The born-and-raised Detroit pioneer, whose real name was Kelli Hand, is credited with pushing the boundaries of the male-dominated house and techno genres. In her career spanning more than three decades, she became known for her ability to shift between Chicago-inspired percussion, catchy basslines, acid synths, and stripped-back minimal hooks. Inspired deeply by experiences watching Larry Levan in his heyday at Paradise Garage finding ways to infuse upbeat, soulful melodies into her music, admitting in an interview just before her death "a lot of my songs are lovey-dovey." In 2017 she was officially recognized as the "First Lady of Detroit" with a Testimonial Resolution certificate from the city, referencing her incredible "skills within a male-dominated industry."
Read this next: Detroit house and techno legend K-Hand has died
We've compiled a list of the 20 best K-Hand tracks below. (Find a Spotify playlist with a more limited selection at the bottom.)
'Project 5 (Untitled B1)'
When Kelli Hand first produced copies of ‘Project 5’, it was 1997 and she was on tour in London with Underground Resistance, gifting promo CDRs to ravers. Free of charge, they received a priceless cut of dance music history. The ‘Untitled B1’ track is an exmplar of house music, with garage-infused percussion shuffling beneath vocal chops that metronome between hypnotic and rousing.
‘Candlelights’ also featured on that free ‘Project 5’ promo - the recipients really received some bang for their lack of buck. Initially titled ‘Untitled A1’, it was renamed ‘Candelights’ on later album and EP releases it popped up on on the German label Ausfahrt, as well as the ‘Acacia Classics Vol. 1’ compilation on K-Hand’s Acacia Records outlet. Powered by punchy percussion, impactful vocal samples, gliding pads and a twinkling melody, it conjures up a magical mood.
This is K-Hand at her most transcendent. The cover of the ‘Dance til Sunrise 1’ album it features on has a kind of Balearic compilation aesthetic, and ‘Workout’ unfurls with trance-style fizz and energy above a zipping bassline.
'On A Journey'
Terror in outer space? a pulsating acid melody switching up in intensity throughout is like a call from the mother ship, while the slightly frantic jungle breaks and choppy bassline gradually build up to an unnerving crescendo. Euphoric synths begin to kick in towards the ending and there's a stark realization of what this track was designed for - K-Hand was totally fucking with you all along.
Everything that comes to mind during hazy mornings in the club when time has lost any meaning can be found in ‘Fountain’. The track from Kelli’s ‘Silent Answer EP’,released in 2020,features a constant, fulfilling drum beat joined by transcendent synths that dip in and out softly, just to remind you that the rhythm is still there.
Released on Russian label трип, ‘Sound 6’ is a propulsive acid monster that would make a Moscow basement hungry for the filthiest Detroit electro and techno sounds go wild. You can practically feel the sweat dripping off the ceiling while listening to it.
‘Ba Da Bing (Deep Mix)’
One of the first releases under her K-Hand alias, ‘Ba Da Bing (Deep Mix)’ laid the foundations for the Detroit house and techno legend’s sound. The tune is heavy yet playful, with soulful vocals and an infectious melody washing over a 4/4 beat.
As the halfway point in her 1997 record ‘The Art of Music,’ ‘Telekinesis is a hypnotic, driving affair that really gets things going. Like some of K-Hand’s best, it’s dark and glitchy with plenty of attitude.
Kicking off with a simple yet menacing beat, ‘Starz’ grows into an absolute storm. K-Hand strikes the sweet spot between hard-hitting and dreamy with percussion that stabs through the atmospheric undercurrent.
Released in 2009 via K-Hand and DJ Kero’s label yet futuristic as ever, this one is a timeless electro slammer. With its dizzy, arpeggiated melody and its punchy drum patterns, ‘Electrosoul’ is five minutes of cosmic bliss.
A slow rider - but worth the trip - this track lures you in with a hypnotic looped bassline and infectious kicks. The ’95 released ‘Remember When’ is a testament to jazz and funk, releasing on her self-curated label Acacia Records.
‘You And Me’
Not to shy away from the groovy hooks, K-Hand was on top of her game in the mid-90s producing tracks like 'You And Me’ - a 12-minute record steering into rhythmic tech house with a honey-smothered vocal sample cutting through the middle.
The Detroit legend moved up in the house hierarchy in the 90s, collating an impressive discography boasting tracks like ‘Global Warning’ which became the first-ever purple sleeve after its release on Warp in 1994. Darker than most of her previous collection, the eery vocals echo: “This is a global warning”.
Another groover for the faster-paced fans, ‘Cpop’ waned more of a dancefloor feeling on release in the early noughties. The track dropped via Berlin’s Tresor label as part of the wider project, ’Detroit History Part 1’, alongside more of the producer’s classics.
You Stepped Right Into My Life’
K-Hand reworks the Bee Gees ‘You Stepped Into My Life’ - taking the infectious strings and vocal loops, making for a high-energy track that urges you to get up and dance.
'Be Right There'
The bassline is the centerpiece of this track, thumping its way along before being joined by bright synth chords and a catchy vocal. K-Hand’s versatility was what made her one of dance music’s pioneers.
This track shows off K-Hand’s more techno-based sensibilities, with hectic drums and synths mixed in with chopped vocal samples - the producer had a knack for creating vast, noisy techno with ease.
‘2 Low Key’
Starting off with some bongos and a shaker, K-Hand establishes the groove of the track from the beginning. What comes next is an incredibly satisfying build-up before a drop that gets you moving. K-Hand’s unquestionable groove made her tracks such a joy to listen to.
Etat Solide ‘Think About It’
Released under alias 'Etat Solide', 'Think About It' is everything we come to expect from a K-Hand track - and then some. Punchy drums, a trippy interludes, and wicked basslines create a peak-time club heater that's unexpected twists and turns will leave you gasping for more. Mastered by the legendary Mike Clarke and having 'the' Robert Hood credited as an engineer - its a piece of music history in unto itself.
Dare you not to get up and dance. Even without any context K-Hand's 2019 release 'Get Down' would still be an unrelenting, infectious bop. But dig into those hooks? and you understand this track is a lesson on her incredible experience as an artist - there are paradise-garage-esque riffs, there are jazz trumpets, there are fast kick drums and loaded synths; it shows us that diversity in sound, the wisdom and even humour to draw from so many places of inspiration and to mash it all together and make it just... work.