David Sumner, known to most these days simply as Function, is a true techno lifer — a veteran of the 1990s techno boom in New York, a seasoned producer and DJ, and a co-conspirator of Sandwell District, arguably the 2000′s most influential dance music label (as if the term even begins to encompass it). But don’t call Sumner living history: as he emphasized again and again during this candid chat with LWE’s Jordan Rothlein in advance of his Smart Bar appearance on June 22nd — a conversation touching on New York and Berlin, the allure of vinyl DJing, and some tantalizing hints of what his debut solo album may hold — his story is one of continual evolution. And it’s nowhere near finished. [Learn more about how to see Function at Smart Bar for free, click here!]
The line is usually that techno is the project of people coming out of Detroit or Berlin or Birmingham — at least those are the places that people often pledge allegiance to. New York seems like it gets a lot less credit. What did New York teach you about techno that you think you wouldn’t have learned someplace else?
David Sumner: That’s a tricky question, actually. [laughs] It taught me to move to Berlin. No, I mean the thing is that all these other places, especially Detroit — I recently said this in another interview, that New York is this kind of place that there’s so much that comes from there that techno is just grossly overshadowed by hip-hop, fashion, house, disco, you know, Wall Street. There’s so much big industry that something like techno never really fully surfaced, you know? And in Detroit, Detroit doesn’t really have anything else overshadowing techno, you know? So techno is, like, its main commodity. And I think what I was saying in this other interview is that Detroit is so desolate, I think a lot of where the music came from was because it was desolate, and the urban decay kind of inspired the music; where in New York, it’s so overcrowded that the music was about community. When I was growing up in New York, there were block parties and during the summer everybody was outside. I think in Detroit, it had a lot to do with the lack of community, maybe. I don’t know, that’s maybe just my observation, but that’s the way I always saw it.
But to answer your question, what did it teach me? I think it came from a different angle than it did in other places. I think it was more based around electronic music, not techno, specifically. What it taught me was — it encouraged me to seek out where these electronic sounds were coming from, because at a young age — late 70s, early 80s — there was a lot of electronic stuff which was sort of high energy or disco or house or hip-hop related. I started to explore electronic sounds because they sounded alien to me, and I was always familiar with what traditional instruments sounded like; so when I started hearing electronic sounds, it sort of intrigued me because they sounded alien to me. So I don’t know if that exactly answers your question.
No, I think it does, and I think it hits at a larger point about my understanding of the earlier part of your career and the era of New York it coincided with. I love that Red Zone Promo Mix you did a little while back. It’s one I still listen to a lot, and what I’ve always found interesting about it is that it feels like techno but doesn’t really sound much like techno. It reaches a lot, takes on a bigger, broader sound, I guess. So maybe it represents what you’re getting at here — that what you were getting out of techno in New York was less a codified sound than an aesthetic, an attitude.
Yeah well, the thing is from my perspective, I wasn’t introduced to techno until about ’91, using the word “techno.” I later realized that I had a lot of techno records, but because house music is such a staple in New York, and at that time it was such a staple, I just thought it was house music. I even heard Joey Beltram talk about this as well. Like in the early days, he always thought he was making house music, but then people were like, “No, you’re making techno.” But, you know, techno didn’t really hit New York until 1991, and then it sort of exploded.
At that time, techno was sort of like Lords of Acid, Apotheosis’ “O Fortuna” and stuff like that. That’s what was blowing up under the name “techno.” I had already had some Underground Resistance records, and I wasn’t really referring to it as “techno.” And then I started going to Limelight and started realizing that there was this movement, and that’s what got me into it. I then realized that a lot of these records that I already had and was already playing were considered techno records. In that Red Zone mix, for instance, those records are very techno to me as well. It’s house music, but it’s more synthesizer based, where at that time in New York, a lot of house music had that sort of organic feel to it, you know? There were a lot of pianos and organic sounds in the music so the synthesizer side of it is — you know, acid house and stuff like that — it’s sort of that gray area between what would be called house and techno, you know?
That period that you were talking about, like ’90, ’91, and then up through the mid 90s, maybe 1996 or so, has been described as this kind of classic period in this music, but also as the end of an era — a time when something was lost that hasn’t really come back in New York. Can you describe that moment and maybe what followed it?
Well, I think Limelight had a lot to do with it. When the club closed and that era was passing, a lot of the masses thought techno died. I remember speaking to an old friend from growing up in ’97 and ’98, and he used to go to Limelight, and I told him that I was still playing techno and that I was doing gigs in Europe, and he was like, “Techno still exists?” I think it was sort of a mainstream type of thing for a little while, but then it went really underground after that. And I think that had a lot to do with the Giuliani administration sort of closing in on the whole ecstasy thing, you know? So –
Ecstasy as in MDMA?
Yeah, yeah, the drug. I think techno in New York suffered from the city cleaning up its act and enforcing laws that weren’t enforced during the early 90s.
When did you eventually move to Berlin?
Very late 2007. November 29th, 2007, to be exact.
Was there a particular thing that got you to move over there, or did you just have the general sense that it wasn’t really happening in New York anymore, that it wasn’t going to be happening in New York anymore?
No, I think it was a very personal thing. I was actually a bit apprehensive because I didn’t want to be grouped in with a lot of the people who were migrating over. I had a lot of people [in Berlin] who I was working with for years, like Karl Regis and a few others. I knew I had a support system there. I’ve tried [living abroad] before. I lived in England in, like, ’99 for a little while, and I wasn’t ready to live abroad. If I didn’t have the support system in Berlin, I don’t think I would’ve been able to make the move. But aside from that, I was going through sort of a personal crisis, just — in New York I kind of hit a brick wall creatively, and I was really uninspired. I got really involved in the local scene and was promoting a lot of events and got so caught up in doing that that I became more of a promoter than a producer. And I had to stop and look in the mirror, take stock, and think to myself, like, “I’ve lost sight of a lot of things.” I took a trip over to Berlin to see if it would be right for me, and it was. But the thing about Berlin is that it’s an easy life here, you know? It’s super cheap to live, and as a techno DJ, this is, like — if you’re an actor, you go to Hollywood, if you’re a techno DJ, you go to Berlin, you know? It was the inspiration that I needed, and because it’s so easy to live here — you know, the apartments are big, the rent is cheap — it was exactly what I needed to think and live freely.
Did it feel like Berlin had something that Giuliani had scrubbed out of New York?
No, I think even New York at its most free and loose still doesn’t have what Berlin has, you know? Berlin is, in my opinion, the most liberated city in the world. You can get away with stuff here without breaking the law that you simply can’t in other cities in the world. That in itself is inspiring.
Is there something that you think New York could learn from Berlin?
No, I mean, they’re two completely different things. There’s a lot of similarities, but I don’t know if New York needs to learn anything from Berlin. New York is New York City, and — now that I get to travel the world, it’s sort of funny watching people’s reactions when I say I’m from New York. Everybody around the world is in awe of New York. So I don’t think that New York necessarily needs to learn anything from Berlin. And, you know, New York just doesn’t have the same setup, you know? The bar has to shut at four o’clock in New York. In Berlin, people don’t start going out until four o’clock. So it’s a completely different thing when it comes to nightlife.
I was over in Berlin in March, and something that kept coming up was this hand-wringing about gentrification. People feel like it’s really starting to pick up steam, and that it bespells doom for the art and music scene there as we know it. Do you think that techno and gentrification can coexist, or do you think that the possibility of Berlin gentrifying — you know, maybe not to New York levels, but heading in that direction — do you think the scene really stands to get seriously shaken up?
No, I think there’s a lot of teenage politics in Berlin. There’s a lot of young punks who want to save their piece of land, and it’s like, when it comes down to it, this city needs money, you know? And I don’t think anyone should stand in the way of trying to make this city better. If anything, it’s helped the culture of Berlin because Berghain wouldn’t exist in the way that it does now if it weren’t for the [gentrification flashpoint] o2 Arena. Ostgut, the original Berghain, used to be where the o2 Arena is, and they bought that land and relocated the club, and it opened up this world of possibilities for them. Now those guys are able to own that building. I don’t know the exact story so I don’t want to be quoted on saying this is exactly how it worked, but from my understanding, the club was relocated by them because [o2's developers] bought that real estate, and now [Berghain] has this massive building, and it’s a better situation than it was when it was at that old location. So it started out as this small gay party, which was a largely local scene, and now it’s a global phenomenon. A lot of young people in Berlin, especially ones from Berlin, they like this topic, you know? “Oh, don’t sell out,” like, “Keep Berlin the way it is,” but Berlin needs the money, you know? The rest of Germany is flourishing, and its capital is nearly bankrupt. So I think it’s not a bad thing that things are growing here. I think they need to because the city’s hurting in a lot of ways. Just because Bar 25 got shut down because the land was sold, it’s not reason enough, for me, for people to be going on rallies.
In your travels, have you encountered some place that you think has the potential to be the kind of incubator for dance music that Berlin is? Like, is there some other city somewhere that’s — I don’t want to say going to be the next Berlin, but someplace that might be the next “DJ’s Hollywood”?
Yeah, you know, I always hear people talk about stuff like that, and people say Moscow or Prague or — I think Berlin is a very unique place. If you look at what’s happened here, especially with the wall coming down, it’s just like, they had this intense experience of once having an area that was under communist rule and then it became free so there was this explosion. That happened in other cities also, but that can’t happen — it’s already happened around that same time and they didn’t have that explosion, and I don’t think they will. I think Berlin is a very, very unique place. I don’t understand why people are looking for the next place. I’m not really too sure where that idea comes from. New York is a very special place in its own right, and it can’t be compared to anything else, and I feel the same way about Berlin.
I think Berlin will continue to have the same position. I don’t think it’s going anywhere because of the amount of space. You need literally millions upon millions of people moving here for there to be no vacancy. So until that happens, I think for the next number of years, the next five, 10 years, I think you can pretty much count on it being sort of the same. And that’s the luxury that a club like Berghain has, you know? And that’s the reason why they’ve exceeded the shelf-life of a night club: because they have this freedom. You know, there’s a magazine in Germany called Stern. I don’t know if you ever heard of it, but it’s sort of — almost like a Newsweek in the States, and they just recently ran a piece on Berghain where it’s just like — the way they talked about it is exactly the way that it is. They were just covering what the place was like, and if this was in the States, mothers would be protesting outside of the club, “How could you be letting something like this happen?” You know what I mean?
That’s an interesting, though, because — I don’t know if you caught this, but there was actually an article about Berghain in the Wall Street Journal not to long ago.
Oh no, I didn’t.
It basically ignored the bacchanalia aspect of it, alluding to it in, like, a sentence. Their stance seemed to be that even though crazy unspeakable things might go on in there, it’s — you know, they’re probably a big tax payer, they’re a big boon to tourism, they’re playing the game.
Yeah. And it amazes me sometimes. That’s what I was saying before: you can get away with things in this city that are just not possible in other cities.
What you said before about “teenage politics” gets at an interesting point about how we define “underground,” what keeps something “underground.” With a club like Berghain, you have a place that manages to be both the most famous club in techno, maybe the most famous club in the world, while still feeling profoundly underground, part of a lineage that starts with Ostgut. It kind of parallels what you, Regis, and Silent Servant did with Sandwell District: you managed to be one of the most famous names in techno while also being really underground and uncompromising with what you were doing. How do you keep something that’s working at that level of popularity underground?
[laughs] You end it.
[laughs] Well, I suppose that’s what you guys did, yeah.
I mean, it’s a complicated thing. I think Sandwell District, in a sense, was sort of a mistake. It’s something that started out being sporadic and then it became routine, and that’s why it had to end. We never wanted it to become a parody of itself. A lot of people say, “How could you stop something at its height?” And it’s like, well, if it’s not making you feel good inside anymore, then you can’t continue, you know? It has nothing to do with popularity, it has nothing to do with money, it has nothing to do with anything else other than how it makes you feel inside. I think it ran its course; I think it served some sort of purpose. I think for a lot of press, it fit some sort of narrative, but at the end of the day, like I said, it became a bit routine. And I think that’s sort of against what we’re about. I think that what people loved about Sandwell District is how irregular it was. And the thing is that that’s sort of what we said in the statement at the end.
The way you guys announced it was really interesting: you were ceasing “regular audio communications” and “all vinyl artifacts had been decommissioned.” I was really interested in that word “artifacts,” especially in the context of the way that you finished the communiqué — that “stasis is death.” Sandwell District was its own thing — you do a lot of music separate from that collective — but it made me wonder if that word “artifact” spoke to your own feeling about the process of making a track — cutting it to vinyl, promoting the crap out of it, playing it out in clubs. Are there more interesting things that a person can do as a techno practitioner these days? Is there a way of doing the music that makes the end result more alive?
It’s about the whole experience. It’s not just about the music; it’s about the imagery it creates in your mind of this world. When you close your eyes and you listen to the music, you see a whole universe, you know? And it’s specifically that. I think that’s what [Sandwell District] always tried to achieve, like, I think that’s what any artist is trying to achieve. Any artist worth their salt, you know? I’ve always been into John Carpenter, and I was watching an interview with him recently and he was talking about how he was surprised that people were actually listening to his music just as a musical piece because he said that [it was never intended] to be listened to on its own; it was for soundtracking, it was designed around the image. That’s why we started the blog, because we wanted to have a strong visual aspect of what we were doing. And I think that it was cool once we started it because then it started triggering a lot more ideas, like, the music would give us ideas for the imagery on the blog, and the imagery from the blog then in turn inspired more music. So I think it has a lot to do with visual aesthetic and imagery.
What is your production process like these days?
It’s been changing more recently mainly because I’m settled here. When I first moved here I could only bring a certain amount of equipment with me, and I had to work with what I had, which was a really good thing. It really stripped things down. When your back is against the wall and you only have certain — I learned that you can really make the most out of the things when you limit yourself. But now that I’m settled and I’ve built a studio, I’m getting into using a lot of hardware and stuff like that, and I’ve slowly been bringing some old equipment back from the States, so my setup has definitely changed. A few years ago it was more laptop-oriented, and now I’m getting back into hardware again. I’m working on an album [right now], and I’m using a lot of different approaches than I have in the past. And because it’s my first solo full-length I really have big plans for it, and a lot of it, since I’ve been working on it, is sort of veering away from the dance floor because it’s a full-length, you know? And I want it to be a bit cinematic, and obviously there will be club tracks on there, but as a whole, I want it to be sort of cinematic. One of the ideas that went into Feed-Forward, was, like, just getting into a car, putting the CD in and driving, you know? So there’s definitely a bit of that as well.
I think one of the most difficult things is, once you gain momentum as an artist that’s releasing music to the world, it’s very hard to keep the original inspiration alive. And this many years in, I’m becoming a bit — I’m being careful with the way I’m saying this — but I’m a little uninspired by dance floor techno at the moment.
If dance floor techno hasn’t been such a source of inspiration recently, what has been?
A lot of classic krautrock, you know, Can and Ash Ra Tempel and Manuel Göttsching and stuff like that. I’ve been really exploring a lot of this stuff. I’ve always listened to it, but I’ve been really paying attention to what was making them create these sounds at that time. And, you know, a lot of the whole krautrock movement was to — did you ever see the “Synth Britannia”?
No, I’m not familiar with that.
BBC did, like, two pieces. One was called “Synth Britannia,” and that was covering sort of the early days of electronic music in the UK, and then they did one that was about Germany. I forget what it was called [it was called “Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany” — Ed.], but they interviewed and covered a lot of the krautrock era, and basically, they were referring to the very end: when World War II ended, they were calling it “Year Zero.” Germany was sort of left without culture. There was really, really, bad traditional German music, and a lot of these musicians like Kraftwerk and Can and Ash Ra Tempel, and stuff like that, their intentions were to start over and create something that — create a style of music and a culture that didn’t exist before. And I find that really inspiring, and when I sit down and listen to a lot of this stuff, I can hear — I can feel that, you know? I can feel that this was something new, and while listening to it these days, I’ve started recognizing a lot of similarities in arrangements [to techno]. Even though this music was created in a band situation, it was very stripped down and kind of drone-y, and the way things came in and were arranged were very much like the techno that I create and like. So that’s a huge source of inspiration for me now.
Is there any new music that you’ve been checking out and finding inspiring, or has it just been older records?
Yeah, I mean there’s The Haxan Cloak, I think. I think that’s the name of the band. But a lot of drone-y ethereal stuff. I think what John [Mendez] was doing with his wife, Cam [Lobo] with Tropic of Cancer, and what Kiran [Sande]‘s doing with Blackest Ever Black, yeah, I find that really inspiring. And yeah, I think things need to be shaken up a bit, you know?
The artists that you mentioned — I definitely see the influence that you and Sandwell District have had on those guys. It sort of feels like a long-distance collaboration.
Yeah, even somebody like Vatican Shadow, you know? John is working closely with him, and I definitely hear in what he’s doing that he’s been influenced by what we’ve been doing. So I think it’s really cool. I hope it gets across to a wider audience because I see a lot of other — I don’t know, like, for example, what’s happening in the States at the moment, what they’re considering EDM and electronic music and there’s this big explosion. But when I hear it, it doesn’t make sense to me. They’re calling it dubstep; it doesn’t sound like dubstep. They’re calling it electronic dance music; it doesn’t sound like electronic dance music when there’s Sean Paul on a track, you know? It doesn’t process with me. But this is what happens when the majors get involved, you know? They try to package it for the masses, and I think that’s always been a major problem with the United States: a lot of techno and house comes from there, but the country’s too big for it to translate to the masses.
So say there’s a kid here in the States who’s maybe in his or her teens, maybe early 20s or something, who has started to catch on to electronic music a little bit, be it through these kind of major label influences or maybe they’ve picked up on underground stuff, and they’re starting to dig into the genre’s roots, get acquainted with what’s happening now, underground and over-ground, maybe starting to fuck around with Ableton or Logic. In the face of major-label EDM, where does that kid turn? How does that kid make techno?
I can’t say it’s a bad thing that the majors have latched on to this, because if they get exposed to something that’s mainstream, that will lead them to finding what suits their tastes. So it can’t necessarily be a bad thing. It helps all of us, I think. Eventually, if someone’s cultured, they’re going to realize that there is something bubbling underneath, and they will eventually find it. So I don’t think it’s a bad thing, on the commercial end of things. Ultimately, it’s good thing for “underground electronic music.” I’m amazed that there are these festivals in the States now like the Electric Daisy Carnival or Ultra Music Fest, stuff like that that attracts this many people paying enormous entry fees, like, it’s not a bad thing because eventually they’re going to be exposed to the kind of stuff that we do so — and then realize that there’s maybe a bit more substance to stuff like that.
You’re coming over to the States soon to play some shows. What’s different playing here from playing over there? Is there anything different about it?
No, there’s a huge difference. Excluding what we were just talking about, the Las Vegas Electric Daisy Carnival kind of thing, aside from the guy the starts with an “s” and ends with an “x,” whose name I don’t want to say because I don’t want to have an interview with me mentioning his name [laughs] — it’s not an industry in the States. It is an industry in Europe. And you see that in Germany, you see that in Holland; it’s like we’re playing clubs and festivals in Holland so often that it amazes me in a country that small that there’s really no conflict with us playing so often. Of course, we have to space it out a certain bit, but there’s still a demand for it, and promoters will still book us even though we’ve played so recently not so far away. And then you go to some of these shows, and the staging and the production is very, very professional. You don’t see that so often in the States.
It sounds like what you’re saying is that it’s more underground here.
Yeah, and that’s cool, too. I actually like coming back to the States and playing. There’s sometimes where I have to step back and think to myself, like, when I go to New York and I play at Bunker, it’s like everybody knows what they’re hearing. They’re educated about the music, and there is this nice sense of hunger because they’ve been deprived of it, so they really make the most of it when they experience it. And they’re really educated maybe because they’re sort of deprived of it. Where in Europe sometimes you experience this shows where it’s just like — it becomes obvious to you, these people just want to go out and get off their tits. You have your fanbase and stuff like that, but I can definitely say that sometimes it seems a little bit watered down, especially in Berlin [with] the lengths of time that people are out and exposed to music. That experience gets diluted across 14 to 16 hours, where in the States it’s like it has to end by four or five, in some cities even earlier. So they’re soaking that up and really paying attention to it. That’s actually really inspiring to me, you know? But unfortunately, you have to move to where the work is and I don’t want to be working at McDonald’s, so I have to make a living, you know?
I’d like to go back to how this conversation started, talking about your production process. I’m always interested in people who produce and also play live with Ableton, how those tie together. I know that when you DJ now, you’re using a laptop and a MIDI controller instead of vinyl –
Which I’m getting very bored of.
Ah! Let’s switch gears then. What’s next for you as a DJ? I mean, have you thought about switching back to vinyl?
Well, I mean I occasionally do. I’ve played a number of shows in Berlin that were strictly vinyl, and that’s what sort of triggered it because I was away from it for so long that when I had the chance to perform that way, I found it really inspiring and sort of reminded me of a process that I left behind. And the problem is I don’t like to DJ on CDJs, I don’t like the idea of traveling with memory sticks that you stick in CDJs and just play off of two memory sticks, or even burning CDs. For myself, I like either playing vinyl or I like playing the way that I normally play. Unfortunately I’ve grown used to traveling without vinyl, and the thought of traveling with vinyl is not really appealing to me because your records can not turn up, things can get lost. But I don’t know, I have to see how I feel in the future. I may go back to [vinyl] because I think it’s just a case of monotony, you know? It’s like doing the same thing over and over again. You know, as a gigging musician, you need to spice it up. In the future, I may either start doing mainly live sets with a bit more hardware and Ableton, or I may start doing more vinyl shows. I’ve been doing more vinyl DJ sets. It’s the power of the Internet, right? Because of that Red Zone set I’ve been getting a few bookings that people want to hear me play old-school deep house on vinyl. So I’m going to see — the vinyl shows that I’ve played in the last year have all been in Berlin. We’ll see next weekend. I’m going to travel with vinyl and see how I feel.
Does the middle ground of Traktor, Serato Scratch Live, something like that, appeal to you at all?
No, it never appealed to me because for myself it’s everything or nothing. So it’s like if I’m going to be touching a turntable, then I don’t want to be touching a laptop along with it. I’ve developed a way of playing with Ableton that I feel is somewhat unique. There are only a few people I’ve seen play this way, and those are largely people that I work with. Outside of that, I haven’t really seen many people play the way that we do. And I’m very comfortable with that, and I really like it. But one of the problems is that it’s a chore to constantly update new music, and that’s what’s appealing to me about vinyl. That’s what I realized when I started doing these vinyl sets: it was like me rediscovering DJing, you know? It was just like I loved the fact that I was going through a record bag and there’s this visual contact with looking at the records and taking a couple out and saving them, putting them aside. Just going through and looking at labels instead of squinting at my screen.
But having said all that, I don’t think any of it matters. I think what really matters is what’s coming out of the speakers. I had this conversation with Jeff Mills one time, and he really made a lot of sense when he said it. He was talking about — and this is coming from someone who’s — you know, he’s a focal point when he’s performing, like, he’s an entertainer, and he’s saying to me, “Why are we up onstage? Why are we in the center and the spotlight is on us?” He made a really good point, and when he said it, I was like, “You know what? He’s so right.” When we were growing up, the DJs were in the corner in a dark room. You couldn’t even see the DJ. Even when it was the disco days or Studio 54 or the Paradise Garage, like, the DJ was not center stage with the spotlight on him. And that’s what I mean when I say it’s what’s coming out of the speakers. Yeah, of course you want to see someone performing, and part of watching them do what they do is part of the amazement of it. But at the same time, I think the most important thing is closing your eyes and having your mind blown by what’s coming out of the speaker, you know what I mean? So the process really doesn’t matter that much.
And that’s what, initially, I liked about performing the way that I do, with Ableton and a laptop and a controller, because I was able to basically remix things live and not play anything in its original form. That could be criticized also. People say, “Oh well, just let the record play.” Well, if you want to just hear the record, go home and listen to the record. One of the things that blew my mind about DJs, especially Jeff Mills in the early days, was standing on the dance floor — and at that time, in the early days of Limelight, the DJ booth was three floors up, and you could not see the DJ. I remember standing on the dance floor and thinking, “I have these records, but they don’t sound like this.” And that, to me, that’s everything. I think that’s what DJing is about. It’s about manipulating something that may be familiar to people and playing it in a way where it’s mind-blowing, and it’s not in its original form. I mean, that is my approach. When I play out, that’s what my goal is: to manipulate things to a point where I’m blowing the listener’s mind because they may be familiar with that, but they’re confused because it doesn’t sound the same. Because that’s how I came into it, standing on a dance floor thinking, “I have this record; it doesn’t — ” and then going home and listening to the record and being like, “Fuck, what did he do? He was playing this track, I have the record, they’re two different things,” you know?
I’ve never thought about it that way before, but I really dig that. I know you said you’re working on a full-length right now, but it sounds like that’s a way off. What do you have slated release-wise?
There’s this thing — I think it came out, but I’m not sure if it shipped yet because I was looking in certain places, and it still says forthcoming on Juno so I don’t know if the ship date got pushed back or whatever, but there’s this thing on Echochord, Echochord Colour. It’s actually just one original track by me, and then remixed Substance — DJ Pete from Hard Wax — and an SCB edit. So that’s out now, and then I’m reissuing a bunch of old Infrastructure stuff. There’s going to be a new release along with that with a Luke Slater edit and an edit by me. Before the end of the year a couple things I don’t really want to mention until they’re more solid concepts, but there’s a remix that I just did of Juan Atkins that came out last month. It was on Tresor for their 250th release. It was — Juan Atkins did this project Infiniti on Tresor, and because it’s Tresor’s 250th release, there were three separate 12″s of remixes by Redshape, Moritz [Von Oswald], Thomas Fehlmann, TV Victor, Sleeparchive, and myself. It really came out nice. It’s one colored vinyl, and I think the first few hundred on colored vinyl, and now the black vinyl versions are starting to come out. There was a remix I did of Pigon, this track “Kamm,” came out on Beatstreet a few years ago. It was on the other side of this Marcel Dettmann “Plain” track.
There will be Function and Function vs Jerome Sydenham remixes of Steve Poindexter’s “Computer Madness” coming out on Thema this fall. I’m really excited about this because it’s one of my favorite records of all time. I’m also relaunching my old label infrastructure with a new, N/A, release with edits by Luke Slater and myself. Then there will be a series of reissues: a double pack pack of my early Synewave works from ’95-’99, various remastered, reissues from the back catalog, like “Montage,” Regis’ “Asbestos” b/w Sleeparchive remix, as well as some unreleased Sandwell District material, basically out-takes of things that wound up on the cutting room floor which never came out and will finally see the light of day. And in the fall I will be reissuing something I’m really excited about, this classic Trackman double pack that came out on Ideal Trax in ’96 by ex-Altern8 mastermind, Mark Archer. It’s such a killer record and I’m honored to be reissuing it because it’s one of my favorite acid house records and still sounds as fresh today as it ever has! And it was made by one of the guys from altern8, you can’t beat that, really!
I kind of wanted to talk a little bit more about the album. There’s a bit of a concept behind the way that recording the album — I don’t want to talk about it too much because some of it may not happen, but I’ve been really getting into the idea of — which I think is something that has been absent from a lot of techno productions because everything has been geared towards home studios. I’m starting to explore a bit more of a larger production, and I’m starting to work with a few people. Originally I was thinking about having some guest appearances on the album, and the way that I’m working on it is to not have a collaboration or a co-production, but have an experienced mix engineer mix certain tracks using very high-end recording equipment in order to mix it down. And I’ve spoken to a few people who I hold in high regard and really respect and love their productions and their skills as mix engineers. So I’ve been writing a lot of the album, and now I’m starting to send this stuff to a mix engineer to mix the stuff down. In the end, it may not be the way that the album is recorded. It’s something I’m experimenting with. So this is what I was saying — I have big plans for it.
I’ve always had a problem working with deadlines and timelines, especially with how quickly things move these days. I’m sort of in a bind because I don’t want to hurry it up, but I sort of have to, you know what I mean? So I’m sort of caught in the middle, and I’m willing to sort of sacrifice a lot in order to get it right. And this was a lot of the thing with Sandwell District, and like what I was saying, there was something that became a bit routine, but it started out as sporadic. We never liked schedules. I find it hard to keep to a schedule because it has to be right. So I’ve sort of loosely announced there’s an album being worked on, but personally, I don’t feel that it needs to be out before the end of the year, but the industry is making me feel like it does, you know?
Techno-attention-span-wise, it’s so hard to have an actual, organic germination process.
You feel the need to deliver. But I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of it. I’ve always been the type of artist who likes to paint themselves into a corner. So that’s sort of the position that I’m in now: this album is being worked on, I’m very far along with it, but I’m a bit of an obsessive-compulsive type so, you know… That was always the thing with Sandwell District, working with Karl [O'Connor] and John, there were a lot of times where things had be literally pulled out of my hand and just patted on the back, like, “Dave, OK, it’s done. Just let it go,” you know? [laughs]
What you were saying about the album — it kind of sounds like what you’re talking about is “production” in the old-school sense, like the way things used to be done. Are there any producers or engineers of that sort who are really inspiring to you? Like, people who were working the 60s and 70s or something, during the golden age of recorded music, who you look to as inspirations on this project?
Yeah, I mean Conny Plank, Martin Hannett. Like, these guys were geniuses. These guys were like scientists, in a way. Their engineering skills were beyond anyone in techno at the moment. I think a lot has been lost with how simple things have become with just being able to do things at home on a laptop. I love thinking about a really big, expensive mixing console with outboard gear, and a skilled engineer who is like a scientist, who understands the science of frequency.
My biggest stumbling block is not content, it’s not writing music; my stumbling block, the thing that’s held me back a lot of times is sound quality. I’ve always engineered my own productions, but I’ve always felt like I’m not the skilled engineer that Françoise Kevorkian is, you know? This is a person that owned Axis Studios, and if you look at his production credits, they’re mind blowing. This guy has been involved with mix engineering incredible records. And when you look into these productions, they’re gorgeous. That’s where the whole idea came from. Like I said, in the end, the finished product may not have this — I may accomplish it on my own, but part of the process is giving that a shot, you know? Trying that out to see what the results are going to be. And there’s a couple of other mix engineers I’ve started working with. One who’s based in Berlin so — and he also has those kind of credentials, and has worked on really big pop productions that got across to the masses. And I like that — I like the idea of that, of handing something over that I wrote to a skilled technician who will mix it properly.
It seems like people have been moving even more and more into the box, and what you’re talking about is, “Well, let’s get out of the box again,” you know?
Yeah, that’s where the idea came from. With Sandwell District, that’s always been our intention to sort of challenge convention and try something different. And even though it’s an old concept that used to be the norm, in today’s set of circumstances with this particular style of music that is not the norm. And that’s the reason that I want to try to explore it. Because I want to try to do something different and see what the results are.
Do you have a label in mind or lined up for the record?
No. I mean I have a list of — I have a wishlist, and I haven’t fully started to explore that yet because I want to wait until I’m a bit further along. But I think I’m at the point now where I’m ready to start exploring that. And this is the reason why I don’t know if it’ll be out this year. I would really like it to be out this year, but if it comes out at the start of next year, then so be it. For me, it’s my baby. It’s my first solo artist album. I’ve done two albums before, one with Karl as Portion Reform, and then Feed-Forward, the Sandwell District album. This is like — it’s got to be right, so I’m willing to take my time with it.