LWE Podcast 49: Dan Curtin


Photo by Lars Borges

Describing Dan Curtin’s sound is like attempting to pin down quicksilver — a satisfying definition always escapes just when you think you’ve grasped it. That’s due in part to the almost two decades the Cleveland native has spent making inscrutable techno for such labels as Peacefrog, Strictly Rhythm, Delsin, Tuning Spork, Klang Electronic, and more recently the Mobilee family, as well as his own Metamorphic Recordings imprint. But it’s also ingrained in Curtin’s tireless work ethic that finds him wholly interested in innovating his aesthetic, constantly pushing at the edges of timbre, tone and rhythm patterns to provide dedicated listeners with something new and ‘floor-worthy on each vinyl slab. So while few electronic dance producers write a single compelling longplayer, today sees the release of Curtin’s ninth, Lifeblood, on Mobilee. In anticipation of this achievement, we grabbed Dan for LWE’s 49th exclusive podcast — an hour of “Dirtysexxxy” house and techno, as he put it. Mr Curtin was also generous enough to answer a few of our questions about how his surroundings have impacted his sound, the importance of hip-hop, and his tireless thirst for sonic innovation.

LWE Podcast 49: Dan Curtin (61:26)

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Tracklist:

01. Hakim Murphy, “Jupiter Poop” [Metamorphic Recordings]
02. Planetary, “Entanglement” [Metamorphic Recordings]
03. Matthew Dear & Seth Troxler, “Hurt” [Spectral Sound]
04. Darkstar, “Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer” (Kyle Hall Oats B So Deep Remix) [Hyperdub]
05. GummiHz, “Love Call” [Mobilee]
06. Orlando Voorn, “Beat It Up” [Divine Records]
07. Moodymann, “I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits” (Mop Remix)
[MPT Recordings]
08. Outhere Brothers, “Let Me Be The One” [Fieldzz Discos]
09. KZR, “Untitled” [NDATL Muzik]
10. Moodymann, “Bitch Wanna Ride My Dick” (Mop Remix) [MPT Recordings]
11. Dan Curtin, “Mr. Bean Do An E” [Mobilee]
12. Ed Davenport, “Life in The Balance” [Vidab]
13. Kyle Hall, “I <3 Dr. Girlfriend” [Wild Oats]

Please tell us a little bit about your podcast for LWE. When/where it was made, if there was any theme?

Dan Curtin: This is an all vinyl mix as that’s all I’m playing in clubs, I don’t even mess with CDs! I did it in my studio here in Berlin in early April. Theme, yes there is one! Just got myself in the mindset of playing in a small packed club like Plastic People or something, getting kind of raw with the atmosphere, taking it a little deep too. So this is not necessarily a general example of how I always play in clubs but it could be if the moment was right.

In another interview you said, “Hip hop will always be the standard by which my beats are judged in my own mind.” What about hip-hop’s beats makes it your gold standard, and who are a few of your favorite hip-hop producers

I must have said that ages ago! But yeah, hip-hop beats have to have that raw rough feel with real groove and soul and an innate sense of rhythm. And in hip-hop you can’t get away with funk-less beats. House/techno beats should also be this way, so I always have that in the back of my mind when making beats. Some of my favorite hip hop producers are, of course, J-Dilla, then Nicolay, Oddisee, Lootpack, Madvillian to name a few.

What did you think of hip-house? A bunch of tracks from the last few years have been centered around monologues; do you see fertile ground for a resurgence?

I was into it way back when! Fast Eddie, Tyree Cooper. I still like to listen to those old tracks from time to time. I’m always up for some good emceeing over house, but as far as a resurgence or a new movement, well, no. I don’t think everything needs to be a movement, micro genre, or some other bandwagon jumpable trend, unless of course that trend is originality.

You’ve stressed the importance of personal innovation in your own music as well as for others. You’ve certainly managed to cover a lot of sonic ground in your career. How do you sit down to make a track with roughly the same gear with fresh eyes time after time?

The gear can be so versatile that I don’t even feel limited at all in the studio. In fact I’m kind of at a place now where I don’t want or need more new sounds or libraries. It just doesn’t matter or help to have millions of pieces of kit or plug ins or sounds. For sure the sounds and gear can be a source of great inspiration but I like to find the core inspiration from deep inside or from the universe and world we live in. So if I approach it like that I can make music with anything really; it’s all about expressing ideas.

In that same vein, some of your tracks are notoriously hard to pin down even within each track, changing directions and bringing in unexpected elements. Why is keeping listeners’ guessing important for you, or is it not? Do you get bored easily?

No, nothing like that. It’s just the way I see things, like one idea will inspire me to go on to another idea, kind of like when you are out walking and waiting to see what is over the next rise or around the next corner. Except I know what is over that rise or around the corner and I go there, but hopefully the listener will enjoy the surprise! But when I focus on tracks that are strictly for the floor I definitely use a more linear approach.

That being said, it must be tough not to fall into patterns or formulas. As I was doing research for the interview I noticed how a handful of your tracks from the 90’s would end up spattered with 303 no matter where they were otherwise going. How much of that came down to what was available to you and how much of it was deliberate?

Interesting that you noticed that! It’s true though, I was using the 303 often and it was deliberate when I used it in the “acid” way. I wanted to take the acid house feeling and play with it by incorporating it into music that wasn’t acid house, kind of like my homage to acid house, feeling inspired by acid house but not wanting to do acid house. But it isn’t tough to not fall into patterns or formulas because falling into a formula is not the way I want to work. It’s boring to me when producers always do the same thing or have the same sound. I try to do something different every time, and now that has just become second nature, I couldn’t even imagine doing the same track twice.

Do you let yourself dabble in trends or are they taboo?

I’m sure I dabble, either consciously or unconsciously. Especially living in Berlin, one can’t help it but to take in all that energy. And if it goes in it’s gonna come out in the music in one way or another. This really can’t be helped. And anyway, there’s nothing wrong with a trend if it is good. I just have a problem with people taking part in a trend just because it has become trendy. But sometimes trends can be especially annoying like the conga trend or the deep house trend because they detract from the legitimately good conga tracks or deep house tracks that are valid in any year. Like I said above, not everything needs to be a movement!

Risk taking in music can mean a higher chance of failure (critically, commercially, how it’s received by dancers); are you willing to put out something you’re not comfortable with? Are you highly selective about what gets released?

I’m willing to put out something that I’m not comfortable with in terms of not being sure how it will be received because it is strange or unique. I always do that! Is that what you mean? Otherwise I’m always comfortable with what I release because I stand behind it 100%. And definitely selective with what I make and with what gets released. But once I make something I usually want to release it.

You’ve just about to release your ninth album, which is rather unique for many electronic dance music producers. What about the form do you find so compelling? Are you naturally prolific?

I guess I’m pretty prolific, I’m in the studio every day. It’s my passion, my recreation, my job. I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been to be able to make this my life’s work. And for the album format, I really like it from a listener’s point of view. I really want to go on that journey with the artist, and if the music is really good then one track just won’t do, I’ll need more. From an artist point of view it’s great to be able to be with the listener for an hour or so to get the chance to tell my story. The music is about so much more than a quick track for DJs to play this weekend.

Besides the switch in the gear used to create your music, how do you think your style has evolved over the nearly two decades you’ve been making music? What’s more important to you now? What’s less important to you now?

Quality of production became more important somewhere along the line. At the beginning it wasn’t even a consideration, I was only concerned with the emotional content but then I became equally concerned with the sound and quality of sound, so that is definitely very important now. But in general my sound has evolved to become much more intricate, more layered, and subtler.

You’ve mentioned how living in a number of different cities around the world has influenced you in different ways. Can you pick out how those cities influenced the music you composed while living in their?

Every place can provide a different influence. I’m from Cleveland, OH so my earlier stuff was much more heavily influenced by the decaying Midwestern urban landscape and all the chaos that comes along with that. It’s a very similar situation to Detroit, although not as desperate. Then I moved to Switzerland with a much more pastoral environment so that injected some tranquility into the very agitated and nervous sound that I had at the time. I’m still trying to work out exactly how Berlin has influenced me, I’ve been here for seven years now. I guess the best thing about being here is that I don’t need to go far to see exactly what not to do!

Have you returned to Cleveland much over the years? Are you at all connected with its “scene”?

I’m not connected with the scene so much there but I do get back a few times each year. I usually play when I’m there, there are definitely some soldiers keeping things happening in my old stomping grounds!

What can we expect from Dan Curtin for the rest of 2010? What about Metamorphic?

Next thing is my album for Mobilee called Lifeblood and a nice world tour to go along with it, then this spring I’ll also release Entanglements under my Planetary alias on Metamorphic.

LWE Podcast 49: Dan Curtin (61:26)

ray  on April 21, 2010 at 8:54 PM

great read. thank you.

T-BASS ROBOT  on April 23, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Dan Strikes Again! Rockin’ Bones…

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