For over a decade, German sound experimentalist Florian Meyer, alias Don’t DJ, has been laying the foundations to a stunningly immersive body of work, as much intuitive as it leans towards a cerebral and thought-provoking stance. Continually putting club music into perspective through uniquely bold, groundbreaking compositions – whether solo or via his groups The Durian Brothers and Institut Für Feinmotorik, Flo’s sound has conquered up to the most demanding of audiences and leading-edge imprints out there, including Berceuse Heroique, Emotional Response, SEXES et al..
In addition to his own DISK and Diskant labels, which rapidly won their spurs as frontline bastions for avant-garde electronics, the man’s steadily forged an instantly identifiable sound signature that meshes the primitive pulse of African polyrhythms and steely hypnotism of Gamelan with the most daring of non-formulaic, club-friendly programming.
With the coming release of Beige’s debut 12″ on Global Warming Records that features a special revamp from his hand, the occasion came to have an in-depth chat with Florian. In the interview below, we discussed all things from his take on remixing to his studio method specifics, through cutting new paths of innovation into the game.
Interview by Baptiste Girou Photography by Maya Baklanova
"When I make remixes I take all material from the stems but often very small bits and arrange them in a totally different structure."
Hey Florian, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. You’ve recently released a pair of records on Berceuse Heroique and BAKK, and have a new remix for French producer Beige coming up on Global Warming Records, available to stream through our channels today. Can you tell us more about this piece of yours? How did you and the label first come into contact?
I think it was some technology-supported medium. We never connected physically if I remember right. Malcolm of Global Warming just asked if I was into doing a remix and sent some files. I liked the tracks, chose one and he sent the stems. When I make remixes I take all material from the stems but often very small bits and arrange them in a totally different structure.
With this I basically felt like making a remix in the literary sense of taking the stems and mixing them together through a master out. Of course I would have EQs and compressors or effects on the individual tracks, but not really add rearrangements or anything, you know just doing the mixdown again.
I did that and sent it to the label. They told me they were looking for something more distinct from the original, a less gentle approach to the material – which I did understand. So I increased the things I had already done: compression, distortion, EQing; and I started cutting loops from the original material which could be read in a different but compatible meter and re-added them in that manner.
Is remixing artists something you particularly appreciate?
Haha yes! And no! All collaborations are exciting in some way and disappointing in another. I guess I generally try to be in a mindset where it is easier to get excited than disappointed and that can result in euphoric moments in collaborations that go well. But sometimes you expect a lot from yourself and others, and it just produces disappointment. This is always a possibility in collaborations!
I have been quite lucky in that respect! Mostly I draw inspiration from the collaboration. Also it makes me work in very different ways and styles than I would all on my own.
How do you usually approach the subject?
I check if the material speaks to me and then I check if I have time at all to make a realistic offer. Depending on the material I would approach the actual sound-related work very differently. Some stuff calls for being processed as a whole, some for being cut up into super small bits and then rearranged. Often I stop midway and try another approach. Some go very fast, and others take for ever.
2018’s been quieter than the past one in terms of release schedule. Have the past few months helped you keep your mind off things a bit and recharge your batteries, or did you maintain your insane momentum in the studio?
I have probably been producing more in 2018 than the years before. Also I spent much more time on the individual tracks than before. That means I spent much more time in the studio. The year also was at times very intense with the workload I put on myself with touring and travel.
The label DISK also took some time and energy, we had some drawbacks from printing fuckups, transport damage and shit. Also I managed to do more varied stuff like the exhibitions, installations and a residency with the SEXES collective. I managed to have more time for those things by cutting down on the drugs, like alcohol which seem to steal much time.
"Studio-time really helps me to relax and loose myself. I strangely don’t consider it work although in the end it is the source of my income."
Studio-time really helps me to relax and loose myself. I don’t consider it work although in the end it is the source of my income. So funnily when I am more busy I end up producing more. Also I toss more tracks, because I think the world does not really need them – I already made something too similar.
However what you are asking about is the release schedule and you are right: that one slowed down. This has to do with many factors but the most important one are the labels. It sometimes takes more than a year after I send them the final mixes to have the record out, or communication process stalls halfway and tracks remain in limbo.
Sometimes, however, they are faster and that combination can lead to strange release-clusters. Like the one last year. One guy (let’s call him X) once postponed a scheduled release date for like 2 months. I told him that the new date would fall very close to another release date, so he asked me to ask the other label to postpone their date, which I did. They postponed and gave me a new date which I passed on to X.
The newly scheduled release date passed and X told me a new one: exactly the one I had passed on from the other label, when I pointed that out X asked me to ask the other label to postpone again, which I did – they declined. X was also not willing to postpone. Both records got released like on the same week and X is still mad at me! (laughs). This is how those things go, release schedules don’t reflect very much on actual studio-time, ask RDJ!
How’s a regular day in the studio with Flo like?
I never spend a whole day in the studio! What I’m most afraid of is that a good tune gets on my nerve and I cannot finish it because I oversaturated my brain with it! I work best in the morning: I get up, take a shower, make a tea and then start making music. Once I get hungry I make some breakfast and continue working while eating.
When the energy gets low I start doing emails, logistics and that kind of less creative stuff. If I’m very excited from the morning work I get back to it at night. If it’s really exciting I might spend all night on it – but with the fresh ear the next morning I often toss some of the night’s work and only keep the really good stuff.
What’s next on your slate? Any new release(s) lined up you could tell us about yet?
Yes! Honest Jon’s is going to release a 2 x 12″! For me that’s really humbling! I have been a sucker for whatever they put out! Besides they are probably the best shop for good music I know! I’m terrified to open their website as it will probably make me want to spend more money than I have.
With Norm Gloss we developed a live-show that has visuals which really blew me away, a kind of game that’s being played live. I’m keen to show off with them – here is a teaser.
On DISK we just released a debut by Japanese artist Baptisma along with a Hodge remix. I already have the release plan for the whole next year and hope I can keep up with it – but I got sooo much good stuff lined up and can’t wait to see it come to existence in black vinyl with neat covers!!
And with SEXES we have an insane project up our sleeves. I’m a bit afraid it’s over the top. Can’t tell you about it, it would sound like bragging! (laughs)
Let’s trace back to the roots of it all, how did it all start for you in the realm of electronic music? Do you recall a life-changing moment – hearing a record, attending a gig… or basically anything that made you think, ‘that’s it, that’s what I want to do with my life’?
Hmmm not really. I have always been rather comfortable with the prospect of keeping searching! New possibilities keep popping up and unexpected encounters enrich me. I feel I’m a bit lucky that I don’t have that constant fear of failure and a future spent in misery brought forth by a lack of money, like many people I talk to – who in fact often have more money than me.
Of course it sometimes makes me uneasy when I realise I can’t pay my rent but somehow it has always worked out and my life has been very rewarding – seriously: I have had more enriching encounters than I ever dared to wish for! I feel very lucky in that respect, but if I don’t want to attribute it just to luck (or God, or destiny for that matter) the only explanation I have is that I have always tried to increase possibilities instead of limiting them and keep an open mind towards whatever comes my way! Also I have always been fascinated by music though, and never grew bored of it!
"I feel I’m a bit lucky that I don’t have that constant fear of failure and a future spent in misery brought forth by a lack of money, like many people I talk to who in fact often have more money than me."
Now back to Don’t DJ, how and when was the project born?
I have been DJing since the mid ’90s. At some point I wanted a DJ name that included ‘DJ’ so designers don’t add “DJ” awkwardly on the flyers. Solo-productions got released under that moniker from 2013 onwards.
Drums and percussions are at the centre of your music, which draws a healthy lot of inspiration from the ‘tribal’ side of folk music, from Gamelan to African polyrhythms, and propels them into a hypnotic maelstrom of steely techno and droning hardware linguistics. Can you tell us more about your recording methods? Are they all live-recorded or do you also use samples?
Nicely put! “… propels them into a hypnotic maelstrom of steely techno and droning hardware linguistics“, love that!! I do use samples, synths, software-synths and some generative algorithms for sound and sequences alike. Also I use a lot of sounds coming from turntables (not vinyls). I love recording stuff but the reverb on the the recording is often a problem and sometimes I’m better off re-emulating the sound in some software synth or on the turntable and have full control over the reverb. But yeah – each track is different, approaches change frequently, otherwise it’s no fun! Some tracks I’m super strict on some aspect, next track I’m like “whatever!“…
Things seem to have really got off the ground for you with The Durian Brothers, the live-focused trio you form alongside Marc Matter and Stefan Schwander, which clearly bears the seal of rhythmic experimentality of your solo work. Do you consider both projects to be intrinsically connected?
Sure! For us involved it’s hard to tell how exactly – that’s maybe even easier to tell from the outside. Then again we all have solo releases, and listening to them and the Durian Brothers you can already tell what aspect is coming from where. But the fun part is the epiphenomenalism – I mean that stuff that emerges out of the whole without an easy way to pin it down or trace it back – that’s why you do it in the end, that’s those positive surprises. With Institut Für Feinmotorik we were notoriously understating things, and that’s why (arguably) our best record got called ‘Negemergenz‘!
Is the process of group production something that helps feed your personal “vision” / keep things challenging musically speaking? Pretty much a rhetorical question I know, as I’m sure you draw a lot of energy from it, but curious to hear how much it impacts your craft…
Sure! It often is highly inspirational! Sometimes even too much, in that sense that you just lose yourself and can’t focus on your own productions. Another downside is that the social component can sometimes become very demanding. In fact if things go wrong all the group’s energy goes into finding ways to keep working together.
I mean look at any band that worked together for a longer time. Or tell me an exception. But that’s all luxury problems considering how much I learn from collaborations and the momentum they can create when they first pick up speed!
What’s your studio currently comprised of?
At the moment 4 turntables, 6 mixers, two computers, two speakers plus some smaller bits of hardware. But that’s just right now – those things may change fast. I sometimes borrow stuff from friends.
"Computers enable me to move freely through the world of sound-production without committing too much to cost, weight, space, mobility."
What piece of gear would you never get rid of and why?
Definitely the computers!!! I know that doesn’t sound as sexy as “my 303” but it’s the truth: computers enable me to move freely through the world of sound-production without committing too much to cost, weight, space, mobility! I love my computers!
I bought a new MacBook about 2 years ago, gave it back two days later and swapped it for a fresh late-2012 model and 1500 euro in cash: nearly same speed, much broader software support, broader hardware support and so many nice interfaces!! Never regretted!
Which artists made the biggest impression on you lately and why?
Popcaan!! Have a weak spot for him since few years, but ‘Forever‘ hit me real hard this summer: the songwriting, melodies, production, playfulness in rhythms – ‘Forever‘ is a masterpiece in its genre! So is Tove Styrke’s ‘Sway‘ EP! I know many people think it lost some personality compared to ‘Kiddo‘ but I think whoever says that just got Tove’s personality wrong! Besides: if she is changing – good!
Speaking of masterpieces: the Ben Bertrand ‘Ngc 1999‘ LP on Les Albums Claus is a thing of utter beauty. Also, Orcutt and Corsano finally recorded their long-going collaboration in Les Ateliers Claus this year and just released it!! That’s just a present from the universe that fills my heart with love and reassures my confidence in humankind! Makes me grateful to be alive!
rRoxymore’s live shows are awesome! And so are FOQL’s! Actually I saw a ton of great shows this year, but whether it really hits you is also a question of mood, setting, company, if you have a good reason to be happy about yourself and the world around you. If that all comes together and you hear music you love and that enriches you – that’s bliss!
What’s the last record store you visited and what did you bag there?
Sound Metaphors in Berlin. Bagged nothing, just went in to sell some new DISK because I needed money to buy food. We had dinner with my flatmates and I was in charge of doing Spätzle. I made them by hand, which is quite the process but it would be easier with 4 hands timing-wise – Indian Goddesses and Gods are in clear advantage here – but I have to say I’m rather good at it! Also I like the guys (from Sound Metaphors) so I like dropping by.
What’s your definition of happiness?
I don’t want to define it! What if my definition missed something and I wouldn’t recognise happiness in a new dress when it comes along cause I thought I already got it down??
Your worst nightmare?
Involuntarily hurting the ones I love! Honestly those are the worst nightmares! Also the human potential for collective delusion and the realities it produces: people understandably seem fed up with the slow pace of institutional democracy and its potential for abuse, so in search for fast change they vote authoritarian positions into power, and those become nightmarish realities for many people real fast. The world spiralling down that slope is a pretty bad nightmare!! As for ‘The worst‘ hmmm – the worst nightmare is that the worst nightmare is yet to come!!!
Beige Unboxing EP is out now, order a copy from Bandcamp.
2. Unboxing (Don’t DJ Dub)
3. Ghost Producer
4. Ghost Producer (Acid Arab Remix)