His name may not share the familiarity of his Detroit techno peers, yet James Marcel Stinson anonymously produced some of the city's most celebrated recordings during the '90s as the primary member of Drexciya. For nearly a decade, he quietly produced numerous recordings as a loose affiliate of the Underground Resistance collective and also as part of the Tresor roster before succumbing to a heart complication in late 2002 and passing away on September 3. Stinson never sought personal fame or glory despite the international recognition of his music, instead emphasizing the music itself and shrouding his identity in fantastic and subtle ideology that further accentuated the wondrous nature of his work and earned him incredible respect among those who knew him personally.
Born to parents James Allen Stinson and Helen Stinson on September 9, 1969, Stinson grew up on the east side of Detroit and graduated from Kettering High School in 1989. Like many Detroit techno artists from the '90s, Stinson took much inspiration from Juan Atkins' groundbreaking electro releases in the early to mid-'80s as Cybotron, and he also took substantial inspiration from the Electrifying Mojo, an eccentric radio DJ in Detroit known as much for his charisma as his genre-bending musical mix. In the early '90s Stinson began recording neo-electro tracks as Drexciya and became close with Mike Banks of Underground Resistance. At the time, electro hadn't yet undergone a revival; however, Stinson championed the style regardless and, in fact, encouraged Banks to do the same. Following the success of "Final Frontier," an electro track favored by Stinson that Banks had produced, Underground Resistance embraced the neo-electro sound and, in turn, released the first Drexciya EPs: Deep Sea Dweller (1993), Aquatic Invasion (1994), The Unknown Aquazone (1994), Bubble Metropolis (1994), Molecular Enhancement (1995), and The Return of Drexciya (1996). This flurry of releases sparked enormous interest in neo-electro, particularly within the Detroit scene, and Banks followed through with a double-LP collection of the Drexciya recordings on Underground Resistance, The Quest (1997). From here on, Stinson recorded primarily for Tresor, a renowned techno label in Berlin with strong ties to Detroit, resulting in two full-length albums: Neptune's Lair (1999) and Harnessed the Storm (2002).
During his incredible run as part of Drexciya, Stinson remained almost completely anonymous to his fans. None of the Drexciya releases listed any participants, and thus endless rumors circulated in e-mail chat rooms about the responsible party -- or parties. In fact, those in the know considered it downright blasphemous to reveal Stinson's identity. The producer never gave interviews nor did he revel in the praise showered upon his music, instead modestly working for his living as a truck driver and fathering seven children with his wife, Andrea Clementson Stinson. Nonetheless, he worked incredibly hard at music-making, laboring for many years in the basement of his mother's home whenever possible. Furthermore, he infused his music with a rich sense of ideology, most famously using aquatic motifs as an analogy for the historical African-American experience, which he portrayed as a voyage of sorts.
Sadly, Stinson's accomplished yet quiet career came to an end on September 3, 2002, when he died from a heart complication in Newnan, GA. Earlier that year, he had given a rare interview with Detroit Free Press writer Tim Pratt that the newspaper published posthumously. In the interview Stinson revealingly alludes to health issues as the reason for his move from Detroit to the Atlanta area but doesn't give specifics, mentioning all of this matter-of-factly with guarded subtlety. The interview itself centered on an ambitious series of projects Stinson had undertaken and wished to discuss, one of which was his then current release on Tresor, Harnessed the Storm, the others released later in the year as the Other People Place and Transllusion: "Harnessed the Storm is one in a series of seven individual storms, which are LPs. The albums are sent to different labels. Harnessed the Storm is one, Transllusion is two, and the Other People Place is three. Much like storms or tornadoes, you don't know where or when they're going to show up, but there's four more. They were all made within one year." Moreover, within the context of this lengthy interview, Stinson speaks frankly of his music and ideology, allowing his fans a rare opportunity to place his work within a more personal context.
On September 5 Tresor announced the 32-year-old artist's passing with a brief and fittingly cryptic e-mail sent via Rooftop Promotion: "James Marcel Stinson died the 3rd of September from a heart complication. The project Drexciya lost one of its masterminds; the (electronic) music world lost one of the most innovative musicians and more important, one of the greatest persons. While we suffer, his wife and children are suffering more from this tragic loss. He would have wanted it that his fans are informed. Please treat his memory with the same respect you would with any friend. We will miss him greatly." In memorial, the Detroit Free Press published Pratt's interview on September 13 with an accompanying retrospective written by Tamara Warren. In the context of the retrospective, collaborator and fellow producer Dennis Richardson describes Stinson as "ultra low-key": "You see him on the street, he's an everyday guy. You get him in the music studio, and he's a maestro."