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DJ and producer Kelli Hand, who as K-Hand was a prolific, versatile and much-admired figure in Detroit’s dance music scene, has died aged 56. A cause has not been announced, but her death was confirmed by close friends on social media and to the Guardian by her agent.
Hand was named “the first lady of Detroit” by the city’s council in 2017, acknowledging a career in which she was a rare Black woman in dance music production and DJing.
Born and raised in Detroit, Hand began taking weekend trips to New York clubs as a young woman in the 1980s, frequenting Paradise Garage and being inspired by the emergent sounds of house and techno. While working on the fraud team of a phone company, she began DJing in the late 80s, earning local residencies.
She started producing her own music and founded the label UK House Records – later renamed Acacia Records – to release it, with her debut EP, Think About It, coming in 1990. Techno stars Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Mike Banks and Mike Clarke assisted on the recording. She continued to release tracks spanning jackin’ house, ghettotech and the pounding minimalism of Detroit techno, and her star spread to Europe where she began touring in the mid-1990s. The UK label Warp Records released a 1994 single, Global Warning.
She released the first of seven studio albums in 1995, and steadily continued to release music until 2020.
In 2016, she explained her approach to DJing and production, favouring hardware over software: “If it’s not on vinyl, it’s not final, that’s the bottom line,” she said. “Because you need that warm sound, that analogue sound – not the robotic mouse clicking sound. From 2000 it’s all been Einstein, twinky-twinky electronic computer-mouse-clicking music. A lot of people produce by putting things in blocks on a screen. Some people make good music doing that, but for me that’s not producing – you’re playing a computer game.”
The dance music community has paid tribute, with Mike Servito saying: “She was pioneering! You leave us with an inspirational Detroit music legacy,” and Octave One saying: “Our Detroit Sista will truly be missed.”