Reflecting on the legacy of Detroit house pioneer, K-HAND

k-hand

Kelli Hand, also known as K-HAND passed away on the 3rd of August. She was 56 years old and the cause of death has not been revealed. K-HAND is a historical figure in electronic dance music, being one of the worlds most renowned and revolutionary Detroit house and techno artists.

Hand began her musical journey and awakening by taking weekend trips to New York from Detroit in the 1980s as a young woman. It’s during this time the emerging sounds of house and techno were flourishing in the city, especially in venues such as Paradise Garage which she frequented. As she became more engaged in the local New York scene, she began a DJ residency in the late 80s at Detroit club Zippers.

It’s from here her incredible legacy was created, starting label, UK House Records, which would eventually be known as Acacia Records. On the imprint, she released her debut and highly coveted EP, ‘Think About It’, which received acclaim from legends of Detroit techno including Mike Clarke, Jeff Mills, Mike Banks and none other than Robert Hood. Since the 90s, Kelli Hand would go on an unstoppable, and unappreciated 30 year run, changing dance music forever. She’s released 7 full length records, released on cult labels like Trip, Tresor and Warp, all while never compromising her singular brand of bass heavy, minimal and accessible Detroit Techno.

If her discography track record alone won’t wow you, in 2017, K-HAND was officially granted the title of ‘The First Lady Of Detroit’ by the cities council. The title acknowledges Hand being one of the first non-male POC taking the reigns of the genre, and revolutionising it accordingly. I argue, the title is unfair, it under-appreciates her impact on underground music as a whole. K-HAND should be remembered as ‘The First Lady of Electronic Music’.

It’s a common thread throughout her career that she was criminally underrated. Hand never received the deserved praise and celebration that her male peers received. She always however, knew her worth. With years of experience, constant tinkering with hardware and software, she developed a sound like no other, one that sat between the distinct sounds of New York, Chicago and Detroit, wrapped together with a sense of love, care and personal experience. In a 2019 interview with Resident Advisor, she commented on her impact as an artist, “No one has walked in my shoes, I bring that to the table. Nobody can replicate me”.

Hand’s most esteemed accomplishment was forever changing the structure of the male dominated industry which was DJing and producing during that time. She was the first women of colour  artist to carve he own lane in that space. She made her own moves, he released her own music on her own imprint, and gathered the support of her peers through hard work and dedication. She didn’t wait for approval, or for chess pieces to fall into place, she did it on her own terms, and that’s her most defining legacy.

International DJ Sally C wrote in a piece for Dazed, perfectly summing up the incredible K-HAND’s legacy, she stated, “We are so lucky to have been graced by this powerful, inspiring being who has left us far too early. She paved the way for so many women, showing us all how it’s done. No one will ever do it like her though. I was longing to meet Kelli one day and tell her how much I respected and admired her as a woman and an artist. It was a real dream of mine to hand her one of my own records. However, the legacy of music she has left behind is the greatest gift. I will play her music forever.”

Image: Mary Staggat via Tresor Berlin

Words by Parry Tritsiniotis

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Parry Talks, and also writes.