WHP FEATURE 008
Matthew Dear is electronica‘s renaissance man. Whilst many of the dance community consider themself David Bowie-esque masters of reinvention should they so much as write a tune 10 bpm slower than their last, Dear has merrily zig-zagged far and wide across the dance spectrum, sure-footed and excellent in whichever style he’s settled on.
In the mainstream press he’s feted for his work under his own name, although journalists have still struggled to pin that guise to a single genre, throwing around terms such as ‘avant pop’ and ‘synth wave’ to sum up Dear’s mix of deep, sardonic vocals and glimmering synthetic beats. Meanwhile, on the underground he’s loved for the stripped back techno bangers he’s produced over the last decade as False, Jabberjaw, and, most famously, Audion. This year saw him return to his Audion guise, his new album Alpha confounding anyone who assumed he’d follow up the critical and commercial success of 2012’s Matthew Dear release Beams with more wonky pop. Instead he pulled together an album of uncompromising instrumental techno, and aimed at the deepest of dancefloors. It was a reminder that he can switch between songs for radio and tracks for the club, apparently without breaking stride.
Ahead of his DJ set at Warehouse Project, we caught up with Dear over Skype to talk through where he’s at. What we got were insights into his adopted, beloved home of Detroit, some heads up on what to expect from a Matthew Dear set (*Spoiler – it has to make you dance*), and the story of how a chance meeting with Will Saul led to him signing a brand new record deal…
It sounds like you’re intentionally putting obstacles in your path-
Yeah, exactly, I’m making it harder.
Hey Matthew, what are you up to today?
At the moment I’m playing around with my old MPC 2000 – I unboxed it and did a little maintenance, got a new screen and a bunch of new memory for it that takes it from a 32meg sampler to a 4 gig sampler – it’s fun.That’s the old hip hop machine that DJ Premier used to use right?
Yeah, yeah a lot of the old house guys used it as well – I think Mr G still uses it for his live show and production. You still have to use the jog wheel to save sound names, so you spend so much more time focusing on little things that are so quick on a computer. So you’re thinking, OK what do I name this kick drum? And that naming process takes you a minute just to scroll through each letter, and as you’re doing it you’re thinking, man this better be a really fucking good kick drum, cos it’s taking me so long to save the thing…! But it’s making me a lot more selective with what I put into a song, just because it takes so long. It’s a re-appropriation of the way I work, getting away from the computer for a few days.It sounds like you’re intentionally putting obstacles in your path-
Yeah, exactly, I’m making it harder.Does using the MPC lend itself more to a certain one of your aliases? Like, does it end up sounding more like Audion or more like Matthew Dear?
It could be anything really. Last night I made something on it that was 105 bpm, so that’s a lot more on the lines of the Matthew Dear stuff I’m making for the next album. I mean, the MPC’s got such a groove to it, it can really be either Audion or the MD stuff – right now I’m working on a remix for Crosstown Rebels, so those are the sounds I’m loading into it now. It’s just a nice side step to have in the studio.
Hahaha… That’d be great, and then maybe I could get royalty percentages for Audion on Matthew Dear projects. I’d be like ‘this is technically written by Audion so we have to pay me twice’.
You just said you were working on the next Matthew Dear album – does that mean that you’re planning on following this year’s Audion album with a Matthew Dear record?
Yeah, I think it kinda has to be. I still have tons of new Audion stuff, so I’m thinking of doing an EP with Spectral Sounds, or maybe another label- I would like to get more of the music out. I don’t want to do a total about face and move too far away from the Audion stuff. I think the goal now is to keep it all going, there’s really no reason for me to shoot back and forth on such giant pendulum swings, I can do it all, and with the rate of consumption now, I think people can afford to get into two projects by me at the same time. I don’t think that’s really gonna throw anybody off. Ten years ago we were more careful about that, we didn’t want to confuse people. But now it’s almost as if people prefer you to have too many things going on at once, so long as it’s all good.Does this mean that the projects will start to bleed into each other?
We’ll see! My goal is to make the next album as Matthew Dear more electronic, darker and weirder, and that sounds like Audion to me.
I don’t think we’re gonna get that deep into it. But I’m already crazy so it doesn’t matter…
So does there come a point where the ultimate form of Matthew Dear emerges, where you finally draw all the sides of you into this Dear-totality?
Hahaha… That’d be great, and then maybe I could get royalty percentages for Audion on Matthew Dear projects. I’d be like ‘this is technically written by Audion so we have to pay me twice’.This sounds like a recipe for schizophrenia…
I know, I know. I don’t think we’re gonna get that deep into it. But I’m already crazy so it doesn’t matter…Ha, well moving on, I believe you moved out to the countryside, is that still the case?
No, I did for 2 years, and then I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we started the label [Ghostly international] almost 20 years ago. I moved back here and I’m happy – I just finished the studio and it’s awesome, it’s the first time I’ve had an acoustic treated studio, everything’s done to a tee, with all the right dimensions, the sound’s really tight and thick, it sounds good. I’m just slowly sinking back into full studio mode, the last couple of years I was renovating a house so everything was laptop and headphones and little speakers in the kitchen every now and thenDoes that mean that you wrote the latest Audion album after moving back to Michigan?
I think one of the oldest songs on the album was recorded when I was in the country in upstate New York, but most of it was written and finished in Ann Arbor. I had a little loft space in the top of my house, I set everything up and it was really open. I had a nice pocket of sound and could get a really tight mix on the album. It represents a really interesting period in my life in terms of production, and I’m happy with the way it turned out. I kept pushing it and changing it and pushing it and waiting for the style of the album to come out, and what finally ended up on the record came together in a matter of two months.
There’s something about Detroit. There’s an energy force within it.
Did you find moving back towards Michigan pushed you back towards the techno side of your output?
Yeah, definitely. It was funny, I tried to start writing the album in upstate New York and I realised, OK, what the hell, I moved to the middle of the woods where it’s peaceful and I’m surrounded by animals and pine trees and I’m trying to write weird, hard dark techno. Anyone can tell you that that’s not the environment to write that in. But now being closer to Detroit, and seeing more people, more buildings, more machines, the good ol’ industrial decay of Detroit, it definitely wears on me in a good way for my musical side.Journalists love talking about the industrial architecture of Detroit influencing techno, and I wonder if that is a still a thing, or if it’s just a neat cliché that we like to repeat – but you’re suggesting that there definitely is a link between making this machine music and being surrounded by post-industrial decay-
Well maybe I’m being affected by the exact same thing that you guys are too – I’ve read all the articles, so maybe I’m just a by-product of that idea as well, heh. But I love it. I flew back in yesterday from playing an Audion show in DC, and as I was landing, I was getting that buzz, oh I can’t wait to get into my car and drive home, I was thinking about going into Detroit, and I realised, I don’t get this excited about a lot of places. I used to get it about Ibiza maybe 5 years ago when there was a lot of energy there. I used to get really excited to go out to the clubs and check out what was going on, and I realised as I came into Detroit, man how I’m feeling is pretty similar. There’s something about Detroit. There’s an energy force within it. I’ve likened it to a siren song, the city kind of lures you in with this idea of oohhhhh, something magical can happen if only you could help… come and offer your two cents…
How is the city doing at the moment? To an outsider it appears to have been through some pretty harsh times
Well, I guess as an insider, where I lived downtown 15 years ago now has coffee shops, really good restaurants, bars. Right below the apartment where I used to live is an aerobics gym. I drove past where I used to live the other night at 10 o’clock, and there was a little bike tour, people taking a city tour. If you’d done any of that stuff 15 years ago people would be like, ‘you’re going out on a bike? At 10 o’clock? In Detroit? Are you crazy?’ And you wouldn’t have been able to find any of those restaurants or coffee shops. There was only one karaoke bar and it was a total dive bar. Now it’s completely overhauled.
the mayor of Detroit was down there dancing in the centre of a big dance circle. I remember thinking, man that’s so cool,
Is that not just gentrification?
That was my second point. Totally. So, yeah, the white people are happy. Like, ‘yay! We got a new coffee shop in Detroit! And it looks just like the rest of the modern world!’ But in terms of the neighbourhood just outside of there, the plight of a large group of people who aren’t getting the due diligence and respect that they likely deserve, and the political corruption behind the whole city? Yeeeahhh, I don’t think that’s changing as quickly as it should be. But, with more money that comes into the city from other stuff, maybe there will be things that benefit all of Detroit at a certain point – there’s a lot of big investment now that wasn’t there – they’re building a new hockey arena, they’re implementing a new train line to connect the suburbs to downtown – the signs are actually up for that and the rails are in, so it’s imminent. So things like that are very major, aside from gentrification. There’s billions of dollars money coming into the city. Are the people investing getting their pockets lined? Yeah they’re getting a big chunk of change for sure, but they are also definitely taking a chance on the city, and trying to do something for a city that I’m sure they love. So it is changing – we’ll see in another ten years how much of that is for the good or for the bad. I was in Chicago recently and it was amazing to see how they’d renamed street signs in honour of various house legends – is there that same sense of civic pride in techno in Detroit?
Yeah, for sure. The first Movement festival, 15, 16 years ago, when it was free, the mayor of Detroit was down there dancing in the centre of a big dance circle. I remember thinking, man that’s so cool, the mayor is down here enjoying this history of Detroit techno. Those big Detroit guys, Juan Atkins, Derek, Kevin, they all got a key-to-the-city-style award where city hall recognised there contribution to Detroit, and the artistic gift they’d given to the city and the world. So there is some sense of respect that these guys did a lot for Detroit And has that respect spread across America? From Europe we always have such an exaggerated sense of the importance of these iconic American cities like Detroit and Chicago that I don’t think is mirrored in the States…
No, you’re right. It’s really not. Outside Detroit, and dance music culture – and even within dance music culture- I talk to so many people who just don’t know that techno was essentially started in Detroit then appropriated by Europe and turned into wherever it is now. You really don’t get a lot of knowledge. It’s not taught in schools, that’s for sure. Has the huge boom in dance music in America not changed that at all?
Well, not really, That scene comes more from a rock n roll, Instagram, selfie nation, rather than the history of actual techno music. It’s interesting for you because you span both worlds – the live performance, band world, and the techno purist world – do you ever bring any of that necessary showmanship from live performance to your Audion shows?
No, not really. I like to just put my head down, stare at my machines and make music for an hour. Even with the light show and everything, I’ve stripped back – it’s just about good weird techno music for me when I play as Audion.
me and Will Saul – who’s doing the A&R for !K7 – we shared a flight from London to Morocco, we had seats next to each other, I played him some new stuff and he got very excited
And is part of that a reaction to the excess of EDM?
Yeah, 100%. I can’t afford to put on those kind of shows, and there’s no middle ground. You can put on something that’s kinda cool for $50,000, but if you put it on stage next to a million dollar show then it’s just gonna fall flat, so for me, it’s like what’s the point? I’d rather just focus on the music and the gear I bring out, and make it all sync together from a sonic perspective – that’s the most important part I think. And what about when you’re DJing? Do you play any of your own music?
Ummm, every now and then I’ll play some new stuff of mine, but I really hate playing music that I’ve put out. It pains me to hear it again ‘cos I feel like I’m not digging to deep. Right now I just got a load of new stuff from Juno, I’m really digging the Sound Stream record Bass Affairs, something from Dan Curtin on Turquoise Blue, Home Taping is Killing Music have some really good stuff. I’ve been playing a lot of stuff from Pressure Trax, their Silver Series, just lots of house-y deep, dark, weird stuff. If it’s got a good rhythm to it I’ll play it - I don’t get too off the wall, I like stuff to still groove, even if it has some ambient element to it, it’s still got to have a great groove. And how are things with Ghostly International?
Was it a tough decision to release you’re latest album through a different label? It wasn’t really tough, it was just good to get a new perspective on everything. If you’re with somebody for so long and you ask them to do something for you, it kinda feels like work again, there’s that feeling of, [sighing] ‘oh OK, here we go, here’s another album, let’s start the email chain and the artwork train’. It felt good to do all that with someone new, and use a refreshed energy and approach, to see how !K7 worked their press angle and the artwork. And it gave us a little break – Ghostly are really good, but it felt good to try something new. More importantly it came from me and Will Saul – who’s doing the A&R for !K7 – we shared a flight from London to Morocco, we had seats next to each other, I played him some new stuff and he got very excited. He was very pro-active in getting the album signed to !K7. It was good, it was a chance meeting that turned into a physical action. Matthew, thanks for talking