Regular readers of Fun in the Murky who bother to wade through my long-winded hack articles may have noticed a trend (aside from the same recurring questions) - namely that a lot of the time I'm also working with the interviewee on something for my label IF?, they may have just (charitably) done a remix for me, or I'm doing something myself for their label.
This isn't always the case, but as I say it is a trend, and I've even noticed this myself - god forbid.
The reason is simple. Because I'm in close contact with them working on the musical angle at the time, these people are finally vulnerable to me to hit up for an interview - and given that my other day job is hack journalism, and I only really want to work with people I (a) respect, (b) am hugely influenced by, or (c) I've become mates with and want to sing their praises, the interview/article thing seems appropriate. Luckily these people are usually too nice to say no, so they indulge me, and we end up with some interesting written fodder to browse through here.
Justin Berkovi was the latest such 'victim'.
I first stumbled across Justin's music when I picked up his Crouton vinyl on Mosquito, and it became a pivotal member of my DJ sets and my patchy radio show on 3PBS back in Melbourne just over a decade ago.
I've been a huge fan since, keeping an eye on his stylistic tangents as much as I've tried to follow up on his releases through other labels like Music Man, Force Inc., Sativae, Drought, Pro-Jex, Djax, Neue Heimat, Harthouse, and Berkovi's own Predicaments.
"I've never released anything for Tresor," he quips, "although for some reason everyone thinks I have!"
So when Simon Nielsen (aka DJ Hi-Shock from Elektrax) approached me late last year to suggest we release my Little Nobody track Metropolis How? as a vinyl release with remixes, I couldn't think of a better practitioner to suit the moment... along with, of course, two other another canny remixers in Hi-Shock and James Ruskin.
We actually released this wax at the beginning of this week (that's unsubtle hint #2, in case you're wondering).
So far as I'm concerned, biased and all, Justin's remix is revelatory - he picked apart the slow, grubby, vaguely distorted acid slant of the original track and made the journey his own entity; think a mesmerizing remix defined by little incidental noises and hisses, the occasional snare, and a subtle, slightly dark orchestral flourish.
"It's pretty laid back," Berkovi himself assesses. "I didn't want to do a slamming techno track for this one, just something a with some tech-house influences and more subtle than an out-and-out banger!"
So, as per my usual wont and as you can probably guess by now given the artist bytes (above) and the title to this story, I did something I'd wanted to do since the late 1990s - I finally interviewed Justin Berkovi.
The following is the simple Q&A; his answers are stand-alone gems.
I didn't want to bury them in more rambling text, as I figure you've copped more than your fair share of that in this introduction. Big thanks to Justin for his remix, his words of wisdom, his time - and his cracking sense of humour.
I've been into your stuff since the year dot, but a little bit of research indicates you've been producing your own stuff, first off with Mosquito or Sativae, since about 1997. Is this correct?
"I did my first tracks before this but my inaugural release was on Mosquito in 1997. My first ever track - I think! - was 'Tonight', which ended up released on Mutter a few years later in 2001."
The stuff on Force Inc. was quite mad; I loved it, of course. How do you feel about that early stuff now?
"The Force Inc. period was when I was first starting out so I loved doing these early EPs. I still like what I did back then, they were good times! The Force Inc. EPs gave me good exposure - one was an NME Dance Single of the week - and allowed me to produce my first album [Charm Hostel] quite early on."
What inspired you to set foot in the studio yourself?
"I was originally into old electro such as Mantronix, and then old school techno, Detroit stuff, early Djax-Up-Beats, and so on. I'd always wanted to produce music so it was just a question of trying to get more gear than an old drum machine I had knocking about. I was just desperate to produce music, whatever it was going to be."
Where exactly were you born, and what's it famous for?
"I was born in Watford. It's fairly famous for Watford Football Club, which was at one time chaired and funded by Elton John. However, in the main Watford is a total shit-hole and I avoid it at all costs. It's full of rich chavs who want to fight each other."
You've remixed Cristian Vogel, Subhead, Hardfloor, Digital Primate, DJ Rush, and now this Little Nobody track for me. How do you approach the rejigging process and how do you go about personalizing it with the Justin Berkovi stamp?
"Usually I'll just grab all the parts and then create my own track. If the track though has a unique thing for me such as a crazy bassline or just some element I really like then I'll work my mix around that. I don't have a set remix style and I'll often create two remixes, one harder one and one more introspective."
You've been producing music and interacting within the music industry for a long time now. What's most changed in the electronic/experimental music related music industry over that period?
"That's a big question! So much has changed. Years ago I think vinyl played a very important role in the industry - people had to wait for white labels or promos, a buzz was created, and then the entire process of selling or buying a 12" was played out over time. Now everything is so instant. You've got a zillion digital labels releasing all kinds of crap and sifting through everything is really time-consuming.
"It's just a completely different landscape now, not as rock and roll in some ways as before - I mean I'd never have predicted seeing techno DJs Twittering about what Wagyū beef they're eating or how many times they've been to fucking Nobu - hilarious!
"But techno goes round and round, in and out of fads - from the minimal explosion has come a general acceptance of a much broader style of techno, so whilst the narrow fads might piss people off they often lead to things evolving later. Which is a good thing!"
What else keeps you motivated?
"Good, clever music and sounds that blow me away. I've always been a sucker for producers that use innovative and unique sounds - I'll often hear something in a track, it could be some strings or an effect or anything, and that will inspire me. My motivation now comes from producing again - I'm about to release my first music in over four years, so am excited about this and just keep wanting to produce tracks."
What gear/software are you making most use of in the studio at the moment?
"I still have a few bits of hardware left, but mainly sample it. My main production tool is Logic and my live tool Ableton. I'd like to make the switch to producing only in Ableton but keep going back to Logic. I prefer the timing of Ableton; it reminds me of my old hardware sequencers I used to produce with."
Which part of your studio is the most vital facet?
"Hmm... tough one - I'd say some of my outboard because it's now taking the flatness out of computer music and warming up my sound, making it more like my older productions."
Which current crop of artists and labels are grabbing your attention?
"Too many to mention! I still follow all the old guys but like a lot of well-produced stuff by Gary Beck and newer artists from minimal and tech-house to techno. I don't really listen to one or two genres or artists - I just go by what I like when I hear it."
If you were pressed into a corner and forced to confess under great duress, how would you define the sounds/styles you're currently making?
"That's easy, really - I'm doing deeper stuff under my Nightrax thing, and tougher, darker techno."
What upcoming Justin Berkovi productions/collaborations/events we should know about for 2010?
"I'm putting together two mixes for some artist podcasts - they'll be a trip down old school techno memory lane, and then a special preview of my new live set. I've got a Nightrax-style EP coming out on Eevolute, the imprint run by Terrace and Estroe, I have a remix for Jurek Przezdziecki coming out on Germany's Whirlpoolsex Music, and I'm in the studio working on a series of EPs for different techno labels. I'm planning on releasing a lot of stuff in 2010 as well as starting touring again with my live set."
You've also run your own label Predicaments - is it finished by the way, or just taking a nap?
"Predicaments is finished. I loved running the label but because I did everything it was just too much work in the end - you need help with running a label! Saying that, I'm actually thinking of starting up Nightrax again for my deeper music."
You released Subhead, Dave Tarrida, Steve Glencross, DJ Rush, Adam X and Miss Kittin on Predicaments, along with records by yourself. What were the label's perimeters, and how did they change over time?
"To be honest the label didn't really have a 'style' as such; it was just good techno by people I liked and got on with."
What's it been like releasing through all the other cool labels you've worked with over the years?
"It's been great - you meet like-minded people who want to release your own music! All the labels are different and it meant a lot to me to release stuff on labels that I'd respected so much in the past."
CDs are a disappearing facet of the music industry, and a fair amount of people in electronic/dance music circles are cutting back on vinyl these days because they say it just doesn't make back the money invested. How do you feel about this?
"It's just the way it is. We could chat about the demise of vinyl till the cows come home - of course I feel it's a shame, I love vinyl! There is just nothing like it and I have to say that I miss seeing DJs use vinyl out... but times change. Vinyl can still be a wonderful way to add kudos to a release, though."
Either way, is digital download really the future of music?
"I guess so. I wonder how this will evolve, because there are so many 'digital labels' out there at the moment. Is giving everyone a chance to release music easily a good thing? Who knows! There's certainly less quality control than before!"
How do you foresee techno and electronic music in general developing over the next 12 months?
"Well, techno has just gone from strength to strength in the last few years - a big plus for me because it's made me return to producing and wanting to play out again. I think it's simply going to be a good year for techno and electronic music in general, there is some great music out there with real guts and soul."
Lastly - how do you like your mushrooms cooked?
"Well done with no water. Preferably as part of a great breakfast in Melbourne with a great coffee."
...care to add anything else?
"Just to say thanks for everyone who has supported me over the years and I can't wait to come back in 2010 with my new live set, releases, and immerse myself totally back into techno - bring it on!"