Whether you know him best as Beat Pharmacy, Echologist, Lightness, even more aliases, or simply by his given name, Brendon Moeller is a bit of a veteran in modern techno stakes. Originally hailing from the permanently smokescreened world of dub techno, Moeller's music has evolved over the years to take what Moeller would probably like to call the "spirit" of the genre into new and exciting places. While dub techno as a scene arguably begins to stagnate, Moeller moves above and beyond, whether it's anchoring the dub aspect with his Beat Pharmacy project, or making banging dancefloor tunes and heads-down headphones hummers as Echologist, or simply his own mix of sub-styles under his own name, not to mention collaborative projects with Area (Lightness), David Kennedy (Shetland), and Shigeru Tanabu (Manaboo).
Last year, Moeller also launched his own Steadfast record imprint, a label that has seen the release of some of Moeller's finest material thus far as well as promising EPs from associates Area and Billy Shane. But it's his Echologist project that has arguably been the star of the imprint with a stellar run of diverse and unforgettable EPs. Moeller is just now releasing the second Echologist album, on Steadfast, Subterranean, a stunning journey through the heart of dub ensconced in a techno fever dream (they're separate things; I wouldn't call this 'dub techno'), and I'll refrain from saying much more about it -- that's what my review is for, look out for it on RA -- other than the fact that it's a near masterpiece and one of the most accomplished statements of Moeller's long career.
As a documented fan of Moeller's output, it was a bit of an honour to do such a frankly massive and comprehensive interview leading up to the album's release. Wanting to make this count, what you'll find below is a painstakingly considered summary of a series of interviews conducted throughout February and March of this year. Wanting to scratch beyond the surface of press-landslide interview inanity, we talk about the album, aliases, dance music politics, the music industry, boutique labels, dub techno insularity, dubstep, promo culture, information overload, and more. It's a fascinating insight into an artist who exploits modern technology to the fullest extent -- both in terms of his musical production and his online presence -- a savvy figure who isn't afraid to say how he feels.
In addition to the ten thousand or so words he so generously donated over many, many hours of Skype, Moeller has also contributed two podcasts of what he calls Midnight Radio, beautifully mixed collections of his muses, inspirations and ruminations surrounding the creation of the album and its aftermath. You can find the first below the interview, and part 2 will be online early next week, just in time for the release of the album.
Andrew Ryce: You have a new album coming out on your Steadfast label under the Echologist alias. Why the sudden outpour of Echologist material, and how did the new album Subterranean come about?
Brendon Moeller: “The Echologist moniker became more active because as I was putting my label Steadfast together, I realized that monikers could actually work in my favour in terms of breaking up projects and different vibes of things, especially since I wanted to release mostly my own stuff. I consciously decided to keep the Echologist moniker for deep, dubby, techno, maybe a little on the darker side of things. Less jazzy or funky. I really had a great time putting together the Echologist tracks; I enjoyed the process and before I knew it I was compiling quite a few tracks. Some I ended up releasing, some just kind of sat around. It was at a point where I realized that I had quite a nice bit of material here, that seemed to have a consistent theme and mood running through it all. Then I came up with the concept; why don’t I take this and try to put together an album? Then the thought process came about how to actually put together the album. I didn’t want to just compile an album of tracks, because that makes no sense, it defeats the purpose of an actual album. Like buying a book, you want the plot, the intro, the outro -- you want that whole journey.
So I came up with the idea of compiling Subterranean as I would do a live show or a techno mix, and the only thing I wanted it to be was not to be the kind of mix you could download from Soundcloud. I wanted it to convey the same sort of moods and sounds you could hear at 4am in the Berghain or Fabric or the Bunker in New York, but I wanted it to be more abstract. I wanted to leave out the kick drums, the hi-hat, the claps, the signature things. Not completely -- there are elements -- but less pronounced than usual. As I started organizing the resources, I decided that the best way to do this and really capture the spirit of a DJ mix was to just do it in one take. So I got into my studio and just did it, one take, complete. Then I went back and did some very minor changes, so it was essentially just the result of completely spontaneously taking all these elements and capturing the sense of what a DJ does, which is take you from point A to point B to point C in a manner that entices you to want to keep going along. Hopefully I’ve succeeded at that.
Why leave out the kick drums and hi-hats and those other elements?
I wanted to convey that those elements don’t have to be what creates that sort of driving, throbbing, momentum. You can use other things, textures, bass, filters, and atmospheres to capture the essence of all that without the necessity of a drum to drive things. As a result of listening to tons of ambient music -- basically starting off listening to a lot of ambient music and getting deeper into it and getting into seventies experimental electronic from Germany, and Krautrock -- all those elements come into play. Shoegaze bands that I was into, like My Bloody Valentine, Loop, Jesus and Mary Chain, just so many things, so many references that come from having been a music listener and collector and fan for twenty-four years. Whether it’s conscious or even subconscious all these things reared their heads to me. For me, it’s cool to see a derivative aspect in my music, it reminds me of where I’m coming from.
But It’s filtered through your own creativity rather than just taken from somewhere.
Yeah, I think for me it’s more about capturing the spirit of that stuff rather than actually wanting to do it or sound like it; it’s the spirit for me, the attitude, the philosophy behind the style of music, the minimalism. Some people might say “some of your tracks have fuckin’ sounded too much like Rhythm & Sound or Basic Channel,” but I’d agree and say that it wasn’t completely intentional. It’s about evolution, and that evolution continues. As a musician, the constant evolution keeps you inspired, the constant desire to move forward with your own thing and move toward an identity of sorts -- making your mark. Every writer, painter, any artist, it’s about wanting your voice to be a unique voice. Obviously there are fewer originals than there are derivatives or copycats. You strive to find something or tap into something that’s gonna be completely fresh and unique. Whether that happens, I guess, it’s a combination of thinking about it and just doing it. With music, it’s more about being in the process -- you can only grow and evolve if you’re making music and playing music. Same with writing music -- you can only write a song if you’re writing it, with a guitar or an MPC or pads or whatever -- you have to be doing it, and that’s where the magic happens. That’s why they always talk about the muse and the magic -- that thing that happens as a result of being in the process. You keep moving, and then you’re suddenly like ‘how the fuck did that happen?’ and that’s a result of getting lost, getting in the zone and blocking everything else out.
Subterranean is always churning and moving, like it’s experiencing the creative process itself. Would you agree?
I do, and I’m really happy that you would imply that because that was what I was trying to convey. Constantly evolving, especially in real-time; I didn’t want it to feel contrived or static, I wanted it to be real-time creation on the spot. The great thing about putting that album together is basically that I had a fair idea of what I wanted to do, but until I actually I did it I had no idea what it would end up being. That sense of adventure, the unknown, and the suspense -- as an artist, you live for those things.
So it’s safe to say you’re a believer in the techno album as a format?
Yeah! I think it’s been kind of hit or miss for me, but I’ve enjoyed many techno albums where there’s been more of a concept behind things, or an album mentality to it. Then again, there’s been exceptions to that rule, compilations -- Maurizio did a compilation of the M series, and Basic Channel did two compilations of their stuff. Those two are, without a doubt, important influences. I appreciate the stuff where there’s a little thought, albums that are gonna take you on a journey rather than just a set of tracks that are together for the sake of an album. I like things to be well-thought-out; Vladislav Delay and people like that tend to do that on their albums. Although with his other guises, he’s done more straight-up tracky albums... I don’t know. I think at home I tend to want to hear something I’m not going to hear out in the club; I’m not opposed to having that feel but I want something more. In a club, when you’re doing a live show, you tend to go that extra mile to spruce things up with energy. Techno, in most cases, needs very pronounced drum and bass rhythms, otherwise people are going to... [laughs].
|The new Echologist album Subterranean out 4/28 on Steadfast|
Do you feel like that even with the iPod generation the album is a more accessible statement for the average person?
I guess DJs are the few people that are still paying for music. I would like it not to be that way, I would like the average person to come back and realize that if it’s good music and it affects you in a good way and you get pleasure from it, you should feel some sort of sense, if you can, that you should contribute to the cause. You should help sustain something. You want to try and give back to something that people are putting time and energy and passion and hard work into. My roots in electronic music were about listening to full albums. While I was always sort of a DJ, I was never driven by singles as much, I was always looking for the album tracks, I wanted to hear the obscure, the more leftfield. And that’s how I DJ too, I tend to be playing not the obvious singles, because to me that’s where the element of surprise comes in. Yeah, you play familiar things, but for me it’s trying to bring people in and show them something now.
That’s where the art of DJing comes in too; making it your own and not just playing a bunch of anthems.
The way you string it together -- the phrase, as once was written in Little White Earbuds, “curatorial spirit” -- it’s an important thing for the DJ. You have to know your records, gather them in a manner that makes sense, tells a story, keeps people with you. Just as a writer would want to have chapter one, chapter two, chapter three. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the digital DJ cultures, you have guys fucking going out and downloading a chart on Beatport or an RA chart, and they’ll go and play a gig that night having not even listened to the track for more than thirty seconds and go out and play that track. Use that gig as a testing ground for the track, which for me is fine if that’s what you want, but I want things that are tried and tested. To be a DJ takes a lot of fucking time. It takes a lot of time, and...
Yeah! That’s the thing; there needs to be more of an emphasis, with digital DJing, on trying to make upcoming DJs aware that Jimi Hendrix had to fuckin’ learn to play the blues better than anyone before he could step out and blow people away with his own style. You have to learn to crawl before you can walk, basically, you have to pay your dues. It can’t just be “put down your hundred dollars, spend your fifty dollar voucher at Beatport and you’re good to go!” [laughs] That’s what makes people angry, that’s what makes vinyl DJs who spend years and money and time buying and carrying around bags of records, and spending hours in their bedrooms seeing which tracks beatmatch well or which have the same key, shit like that. Unfortunately, the average clubber, punter, whose going out there just to have a good time cannot really discern the difference between any fuckin’ DJ and the top DJ, ‘cause the similarity is so close. To try and get people to know what’s real and what is not is a battle. To try and tell the difference between a track by someone who has spent three months with Reason or FruityLoops and someone who has been working at it.. it’s difficult to tell right now. But the other side of that coin is that opening DJ who has only been working for six months, can tell a bunch of his friends, so the promoter is thing about that kind of thing as well, bringing people in. If it’s a hobby and you’re doing it for fun, you’re lucky in my books. If you’re doing it as a job, you have to really be sure and disciplined about what you’re doing, try and make the right decisions. Would I say it’s better for people to rather get into this as a sort of hobby? I don’t know. It’s a tough call. Part of me says that if you’re not in it one hundred percent you’re not really in it. That was fine maybe a few years ago, but now does it make sense for people to put their eggs in a basket as fucked as the music industry right now, in terms of how people get paid, and what has happened as a result from a lack of revenue from the sales of merchandise and product, and the fact that there’s a lot less stores to sell it. I think maybe a thousand streams of my song on Spotify is gonna get me, I don’t know, twenty cents? [laughs] What a game.
Going back to aliases for a second, why do you feel the need to have so many aliases? Do you feel that it’s a necessary thing in dance music?
Aliases aren’t necessary, but just because they have been a part of my career I decided I would live with them rather than scrap them and move ahead. It ended up being a convenient thing for me to establish different musical entities. I think we’re now at a point in music where you can actually put together an album and you’re gonna be free because people are much more aware of everybody being influenced by so much material. We have so much more information. The amount of music my kids will hear before they get to eighteen compared to what I heard as a kid, simply because I didn’t have access to it... Now with the internet and the options you have available, shit! People are processing so much more and you hear it in electronic music. This is why we like what we do. You see all these young producers at tender ages of twenty-two that are drawing from a huge well of information, and you can hear how they’ve sort of listened or appreciated to everything. I sense that it is definitely as a result of people being able to go online and just delve into music and be turned onto stuff.
I’m comfortable with aliases now. I’ve been asked to do an Echologist album for Speedy J’s label Electric Deluxe, and I’ve been asked to complete a Brendon Moeller album for Third Ear. Then I would like to, for my own label Steadfast, have a Beat Pharmacy album within the next two-three years. I’m looking at one album a year for myself at this point, I don’t want to do two albums a year... but it might work out like that. The Echologist might come out early next year, and then later in the year the Moeller record, and then the next year the Beat Pharmacy album. I look back on all my musical heroes, and during their early periods and moving towards success, they’ve all always done an album a year, sometimes even more. Even back then. I think it’s a good discipline.
Don’t you ever feel like you’re spreading yourself too thin?
I think as long as I have the discipline and the muse flowing, I’m going to let it out. The key is selecting what to release and what goes on the shelf and possibly never sees the light of day. I’m painfully aware of putting out stuff that really is not gonna... I want everything that I put out to be something that is timeless. I have put out tracks that I know that aren’t that, but it was a learning experience, I was evolving and growing. This is, for the last five years of my life, how I have to make my living, so there’s been the question of economics as well. It hasn’t been just based on the music itself, I’ve had to make decisions about money and treat this like a job -- which it is for me right now. So I have to think of the business side of this as well. It isn’t just about what I’m creating. It’s art and business combined. And as we know, talk about treacherous waters! [laughs] You have to navigate and go with your gut instincts and try to do things for the right reasons, but also you have to pay the rent.
I’m well aware of people that feel that I put out too much music. Time is the equalizer; it’s very difficult to think of what you’re going to still like ten years down the line. There’s no formula to go about this; you go on a whim about what to put out and what not to put out, and ultimately time will tell. I already know, having been releasing stuff since 1996, that some things are things that I’m gonna be proud of, and things that I think are gonna stand the test of time, others are horrendous, and I’ve realized that it wasn’t what I thought it was. This is all part of the creative process.
At the end of the day, ten years from now, I’ve accepted that there’s going to be stuff that I’m super proud of and stuff I’m not so proud of. As an artist it’s unavoidable, especially as you grow older and evolve. I’m trying to make sure I’m not diluting myself by having what I have out there right now. I feel like I’m much more aware and trying to make sure there is a level of quality control that conveys that, but we’ll see. Even over the last year I’ve done a lot of remix work, and the remix work I do is based on economics.
It’s all based on economics: what is this gonna do for me, my association with this label, with this track? There’s that side of it, and then there’s also the fact that it’s a little bit of money that’s going to help my cause. Not every track you do is going to be the result of getting into that zone where something phenomenal happens. Sometimes there’s a discipline involved and with remixes, if someone’s giving me a certain amount of money or time, I have to work within a timeframe and get things done. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes and they’re not that great. All I can do is stand by it; I think at this point I’m not giving anyone anything that I think is inferior. I think people might be like, ‘well, that’s a little less... great’ than your usual stuff, but if people want me to be involved with their label on the remix level, I’m happy to do my best and try and bring the spirit of the actual song I’m remixing and add a little of my own flair. When I tackle a remix it’s an attempt to capture the essence and spirit of the track. I’ve done remixes for labels and they’ve rejected a couple of things a done, and I’m just like “Well, look, just fuckin’ tell me what you want from me!” and they said “well, we were hoping it would sound like this track of yours.” Then why didn’t you just tell me to make a track instead of remixing? This whole remix business, and how this people use the association of names and producers and everyone in this techno scene, it’s an associative thing -- working with this label, with that producer, with this distributor, these clubs, these promoters. For some people, working with ‘that’ label is a kiss of death, for others it’s a thumbs up. The politics of navigating your way through this becomes treacherous as well.
People will interpret things. Just like interviews, where you can be misinterpreted, it’s the same with tracks. There are people I know that really don’t pay me any mind because ‘he did this and now he did that, and so fuck him.’ They’re haters; that’s basically all I can call them. If you’re going to really be like that, what am I going to say? That’s your choice. I’m not like that with people, with musicians; even my favourite musicians, there have been moments where they’ve done stuff and I’ve been like ‘meh, this one’s not for me.’ But then they’ve done other stuff that’s fuckin’ inspired the hell out of me. So I don’t hold people to a standard. I think if you’re an artist and you show that you’re determined and you’re going to push on and do shit for all the right reasons, people have got to give you a little leeway to move around.
Especially -- this is a business, too, right -- you have to make business decisions sometimes, and a lot of people hold business decisions against me. This is a fact. Certain clubs won’t book me. That’s how it works, that’s how this game works. That is the reality, but fortunately there’s more good people and more open-minded people, people wanting to be surprised and wanting people to take risks, that’s what keeps me going. It’s not the people that are saying ‘we’re not gonna book you, we’re not gonna buy your record because you made that shit.’ I’m not gonna be concerned with those people. I’m going to be loyal and concerned and appreciate of people that are like ‘we dig what you do, and we’re going to buy some of it and not buy some of it.’
And not just dismiss you outright.
I’m fine with people having their favourites. My only issue is people saying outright ‘well, because you did this track in 1998, that was the kiss of death, and it’s over.‘ All I’m going to do is keep doing my thing, and if I can get those people back on board at some point, I welcome them with open arms. I’m doing this because this is what I’ve been driven to do, I love doing this, this is why I quit teaching and sold my car and bought a ticket to New York: so I could start producing electronic music. I’ll continue doing this until I don’t feel inspired to, but right now I’m more inspired than ever, driven every day to make another track, a better track, something that’s going to challenge me as a musician and move things forward.
You keep mentioning it is a business, which of course it is. Do you think this negatively impacts the music at all?
I am aware, and I think especially with rock & roll there’s this concept of ‘selling out’ [laughs]. “Oh, you signed to a major label, you fuckin’ sellout!” But it all depends on the artists involved. There are some phenomenal people that are still creative forces, and what they bring to the table is always as interesting to me as what they were making when they were starving, living in a fuckin’ hovel somewhere. So I think it’s really up to the individual; there’s a track record of people going off the rails as a result of the money and the security and the whole change of lifestyle, but I think it’s not a given that that’s going to be the case. It’s really up to the artist. Money changes people, it’s a known fact. I’m not making a great living doing this but I’m making a living, and it gets stressful at times. When you have a family and two kids, it’s something that adds to the stress. When you say artists should stay true to their art and it should not be about economics, it would be a shame because artists, just like anyone else in society, should be able to sustain their living if they’re making an honest living. If you’re doing something that people want and you’re out there doing your job -- and for me, my job is giving people music that’s going to inspire them, help them escape reality, give them a little bit of a joy, for me that is my job and it’s a great job. I feel fuckin’ blessed to have this as a job. And that’s why I keep going.
Let’s get right down to what’s on everyone’s mind: how the hell do you make money off of this kind of thing?
You have to look at all the possible avenues to make money doing this, and back when I first started, the industry was completely different, there wasn’t illegal downloading, there was, in America and all around the world, more outlets for vinyl, more vinyl distributors, the culture was driven by a lot of product. Twelve-inches were selling thousands of copies as opposed to, now, three hundred to five hundred copies. When I started off, I managed to get advances from labels -- now you don’t even get an advance for doing a release or an album. I managed to get deals with labels and get some licenses of my stuff to various TV/movie formats. As I got back into the live and DJ aspect of things I realized that could also be a way to get revenue, and once I had that in place I decided to quit my dayjob and go full steam at running the business, which is a lot of work. Maintaining relationships, economic and political decisions... making money has been tricky. Thankfully I’ve had a wife for quite a while, so with two incomes, the early part of this equation was at the least secure. My wife is now at home, not working at the moment because we have two young kids, so I’m running this and as a result of a very little money from actual music sales, it’s become about doing shows, and so I spend a lot more time making sure that when I do a DJ gig or when I’m going to do a live show, that when people walk away from it they’re gonna be like holy fuck, didn’t expect that.
As a musician I think I’ve spent more time in my studio and working in general, making sure that what I do live is going to really fucking blow people away. So far, on the shows I’ve done on this tour, I’ve had that it and it feels really fucking good, because I fucking work hard to make it good.
I do shows on a laptop, and people are skeptical about that, so there’s the added pressure. I go in there and people are like “oh, hmm, what’s this guy gonna do,” and just walking away and being like “fucking hell, we like what you’re doing and we wanna have you back next year.” That’s what I want to hear and that’s what I’m working towards hearing. I want people to feel like it’s something they’d want to do again. I want people to feel like that with my albums as well, I want them to pay for that album and feel like it’s something they want to keep, and share with their friends. And yes, you can go burn the CD if you want, I don’t have an issue with that, or if you want to share the download with your friends. I can actually say that now because I’m putting it out on my own label! This is my label and I want my music to be out there, and some people are going to pay for it and some are not. I’d like to hope that the people who aren’t gonna pay for it are going to come to the show and pay for that and work it that way. I was here last year after the Beat Pharmacy Wikkid Times album, and I made a point of asking people at shows about how they had known about me. I found about seventy percent admitted to me it was a result of downloading the album, or a recommendation from a friend to download it, and they were at the show! For me that was a really great thing. So what was I going to say? “You fucking asshole, how dare you steal?” You know? So it’s a give-and-take thing, you’d like to think that things have a way of evening out. Right now as a musician it’s the only way to look at the status of the industry.
Is there any money left in recorded music? How does the dynamic of the recorded music work in a world where you can’t really sell it?
Now more than ever I’m doing music doing much more live stuff. I’m driven to want to make music that can be used live, thinking constantly about how I’m going to jam with it live. Albums are going to be the result of what I do live, collecting little bits of material here and there and then developing them live. Half of the material I’m doing in my live show this weekend will be live remixes of stuff I’ve done, and the other half will be completely new and fresh material that is being incorporated spontaneously with a huge bit of improvisation going on. At the same time that I’m rehashing old material and updating it and doing versions of people’s favourite tracks, I’m composing new ideas and seeing how things work and seeing how people respond to things. Even the tracks I’ve been doing here in Amsterdam are the result of live shows.
Now that I’m going to focus on the live show, because this is how I’m going to be paid, the focus is on blowing people away on these gigs. It’s the element of surprise that I want to use to blow people away. Especially at DJ gigs, where people might have an idea of what they’re going to get.
Let’s talk about Steadfast. Why did you want to start your own label, have the rewards outweighed the challenges?
One of the main reasons for starting the label was that I wanted to not be in bed with so many labels, and have the artistic freedom to put things out in a timely fashion -- when I wanted to and how I wanted to. This wasn’t a major problem working with other labels in the past, but the issue was always finishing a piece of music, giving it to a label, and having that label getting it on the shelves eighteen months later. For me, that became frustrating. I understand that labels need to do that, and they have schedules, and their distributors force them to stick to those schedules, and they need to build each release. But personally, there’s certain things that I was coming up with that I thought needed to come out within a few weeks, or at least two or three months. I wanted the freedom to do that. Also, I had just wanted to start a label pretty soon after my second album. I had an inkling that I would end up starting my own label, so it was something that was in the works for a while, and then the timing seemed perfect. I spoke to Jon Berry from Kompakt, and he immediately offered a distribution deal with a P&D deal attached.
It’s been a year since the label started and I’ve not made any money from running it, but I’ve definitely been satisfied putting out the records that I’ve released. I’m now into the second year and basically this Subterranean CD is the only thing on the schedule officially, but I have quite a few interesting projects that I’m working on. I’m not rushing them along or feeling the need to put something out every month, which I did before. I put out nine vinyl releases in the first year, which i thought was more than adequate, and now I’m happy to put things out as I think they’re ready to go out. I think Kompakt are happy to have me do that, I’ve not sensed any pressure from them. They’re comfortable with what I’m bringing to the table and they’re happy to let me progress as I see fit. Having seen how things are selling, and which releases have done better than others, I’m now more able to make judgment calls on how to go about releasing things.
The label’s not really a stress for me at all. I’m treating it as something that I have, and when the right project is done and good and ready, I will proceed. It’s actually not too demanding, because I have the luxury of having the mastering and manufacturing handled by Kompakt, and then it’s just about me making sure I set up some sort of promotion. The label’s really great, and I’m quite satisfied, and I think it’s definitely helping boost my profile because I’m showing up at all these gigs in these small cities and people are coming with Steadfast vinyl for me to autograph! I’ve had some people not even aware that Steadfast was my label! The label is a great thing, and it’s not preventing me from working with other labels, and I see probably five vinyl releases coming by the end of the year on Steadfast.
|Moeller's label's distinctive logo|
Have there been any particular challenges with the label?
No! You know, it’s actually been a pleasure. The people I’ve worked with, namely Area from Chicago and Billy Shane from New York, are both friends. I’ve kept the whole operation very simple and transparent. I think the main challenge is to try and make sure that you’re putting out quality material that has shelflife, that’s gonna end up being repressed or sought after or licensed down the line. I hear stories that guys like Soundstream are shipping like 10,000 copies of every vinyl release, and that the likes of Skull Disco have had some incredible success, particularly the Villalobos twelve where I heard they shipped 15,000 copies of that on vinyl by now. Whether or not that’s true I’m not sure, but holy shit. [laughs] To pull that off in this climate, kudos! Most of us, most distributors are advising their labels right now to do 300-500 copies maximum of something, because it’s just so tough now.
Have you been happy with the performance of the label so far, financially and in terms of sales?
Well, financially, I’m okay. Obviously I would love to be making money from the label, but I went into it realizing that just like any business it’s about investing and taking time to build something with legs and longevity. I think the overall benefit right now is that the label really helps embellish my DJ profile; it’s just another reason that people are talking about me or listening to records. It all helps the cause of me getting gigs, which ultimately is where I make bread-and-butter money.
I see this as someone who gets a lot of music, but it seems like the past five years, everyone has their own label. Did you feel any trepidation towards surrounding your own label, and why does Steadfast need to exist?
I was certainly aware of the fact that ‘everybody’ was starting a label and I think, for me, it was just something I wanted to have fun with, to have freedom with. I treat Steadfast as a sort of hobby, to be honest. I try not to get caught up in it as the primary focus of what I do, because it isn’t. It’s a side thing. There’s some people that would say well, why bother with the label? I accept that point, but I just want to have the outlet, the ability to release something on my own. I do see Steadfast as something that’s going to continue as long as my musical career continues, so whether it’s on hiatus or has something coming out every six months while I’m working on projects for other labels, that’s fine, but I’m going to keep the label going. In terms of what separates it from everything else, it’s just gonna be that little personal touch. It’s just a nice addition to my repertoire as an artist, remixer, producer, the whole shebang.
Do you feel like the proliferation of labels makes for an individualist artist utopia, or is it a too many voices crowding a small field? Is it a problem or an improvement?
I don’t see it as a problem. It’s great to see this freedom, the inspiration people are having to want to do their own thing. I think the main thing that should be questioned is how people go about it and how much experience and thought goes into that’s going to make it successful. If you can get a distribution deal, someone’s going to release your music, and you want to do it, I say go for it. Competition is great; I don’t think it hurts. Yes, it’s making your and my jobs more difficult because there’s so much more music coming from so many places and we have to sort through so much more stuff, but, if that means looking for that little gold nugget amongst all the trash, so be it. It just becomes about processing. I think that’s what this age of technology is about. You and I are processing so much more information than our parents. My kids, lord knows, the amount of information my daughter is already processing, just because of her ability to go onto youtube and go online and start looking at things!
I guess the discipline for us as human beings is gonna be about how we process things, and how successful that processing is. I know that I have a problem with processing myself, because when you get so much music, you have to be in the right headspace to make a thorough judgment about it. I think one of the parts in this equation that is broken with this proliferation of labels and music is the promotion. It’s understandable why store owners around the world don’t pay attention to DJ feedback and much of the press surrounding music anymore, because none of it holds any water. There’s no legitimate way that you can listen to a promo for thirty seconds and give a couple of lines of feedback and call that worthwhile. That part of this whole equation needs revamping, and as DJs and people who are trying to make sure that good music is coming to the fore rather than mediocre, homogenous nonsense, we have a responsibility. I’m trying to be more cautious when giving feedback. You’re forced into a position where you have to make those decisions, where you have to decide is this good, is this something I’m going to play, is this something I’m going to want to listen to again? At what point can you say you’ve spent enough time thinking about something to make a credible statement about it? Unfortunately, the blogging world -- everyone wants to have their say now, it doesn’t even matter, they’ll listen to a thirty second clip of a track and think they have a right to say something about it.
On any given day, I’m getting about thirty to fifty promo emails, pretty much every day. From people I’ve not requested, either, it’s just insane. I delete pretty much eighty percent of the stuff because I don’t have the time, and I choose to pull out a few that in any way strike a chord or seem familiar. The majority I just don’t pay attention to. What do you think the solution is?
I don’t know if there is a solution. There’s a lot of problems, but there’s not an easy solution. There’s so much music but you don’t want to arbitrarily dismiss it, and you don’t want to stick to artists you know because you’ll never find anything new. It’s a difficult thing. There needs to be a better filter, but how to go about that I have no idea.
Yeah. The problem is, with this system, it’s all about making sure the good stuff goes through and what makes it onto the soundsystem in these clubs and on these radio shows is the good shit. Not the shit that’s been made by someone playing with Reason for a few weeks and has the Loopmasters dubstep sample pack. Your average punter, not the sort of person researching, reading up and rabidly collecting, is not going to be able to tell the difference between that track and the track made by, say, Peverelist. That’s where DJs and tastemakers and blogs play an important role, trying to educate, making people aware of what’s good, what’s not, where it’s coming from, and the history. That’s the real battle, trying to educate people about how to go about picking the good stuff versus stuff that’s just thrown together by people who aren’t fuckin’ living and dying to make this stuff happen. I’m, like you, not really sure if there is a solution to this promo system or how it’s going to end up, but yeah, we’ll see.
Let’s get controversial here. Dub techno. Personally, I feel that it’s stagnating, or that people are making all this stuff that sounds the same: mellifluous, flowing -- it all sounds the same except for a few people, like yourself. As someone often labelled a “dub techno” producer, how do you feel about that scene, do you agree, and who is really making dub techno happen right now?
I absolutely agree with you, the amount of dub techno that I get that I just delete or get rid of, it’s insane. The weird thing about is that I see all these dub techno fanatics on Facebook or Soundcloud all forming these groups, getting together and talking about doing these massive dub techno events and wanting to have dub techno festivals... which is fine, but really, I’m very suspicious of anything labelled dub techno right now. It seems like the one genre in techno and electronic music where a formula is stuck to so rigidly at times: the padded reverb, chord strike, the long echo tails with some phasing, the Rhythm & Sound bassline that everybody opts for.
When I’m trying to come up with music, the second I feel I’m falling into some sort of stereotypical dub techno thing I just immediately start over, because it’s too easy to make dub techno right now. It’s pretty obvious at this point what the tricks are, and one of the problems is that there are still labels old and new that are prepared to put out this mediocre dub techno. There are even some really great producers who I feel have fallen prey to just putting out dub techno because there’s enough of an audience out there who are going to make it worth printing up 300 copies that you can get rid of. If a clubnight is billed as an evening of dub techno, you can pretty much count me out. [laughs] I think there’s so much more. But while there’s definitely a stagnation there, I don’t think it necessarily means the genre is dead. People just need to work within it, to push it forward, find new ways to express that spirit. That’s basically what a genre is, a spirit; you wanna capture the spirit of dub techno and there are ways to do that without the cliches and stereotypical sounds that are making it really bland.
It’s a genre that was born from the masters; Maurizio, Basic Channel, I don’t think anyone’s gone further than what was accomplished there, to be honest. I’ve put out some stuff where I thought ‘okay, so, basically I’m being a copycat here, I’m putting out a record that is emulating something that’s perfect to start with’ so what’s the point of me putting out it? But there’s a seductive quality to dub techno that makes every producer that gets into it wanting to prove that they can do something as powerful and as awe-inspiring as Maurizio or any Chain Reaction thing. I guess that’s one of the big problems with dub techno. You’ve got Chain Reaction as the blueprint, to take things further than that is just.. [laughs] it’s a real fucking challenge! I guess a testament to this fact is that not even really Maurizio is making dub techno records anymore: they already said what they needed to say with that sound.
It’s gonna take a lot to push things forward and I think it comes down to hard work, coming up with your own unique sounds and signatures, rather than opting for the tried and tested, proven successful sounds. I’m trying to do that because I’m a fan of great dub techno. But I’m also aware that the more people keep releasing this stuff that isn’t pushing things forward, the less chance there is of this genre not becoming anything. There’s elements of dub techno everywhere, they abound in many styles of techno. Ostgut, Fachwerk, Delsin, they all have elements of dub techno in them.
Who do I think is making interesting dub techno now? I’m kind of afraid to say because I’m afraid of running into those guys and having them say “how could you say I make dub techno?!” [laughs]. So I’m not going to name names. But there’s some people working within the community of dub techno and ambient techno that are definitely trying to move things forward. The power of a great dub techno track becomes evident when you hear it on a big system. But, like we said earlier, an entire evening of dub techno would bore us to tears. It’s just another small niche in the techno scene, I don’t consider myself a dub techno producer. I’ve made so many different types of things and sounds and styles, I definitely spent a nice chunk of time working within dub techno constructs, but I wouldn’t say that that is what is driving me. I don’t feel like I’m a spokesperson or representative of that scene. It’s just an aspect of what I do.
But you’re often pigeonholed as a dub techno producer. Do you feel the reputation/label pins you down?
It has. In fact, a lot of promoters have not booked me because they’re like “well, this guy is kind of dubby, can he actually rock a dancefloor?” In that respect, I’ve had to prove a lot of people wrong, and I happily do that. It can be problematic to be pigeonholed, period. Being a dub techno guy can get you dub techno gigs, but if you’re looking to get other gigs outside of dub techno, it can be problematic. But then if you’re not pigeonholed, in the dance community, people don’t know what to make of you. I’ve also had promoters come and say “this guy’s not consistent, one minute he’s making deep house, then he’s making dub techno, then he’s making ambient, then he’s making afro house” -- a lot of promoters have been like “he’s just too hit or miss.” It’s tough to please everyone all the time, so the only person I try to please is mostly myself, because it’s the safest bet, and I also have to deal with the consequences of that bet.
|Moeller's fantastic "Close Up" single on Ann Aimee, an example of modern dub techno done right|
On that note, you’ve been playing a lot of dubstep/bass stuff in your sets. What do you think about the evolution of dubstep and bass music and how it’s interacting with techno? Do you feel like dubstep is becoming a credible/actual thing as opposed to a gimmick?
I spend as much as time listening to and buying dubstep stuff as I do all other stuff. Whether the term ‘dubstep’ is the way to look at it, well, ‘bass music’ makes more sense. For me it’s a flourishing genre with all these fresh perspectives without being influenced by dance culture over all these years. I think it’d foolish of any DJ to overlook it; I was, on this tour, playing little towns in Italy, and when I dropped dubstep tunes the response was always great! People enjoyed it, and they enjoy breaking up the monotony of four-to-the-floor stuff; it makes for much more colour, in a sense. Anyone who dismisses it, they’re missing out, honestly. You see dubstep, garage, 2step, bass stuff, the DJs that are hip to it -- the ones that aren’t are pretty much playing within a formula and to a crowd who want that formula. They’re playing Space Ibiza where if you played a dubstep track people would probably boo you off. [Laughs]
Since the get-go I’ve had a soft spot -- almost an allegiance -- with dubstep because as you know, dub is a strong element of what I do. What these guys are doing and have done resonate with me. I continue to follow it, I continue to buy it, I continue to play it; I don’t generally make dubstep tracks and I’ve never felt like ‘oh, let me jump from my usual 120-122BPM to 140 now because that’s what everyone is doing.’ If I felt that, if that’s what I was emotionally and instinctively driven to do I would, but no. I’ve not felt the need to suddenly start making it. I would say there’s a remarkable number of people who I think are really an asset to electronic music production right now. If you’re ignoring dubstep/2step/bass music, then you’re missing out. That’s the bottom line.
What’s the hardest thing about being a techno producer/DJ?
The hardest thing is remaining relevant and fresh. When you’re dealing with a genre that has been shaped by amazing people who sort of set a benchmark and a standard that was so interesting and so powerful, the desire is to not simply be labelled a follower, I think that’s what every techno producer is striving for right now.
It is a genre where there are so many tried and tested anthems that work. Even now, when I go out and play predominantly techno gigs, I find myself playing the classics because the classics work so fucking well. Everything else is a copy or an interpretation that doesn’t take things any further, so why not just play the original? That is the struggle of being a musician, being relevant -- at least for musicians whose intentions are longevity. You have to create a unique sound for yourself, pioneer something. I’m still working at that. Some people come out and nail that right away, for others it takes years. The main thing is to keep experimenting and keep pushing forward, not just taking the easy way out.
But this is a great time for music. Being a journalist, you know, the amount of fresh music you’re getting is ridiculous. There’s a lot of creative forces at work in this game, and if you’re not, you’re not gonna get too far unless you decide you’re going to play to one crowd and stick to one sound. Go for that pure money avenue.
Like a vegas show or something.
What do you think of the obsession with retro -- Rush Hour, people making stuff that sounds older. Do you think this is a bad thing?
I think it’s a great thing. I think it’s the result of the internet which has now allowed people to see how much old stuff that’s passed them by. People are getting turned on via blogs, via forums, via torrent sites, via whoever -- people are realizing that you’d be foolish to not be looking back as well as looking forward and in the present. There’s just so much there. I think it’s great that all this old stuff is emerging and some nineties house and acid and all these things are being re-released, because they are classic and they stand the test of time.
Obviously, when it becomes really derivative and watered-down to the point of being bland, I’m not gonna get behind that, but I have no issue with people looking back and interpreting and trying to recreate the spirit of those tracks. Instra:mental/Boddika does that, you hear it in his stuff, the acid house influences, the techno influences, the Tresor influences, early breaks, the electro stuff of those early labels, early 2000s from London.
I also enjoy going and hearing a DJ spin that’s gonna end up playing more old stuff than new stuff. Especially playing old stuff that’s familiar but new, and turning people on. This last gig I played in Amsterdam, where Kenny Larkin was playing for three hours, the majority of stuff he played was old stuff but it just sounded so fucking good. I got to drive back with him to Amsterdam for three hours -- hence I know it was old stuff -- and he’s just getting a kick out of pulling out old records everywhere he goes. To your average young punter out there who is not looking back like you and I are, this stuff is fresh and it doesn’t sound dated.
Do you find yourself looking back more now than say, ten years ago?
I think I’ve always been curious about looking back. Ever since I started collecting vinyl around the age of sixteen, and then seriously from eighteen/nineteen onwards, I was always looking back, whatever genre I was interested in. Because I was always reading about it, curious to hear about artists’ influences and what inspired them to do stuff, I always wanted to go back and hear for myself. I’m pretty much always looking back. I’m a big fan of researching, I love timelines of music, looking at how things have gone one year from the next. I don’t think since the emergence of the internet I’ve necessarily looked back more, because I was always reading what used to be music papers and books. I also worked as a buyer for a music store for four years, and then at a distributor, I was always as interested what was coming in but also more interested in what was getting reissued and back catalogues. As a collector you always want to have everything of everybody. If your favourite person recommends or namedrops something as an influence or inspiration, you wanna go get it and own it as well. I’ve kind of been like that for years.
Do you think that wanting people to get educated about dance music is pointless? How do you feel about the academic approach to dance music?
I think you and I don’t listen to music and think ‘this is dance music, this is just for a dancefloor, so let me put on something else.’ I think good music is good music. It should be about quality control, making clear what’s written with real artistic genius and what is just cranked out from an assembly line. It’s a battle against mediocrity. I know a lot of people too who say “it’s just fucking dance music, why get so philosophical about it” but I don’t see it like that. I get as much from being on the dancefloor at Berghain at 6AM on a Sunday morning as I would going to see a Mogwai show. I think it’s about quality, not distinguishing between dance and non-dance. That’s why you write what you do, because you’re trying to raise awareness of people who are trying to bring something fresh, something innovative, new ideas. But also making you want to shake your ass on the dancefloor, which is a big plus. [laughs]
Social networking is obviously a big factor in these days in bridging geographical gaps and bringing scenes together; how does it affect the industry?
Like everything, there’s pros and cons to the social media thing. I think it’s about finding the balance, and since this is all so new to humanity, it’s getting overdone and overused. Just like everything: we tend to go headstrong into something new and do it to death until we’re sick of it, and I think that will be the case with social media. For me, it’s not really benefitting anyone, going up on twitter and saying “I’m having a fuckin’ pastrami sandwich for lunch and then I’m gonna take a shit,” there’s some things that are better left unsaid. What makes life great is the mystery and element of surprise, and when everything is out in the open and your life is an open book and everything you do is demystified, it becomes too much. You can actually be your own journalist, autobiographer, these days. You can make or break yourself. You can tell which people are mindful of this stuff and which aren’t.. but then there’s also some people who just gratuitously promote everything, that’s sickening too! Give us something! I think we’re all figuring out how to navigate this potential minefield where things can be misconstrued.
The cons are just the amount of shit that’s up there that’s a waste of time. I don’t know how often you go on twitter and actually go through your feed, but you end up having to wade through a lot of stuff to find the goods. That’s all part of it, I guess. That’s the great thing about social networks: if someone is wasting your time, you can stop following them. You can delete them.
Do you think that the lack of localized scenes now, as a result of the internet, is a good or bad thing?
Yeah, that’s an interesting point. It used to be some kids in a little remote suburb of Bristol who gathered at their favourite record store every weekend and formulated ideas about making tracks or running nights. I do wonder whether that sort of grassroots evolution of music has been hurt by the globality of the internet. I guess time will tell.
It is cool for someone operating, say, in a remote part of Romania, and putting something on Soundcloud and finding someone that can dig what they’re doing or help them get it out there in a matter of hours. Judging by the amount of music coming out now that’s innovative and fresh I don’t think grassroots scenes are hurting. It’s more difficult now to stand out from the pack, but it’s all about natural selection too. If you’re serious about wanting to be in the game, you have to be good at the game and get in the game and make sure your shit is tight. I guess those few record stores that are left that have the kids meeting there on Friday to see what’s new, or starting their own nights or parties or whatever, that’s still going to go on. It might not go on at a record store anymore, but it might be Twitter, Facebook, their blog.
It’s an exciting time for music. Yes, there’s more stuff to sort through, more to process, but that’s fine -- we have brains, and brains that we’ve not tapped into, the untapped potential. Hopefully the fact that we have so much more to process means that we’re gonna develop our cerebral cortex a little better than it has been. Bring on the processing!
BRENDON MOELLER'S MIDNIGHT RADIO: PART 1