D’Marc Cantu hit big with his mind-melting “No Control” single-sider for the inimitable Crème Organization label early on in 2007. Although this was his solo debut, he had in fact been releasing since 2005 as one half of 2AM/FM with Tadd Mullinix. The pair also collaborating with Melvin Oliphant under the X2 guise from 2006 as well. Cantu’s own releases follow a similar aesthetic to these two projects: jacking acid house and techno with an often brutalist approach to drum programming. It’s a formula that the Ann Arbor producer has found success with over two albums and nearly 20 twelve-inch releases, with no signs of slowing down. With his new alias Rival making its first appearance via a release on the Drone label (out now), LWE decided to find out what the producer’s plans are for the pseudonym and quiz him over his fruitful collaborations. He also knocked up an exclusive, hour long mix that delves into his love of jakbeat, house, and techno.
You initially got your break by coming to the attention of Tadd Mullinix and Melvin Oliphant. How did this happen? Were you sending them your tracks or had you met them through other avenues?
D’Marc Cantu: Tadd and I had become friends a few years earlier than the first 2AM/FM/X2 material was created. We met in 2000 when we both moved into a large house on campus. There were eight of us there and we were all musicians, artists, or students. By the time I met Melvin there was a sizable collection of music I had produced; this of course was four years later or so. During that whole time I was aggressively honing my production skills. Prior to moving into the house I was simply a drummer, playing local shows with friends. However Tadd had shown that you can be the whole band and maintain complete creative control.
Originally coming from more of a rock and alternative music background, how big was the shift into embracing electronic music? By that I mean did you feel there were any similarities in the approach and process to making the two and were there elements of the former that you felt you could use in making electronic music?
As I noted, it was refreshing being able to be the whole band. The production approach I used at the time was quiet experimental for me given since I didn’t have much gear. I started off using a Tascam 4-track and various instruments I had access to, like my own drums and bass. I would then use some of the pedals we had laying around the basement in our practice area and what other stuff I could get my hands on. This was all incorporated, without any syncing, to my PC. I had no knowledge of production software in 2000-2001, so I was using basic noise and drum programs to make extra sounds.
This was the basis of early work by Tadd and me. We used this basic noise idea to create various productions, all of which have never been released, with the exception of a live show we played on WCBN Ann Arbor around 2002-2003, if I remember correctly.
When you and Tadd started releasing as 2AM/FM were you also producing your own material then or did that come later?
I had been producing my own stuff during this time; it was a boot camp of sorts from 2000-2004. Learning about production from Tadd, Todd [Osborn], and a few other Ann Arbor freaks. Plus learning software from our mutual friend Rodger. They were really happy to teach and inform someone who was into it. So it was cool to have the backing of these guys.
Once we started on 2AM/FM I had already written tracks like “No Control” and “Set Free.” 2AM/FM, however, was where I really started to pickup on gear, post-production, and basic edits. Once my skill with hardware had reached a point where I was doing all of my own setups we produced more and more together, eventually leading to 2AM/FM Pt.1 and Pt.2.
Your first solo release came out on Crème Organization. Did you pitch your tracks to them or had they become aware of you through the 2AM/FM and X2 releases?
At the time I knew Tadd and Melvin had both worked with Crème but I had no idea who or what the label was about. Around 2005 Tadd had been playing some of my tracks out as well as for other producers/DJs. Melvin heard “No Control” and wanted it for the Crème Jak project he co-conceptualized with TLR of Crème. He played it for TLR and he loved it, and since then it has become one of the go to labels for releasing my rawer jacking dance cuts.
2014 was an incredibly prolific year for you, having nine releases across different formats: EPs, remixes, and collaborative projects. Is music a full time occupation for you and are you typically quite fast with completing tracks?
No, I work 40-50 hours a week at a local university as an IT admin and have since 2008. I do not play the amount of shows needed to work on music exclusively. It’s a dream for sure but just not within my grasp. Most producers at my level make 90% of their money from shows, so unless you’re gone for half of the year it’s impossible to make a living on it. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a homebody who works and makes music. It’s my passion, my therapy, and where I go to escape.
Although I don’t tour much I fully grasp the allure of the club. For me there’s no greater feeling than standing next to the booth when someone like JTC or Traxx drops an unreleased track of yours and you get to see the club go wild. All the hairs on the back of your neck that stand up when you’re in the studio jump out when you’re in the club. It’s quite a feeling.
I do tend to produce quite quickly as well. What I learned years ago and what I didn’t implement until 2008 or so was being able to say “it’s done.” A lot of people I know put so many layers of paint on their tracks that I think they lose sight of the track itself. It’s an effective tool to have, that voice that says stop going through 2,000 snare variations and be done with it. I think the biggest hurdle to any art is being happy with what you’ve created and sometimes you’re not until you see it, or hear it through someone else.
You recently announced that you will be using a new alias soon – Rival — with which you have set yourself certain parameters for the production and recording techniques. Do you have a set way that you usually work? Do you limit yourself to how much you allow yourself to tweak and finesse your tracks before finishing them?
Rival is different in concept but it’s not wildly different from my production history. What I mean is that is the concept behind Rival is the focus here. What I want to do is get back to my roots and force Rival to work within those confines. So the idea is simple, unedited dance tracks. One take. No edits. All gear. When working as Rival I feel like I’m walking up to a drum set again, playing and having my physical skill dictate the result.
Some call it lazy journalism, some call it being a beneficent interviewer, but every now and then we like to offer an artist to ask themselves a question and answer it. Go.
You’ve noted a separation between Rival and D’Marc Cantu as being gear only vs DAW style productions. Why the distinction with Rival?
With Rival I want to set limits. These limits allow me to work with what I have in front of me. Although my productions vary in method I can still fall back on those easy out habits. With Rival once it’s recorded its recorded; I clear the settings and start anew. I don’t have that freedom with my normal production style. I can always go back in some capacity and make changes. Rival is finite and as a result more compelling to me.
What can you tell us about the mix you put together for us?
I don’t DJ. I’ve been asked to for some time but have declined. Not that LWE asked for a DJ mix, however a track list was requested. My live sets are one offs — I don’t repeat live sets and I rarely pull tracks from those for release. That having been said the result is a one of a kind live set you may never hear again and of which has no track listing.
This poses a problem in situations like this and I would normally decline to do the mix because of it. I have instead decided to give it a go and this is the result, a DJ mix detailing coming tracks, projects past and present and songs by some of the producers who have influenced me the most. In short, a crash course in jakbeat.
What does the year ahead look like for D’Marc and Rival?
This month you will see a release on Drone, Decay; then in Feb Run-Out-Run will be releasing the Car Type EP. After that you can look forward to releases on Nation, MOS, Thema, and Sequencias. The most important releases for me this year will be 2AM/FM related, this year will see the strong return of JTC and me. Currently Signals and Nation have 2AM/FM EPs out. Later in the year will be our first album on Bopside, plus other projects. Rival will be appearing throughout 2015, dotted across a number of labels.
Download: LWE Presents D’Marc Cantu (57:32)
01. D’Marc Cantu, “Pages” [Nation*]
02. Alis, “Azimuth” (DMC Alternate Mix) [Don’t Be Afraid]
03. D’Marc Cantu, “Size and Shape” [Crème Organization]
04. D’Marc Cantu, “Decay” [Drone]
05. D’Marc Cantu, “The Key” [Sequencias]
06. Gstring, “Phase” (D’Marc Cantu Ghoul Remix) [Echovolt Records]
07. JTC, “Don’t Even Try It (The Beat)” [Spectral Sound]
08. D’Marc Cantu, “Try Me” [M>O>S Recordings]
09. 2AM/FM, “Desolate Cities” [M>O>S Recordings]
10. Brickwall Giant, “Rapid Expansion” [*]
11. Dona, “8th Point” (D’Marc Cantu Remix) [Points]
12. D’Marc Cantu, “Heater Ansatz” [*]
13. JTC, Psychedelic Mindtrip” [Crème Organization]
14. TNT, “New Love” [Marguerita Recordings]
15. 2AM/FM, “Motherfuckers Don’t Know” [Spectral Sound]
16. D’Marc Cantu, “Zip Drive No Data Saved” [Nation]
17. JTC, “Two Keys” [Spectral Sound]
18. Richard Fearless, “Gamma Ray” [Drone]
19. The Dirty Criminals, “Raiden” [Gigolo Records]
20. Da Goblinn, “Crazzy Outside” (D’Marc Cantu Four Voices Mix) [*]
21. 2AM/FM, “Release Yourself” [*]
22. D’Marc Cantu, “Car Type” [Run Out Run*]
23. Samaan, “Omissions” (D’Marc Cantu Remix) [One Electronica]
24. DVS1, “Confused” [Klockworks]
25. JTC, “Earth” [Killekill]
26. Secret Studio ft. D’Marc Cantu, “Home Bass” [Secret Studio Records]
27. Ricardo Tobar, “If I Love You” (D’Marc Cantu Remix) [Desire Records]
28. Aroy Dee, “Until the Music Dies” (D’Marc Cantu Remix) [M>O>S Recordings]
29. D’Marc Cantu, “2271” [One Electronica]
* denotes tracks which, at the time of publishing, are unreleased