If you look up "underground DJ" in the dictionary - at least, in a dictionary with that incredibly specific terminology, I dunno - you'd find DJ Bone. Few personify that sense of the underground quite like the Detroit techno legend; the emphasis on promoting marginalised producers, DJs, labels and clubs; the devotion to locality and roots; and the unwavering commitment to DJing both as an artform and public service to adoring crowds.

Raised on hip hop and the first flourishes of Detroit techno at the tail-end of the 80s with Jeff Mills and Juan Atkins, it was the latter who enabled his producer breakthrough after years of (underground) DJing in the city, releasing Bone's track 'Riding The Thin Line' through his Metroplex label; and things have progressed since then. He's held residencies at four of the motor city's most prominent clubs, cultivated an entirely individual aesthetic with his Subject Detroit label, and become renowned over the past 20 years as one of the most technically proficient DJs, and astute selectors, in the business.

Ahead of his appearance at Phonox London this Friday, we spoke to the bonafide legend.

Jumping off – you’re often referred to as the “champion of the underground”, or some twist on that description, what does this mean to you?

It’s actually quite a badge of honor and it means a lot to me to be seen this way. You see, DJ Bone was born out of the Detroit underground music scene. That scene along with the city of Detroit as a whole made me the artist that I am. Underground means that you’re serious about your objective, you’re truly immersed, and that popularity and fame don’t play any part in your mission.

Being underground means you are avant-garde, you’re functioning outside the establishment. For me it also entails refusing to exploit yourself or compromise your artistic beliefs. It’s talent over antics, substance over profile. So, being considered as the “Champion of the Underground” is a title I’m very proud of.

As a veteran DJ, what balance do you aspire to strike between newly released, underground selections, and more oldschool and heritage tracks?

I’m very lucky to have been blessed with a pretty lengthy career already. That being said, I make sure to keep ahead of the curve to ensure I never come off as a “the good old days” DJ only being booked out of nostalgia. I think having longevity but still remaining relevant says a helluva lot about an artist.

Now, as for balance in my sets, it’s difficult to say. When I DJ I play moods, so I tend to incorporate a lot of timeless music from the past and the present. But at the same time I make sure to focus on the fact that the crowd is there to dance. Fortunately, my Detroit roots make it possible for me to have a crowd dance and feel simultaneously. I’d say a good idea of the mixture of music I play is 50% new, 40% unreleased and 10% oldschool, all played 100% Bone-styl, haha. I also feel I’m still growing as a DJ which I believe gives me an edge, an advantage, by having one foot planted in early Detroit and the other far (enough) into the future (of what I know is possible).

A famous characteristic of your DJing style is how elegantly you use the fader switch, why is this so crucial to your performances?

“Elegantly”! Most people usually use the words “chopping” it up or “cutting”, both of which imply aggressiveness. But there is definitely an element of elegance to what I do. It is creating a unique energy or mood live, on the fly all while keeping everything on beat and in rhythm (which is the challenging part)!

The norm in techno sets now is heavy beats with one or two sounds on top and build-up drum tracks. But I’m not interested in the norm. The norm will always be easier but I think that tends to most times lead to complacency for me. I’d much rather take risks and work to create genuine moments that go beyond the norm. A drumroll/build-up track always has a huge immediate impact but is quickly forgotten (until the next one). I prefer moments that people will remember long after my set is over. “Elegant” fader work helps me achieve this.

What have been some of your proudest, and happiest, career moments when playing three records across your three decks?

Some of my proudest moments?

- Having my Dad raise his fist in joy during my set at the first DEMF in Detroit. He was SO proud!

- Seeing or hearing other DJs (big names included) trying to copy what I do/have done. It humbles me actually. I like to take it as a compliment.

- Playing the Rex Club in Paris for the first time along with an interview on Laurent Garnier’s radio show. He surprised me and graciously opened for me that night too! That was very emotional as it was my first time in Europe outside the UK. I will forever love him like a brother for all he’s done for me.

- Closing set on the main stage of the festival in Detroit. It was packed with thousands of fellow Detroiters dancing in the rain. This was a special moment at home for me.

- Being requested by John Peel and playing a live session (with an audience) for him at the Maida Vale studios. He called me the day of and said that so many people wanted to attend that he decided to oblige them and move it to the bigger studio at Maida Vale.

- Having my wife, daughter and friends right behind me for my Boiler Room set in Amsterdam. I was very proud!!

- My early residencies at Motor and The Shelter in Detroit in 89 and the 90’s.

What’s a technical flourish or trick you make behind the decks that’s satisfying and difficult, that a layperson like myself will easily miss?

I’d have to say that people rarely notice when I have two or three songs playing and I switch from on kick drum to another by using the low end EQs. Everything else for all the songs is consistently playing but yet the kick keeps changing. I love the way it sounds and kinda messes with peoples’ heads.

Your label Subject Detroit, naturally, has its mission statement in its name. Given Detroit techno is so synonymous with a halcyon past, how do you feel about the state of techno in the city today?

It's bittersweet for me because as much as I enjoy a lot of the new music coming out from true Detroit producers, I miss the frequency of releases. There used to be such a surplus of ammo to choose from coming outta the D but it’s much less now unfortunately. I think this is partially due to how busy people are in general, not only touring or their job but with every day real life things. Musically it’s strong, party-wise it could be a lot stronger. Maybe I need to start another residency in Detroit like back in the day? Hmmmm, we’ll see.

How’s your time in Amsterdam, and how does it compare with Detroit as a nightlife city to live in?

I spend most of the year here now and I love it! It was initially a move to reduce the amount of travelling I do but it’s expanded my horizons and showed me how limitless I can be as a global citizen.

The two scenes are very different. Amsterdam nightlife (and Europe in general) is freer and much more adventurous. In Detroit the majority of the clubs shut at 2am. In Amsterdam I usually start my set around 2am. The venues can be less restrictive and more daring in Amsterdam unlike in Detroit (US in general) where people are always worried about getting sued. It’s not like that in Amsterdam, therefore the venues, stages, etc can have elements of danger or drama to them that Detroit can’t anymore. When the warehouse and underground party scene in Detroit was stomped out it never fully recovered. There are still great events there but not every weekend like there used to be.

Since you first spoke out on the trend of hiring producers to DJ instead of pure DJs, it has become an even more institutionally accepted norm in the scene and industry, has your feelings on this changed?

To be 100% clear I reserve this attitude exclusively for producers who aren’t good at DJing. What I’m saying is having made a hit song or having produced great tracks shouldn’t automatically qualify you as a DJ. It’s still a troubling approach to me and it takes away from raw, fresh talent being able to break into the market.

I understand the reasoning behind booking a producer that’s not really great at DJing as a draw because they supposedly have a greater “market value”...but that doesn’t mean I agree with this practice or have to tolerate it. It reminds me of when fashion magazines started using pop stars, actors and insta-famous types for their covers instead of, well...models. Many career fashion models were very upset. Industries change so you have to be confident in your abilities or adapt in order to survive.

Do you think with yourself and more underground contemporaries like DJ Stingray really having some career peaks just now, that there’s a growing appetite for more underground DJs and artists than more conventional acts?

To be clear, I’ve never equated notoriety with a peaking career (still don’t). And that’s the only difference within the last couple of years for me, notoriety. People who don’t know can research me or ask their friends. I’ve been traveling the world for 20 plus years working hard, consistently rocking parties, showing people that there can be more to DJing than just matching a beat and waving your hands around. I’ve been out here representing for myself and Detroit, making sure I remain relevant and not ending up as just a historical figure from back in the day. I’ve been taking chances every set since day one, long before anyone using sync and/or software even dreamed about complaining that “DJs don’t take risks”. But I hope people don’t read anger into my words. I’m just speaking passionately about my truth and my history.

Now to finally answer your question, haha. I think the appetite for more unconventional DJs and acts is rising. You see, magazines, blogs and social media create techno stars and trendy/“hot” DJs now, they have to in order to make money and survive. But I think there will always be a sizeable, ever-growing contingent that will look beyond the publications and dig deeper. So the appetite is there but I wouldn’t say more so than conventional acts. Sadly at the end of the day many promoters will continue booking heavy “It” DJ lineups because it’s still a business. Hopefully my longevity can serve as a testament that you can be original, truly take risks and still be happy and have a thriving career. You don’t need antics or hype if that’s not truly your style.

Lastly, what have been your favourite memories of DJing nights in London?

- The first few times playing Voyager at The Complex in London blew my mind.

- Playing for Carl Cox at his Ultimate Base night and watching him dance to my set. He had the moves.

- Of course, John Peel live session at Maida Vale Studios.

- The all-nighter I played at Phonox.

- Playing an illegal Metroplex afterparty in Brixton.

- Not a gig but being invited by Laurent Garnier to his album (30) launch soirée, and he made sure to have my favorite hot wings there.

- The amazing crowds that are all about The Music!

Buy tickets for DJ Bone's Phonox show this Friday 3rd May here.