Minimal techno. Once a buzzword from a couple years ago, now a lot of folks seem to think its a dirty word, with much of the transient people that got into the scene having moved away from it. Understandable, as a lot of minimal is pretty cookie cutter at this point.
But there are also some truly gifted producers who have been making standout tracks for some time, including young Irish producer from Dublin, Donnacha Costello, who has been making some truly gorgeous techno music since the late 90s. He uses both modern editing software and the original early-digital and analog master tools (an Akai MPC2000 + MPC3000, an ARP Odyssey Mk1, a Nord Modular, Roland Juno 60 and Juno MC-4, as well as the classic Roland TB-303, TR-707, TR-808, TR-909) to craft melodic, heavy grooving techno songs. He started his own label, Minimise to release his music in 1999, on which he has since put out a couple dozen records, including his latest full-length CD, Colorseries.
The album collects ten tracks which Donnacha hand picked from his 2004 series of twelve-inches, to include his favorite tracks, as well as a couple of unreleased versions of songs. Considering the fact that the CD is compiled from a number of singles, it is extremely cohesive and does work as a sit-down-and-listen album (though I personally enjoy walking around the city with these songs playing), but most of the tracks would be pretty banging on a good club system as well. The tracks remind me, in the best ways, of Underworld's second album Second Toughest In The Infants - loopy, rich in melody, emotional (emotional techno? Yes, it is possible) - particularly "Grape A". Much of the album has a great slippery, live feel to it as well, which is a supremely satisfying feeling to get from your techno music, especially in this day and age of lifeless minimal. There are also a pair of gorgeous ambient tracks on there worth spending some time with too. Check out the interview with Donnacha over at Resident Advisor.
You'll find the Colorseries CD at your favorite dance-music retailer, and downloadable at Beatport, sometime in the next week or so. Enjoy.
Danny Wolfers, aka LEGOWELT, has been releasing his own brand of electronica for nearly a decade now, and his uniquely analogue sound has brought him plaudits galore and releases on some of the biggest European techno labels too. After his blistering live set at this summer's Robot Disco Terror party in Glasgow, I was lucky enough to get a chance to pick the brain of this mysterious man...
What does Legowelt mean?
It means “World of Lego”.
Is it the translation for Legoland?
No, it’s Lego world. That is like a land, this is a world, you know? In theory it doesn’t have anything to do with Lego blocks, with the toy. More like the music, to play with the blocks of music, or something like that!
How did you get into making music?
When I was like 12 or something I got a synthesizer, and I just wanted to make music to the records I bought. It seemed pretty easy at first, I thought.
What were the records you were listening to, and when was this?
In like 1992 or 1993. Well, there was like Chicago, acid, and just generally house and techno. It was becoming famous then because they played it on the radio here in the early Nineties. Stuff from Detroit, slowly those records were coming here, like the second Detroit wave of… something!
What were your favourite records from that period?
Ah… well… there were quite a lot, I think Underground Resistance “Final Frontier” No.3 and what else… like Farley Jackmaster Funk stuff, and also stuff from the Hague that was being released for the first time, like Unit Moebius, and Utrechts, there was a Dutch label from Utrecht, which has been defunct for years, but it was a nice label with Random Access and the Connection Machine, and all kinds of good stuff released on there.
So when did you first have your music released?
Oh, well that would be in 1998, something like that. Well, I did a cassette in like 1996 or something, cos we still had cassettes, you could release those. But my first vinyl 12” was in 1998. And my first CD release was also 1998. That was “Reports from the Back Seat Men” which was also re-released on vinyl in 2002 or 2003. That was on Bunker Records from the Hague.
How did you meet up with them?
Well, because I was living in the same city and stuff, I sent them a demo tape, and it was the time of Unit Moebius and all this, and we saw each other at parties and it just happened…
Did you put the cassette out yourself?
Yes, I just dub copied the cassettes, it was a common thing to do back then.
How many did you sell?
Yeeeah, I dunno… couple of hundred or something?
That’s not bad!
No, no definitely not, but over a long time span probably, back then. It was called “Space Force”.
And have you seen any of them on Ebay since, maybe going for a lot of money?
No, well, I dunno, I never check that stuff, I don’t have Ebay myself so I don’t know what’s going on there. So I guess that if somebody has it wants to sell it it can be there, but I dunno…
You don’t seem to care that much.
Well, yeah, I don’t have to buy my own releases of course because I already have them. And I don’t like buying stuff on Ebay, because, well, I just don’t like it. They have to send it from outside the country and it’s always a hassle for me.
How did you get your particular sound?
Well, through many different influences, it’s kind of a journey you take or something, you start to listen to other music and that’s what your influences are, but I started with the base of old techno and house, mainly from the US of course, from Detroit and Chicago, and they were influenced by disco and Italo and electronic music too. But I didn’t know that music too well yet when I started listening to them. There were DJs here like I-F that would play that other stuff, and there were other people who had other records and you listen to it and you think “Oh yeah, I’m gonna try that”.
So do you think disco and Italo has been a big influence on you?
Hmmm…I guess so… I dunno! My records are always more like Chicago techno. As for Italo I don’t think as much as people, especially the press, say sometimes, especially when they don’t know something. Like for example something I really hate is when I have a new record out and it’s in an internet shop or something, and it has a review and it says “Classic Italo Disco sound” or something, when it’s like a total Drexciya style electro record. Sometimes people don’t listen, or they don’t know, or they don’t care, I dunno! Ha… I just wanted to say that!
And what about electro?
Also a lot I think, but it’s difficult to say how much, because it comes from all kinds of little music styles, you know. But electro has always been very big here in the Hague. I think especially in the mid-Nineties, electro was bigger than Italo disco, because here in the Hague it’s very tightly connected, everything. So yeah, electro was a big influence then.
What about clubs in the Hague – did you go out much?
Yeah there were always parties and stuff. I didn’t go out that much here cos it’s pretty rough, but there was always a party or something, and that’s where you saw people like I-F play all different types of records and B-sides I liked. And that was nice, but the whole thing wasn’t really about “clubbing”.
You’ve been playing a lot live, but first I’ll start by asking what do you use when you play a live set?
I use a lot of modern cheap equipment, like quite cheap stuff from the big brands, and old drum machines and stuff. Mostly stuff that is expendable and cheap, because it has to go on the road and it always breaks down and things. Stuff that is quite easy to play on, like Roland PR707 and several Yamaha sequencers, like the little grey one, the QY7P and lots of drum machines. It all depends on where I am playing, and if I can bring some stuff in a car like synthesizers, but mostly it’s cheap modern groove boxes.
How is that different to what you have in your studio?
Well mostly in my studio I work with synthesizers which are quite old and would probably break down if you moved them a few centimeters, so that’s the difference. When I play live it’s more because I play in clubs where people dance, to dance music, and that’s why I’m there, to make people dance, and that’s my mission. You can play soundtrack stuff in a club at 3am, but you ain’t gonna get booked anymore!
So how is the touring going?
I’ve just come back form a tour of America, last week. It was really nice, we played in Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago. They like it very much, the freaks that come to see it, you know, there’s a small freak scene everywhere that likes the sound, and they go crazy!
How have you been finding playing in Europe?
That’s nice too, it depends a bit on what country and stuff…
Which would be your favourite?
Um, that difficult… I like Sweden always, especially Ireland and Scotland are good, and ooh… of course Holland is nice to play. You know in a certain country there can be a good party and there can be a bad party. So I’m always careful to say which countries are good, because it can always be different.
Any bad ones you stay away from?
Hmm… No! Haha, you know I don’t have that particular bad country. Belarus maybe. I’ve never been there, but it’s a dictatorship.
You’re running your own record label Strange Life at the moment, how is it going?
Yeah, it’s going pretty well, it’s quite unknown to the public but there have been eight releases so far, and there’s one coming out within 2 weeks, I hope. It’s a CD album of electronic music from the Eighties made by a Dutch guy that has never been released before. But it sounds very interesting, like a cross between Vangelis and old electronic minimal wave and YMO and things like that, but very raw production and recording. It’s called SCD, and the title will be “Songs from 1981 to 1987”. That’s gonna be a CD with 20 tracks.
What’s the difference between stuff you do for Strange Life and for Bunker?
Well, I wouldn’t make the distinction with Bunker. But it is more experimental maybe, so some of the 12”s I am releasing on my own label are not experimental at all, but the CDs I put out are more like soundtrack, ambient tracks, and you know there are not that many labels that would take the risk of releasing that stuff. I also do it on CD because it is really listening music for the living room or the car, you know? So the 12”s, that’s more what DJs can play in the club, like a bit Chicago house style, or Drexciyan Detroit techno, stuff like that.
What other names do you record under?
There’s Smackos which is the soundtrack shit I put out on my own label, there was Quatro Blanco, which is more like a modern music style, and there’s Solomonbos, which is Chicago house style, and there’s Gladio, which is Roman Empire techno, -
There’s quite a lot!
Yeah, there is!
And how do you decide on different projects and different names?
That is just a concept you will know, you know? And also different machines are used for different styles, so for Smackos it’s pretty easy to hear the difference, and that’s recorded without Midi, without computers. You just do it with mutli track tape, and played live using arpeggios and sequencers and stuff. Legowelt is recorded behind a massive 32 track desk, with drum machines ready and stuff, and then Polarius is just a drum machine with a little sampler.
What would your main soundtrack influences be?
Of course there’s John Carpenter, and a Dutch guy called Dick Maas who made some really good soundtracks. And then there’s Tangerine Dream, and Angelo Badalamenti… But especially John Carpenter. But also I was very influenced by a CD from England from a couple of years ago, that was by the Future, and it was old Human League tracks. It was called “the Golden Hour of the Future”, and that is one of my favourite CDs ever because it is really raw. When I hear that I think that is how electronic music should sound. The tracks on there are amazing!
Any particular films?
Yeah, John Carpenter of course, all of them, but before the Nineties though.
Even the really rock stuff, like Big Trouble in Little China?
Yeeeah… that’s just a good movie, I wouldn’t say the soundtrack is that great! Then there are the Italian movies. Of course, the Italian soundtrack guys I forgot to say like Fabbio Frizzi, Goblin, stuff like that, Claudio Simonettit, I like that too.
I heard you have done a soundtrack. Can you tell me about it??
It was a small film by two girl directors here in the Hague, and they made a little movie about the bear that escaped form the zoo in the Eighties in the Cold War. The Bear tries to contact some spy… It’s a very atmospheric movie and I made the soundtrack for that, it’s called “Elephanten Boots”. I don’t think you can buy it but it was in the Rotterdam film festival last year and this year. But they haven’t put it out on DVD. You can’t buy the soundtrack either. Maybe I will release it on my own label, yeah maybe that’s a good thing to do actually!
How is the scene in the Hague?
Yeah, it’s very quiet and nice. I dunno how it is really! I’d rather sit at home and watch TV or something. There’s sometimes a bar or a place I like though, we have one here called Zahara, which is quite close, and every Sunday there’s DJs from the Cybernetic Broadcasting System, so I go there sometimes.
Do you listen to much modern music?
Modern music… yeah… maybe some ambient, but I don’t know much about it. I’ve bought some Detroit records I like, and some stuff coming in from Chicago right now, like Jamal Moss, it’s ok, and James T Cotton. There some nice stuff everywhere, I can’t say I really like something just because it’s new.
OK. what about stuff you really dislike?
Yeah, well, that’s most of the music I hear in clubs, frankly. I can say that, yeah. It’s like that because most of the stuff that’s played in clubs is uninspired bullshit, you know? Fantasy less crap, and that’s especially with what they call techno today or what they call house or whatever, seldomly I hear a good track. When I was in the US there’s a DJ called DJ Traxx and he’s the best DJ in the world, nobody can play like him, nobody has the records he plays. And when you see that you know what the fuck is going on in other clubs in Europe. They don’t know shit, it’s about nothing when you hear that guy play. Every time he plays people are cheering all the time can going crazy and he mixes like three records for ten minutes with crazy melodies, and then when I am back in some club in Europe they play some stupid minimal record by some idiot producer that earns, I dunno 20,000 Euros! I’ve heard a record from Germany that was, I won’t name it, but it was a pretty big hit in the minimal scene, that was just a preset, a preset from the Korg Electribe machine! He recorded the preset pattern, and you’re allowed to do that, but he said “yeah that’s my track”, and the whole four bar melody was from the preset pattern!
So what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Yeah, well I’m always playing most of the time. Tommorrow I go to Dublin, it’s always nice. It’s for Simon Conway, he runs a shop there called Selectah, he’s a nice guy. On Friday I do the soundtrack thing with the girls who made the film, in a museum in Utrecht. I do it live with the synthesizers, it’s only for half an hour. And on Saturday we do a CBS party with I-F, DJ Overdose, Electrognome, and I do the soundtrack stuff there too.
Hmm, have you been doing the soundtrack/live thing much?
No, it’s just a coincidence that it’s two times in one week! I don’t do it that much.
ISM(infinitestatemachine): What did you do first, deejaying or production?
AOS(Alex Smith): Deejaying, in the basement.
ISM: You were born in Detroit, right?
AOS: Hell yeah.
ISM: How old were you when you started deejaying?
AOS: Like 12. I was playing all that early Chicago shit, you know, like Farley (Jackmaster Funk) and shit like that.
ISM: So where did you hear that music initially?
AOS: My older sister, my older brother, my cousin. They grew up back in the early 80’s, they heard all that shit, when it first started.
ISM: Were they going out to clubs in Detroit?
AOS: L’Uomo, shit like that. I can’t remember the other ones. That was the biggest one, L’Uomo.
ISM: So you were just a little kid, and you heard what they were listening to?
AOS: Yep, I was real young.
ISM: Was there also an influence from Chicago? I can hear it in your tracks…
AOS: Yeah, that was the stuff back then. You know, WBMX, GCI you know, I had those cassette tapes.
ISM: Where did you get the tapes from?
AOS: Anybody had ‘em, my cousins.. They were going down there to get them, alot of people were going down there and getting them, they’d just tape ‘em off the radio while they were there.
ISM: Were you also into hip-hop when you were young?
AOS: All that stuff was new, everybody was listening to that. House music and rap music back in the 80’s. They both kinda got big at the same time.
ISM: Were alot of your friends into dance music at the time?
AOS: I was the only one, myself.
ISM: Who were your influences in deejaying?
AOS: Back in the 80′S, Jackmaster Farley was the man. And Silk Hurley. We ain’t know about Ron Hardy, all the rest of these guys from Chicago, and Larry Levan. Like Francois (K.), I didn’t know Francois mixed “Beat the Street” (by Sharon Redd) and all the rest of these records. I didn’t find that shit out till like last year.
ISM: So when was the first time you deejayed for other people, at a club or on the radio?
AOS: I’ve never played on the radio! I did some shit back in New York back in ‘93. My sister’s boyfriend threw alot of parties and shit, I just went there and did some shit there, that was about it.
ISM: What kind of things were you playing at that time?
AOS: Uh… I don’t know, what was I playing? Masters at Work, shit like that. Chez Damier, Ron Trent shit, know what I’m saying? Back when Masters at Work was sweet…
ISM: Not like they are now…
AOS: Naw, hell naw!
ISM: There’s no interviews with you in English as of now, right?
AOS: No, there’s not.
ISM: Has anyone else tried to interview you?
AOS: They have, but never shit that’s published.
ISM: Any magazines?
AOS: Naw, they don’t care about this shit over here in America.
ISM: What kind of car are you driving?
AOS: An ‘06 STI… (Subaru)
ISM: Why an import instead of a domestic?
AOS: Just cause… it’s a rally racing car, nobody knows what it is so people don’t wanna steal it, plus it’s fast as hell and you can beat the fuck out of it all day in a race.
ISM: You like to race alot? I read (in a poor Babelfish translation) the article in De:Bug magazine from Germany that you race with Theo Parrish and Mike Banks….
AOS: I don’t know about Mad Mike, they always be throwin’ shit in. Basically, I just go out by the airport, there’s alot of people back there. As far as Theo, yeah he be racing and shit.
ISM: How has your deejaying been accepted over in Europe?
AOS: Oh, they really like it over there. They love that shit. I just got back from Fabric, they said they never seen the room as packed as when I was over there.
ISM: What do you think of the new “minimal techno” that is so popular in Europe?
AOS: Yeah, most of that shit is garbage, I don’t really buy records no more, man.
ISM: Which modern artists are you listening to?
AOS: Man, to tell you the truth, I don’t fucking know!
ISM: Yeah, in my opinion, alot of people are just releasing bullshit and no one is telling them about it.
AOS: Yeah, people are making bullshit like Kerri Chandler, shit like that.
ISM: You don’t like some of Kerri’s recent records that have that techno feeling to them?
AOS: Naw, that shit is not techno, that shit is bullshit. Kerri Chandler was sweet as fuck, you know what I’m sayin’? Put it like this, Kerri Chandler and Carl Craig came out around the same time, right? Carl Craig might have had a couple years off, Carl Craig is still sweet as fuck. Look at Kerri Chandler. Like he came out with that Video Game EP (”Computer Games EP” on Deeply Rooted House), it’s no video game sound effects on it! I didn’t understand, he called it Video Games EP, there’s no type of video game type atmosphere or feeling on that EP.
ISM: Some of your stuff has a definite video game feeling to it…
AOS: Yeah, because I sample all video games! But yeah, there’s alot of that shit going on. Motherfuckers ain’t shit as deejays, neither. That’s why Derrick May is one of the best deejays, know what I’m sayin’? He ain’t made tracks since like 1998, he’s just a good ass fuckin’ deejay.
ISM: You’re into video games, what are your favorite game and system?
AOS: Robotron. For systems, I would probably say the NES. Maybe the (Magnavox) Odyssey 2. Shit like that. The Dreamcast was underrated, then Sega went out of business. Kid Icarus was one of my favorites (games) too. My grandparents owned an arcade back in the 80’s. Stargate, Defender, all that shit when it first came out.
ISM: Has anyone ever contacted you about playing at the DEMF?
AOS: Hell naw, they don’t know who I am, they don’t care. I don’t care neither, fuck ‘em. As long as I’m playing overseas, then just fuck it, you know?
ISM: Do you deejay out much in Detroit?
AOS: Not at all. Detroit is just a bunch of player haters, you know what I’m saying? If you ain’t down with them, you ain’t cool with them. That’s how it is, you know, like some crabs in a barrel type shit. Make sure you print that shit, too. If you ain’t locked onto their dicks then they put you down. A bunch of old player hating ass motherfuckers.
ISM: On your second record (AOS 002), you thank “Rick Wholhite and Mike Huckleby” (sic)…
AOS: I said that because Mike told me not to sell my drum machine, and Rick hooked me up with the distribution.
ISM: Did you misspell their names on purpose or was that accidental?
AOS: Oh naw, I ain’t know how to spell their names, Ron Murphy he ain’t know how to spell their names neither so we said “Fuck it” and wrote it any kind of way.
ISM: A question about your “collaborator” on the Oasis records: who *is* Shadow Ray?
AOS: (Laughing) I don’t know man, I don’t know! Man, I don’t know who that is! Man, you’re Shadow Ray!
ISM: Your records state your preference for using hardware instead of a computer, what make you decide to go that route?
AOS: That shit don’t sound right, it don’t sound the same to me.
ISM: It’s all about the sound?
AOS: That shit is not easy either. For me, I mean, I just don’t like it, you know what I’m sayin’? Fruity Loops, I had that shit before just to fuck around with it, but you know.
ISM: Which hardware do you actually use?
AOS: (Roland) MC-909, shit like that.
ISM: I really liked AOS 006, you had a good variety of sounds on that one.
AOS: 006 was a DJ tool. What people don’t understand, alot of the shit I do is DJ tools. You get some of those stupid ass motherfuckers probably from the suburbs or some shit like that who don’t even know what the fuck he’s talking about, been listening to dance music for like 6 months and shit, ain’t been listening to since back in the 80’s like me, know what I’m saying. You know how those motherfuckers is. Alot of tracks back in the 80’s, like the shit I’m listening to now (turns up car stereo bumping tracky drum machine track), you had to make shit out of it, you could ride shit, you could have one record ridin’ for like 5 minutes and people won’t even fucking know it. Like Oasis 14 is really a DJ tool. But you know what I’m sayin’, you got people like “Is that all the record do?”. Yeah bitch, that’s all the record do. Yep your lazy ass needs to do some other shit with it.
ISM: You sell your records directly from your own website, you even take the orders yourself. Do you sell alot of records like that? What percentage of your total sales are from your site?
AOS: I sell probably like 5%.
ISM: Really? I would have expected it to be higher since you can get them cheaper from you than you can even from a store. But its interesting that you do that because it goes along with your hand-written white label release style, its very DIY…
AOS: Exactly, I mean, I want full control of my music, know what I’m saying. I really don’t do alot of shit with people or labels, doing shit on different record labels and licensing my shit out because basically those people, they don’t give a fuck about you. They just heard the name. That kind of shit. Basically I’m not trying to get ripped off in the long run. If anybody gonna rip me off, I’m gonna rip my own self off.
ISM: You did that joint with Theo and Malik on Sound Signature, and you’ve done stuff on your man Jus-Ed’s label, do you pretty much only work with your friends?
AOS: Yeah, basically yep.
ISM: And you release tracks from other people on your own label. What are you looking for when someone sends you a track?
AOS: I don’t know, just shit that’s really just different, not like anyone else’s shit out here. I’d rather work *with* people but you know, sometimes people come with some shit where it’s like “Damn, that shit is sweet, I’m have to release it”. This guy named Luke, he’s from Detroit, his shit is sweet as fuck… this other kid named Kyle Hall. They came up with some realy wild out different shit, especially Kyle. Also Jason Fine, he lives in California, but he’s from Detroit. He sent tracks to me over the internet. I think Gary at Melodies and Memories introduced me to Seth Troxler, I think that’s how it was. He came over to my house, shit like that.
ISM: Have you ever thought about moving away from Detroit, especially since most of your deejay gigs are overseas?
AOS: No. I mean, I like Switzerland and Berlin, but I would never move.
ISM: In Detroit, do you see a divide between the suburban techno scene and the scene in the city?
AOS: Yeah, I would think so.
ISM: Why do you think that is?
AOS: I don’t think its nothing on the racial type shit, it’s not like that at all in this underground music at all, because people from the suburbs move around people in the suburbs and people in the city move around the city. It’s still possible for them to come together.
ISM: On your myspace page, you posted a rejection letter from DJAX, what other labels did you try to send stuff to before you decided to release your own shit?
AOS: Nervous, Strictly Rhythm, this was like ‘00. Cajual too. They rejected me. I’m kinda glad that they did. You know, when you first start out in the industry, you don’t know shit. I did my own thing. My brother came up to me one day, he said “I know of this guy who cuts records” he read an article, Ron Murphy had an article in the Metro Times, I still got the article somewhere. He said “This guy cuts records”. I made 4 songs real quick, I put them songs together, and he cut ‘em for me.
ISM: Do you get your records pressed at Archer?
AOS: Yeah, Archer is like 1/4 mile from my house.
ISM: Since you’ve become more popular, have any other established record labels come after you for some tracks?
AOS: Yeah a whole lot of people, I reject them. There ain’t enough money in dance to begin with, you know, record sales ain’t shit. I might as well do something myself. I don’t mind helping people out, but I want to work with people.
ISM: Are you interested in using more live instrumentation? Your “Just Ask The Lonely” album had that bit inside the cover about “This album contains No Live Instruments”….
AOS: Exactly, exactly, exactly. You know I just be talking shit, trying to make people mad, know what I’m sayin’?
ISM: Are alot of your comments on your releases just to make people mad?
AOS: Yeah, just to fuck with people. I write nasty letters to people on email, just to get people’s reaction. You know? I don’t mean it, but fuck em, if they get mad, fuck em, I don’t care.
ISM: So when you’re going to work on a track, what are you looking for initially? A mood, an atmosphere, what?
AOS: I mean, people don’t understand, I just put anything together, just make sure it’s got a good mixdown. I don’t go with the same type shit. I just try anything.
ISM: How long do you usually spend on a track?
AOS: I spend a couple minutes and don’t even fuck with it no more. I went to the studio when I was in Berlin a couple weeks ago, I was in the studio for like 4 hours. I ain’t never done no shit like that before.
ISM: Working on just one track?
AOS: Yeah, just one track. I had an engineer too, which I didn’t like. I mean, i like the engineer, I just do all that shit myself. I kinda wanted to go to a studio where there’s alot of shit I don’t have, but I had all the shit they had. And I think they was recording on Cubase or some shit.
ISM: What do you usually record to?
AOS: To minidisc. Trackboard to minidisc.
ISM: How big of a mixing board do you use?
AOS: It’s a 12 track.
ISM: I like how you used the Motown sample (The Supremes “Come See About Me”) on “Day”…
AOS: Alot of people don’t like that song, neither. People in dance music, the only music they like is 70’s and 80’s. They don’t like shit from the 60’s or 50’s. I think I’m the only person in the world in dance music who likes that shit.
ISM: So what upcoming releases do you have in the works?
AOS: I’m doing another Side-Trakx, Vol 2. I’m working on that right now. I have four tracks done, I’m gonna make probably two more.
ISM: I liked the first Side-Trakx, your hip-hop stuff is nice. Have you thought about working with any MC’s?
AOS: Yeah I worked with Jay Dee’s brother, Earl Yancey. I never released the shit. The “Turn-And-Walk-Away” track (from Side-Trakx Volume #1), I did that for him. It just wasn’t the right time, I just put the instrumental shit out.
ISM: Did your Side-Trakx release sell as well as your dance records?
AOS: No, nobody wanted to buy that record off of me. I couldn’t give that record away at first. I only sold like 600 copies of that record.
ISM: How many copies do you usually sell of a release?
AOS: I don’t sell shit but like 1000-1500 records. Some people sell 5000 records, I’m not saying their names. Trust me, I see them in Archer, trust me.
AOS: “ROLAND TR-626-707-727, AND EMU-DRUMLATOR.I HAVE TONS & TONS MORE SHIT THEN THIS.”
AOS: “KORG VC-10 Vocoder in brand new condition!!, Dave Smith-Poly Evolver, Derrick
May’s Memory Moog he let me use, 1 out of 2 Roland-MC-909,1 out of 2 Korg MS 20, Derrick May’s Waldorf Micro Q, and AKAI MPC 2000.”
"George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator" --Derrick May
(even though very little, if any, techno ever bore a stylistic resemblance to Clinton's repertoire).
Manuel Göttsching E2-E4 (1984)
His 1984 album E2-E4 has been influential in the development of techno music, house music and ambient music.
"If there is one central idea in techno, it is of the harmony between man and machine."
"The 'soul' of the machines has always been a part of our music. Trance always belongs to repetition, and everybody is looking for trance in life... in sex, in the emotional, in pleasure, in anything... so, the machines produce an absolutely perfect trance."
--Ralf Hütter, 1991, quoted in Kraftwerk: Man Machine and Music, Pascal Bussy
A sua primeira exposição, uma colectiva com vários dos artistas que representa > inaugura - dia 2 de Março (sexta-feira) pelas 22 horas.
São apresentados novos trabalhos produzidos em vários suportes como a pintura, o desenho, a fotografia, o vídeo e também instalações site-specific.
ANDRÉ ALVES > ISABEL RIBEIRO > ISRAEL PIMENTA > JOÃO FONTE SANTA > JOSÉ ALMEIDA PEREIRA > LUIS RIBEIRO > MAURO CERQUEIRA > MAX FERNANDES > PAULO MENDES > RITA CASTRO NEVES > SÓNIA NEVES + ARLINDO SILVA
A noite da inauguração conta uma selecção de musica experimental por Pedro Centeno e António Alves.
Rua D. Manuel II, 130, 2 frt
(localização junto a Miguel Bombarda)
Terça a Sábado das 15h_19.30h
Brevemente disponível : www.artereflexus.com
...um “back to back” entre 2 promissores dj´s portuenses que unem o seu talento e esforço para nos dar a ouvir uma selecção de musica electrónica independente orientada para as mais irreverentes pistas de dança. Apoiados numa (in)estética consciente e pertinente, feita com sentido crítico, e que se sustenta através de uma confrontação experimental e espontânea entre o passado, o presente e o futuro da música de dança, explorando territórios que frequentemente quebram barreiras entre sons declaradamente electrónicos e os de cariz genuinamente orgânico, para nos fazer suar de tanto dançar...
Historial seleccionado :
... / Trintaeum (31) / Café-Concerto Rivoli / Industria-Porto / Bazaar / Triplex / Passos Manuel / Lux / Frágil / Festival Vilar de Mouros / Urbansound / Café na Praça / Swing / The Office / Festival Transatlântico (Alfândega do Porto) / Casa da Música / Café do Teatro (Funchal) / Via Club / Plano B / Pitch club / ...
Na internet :
www.groob.com.pt . site oficial da agência
www.pitch-club.com . programação do clube
www.myspace.com/electronicamente . Centeno dj
A profile of JD Twitch (one half of Optimo and a Discopia correspondent) by Niall
JD Twitch aka Keith McIvor, has been growing steadily in reputation for a while now, mainly for his DJing skills, as one half of Optimo (Espacio), the now legendary Glasgow Sunday night party at the Sub Club he hosts with JG Wilkes, and also for his remixing/re-editing talents. But he is also quite handy with a pen and paper, as his epic history of 99 Records in this issue of Discopia proves. Though he is quite renowned on the Scottish scene, we thought it was about time his own story was told, for the benefit of our readers who may not have heard of him, his nights, or his music.
Thankfully he had no qualms with an in depth interview. And even more thankfully for us, he can talk the legs off a donkey! Which in some people can be an annoying trait, but not here, when the patter is as top quality as this. An easy going guy with little pretensions, he readily admits that his first record he bought was either a Top of the Pops compilation, or worse still, Shawaddywaddy, but it wasn’t long before he stumbled on something that really grabbed his interest:
“I bought another shockingly dodgy compilation called Action Replay. But it had “Supernature” by Cerrone and it had “Hanging on the Telephone” by Blondie and I became obsessed with “Hanging on the Telephone”. I just became obsessed with Blondie: it was my first obsession, and I was, what, 11 or 12, I guess it was the beginnings of adolescent lust and Debbie Harry. And then I got to see Blondie in 1980. My best friend at school, his dad ran a nightclub and he managed to get us tickets to see the Eat to the Beat tour. It was amazing. My first gig, it was mind blowing!”
But as the 80’s progressed, so his tastes widened…
“I was really into lots of industrial European electronic music, like really really into it. I went to Belgium on a pilgrimage ‘cos that’s where so much of this electronic music came from, just to see all these bands. I spent a couple of weeks there. When the first house records came out, (even then I was obsessed with buying records and that) I would go into 23rd Precinct, cos they would sell a whole lot of imports, and electronic stuff. And as the first house records started to come in, and I got the feeling that “this sounds kind of slightly similar to that music but the drums are a bit better”. But I didn’t really get into it. But then the first Detroit techno came out, and I was like, well, you know, this is really the same music but it’s more dancefloor orientated. I mean I’d been into reggae which I guess was dancefloor music as well, but when the first techno stuff came out in like ‘86, ‘87 I just fell hook line and sinker for it.”
Through his love of EBM and industrial Twitch got into DJing, more by accident than design, even though the dance boom of the late 80’s had yet to hit.
“I DJed in Edinburgh for some guys who used to run this club called the Backroom, and they would play the Fall and a lot of this industrial electronic music, and I guess what would have been called Goth music. They had been doing it for like 2 or 3 years, and they had been really bored doing the warm up of the night, and I would go religiously, and they asked me and my friend whether we would like to do the first two hours of the night. I’d never DJed in my life, but, I just kind of jumped at the opportunity. But they had started (in legendary Edinburgh gay club Fire Island) a Thursday night called Block which would be the first - this would be 86, beginning of 87 - playing house music, and I would go back through. It was the only place you could hear house music anywhere. And then in 88 when acid house came along a few more clubs opened up. There was the Sub Club in Glasgow, the Sub Club on a Saturday night became an acid house night. But when house and techno first came out and those kind of records started filtering through, you really couldn’t hear it anywhere.”
How did the acid explosion of 1988 affect Glasgow?
“I think it kind of introduced a lot of people to it, but also it was still kind of bad because it was still really elitist. I remember we used to try and go to the Sub Club and it would be hit or miss if we could get in. It was really like what-you-were-wearing attitude and “regulars only”, which seemed to me to be the antithesis of what acid house was meant to be. It was actually a couple of years later the real explosion happened in Glasgow, like probably 1990. There was a club called Tin Pan Alley on Mitchell Lane and when it opened it did a night called UFO which was a big night on two floors, the club would take a thousand people, it was a lot easier to get in there. That’s when I think the whole dance rave thing kicked off through here. And from then on in there were clubs everywhere playing that kind of music. But even up to that point most other clubs were so stuck in the kind of like Soul II Soul/funk revival thing, and clubs in Glasgow were all about what you were wearing.
I was DJing at the Backroom, but in the loosest possible sense. The first night I DJed there I thought the pitch control was the volume on the decks. So we would do this club and basically it was full of the creatures of the night it was all mainly Goths and Punks would go. We were kind of a bit like that, but we were sporting bandanas and acid house gear and taking ecstasy. We were just sick of that kind of vibe, so from one week to the next we would change the Backroom, which was really dark, this kind of cavern in Edinburgh, and we had Day-Glo everywhere and UV and we totally changed the soundtrack to playing acid house music. So the first week it was packed ‘cos all these Goths had come thinking it was the same club they had been going to for the last three years, hated it, the next week there was ten people there, and the next week the management kicked us out! I thought that was the end of my career DJing. But somewhere I got a bit of a kick out of it. So I decided to take a year out from Uni and start my own night . I started a night in Glasgow at this place 46 West George St., which is now a hole I the ground. And I did that for about three months, and it was kind of quite popular to begin with and it tailed off and tailed off. I was like “Well this is DEFINATELY it, I’m gonna go back to Uni and finish my degree”. And then some friends of mine in Edinburgh used to put loads of bands, and they had this concept where they would have a band every week and they would try and build a club around it. It was called UFO (coincidentally!) and we did that for nine months. It was at the time of indie dance, like the Happy Mondays and Primal Scream, which I hated, but the only way you could get people to dance was you could play like a Primal Scream records, THEN you could play a Belgian rave record, but then you had to play a Happy Mondays record then you could play an acid house record. So we did that for about nine months and basically the club got invaded. Edinburgh had a real problem with football casuals at this point and the Hibs football casuals decided that this was their club and they intimidated the most people from going. And then the last night we did it, there was this band from Manchester called the Paris Angles playing and for some reason lots of Hearts supporters wanted to see this band, and somehow it turned into a full scale riot. The band kind of incited it; the Hibs supporters jumped on stage, beat the living daylights out of the band, and the Hearts supporters tried to defend them. It was just like from some western bar room brawl! We were hiding under the decks with like chairs and furniture flying everywhere, and like 50 police came down and surrounded the club and took everyone away in coaches and basically arrested the whole club! And we were like, well that’s the end of that we’re not doing that again… But we actually really enjoyed it, so we decided we’d start a new night but we’d make it members only initially, so we could control who gets in, and we changed the name and it was called Pure. And instantly, it was just perfect perfect timing. It kind of co-incided with when the first big rave records were coming out when the rave explosion happened. Also when, I guess, ecstasy was readily available. From week one it was just a totally different crowd of what became known as ravers, and it was just immensely popular from the get-go. We thought, this will last a few months, it’s great fun to do, but it took over my whole life! I was in my honours year at Uni, and it was two weeks to get my dissertation in and I hadn’t done it, so I just never went back. I’ll just go with this for as long as I can. We ended up doing that club for ten years.”
And it was through Pure, that “Keith McIvor”, humble student raver by day, became known across the land as the mysterious, shadowy figure named “Twitch”…
“We were known as “Twitch” and “Brainstorm”, and the reason we had the silly names cos when we were first doing it, it was again in that rave era. DJs had daft names; you had Grooverider, or whatever. We just thought it would be quite funny to have a silly name. Also we were signing on, and we didn’t want our names emblazoned all over the place. So we just had to think up names really quickly, on the spur of the moment, so I came up with Twitch, he came up with Brainstorm, obviously never thinking that 15 years down the line I’d still be stuck with it! That I’d be walking up Great Western road and people would go “Alright Twitch maaan!! How’s it goin?” and you’re kind of cringing with embarrassment! I even go into my local sandwich shop and the 60 year old woman goes “Hi Twitch!”.
A legendary club among Scottish ravers in its own right, Pure moved from being primarily rave orientated, to symbolizing a new kind of harder edged techno style.
“When we first started we would be booking the rave acts of the day like A Homeboy a Hippy and a Funky Dred, the Ragga Twins, Shut Up and Dance but pretty soon we started to realise that there wasn’t that much mileage in it. We were the first people to bring Ritchie Hawtin to the UK, first people to bring Green Velvet, Jeff Mills, and I guess from that point on the club became more or less known as a techno club. Which it wasn’t. I mean we’d play lots of Strictly Rhythm house, lots of NY house, all sorts of stuff. As the years went on… I think the club was amazing up 'til around 1996, 1997 but by that point techno had become so defined that we were really stuck in this ghetto musically. The people that were coming just wanted to hear this banging pounding tech music which we hated but we couldn’t go anywhere else because that is what they wanted to hear. We were too scared to stop it because this is what we did for a living and we didn’t know what to do next. I wish we’d been brave and gone “That’s it” but we kept doing it for exactly ten years. We stopped it on it’s tenth birthday whereas we should have stopped it a lot sooner. My musical tastes had totally gone away from that kind of music, I was just going through the motions of doing it. But then the opportunity came to do a Sunday night in Glasgow, no pressure, no expectations, it didn’t matter if no-one went, Sub Club was just happy to take a few pounds on the Bar. And I’d had this concept brewing in my head of what it should be for quite a while and just went with it.”
That concept being, of course, “Optimo (Espacio)” Though initially seen as a niche-market type affair, the night has developed over the years to being one of the most renowned clubs, not just in the UK, but in the world, with Twitch and his musical partner JG Wilkes (Johnny to his Mum) performing sets all over the planet, and mix CD releases such as Kill the DJ Vol 2 on Tigersushi and Psyche Out on Eskimo receiving massive acclaim. But even a mighty oak was once an acorn, and Optimo had no expectations when it was born.
“[In the beginning] most of the people that came, we knew. I had lots of friends who still liked to go out clubbing but had become disillusioned ‘cos everything was pretty dull, and it was something that they’d all been looking for as well. In fact I knew almost 2 thirds of the people there. There’d be maybe 60, 70 people there every week, but everyone who was there was phenomenally into it. And we were totally happy, we were breaking even more or less, the club was happy. I never really thought it had any long term prospects and the Sub Club would always tell us “You know one day this is going to be massive” and we’d be like “Yeah right, you know, whatever”, and it went along like that for about a year and a half. On a bank holiday there’d maybe be a couple of hundred people there, but it was never really really busy. Then, it literally, from one week to the next, went ballistic. There’d be 90 people there one week, then the next week there’d be 300 people and we thought that’s a bit weird, there must be something on, and the next week 400 and the week after the same, and it’s more or less been like that ever since. We couldn’t really figure out why it was, I mean usually I can understand if a club would slowly and slowly grow, but it was literally from one week to the next it went crazy. I really don’t know, it’s a mystery!”
And then disaster struck!. Late in 1999 a fire in the building above forced the Sub Club to close it’s doors (albeit not forever)…
“Yeah! And that was just about the point where the club had started to become really popular. We were like Fuck that’s it it’s over. So we moved really briefly to the 13th Note but it really didn’t work in there we were just there for like 4 weeks and then we moved to Planet Peach, which was actually really great, that was some of the days that were the best the club has ever had. And then the Sub Club decided they wanted to Move to Mas and we had to go along with that, but I didn’t really like it in there. But thankfully then, eventually, the Sub Club re-opened after 3 years.”
How did you team up with Johnny Wilkes?
“I’d kinda just seen him about for years at club events in Glasgow, but didn’t really know him. But then he was doing the art school on a Saturday nights with this guy Hamish. This was about 1996, and we were trying to do more Pure events in Glasgow ‘cos I was living here and I was sick of going through, so I kind of approached them about doing some sort of collaboration. I think we did a couple of Friday nights; their night was called Knucklehead, and it was “Pure meets Knucklehead”. It wasn’t that great, but I just hit it off with Johnny. When I started Optimo I just knew I needed someone else. I didn’t really wanna do the whole night myself so I asked Johnny if he’d like to get involved. Also he’d been to Art School, he could help with the design. I just got on with him and I knew he a similar attitude to liking different types of music.”
One of the factors that sets Optimo apart from other clubs is it’s refusal to book guest DJs, and instead a reliance on live acts and bands. Some of these shows have become legendary in their own right, and indeed Optimo is probably the best place to see a live band in Scotland at the moment. But again, it was not a planned decision…
“When we first started we would book a handful of DJs and we would tell them before we booked them, look you’ve got the opportunity, you can play anything you like, you can really dig into your record collections. And they didn’t, except we had Ashley Beadle play and he was phenomenal, he literally took the concept on and ran with it. But after a couple more total failures we were like we’re just not going to book DJs anymore. I was only gonna go and see bands, that was all I did for going out, and I thought as that’s what we’re into we’ll just make the club around booking bands. Originally it was just local bands cos that was all we could afford. And then after that, through Jill Mingo, quite a few things happened because she represented, for example Peaches, she represented Chicks on Speed, and she would tell them, there’s this great club in Glasgow, it’s not that busy, you won’t get much money but you’ll have a really good gig and these acts were in their infancy, so they weren’t charging lots of money. So she really helped us out to start with getting some of the bands, and as it progressed we would just approach bands we liked and invite them. Now it’s at the stage where everyday I literally get 5 or 6 emails from bands who want to play, but it’s very rare I’ll put a band on who have asked, usually we still invite whoever it is that we book, or we’ll know that they’re going to be touring around that time and ask if we can do the Glasgow show.”
Another element of the club that has always set it apart from others is Twitch and Wilkes’ openness to using new equipment to diversify the mix...
“When I first started doing Optimo I had bought this thing called a Groovesampler, which was just a Roland sampling box with a really basic sequencer on it. And I just came up with these things and thought “this is great” and I’d make all these things just for playing in the club and it became quite a big part of the club in the early days, like things that were coming form that were a lot of the original anthems form the club and also I had been mixing with decks for so long it just gotta bit boring. There’s gotta be something more, something that’s gonna keep me interested. If I’m being more interested, hopefully that will project into the crowd. And then when I finally got a laptop there was this software called Ableton Live and I was using that to try and make music, but then I realized that although it’s not designed for DJing at all that actually I could do things on this for DJing that would be impossible to do on a set of decks. And I would love doing it so much, and I still do it every week, I would spend hours and hours putting new things into that, it’s a really great way to re-edit songs, to re-work songs to take chunks of songs. Also the way it works you can mix it in like it’s a third turntable, and I think that, particularly for what I do, it’s become a huge part of what I do and a lot of people go “You’re desecrating the art of Djing by using a laptop” which is ridiculous. You’ve got to embrace technology, and I always say this, even though it’s a cliché, when Bob Dylan first used an electric guitar and people shouted Judas, but you can’t fight the future you should embrace it. If it makes what you do more interesting… and sure there’ll be a handful of guys watching at the side of the DJ booth going “Oh that’s really boring to watch”, but watching DJs is pretty boring anyway, unless they’re like some scratch master or something!”
And how do you think the club has changed since it’s inception?
“It’s perception amongst people who don’t go has changed. I’m always hearing from people who don’t go how it’s full of people with mullets and sunglasses and this and that. I’m always hearing that it’s a this type of club or a that type of club. I still think it’s true to what we meant it to be, we will still play whatever we like but I think because it has become so popular, in some ways it’s diluted the vision slightly. I love everything I will play at the club but if I was totally being true to myself it would be a lot more way out than it is, but it’s really hard when you are confronted with so many people. So in some ways it’s popularity has been a negative thing. Also it can be unpleasant in there with so many people, just from the space and the heat. And then there was definitely a point when people were coming because they thought it was the place to be, which I just think is the dumbest thing ever, why would you want to go somewhere because it’s the cool place? I just don’t understand that mentality. You also get the people who come to the club for a long time and they go, “Oh it’s not as good as it used to be” but its actually because they’ve got their golden age memories which is a certain point in the past, and then they’ve gone for too many weeks and they’re kind of burnt out. But in some ways it’s as good if not better than what it used to be. The whole profile thing is weird, it’s had so much publicity, which at first we were really reluctant to do, but then because we had a mix CD out we kind of had to do all these interviews, which has taken it’s profile to another level. But I really believe we are still as passionate and true to what we want to be as possible, it’s just hard when it’s so popular. On Bank Holidays it’s crazy, you’ve got like 1500 people trying to get in. And we keep thinking the backlash is around the corner, it’s gonna die. I think Johnny and I are both born pessimists when it comes to that, but it just seems to keep continuing. But it won’t go on forever, I won’t wanna do it forever. Like I said when we did that club Pure, we just did it for too long we should have stopped it. I think we will know when that point is. I still love doing it, the point being when I think I am just going through the motions, I’m not enjoying it, then we will stop it. But I hope that will still be when it is on a high, not when there two people there or something!”
Have you seen Optimo’s influence on other clubs?
“I don’t really think it is Optimo’s influence, it just over the last few years it’s just been a sea change in general in a lot of people’s idea about what a club could be or should be, and I think that a lot of the younger people, nowadays, are into more than one type of music. That kind of tribalism is gone where you were like a house freak, a techno freak. There is still people like that, but I think on the whole people listen to more stuff and their more interested in hearing different music in a club.”
Where else do you like to play, on a global scale?
“I really like playing in Ireland, I think Irish and the Scottish people have a really quite similar temperament, and they’re the most crazed people you will ever play with, and they drink too much, and they take too much of everything. Ireland’s sometimes scary, actually, sometimes it’s like can you calm down a little bit. I really like playing Germany, there’s a club we play in Berlin called Ostgut which is like this massive, massive gay club and they have two rooms. Downstairs is just like, I never went to Trade, but it’s what I imagine trade must have been like, it’s just like absolute debauchery! Then they have this room upstairs called the Panorama Bar, and it doesn’t get going ‘til about kinda lunchtime (after the night before), but again the people are so into it and they’re so into music in general, its not about being totally wasted and dancing to anything. There’s a club in Frankfurt we really like playing. There’s something about German people, they have this image of being stern and dour but they’re not, they’re quite joyful. But basically I like going anywhere that gives us a chance to go somewhere else.”
Keen punters may also have noticed Twitches name in another context: when cult label ZE was relented recently, Keith was commissioned to do the first new release, a reworking of “Contort Yourself” (an Optimo anthem) by James White & the Blacks/the Contortions. How did that come about?
“There was nothing on the internet about Ze so I decided I’d start a Ze website. I only really got as far as one page and it just happened by coincidence, there was just this general resurgence of interest in Ze Records. And one of the guys from Ze, Michel Esteban, who is the e in Ze decided that he was going to relaunch his old label and re-issue all his old stuff, so one of his ideas was he wanted to get a compilation of people covering their favourite Ze records. And I guess he must have been looking on Google to see what there was on Ze and came across my page and just got in touch, and we corresponded quite a lot. I had lots of stuff I wanted to ask him about the label. He found out I dabbled in making music and asked me if I would like to have a go at something and I did I had a go at that track, and it’s all reprogrammed rather than resampling the original, it was like a tiny little James Chance sample in the middle or something and I got Mike [Lancaster] to do the bassline for it. I sent it over to him and he liked it and mentioned that he was going to put it out as a 12”, and that was the first new Ze records release in 20 years! Which as a Ze trainspotter nerd was like heaven on earth!! Ha ha.”
So how did you discover/get into 99 Records?
“Again from hearing techno DJs, particularly the Detroit ones. I had heard Carl Craig play three times, and three times he had played “Optimo”, and the first time I didn’t know what it was and the third time I was like “What IS this record?”. I didn’t know it was an old record I thought it was a new one, and he told me what it was. Then I heard Derrick May and he played “Moody” [by ESG], and he played “Optimo” [by Liquid Liquid], and I was “What’s that “Moody” record?”. I knew the bassline cos there’s an old house track by Funky Green Dogs on Murk records called “Reach for Me” that used the same bassline, and I thought this ESG record he was playing was something that had sampled the former, I had no idea. So I just went on a mission that I just had to find these two records. My sister lived in new York at this period, and I would go over a couple of times a year to visit her. And I just scoured loads of shops in the village and found about three Liquid Liquid EPs and a couple of ESG records, but I also, while I was scouring, noticed some other things on the same label and bought them, and thought well they’re great as well and just went on a mission to try and find as much as I could. But there was no information, I didn’t have access to the Internet back then. I didn’t know what was released or when, and it was only when I managed to get on the Internet that I pieced together what had been released on the label and I managed to track them down.
For the article, a lot of it was just garnered from speaking to different people. When Liquid Liquid came over I particularly hit it off with Sal Principato, the vocalist. I kind of stayed in touch with him, he’s been back in Glasgow a couple of times, we’ve spent quite a lot of time together and I’ve met up with him a few times in New York and just like interrogating him about 99 records. He can talk for hours, he just has loads of interesting stuff to say. But before when we had ESG over we asked them quite a lot of stuff about it.”
And speaking of labels, how is your own label, OSCarr, faring?
“At the moment it’s not, we hooked up with Tigersushi in Paris. When they asked us to do the Kill the DJ CD they also suggested would we like them to run OSCarr as a sub-label, because basically we were only managing to get a couple of records out a year and basically we didn’t have enough time, and they put it to us that if we did this arrangement with them I would A&R the label and they would do all the office work they didn’t particularly like doing. But we’ve been with them for 18 months and in that time we’ve had 3 records come out. So we decided that we would re-launch the label ourselves, which is what we’re trying to do at the moment. The idea is that once we’ve finalized distribution, 6 7” singles will come out with a two week gap between them, which will hopefully let people know, I mean most people don’t even know we have a label it’s on a really low profile, hopefully that will help boost it’s profile. But we’ve got two artist albums we wanna do, and then when all that comes out we’ll just kind of see where we are and take it form there. We don’t really have any long term plans for anything we do, we’re just gonna see how it goes!”
Questions by Niall (discopia)
The Emperor Machine is Andy Meecham, one half of the notorious Chicken Lips, who have been rocking discotheques under that name since the start of the decade, and before that had hits as Bizarre Inc. With an album out on DC Recrdings, I sent Andy some questions to find out what exactly sets Emperor Machine apart from his better known act. Readers, please note: no cats were hurt during the making of this interview.
Who or what is the Emperor Machine?
The Emperor Machine is a creature spawned from a desirous and dirty relationship between an EMS VCS3 and a Roland System 100... yeah I know it’s cribbed straight from myspace but I think it just sums it up.
You work under a few different monikers: what sets EM apart from the others?
The machine comes from my brain and my influences alone. It’s the first time I had the opportunity to be creative in the way that I want to. I have worked on a few solo projects before like Sir Drew but it’s the first time I’ve come across a label like DC that actually supports the weird shit that my brain likes to churn out.
Your album is out now: how did the LP come about?
The LP is basically a collection of the 12” series with some unreleased tracks and bonus bits. It’s not the second Emperor Machine Album, it’s just a compilation of the 12”s. I have already started work on the next album. Originally the idea was to re-release all the 12”s as a box set but then we decided to compile the tracks on an album, but CD only. We decided that there was no point in releasing them again on vinyl as they are already all on vinyl. Besides I wanted to hear how they sounded as a story.
Who is your favourite historical Emperor?
Ming the Merciless
What are your main musical influences as an artist in general?
Can, Adrian Wagner, Hawkwind, George Clinton, A Certain Ratio, John Fox, David Bowie, Kraftwerk – again check out myspace – it has the full list.
And your main influences for the Emperor Machine sound?
Can, Adrian Wagner, Hawkwind, Early Early Human League. My inspiration for the Emperor Machine comes from anything and everything. If you listen carefully you can hear my daughter’s heartbeat on one of the tracks. Sometimes I can get inspiration from a good night out, from something I read, from a piece of equipment, from a film… I tend to get an idea in my head which turns into a story. I then put music to the story. Like a soundtrack I suppose.
What’s your favourite bit of music kit, that you possibly couldn’t live without?
I go through stages of favourite equipment. At the moment I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to be without my EMS VCS3 purely because it was used all the way through the Vertical Tones series - as well as the Roland System 100. I think I may have abused it a bit now. Might be time to put it away for a while.
I am an alien just arrived on Planet Earth. Describe the Emperor Machine to me in ways I might understand…
Pringsla Chaaa ve din bur frindlsey ne ba quantak. Rough translation – like nothing you have heard on this god lovin earth.
How did you get hooked up with those crazy DC Recordings muthaz?
DC first signed Big 200, the dark side of Chicken Lips when Kingsize, now Adrift, didn’t want to pick it up because it was a bit too dark for them. Around this time I decided to do a track solely using a Roland SH3A. I played it to James at DC and he loved what I had done and was really into the noises I was making. He provokes me and encourages me and almost dares me to go further each time. He plays a really big part in the Emperor Machine sound.
Are you touring or doing any shows as Emperor Machine? If not any plans to?
I get asked this question so many times! Its really encouraging that I get asked this so much but also really frustrating. I’m in discussions with DC at the moment about getting a live band together. When I go on the road I want it to be a proper traditional rock lineup. Watch this space, I can’t wait.
What are the other Lips up to?
Dean and I are in the studio working on the next Big 200 album.
And when can we expect new Chicken Lips material?
Early next year hopefully. We hope to have finished Big 200 by later this year and to get something from CL out early next year.
Or even any new material under even more cryptic and obscure aliases by yourself?
Ah, a new Zeefungk 12” is nearly finished.
Britney’s breasts or Kylie’s arse?
Kylie’s arse and Britney’s breasts.
What does the future hold for the Emperor Machine?
Emperor Machine ‘Vertical Tones & Horizontal Noise’ album out now. Emperor Machine ‘Vertical Tones & Horizontal Noise parts 5 & 6’ singles released January 2007 The second Emperor Machine album is slowly being created. At the moment it is just a file on the MAC called EM LP 2.
by Daniel Wang
DISCOPIA: Hello, Daniel. Nice to have you at the radio station on the Discopia Show today. Actually, you are asking yourself questions about a very specific topic this time, right?
DANIEL WANG: That's right, Niall. I hope you don't mind me wearing a "Niall" costume and pretending to be a handsome chubby Irishman at the control desk here, ha ha! I've promised you to write this article for almost a year now, but I didn't want to be too academic about it. This is just a nice way to have a chat about a very important topic in an informal way and organize the article accordingly...
So, the topic is acoustic spaces. In nightclubs mostly, but also in your average music studio and home listening environment...
Well, I've been playing and hearing records in many, many different places all over the world for the past 6 or 7 years, and it's remarkable how good or how bad the music can sound in these places -- mostly it sounds far less than ideal. It astounds me that most people who are involved in music or nightlife (in Europe, at least) seem not to care about the single most important thing in the entire experience: the sonic environment itself. A endless list of warehouses, train stations, and bunkers have been converted into nightclubs because they're spacious and "look cool", without any regard for how they SOUND. "This used to be a ...," someone always says, "And now it's a nightclub. Isn't that cool?" No, it's not cool! But I don't believe in just standing around and criticizing, so I hope as many people as possible read this little article and do something to improve the acoustic spaces where they go to listen and enjoy music.
Let's not get too technical yet. In a practical sense, what basic principles should we know in order to improve our acoustic space? Can you sum it all up in a few sentences, please?
Absolutely. If you don't want to bother reading the whole article, then just take the following three short paragraphs to heart: 1. Hard, flat, dense surfaces (like cement and brick walls) are bad. They bounce the sound waves around the room like a flurry of billiard balls, which means you just hear a sonic mess. And that means most clubs nowadays with untreated interior spaces. 2. Parallel surfaces are bad, and that means the way most normal buildings are constructed -- it's like an endless hall of mirrors, sonically speaking. You're just hearing echo. And parabolic and curved ceilings are very, very bad. Remember, as a child, using a magnifying glass on a sunny day to light a matchstick? A parabolic ceiling does the same thing to the sound. One corner of the club sounds empty, while another corner is ear-piercing.
Obviously, the reverse corollaries are true as well. 1. Soft, insulated, irregular surfaces are good. A club doesn't have to look like the interior of Barbarella's space ship (covered with plush golden fur!) to sound good, but that is an ideal to aim for. Lower-density materials with some degree of pliability (specifically, a wooden dance floor) are always better than cement, brick, or God forbid, ceramic tile. Wood is not only better for your ears, it is easier on the feet, too. And if you can manage to dance on it, carpeting is probably the best option of all. (I won't mention linoleum or other synthetic types of floors here, because although they can be quite absorbent, i don't think anyone expects to walk or dance on such a surface, unless it's a kitchen.) 2. Parallel surfaces should be avoided, flat surfaces should be treated. To be realistic, two parallel walls are forgiveable; but four untreated parallel walls are significantly worse. And if you add a low, hard, flat ceiling and a hard, flat dancefloor, then you have an acoustic disaster. 3. Speakers should be placed with consideration of the acoustic space. Often, you see people setting up speakers in certain way, so that they LOOK symmetrical or fit neatly into the corners of the room. This is just plain wrong. They need to SOUND good, not LOOK good as room decorations. (Corners amplify, and often needlessly exaggerate the bass. Move those speakers away from the corners, please!)
The quality of the sound system in a club is just one factor out of several, and it's always a bit annoying to hear how people talk about how much money this system or that system cost, as if that alone should impress us. An expensive setup without attention to acoustics is a bit like people who spend 500 quid on Gucci loafers and a Vuitton handbag, while acting rudely in public and never brushing their teeth -- the price tag alone of what you own doesn't make you attractive. If club owners would spend a small portion of their budget on styrofoam, wood blocks, bass traps, and a good acoustic interior in general, they would be getting many times the return on their investment. In brief: an average-quality sound system in a good environment can sound quite wonderful; whereas even the finest sound system on earth, in a bad environment, will sound like shit.
OK, now we can elaborate on this topic a bit. First, why is it so important to diffuse and absorb the sound? You are aware that most classical concert halls, like medieval churches, aim to have a considerable amount of natural acoustic reverb coming from the interior architecture. Isn't this different from what you're telling us about reducing the echo?
Ah yes! That has been the beauty of certain genres of European classical music over the past 250 years or so -- the use of such reverb to make the choruses and symphonies so much more powerful. But did you ever go to the Limelight in New York, which used to be a real church? The sound was horrible. Modern recorded music designed for radio and nightclubs is quite different from live classical music. The bass and drums need to be relatively dry and crisp to communicate, while ideally, the vocals and other elements are enriched by a certain amount of reverb as part of the recording. I am well aware that a lot of modern "techno" sounds deliberately dry because it anticipates such bad acoustic environments; but such music is also harmonically impoverished. It can't indulge in finer details and musical creativity in the upper range, not only because the people who make it don't care, but also because one can't even count on those things being heard. Isn't it better to hope for a good acoustic space, and aim to make the richest, liveliest music possible, rather than dumb-down one's harmonic content, because one anticipates it being played in a shitty acoustic environment? This is where club owners, DJ's and producers have to recognize that their roles are deeply interconnected.
Dry, minimal, under-produced techno may be a response to bad acoustics in nightclubs, but that doesn't make it good music in itself. Whatever reverb it takes on is incidental and not posssible to adjust, and it almost always ends up boomy. If the record is well-produced, hearing it in a good space should only make it sound better, whether it's techno or not. Minimal music is hardly a new idea: it reaches far back, from Satie's piano music in the 1890's to Miles Davis in the 1950's. Minimal music in any form should be an aesthetic choice, not an excuse for perpetuating bad listening spaces.
So, back to home improvements. Should I just go buy some carpet remnants and styrofoam and hang it on my walls? Is it that simple?
That's a good idea, but if you're doing this for professional purposes, you should take the whole frequency spectrum into account. Some of the following numbers may surprise you. For example, plain carpet on a concrete wall is great at absorbing frequencies from 1500 Hz to 4000 Hz (upper violins and high hats), but has almost no effect on the bass frequencies around 80-120 Hz. Carpet with some latex rubber backing works much better! Also, an ordinary glass window (not thick) can actually absorb some bass, but it will reflect the high frequencies. Thick, heavy plate glass, on the other hand, acts more like brick or concrete: it reflects everything. 100% absorption doesn't have to be the goal. That would be like a dead-silent laboratory in a spaceship, or a mattress-covered room in a psychiatric hospital. A good acoustic enviroment will have good absorption, but it can still "breathe" and give some reverb back. When people build professional studios for recording and monitoring, they actually slant the ceiling and build non-parallel walls to refract the sound and avoid "standing waves" (soundwaves bouncing back 180 degrees and doubling up on themselves). When you choose a room in your apartment to work and listen in, it's good to think of how to imitate these conditions, even if you can't duplicate them perfectly.
More discussion about making your own listening space. What is a "floating floor"?
I have to acknowledge DJ Richard Hardcastle here (no relation to Paul Hardcastle!) and his two lovely friends, Tom and Sue, who all live in Sheffield, UK. I had been in recording studios in New York with such floors, but a few years ago, Tom and Sue showed me the listening room which they had built themselves in the basement of their own home, and there I really got to see that the theory works! They would go downstairs on weekends, shut the insulated door, and play all their favorite records: old rave tracks, soul classics... and their young son would be asleep upstairs, not hearing a thing. Amazing.
First, let's make a clear distinction. Acoustic insulation is what happens INSIDE the listening space. If I cover my bedroom walls, or even the walls of the DJ booth, with materials like foam and carpet, I might get better acoustics, but my neighbors could still be hearing some vibration from my walls. You need not-so-dense materials with irregular surfaces to reduce the reflections INSIDE your listening space, but you need dense materials (think of a cement bomb shelter) to isolate the sound from the world OUTSIDE. A floating floor means building a second layer over the original existing floor, and separating this new floor from what's underneath with plywood, carpet, shockmounts, etc. You can do this with the walls and ceilings too! The result: a room within a room. The INSIDE room is perfectly isolated, and you can play music as loud as you want. But close the double-layered door, and people standing right outside the room will hear practically NOTHING. It's the exactly same principle as a thermos bottle!
There is a right way to do this, and various audio engineering handbooks can show you which materials to use. (I am referring to a standard American textbook, "Modern Recording Techniques" by Hubert & Runstein, Chapter 3: Studio Acoustics and Design. But there are other books which offer similar information.) If you're a music buff with a free-standing house or a big shed, and time and money to spare, try building such a listening room for yourself. You may never want to step outside to an acoustically inferior environment ever again!
You're talking about recording studios and intimate, smaller spaces. Isn't it much more relevant to talk about acoustics in big clubs where people come together -- legends like the Paradise Garage or Sound Factory?
Oh, of course! A powerful system and a huge room are not antithema to good acoustics. They should work hand in hand. In fact, a mass of human bodies is one of the BEST sound absorption materials possible! Its absorption co-efficent is around 0.55, with unglazed brick being 0.03, a poor material all around, and 1.00 being perfect absorption. Very few materials exceed human bodies in absorption, except large wooden pews in a church, or other sorts of large, uneven furniture which you wouldn't find on a dancefloor; see the chart below. Well, human bodies can cover a dance floor, but they can't cover the walls. So it's not acceptable to me when DJ's and club owners say: "The sound is not so good right now, but it's OK when the dance floor starts to fill up." That dancefloor would fill up earlier, and stay fuller, if the sound were good from the start of the evening. And you know how some dancefloors suddenly become empty at a certain time, and then NO ONE stays around for the last hour (which is often the best part of a DJ set)? Blame it on the acoustics. When the dancefloor empties in such clubs, then the sound becomes shit again. No wonder people just want to go home. It's not a random occurrence!
Some longer /deeper wavelengths in the bass range are not even audible in smaller spaces, are they?
Ah yes, this is related to the previous question. You know, some deep bass frequencies can easily have a wavelength of 2 or 3 meters -- that's like a very long, invisible snake flying through the air. So actually, you're not even really hearing such tones when you're in some "intimate listening space". You're hearing the overtones -- for example, any bass frequency of 60 Hz which is not a pure sine wave will also contain overtones at 120, 180, 240 Herz, etc. Deep bass tones are indeed "heard" by the whole body, probably in a different, more primal way. That's a good argument for going out to clubs with big spaces (and creating good sound in them) and not just sitting at home in a tiny but acoustically perfect living room.
For technical reference, I will cite here from the Huber & Runstein book. Next time you go to a club, observe how the sound interacts with the space. These are some of the "absorption co-efficients" of various building materials. It's simple: thick, hard, dense materials are the worst sound absorbers. But notice the difference in what each one does to low and high frequencies.
Material type , at: 125 - 250 - 500 - 1000 - 2000 - 4000 Herz. Concrete: 0.01 - 0.01 - 0.015 - 0.02 - 0.02 - 0.02 Unglazed brick: 0.03 - 0.03 - 0.03 - 0.04 - 0.05 - 0.07
Heavy carpet on concrete: 0.02 - 0.06 - 0.14 - 0.37 - 0.60 - 0.65 Carpet with 40-oz. rubber backing: 0.08 - 0.27 - 0.39 - 0.34 - 0.48 - 0.63
Ordinary glass window: 0.35 - 0.25 - 0.18 - 0.12 - 0.07 - 0.04 Plywood, 3/8 inch: 0.28 - 0.22 - 0.17 -0.09 - 0.10 - 0.11 Human bodies in upholstered seating (like in a concert hall) : 0.44 - 0.54 - 0.60 - 0.62 - 0.58 - 0.50 Heavy wooden pews (in a church) : 0.57 - 0.61 - 0.75 - 0.86 - 0.91 - 0.86
Hmm, I don't see balloons listed in that chart. Any comment on David Mancuso and his Loft parties?
Something Mancuso said to me once did impress me. He said that the Loft tradition of covering the ceiling with balloons was his semi-secret way of making the acoustics better. I think this really needs to be tested, but it seems like a ceiling with lots of round rubbery surfaces would sound better than a flat, hard ceiling. (Although, then again, the balloon skins are thin and possibly create sympathetic vibrations -- maybe they act like a coral reef of miniature bass units?) As purely personal opinion, I think that his insistence on such things as the Klipsch speakers, a certain brand of mixer, and "not mixing the songs" are of dubious value and make "good sound" into a cultish, mystical thing rather than a doable, learnable practice. I'll choose a Urei or a Rane mixer over a Pioneer, of course, but good sound doesn't have to depend on certain brands or props. A "Loft party" with Klipsch speakers in a boomy, rented warehouse space with lots of Loft revivalists is not the same Loft as Mancuso's was in 1976, and doesn't sound anything like it either. But, if you have adequate knowledge and materials, you can improve the sound in any space, even with an old Numark mixer, some generic-brand speakers, and a good equalizer.
Can you talk about your personal experiences from so much traveling and DJ'ing?
It would be great to do an international rating chart, but we can only do it informally here. The good clubs should be praised, and the bad ones should be condemned. I think many other DJ's will agree with my comments here!
London is homebase for the European DJ scene, and of all the spaces, most of my friends agree that Plastic People is a gem. Bravo to Ade, the owner and sound man. Notice how the factors match up: the wooden floor, low dampened ceiling, lack of hard parallel walls, and the attention to volume and proper EQ'ing. A few years ago, I visited The End in east London, and the main room sounded wonderful -- wooden floor, all that. But then I had to DJ in the side room, and I remember, there was no isolation -- the entire time, you could hear the music from the main floor spilling over. I haven't been there for over 3 years, so this critique may now be totally irrelevant. Fabric has booked me often, and the staff and the selection of DJ's are truly nice, especially for a megaclub! Room 1 can sound great, but when I DJ in Room 3, I sometimes have the urge to take a chunk of my fee out to buy some rubber foam for the ceilings. They are made of unglazed brick, and vaulted! (Biting the hand that feeds me? I wonder if Judy is reading this - I only mean the best, my dear...) And one always wonders: why is the sound so tinny in 93 Feet? Curved walls, perhaps? (At Rangus Tangus in Stockholm, in about 2001, I had to play theremin and vinyl under a PARABOLIC TILED CEILING! Uh, hello? What was the promoter thinking?) Horse Meat Disco, a gay Sunday tea-dance at the South Central pub in Vauxhall, was voted Best Night Out in Attitude magazine last year, beating mega-events like DPTM and G-A-Y at the Astoria. Has anyone ever considered that, aside from the loyal crowd, HMD actually sounds better than most gay clubs? The sound system is NOT powerful, but the walls are made of wood with two sides open (no echo!), and the space is always full enough to totally absorb excess sound. The result: very good acoustics. Bravo James Hillard and team!
I do live in Berlin afterall, and yes, it is frequently a nightmare for those of us here who care about good sound and soulful music. The vast majority of clubs (Weekend at Alexanderplatz, Maria am Ostbahnhof, Pfefferberg especially...) seem to not give a care about acoustics. A small basement dive called Kinzo, also near Alexanderplatz, can sound OK sometimes, if patrons have filled its tiled dancefloor. Its ceilings are relatively low. But Watergate, that stunning cement and glass structure on the Spree river, was (until last year?) a perfect example of this rule of thumb: "slick modern architecture = bad acoustic space". I heard that they installed a new system, but I wonder if the sound has actually changed. The techno Leviathan here is, of course, Berghain. The sound system on the main floor cost a small fortune, although the huge untreated cement walls really don't enhance the sound at all. The glass windows on one side of the main floor might help a bit, but not when the music is too loud, which is often. Panorama Bar upstairs sounds better -- irregular full-wall seating blocks and and thin glass windows on one side definitely make the acoustics superior to what lies below.
Ah yes -- if only there were any credible musical events there, then this would truly deserve a mention. The basement of Cafe Moskau, on the old East German boulevard here called Karl Marx Allee, offers amazing sound. It was the disco for the elite of the Communist Party back in the 60's and 70's, and it is covered in red velvet and carpet, with a small, wedding party-like wooden dance floor. Sadly, it is only used on Sunday nights by the tanning salon- and spiky gel-hairdo gay crowd to listen to wretched commercial house music. And the WMF ("vay-em-eff") summer location in 2005 was a miracle -- those boys had covered the walls of their HUGE space with styrofoam and wood panels and painted it all olive green, so it didn't even look like acoustic padding! I heard someone play Garage classics there, and there was a warmth and naturalness to the sound which I haven't felt since in Berlin. Wouldn't it be nice if these boys shared their knowledge with the other Berlin clubs?
The funny thing, however, is that several smaller clubs in other German cities sound far better than anything in the capital! Of course there's the classic Robert Johnson in Frankfurt, home of Playhouse Records, with its wooden floors and foam panels on the low ceilings. But here was a surprise discovery: Hotel Shanghai in Essen, which is in northwestern Deutschland, near Dortmund. I had a gig there with about just 30 people on the very narrow dancefloor. Even though there were only 2 main speakers, it was as if the owners had read an engineer's manual and then decided to disguise their acoustic improvements as "artsy decorations". There were huge surfaces of the wall covered in irregular cubes and blobs cut from styrofoam, just like a pro recording studio, but painted over with gold color. Ordinary guests wouldn't even suspect that this was done for the sound, but to the initiated, it was obvious. A work of love. Gerd Janson and I played Laid Back's "Walking in the Sunshine" at the end of the night and it was like heaven. (Two weeks after that, mid-March 2006, I was at the Rose Garden in Helsinki, and the sound was again so lovely, it renewed my faith in all the Casablanca disco classics...)
For a city so into superficial appearances, Paris has an amazing number of clubs which actually sound really good. Bravo to the handsome lesbians who run Le Pulp (wooden floors and low ceilings again), to Nouveau Casino (the ceiling is covered with special irregular geometric metal surfaces with small holes, like those used to break up frequences inside a microwave oven -- very deliberate and truly unusual!), to Paris Paris (cramped, but actually the sound is not bad thanks to all the furniture) and even to the super chi-chi La Scala, right next to the Louvre. Although La Scala boasts a glossy metal dancefloor, the interior space is actually irregular, with two levels, balconies, and carpeting, so the sound ends up diffused rather than reflected. Fantastic sound, even when the club is relatively empty.
I heard that there's a new club in New York City called Love -- an amazing sound system, with a young and well-off owner who got into house music in the early 1990's, but I haven't heard it yet. For a law-abiding party, it seems that the music-lovers have often been at APT in the Meat District, which can sound amazingly crisp and clear. But there is no dancefloor, and when the music is loud, there's a feeling of "no escape" from this tiny box. But for every club done well in the capitals of pop culture, I've had to experience disappointments. I can't and won't recall them all, but somehow, Culture Club in Ghent stood out as a villain. Maybe because I arrived there late in the night and, with such nice promoters for this particular party, expected something better. The club was sleek, with white walls, a slightly fashionable crowd, and constantly changing lighting scheme. These white walls were hard flat cement, freshly painted. Great for posing, but by now, you should get the point. There was just no way to improve the sound under such conditions. And I've never played in any club in Spain (Mondo in Madrid, a grand ballroom in Barcelona) with truly good sound. Too much emphasis on posing, again? There ought to be SOME good club there...
Finally, a few comments about clubs in Japan. I know there are myths about the wonders of Japan, and not everyone will get a chance to travel there. But then, the Japanese have also mythologized all the great clubs of the western world, so we need not feel that the grass is greener in the East. I've definitely played a few events there with less-than-ideal sound. But on the whole, people in Japan DO pay great attention to the details, and it especially impressed me when the lighting-man at one party, Masuo, coordinated his color schemes with every tune i played, so that we had blood-red, white flashes, and sudden blackouts matching the mood of the music at every second! One never finds such attention in Berlin.
Anyhow, in Tokyo, whether it's at the big clubs like Ageha, Liquid Room or Velfarre, or in small gems like Loop in Shibuya, I've experienced great sound everywhere. Even at a small club like Mago in the city of Nagoya, the wooden floor, proper isolation and top-quality speakers made an Andreas Vollenweider electric harp disco groove the highlight of the evening. But Precious Hall in Hokkaido (the furthest northern city -- snow festivals all winter) is the stuff of legends. I had heard of Francois K. and Maurice Fulton playing there, but my first and only gig there was in 2005. It is truly a temple of sound created by Satoru-san, the owner, and his staff and permanent clientele. My DJ gig there was un-hyped and only about 50 people turned up. It was cool weather that night, and with so few dancers, the club never got very warm. Satoru-san said that there hasn't been much new blood in the city since the club opened in the early 90's. The club is a converted underground parking-garage in an old office building, so it is spacious, flat, and well-isolated from the world above. Now here's the thing: everything in Precious Hall is covered in wood, much of it hand-cut to fit each particular niche. Not only the dance floor, but also the walls and the 7 huge Klipsch speakers: they're all wood. The DJ booth is built out of cement blocks, but only to support the turntables and equipment. All around the booth, I found only more wooden panels. The sound in the booth was as warm and crystal clear as in almost every corner of the dance floor! SO clear was the sound, in fact, that it was a bit disturbing, since most of us are accustomed to some tension and difference between what the DJ hears and what the dancers hear. I didn't want to touch the EQ, and I had difficulty choosing what to play, because almost everything sounded equally good, even boring, too-obvious old disco classics like First Choice "Doctor Love". As a gig, it was unexciting that night, but as an experience in good acoustics, it was a master lesson.
Well, since you've seen so much, we heard that you have a fantasy of opening up your own club in Berlin, which would be dedicated to good sound?
Unlike Sven Vath, I don't have a fortune to blow on an egomaniacal techno-palace like the Cocoon Club. Obviously the sound system and decor there cost a fortune, but apparently the club looks tragically empty unless 1500 people are on the dancefloor -- I don't know if that happens very often in Frankfurt! But if I talk a bit about this fantasy of mine, maybe someone will help make it a reality. Part of Berlin's charm lies in its old cobblestone streets, its "Antiquariat" shops full of old books and things. I'd love to do the opposite of these big techno-clubs -- an intimate club on the edge of Berlin Mitte, filled with shelves of these odds and ends which one finds only in Berlin -- deer antlers, East German vases, old books, crockery. Of course, that's a camoflouge. In fact, the walls are covered in styrofoam and carpet, painted or disguised, and the shelves piled high with old books and records serve to break up the flat surfaces and improve the acoustics (they really do). Since it's a fantasy, i'll make it a bit more Japanese: the floor is gently carpeted, and people have to take off their shoes to get in - there's a row of shelves at the entrance for checking in your shoes. This would be a place to hear all kinds of music as it was meant to be heard. Of course people can get up and boogie if they want to. It would be called "die Bibilothek" -- the Library! And maybe then people would stop thinking that Germans only listen to bad techno in industrial warehouses, because I've met many here who enjoy anything BUT that.
So, to conclude -- a padded room and a perfect sound system are the only solution?
Not necessarily. In the end, we all understand that every DJ has to improvise with the space and the equipment they're given. Surely we've all had more fun in a sweaty, tiny club with a shitty sound system than in some clean, sterile disco palace with a perfect sound system! But we have to clearly distinguish between these two factors: quality of sound system vs. quality of acoustic space. Good sound in any club depends on both, but these are two different things. We've been concentrating on the acoustic space in this article, so let's mention something briefly about the equipment.
Sometimes "bad speakers" can sound exciting, and this is not (ooh ooh, ah ah!) just an illusion: a certain amount of distortion and overheating from the sound system can please the ears, the same way that blues and rock guitar players used their cheap tube amps in the 60's and 70's to create those gritty, crunchy solos. Distortion is at the heart of producing interesting sounds -- any instrument producing only pure, whistle-like sine waves would be extremely boring, and that's why Leon Theremin and Bob Moog used various circuits to distort the waveform in their synthesizers to create a more buzzing, humming, singing tonal quality. If you have a crunchy sound system, then work with it as you see fit. A strident midrange and dirty bass sound can really get people dancing. But acoustic space will always determine what the audience ultimately hears, whether the output from your speakers is distorted or clean. Finally, and obviously, good sound should never get too loud. Ideally, you shouldn't have to wear earplugs to enjoy the music. That's the responsibility of the club's sound engineers as well as the DJ's. And again, the acoustic space is paramount here. Playing music is a profound form of communication. In a good space for such activity, one shouldn't need to shout in order to be heard. And that... is everything ! could possibly dream of saying about good sound in clubs! For the time being.
DISCOPIA: Okay! Thanks for sharing with us, Daniel!
DANIEL WANG: And thank you, Niall! See you in Glasgow again in October 2006!