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Das Volt

After a three year hiatus, 2012 marked the release of Das Volt‘s follow up to his debut ‘Gesture EP’ on Toby Tobias‘ and Danny Clark‘s imprint Late Night Audio. Das Volt’s ‘The Rose EP‘ also featured a remix by Mark E, which considering it took two years to release offered Mark E fans a glimpse back to the producer’s early disco style. We sat down with the US/French producer to find out the finer details of how the Das Volt project came to fruition and where’s it’s heading in 2013, plus his forthcoming collaboration with the Chicago based singer Liz Torres for Luxor records.

How did you first get involved with music production?

Gosh, going back to the early 90s.  An old friend of mine had a Commodore 64 with the sound ROM and some 8-Bit synth program by Kawai I think was the developer.  Super slow to program as it was all list step sequencing and it sounded like video game music. We used to just sit up all night programming songs and recording them to tape.  A few years later, I swapped my guitar for my mate’s Roland D50.  I think it was a D50.  It had a sequencer on it and I used it to make cassette loops, which sounded great to me at the time.  I had a two-channel mixer and just used to fade stuff in and out and record the mix onto a Tascam 4 track. Wish I still had those tapes.

You mentioned before our interview started that you have a hip hop background. How did your musical taste “evolved” throughout the years?

I grew up listening to my brother’s music – like the Cure, Depeche Mode, Erasure, but I also grew up skateboarding and listening to a lot of metal hardcore and punk.  Stuff like Bad Brains and Bad Religion.

One day my brother brought home a Ministry album and a few weeks later he got a Skinny Puppy album.  Off of that, I bought the Revolting Cocks – Beers Steers and Queers and the production blew me away.

When I realized a lot of those production techniques were being used in Hip Hop, I got heavy into that. I mean, I had heard all the commercial stuff Run DMC, Public Enemy, Mantronix but I didn’t really know the Gangstarrs or Tribes back then.  There was no MTV Raps, no mainstream Hip Hop like there is today.  But I dug deeper and when I started hearing what artists like DJ Muggs, Lord Finesse and Pete Rock were doing, I knew I needed to get a sampler.

What about non-music influences?

I was always fascinated by Lars Von Trier’s Dogma 95. Not necessarily the films and their content but the way they are made.  The ideas.  Being disciplined and limited.  Doing things the hard, but natural way. I mean, I know I can probably do everything I do faster using a computer but I’m not convinced it would necessarily sound or feel better.  In any case, I think try to keep it fun for myself and I hope that translates into the music (for better or worse!).  But that’s just me.  There are plenty of people making great music with computers so it really is a chocolate or vanilla thing.

I think another big influence was Hip Hop culture. Graffiti, DJs, the whole scene.  People didn’t really say “oh, this is Disco, this doesn’t fit”.  Break culture and digging don’t have these division’s people often place on music.  A lot of house DJs from Chicago or New York started out as Hip Hop DJs and vice versa and it’s not that the lines aren’t blurred: they’re just non-existent.  Since a lot of my early stuff was based on samples and sampling, I think I owe much to that for the way my music has progressed over the years.

So, was music the path you always wanted to take?

I’ve always enjoyed recording sound and arranging it. It is very absorbing but it has always been a fun, natural escape and that feeling hasn’t faded for me over the years.  As career path, I’ve never really considered it properly.  To see any kind money in the game, you need to tour and/or DJ to build up an audience.  Those people get to know your music and buy it.  I’m most happy at home, trying to figure out new ways of expressing my ideas with what I’ve got.

But I’m always happy to see some 20-year-old break into the scene with a fresh take on things.  It needs that to stay fresh and to evolve.  It sometimes seems as though a few older DJs don’t really connect with a younger audience.  I mean, if you look at the demographics of a DJ Harvey gig for example, you’ll see mainly people in their 30s and 40s.  While there’s nothing wrong with that, it kind of makes you wonder where the kids are hanging out.

You released ‘The Rose’ EP last December on Late Night Audio. It features 3 tracks and a remix by Mark E on your “Out Of Phase”, can you tell us a bit about the release?

The Das Volt project was really a series of recordings I made in 2007-2009.  Danny Clark and Toby Tobias, both from Late Night Audio came to see me when I was living in Leyton, East London, recording this stuff in a room not much bigger than a closet.  With all the gear in there, it was crazy hot even in winter.  In fact, around the end of the project, my mixer packed up due to the heat and that was kind of the end of that.  But anyway, they liked what they heard, especially Out of Phase and that was the first real track they committed to putting out.  All those tracks were made in 2008 without a computer and mixed on a Mackie mixer and recorded to DAT.  I did a bit of touching up in the computer a few years later when the release came together.

I actually sent the guys a few more tracks and Mark E. chose one of those to remix.  So even though the release says it’s an Out of Phase remix, it’s actually a remix of a different track which never got to the mastering stage though I think they might include it in a digital package in 2013.  Either way, Mark did a great job. I think really took the essence of what I was trying to do but cut out all the crap around it. The sign of a great remixer.

So was the ‘Gestures EP’ the first record you’ve released?

Actually, I’ve self-released a few records since 1999 here and there but nothing I’d want to mention hahaha.  But I’ve done stuff that I’m proud of like my remix for Mythical Beasts on International Feel.  That was charted and played by Soul Clap, which was very surprising to me.  I’ve also been releasing under a different alias on a new label but I’ve been sworn to secrecy, which is both liberating but also frustrating cause they’re probably the most successful projects I’ve been involved in – all have sold out within weeks.  In 2012, I started my own imprint called Luxor Records that saw one release in 2012: Stee Downes’s Many Ways EP, which was produced by Danny from LNA and me.  I want to release those types of Disco Funk records from the 80s with the artist taking centre stage.  The programming is extensive but simple and, as usual, everything remains out of the box and gets laid back to tape before even seeing a computer.

Why did it take you some time to release The Rose?

I’m not sure why the Rose EP took so long to put out but from what I’ve read so far from people who have heard it, it was probably good timing to release it now.  Mark E has moved on to exciting new pastures but a few of his fans preferred his older style so this kind of gives them a chance to obtain a lost relic, so to speak.  As for my involvement, I’m just happy these are now being released.  I don’t think they are stuck in any one-time period.  They’re just songs that I think work well.

Could you describe a typical studio day for you?

Hahaha… well, I don’t write much during the day.  I usually start around 10PM. I work out what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it before I start.  I’ll allocate time to sampling prep and synthesis, sequencing, recording and mixing.  Finish a rough mix of the track by 2AM.  I’ll record and render and stick that into my crappy phone and play it through the crappy speaker the next day.  All day.  I’ll make notes about the arrangement, instrumentation and mix and make the changes that evening.  That can get an instrumental track probably 80% there for me.

Analogue versus digital. What’s your take?

I think there’s too much of this analog vs digital debate.  I think what people really mean is in the box vs out of the box.  I mean, unless you are mixing analog synths and drum machines through an analogue mixer and hitting the tape, then sending reels off to get mastered, you’ve entered the digital realm.  I’m very much used to working out of the computer so that’s what’s normal for me.  I’m not sure any of that is considered by the end listener though.  That being said, these days, I still program the external gear but I tend to record the multi track into the computer.

And are you musically trained? 

No. Self taught.  I started off playing the bass listening and playing along to cassettes and LPs.  I then got a guitar and worked out chords.  I then worked those chords out on a piano.  Then I got into sampling and I don’t think that requires much more than rhythm and arranging skills.

Luxor Records has been born this year, with Stee Downes (Lazy Days/ Sonar Kollective) writing and singing the lyrics. What is the ethos/idea behind the label?

I got hooked up with one of Mike Stock’s MPC3000 and that changed the workflow quite a bit.  Started getting into the depth of that machine writing a lot more synth pop and funk fused elements. I was in a different place then and wanted to release it on a different imprint.  I mean, a lot of the early LNA cuts we had made to play out were one-off dubs, just raw tools for the dance floor and that format works so well.  The best dance music for me is the stuff that sounds like it was made in a few hours in a rush (even if it wasn’t!).  But Luxor is trying to showcase the artists and really emphasize the instrumentation.

How long have you been working on Luxor and what is it that you want to succeed?

The idea came last year but the first EP with Stee probably took 2 years from start to finish because of mitigating factors.  The music for the next EP was probably in demo stage in 2010 and has been re-written a few times.  So it’s a very long process and that’s why releases will appear sporadically.

What are the plans for the next release on Luxor then?

The next artist on Luxor is Liz Torres from Chicago.  The hook-up was through Danny (LNA).  She heard a few things and was keen to get involved.  It really took me by surprise.  But we’ve been in contact and she’s been recording in a studio in Chicago.  Dennis Kane from Disques Sinthomme has just completed his remix and Toby will also be dropping some heat.  This release will have something for everyone.  I’ve got Drumat!c, a very talented illustrator from Philadelphia working on the artwork again as well as Warren Russell-Smith from the Magic Shop in NYC on mastering. This one is shaping up nicely.  Not sure how many units we will be manufacturing yet.

What is your take on London’s scene at the moment? 

I’ve not been clubbing in a minute.  Probably not really something I can comment on!