> Strafe – Set It Off
Ok, let’s start it off with “Set It Off”.
Right, we’re going to set it off with “Set It Off”. Basically with “Set It Off”, growing up in New York in the 70′s and 80′s, I grew up with my parents and my brother – my brother being a DJ since 1980, and there were a lot of musical roots in my household. I was always around music. Mostly disco and electro, stuff like that. Growing up with my parents in the 70′s, they were really big on disco and I was hearing everything from “Ten Percent” by Double Exposure to so many underground disco records, like from 76, Jimmy and the Vagabonds, or Crown Heights Affair. Old school disco. I always had roots in the family. My father also had a pretty big rock collection from the late 60′s – Sabbath, Zeppelin, psychedelic rock. That was played probably when I was really younger, but 74/75 my parents were already getting into disco at that time. The roots of the music were always there with me and I would buy records on the occasion. I remember buying Fatback Band’s “King Tim III” which was pretty much the first rap record, Michael Jackson – “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, “Let’s All Chant”, stuff like that. I was like 7 or 8 years old buying this stuff but I was never really into DJing at this time. My brother was the DJ. He was the one buying the records and DJing. He knew what was going on musically. I would say when I really first started to pay attention to music a lot, but I still was not a DJing, was around 83/84, and I was around 12 years old at the time and I was getting into graffiti which I was actually documenting on subway trains by photographs. I was travelling from Brooklyn to the Bronx. I was going everywhere with a camera – all four boroughs that had a subway system. The records at that time were a lot of electro stuff that was being played. A lot of freestyle like C-Bank’s “One More Shot” or “Al-Naafiysh” by Hashim. I still didn’t really know who the artists were and stuff like that, but I knew the records and heard them all the time on the radio. Around 84 I went to a break dancing club at a roller skating rink to watch a bunch of people battling, and I heard “Set It Off” for the first time. I don’t know what it was with that record but it fit all the movies I liked at that time: New York movies like The Warriors, Death Wish. It was just this dark record that was kind of like the soundtrack of New York City at the time, when New York City was just like in urban decay. On my way somewhere with my parents you would see all these abandoned building like in Berlin in 1945 in certain areas. Then taking the train to the South Bronx and seeing that…I have such a vivid memory of being on the Pelham subway line going to see one of the most famous Graffiti writers in New York called Seen, who was in the documentary Style Wars, and I befriended him when I was probably like 13. He used to airbrush t-shirts in a flea market. I don’t know why music always has a place in a moment that you can remember a certain situation. I can remember being in that flea market and then playing that track. It was just like the track of tracks. It was the soundtrack of graffiti, of New York, the rawness. When I got into techno in about 1990 and I went to trace back all the records that I’d been collecting and I would go back and listen to that record it just sounded so current. Not current to what techno was, but on the production level. When you listen to other electro records or freestyle records from that time, nothing has that 808 feel like “Set It Off” does. That production is just sick. The bassline. There’s really no other record from that time period, apart from maybe “Hip Hop Be Bop” or “Boogie Down Bronx”, that should have been the soundtrack to The Warriors. It’s just an amazing track. The irony of whole record being my favourite record is that it was produced on a label located in Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, so that record was made probably two miles from where I lived. I guess Walter Gibbons produced Strafe, but it was made in Brooklyn. It’s a 100% Brooklyn. That record… the build up, the vocals, just everything about it…I could listen to it over and over again on repeat mode.
Would you say they produced a prototype with this? It’s a lot darker than most of the electro productions around that time.
I think it’s definitely the prototype for a lot of the future electro stuff that was coming out through the techno scene in the 90′s. Anybody making electro music at that time had to know that record. You have “Planet Rock” and you have “Clear” by Cybotron but that record just stands out for me. It’s such a better record. I love the other records but when I hear “Set It Off” the goose bumps come up. It sounds like something from a John Carpenter movie. It could be from “Assault On Precinct 13”, even if you can’t mess with that soundtrack. It is in the same mode as that. It gives the same feeling, and the same vibe and mood. Those eerie chord strings in the back and the bassline. You can’t mess with it.
> Ryuichi Sakamoto – Riot In Lagos
The next one is “Riot in Lagos” by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
This is an interesting track that Bones had turned me onto in probably sometime in the early to mid 90′s. He was refreshing my memory on records that were on when we used to go to roller skating rinks, and one of the other records was Kasso’s “Key West”. I remember he was playing all these records and I was like flabbergasted by the sounds and the music and how futuristic it was for 80′/81′. The thing was when I got into techno and I realised what electronic music was, and I’m hearing Bones and Lenny Dee – this is the 808, this is the 909 – trying to get my head around all these machines, and Bones was playing me records later on saying “these are the first 808 records, or 909 drum rhythm records”, and I never looked at the music I was listening to in the early 80′s, like Kraftwerk, as electronic music or acoustic music – I never made that difference in my head. I never sat there and thought “Oh, I like music with synthesisers”. When I heard this Sakamoto record, I kind of recalled hearing it but it didn’t really ring a bell in a big way for me. But it did ring my bell. [laughs] I was like “Whoa! What the fuck is this?” because I guess it’s got that Eastern, Asian kind of melody sound to it. That is a one of a kind record. There is nothing that sounds like that. I have never, ever heard another record ever sound like that. It cannot be copied.
It even sounded different to the sound Sakamoto was doing with Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Yeah. There is another Sakamoto record that I got a little later on, once I realised who he was, that is quite rare. Not many people know it, it’s called “Lexington Queen”. It’s amazing. It was released as a 12” and also a 45 as well. I probably should have been digging a little deeper on Sakamoto stuff, when I was doing my East kind of record shopping ten years ago, when I was looking for all this 80′s stuff. But I heard a few things by him that didn’t hit me the way those two records hit me. But “Riot In Lagos” is just a special record, what a special piece of electronic music. It’s up there with Kraftwerk.
It is pioneering electronic music, but from a very different angle.
Again, it’s got that Japanese sound to it. Whatever Japanese electronic music was in the 80′s, I don’t really know much about it, but this is a brilliant track.
> Clock DVA – The Act
The next one is “The Act” by Clock DVA.
Now this is probably the best pick you gave because I never told you how I actually got into EBM and industrial music. This is the actual song that got me into it. Not the band, even if Clock DVA also got me into it. But when I first heard this track it was over for me with techno, for a while. What happened was in 1998/1999, I was getting really bored with the loop techno thing. I was getting very tired with techno. Everything was in repeat mode and I was just looking for something new. I had a bunch of Italo records and I grew up on these things like Kano’s “I’m Ready” and Capricorn. I remember all those records from 80/81′, when I used to go to the roller skating disco with my family, some of my favourite records from that time period. So I was kind of delving deeper. Bones had all these great second hand record shops that no one knew about, and he would find all kinds of gems in these shops. And I would come home with a lot of Italo stuff but I found that I liked the sounds but then I wouldn’t like the breakdowns. They were just too happy and cheesy for me, they had these cheesy breaks. But some also had these great sections where it was really just deep and dark, syncopated rhythms. Around the same time I had this friend Reade Truth, that recorded for Planet E. He comes from an industrial background from the 80′s, and they used to always try to turn me onto industrial music all the time, and I just was like “nah, it’s too stiff, it’s too rigid”. I always had this take that industrial music or Electronic Body Music was like electronic music based with guitars in it because stuff that I had heard was like late Ministry stuff from like 1991 had guitars in it, and Nine Inch Nails and stuff like that. So I just kind of stayed away from it. I remember some records coming into the shop in like early 1990 on New Zone, like Bigod 20, which was actually Markus Nikolai and Zip from Perlon, and those records were really good because they were kind of instrumental and they were EBM but there were no vocals in them, or very subtle vocals. But I just never paid this genre of music any mind. So one day around 1999 a person came in with a collection of records and they had a lot of cool 80′s stuff in it and had a lot of Wax Trax records in it. Reade was in the shop and I said that maybe you should deal with it because you know what’s in here and what’s good in this batch. And he was like “You have to take this “The Act” by Clock DVA. Just take it because you will fucking love it when you play it.” And when I put that record on, and I was playing the instrumental mix, that record really changed Adam X. That is the record that defined Adam X going into EBM and industrial in the early part of the millennium. I am back into techno now but that record had a huge huge inspiration on me. After I heard that record I went out and bought “Buried Dreams”, “Transitional Voices”, “Man Amplified”, I went after every Clock DVA album that was electronic. Then I went after everything else. Reade was like, if you like that you have to check out Front 242, Skinny Puppy, Klinik. All the New Zone and Zoth Ommog stuff like Leather Strip. When I heard all this music I was like “How the fuck did I sleep on all this music”, because when we were buying records for Sonic Groove in the 90′s they had all these records, and I used to see them all the time but I just never paid it any mind, I was shut down. In fact there was one time when I was with Reade Truth, T-1000 and Denard Henry, hanging out with the white boy of the bunch, and they were playing all this industrial music. I actually turned to these guys, it was around 1995, and said “why would a bunch of brothers listen to some white-boy music that is so unfunky?” [laughs] T-1000 was later really going out on that one. “Oh, so the music is unfunky and now you’re really into it you’re making that kind of stuff now?” And I’m like, “Ah, shit!” [laughs]
A lot of the music you play and produce is pretty dark. Where does this fascination with the dark side of electronic music come from?
Well, what is actually dark? Is it really dark or is it making you think music? I always think when you think of something that’s happy – happy doesn’t make you think, you don’t have any foresight into the future. Darker music does not necessarily mean it’s dark, it’s more futuristic. I guess people perceive future as anxiety, people are afraid of the future, so that creates a dark element behind the future. I think the music that I’ve always played definitely had dark overtones, but it’s definitely not satanic. [laughs] I kind of think of this future society – a future that is kind of unknown and that has a mysterious sound that creates a mood that is very self-reflective. I find lot of music I like is more self reflective in a sense that makes you think about life and the future and where everything is heading with technology, opposed to being really dark. I do like dark stuff because I used to watch a lot of sci-fi and horror movies and my favourite band of all time was Black Sabbath, outside of electronic music. I never really liked or was into rock or acoustic music that much. But Black Sabbath, when you listen to it, it was so dark but actually if you actually listen to the vocals it’s not really that dark, it’s not the way people perceive Black Sabbath. Maybe because they had 666 on the “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” album. But the vocals are about Marihuana on “Sweet Leaf” or about war on “War Pigs”. They’re talking about different things but they never talk about Satan. It’s a misconception. But I always liked the mood of their music. I could find “Set It Off” as being in a dark mood like Sabbath. It almost provokes the same thought, moodwise, not soundwise. Black Sabbath definitely had a big influence on me. As a young kid from when I was 9 or 10 years old I was buying all their albums, when I was still listening to disco.
What I liked about these two Clock DVA records, “The Act” and “The Hacker”, was that all of a sudden they came up with this electronic sound, as opposed to their origins. It was very conceptual. “The Act” was about sex and perversion, “The Hacker” was about technology and paranoia.
Yeah, they’re more based on science and technology. If you think about it they were so far ahead in what they were doing and what they were talking about. They were talking about hacking the internet for instance and in 89′ I had never even heard of the internet. They were already talking about these things in music, and the music they were making was reflecting really very far advanced futuristic electronic music. The only thing I don’t like about Clock DVA’s music, or other music from that time period is that there no punch on the drum rhythm. If that music had a little bit more kick in it, it would sound so much more incredible. I would love to re-work all that stuff.
Was that a time where you were thinking that there was content missing in electronic music?
That’s why I got into it. That’s why I started to make a mega-mash of different genres. I was taking stuff from the techno scene and mixing it up with EBM. I never wanted to make straight EBM music, I always wanted to make techno. But I wanted to add these other influences and make something different than what everybody else was doing at the time. It was kind of what I was striving for. To create the next sound of techno really. I don’t really think I did it. [laughs] At that time I don’t think a lot of people were open to it because minimal came along and kind of just stole the whole show. It was a good run though, Fixmer was doing it and Heckmann was doing it, it was kind of a tight-knit crew who all knew each other and all spoke about music when we saw each other and were all kind of striving for the same thing. I think I came into it a little differently than those guys because they came more from the EBM aspect and I liked industrial more than EBM – I think industrial fits more with techno.
I think it is interesting that, as you mentioned earlier, when Americans speak of industrial they mean music like Nine Inch Nails or Ministry, and industrial in Europe means music like Throbbing Gristle, which was much more radical and experimental. There is quite some difference.
Yes, there is a huge difference, but I think it’s just because the scene in America was so small that they had to do EBM and industrial in the same clubs to get enough people – they would have to mix all the styles. So the new generation of kids that were going out were just hearing all this stuff together as industrial music, which was kind of wrong. And then you have bands like Skinny Puppy that are EBM but also kind of industrial and Skinny Puppy are pretty much the most famous band in America for industrial EBM music. I think a lot of people when they hear the patchy synth basslines they also group it in as being industrial which is totally wrong, it is actually incorrect. Real industrial music would be Throbbing Gristle, SPK or Esplendor Geométrico, and that music doesn’t really have much to do with EBM at all? It’s two different things.
It doesn’t even have much to do with clubs.
Well, Esplendor Geométrico makes really rhythmic noise stuff, and that another reason why I got into the whole industrial thing because there is a new generation of electronic music in the industrial scene called rhythmic noise, which is very techno oriented. I hear a lot of Aphex Twin style in it, clean or maybe not clean distortion, 130 bpm tracks definitely made for dance floors. Metal machine sounds and huge kick drums. That’s a whole other genre, and that’s really what I was getting into when I switched from this loop based techno stuff that was going on and I was looking for something new, I was like, this is the new techno. And it’s actually starting to conform now. You have Ancient Methods, and I even consider people like Surgeon and Regis to be into that, they know labels like Ant-Zen and Hands Productions and they are aware of all this industrial bass stuff, they are into this the same way. But when you talk to Regis and Surgeon about EBM, they’re not really into EBM but they know the rhythmic noise stuff. There is a gap. But me – I was combining rhythmic noise, EBM, Detroit techno, techno and I was just having fun and in all honesty I just wanted to experiment with different things. I still love my broken-beat electro stuff, especially from 2000 to 2006 there was a lot of great electro coming out. I was into anything that wasn’t minimal. Because minimal to me was the real shit – Jeff Mills and Robin Hood. Not that clicky-clack stuff. I just never dug that, it was never my forte. If everybody else enjoyed it, that’s cool.
> Lil’ Louis & The World – Blackout
Let’s continue with “Blackout” by Lil’ Louis.
Now, that’s a special one. I used to work in a messenger company when I was like 16 years old, in a summer break from school. I was trying to make a little bit of extra money in between my graffiti expeditions through train tunnels. In the day I would walk around and deliver mail for office companies. I worked in a company where there were Afro-Americans working there and they were always playing house records – Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body”, Adonis “No Way Back”, always hearing house from around 87′/88′. So I always knew a little about house music to a degree. My brother was out DJing and he was already into this stuff from that time period, but he didn’t live with me so I wasn’t really being schooled in music too much. Around 88′ I was able to get into clubs and I started to hear more house. I was actually listening to a lot of hip hop around that time. A lot of old school like Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Biz Markie or Public Enemy. I used to listen to Mr. Magic, who has just passed away recently, a very famous New York radio DJ, Red Alert, Chuck Chillout. Red Alert used to do a show and then after his show was over Tony Humphries would come on. There were two radio shows always running consecutively in New York, on Kiss FM and WBLS. I don’t remember who played “French Kiss” for the first time, but I heard that on the radio and was like “What the fuck is that?”. Then I heard it again out in a club. I was in New York in a club I was working at and I heard it again. So one day I ran into Lenny Dee who lived down the street from me, and I asked him “Lenny, what is that record that breaks down and there is this girl moaning on it?” and he said it was “French Kiss” by Lil’ Louis, and I asked “Can I borrow that record?” So he gave me the original on Dance Mania, white label with purple text on it, and I went home and recorded it [laughs] I wasn’t buying records. I remember “Home recording is the killing music industry” or whatever big statement they were doing in the late 80′s. They were knowing what it was going to be with MP3s. [laughs] So I recorded the track and I was well into it. That record had a lot of play. It was played everywhere. It was a huge record and it sold millions. I hadn’t gone out and bought the album yet but then one night I was out on an expedition with a friend to paint some graffiti on trains and we were listening to this mix on WBLS in his car and “Blackout” came on. Look, I get goose bumps just thinking about it. When I heard that I was like “what the fuck is this?” if I didn’t find out what it was on the radio I found out through my brother, and I went to this huge mega store that sold house, hip hop and disco and asked then if they had Lil’ Louis on cassette [laughs], because I had a walkman at the time. I would go around listening to that album. The whole album was just incredible. From the jazz tracks to “Insecure” – what a beautiful track. I even played it at my wedding. I had a dance with my ex-wife in 2000 and we had “Insecure”, it’s just such a beautiful, emotional jazz track. I never really smoked weed too much, but when I was young I used to smoke with my friends. We were kind of bad kids, and I hung out with a pretty bad crowd in New York. We used to smoke the blunts, and I remember sitting on the train lines listening to that Lil’ Louis album and that “Blackout” was just the track. And I did a track with Drop Bass Network when I was making hard acid stuff in 93/94, and it had the vocal sample: “We will dwell in the house of the lord, forever.”
I always thought that “French Kiss” and “Blackout” made a perfect double feature. Soundwise the tracks are very similar but messagewise one is this very sexual and one is very religious, but they complement each other.
Yeah! And I must say that once I bought that, my first album, it was the start of actually getting into the music and realizing something was bubbling in. You had Todd Terry going on in New York at the time and I started being more aware of the music I was listening to and actually knowing about house. Me and Todd, a friend I used to write graffiti with, actually turned Bones onto “Voodoo Ray” by A Guy Called Gerald. I was staying with my friend in Manhattan and were going to all these clubs and hearing all those records. That was definitely the start that something was going to happen. I didn’t know about DJing or working in a record store, but I knew something with this music was happening. It was definitely the best music I had heard since “Set It Off”.
> Open Mind – The Trance
This one probably marks the time you started out getting really involved?
That is probably one of the best stories of all of them. Joey Beltram was writing as Poes. When I was painting graffiti I used to know writers from all over the city. I befriended a guy who was friends with Joey, and he invited me out to Queens to a place where they parked trains and they were painting a lot of them. I got to be friends with Joey and once when we were painting there in the daytime Joey asked me if my brother was Frankie Bones and he started to talk to me about music to see if I knew anything, but I really didn’t. But apart from disco and electro I didn’t know much, I wasn’t well versed and I wasn’t a DJ so I didn’t really have that much to converse with him about – our friendship was really over graffiti. We weren’t best of friends but we were cool with each other. We all had really big circles of friends. The group that he stayed with, there were other people in his crew that I didn’t necessarily get on with so we didn’t really see each other for about a year and a half. Around 1990, when Bones opened the record shop and I started working there he asked me if I knew somebody by the name of Joey Beltram, a writer, and I said I didn’t know who he was talking about. Bones said he knows you but Bones was not sure where from. I said I didn’t know any Joeys, because I knew him by the name of Poes because in graffiti we were always calling each other by our tag names. Then one day Joey finally came into the store and I thought “Oh shit, you’re fucking Poes!” [laughs] Bones was already talking of getting an apartment with Joey, they were going to share a house and studio with in Brooklyn . It was this time period when Open Mind came out and I identified who Joey Beltram was and put a face to his music. This was really some dark futuristic stuff. To me, this is probably my favourite record he’s ever done. There are elements on the one side where he uses the break beat from DJ Mink’s “Hey! Hey! Can U Relate” on Warp, which is a really rare record and one of my favourite records of that time, and Joey just took that beat from the “Sunshine Dub” and made it something else that was even more mind blowing. I always told Joey to re-release this stuff so I could remix it [laughs] because it’s got these Casio freestyle drum rhythms in it. He had a very unique sound at that time, definitely, and he had a unique sound after that. He was able to really switch it up and do different stuff as he’s gone along in his career, which has made him an interesting producer.
I must admit that I learned about New York freestyle later on. It seems these elements from the freestyle tradition were really specific for the early New York techno sound, where especially the rhythms were mixed up with sounds from the techno scene.
Yeah, but the freestyle element that he did wasn’t really widely used in techno. Joey said that he was influenced a lot by Todd Terry. I can hear that in there, but maybe more in his “Let It Ride”, as Direct. Open Mind was really his own thing, his own entity. No pun intended on Lost Entity, which is another great record by Joey which is also kind of freestyle. But in that whole era nobody was doing stuff like that, maybe with the exception of Octagon Man in England, J. Saul Kane. He kind of had the same feeling in his tracks.
> Project 86 – Industrial Bass
While we are on the subject of this sound we should talk about “Industrial Bass”. A break beat anthem out of New York.
That was another really good one. Those guys How & Little used to live in the housing projects behind the record shop. We worked in an area called Bensonhurst in Brooklyn which was a really heavy Italian neighbourhood. Then if you crossed the street you wound up in the housing projects. Now the Italians didn’t go into the housing projects and the people from the projects didn’t come out into the Italian part – it was very segregated. It was almost like having an invisible wall up, you just didn’t go in there. I used to go in to the projects a little but because there was a famous graffiti crew called RTW, Rock the World, and a friend of mine used to live there. How used to be a Graffiti tagger, not an artist, he was more of a bomber, he tagged inside the trains, and Bones had befriended them in the shop because they were making music and would come and hang out. They used to come to the shop for hours on end. I remember being in a club and I wanted to start DJing but my brother would not tell me how to DJ, my brother would not give me any advice. He also did the same with graffiti. He used to write before me and he was like “Don’t even bother doing this because you’ll never write as much as me on the trains” I proved him wrong on that one because he was a tagger and I wound up doing full size on subway trains and became one of the most wanted graffiti writers New York in 89. So with How & Little, it was just this kind of connection. How actually sat me down and explained DJing mathematically to me – like the bar and beat structure. So I got to give How a lot of credit for that conversation. I never forget that. I was practicing in the shop but soon I got my own decks and a mixer – this was in the early 90′s. They were releasing all these records like “Industrial Bass” and Def Con 5 on City Limits, or “Jam To It Again”. Bones used to play at this club in Manhattan, and when he played “Industrial Bass” people would just freak out to that record. Another one that is on the freestyle tip, like Beltram. They were really good friends, too. Joey and How, and Carlos Little. There was something bubbling, there was a sound out of Brooklyn and it wasn’t Detroit and it wasn’t Chicago. It was definitely a New York sound at that time period.
And Bones was championing this sound from a very early stage, incorporating break beats into his music.
Yeah, sure. In the beginning he did Break Boys, “The Beat Goes On” in 1988. I don’t think my brother even heard Detroit Techno until he went to England in late ’88 or early ‘89. I forgot when he first went. That when he did “Call It Techno”, and he was hearing lot of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and all that stuff. So you’ve got to almost question where this Brooklyn sound is from. It’s techno, but I don’t really believe that it’s based on Detroit stuff. I don’t think that when these guys where making all this stuff that they were looking to Detroit. They were getting influences probably more from house music and mixing it up with this freestyle thing, which became techno because the music had more of a techno feel than 4/4 house. New York definitely has a special sound. Sometime in the last 20 years it’s been overlooked. When people talk about American music they don’t really here then talk about New York. It’s always Chicago and Detroit, Chicago and Detroit, Detroit and Chicago. Sometimes it gets overlooked on the history.
Well, Nu Groove, the label on which “Industrial Bass” was released, was probably more revered for its deep house sound, and not necessarily for its techno stuff.
I think what was always significant about the New York techno at that time was the use of samples. Most records from Chicago and Detroit were not sampling as much.
That’s true because you know that they were getting pissed off in Detroit and Chicago because first you had Todd Terry’s “Back To The Beat”, and then Kevin Saunderson went and did “The Sound”, and then he did the remix of “The Sound” and he just stole Todd’s record. He was like “You sampled me, so I guess it’s just the remix now” [laughs] And Tyree also did it back to Todd Terry with “T’s Revenge It Takes A Thief” on DJ International. So I don’t think these guys were very happy with the whole sample based thing, but somewhere within the sample based stuff there was also a lot creativity that actually made it its own. It’s funny with me as a producer when I first started making techno in 1990, when I put out “Listen” and the P.L.U.M. record on Atmosphere etc, we were doing very sample oriented music. But when 92′ came around I didn’t want to do this anymore. For me, I didn’t like copying people, so I went out and bought a couple of 303′s, a 909, and I wanted to make my own shit. I really never got into sampling too much actually after 92. I didn’t want to do sample based tracks. I would maybe take a vocal sample of something and use it in the track but that more like an ode to or like a respect thing. I sampled Suburban Knight’s “The Groove”, the vocal sample, for an acid record I did in 92′, but I didn’t sample any of the sounds. I didn’t copy anything musically, I just sampled stuff because I liked it.
> Frankie Bones – Call It Techno
Okay, there is still one more of that era we have to talk about. “Call It Techno”, by your brother.
Yeah, for me this was an important track. You heard Bones when I had him booked at Maria in June last year. He never played it live and I said “Bones, you have to play this track live, this is a Berlin anthem from the Love Parade. They made a documentary called “We Call it Techno”, that is the theme of your track. You have to play this.” I think it’s a brilliant track and it’s actually one of Bone’s most original records that he has ever produced. The production, I mean Tommy Musto was an engineering genius. If you listen to that record, the production for that time period was a lot more tighter than a lot of other house or techno records coming out. Just the impact of the vocals that Bones is saying – it’s just Brooklyn , man. It doesn’t get more Brooklyn than that. It’s like Brooklyn just found techno. Bones brought it to us. [laughs] What a pivotal track, and the respect that it gets worldwide back then and even now is pretty awesome. I don’t really hear people playing it out when I go out and people play old school but then again I don’t really hear anybody playing any hip-house oriented tracks. But still, it’s a special track.
It didn’t really sound like most of the other hip house tracks that were done at that time. I thought it was a different statement.
Yeah, it was techno. It was more like hip-techno [laughs], and the lyrics were just spot on because they were really his feeling of what he was experiencing in London, and what he was bringing back to America for us to experience. Their wasn’t really a focus on techno in the rave scene in LA at this time and what Bones was experiencing in London wasn’t as influential in LA as it was in New York but I think what we did in America with the shop was pushing just techno music on everybody and with knowledge on the music, whereas if you went to LA people were playing techno but there wasn’t really a scene based around it. I think Bones seeing what he was seeing in London wanted to make a scene in New York based around what he was experiencing, and we did do that. And for me, “Call It Techno” is a soundtrack for that.
So it was like trying to pin down the vibe of the pioneering New York rave days.
Bones had that record before we were doing the shop and he did that before I really knew what was going on with techno, the record came out in about 89′, but it was still with us. It was still going on and on for a while. Stuff wasn’t really happening here until about 89/90 when they started doing Love Parade. We were aware that it was going to be quite big here – that and “My House is Your House”.
> Eon – Spice
Speaking of England , now on to a UK techno track that was very popular in the US , too.
Rest in peace Ian Loveday, who died recently and I was upset when I heard about that. When I started working in the shop in 1990, “Inner Mind” came out and that was a really great record. He was doing the Bones and How & Little thing and was sampling different things and putting freestyle beats behind it and he took “Video Clash” by Lil’ Louis and put it on the backbeat of this freestyle rhythm. I really loved that track but it was really 6 months later when “Spice” dropped, I heard that record for the first time and it was just like some Kraftwerkian electro shit, but on some next level. Those drum rhythms in that track are just incredible. That track really lasted a long time in New York at our parties, like in the Limelight. You would still hear that track being played like two years later on a regular basis. I remember once our record distributor, who was the main supplier of import electronic music in the States, was in Long Island we used to go there every week to listen to the records in person and we would come home with boxes of records for the shop. When I used to go there they would have more Eon records than any other records there, except for maybe “James Brown Is Dead” or “Anasthasia”, but that record outlasted those records – they would still always stock that record. I was like “What’s with this record? How are you guys still selling so many copies?” They were like “It’s really big in the alternative scene”. Now I never really knew what the alternative scene was because for me we were the alternative scene. [laughs] Techno was the new alternative shit. It was not for what everybody else was doing, it was for those that knew. We wanted to try and keep it for ourselves and we were pushing the raves and doing the parties in 1990 for 50 to 100 people, and by 92′ we were getting 3000 to 5000 people at our parties. Trying to be this exclusive thing. But this particular record was actually landing in the dance charts in Billboard. I was like “Why is this record so big in the alternative scene?” I didn’t really know what it meant until 2000 when I started going to EBM and industrial clubs and all the DJs were playing it. I was first hearing Nitzer Ebb and Front 42, and they were playing fucking Eon’s “Spice”, and I was like “Man, that’s from my scene! What are you guys playing this record like you guys know this shit?”, [laughs] and they were like “This had been an anthem in this scene for 10 years”, and I thought this was fucking crazy. I sort of started kicking myself because they were actually playing a lot of rave techno in the industrial scene in 90′/91′ – that whole era was big and that was the biggest track in the American industrial and EBM scene. You can probably still hear it if you go out in the States in certain clubs where they play a lot of retro stuff.
I think in Europe it was different. “James Brown Is Dead” and “Anasthasia” were in the charts when that hoover techno became popular. “Spice” was a club hit here, but not as big, not such a breakthrough track like in the US.
I don’t even know the numbers but I would think at least 20,000 copies were sold. It actually landed Eon a deal on a major label in the States. It was on one of the big labels like Epic or Columbia. I don’t know if that “Void Dweller” album actually did much in the States but they had a deal based on the fact that the single was so big on a major label. It was definitely a big track. Aardvark from Holland played it at Panorama Bar a year and a half ago when I was there on a Saturday morning, and me and Function were there and we just went fucking ape shit when he dropped that. He was playing all old school like Speedy J’s “Pullover”, and when he dropped Eon, I started doing this uprock New York freestyle dancing and they probably thought “What is this guy dancing like?” [laughs]
> Speedy J – Evolution
Speaking of Speedy J, another classic production of his. “Evolution”.
So many Speedy J classics. “Evolution” was a track that I used to like to open with. I opened some really big raves and parties with that track. It’s a very emotional, deep piece of music. When he played at Panorama he played the “Exposure” record, which is also amazing. There are so many good Speedy J records. What can you say about Techno Grooves, Volume 1, 2, 3? Also he had that project on Hit House, more sample based stuff. What a talent. That record was such a Detroit sounding record. He just was able to fit in with that second generation of Detroit DJs, even when he was from Rotterdam. I think Speedy, based on those kinds of records from that time period was also just respected by everybody from Detroit. It was not like “this guy is stealing our sound”.
I think it was exceptional that they invited him to be featured on Plus 8 at that time. Maybe the music was so good that only that mattered.
I don’t really know. He was making these cool records on these other labels and I think he was catching these guys’ ears with what he was doing. I think at that time the whole Plus 8 thing with Warp was going on and it was like “Who’s going to make the next best records?”, but Richie was also doing stuff from other people outside of like Dan Bell and Acquaviva and Kenny Larkin and was also bringing in some imported talent. Everybody was trying to one up each other, and it was definitely very competitive, but I thought it was cool that Richie was actually bringing these people in and exposing them all to the American market. “Evolution”. What an epic journey that track is. And Speedy is still doing it!
> Final Cut – I Told You Not To Stop
Another one from Detroit . Vintage Jeff Mills so to say.
This is an interesting one. I didn’t really discover this record until I got into industrial music in 2000. I thought I had all the Detroit records but I didn’t have that one and I was able to find that version that Tresor put out when they were still Interfisch, who also released Clock DVA. I got that one. But then Reade Truth had played me this American version of that which had all different tracks on it. It was like another album in itself. It had 4 or 5 different tracks from the Interfish one. “I Told You Not To Stop” was on both of them actually. When I heard that record, the first thing I thought was Luke Slater. He had a record on Jelly Jam as Lloyd Owes Me A Packet, called “The Pounder”, which came out around 91′. When I heard that Final Cut track, he took the beats from that, but I only knew Luke’s version, and when I heard that it was actually Jeff Mills’ record I was astonished. I didn’t realize that Luke got it from that. I still love the Luke Slater record – he did a great version of it. It has got these really dark Juno synth lines in it. I was stunned that Jeff was making this kind of industrial music at that time and again it got me paying more attention to this industrial and EBM thing even more. I find that the Final Cut album actually in itself has some really good Detroit stuff. If people don’t know then they should seek it out if they like proper Detroit stuff. It’s definitely a great album. It sounds a bit like early UR stuff actually.
And the basic roots of Underground Resistance were industrial based and not based on the original old-school Detroit techno.
You can hear that. There is a track on that album in the vein of UR called “Rotation” and they definitely use the same bassline of that track and other elements on another UR track. Then Richie also used that same feeling with “Technarchy” – that you feel like a railroad worker laying down the spikes into the railroad tires. That sound definitely comes from Jeff Mills. He made that sound. Somebody may prove me wrong, but from the best of my knowledge he made it. I don’t want to be quoted saying that he was the person responsible for creating that sound because it was also used in other music over the years, but it is definitely one of those pivotal tracks.
You mentioned earlier that Alan Oldham was into industrial and EBM, so apparently Jeff Mills was as well.
Well, there was a connection between those guys. Alan had discovered a group in Detroit group called Code Industry, which were four Afro-American guys, and they went on to do this industrial project on Antler Subway. And Alan released them as Code Assault on Technika. Alan was negotiating a deal with these guys for Antler Subway, but supposedly Antler Subway contacted these guys directly and they had to do a name change and Alan kind of got cut out of the picture for getting the licensing on or something to that effect. So, Code Industry actually made an album for Antler Subway that’s genius, kind of like this Industrial, EBM, Techno album, you really proper Detroit Techno in it. It’s really deep. I would recommend to the people out there who are reading this to check it out if you are a Detroit purist and want to hear some really cool stuff. There is a track on there called “Fury” that’s a really cool. It’s funky, it’s got like 727′s, but it still has this sort of industrial bass idea. The Technika record, Jeff did a mix on that going by the name of The Wizard, which also had that Final Cut sound going on.
> Kevin Saunderson – Power Bass
Staying with Detroit, you brought this one out on your own label, Sonic Groove.
This is a record I happened to put out and I saw a really nasty review/comment on discogs about how it seemed like the record was only being put out to make money off something that had already been put out before, but that was not the case. The case was that I never saw that record with any distributor. I could never find it in the shop and never saw it anywhere. I didn’t know about it, never heard about it. And one day I went into a house store in Manhattan, it was probably out a few months at the time, and I saw it in there. The record is called E-Dancer – Power Bass. I never knew there were official label copies until several months ago. I thought it was released only as a white label and I think that the text labels were more limited than the white labels were. I was in the shop and they had like 25 copies of this, so I actually bought ten copies of it for a retail price and sold had it in my shop for a bit more money to customers into Detroit stuff who normally wouldn’t go there, and I never saw the record ever again after we sold out of them. I had two more copies and it was always a favourite record of mine. I loved that female kind of whispering thing over the top. I had known Kevin for many years and I had decided I wanted to release that and asked Kevin if he would let me put it out. He gave me the rights to put it out on vinyl. For me it was a fucking honour. Kevin Saunderson, when it comes to techno, is probably my all time favourite producer. When it comes to this self-reflective, deeper, darker electronic music it is Saunderson.
Why is it Saunderson? Is it the dark basslines for example?
Yeah, it’s those dark bass lines. [laughs] But then it’s the 909s. You played “Bounce Your Body To The Box” the other night at Panoramabar and on the system there it sounded so good. The record is 20 years old now and it sounded so tight on the production. The 909′s would have been a cleaner sound than Derrick’s stuff, and I love Derrick May as well, but he just had a more pronounced sound with that 909. It kind of sounds more like a Chicago style drum rhythms he was using with these techno sounds, while Derrick May had this really unique kind of drum rhythm style and Juan Atkins had more of an electro bass drum style. But something with Kevin Saunderson really hit it – the 909′s snares and the rim shots. It’s so punchy and so powerful, and then you have this bass line coming up behind the drums. “Just Another Chance”, it’s like the anthem in drum ‘n’ bass. I mean, how many people have sampled that bass line? They made drum ‘n’ bass with that bass line. And that sample “Bounce Your Body To The Box”, the drums and the way they break down and drop very heavy in the track. It’s so powerful, what a track!
That’s what makes Saunderson tracks so special, they are really massive.
Yeah! So I put “Power Bass” record out because I didn’t think I was going to get a new one from Kevin, and I really had to put a Kevin record out. I had to because it was such an honour to do that so I said “Let me pick something out that no-one really knows, that if you didn’t buy records that week you probably don’t have it and you probably don’t know about it because it wasn’t talked about – there was no internet back then. I also wanted to remaster it because the pressing of the record that I had was very noisy and I wanted a better sound. If you like NSC mastering you probably would probably have liked it more but I wanted a cleaner sound because there was too much surface noise on the record for me.
> Maurizio – Domina
Ok, the next one is “Domina” by Maurizio.
What can you say about Basic Channel? I think I respect the music even more now that live in Berlin and I hear it out. When I hear the music out, and you always hear old Basic Channel and Maurizio stuff in Berlin, it’s just the anthem and it really is a soundtrack to everyday life and to here. With “Domina”, I was bigger on the Maurizio mix – I like Carl Craig’s mix but the Maurizio mix is definitely more up my alley. Those early morning parties in New York, a lot of people think that I only play hard techno all the time but I was known in New York for playing after hours sets at the raves, and I would play really deep techno stuff, playing everything from Detroit stuff, Saunderson, Maurizio, to deeper Acid tracks from Virgo. Mixing it up. It was all over the place. Early Warp records. At that time period around 93′, I was playing all this stuff that was deeper in the morning and you couldn’t go wrong playing a Maurizio or Basic Channel record, could you? [laughs] This music in general – what identity these guys put on the music… I used to think that “Mentasm” by Joey was probably the most sampled or redone and recreated sound, but I think Maurizio defined this whole tech-house thing. I don’t know if I agree with the word tech-house. I understand it because you do have to kind of break down what’s house music and what’s more techno oriented house music. Maybe tech-house is a little too common of a word to use, but there is a real difference between real house, proper house and tech-house. This whole tech-house that was blown up in the first part of the decade before the minimal thing really took over, every record had that Basic Channel chord in it. Still now you have it, you have DeepChord and all this stuff. People are still recreating the sound. It’s constantly used over and over. You cannot go to a party in Berlin and not hear it, whether it’s hard techno-edged or a deeper record.
So you rediscovered the reception of this sound when you moved to Berlin?
It was also huge in New York. You could sell hundreds of each record on Basic Channel, for years. It was something that if you stocked it in the shop it always sold. And then Dance Tracks, which was the biggest house shop in New York, got onto it later and they were moving more copies than we were. I think they were selling between 250 copies. They had Timmy Regisford and these house guys from Shelter and all these people in that scene were all buying it. That stuff was massive in New York. You could not go out to a club in New York and not hear “Trak II” by Phylyps. That was definitely the biggest track in New York out of all of them.
> Fabrice Lig – The Track
This one is a rather recent track, a Detroit update from Europe.
While everything was going minimal [laughs], and I was playing my harder edged stuff in the last years, I was always looking for and wanting to play newer Detroit music but there is nothing out there, or not enough to make a full set. Things are getting better in the last year or two and that’s why I have fallen back into playing more techno oriented stuff because I am finding good records now. “Track” is definitely one of those tracks that I’d expect to hear Kenny Larkin do. It is something that if I didn’t know who it was, if I heard it for the first time without checking it out online, I would swear it would be something from Detroit. And that was exactly the type of music and records that I’d been looking for, for a while now. I’m really hoping that there is more techno stuff coming out. I ran into Fabrice while he was here in Berlin a few of months ago, and I said “Please do some more stuff like this”, because techno needs this more of this Detroit feeling again. This newer sound is emanating and I don’t really know what to call it, but it’s this hybrid of deeper Berghain morning sounds. I really love what Ben Klock is doing and his whole thing, but I also think there could be more stuff coming out with some more Detroit bass sounds like this one. It’s this kind of really melodic but pumping Detroit flavour that’s been lacking in the music the last 10 years.
So that is your main criticism with minimal, that it got rid of all the textures of techno? It needs to be more complex again?
It’s funny to say this, but I was making minimal when no one was listening to minimal. Me and Neil Landstrumm, when were doing this on Scandinavia in 97/98, everybody in the techno scene was really into the whole harder edged Surgeon, Adam Beyer, Oliver Ho – that whole scene. Me and Neil were taking some roots from the early Warp records which I thought to be minimal records, like “Testone”. These records that had really deep base lines and were slow and we were trying to recreate the sound but it wasn’t really catching on with people. It was weird because when I had the shop in the earlier part of the decade, when minimal was happening, people were starting to come in asking me for this record on Scandinavia and were saying how awesome it was because it fit in with the minimal thing. And I was like “Hmmmm, really?” In the beginning before it was quoted “minimal”, because I always thought minimal was Robert Hood and Jeff Mills and I always just thought of it techno, I liked the early Perlon records a lot, like Dimbiman and stuff like that. I was buying a lot of those records and was playing them out for a while in New York, but I didn’t put the name minimal to it, it was just good music. When the minimal thing started to happen as a genre I was like “Wait a minute. They were making these records 7 or 8 years ago. Mike Ink, Dimbiman, Studio 1, Profan. This isn’t anything new”. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like minimal but it got boring. The rhythm structure is always the same. The clap is always on the fucking two and the four, and it doesn’t really have this tracky mould to it so it’s just lost its appeal to me. I like trackier bases in my techno.
Was that a problem when you moved to Berlin, and the sound was still very prominent in the clubs?
No, I would get a little bit annoyed by it sometimes but there was some stuff that I liked. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like anything in it. I liked some of Steve Bug’s stuff on Poker Flat. Some stuff that I thought was interesting and was grouped into the minimal thing but it was actually a step away from it as well. I like the remix of Nick Holder’s “Erotic Illusions” that Steve Bug did. It reminds me of an old Beltram record. The chorus has this really dark element to it. Well, I would go out and maybe I would hear a couple of records I didn’t like but then I would hear record that I did like. I didn’t really get into the clicky-clack stuff. If I hear the clicky-clack minimal, then no. If it was more kind of “tech-house” [laughs] I would probably like it a little bit more. And then in Berlin I always found places to go that didn’t play that. You could always go to Berghain and not hear that music downstairs. You know in Berlin it is always somebody playing something from somewhere else, someone from Detroit or some uncommon place, something really refreshing or whatever, or something old school, you hear a lot of old school stuff in Berlin. I don’t really get bored here. I would avoid the all-minimal parties where every DJ is a minimal DJ, but I tolerate some of it.
> Monolake – Atlas
The last one is by Monolake, “Atlas”.
Ah, best producer of the decade. Sorry, that’s my opinion. In my honest opinion Robert Henke is the best producer of the decade. His music, his albums – “Momentum”, “Gravity”, “Polygon Cities” – these are just brilliant pieces of music. The structure of the music itself… I mean, the guy developed Ableton, a software that the majority of people making techno uses. You can hear it in his music how advanced he is with his mindset with what he’s doing musically. And he doesn’t try to fit into any sort of genre. His stuff can be dubby or it can have kind of industrial bass rhythms. It’s all over it. Really if you like any style of music… I know people from the industrial scene to house that love his music. He spans all barriers with what he’s doing. He is the only person who has taken this dubby sound and taken it to a really far level that is a step above the rest. It doesn’t sound to me like a reproduction of something I’ve heard ten years ago. He has taken these elements so much further. It’s just the most futuristic music that I’ve heard in the last 10 years. It’s a step above anything that’s out. If somebody can tell me that there is a better artist that’s been more consistent in the last 10 years in this millennium, I would like somebody to tell me and show me something I don’t know. I’m always up for people to tell me something I don’t know.
Is this a defining record of what you like about his works?
He hadn’t done anything in a while, and when people don’t do anything in a while there are a lot of expectations on what the person is going to do next. I had one of those music moments when I was playing in Turku, Finland a few months ago and I had a three hour bus ride from Helsinki to Turku. I always have this fascination with northern countries and techno music because I always find that whenever techno is from the northern areas, like in America in Detroit or in New York, or in Europe, the music always seems to be a little darker and moodier than when you hear stuff from other places. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true but I always kind of wonder what these people are thinking on these cold winter days when there is 24 hours of darkness. I know Robert Henke played in Alaska and he named a track “Alaska” and I’m thinking he is definitely in the same mode when going to these northern countries, and I had a conversation with him about it, how amazing it was in Alaska and what he played there and how his mind was blown by going there, and Finland is one of the most northern countries in Europe. I had just gotten “Atlas” and was listening to it on the bus. It was kind of like the soundtrack of the journey because I must have listened to that track like eight times. It’s not an easy track to play out because the beats are really broken. I’ve mixed it before but when you are mixing you think “Oh, shit. Am I going to fuck this mix up?”, but I’ll take the risk of playing it at the right moment at the party. I like the sound that’s in it – it’s dark but it’s really mystifying. I don’t know. I can’t place my finger on it and that why I like it. I’m like “What is this? What is this sound and mood of the track?” I can’t figure out what the mood is and I like that. You’re in a mood but you don’t even know what the mood is. [laughs]
Would you say that Monolake is a big influence on your work?
Currently, right now, yeah, my music is influenced. I have this ADMX-71 out, a more downtempo project on Hands, and that definitely was a major influence. Him and I guess Biosphere and Mika Vainio – go figure, I’m picking all the guys from the northern countries. [laughs] They were a big influence for that and obviously also for the Traversable Wormhole stuff. I wanted to do more dance floor oriented techno style, but as I said earlier, I don’t like to sample or copy people so it’s more of an inspiration in mood than trying to copy any sounds or particular drum rhythms they’re doing. But I would say that Monolake is the biggest influence on me in the last couple of years now.
Would you say you would have developed something like Traversable Wormhole if you would have stayed in New York?
I think Berghain really shaped that. I have to thank Ben Klock. I sat and listened to Ben for hours and Berghain has also really done it for me with Dettmann. Those guys definitely had a big influence. But Ben’s music also, because I was really into Ben’s music before I moved here. He had some records on Memo in like 2006 or 2007 and they were like these really tripped out records. A lot of people that I know in New York didn’t really know and New York who Ben was. When some friends actually came here I said “you got to check this guy’s music out”. Berghain definitely had been a big inspiration to me. It reminds me of being in a warehouse party in New York in the early 90′s, the room and all. Not with the sound. [laughs] We didn’t have sound like that at the parties back then. We had good sound, but it’s just the sound in Berghain, just the environment and that headspace you can get into, listening to this deeper stuff at this time in the morning. I really would love to hear Monolake play live in that room there, in a morning set. That would just throw me over the top actually. It would throw me off the building. But it’s not just that. The parties and the energy here definitely had a big influence on the Traversable Wormhole sound, on what I am trying to convey with this music. The feeling that I’m laying out.
So that’s your own personal Berlin period?
Yeah, this has been two and a half years of just development. I got bored of the EBM thing quite a bit. I did what I wanted to do with it and it was time to move on. Techno to me is always about future music and moving to the next thing and it feels good to be back doing the techno thing again and getting appreciated for doing what I am doing with it.
So you wanted to change direction and had some vague concept in your mind, but it took your time here to get to know what you really want?
I don’t think I really wanted anything, I just go with it. I never sit and think I want something. I just do. I just do what I feel. I think with music I have always felt that. Even in the last 10 years. My last album “State of Limbo” was really a compilation of different stuff that kind of has the same mood. But there is electro and techno stuff on there, there is rhythmic noise and ambient based tracks on there. I saw that I was doing all these different things and I said “You know what? Maybe I need to start separating what I’m doing a little bit more because I want to do some downtempo stuff, but I don’t want the people have known what I do for many years to get confused when they hear “Adam X is going to play a downtempo set” or an industrial set – I play techno. I play 100% pure techno. With maybe some industrial elements, but industrial for me is techno.