though, that’s for sure.

Which album have you listened to the most this year?

The Mizell Brothers at Blue Note records (1973-1977 and Beyond)

Name three records that are getting a great reaction in your sets at the moment.

1. Alton Miller and Maurissa Rose – ‘Love Don’t Pass Me By’

2. The Doors – ‘Ghost Song’ (Mike and Tess remix)

3. Fingers Inc – ‘Bring Down the Walls’

Listen to Alton Miller on Apple Music

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