Tech Supreme’s Derrick Kilgore Has Found His Groove with EDM-Style Beats

As Tech Supreme, Derrick Kilgore has moved from hip-hop to EDM.
As Tech Supreme, Derrick Kilgore has moved from hip-hop to EDM. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

As a self-professed comic book nerd and pop culture consumer, Derrick Kilgore is in his zone this spring. Game of Thrones is back on air after almost two years away, and the season's biggest film event — the final Avengers movie — is so important to him that he has an app on his phone counting down the minutes until the premiere.

"I didn't sleep the night the tickets went on sale because no one knew what time they would be released," Kilgore says. "I'm hardcore into it, have been my whole life."

But these days, Kilgore's life encompasses far more than just his pop culture obsessions. He's also a music producer, beatmaker and a podcaster.

His nerdy side comes out most strongly on the podcast, The 60 Minute Shit Show, which he produces bi-weekly with local comic book artist Benjamin Sawyer. On recent episodes the pair have opined on everything from rapper Nipsey Hussle's killing (and the conspiracy theories that surround it) to the culture's recent reckoning with long-standing allegations against Michael Jackson and R. Kelly.

For Kilgore, the podcast is an informal way to work through the glut of news and pop culture in this digital, social-media-heavy age. "We just get so much information constantly," he says. "You're going to absorb it, so this is a good way to talk about it and get it out."

Kilgore is an easy-going presence behind the mic, but music fans have seen a different side. As Tech Supreme, Kilgore is best known as a key collaborator with Tef Poe, the locally bred rapper and activist who came to national prominence through his advocacy following Michael Brown's death and the ensuing unrest in Ferguson. Together, the pair created much of the hard-edged palette that launched Tef from his native north St. Louis County to Tommy Boy Records and fellowships at Harvard University.

The fact that Kilgore and Tef (born Kareem Jackson) were roommates at the time helped their workflow, which Kilgore describes as "super organic" and a byproduct of working in close quarters. "When I did 'Out the Kitchen,' I was just making [the track], and he walked by and said, 'I need that. That's mine.' We just knew it was time to make music; we'd sit down and focus," Kilgore says.

But over the past year, Kilgore has transitioned from the style of music-making that brought him local and national recognition and toward purely instrumental tracks that fit in the wide realm of EDM, or electronic dance music.

"I kind of got away from hip-hop," he says from the courtyard of the Venice Cafe on an early spring afternoon. "I've been doing more electronic music with house, chill, downtempo, future bass and that type of thing."

As Tech Supreme, Kilgore released twelve instrumental tracks last year through Apple Music and Spotify, but his latest release, The Grooveland EP, is a more cohesive four-song set available on Bandcamp.

As the title suggests, The Grooveland is laden with laid-back vibes and a blissed-out air.

Its seeds were planted a few years ago when Kilgore attended the Electric Forest Festival in Michigan, a major event for EDM fans and musicians. "I saw Zedd perform and I just thought it was incredible, the musicality of it," he says. "I've always been a producer who plays music — I don't want to sample. I'd rather play it, and I felt that challenge to electronic music was so special and unique that I wanted to tap into it."

Kilgore has been producing long enough that he knows how to work with both the seemingly obsolete world of drum machines, samplers and synths alongside modern tools like Ableton and other digital audio workstations (he even teaches a twice-weekly music production class at a north-county middle school). But EDM showed him that his production did not have to exist solely as a backdrop for a lyricist's verses. It could stand on its own.

"In electronic music, one thing that I gravitated towards is the fact that these people are playing their music, their beats, in front of these huge crowds," Kilgore says. "And, like, most times there's no vocals, just beats — and I'm a beat producer. I love that idea, right?"

In a recent edition of the monthly Fresh Produce battle in the Grove, in which beatmakers square off in a good-natured competition of supreme sonic dopeness, Kilgore served as a judge before taking the stage alongside fellow producer Trifeckta. It was a moment where his new direction felt validated and embraced.

"It was wall to wall, shoulder to shoulder, just playing beats back and forth, and the crowd is just listening and dancing and enjoying it," he says. "That is the moment I make music for — that's literally the moment that makes me happy."

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