In conversation with… Move D

Move D has been involved in the underground scene for over 20 years, and his discography speaks for itself. As part of a newly-emerging ‘ambient techno’ scene in the 90’s, he has collaborated with Pete Namlook, Jonah Sharp and more recently, leftfield techno pair Juju & Jordash, under the name Magic Mountain High. We spoke to him about his 2005 side project with Kai Kroker, Studio Pankow, how he started out, what his journey has been like and what has changed since he first started DJing.

NT: where has been your favourite place to play this summer?

D: This summer: definitely Gottwood and Free-Rotation.

NT: Yes, I went to Gottwood! I remember on the Sunday at the Lawn Stage, when you played Kenix ft. Bobby Youngblood ‘There’s Never Been No-One Like You’. Any tunes you’ve been playing over this summer that have had a great reception from the crowds?

D: The one you mentioned just now, which is funny because I’ve had it for a while and never brought it out. But when I was going through my disco stuff I pulled it out and was like “Damn this is a nice one!” I played it on the Saturday as well, in the proper disco set and that was  the first time I really played it out. It was so funny because there was one guy right at the front and he was busting out the lyrics… people know [the song] as well like I wouldn’t really expect anyone in Germany at a party to kind of bust out the lyrics, but this guy he really knew it by heart.

NT: Why do you think the German crowd wouldn’t know it?

D: It probably comes from the mothers’ milk. You grow up around interesting music and you stay that way. Like even today, on whatever commercial station is being played, even the worst crap always has some nice elements where I think they’ve got this 19 year old intern at the studio and he comes up with this element and it’s actually kinda cool and they leave it in the final mix, and even though everything else in the song sucks but at least there is that one thing. Like when I turn on the mainstream radio in Germany, there’s just nothing in these tunes, nothing. They are so bland and predictable.

NT: As you were saying that it got me thinking of Bruno Mars and his song ‘Treasure’. It has an infectious bassline but then the rest of his music is a lot more poppy.

D:  Yeah you see American pop music is also very hard to take. Usually there is something really sophisticated about it, and the great producers like Timbaland, Pharrell, they really know what they are doing so it’s super advanced but essentially what comes out of it, people like it but it’s not really mine. It’s usually, with all the poppy, vocal stuff that everything seems to be auto-tuned and I get the cramps when I hear it. It just does me in. I much prefer a real vocal performance. I think that’s my main problem with pop music, and that’s why I prefer stuff like Nora Jones where it’s at least honest.

NT: Yeah exactly, because when they are auto-tuning they are taking away the soul of the music in which they have recorded.

D: It’s crazy and sometimes you can tell the more commercial it gets, they get a girl with good voice and she can sing the whole song in one note basically. They start working the tune and moving the melody until they are happy and you can totally tell that it’s been done this way and it’s not a real song…

NT: It has a really manufactured sound to it.

D: Yeah, full of artefacts! I think that’s why disco and funk is totally playable these days, because there are real performances of bands and singers and the energy translates through to the people. Like when I play with other big names like The Black Madonna for instance, my record has a break and she’s playing next door, I’m guaranteed to hear some hyper, wailing shit like “YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH!” diva stuff. But I think that’s funny, I like that.

NT: How exactly did you start out? Was it DJing first, and then into producing? Or was it simultaneous?

D: It was sort of simultaneous, I started playing with bands in my teenage days, I had the first two on a record in 1983, when I was 17 in a band. I was already DJing, but I didn’t realise I was heading that way, whenever we had a party at school or somebody’s home, I would be the one at the turntable putting on records. But there was only one turntable and there wasn’t really a DJ back then. To me the DJ was the guy on the radio playing the records and talking as well.

The whole definition of the job and what it is now didn’t really exist when I was [younger] and only came with hip-hop, where you learnt about MCs and DJs.

I started DJing in ’87 and it was before house and techno. In my case, I was into black music: hip-hop, funk, soul, disco and some early house music, but I didn’t classify it as that, this was before it had a name. All of this stuff, it was just dance music to me, just upbeat. We never really thought about it, but I was playing early house music as well.

When I started producing electronic music – giving up bands and stuff – it must have been around 1990’s. I also had in my teenage days, there was this guy in my town producing for some kind of footage; movies, adverts and private TV channel stuff and he had this studio. He said “Look, I need some music for this ad for print machines” or something and I made music for him. That was kind of techno. I was using sequencers and drum machines and I was doing it on my own, but I wasn’t thinking Techno yet. My friend started throwing acid house parties and I listened to the music and I started liking some of it, and since I already had some of the gear needed to make it, it was easy for me to get into…

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NT: So what sort of equipment did you start out with?

D: My very first computer was a Commodore 64 and a 4-track which the same guy made before he made Logic, but it was ancient and the 64 didn’t really work. So then I bought myself a hardware sequencer, a Yamaha. It was very basic, it just had one synth line and then I had the drum machine and the synthesiser. I also had an 8-track wheel-to-wheel, so I filled up the 8-tracks playing a lot of the stuff live.

My first ever synth was a Korg, not the POLY 6, but the less cool one – the POLY 61 – but it was cool and it sounded good. The POLY 6 was full of knobs, and the 61, you had to select the parameters, it had a keyboard still but it only had three knobs basically. Not so cool, but I was contemplating buying it again because I think about it some days and I get really nostalgic.

NT: Do you remember what model the Yamaha sequencer was?

D: It was the Yamaha QX1 I think. Then I got a DX7, that was the next major one, but it was a real pain in the ass to program, and I don’t really know what the first real hands on synth I had, maybe the Pro-One, it’s like a mini-Moog a little bit.

That one is a fine story: they had it in my local record store, new for retail price in Germany is 1900 bucks, about 900 euros/750 quid. It was, for a monophonic, quite a lot of money. Now it doesn’t sound much, but it was out of my pocket definitely. The guy just never sold it, because no serious people were there and it was analogue with knobs on it and people wanted the DX7. The first question was always “well how does the piano sound?”, they weren’t looking for synthesizers. So he never sold it and he took it to this repair place as an oscillator for checking signals, which was a real waste. When I saw it I asked him and he told me he was using it as an oscillator and that he couldn’t sell it, and I said “That’s crazy, it’s such a great synth, what do you want for it?” and he told me to just “get another oscillator for my lab and you can have it”, and that was like 14 bucks or something, so he let me take it home and this was the first synthesizer that I still have and it’s so important in all the albums I’ve done.

NT: When you started DJing, were you doing live hardware sets then, or is that something that has taken off more recently?

D: I got into electronic music around 1990. Then, I did a couple of live acts in the 1990s, but not as frequently, maybe about 10 or more because it was such an effort back then. Even if you brought the computer it wouldn’t make a sound, so you bring the keyboard and everything, but when you come home half the stuff doesn’t work anymore and then you have no money and repairing is expensive so it was kind of limited.

But we did a few memorable gigs, like Interference in 94 and 95, in 94 it was a huge festival and someone just wrote an article about it because it was like the only ever really happening ambient festival. Wild Love Parade in Tresor – everyone who was into ambient back then.

That would even include Richie Hawtin as Plasticman, High Intelligence Agency from the UK, Sun Electric from Germany, Pete Namlook, everybody. Oh, and the Psychik Warriors ov Gaia. They came up in the car from Holland, it was just after the reunification, so the roads in the Eastern part of Germany were really bad. It was such a bumpy shaky ride that when they arrived, all their floppy discs for their Atari computer had erased, because of magnetism and if you keep shaking like crazy, you lose the data. So all the computer and equipment was working, but all the sequences were gone. And another guy from Rising High Records in London, he came and his whole gear was stuck in customs and they wouldn’t release it until the Monday after the festival.

NT: Compared to when you were DJing when you first started out – obviously now you’re a very well respected DJ and producer – do you prefer the anticipation around yourself when you perform now, or then, when you were not quite as well known?

D: There’s two sides like most things in life. I think the positive I would say, people who book me know who I am and its not some some guy from the charts or whatever so they fill their line up and don’t really care, then I’m facing some crowd expecting minimal or something I don’t do like EDM. Stuff like that could happen in the 90’s as well, because in the 90’s there was a more apparent discrepancy between what I was producing and what I was doing as a DJ, I was playing probably a lot more techno in the 90’s which was a lot heavier, but my production was very ambient and sometimes people got confused.

This doesn’t really happen anymore so that is a positive, and it’s nice when people are full of expectation but sometimes it can be a burden or just too much expectation, I don’t only notice it in myself, I notice it with festivals as well. Like all the hype around Free-rotation, there was at least one year where I felt there were a noticeable amount of people that were told they really have to go it will be great, and they get there on the Friday afternoon and they ask “when is it taking off?”, you know this kind of attitude, and yeah it could be similar when you DJ, like people expecting too much and you cant really deliver or you can’t repeat it. Like the first time when everyone had their tops off in Glasgow, and you are known for that so each time you play its expected everyone will have their tops off at the end of the night. It can be quite a lot of pressure.

NT:  You’ve said in previous interviews, that you like working with others, what is it that like about working with other people on projects? How does it benefit your workflow?

D: If you look at the history of music, I believe it is common knowledge that it was the first kind of communication before there was proper language, people were starting to hum by the fire, creating words that way. So it is a very social thing.

But this generation now is the first generation that can really make music by themselves. The classical composers were doing the same thing when they were writing the music on paper, but in order to hear it they still need the orchestra. Maybe solo piano music would be the only exception that would be similar to today, because today everyone can do stuff on their own and it’s bypassing this really important aspect of music which is communication; vibing with people and experimenting with them.

My favourite music to listen to is jazz music, where players improvise or react to each other, even if its in a more static environment… even then no matter if one guy or all of them are scoring the music, if you add up the personalities it gives a variety of assets that really makes The Rolling Stones The Rolling Stones, or The Beatles, The Beatles. I think that’s same today, working with other people.

We now live in  the age of the curse of the track that never needs to be finished, because you can always add more tracks, more elements or what no  and things are endless, but it wasn’t like this in the early days of techno or house. There were drum machines and sequencers, but you were recording in the beginning, I was recording to cassettes, mastering to cassettes or whatever was coming out of the mixer, and only much later was it hard disk recording became available and the computer itself would record it for you.

Back in the day, it was still very much if you didn’t nail the track on the day, you probably wouldn’t be able to record it the next day because all the instruments and analogue gear drifts, so even when you don’t touch it, it doesn’t stay the same the next day. So there was a deadline and you hadn’t recorded it. Recording it was something that was unique and you couldn’t 100% recreate yourself, so it had a much different value to today, where you just found stuff you do with the computer and you create files and versions and you can go back to it, if the system and all the plugins still load, you can pick it up from where you left it 10 years ago.

Sometimes I wish I had that with old recordings, like if there’s one element that really sucks you could go there and eliminate it which would be great, but that’s exactly the point why it’s also getting hard today. There is no apparent end to anything, you can just get lost and I think when you work on your own, the risk is a lot higher and you kind of get wound up with all the small decisions that no one really cares about in the end and you lose your momentum of working.

When you work with people, when you collaborate, there’s always only a limited amount of time, so you jam for a couple of days, then the other person leaves. When you do a collaboration, I don’t think it’s right to start working everything once the other person has left, so basically you are left with the stuff you created over those few days, and you just have to bring it in the form it is in to be edited and released. It’s much easier to focus on a final product because there is someone else involved, and because you respect the other person involved you don’t want to take everything apart into a million pieces.

 

NT: I know what you mean, music-making is so accessible. Every other person now has Logic on their laptop, so it can seem like you can endlessly make loads of tracks but you never quite finish them. So what you are talking about is like the magic of the moment?

D: Yeah, music is very much about the magic of the moment and its easier to maintain it or capture it when you work with someone and you know you’ve only got a couple of hours and we press record now and its gonna happen. When you’re on your own you might spend days or weeks looking for sounds before you press record for the first time even, it’s a totally different approach.

NT: Now I was going to ask you few questions about the album you did under the moniker ‘Studio Pankow’ back in 2005, entitled ‘Linienbusse’, with Kai Kroker and Jamie Hodge. Is there any meaning behind the name ‘Studio Pankow’, other than that’s where you recorded the album?

D: Ah, nice one! ‘Linienbusse’ means bus route and all the titles are the names of bus stops.

Studio Pankow’ is first of all is because Kai [Kroker] back then, was one of my only friends who was an actual born Berliner and he was born and bred in Pankow. He had this nice roomy studio where we recorded it so that’s what we called it. And with Linienbusse we’d done a few tracks in a jam first, but came back to it so those names weren’t till after, when we came up with the concept.

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NT: So these tracks were more improvised jams that eventually became those pieces. There’s a very aquatic atmosphere throughout the album, was this a planned vision you had for the album or was it just something that came about naturally?

D: Well, the central piece of equipment we used on the album was so important that we mentioned it in the credits, the Nord modular. I’d just had it new and I was totally absorbed. At one point I must have been at it for like 30 hours and I wasn’t doing speed or anything, the machine just sucked me in and I just couldn’t stop. There was a nice mixing console and a good reverb and so these just helped create that reverb-y sound. It’s legit, I guess it was still a time when I was kind of still under the influence of Basic Channel, dub techno, Berlin aesthetics and we were in Berlin so I guess somehow it fits the time, but it was going in new ways as well.

NT: More experimental approaches?

D: Yes, and more free-form as well. Keeping the sound grainy but with different kind of styles, some techno, some ambient and avant-garde ideas.

NT: You used a lot of white noise snippets and they become the driving rhythm, especially with the title track, which is incredibly imaginative how it blends so well with the minimal use of piano.

D:  I was looking for the note on the piano, to start us off with something that doesn’t clash too much, but something a bit different, something that adds some relevance. I remember we had the basic background and I said I would like to hear some piano. I was actually asking Kai to do it and then he said “I can’t do it, I’ve cut my finger, it’s in a bandage” and I said “bullshit. You don’t need two hands, you just need one finger”, so I ended up doing it myself and that’s what I was hearing, trying to avoid using the obvious pleasing piano rolls.

NT: How did the collaboration with Kai Kroker and Jamie Hodge come about?

D: Kai was sort of a fan of and he went to gigs with two others who were a bit older and he was the youngster, it was almost like parents with their little boy. I think he was 17 when I met him. He was such a big fan and then he became a friend and he showed me his music and then we started working on music together.

With Jamie it was a different story. I think I was a fan of his stuff on Plus 8, then I got a fax in 94/95, from a Jamie Hodge representing a college radio station in Chicago asking for a release on Source Records, which was a full album of prepared piano, stuff that Aphex was digging later cos he also really liked this album.

I knew this guy who he wanted me to perform at this gallery opening with him, playing piano and a fretless guitar, so he booked me and we made some stuff and I told him “we have to release this”. It was all acoustic on a normal piano but you manipulate it by putting paper and springs between the strings and it gives you this crazy sound with a whole different tuning. So we put out this album and Jamie Hodge was sending me this fax asking for a copy, and I said “Jamie Hodge – ‘Born on a Rhyming Planet’?” and he said “yep that’s me” and so we became friends.

We talked about making music together and eventually I got him a gig in Germany and he came and stayed with me in ’96, we laid down some tracks which later became the foundation for the first Conjoint album. He was living in Chicago then, but now he lives in Copenhagen and is married to a Danish girl and has two daughters, so I don’t see him that much. Kai also moved around the time ‘Linienbusse’ was released, he moved to Thailand and opened a resort there, so I haven’t seen him in at least five or six years.

NT: Both of them are very elusive online.

D: Yeah, both of them quit music but Richie Hawtin is really eager to re-launch Plus 8, and he wants to re-release a couple of important things from there, so he is chasing Jamie to release the Rhyming Planet stuff. They are talking about remixes and stuff because Jamie is a very organised and tidy guy so he has all the MIDI data and the sounds all using one expander, the Yamaha TG77, and he has all sounds so he can 100% re-make it, so this might be coming out soon. I’m also really thinking another Conjoint album would be really great because Karl Berger is now eighty-one years old and he’s still a great player but it’s gonna be limited in some respects. He lives in Woodstock and he doesn’t like to travel, he has a studio there and he tells me to come anytime to do it, but id like to be there with my gear of course, not just with my laptop. I could pre-produce some stuff to take over there and then have them play.

NT: Talking about collaborations, are there any people that you would still like to work with?

D: Yeah, since I already dedicated a tune to him – Larry Heard – and of course you can dream of people who are dead, like Miles Davis,  John Lennon or others. Others that you don’t know personally or how a collaboration would work, thinking of Richard James for instance. Usually, I never try to force it but I wait for it to happen naturally, like Juju & Jordash was by coincidence, as though it was meant to happen, although we owe part of the credit to Dekmantel because they had the idea for us to jam together. We knew each other otherwise we wouldn’t have been up for it, but it was there idea to just improvise a jam at a party they run and that’s the first time we did it and decided to continue.

The only exception would be Reagenz with Jonah Sharp because I was really a big time fan in the early 90’s with his stuff on the label Reflective Records and his Space Time Continuum stuff with Terrence McKenna. In that case, I asked Pete [Namlook] for his phone number and when I was travelling there as a tourist, I just phoned him up in San Francisco and told him I would like to meet him. He told me he’d seen me in the NME, we were very lucky the month before we had a double page in the NME, so he knew about us and it was great. The first day we met we arranged to go to the studio the next day and did the first Reagenz. With some people it works better, with others it’s a bit more work, it goes down to how they work and their personalities and if you share the same music taste because it can be hard with directions and stuff, but with others you don’t need to talk to about it.

NT: More recently, last year I saw you in Manchester at Hidden when you did Magic Mountain High with Juju & Jordash, you had a very hardware-heavy set-up.

D: That wasn’t a good one though.

NT: Was it not? We enjoyed it.

D: Was it ok? We didn’t like it. It was nothing wrong with the venue, it was our problem. If you improvise it can’t be equally as good every time, and sometimes there is bad chemistry, I mean something about the band wasn’t perfect. I think even if we are shit, if I was going to see a performance and I didn’t know the band and I would see three guys that apparently go for it and don’t really have a plan, then I would be pretty impressed how balls-y they are, but I mean it does make sense most of the time.

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NT: What do you think about the imminent closure of Fabric in London?

D: Yeah I haven’t really read the article properly, do they have to close by the end of the year or what’s the deal?

NT: What I’ve read is that if they do get to re-open there are going to be a lot more sanctions and regulations in place.

D: So everything is on hold?

NT: Yeah, it hasn’t been fully closed yet, but with so many recent nightclub closures, do you feel like the nightlife is slowly being closed off, because that’s what it can feel like here in England?

D: Obviously in places that are expensive it can be hard for the underground to find their place and I think more than talking about casualties we are talking about real estate and that’s probably the main reason why they want to get rid of it with that particular venue. It’s such an upcoming neighbourhood and they wanna sell and they don’t want drunken people being noisy in the street. But it’s the part of gentrification and you can watch it in New York, it’s always moving to where there is less pressure in real estate and market prices.

I think also London will find other ways, there’s probably parties going on in attics that are really small and vibing and we just don’t know about it. It’s a massive problem and it’s a bigger problem than it is for Manchester, there’s still a lot of void space that you could do stuff and there’s other cities as well like Leeds, which is so dominated by the student scene, that there isn’t as much competition as London with the party scene, and its small compared to whatever pub scene or the tourist hotels, the average and the non-nightlife and it clashes in other places too. 

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NT: Part of the underground is hunting it and finding it again anyway. I read somewhere in your interviews, that you said the DJ has sort of taken the place of the rock-star, are you happy with this or do you prefer the more informal setting?

D: Definitely the more informal setting, and when we are talking about techno, what it meant to me, why it was so revolutionary in the beginning was the fact that you deal with a totally different vibe and crowd, that people pay attention and look after each other, and strangers would ask strangers if they were feeling alright, or if they needed water or something, stuff that I hadn’t seen in a disco in the 80’s ever. Part of it was there was no bullshit with the mega-star big stage that it would become, but nowadays everybody’s using their real name again, whereas when I started it wasn’t an option. The ethics were more like “it doesn’t matter, its either a good tune or a bad tune and that’s all it is”, and its not cool to put your name on it in big letters. I like that and I prefer the smaller parties to the bigger parties, I want to be on the same level and definitely not on a high stage and no barriers in between, and people should be able to talk to me whilst I play.

NT: So we wont be seeing Move D headlining Tomorrowland next year?

D: No not really (laughs) my friend Axel Boman was playing there and he was really curious, and of course I would be curious to see it but after five minutes I would pray that somebody takes me out of there.

–MOVE D SPOKE TO LEWIS EYLES–

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