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Electronic musician inspired by family & place

Michigan has a history of some pretty sweet music. One surprising genre that is Pure Michigan is techno. The art form was invented by three young men from Belleville in the 1980s (specifically Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, and Juan Atkins, aka the Belleville 3, and you can listen to some classic Detroit techno here).

These days there are some talented musicians making really good electronic music in the mitten state. Zach Saginaw is one of them. He was born and raised in Ann Arbor (and as an interesting side note: his father is a co-founder of Zingerman’s Deli.) Saginaw now calls Detroit home, but he’s not there a whole lot recently, since he’s been busy touring the globe.

Saginaw makes electronic music under his middle name, Shigeto. Now don’t freak if you’re all like, “I hate techno!” Saginaw’s stuff is beautiful. It’s rhythmic, bright, and clean. His music is also an easy entry point for people who *think* they can’t stomach the genre.



Saginaw trained as a jazz drummer, and that’s ground zero for his songwriting and performances. But he incorporates all kinds of electronic goodness into his compositions. He calls his music “instrumental, electronically-produced music that is jazz and hip-hop influenced.” Check out this video to see what his demanding, physical, (and sweaty) performances actually look like.


He’s released several albums on the Michigan-based label, Ghostly International. One album, called “Lineage,” is a tribute to the Japanese side of his family. (Saginaw is Japanese and Jewish.)

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the members of his family were whisked away into internment camps. Saginaw says this traumatic experience had ways of affecting him years later. So he wanted to reach out to his grandparents especially, and connect with them, but it was hard to do with words. So he did it instead with sounds.

I did a story about Saginaw for the radio, where he talks more about this:

Saginaw also likes to say he “represents Michigan hard!” Places in Michigan end up making guest appearances in his songs. For example, “Huron River Drive” was inspired by the scenic and peaceful stretch of road that parallels the river in Ann Arbor.

These days, the Motor City is an inspiration. Saginaw's song “Detroit Part 1” is on his newest album, “No Better Time Than Now.” It’s clearly inspired by Detroit, his family, and the game Pac-Man, as evidenced in the song's video.


Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a substitute host and producer at KNKX.
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