Artist To Artist: Dj Three & Kenneth Gibson
DJ Three has been pursuing quality house and techno since the early 90s. Credited as being influential to bringing the rave scene to Florida, in recent years Three's Hallucienda label has seen releases from the likes of Doc Martin, Terry Francis, J. Alvarez, Ulysses and Radio Slave – and of course Kenneth Gibson, who he talks to today, covering shifting genres, future projects, and the underground US dance scene…
Three: How's it going?
Gibson: Good man, good good. Getting over a cold and drinking lots of hot beverages.
So, I was just thinking about how we met and how long this journey has been so far. I can't even remember what year it was. Had to be 2003 or ’04?
Well, at least, because the first Reverse Commuter 12” was 2003.
Over a decade and it's been quite a path. I remember coming out to L.A. and visiting my friend Sean, who we'll circle back to in a minute, and he wanted to play some music that he had been working on with a friend, which was you. I listened and the first thing that caught my ear was that it sonically reminded me of a lot of Electric Company. For our readers, Electric Company is this guy Brad Laner who is also in a band called Medicine that I only realised today was the first American band signed to Creation. So yeah, I told Sean, "Man, you know the sound design is amazing and reminds me of Electric Company.” Then we met you in person and I remember telling you that. You said, “You're fucking with me right? Because I actually work with Brad and I co-wrote and co-produced some of the Electric Company stuff.” We hit it off instantly.
Yeah, that first record from Electric Company was definitely a big influence on my earlier stuff. It's still awesome. I still listen to it, it’s a really good record.
I didn't realize that some later Electric Company stuff was sampled by cats like Brian Eno and Caribou and he (Brad Laner) worked with M83.
Anyway, I remember around that time the experimental stuff you did as Eight Frozen Modules was getting a lot of attention. XLR8R Magazine proclaiming that you had "smashed the IDM model" and all this stuff. There's been no lack of interesting things going on with you since we met.
Yeah, totally man.
Circling back to our friend Sean – Sean Patrick of Bystander Music. I remember asking you to remix the Bystander song featuring Mount Sims and Linda Lamb called ”History Is Not Shrinking” for the Phono Obscura compilation. We had to have Linda Lamb re-record the vocals and thats all there was. No remix parts, no anything.
Oh, were those not the original vocals? I didn’t know that.
Yeah, I sent you those vocals and a couple songs for inspiration and literally 24 hours later you sent back that remix. I couldn't believe it. Not that i needed it, but It validated my belief and interest in you as a musician, as that remix is absolutely stellar.
Around this time, you linked with Brian McBride of beloved shoe-gaze indie band Stars Of The Lid. You formed a new band called Bell Gardens with him. The new album on the Rocket Girl label, Slow Dawn For Lost Conclusions, seems to be doing quite well?
Yeah, it’s gotten some really good press, actually.
So, now Bell Gardens is two albums deep, and all that was happening concurrently with the final push to get the Reverse Commuter album Exposure finished. I think the lines between indie music and dance music do cross quite a bit. Do you find that one informs the other? Or, that Reverse Commuter was more informed by your experience working with live instruments? You play a lot of instruments on the Exposure album and you sang your own backup vocals on the “History Is Not Shrinking” remix. What's it like being in both an Indie band that is completely devoid of dance music stylings, but also doing electronic music?
Well, I’m influenced by every fucking type of music you can imagine and I guess I’m trying to essentially be multiple people. If that makes sense. My other projects are completely different, from Bell Gardens to Reverse Commuter to Eight Frozen Modules. I guess the idea was that the joy comes in doing completely different stuff and seeing what happens with it.
What about the dynamic between the immediacy of writing electronic music and being in a band where you have to meet up for practice? How do you manage the strengths and weaknesses of both mediums?
Well, Bell Gardens doesn't really work a normal band where everyone gets together and records a record. Basically, Brian and I work on a bunch of stuff and then I'd work on stuff alone a bit and than we would have each person come in and record their parts and experiment. We experiment a shit ton in Bell Gardens. It’s kind of experimental in the way that we are trying out every kind of sound and different kinds of instruments, all within the platform of that one song we are working on.
You and McBride both act as writers and producers and then you get the other musicians in and I guess that essentially leaves it as a bunch of jams you flesh out into arranged songs?
Sort of, a lot of times we start out with the basics. We would write a song and lay down the basic tracks then slowly have people come in and record their parts. It’s not really a jam, it’s pretty structured stuff. Live we do go into some territory, going off the map and jamming in at least one or two songs. We have some amazing players in the our band … we’re pretty lucky.
So tell me then with Reverse Commuter, as far as collaborations go, Kelly Johnson is in fact your wife and she sings on a couple tracks on Exposure?
Yup, she sings on three Reverse Commuter tracks and she sings on a bunch of other tunes. She's also a drummer and backing vocalist for the band Ides Of Gemini.
Are those her lyrics or are you writing for..?
No, those are her lyrics. She has a real knack for quickly writing awesome lyrics.
And one of the most exciting things for me on the Reverse Commuter album is having Douglas J McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb singing on “Whispers In”. It resonates because of my musical history and how big the pre-rave culture dance music of Chicago’s Wax Trax era and industrial music in general was for me. I’m assuming this was a side effect of you remixing a track off his very successful solo album in the year prior?
Yeah, I remixed his single "Hey" that came out a couple years ago. I hit him up not too long after and asked him if he wanted to collaborate on a tune. He came over and we instantly became friends.
How was it working with him?
Basically I gave him the rough tune and he went home and wrote on it and came about a week or two later. We got together and, man, he knocked it out in 20 or 30 minutes.
There's already a music video for Whispers In that you can find on YouTube via Thump Magazine. Do you have any plans to work with Doug again in the future?
Yeah, we've talked about definitely collaborating on some stuff very soon and in the new year.
With these albums from both Reverse Commuter and Bell Gardens recently released are you still constantly writing?
I have been writing some new stuff. I've been messing around with some new Reverse Commuter shit. Actually adding more guitars and stuff and more live instruments.
Taking Reverse Commuter further into that "dub house disco" type of vibe?
Yeah, and two new ones have an almost ‘60s psychedelic, almost jazz influence.
Which is great. I tend to describe Reverse Commuter as if there was a California disco cult Reverse Commuter would be the in-house band.
I love that. I love that.
So tell us about your label Adjunct Audio a little bit. I'm not even sure how many years it’s been going on? I would have to say in the last two years it’s been one of the more interesting dance music labels.
Thanks man. It's been going on 10 years now. We are at about 70 releases at this point. We've done a lot. One of the bigger releases was the last compilation that Mark "Blakkat" Bell of Shaboom Records fame mixed.
Yeah, it’s fantastic. It’s great to have Mark involved with you, as he is someone who's been a sort of big brother to me in dance music. You guys met because he relocated in Los Angeles?
Well, we met… were we in a elevator with him, or maybe you told me about him? I met him through you.
I think I did introduce you two in an elevator!
I don't remember where it was but I remember having a conversation and Mark and I have been friends ever since.
He is another one like you: a natural. He is a singer, songwriter, producer, a programmer, you know. He plays instruments. You two are peas in a pod. He’s not just a DJ making dance music or anything like that.
Yeah, he's the real deal. We are going to working on some new stuff soon. I've sent him one track already that he's been working on vocals for. He's actually going to be working a bit with me with my ‘job’. I’ve been doing a lot of music for TV and film.
Yeah, that was another question I was going to ask you. In all this stuff that you do, including family life, how do you find the time to also work on music for film and television?
Man, I'll tell you, this year it’s been hard to do that. This year has been almost all work. Its been 90 percent work. And not for my own music. By the beginning of 2014, I think the Reverse Commuter album was completely done. The Bell Gardens album was completely done.
Now in 2015, what are your focuses for the first half of the year?
For me, a lot more film and TV work but I am working on new Reverse Commuter material. I think new Bell Gardens work will start sooner than later. Working, very slowly on a ton of other different projects as well.
You also make your own music videos. You made the music video for “Whispers In”. Is that just something you do in your spare time? How do you have any spare time??
Yeah, the little spare time I have. I've done the video for Douglas McCarthy. With Brian I did the new Bell Gardens video. I did a video for Dance Spirit which will come out soon. The Bell Gardens one is “Take Us Away”. We went out to Death Valley with our friend Chad who stars in the video. That was fun, man.
Is there going to be a premiere date for that?
That's out. That's premiered already.
What about the Dance Spirit Video?
I don't know. Their album got pushed back, I guess. I think it’s coming out in March on Supernature.
So by the spring then?
I think so. That was fun too. We went out to my friend’s cabin and shot a crazy video out in the desert … like a desert cabin type thing out in 29 Palms. It’s almost like a lo-fi David Lynch thing or something.
Any thoughts or opinions on indie band or dance music life in Southern California? You always struck me to be the type that doesn't get too concerned with it all. You just get your head down and get on with it.
You know, I haven't kept up so much with current scenes, really, to be honest. I’ve been so busy and I've actually been trying to get away from keeping up. It’s sort of in a weird way to get back into my own space without thinking about where things went or where things will come from … I guess.
I think the best creativity is fueled by not paying much attention to what's going on.
Yeah, I mean we are actually considering moving to up to the mountains, man. Two hours from here. It's a little place called Idyllwild. We could still get to L.A. in less than two hours and we've been talking about it for a while. We are just looking for the perfect place.
I'm always fascinated by electronic musicians who don't live anywhere near the city. I know Pete Namlook lived deep in the countryside.
That's where I want to be.
And then make literally "out there" cosmic, electronic music. Sounds like an excellent idea to me.
Cosmic. It definitely is more spiritual up there. Yeah, man, it’s awesome.