Jump to content

Derrick May (musician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Derrick May
Derrick May
Derrick May
Background information
Also known as
  • Rhythim Is Rhythim
  • Mayday
Born (1963-04-06) April 6, 1963 (age 61)
OriginDetroit, Michigan, U.S.
Years active1986–present

Derrick May (born April 6, 1963), also known as Mayday and Rhythim Is Rhythim, is an American electronic musician from Belleville, Michigan, United States. May is credited with pioneering techno music in the 1980s along with collaborators Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, commonly known as The Belleville Three.[1]


Early life[edit]

May is an only child[2] born to a single mother in Detroit. May began to explore electronic music early in his life. At age 13, Derrick May began attending Belleville High School, and became friends with Juan Atkins in 1981.[3] After an altercation, May became friends with Saunderson.[4][5] Atkins taught May and Kevin Saunderson the essence of DJing as well, formed a trio, Deep Space Soundworks, collectively existing to present their favorite music at parties and clubs.[6] In an interview with a French magazine, May explained that people used to laugh at the ideas that they were entertained by Kraftwerk and disco sounds, we did our thing and continued to believe in ourselves, regardless.[7] During high school, Saunderson and Belleville High School classmate Juan Atkins were fans of DJ Charles "The Electrifying Mojo" Johnson.

When their careers took off, the three young men opened their three individual record labels, Metroplex belonging to Juan Atkins, KMS and Inner City for Kevin Saunderson and Transmat/Fragil all on Gratiot Ave, in Detroit's Eastern Market, this was known as Techno Alley.[8]


When Derrick May was a teenager, he worked part-time in a video arcade.[9]

May's production career started in 1987 with the release of a record called "Nude Photo" (written by Thomas Barnett), which helped kickstart the Detroit techno music scene. A year later, he followed this release with what was to become one of techno's classic anthems, the seminal track "Strings of Life", which was named by Frankie Knuckles.[10] It "hit Britain in an especially big way during the country's 1987–1988 house explosion."[11] May's best known track, according to Frankie Knuckles, "just exploded. It was like something you can't imagine, the kind of power and energy people got off that record when it was first heard. Mike Dunn says he has no idea how people can accept a record that doesn't have a bassline."[10] The song was featured in video game Midnight Club: Street Racing.[12][13]

Opened in 1988, The Music Institute in Detroit was where they held their residency.[14] May describes the place as a spiritual place for music. "We had a young beautiful black crowd and I mean beautiful in the sense of spirit mind and soul. We had white kids coming, Spanish kids coming, gay kids coming, straight kids coming."[3]

Derrick was a mentor to many great artists. Among them, Carl Craig and Stacey Pullen have cited the difference between May's two labels as Transmat being fully devoted to original creation, whereas Fragile is where an artist can utilize more sampling, for a little creative push. May also ran a side-gig collective known as KAOS, a separate and lesser-known endeavor from Deep Space. May's Transmat Records label was the home of his best material, cuts like "Nude Photo," "Strings of Life," "Kaos" and "It Is What It Is," most produced from 1987 to 1989 as Rhythim Is Rhythim.[15] And though his release schedule all but halted during the 1990s, he continued DJing around the world and helping other artist to release their music honed Transmat into one of the most respected techno labels in the world.[9]

In Surreal Underground Entertainment 1993 America, Carl Craig said he "doesn't want Americans to look back at the music and think of it as a down point in history. The majority of American artists sent their musical efforts to Europe because it is more accepted by a wider audience."[16]

In the documentary about the Detroit techno scene, High Tech Soul, May notes that he saw people in Italy wearing Underground Resistance shirts and was surprised at the group's success outside of Detroit. He says, "People were going crazy over Underground Resistance, and it was like they weren't even there."[17]

Recently, May produced the music for the film of the popular fighting video game Tekken.[18]

For two years, in 2003 and 2004, he was given control of Detroit's popular annual electronic music festival.[19] Originally conceived by Carl Craig, Derrick May, produced for 2 years. He named his event Movement, replacing the Detroit Electronic Music Festival along the Detroit city riverfront. Derrick May claims Carole Marvin stole the idea of festival from himself and Carl Craig. Her actions created a rift in the electronic music community in the talking a self-righteous stance, by firing Carl Craig.[20][21] In 2004, Kevin Saunderson and Ade' Mainor produced the Festival of Sound Electronically and International Nurtured, in short: Fuse-In for 1 year in 2005. As of 2019, the Detroit Electronic Festival is operated by Paxahau.[22]

Derrick May also still maintains a steady performance schedule, playing internationally many weekends. A pioneer of techno, he produces what he calls Hi-Tek Soul or "George Clinton meeting Kraftwerk in an elevator."[10] He has also cited Yellow Magic Orchestra, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Ultravox as influences.[23]

Sexual assault allegations[edit]

In September 2020, May was accused of sexual assault by several women dating back to the early 2000s. May denies all allegations.[24][25][26][27] In connection with the accusations, he also filed a lawsuit for defamation against Michael James, a collaborator on the track "Strings of Life", who May believed to be pursuing a personal vendetta over unpaid royalties. The suit was later cancelled in February 2021.[28][29][30]



  • Innovator (1996)
  • Mysterious Traveller (2002) (with System 7)

DJ mixes[edit]

  • The Mayday Mix (1997)
  • Derrick May x Air (2010)
  • Derrick May x Air Vol. 2 (2011)
  • Fact Mix 339 (2012)


  • Innovator: Soundtrack for the Tenth Planet (1991)


  • "Let's Go" (1986) (with X-Ray)
  • "Nude Photo" (1987) (as Rhythim Is Rhythim)
  • "Strings of Life" (1987) (as Rhythim Is Rhythim)
  • "It Is What It Is" (1988) (as Rhythim Is Rhythim)
  • "Sinister" / "Wiggin" (1988) (as Mayday)
  • "Beyond the Dance" (1989) (as Rhythim Is Rhythim)
  • "The Beginning" (1990) (as Rhythim Is Rhythim)
  • "Icon" / "Kao-tic Harmony" (1993) (as Rhythim Is Rhythim)


  • Rock & Roll (1995), episode 10[31] – includes interview with Derrick May.
  • Universal Techno (1996)[32] – includes interview with Derrick May inside Detroit's Michigan Theatre, in the Michigan Building.
  • Modulations: Cinema for the Ear (1998)[33] – includes interview with Derrick May.
  • Pump Up the Volume: A History of House Music (2001)[34] – includes interview with Derrick May.
  • High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music (2006) – includes interview with Derrick May.


  1. ^ "Derrick May Bio, Music, News & Shows". DJZ.com. Archived from the original on April 12, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  2. ^ "Derrick May Biography". Resident Advisor. Archived from the original on June 29, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Derrick May – The Secret of Techno". Detroittechnomilitia.com. Archived from the original on April 15, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  4. ^ High tech soul. Dir. Gary Bredow. Plexifilm, 2006. Film. High tech soul. Dir. Gary Bredow. Plexifilm, 2006. Film. (24:37).
  5. ^ High tech soul. Dir. Gary Bredow. Plexifilm, 2006. Film. High tech soul. Dir. Gary Bredow. Plexifilm, 2006. Film. (26:39).
  6. ^ "Derrick May | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  7. ^ Brunner, Vincent. "Heavenly – Les Inrocks". Les Inrocks (in French). Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  8. ^ Sicko, Dan (April 15, 2010). Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0814337127.
  9. ^ a b "RA: Derrick May". Resident Advisor. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c "Interview: Derrick May – The Secret of Techno (archived)". Mixmag. 1997. Archived from the original on April 30, 2013. Retrieved July 25, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  11. ^ Bush, John. "Derrick May". AllMusic. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  12. ^ "Midnight Club: Street Racing [Greatest Hits]: Information from". Answers.com. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  13. ^ "Midnight Club: Street Racing – Credits". Allgame.com. October 3, 2010. Archived from the original on November 16, 2014. Retrieved December 27, 2013.
  14. ^ "Detroit Techno Tourist: The Music Institute". Beatport News (EN). Archived from the original on April 15, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  15. ^ Telekom (December 8, 2015). "Mentors: Stacey Pullen On Learning the Ropes From Derrick May". Electronic Beats. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  16. ^ "Michigan Chronicle – Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza". Michigan Chronicle. Archived from the original on April 19, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
  17. ^ "High Tech Soul". YouTube. 2006. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  18. ^ "Interview: The List (Issue 594) – Derrick May". The List. January 17, 2008.
  19. ^ "Electronic Music Festival at Hart Plaza". The Michigan Chronicle. Archived from the original on April 19, 2016.
  20. ^ Collins, Lisa (May 22, 1992). "MetroTimes".
  21. ^ "Clouds Settle Over Detroit Electronic Music Festival". MTV News. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  22. ^ Culham, Devin (January 24, 2019). "Paxahau shares full lineup for Movement Music Festival 2019". Metro Times. Archived from the original on January 12, 2020. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  23. ^ "Derrick May on the roots of techno at RBMA Bass Camp Japan 2010". Red Bull Music Academy. YouTube. September 20, 2010. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  24. ^ "Techno DJ Derrick May accused of sexual assault by four women". The Guardian. November 12, 2020.
  25. ^ "Women provide accounts of sexual harassment and assault by Derrick May". Resident Advisor.
  26. ^ "Multiple women report sexual assault and harassment by Derrick May". DJMag.com. November 12, 2020.
  27. ^ "DJ Derrick May denies accusations of sexual assault from four women". NME. November 13, 2020.
  28. ^ Yoo, Noah (November 13, 2020). "Derrick May Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Multiple Women, Files Defamation Lawsuit". Pitchfork.com.
  29. ^ DeVito, Lee, Techno DJ Derrick May faces sexual assault allegations Archived March 19, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, Detroit Metro Times, Euclid Media Group, LLC. Thu, Nov 19, 2020, 2:05 PM.
  30. ^ Derrick May Drops Defamation Case Against Sexual Assault Accuser, Selector, Feb 26, 2021.
  31. ^ Rock & Roll: The Perfect Beat (Part 5), retrieved November 11, 2022
  32. ^ djhuggy (July 24, 2011), [Documentaire - Reportage] Universal Techno (1996), retrieved April 6, 2016
  33. ^ BassExpression (December 31, 2011), Modulations – History Of Electronic Dance Music Documentary, retrieved April 6, 2016
  34. ^ Pump Up The Volume - A History of House Music - Documentary - 2001 - Channel 4 (UK), retrieved November 11, 2022

External links[edit]