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Interview: July 2009 Archives

Cristian Vogel interview

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Vote 5 Votes

I racked my brain trying to conjure up a cool, quirky headline to this interview just undertaken with Cristian Vogel, but sometimes simplicity rides roughshod over excess and for once I cottoned on to that idea early. Hence the title.

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It's actually my third interview with the Chile-born British producer; the first two occasions were back in 1997 and 2000 (that last one sticks in my mind not only because it was a cool chat - which it was, all about Rescate 137 and Chile - but 'cos afterward me and two mates went on to contest a Monash University Battle of the Bands, turned up with analogue gear, scared all the trad-rock people, plugged in, switched on, and came last).

This was the first time we decided to do the 'view by e-mail, given the tyranny of distance (me in Japan and he in Spain), clashing schedules, plus no promoters or newspapers offering to pay for the long-distance call.

The first time I stumbled across a Cristian Vogel production ('Drumfeed') was in about 1995, on the Rauschen 7 compilation via Force Inc.

I've been a fan (to put it mildly) ever since, through innumerable albums like Absolute Time, All Music has Come to an End and Rescate 137, and his 12-inch Syncopate to Generate - along with two remixes of Cristian Vogel tracks (Jamie Lidell on '(Don't) Take More' and Tube Jerk doing 'Whipaspank') - have never parted company with my battered record-box.

Anyway, enough about my own love for this guy's sounds; I'm fully aware that most people attracted to Fun in the Murky have their own attraction and interest in same, so here're some insights from Cristian earlier today:


On how he got started making music:

"Mostly through curiosity, and then a strong attraction to the control and synthesis of computer-generated sound."


On motivation and longevity:

"It's about 15 years now. There've been a whole lot of seismic changes... I caught the tail-end of a functioning music industry; perhaps dance music was the last real indie bloom. From 1996 onwards, it seems to have been a slow-motion implosion for the music business. I would never encourage anyone these days to get involved in it, unless they really understand the nature of the business side, and are confident with the level they want to working be at."


Regarding software/gear he currently uses:

"For the past three years I've been programming real-time computer music using Kyma, as well as mastering in the high-end analogue domain."


Essentials of the studio:

"My studio has developed into a highly-specialized environment, specifically for the way I work. So it works as a whole. I guess reliable and spike-free electricity is the most vital element."


Production snacks:

"Station 55 studio is in one of the industrial barrios of Barcelona, so I tend to lunch with the factory workers in bars around the way. And drink a lot of Vichy, salty agua con gas from Catalunya."


On current artists/labels grabbing attention:

"I don't really follow techno much these days, and have never been comfortable championing anyone's sound especially."


Defining his own sound/style:

"I make sound objects that send abstract messages to each other."

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On current musical collaborations:

"I have a band and songwriting project called Night of the Brain. I sing and write lyrics, and play guitar. We made an album called Wear This World Out which is available on CD. I do live jacking techno jams with Ben Pest as The Black E - we recorded a great EP on Sleep Debt, SD005, called Found on The Floor of The Foundry. I am also collaborating at the moment on an electro-acoustic/acusmatic project with Pablo Palacio from Madrid, called Bird Palace."


About the labels he runs:

"All labels are being sucked into the black hole. I hope to sell back-catalogue - I have a few crates of back-stock from Rise Robots Rise, Sleep Debt, Mosquito and Station 55 if any of your readers are interested!"


On current avenues of releasing his own music:

"I just put a 12-inch out on a small label in Giessen called Snork. Also, there's the possibility of another Tresor release."


On the demise of CDs and vinyl releases:

"Yes, it's very difficult to make a physical release payback. But it can be done, just takes a lot of consistent hard work in marketing and promotion. Personally, I buy much less music on CD/vinyl format than ever. I still buy some stuff on record, but never techno these days. I'm more interested in live, real-time generated music."


On whether DJs really need to continue to use vinyl:

"Vinyl timbre is unique-sounding on loud systems. If you love that sound, you have to work hard to collect records."


As a final note, regarding the Japanese scene:

"It's been a long time since I've been invited to perform in Japan, putting me really out of touch with the club culture there, so I can't really comment."

"I've always tried to escape from the style question - for a good reason. I've never found an answer that would satisfy me, nor would one appropriately fit the music I make. It's not because I want to be different or weird or anything, but I just don't believe in categories so much," says Patrick Pulsinger in gloriously evasive mode. When I infer that he has to answer the question - for instance if he were pressed into a corner and forced to confess under great duress - Pulsinger does relent.

"Before someone threatened to kill me to make talk, I guess I would say it's techno!" he laughs.

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Pulsinger harks from Austria, and being Australian myself, I always had a special affinity for the breed since we're continually mistaken for one another when we travel overseas, despite the variant native language and wildly different lengths of history. Besides, my favorite film is The Third Man, shot in late '40s Vienna.

My own interest in Patrick Pulsinger, however, has different origins.

From 1994 I had a radio show on community station 3PBS FM in Melbourne. It was called 'Cyberdada', and it was my other baby aside from my record label IF?, and in 1995 the most-played record on the show - amidst awesome 12-inches and tapes of stuff from Relief, Axis, Tresor, Trope, Sativae, Mosquito, Ninja Tune, Force Inc. (and IF?) - was actually a double-CD from Austrian label, Cheap Records.

The title? 90 Minutes in the Eyes of iO. It was produced by label bosses Patrick Pulsinger and Erdem Tunakan, with mates.

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The release quite literally decked me, and Pulsinger has continued on as a mainstay influence in my own musical reference palette ever since, via the Austrian producer's own output (on labels like Disko B, Compost, Studio !K7, R&S, and International DJ Gigolo), as well as some of his brilliant remixes of people like DJ Hell, Chicks On Speed, Tosca, Tanzmusik and Ken Ishii. He certainly seems to have an eerie knack for a shnazzy remix.

"I try to keep the good stuff from the original, twist it around a bit, and attempt to create something exciting and new," Pulsinger says now, some 14 years on from the first time I heard that iO record. "There're so many possibilities and paths you could go after; I think it's important to grab the essential vibe of the track and shift it in a surprising but respectful way."

Unlike many artists from his generation who have lost interest, dropped by the wayside, fallen out of relevance, or just plain lost the plot, this Austrian is still right on top of the game, and seems surprisingly far from disenchanted with the music biz.

"My approach always revolved around meeting my personal taste, and I wanted to try out as many different styles as possible - but of course, that doesn't really help you when you want to have a professional career in music," he muses.

"I never considered myself a songwriter; the technical side of things was always more interesting. Making the music is one side of the business, but the other side always seemed a bit boring to me."

That other side, it turns out, was the business of running a record label. Since its inception in 1993, Cheap released some sensational records from people like Pulsinger and Tunakan, Robert Hood, Khan Oral, Christopher Just, and Dez Williams - but by 2007 Pulsinger had had enough of the accounting and A&R bit.

"Doing a label is pretty much the same as selling vegetables or furniture: Once the product is out there, you spend so much time telling other people why it is a good product and why people should like or buy it. While this can be interesting and challenging, it's not what I wanted to pursue in life. That was also the main reason why I left the label [Cheap] after 12 years - it was time to move on. Today I can concentrate on studio work, producing for other people, bands, my own stuff or mastering... As long as it's music and sound.

"Our general guideline with Cheap was that we wanted something that didn't sound like all the other releases, we were always looking for artists who'd have their own ideas about sound and music, and would fit in with the sound of the label in general.

"My former partner, Erdem Tunakan, is still doing stuff with the label - not as extensively as during our time together in the '90s, but he's putting out good stuff. The latest release from Tin Man is a real good one! Besides that, he founded a sub-label called Cheap Record Rocks for, well, rock music. I've just produced an album for him by this band, Freud; good band, good songs, and it was fun to record and work with them. I produced some rock bands before that, and found it very refreshing. It draws the attention to fields other than working with electronic music."

Over the years, Pulsinger has worked extensively in his own name, of course, but also under aliases like Showroom Recordings, Sluts'n'Strings & 909, and Restaurant Tracks with Erdem Tunakan, along with iO - with Erdem, Gerhard Potuznik, and Herbert Gollini.
"For me, those projects are something from the past," Patrick reports.

"It's a good and joyful past, but just not what I'm interested in continuing today. My colleagues and I had a blast doing so many records together, and we're all still good friends, but each of us has a new approach to things and I've needed the flexibility to change to stay interested in music for so many years. It's healthy."

The interest in music, it seems, is the continuing thread that keeps the man involved and interested in its various tangents.

"I was always interested in sound from a very early age on," he confirms.

"When I was listening to the radio or my parents' disco tapes, the tunes that had some synthetic sounds were the ones that got my attention. I was always wondering what kind of instrument would produce a sound like that. Then, when I got older and found out that I could produce some of those sounds with cheap flea-market keyboards and drum-boxes, I started to collect and repair them and recorded my first experiments with a cassette recorder - it's hard to listen to that stuff now!" he laughs.

"There's a wide range of music that inspires me. It's really hard to pin down, but I'm a fan of big band jazz from the '60s, as well as dub and disco, so you can imagine what kind of contemporary music would grab my attention."

The gear and software he uses in the studio certainly reflects this diversity and open-mindedness.

"I use all kinds of stuff from different time periods, from vintage synths to software, from tape machines to computers; it really depends on the sound I'm looking for. Recording-wise, I try to go as original as possible, using vintage preamps, mics and outboard, but the most important thing for me is limitation, being able to concentrate on a minimal amount of gear and trying to squeeze the best out of it. It doesn't really matter what you use, so long as you can produce a unique sound.
"The environment I make the music in will contribute a lot to the way my music sounds, acoustically and artistically as well. If I feel good, have good monitors and a trouble-free work-flow, then I can let myself go and just concentrate on the music."

Which brings us up-to-scratch - and my own cantankerous Funk Gadget project persona.

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There's a Funk Gadget track I recently did called 'Blah Blah', which owes a great deal to the inimitable Paul Birken, and when it came to choosing a remixer for the track, Pulsinger's name was at the very top of the list.

Why? Because the man continues to do my head in, in completely cool Pulsingerian ways, a decade and a half after I first heard his mischief.

"I had a good feeling about the track and an instant idea for a remix," he says now, after having finished off the grand master challenge (it's set to be released through Hypnotic Room Special Edition on July 10).

"Since the original has a good, funky rhythm track, I tried to keep that and give it a more four-to-the-floor approach. The klonky stuff is all cut-up from the original; I just added a Juno and a Moog Bass, and here you are. I was aiming at people who go out to clubs, listen, dance, enjoy a big bass, a drink, a smoke, nice company, are nice to animals, love peace - that sort of thing!"

Again the grin - Pulsinger also has a new swag of his own original sounds about to hit the big wide world.

"I've produced some twelve EPs together with DJ Glow, from Trust Records, and stuff together with Diskokaine. Those 12-inches should come out pretty soon on vinyl. In Autumn I'll release an album under the name of dp-S - a duo project with Werner Dafeldecker playing double bass, and me playing modular synth; it's cool, improvised stuff with guests Sir Alice on vocals and John Tilbury on piano. No drums! And it's a vinyl-only release. Also at the moment I'm working on a new album for Disko B, which should come out later this year or early next: More dance stuff."

Pulsinger has a rather huge history, having released on vinyl and CD through various labels like Cheap, Disko B, Compost Records, Studio !K7, and R&S. CDs seem to be a disappearing facet of the electronic music industry, and a fair amount of people would appear to be cutting back on vinyl.

"I don't really see it that way," Patrick interjects.

"It's getting hard to sell any kind of product - CDs, vinyl, books - that are not distributed digitally. The CD suffers much more from that problem than the vinyl. As a matter of fact, labels are switching back to limited editions on vinyl. The biggest problem is the distribution. Here in Europe, some of the major players have dropped out of business and left a big hole for small labels. Most of them had poor performances and a totally wrong approach to selling music, and that was the main reason for the failure. Just having hundreds of labels and thousands of releases does not do the job - you have to know what you're selling and where your market is. The return policy was the big problem, and it broke everyone's necks."

So is vinyl's future limited?

"It is, and will stay, the format for the music lover. You can't get rich selling vinyl, but if you play it right, cut out the middle man, and deliver a beautiful, outstanding product, people will go for it."

Meanwhile, Pulsinger has a decent, growing presence on Beatport and other online digital carriers.

"That's OK! If someone wants to buy music in that format, totally cool. I think it's an extremely competitive but important market. Just because you haven't been around long enough to get the original 12-inch doesn't mean that you'll enjoy the music any less. There are sound issues, no doubt, but music should get around."

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In October this year, Pulsinger is gearing up for another tour of Japan, one country he rates exceptionally highly. This is the place, after all, that reared such diverse and talented producers like Gadget Cassette, Toshiyuki Yasuda, Co-Fusion, HIFANA, DJ Warp, Shufflemaster, Merzbow, Alone Together, Captain Funk, Ken Ishii, Polygon Prompt and Y.M.O.

"The Japanese music scene is totally unique," he raves, and now he's beginning to sound just like me.

"There are so many different approaches to Western music there, as well as classic Asian, that it created its own context. Whether it's jazz, noise, electronic, rock... Japanese music is always a bit different, sometimes more radical, precise, or crazier than other music of the same genre from around the world. Why? Well, I could think of many reasons, the most important being that the country has had a strong identity for many years and it stands out."


Luke Vibert: 2003

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OK, so here's another one from the back of the fridge, in the days before I lost my Mac hard-drive, with about 100 unfinished tracks and dozens of interviews, in 2004.

Luckily backed-up (very much unlike me!), this interview was done in October 2003, on the eve of Luke Vibert's tour of Japan and Australia - via a dodgy phone connection from a telephone box next to rowdy Shin-Koiwa station in Tokyo, through to his possibly more comfy abode in London.

At the time I had no groundline in my apartment, so all my interviews here in Tokyo were done from ratty phone boxes.

Let it be said, here and now, that I am a huge fan of Vibert's, ever since 'Throbbing Pouch' in 1994 on Rising High, and the 'Redone' EP the following year.

And in truth he has a hell of a lot more to answer for. It was under the alias of Wagon Christ (along with other equally vital monikers like Plug, Vibert & Simmons, and later his own name) that Vibert helped to redefine the rules of electronic music in the UK in the early to mid '90s - alongside a bunch of mates that included Richard D. James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin), Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher), Mike Paradinas (µ-Ziq), Chris Jeffs (Cylob), and the label Rephlex.

Together they assimilated such diverse elements as hip hop beats and drum & bass into the more eccentric take on electronica they produced, and kick-started a virtual insurrection in sound around the world.

In the latter part of 2003, Vibert had released 'YosepH' - his first ever album for Sheffield imprint Warp Records.

The new album smacked of Vibert's merry inclination towards innovative expert-knob-twiddling: this time around he concocted a brew that fuses together acid and electro in a cocktail shaker that was stirred, bounced and wiggled - then poured liberally over one very entertaining olive. He also threw in some of his brand name Wagon Christ-style beats and pieces for good measure.

The resultant story from this interview appeared in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper here in Japan, but this is the more realist Q&A version...

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You've been to Japan before - what are you impressions of its particular flavour when it comes to scene or culture?

"Good question - I don't know, really! It seems quite different in a way, but I think the more times I've been back the more similarities I've seen, at least in regard to the music scene. The first time I went it did feel different; maybe it was because it was 1995 and there weren't so many kids! But I travel so much these days that I tend to spot the similarities. Also you sometimes have good gigs and other times not so good gigs - which happens anywhere. Generally the biggest difference I find is just that people - when they come to see me - are really there to listen to the music. Obviously I s'pose they do everywhere, but the weird thing is that hardly anybody talks at Japanese gigs.
I noticed that the first time I came. At some point I'll play with the track and just play, say, the snare-drums for a little bit - and usually at those points when you're playing at any other club in the world you can hear loads of drunken conversations and people shouting. But in Japan it's just really quiet. The first time I went there I found it really freaky, but now I love it. It's really respectful."


The new album 'YosepH' is a release through Warp - finally!

"Yeah! It feels good, man."


I was always wondering when that was going to happen...

"I know - me too! I tried before with Plug back in 1996, or was it '95? And then I tried with the B.J. Cole stuff - just everytime I didn't have a record label for something I'd done then I'd always try to give it to Warp, and they'd be really tempted but at the end of the day they'd say 'ahh, no, it's a bit too sampley' or 'there're too many dodgy samples' were the reasons they'd usually give. 'We're not like Ninja Tune or Mo'Wax,' they'd say, 'you can't put those dodgy samples out on our record label'. [he laughs]. So it was this analogue sort of stuff - without so many dodgy samples - that they got really into. And, funnily enough, only really because I was doing a tour with them last year, the 'Magic Bus Tour' [it included Aphex Twin, Plaid, Vincent Gallo, Cassetteboy, Jamie Liddell, Mira Calix, Chris Clark and others along the way across Europe], and I was just playing mostly my own stuff that was the source of that album [YosepH] - mostly analoguey kind of stuff - and they were saying 'wow, what are these tracks?!' and I turned around and said 'they're all mine'. They asked if they could put them out so I said 'yeah, please!' and that's how it happened."


Maybe the best way for it to come together.

"Yeah, I guess hearing it out in the clubs makes a difference - it's more effective when you see people raving to it! It's a really nice, natural way for it to happen."


You spoke of Plug before. It's been a long time between outings. - what's actually happening with the Plug project?

"Well, I sort of think it's had its day - I do drum & bass still, but I got really fed up with deliberately aiming at it [Plug] half-way through 1997, I think because there were so many other people like Squarepusher and Mike Paradinas doing really crazy stuff and I almost felt like it was turning into a competition - who could do the craziest drum & bass programming. I just wasn't interested in that aspect of it at all. I liked the fact that there was some crazy programming in the Plug stuff, but that wasn't the point of it so I lost interest in a way - mainly because my friends got so into it! [he laughs again]. And originally they were one of the reasons that I didn't put it out, because they were all saying 'you can't do drum & bass - drum & bass is for stupid people; it's just rave music!', and I was like 'no, no, it could be brilliant!'. So then I kind of went off it, and I only started again about a year or two ago. I didn't try to do something old, but it just sounded really old when I made it; it sounded like hyper-rave music or something. I wasn't trying to reproduce Plug - I was just trying, like I did back then, to make drum & bass - but either I knew too much about old drum & bass, or I don't know, but it came out all different and that's the stuff I now call Amen Andrews. It's still me, but it doesn't sound like Plug anymore. And there're all these people who come up to me at gigs saying that they love the old Plug stuff, so I thought I couldn't really call this Plug - all those people would be a bit disappointed because it's kind of different. It's not really intelligent. That's what I love about making the Amen Andrews stuff... it's just rave music to me and having a good laugh."


Why the name Amen Andrews?

"Just because it's silly, really. Have you heard of Eamonn Andrews?"


No.

"He was a TV presenter [in the UK] who did dodgy quizshows and things. The breakbeat I always use is that 'amen' big drum & bass breakbeat - so the name itself is just a silly pun."


I heard that you're also doing stuff under the alias of Kerrier District...

"Yeah...! It's funny that one - it's similar to Plug in that I can't do that stuff anymore now! It was just a mood I was in for about two or three months before the birth of my second child about a year and a couple of months ago. We'd had a bit of a scare, because at six months pregnant my girlfriend had started having contractions and we were, like, 'oh no, oh no!' - but in fact it was fine and went the full term. But we'd got worried and we were going to have him in France, where she's from, because it's more relaxed out there. And in fact we went out really early just in case he came out at seven months or something, so we ended up staying in the middle of nowhere in France for three or four months. I was in this really mellow mood, making loads of live sort of disco stuff! [more laughter]. I tried again as soon as I got back to London, because I really liked it, but I couldn't do it! It must be something about being in a mellow place. Once I got back here there were just too many things to do and I couldn't relax, so that's another funny project I'll probably never be able to repeat again!"

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I hear that Warp have unleashed a bunch of Luke Vibert t-shirts. When are the bumper-stickers happening?

"Well, they've kind of happened already! [laughs]. They've done some great stuff and they've done these glow-in-the-dark stickers that I think they give away if you buy the album on Warp Mart or something. They've been nice, and it's all really nice packaging..."


Sampling has been a major part of your music for a helluva long time. A lot of I guess what I'd call intimidated people still proclaim that sampling is stealing. How would you respond to these kinds of claims?

"Umm... well I suppose it's really obviously stealing on some levels, but I don't really get into those boring things - like copyright. I forget about them. I do some stupid stuff that I could never possibly release with really famous samples in them. It never stops me making a track - but obviously it does stop me releasing them. I don't know... I don't really have any moral standpoint about it at all. The sample is never usually the main thing in my track, so I never feel guilty about it or anything."


So would you say you're morally bankrupt...?

"Yeah! ....well, maybe morally audio bankrupt. [laughter all round]. I'm a bit of a moral person regarding other things day-to-day, but with audio I'm a terrible thief! Not so much, though, on this album [YosepH].. There are samples on it, but they were all played live from my keyboard onto my 16-track reel-to-reel thing just to add texture. This one's a lot more old-skool in the way I put it together."

What do you think of the cut-up plunderphonics of somebody like Cassetteboy, for example, who goes crazy on the samples?

"Oh, it's great! I do quite a lot of that stuff myself - you know the vocal cut-up things - and hopefully sometime I'll release them, but they're so dodgy! I did all these ones where I was making Tony Blair talk about raping children - really bad, man! But I hope some time they'll see the light of day. I love it. It's not really music, obviously - for me it's more in between comedy and music - but I get more of a thrill making that kind of stuff. It's really fun!"


Do you think that humour is a vital ingredient in music that many people forget?

"Yeah. Yeah, a bit right - especially modern kind of stuff, in a way. I thought for awhile people were going to start lightening up a bit; I can't remember when - mid '90s, maybe - but they haven't really. I think most people still take things too seriously in a way - same old chord changes that other people have done, and they do it really seriously, and you think 'oh, come on'!"


Who do you think making music right now - apart from yourself! - is somebody people should look out for?

"Umm... well aways my mates, but in a way that's because I understand the way they work. The obvious ones would be Aphex [Twin], [Mike] Paradinas, but also Tom [Squarepusher] Jenkinson's brother - you know Ceephax [a.k.a. Andy Jenkinson]? I love Ceephax's stuff; he's amazing. Everything he does has got some touch to it, like Derrick May or whatever, but it's not necessarily. You can't say 'oh, those chord-changes are good', or 'that beat's good', but he has some sort of touch that makes me like all that he does. And then there are quite a few hip hop producers and drum & bass producers - but I wouldn't really want to name names because in a way I don't so much like their music; I just respect them as producers. The music my friends do seems a little more personal - but I often think that's because I know them well and I see them making it and I know why they're making it. When you have an insight like that into someone, it generally makes you feel it more or enjoy it more personally."


The last question... what can people expect from your set when you play in Japan this time round?

"Hopefully nearly all my own stuff - because sometimes I chicken out! [he laughs]. But no records this time at least. It's always more tempting to play other people's records. I'll be playing off my lap-top using two programs, firstly Traktor - which is generally for DJ sort of stuff so you can do handy little loops and things - and Reason, which has got some really simple sort of loops which I can mix in and out."


What kind of lap-top do you use these days?

"A tiny little G4 - the smallest kind of G4 just because I'm lazy and it's really easy to carry around."


Juan Atkins: 1999

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Vote 4 Votes

Was investigating some old 3½-inch floppies the other day (anybody here remember them?), and rediscovered this old article I did on Juan Atkins a decade ago for Melbourne's Zebra magazine and Sydney's 3D World.

These are mild-mannered streetpress publications, there was no decent Internet resource to double-check facts in 1999, and I was young(er), so you've gotta excuse the smidgeon of reverence throughout, minor factual errors - and the rather grandstanding angle taken.

I remember this interview with Juan happened at about 4:00am Australian time, anyway, so I doubt I asked any reasonable questions.

With this disclaimer out of the way, read on if you're still in any way curious.

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Inspired as much by Kraftwerk and Blade Runner as they were by the legacies of Motown, soul and jazz, a group of guys from Detroit, USA, took on electronic music in the 1980s and created something totally new. These days we call it techno. At the helm of this musical renaissance was one man called Juan Atkins, and he's still out there redefining sounds in his own fashion.

In a matter of a thousand words, how do you introduce somebody who's been called the originator of techno and the godfather of the electronic groove?

Once upon a time, towards the end of the '70s, the teenage Juan Atkins played bass in a funk band before meeting a guy called Rick Davies (alias 3070) and with his help kick-started seminal band Cybotron in 1981.

Four years later Juan left the group to continue to produce what was now purely electronic music under the production alias of Model 500 - and along the way inspired school chums Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson to do the same. He also started up his own label. Called Metroplex, it was intended to continue the Cybotron legacy, to help new artists, and to push through the new sounds these guys were introducing to an unsuspecting world.

The legacy of Detroit's role in electronic dance music is quite obvious.

Starting out with people like Juan, Derrick May, Blake Baxter, Jeff Mills, 'Mad' Mike Banks and Kevin Saunderson the city's pre-eminence has continued on through Carl Craig, Stacey Pullen, Suburban Knight, Jay Denham and Claude Young.

Given his own role in the baptismal stages of this city's electronic hiatus it would be fruitful to note just where Juan Atkins sees Detroit these days and where it's headed as the next millennium approaches.

"I think Detroit remains a very important city when it comes to electronic dance music," he assesses, "and I think it will always be a kind of reference point. I also think it will be a city where the future is reflected earlier than anywhere else, so Detroit should be noted as the place where preparations were made early for the next millennium."

What is it about the nature of Detroit that set it apart from other cities in America, let alone the rest of the world, in terms of the development of this thing called techno?

"Who knows?" Juan mutters. "It's a hard one to figure out and no-one will ever really know. I guess the reality is that Detroit was founded and based as an industrial city and of course when you're making the transfer to a technological society it would be obvious for the industrial cities to make the transfer first - and I think that would affect not just the business world but everything around it."

It's interesting then to compare and contrast the electronic music that emerged from the Motor City in the '80s with its European counterpart.

Music by the likes of Front 242, Nitzer Ebb and DAF was at times coldly austere and overtly masculine when compared with the warmer, funkier qualities of the American production line. There's also a progressive futurist aspect to most Detroit-made techno from this period.

Derrick May once dubbed their sound 'Kraftwerk meeting George Clinton in an elevator'.

Juan has his own theory about why this occurred. "Maybe techno coming out of Detroit had more of the black experience involved, and of course what we've grown up with is soul music and R&B stuff, and then there's funk itself. So I guess it would be only natural that more of these elements would show up."

Given the Detroit crew's pivotal role in the development of techno, it's downright strange that mainstream America is only now getting into the electronic groove, but via the imported sounds of British producers like the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Underworld. "It's history repeating itself," Juan declares. "I mean look back at the Beatles and the Rolling Stones - you can hear in their music that their main influence was Motown. It's obvious! . . . but it took the Beatles to be the supergroup - nobody from Motown could fit that bill."

An irritating aspect of history?

"Of course it is - it's racism, you know? It's irritating because racism is suppression, so I guess you have to thank god that there are people in the world who don't really care about that. I think it's changing here in America, but too slowly. You have to remember that the industry in this country is based around capitalism, and that involves a certain amount of exploitation, an emphasis on marketing and profit, and bottom line. So when you have that you have people being over-cautious about market tastes and they'll underestimate a lot of things - like the black experience here in America. So we get ignored even when we do something innovative."

Fortunately this hasn't been the case elsewhere, especially in Europe. Juan's records as Model 500 were licensed to Belgium's R&S imprint from 1981, he released music as Output on the UK's Kinetix label, and he cut Jazz Is The Teacher with 3MB, the Tresor label's in-house production team which consisted of Thomas Fehlmann and Moritz Von Oswald (one of the driving forces behind Basic Channel).

He's also continued with his own label Metroplex.

"I started the label in 1985; the first three or four releases were definite classics and I think that's continued. Right now we've got some good quality emotional releases coming through and I think Metroplex is one label definitely always look out for, and as long as we can keep the new releases interesting it can always be a cool thing."

(originally published in 1999)

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This page is an archive of entries in the Interview category from July 2009.

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