R.I.P. Kelli Hand

Techno and house producer,label owner and DJ Kelli Hand passed on August 3rd at the age of 57 due to heart disease. Hand, who primarily recorded under the name K-HAND, was the first woman to start a techno music label. The Detroit native founded Acacia Records in 1990 after declining techno pioneer’s Jeff Mill’s invitation to record on his label. However, Mills, Mike Clark, Robert Hood and Mike Banks assisted her on her debut Think About It EP recorded as Etat Solide which was Solid State backwards. Hand would go on to produce 300 releases in her lifetime while touring the world. She was heavily influenced by her trips to Chicago to hear Ron Hardy and New York City where she spent a lot of time dancing to Larry Levan’s DJ sets at the Paradise Garage. But she also loved her hometown and the music played by house DJ legend Ken Collier. 

Kelli Hand’s path to music started when she was a dancer on The Detroit Scene and The Detroit New Dance Music Shows. These shows were the only ones in the country to showcase Black dancers and new Black music outside of Don Cornelius’s Soul Train which started in Chicago and eventually made its home in Los Angeles. Her unique style was immediately spotted by the show’s producer and the cameramen always made sure to catch her signature moves. From there she attended Wayne State University to study music theory. There were no women making inroads with dance music when Hand launched her label. They were expected to be either singers or dancers to support their male counterparts and a lucky few became successful solo singers. Women had a role in hip-hop’s male dominated scene since the ’70s when MC Sha-Rock became a member of the Funky Four Plus One making  them the first coed rap group. 

Hand gained a DJ residency at Club Zipper’s in Detroit during the early ’90s and she would continue to play around the city when she wasn’t touring overseas until her passing. During in time living in Atlanta she discovered Chris Brann’s house music trio the Wamdue Kids and began releasing their music on her Acacia label.

She also was an early advisor on the board of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. In 2017, the Detroit City Council named Hand The First Lady of Detroit for the decades of her maverick mission. 

Hand blazed a path for women in dance music as producers,  label owners and world-traveling DJs. Contemporary women DJs and producers like Ash Lauryn and Suzi Analogue have both acknowledged Hand’s contribution. At the time of her passing she had just played a gig in Detroit and was booked to go London in October.