Kirk Degiorgio’s name is not synonymous with minimal techno. Over the course of his 18-year career you could count on your hands the number of releases that would even qualify as club-approved tackle. Degiorgio made his name with multi-hued Detroit-inspired techno and went on to produce soulful music in a variety of genres, but rarely touched on straightforward dance floor-ready tracks. Today we see Degiorgio taking a new path that embraces this side of techno, both in terms of production and DJing. Degiorgio rebooted his Applied Rhythm Technology (ART) label this year and is focused on creating full sounding techno that works in club environs. That approach is paying dividends with the recent “Isomer Shift” release on B12, his new “Swarm” EP, the first release for ART’s new Dance Division series and one forthcoming on Planet E. He has applied this same concept to DJing, choosing to play the same type of material he is championing through his own productions. For LWE’s 36th podcast, Degiorgio shares an exclusive mix of what he’s currently spinning and sits down to explain the finer points of running a label, his relationship to DJ technology, and to set the record straight on techno’s debt to jazz.
LWE Podcast 36: Kirk Degiorgio (58:38)
01. Jerome Sydenham, “Asama Rising” (Dub) [Ibadan]
02. Karol XVII & MB Valence ft. Robert Owens, “Gone Too Far” (Nivek Tsoy Remix) [Loco Records]
03. Mihai Popoviciu, Markus Homm & Jay Bliss, “Bis Co” [Diynamic Music]
04. Anthony Rother, “Dance!” [Datapunk]
05. Silent Servant, “Discipline” [Sandwell District]
06. Dennis Ferrer, “Underground Is My Home” [King Street Sounds]
07. Kevin Gorman, “Insomnia” (Joseph Capriati’s Dark Night Remix) [Mikrowave]
08. Lil Louis, “Jupiter” [Diamond Records]
09. Dole & Kom, “On The Run” [Ostwind Records]
10. Unevenratio, “Soul Render” (Motogen Remix)
[Backwater Community Recordings]
11. Alan Fitzpatrick, “Scatter Cushions” [Curfew Records]
12. Perc, “Throb” [Ovum Recordings]
13. Sebrok, “Vision” [MiniSketch]
14. Gary Beck, “Zenith” [BEK Audio]
15. Reade Truth, “Another Dilemma” [Planet E]
16. Rasmus Hedlund, “Cactus Fatale” [Resopal Schallware]
17. Xpansul & Imek, “La Salud” [Apnea]
18. Shawn Rudiman, “Ruffcut” [Matrix Records]
19. Salvatore Freda & Michel Cleis, “Sassicaia” [Cadenza]
20. Adam Beyer & Pär Grindvik, “Seq 1 – Living Wheel” [Drumcode]
21. Kirk Degiorgio, “Mindflay” [New Religion]
22. Querida, “3-5-3” [Kanzleramt]
23. Kirk Degiorgio, “Isomer Shift” [B12]
24. Robert Hood, “Superman” [M-Plant]
25. Suburban Knight, “Nocturbulous” [Underground Resistance]
26. Ican, “A Quien” [Planet E]
27. Kirk Degiorgio, “Swarm” [ART*]
28. Go Hiyama, “Myself Myself” (Metalogic’s Disposition Mix) [Perc Trax]
29. Kirk Degiorgio, “Mass” [ART]
* indicates unreleased tracks
So ART 08 was just recently released and it received critical acclaim. Why did you decide to revive ART and what is your long-term vision for the label? How do you think it will differ form the previous incarnation of the label?
Kirk Degiorgio: I’d been wanting to revive ART for several years. While I was signed to New Religion for my techno material there was less motivation as they had the resources of a major label behind them, but the label head eventually became MD over at Universal and the label run ended. That was the cue for me to start releasing techno on ART again. I don’t really have a long-term vision for the label as the music industry is changing radically on a monthly basis it seems. Being an independent imprint will allow me adjust quickly to whatever happens hopefully. It will differ from the previous incarnation by being more prolific. The original ART had only seven vinyl and two CD releases in four years!
What did you learn from working with a major label subsidiary (New Religion) and how can you apply it to running ART?
I learned that it’s quite an ordeal to get anything done at a major label. The marketing departments are very influential and everything has to be signed off by somebody higher up the chain. I was very fortunate that Dan Keeling — who started New Religion — was well-thought of at EMI and he managed to put out releases that would have been near-impossible at any other major. But being on a major label obviously has its advantages. New Religion always had great artwork due to the budget available. Alan Oldham created some exclusive art for each EP release and Ben Drury — previously of Mo Wax’s famed art department — created the amazing design for the Electric Institute compilation. Major labels also have the capability to attract mainstream artists for collaboration. Not too many people are aware of this, but if you look at the credits for “What Ever Happened To The Cosmic Kid?” on the Electric Institute compilation, you’ll see it was written by myself, Dan Keeling and C. Martin. That’s Chris Martin of Coldplay! Dan Keeling signed Coldplay to EMI — that’s how he was able to start New Religion in the first place. Dan was playing Chris some techno in his office one afternoon and Chris came up with some chords that we used as a foundation for that track.
As far as applying my major label experiences to running ART — I don’t think much applies. It just reminded me how nice it was to be able to make my own decisions and not have to run everything by somebody higher up. It taught me the importance of marketing I guess, but I doubt ART will ever be dictated by those factors. It’s always just been about releasing music that I like and think will sell in sufficient quantities to not make a significant loss.
I noticed that you were going to be DJing out on a regular basis again. How has the club experience changed since you were last regularly DJing and how do you think that impacts what you are currently playing?
The changes I’ve noticed recently have been a reduction in the amount of mnml being played — I’m a mnml fan by the way — and an upsurge in fuller sounding techno but with mnml and even progressive production influences. I went to Fabric recently to catch the Moritz Von Oswald Trio live, and the other DJs on the night were all playing more of the kind of techno directly influenced by Detroit. Terry Francis played a super set which seemed heavily influenced by Robert Hood, Sandwell District — that kind of stripped down but full-sounding style. The other observation I made is that as far as technology in the booth is concerned, anything goes nowadays. Vinyl, CD, Traktor, Final Scratch, Ableton. DJs have had long enough to experiment and now use whatever they feel most comfortable with. For some, they prefer the tactile physicality of vinyl and to a lesser extent — but similar conceptually — CD’s, others prefer the customisable, limitless nature of Ableton, and Final Scratch/Traktor for those who like a middle-ground between those extremes. As I have made known throughout the years, according to Ableton I was the first known professional DJ to exclusively embrace Ableton for DJing. I don’t say that to be conceited or brag — but it’s just to let people know it takes years to get fully comfortable with a new method of DJing. I’ve had to adapt and change my approach to get the kind of energy levels and intensity that I always believed possible with a laptop, far exceeding what is possible with a traditional approach.
I toured quite extensively up until 2008 and then had to bunker down in London and L.A. for 18 months to produce the next Beauty Room album. I’ve done the occasional gig here and there as I think it’s important to be aware of what the people are currently feeling, and of course, I just love DJing. So although it’s been difficult schedule-wise I’ve been over to Berlin a couple of times and also fitted in some gigs where I really appreciate the crowd, like Melting Pot in Glasgow. With the setup I have now, with MIDI controllers being the key, I can really push the envelope when DJing. Although laptops are commonplace in booths now, I believe my approach is quite individual. It’s a very intense kind of set. I’m really looking forward to playing out regularly again now the Beauty Room album is done and I’ve got a ton of new material to showcase that hasn’t yet been released, and with my agent Richard Maher we’ll be taking it into the kind of venues where my approach works best.
You’ve said yourself that the recent “Mass” track had an “obvious peak-time” feel. And the new “Isomer Shift” track follows suit. What’s influenced your production approach to move in that direction?
Well, obviously I’ve released “peak-time” techno material throughout my career, but perhaps not as prolifically as my other styles. One of the main reasons for this is a legal issue. My Future/Past moniker was always reserved for my more overt club-based techno, but this project remains tied up contractually to R&S Records. R&S hasn’t been fully functional for some years, but I feel I owe it to Renaat for that project to remain dormant waiting for R&S to become active again. Rather than simply sit on all my club material I decided several years ago to start releasing my club-inspired music under my own name for New Religion. I’ve had club hits such as “Nairobi,” “I Do Not Exist,” “Mindstorm” and the Los Hermanos remix of “Germanium” over the past few years, but this year has probably been my most prolific in terms of club-based releases.
My other motivation is purely sonics. The reason mnml gets over so well in the clubs is the production. This trend happened in drum ‘n bass also. You can achieve more punch, power and precision with a stripped down track with few elements to fill up with the frequency spectrum and hence less to control, allowing you to focus on a single sound and build a framework to support that. Achieving this same level of production with more developed, melodic/harmonic, layered material is more difficult. I take this as a challenge and my recent productions such as “Mass” and “Isomer Shift” are examples of this. I’m stripping down my layered, harmonic approach while retaining the essence of “my sound” and some reviewers have described the end result as “grand” or “epic-scale” sounding which is an accurate description, I think. I still like to have some variation on each EP so you’ll usually find something with a different mood tucked away somewhere. I’m due to start touring in early 2010, so I’m spending all of my time in the studio at the moment perfecting this style and there are quite a few releases in the pipeline. “Isomer Shift” is out now on B12 and next month comes the first release in ART’s Dance Division Series. ART-DDS1 is called the “Swarm EP” and consists of three tracks of pure peak-time material. “M-Brane” is due on Planet E sometime soon, just awaiting a C2 mix on that. There will probably be an ART release from myself every two months at this rate.
UK techno history is highly regarded for the releases that you, B12, Stasis, Black Dog Productions, Nuron, Neuropolitique and others put out in the early 90’s. Why do you think that deep techno sound isn’t as prominent any longer? And what would you say to those that are still yearning for it to continue?
It was music of it’s time. Technology, the influences of other styles such as mnml, tech-house — techno has evolved and moved on as it needs to, to remain relevant and exciting. Also, that deep techno sound is not easy to make. It requires a certain understanding of harmony and melodic invention, as well as skilled drum programming. It goes beyond a lot of what goes into making a solid club track today, which can often be devoid of any harmony and is more about the impact of sound. Deep techno is a curious beast. It never seems to work properly if it sounds too “musician-like.” Those early Detroit classics have a certain naive, amateurism about them — certainly in strict musical terms of being in a certain key, etc. Also, there are few artists who can pull-off those icey but strangely uplifting chord changes without them sounding too “trancey.” There does seem to be a healthy deep techno scene that digs into that early sound. Arne Weinberg, Delsin, Vince Watson, Fabrice Lig, Ian O’Brien and others here in Europe, and artists such as Los Hermanos, Shawn Rudiman, Omar-S, et al. over in the US still release great material with echoes of that illustrious age without sounding too dated.
For those wanting that sound to continue strictly in its pure, original form, I would say ‘Move on!’ That original sound was a blueprint, but each artist adds their own unique personality on that foundation and it’s healthy that techno has moved on. It’s great to hear a purist homage to that golden age now and again — Ian O’Brien and myself did this with our “Night On the Promenade” track — but I’m generally not interested in being a retro artist.
Over the years ART had strong connections with like-minded labels (R&S, Planet E, New Electronica, New Religion). What current labels do you see yourself sharing a kinship with and what are those similarities?
That’s a tough question. Obviously I’ve had close associations with Planet E and others for many years now, but I’m very wary of “cliques” forming in this scene and I try to be open and supportive of all labels releasing music I enjoy. Nothing turns me off more than labels and artists grouping together and becoming a “closed shop,” only supporting each others’ releases, etc. It can be like the Eurovision Song Contest with each label voting for each other in a small circle at the exclusion of others. I like to think ART shares a kinship with any independent label out there releasing quality techno because it’s a way of life for the people involved. It’s been a way of life for over 20 years for me and obviously ART has the advantage of a certain pedigree with the artists it’s released in the past; but you only have to look at my monthly charts to see I like to support labels old and new, whether I have a personal involvement with them or not. If new artists and label are not supported the scene becomes very stale, very fast.
Can you talk about how The Kabal boogie-oriented project came to be and is this a solo project or will you be collaborating? What are the biggest challenges in creating a song in this style?
It’s in its very early stages at the moment. I haven’t used samples for a very long time and that is the biggest challenge really — I like to disguise them beyond recognition so there’s a lot of thought and time that’s going into these tracks. Nothing scheduled for release yet as it’s really in its development
stage. No plans for collaboration on this; it would probably test anybody’s patience being in the studio while I endlessly micro-tweak samples!
What is the framework and concept for the Beauty Room project? And what can we expect from the new album?
The Beauty Room project is a mainstream rock/soul project that is about to release it’s second album. It really just came about through working with Jinadu, a vocalist and song-writer who featured on my As One albums for Ubiquity. I produce, co-write, arrange, program and mix the project, but I’m not a musician so we work with a core group of session players in the studio. The success of the first album allowed us to have a considerable budget to record the forthcoming album. We went out to L.A. and recorded a lot of it at Sunset Sound which was an amazing experience. We’ve also recorded at Olympic, Abbey Road and British Grove here in London. The new album is a progression from the first, a fuller sound. Paul Buckmaster has done some stunning orchestral arrangements for us. Paul did the strings on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” all of the classic early Elton John albums and co-wrote On The Corner with Miles Davis, etc. He is a true genius. I’ll be writing a feature on his career for Wax Poetics early next year.
You have released several albums over the years; do you see the relevance of the album dwindling with digital downloads?
Absolutely. It seems the format which has suffered most recently is the CD album, especially for dance music which has always been stronger as an EP culture anyway. It’s interesting how the format popularity has worked out. It seems there is still a healthy demand for physical product; the first run of vinyl for ART8 has almost all gone which means I’m selling as much now as in the supposed “heyday” of UK techno in the ’90s. Plus now the digital sales are kicking in, so I’ll continue to keep making both formats available. Personally I have a preference for full quality digital files such as wav, or AIFF. I also still buy vinyl if the track is unavailable in any other format. My DJ sets consist of wav’s or AIFF’s only; no mp3’s due to the loss of quality. If no full quality digital file exists I’ll make my own digital master from vinyl. I have digitised and re-mastered hundreds of vinyl tracks over the past few years. Re-mastering some of the old Chicago and Detroit classics gives them a new lease of life in today’s clubs too. Some need it to compete with the impact of contemporary tracks due to the advancements of digital limiters and the loudness wars.
You obviously have a passion for jazz and many have talked about techno being an electronic form of jazz. How do you think jazz informs or manifests itself in your music?
I’m glad you asked this because my comments in the past have caused some misunderstanding regarding jazz and techno. Firstly, I do not see jazz-specifically electronic jazz-as any kind of “original” form of techno. This
is a mis-interpretation of my views. I have often brought to attention the fact that it’s not just European acts such as Kraftwerk, Yello, Cabaret Voltaire, etc. that pioneered electronic music that had an impact on techno. Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Miles Davis, Eddie Harris and other jazz musicians also experimented with electronics and often go unmentioned in the more rock-familiar dance media. It’s more a case of readdressing the balance than any statement that techno came about solely in a direct lineage from these artists. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a musician — not like Gerald Mitchell, Mike Banks, Jimpster, Ian O’Brien, et al. — who can channel jazz and improvise over chord structures. Jazz more influences my music with the spirit to experiment and explore harmony.
Your Sound Obsession radio show for Red Bull Music Academy allows you to hone in on a particular sound or artist for an entire broadcast. But the different shows display the diversity of the music you appreciate (Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, boogie, Detroit techno). How did you get involved and what goes into preparing and producing the shows?
I first became involved with the Red Bull Academy in 2005 when I was invited to lecture and perform in the ArRange concert in Seattle. Since then I’ve continued to give info-sessions and perform at SONAR for them. The Academy approached me as they launched their radio station and it was a dream come true when they agreed to my concept of presenting a monthly two-hour show on a specific artist/label/genre, etc. It’s a chance for me to introduce listeners to a full chronological retrospective of an artist’s entire works — something rarely done outside of collegiate stations in the U.S. Some shows, such as the Motown
Special, spread over three shows and six hours worth of material. I try to track down every release by the artist/label chosen and then select my personal favourites rather than the most well-known or successful tracks. The show format also allows me to go beyond the dance music genre. I’ve presented shows on The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, as well early Detroit Techno Specials.
You’ve written for Wax Poetics, The Wire and also album liner notes. How did you get started writing and how do you end up choosing your assignments/projects?
My writing projects have all come about with magazines or labels approaching me, except for the Herbie Hancock piece for Wax Poetics which I offered to them after the label I original wrote the piece for — as CD box-set liner notes — became defunct before it could be released. I have a certain “obsessive’s” knowledge of certain areas of music, especially Chicago house, techno, electro, soul, jazz, early rap, etc. So although I don’t consider myself a great writer, I often get asked for my expertise I guess. I like to work with an editor, though; my grammar is abysmal!
What has been your most interesting and/or fulfilling writing assignment?
Meeting up with the late Marc Moulin and writing the liner notes for his Placebo retrospective was a highlight. But without doubt the most fulfilling was the Herbie Hancock feature I did for Wax Poetics last year. I think it was the longest article they have ever published which is frightening because it only included about a third of the original draft! I got to interview all the legends in Herbie’s Mwandishi Band such as Bennie Maupin, Billy Hart, Pat Gleeson, and Eddie Henderson, and Herbie and producer David Rubinson both proof-read and approved the whole thing.
You have been able sustain a career in music through production, DJing and writing. Which of them do you enjoy doing most and which pays the bills?
You can’t beat the immediate excitement of DJing to a packed appreciative crowd. I’ve been lucky with my DJing in that I haven’t over-exposed myself by extensive touring, hence promoters and clubbers alike always seem to be pleasantly surprised that I’m basically a party DJ. You may not catch me playing “Strings Of Life” or “Jaguar,” but I refuse to play over people’s heads either. People generally go clubbing to have a good time, not to be patronised or educated; and once I gain their trust early on there is nothing more enjoyable than knowing you have a crowd that is willing to be taken wherever you want to take them over the next few hours. Enjoyment through production is a thoroughly different kind because as an artist you are always striving to improve, explore and never keep still, whereas with DJing you can relax and just live in the moment.
Which pays the bills? My publishing royalties and savings I’ve made from scoring TV ads back in the ’90s. DJing, remixing, the radio show, liner notes, licensing, etc. It’s all about diversifying and having the basics in place these days. Not that I sensibly planned any of my career. As Patti Labelle once sang, “Music Is a Way Of Life.”
Download: LWE Podcast 36: Kirk Degiorgio (58:38)