Backdrop with Objekt will go down at Cosmic Ballrom on Friday 10th March. Dr. Joseph spoke with him on tips for opening DJ sets, life-affirming gigs, making parties safer for all and his extra-curricular equid sketching. We look forward to horsing around on the dancefloor TJ! Edited by Hester Cheuk.
Photo by Joe Dilworth
Firstly, thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. We, and the whole city in fact, are so excited to have you visit Newcastle March 10th. How are you doing over in Berlin? What has been keeping you most busy of late?
Thanks, I’m looking forward too! I recently started a sabbatical from my day job and have been enjoying spending more time in the studio, though it’s amazing how quickly free time disappears as soon as you’re afforded more of it.
Your productions are some of the most unique and singular we have ever heard. From what I have read, you have a pragmatic and structured approach to your work. When setting about to produce a new track, how do you begin and what is your workflow process? Will you play new material out in your sets much pre-release and perhaps tweak it according to how it goes down?
My workflow is longwinded and involves taking a lot of time off, coming back to projects weeks or months later with fresh ears, and often ripping the whole backbone out of a track and starting again or cannibalising it for parts. It’s quite structured in the later stages but in the beginning I just throw paint at the wall and see what sticks. Often I’ll go for days without anything sticking and often I’ll go for weeks without being able to turn an initial sketch into anything I’m pleased with.
Playing out new material is always important of course, assuming it’s a club track. So is sending it to others for a second opinion.
You cover much more ground musically in your sets than some of your contemporaries, and don’t mind shifting through musical styles/tempos at a reasonable rate while still building a sound for long enough to establish a mood. Difficult question as of course it must vary depending on the party, but when you are DJing, apart from making people dance, what do you hope to achieve with your set? Some like to challenge musically, others like to build tension for long periods with a sustain-release approach, some work for eyes closed/heads down style dancing and other clamour for lots of hands in the air euphoric moments. Where do you stand?
All of the above, sometimes within a single set, depending on the setting and on my mood. I tend to chop and change quite a lot. The trick is finding a musically compelling way to weave through each part over the course of a couple of hours.
When selecting records to buy for playing out, do you have quite fixed criteria on what you are after? For example “I am running low on my 135bpm+ electro ragers” or “I have had enough of this batch of straighter techno and need new stuff”… or is it still very much a “i like this and will buy it”, in a more organic way? With so much good stuff being produced, you must have to have a high quality control and I am interested to know how DJ’s work on improving such a quality control.
Tends to be more the latter – definitely if I like something I’ll buy it. I’m generally most keen to play either the stuff I’ve acquired recently which I love or tracks from playlists I’ve recently reorganised. But compiling playlists is actually a good way of seeing how much music you *really* have in a certain category and searching for new stuff if you notice that one particular style is looking very thin on the ground, particularly if it’s a style you thought you could play several hours of before realising you’ve only got 10 or 20 tracks that truly fit the bill.
What tracks have not left your USB or record bag in recent times? The sort of track’s you keep going back to and don’t mind paying out a lot, they are so great when you find those.
Few ones recently:
Mu – Destroying Human Nature
Fox – Vacio (prod. DJ Florentino)
Aleksi Perälä – tons of tracks actually, but Meltdown/Meltdown Man has been a favourite in slower sections
The last Planetary Assault Systems album
Cobblestone Jazz – India In Me
I also almost always keep a beatless record at the front of my bag for intros, transitions and rescue situations – recently it’s been either Valerio Tricoli’s Clonic Earth or Zeitkratzer performing Kore by Reinhold Friedl.
You have been very honest in previous interviews regarding your electronic music past. In as much as you were not in raves endlessly and not nerding up forever on DJ sets and such. Do you find your past is perhaps therefore helpful in your emergence with a very distinct sound of your own? I guess there is no effort to impersonate anyone else. Who was then, or still is now, a big influence on your music production?
I think every artist has gone through a phase of trying to imitate someone else and I’m no exception. 8-10 years ago I went through a long period of trying to sound like Shed, and then Surgeon, then Autechre… these days I’m past trying to ape one particular artist but I do try and find reference points for any track that I’m making and compare against those.
We at Backdrop have always prioritised extended sets with one main headliner. Although this is more typical in Germany and the rest of Europe, we seem to have an obsession here in the UK with sandwiching lots of acts into 90 minute sets. We have myself (Dr. Joseph) & Simon as Backdrop residents, and the Meat Free residents, Blasha & Allatt opening for you. What tips do you have for DJ’s who are getting their break in opening for larger acts?
Beyond the obvious stuff like not redlining the mixer, not playing the headliner’s tracks (at least not without asking!) and not finishing with nosebleed techno… Enjoy it! I love playing opening sets and don’t often get the opportunity these days. I think it can often be a greater test of skill, selection and restraint than hammering it out at peak time.
In this era where it is commonplace to need to be a successful producer in order to get booked as a DJ, despite a lot of output being great, it is clear that some are producing fairly predictable music because they feel they must put something out. Or vice versa, some are making big hits very young and thus getting booked for mega sets, but they are not schooled DJ’s and can sometimes disappoint. Do you feel your years of producing helps you as a DJ once your actually there, behind the decks? Or do you feel it’s use is much more in getting respect and notoriety which then encourages the gig requests? Of course there are many other valid reasons for producing and I am not suggesting getting gigs is the only one or even the most important, but it does seem to be really useful when breaking through and I am keen to know how relevant it actually is to selecting and programming records for a room of dancing strangers!
They’re two different skill sets that need to be nourished individually, although there is an extent to which they feed into one another. I think it’s sad that it’s so difficult to get a foothold in the DJ circuit without also being a respected producer since there’s abundant examples of DJs and producers alike who are great at one thing but not the other. Personally I apply myself to both equally and definitely feel that DJing helps me craft better club records (though not necessarily non-club records) and that understanding production gives me a better understanding of sound, which in turn helps with the DJing… but for sure over the years I’ve become better as a DJ primarily through getting loads of practice DJing and collecting music, rather than through some sideways skill transfer from production.
I felt very inspired by what you said about only wanting to DJ at parties you would actually want to go to and dance at yourself, in order to keep you enthused with your work. Not wanting to overburden yourself with gigs you are not keen on. We were also chuffed therefore when you agreed to play Backdrop. What clubs, parties or festivals have you most enjoyed playing in recent years? In your experience of what makes for an exceptional party, what advice would you give to promoters who are seeking to improve?
I’ve actually felt incredibly blessed in the second half of last year to have played a kinda astonishing number of practically life-affirming gigs, to the extent that it’s hard to list them all. The closing set on a Sunday night at De School in Amsterdam was a definite highlight, along with b2bs with Call Super at Sameheads in Berlin and Phonox in London, Contact in Tokyo, getting super weird closing out Globus (upstairs at Tresor) for 20 people on NYD in Berlin, Freerotation in July… the list really goes on but what all these gigs had in common was that I felt a real connection with the crowd, usually a close physical proximity as well as a sense that we all shared a body and a brain.
Promoters are often at the mercy of the venue(s) available to them and the scene in their particular city but the things that to me really make a difference are being physically close to the crowd rather than on a stage, great sound (both out front and in the monitors), being on a lineup that (a) fits every artist and (b) attracts an interesting crowd, and an inviting atmosphere in the venue (a lovely crowd, appropriate lighting, friendly security, a sense of personal freedom, a sense of having picked the right venue to begin with). A lot of these factors are beyond a promoter’s control, particularly if there’s a dearth of good venues in a city, but there’s often things you can consider, e.g. hiring in extra sound, experimenting with the placement of the DJ booth, decorating the venue, making sure the bouncers are on the same page as you, implementing a safe space policy (properly!) and so on.
What can we expect from you musically in the near future? Any new records due out?
I have a 12” coming out towards the end of March and details will be announced soon, with another one hopefully coming before the year’s out. I’m working sporadically on new album material as well but as for when that will be ready is anybody’s best guess!
What do you like to do to relax outside of music? What alternative career path would you pursue if it were not music related?
I do already have an alternative career path of sorts – my day job is as a DSP developer for Native Instruments and I enjoy it very much. If I weren’t making music I guess I would want to exercise the more logical or mathematical half of my brain instead; I studied engineering after all.
In my free time I draw pictures of horses and post them on social media for validation. Maybe one day I’ll make enough money from the horse drawings to be able to quit DJing and draw horses all day long, but that feels like a long way off yet.