History & Discovery: Dj Bone Talks

DJ Bone cuts through the chatter.

History & Discovery: Dj Bone Talks

DJ Bone cuts through the chatter.

It's fair to say that, at this moment in time, Eric Dulan AKA DJ Bone is enjoying a period of much deserved attention. The motor city native has been one of the towns most prolific and forward thinking DJs for over two decades, with a string of releases on his own Subject Detroit imprint that have such a strong personal stamp that they couldn't have been written by anyone else. He was a resident at the legendary Detroit nightclub Motor, and had the honour of recording one of the very small number of DJ sets to make it onto the Peel sessions.

With all of these accolades behind him you would expect Bone to be a household name in the dance music scene but until a recent string of releases on labels like Leftroom and the very fertile new project under the name Differ-ent with Don't Be Afraid he's definitely been flying under the mainstream radar. His level of talent is only matched by his uncompromising outlook when it comes to the hype and the bullshit that tends to walk hand in hand with the electronic music industry. With a new collaboration with Deetron just dropped on Subject Detroit and a Differ-ent album on its way on DBA, now seemed like a perfect time to sit down with Bone and find out what makes him tick.

Ok I'm aware that you've done a lot of interviews recently so I'm going to try to make this a little different. Let me take you back to the 4th of December 2011, you’re DJing on a tiny little boat in Shropshire because two dudes, Si and Aaron, have got in touch with you and said that they couldn’t afford to go to your gig, and asked if you would be able to play on their boat in Shrewsbury. Tell me about that.

Haha, that is hilarious man! Oh man I can't believe someone remembers that. I got booked to play in London and I went and did the gig and then there were these few guys from Shrewsbury that couldn’t make it and were a little upset by it. So they contact my wife who was doing my bookings and asked what it would take for him to play a small boat party down there as they couldn’t make it up to London. So she told them the fee and everything and they just said they’d get back to us. So they went away and I guess they ran the numbers and then they came and said they’d do the full fee and everything. I was just sat there whilst my wife was telling like, ‘are they serious?’ The boat would have held like 70 people tops, so I was just wondering how they were going to do it. She was still in contact with them and she was wondering too, so she asked what they were up too. What they did was they contacted all the fans they knew in the area and they all just split the cost.

Well I have to say is that I’m from Shrewsbury and unfortunately I wasn’t on that boat but that whole thing really said something to me. There just seemed to be an element about you that was just cutting through the bullshit and linking with fans directly, rather than just dealing with a cool promoter with a big line up and load of money.

That’s just how we roll normally. If I get an email or call from Fabric or Berghain then I might take the booking, it all depends. It has to be on point etc. But I would much rather go and play an underground party or in a place that people know who I am, they want me to come and nobody knows of the place. It’s easy to go and step into the Rex Club or I’m playing so and so club on this circuit. It’s easy. People think it’s a great honour and a big deal, but it'd just that they contact your agent and that’s that. People they think who deserve to play there they contact them. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m pretty happy with my career and I’m satisfied with my talent, so when I get booked for these place it’s not a shock. I just see it as it's about time they booked me. But I get really excited when someone has actually got something to lose or they’ve got to put something at risk, that’s when it becomes a challenge. So if they’re up for bringing me and they pull out all the stops. Those are the gigs you’ll never forget.

How was that night?

It was amazing. It was a ridiculously good party on a boat. I didn’t even think it was going to work and the first time we couldn’t even cruise as it rained like crazy and the water level was so high we wouldn’t have fitted underneath the bridge.

Yeah, we get that a lot in Shrewsbury.

When they said we were just going to have to sit there everyone was just like, ‘Fuck it!’ My agent and I came up with an idea that we should do a mix CD for that party, so only the people that went to the party had that mix. When I got there I signed every single CD for everybody.

I know that you did that and I’ve never seen that mix online anywhere, so people were pretty keen to keep that for themselves.

I love that and I’d love to do more stuff like that. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing the big clubs but it’s basically the same thing every week just with different DJs. Right?

Yeah.

A boat party though Is a whole other story, or if you go to Freerotation it’s a different story. It’s an experience and not just a club at its finest on any given weekend.

I guess it’s an experience for you too. People might go to Fabric or Berghain and it might be the one night of their life that’s brilliant and all that, but I guess for a lot of DJs that are on the circuit, they’re just on the circuit.

Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with that. People are allowed to be happy with the circuit and only do big room parties or festivals. Each to his own. I know guys that only want to play to rooms of 200 – 400 people, it just depends. It’s just after all these years I get excited when something special comes along.

Were you surprised by the level of support and where Techno had got too, if you know what I mean? It’s a pretty tiny place and nobody really knows that it’s there.

I wasn’t surprised at the fact that Techno was there, but I was surprised at the fact that underground Techno was prevalent. Everybody can do that thing where they say that they make Techno, when really it’s just EDM. But for them to know not only me, but some the songs that I’m playing; if I’m playing DJ Nasty and then go into some Aaron Carl and they pick that up, that’s knowing. That’s deep.

Have you found that anywhere else? Not necessarily the same experience, but have you been brought to other places and found that level of knowledge elsewhere?

Yeah and it’s shocking every time. There was Lausanne in Switzerland and there have been other times when I’ve played a couple of off beat parties in Paris, which were really good, and everybody knew who I was and they all knew what I was about. Just imagine if everyone walked into a club one night and were all on the same page. They were all in the same frame of mind and looking for that same experience and weren’t going to take anything less. That also means that I have to be on top of my game, it keeps me on my toes. I can’t just go in there and you know, play any old stuff and just match the beat and just blend without doing any fader work or EQ because they’ll just look at me like, ‘who’s that guy?’ Those kinds of people also bring friends who have never heard of me. I love that. I love it when you hear about someone or something, or some food from somebody that you trust, as opposed to reading about it in a magazine.

So with Techno music a lot of different elements came together to form this thing that we do called Techno and it could only have happened in that place and time in Detroit. How do you feel about that message that it put out and when that spread out across that rest of world, do you think that that message still rings true in a lot of places? Do you think it changes for good or bad?

For the most part I think it’s really bad. But it didn’t get bad in a sense that people were less genuine about it, it just got bad because there was a glut. It’s just like anything else though. Coffee didn’t get bad, it just turns out that there are more Starbucks in the world. You know what I mean?

You can still get a good cup but it’s easier to get a shit one.

Exactly. It’s so easy to get a shit cup of coffee or a shit burger. That’s the problem; it takes more from the individual to seek out a good coffee or a good burger, or a good DJ.

So one of the first ways that I personally got turned onto your music was via your DJ Bone Attacks mixes that you started back in 2005. At that time there was no Soundcloud or anything like that, maybe there was a bit of MySpace, but this was before there was a hundred new mixes in your timeline every day. You’d just come on the mic, talk about whatever it was you wanted to talk about and then just let rip. It was amazing and just seemed like you wanted to cut out the middleman and go directly to the source.

That was it. At that time it was really tough because we were dealing with Juan Atkins and he’d called me up asking if we could get him some gigs as he wasn’t getting booked enough. It was a weird time, as who wouldn’t book Juan, you know? I wasn’t getting a tonne of bookings either and then it just suddenly dawned on me. That was kind of the advent of the media at it’s fullest. Whether it was online, just starting out, or in the magazines, people were deciding just based on who’s name they saw around the most. I got really frustrated with that, and that’s when The Attacks came. My fiancé knew that normally if I was in a bad mood I could go to the studio and work it out, but this time it was about DJing so I went to the studio and made a mix and that’s just what came out. I felt disenfranchised, I was angry and, like you said, I just let it rip. So that’s how it started. I cut the first four hours into the first four separate Attack shows and that’s how it all began.

It was at a time when there weren’t all these big mixes around, apart from on the front of magazines really, so what platform did you use? It was just on your website right?

Yeah, it was just on a website. I think we posted it on a few chat rooms and message boards a it was before Facebook and all that. I wasn’t really planning on releasing them as mixes; I was just working out some aggression and anger. It was my better half and came in and heard it and then said that we should put it up. At the time I never think it’s that great. It’s not until she makes me listen back to it that I realise it’s actually all right and she makes me put it up. It takes me a couple of weeks to get around to her level of thinking on it, then I suddenly realise I’m behind and need to get it done. But yeah, it was just posting on the website, posting on the chat rooms and then that was it. It went viral after that, if you can call it viral. It wasn’t YouTube or anything like that, it was just straight word of mouth. We got such a great response and people would be coming back every Monday morning looking for the next Attack to start the week off.

It’s interesting to hear you say that you go into the studio to work shit out when you’re feeling bad and it’s also interesting to hear that this was the case with those mixes as well. You really can feel the aggression in there, but there was a lot of quite uplifting stuff too. How important is it to you to have someone else go, ‘that’s the one’, and give you the green light. Do you need someone to tell you that you’re onto something?

Not really. At first I was just on my own, so I’d just decide. I’m my worst critic. I’m not even a perfectionist; it just had to make me feel something. If I listen to it once, I have to feel it. If I don’t then I have to go back to the drawing board because it’s missing something or a bit needs to be taken out. I think she just fast tracked it for me, I have a couple of friends who are the same too. I’d be in the studio and my friends would just be getting off the plant as they worked in the auto industry. They’d come by the crib and ask if I wanted to go to the bars with them, but I stayed in the studio. Eventually they came round to the fact that they’d be going out and getting wasted, blowing all their money, and by time they got back I’d have 5 tracks made. They’d sit there, and these were guys that didn’t really even listen to Techno, they were mainly Hip-hop guys. But if they were sitting there nodding their heads, I’d know that that shit was good.

Growing up and discovering this music that had come out of Detroit, you have it in your head that there’s this city where everyone loves Techno and it’s the biggest thing ever. But it’s really not like that. I guess it’s well known, but it’s still more of a Hip-hop city right?

It is now. So now Detroit has an official techno week, but I think it’s just there to capitalise on the tourism side of it and people come earlier and stay later. If they respect Techno that much in the city, they’d help all year round, not just one week of the year and it should have started 20 years ago, instead of 20 years too late.

I guess it’s like the Record Store Day thing where it actually turns out to be the one day of the year you don’t want to go near a record shop.

Yeah! Its still the Techno City, but it’s quieter than it used to be. There are still a lot of people in Detroit who love Techno and listen to it, but there are just not that many quality events going on. As far as I’m concerned, when I’m in Detroit, if something’s going on, I usually go to a House night. The House community is very close knit and I get a lot of support and respect from those guys. If I’m in town, it’s like a family reunion and that happens on the regular. So that’s a pretty strong movement. It’s always been that way though; I remember when I was too young to get into the club and Rick Wilhite would help sneak me in so that I could hear him DJ. That was about 28 years ago now. Look at Delano (Smith). Delano just started travelling a few years ago, but he’s been DJing for who knows how long. I was chatting to Derrick May the other day and he said that he’s the one who influenced him! So sometimes it takes a while, but I’m glad that the brothers are still churning them out and pushing it forward. I’ve got a lot of respect for the House and Techno guys there. I just wish there were way bigger and better Techno events. People always complain that when I’m in Detroit I don’t play, but then when I do, people don’t show up.

When you were first getting into this kind of music did you go to more House nights then?

Yeah, it was all House except for The Music Institute. The Music Institute was the only place that I knew I could go and hear Techno, but that’s before I knew what Techno was. That’s where I was introduced to Techno and I was too young to get into there too. So they were in there playing the music, but for me, Detroit Techno was an electronic, more advanced, sound tracked version of House. This was before faster Techno came out, so it was around the same bpm, so when I went to the record store I could buy a Todd Terry record and mix it with Juan Atkins and Derrick May. It was all the same to me at that time.

I think that still actually really shows in the way that you mix now and the feel of the records that you play. Obviously sometimes you’ll play something that’s slamming in hard and will destroy the dancefloor, but there’s always a groove there and there’s two sides to it and that’s why you’re not boring.

I miss that from a lot of people. Like I said, it’s just my preference to not play linear. I’m not one for a linear set, it has to go back and forth, up or down. Whether that's the tempo, the bpm, how hard the music is, the emotion in the music… There has to be something. For me, a perfect set is when someone comes up and says that they loved the Techno, but it was a little too Housey. But then at the same party someone else will come up and say I played a little too hard. For me, that’s perfect.

I didn’t actually mean to segue into talking about Deetron right now, but I’ve always felt with his music as well that he seems to be another person that has these two sides - both hard and funky too. You’ve just done a record with him right? Talk me through that.

We’ve known each other for years and our families have known each other as well. It’s funny because every year for Movement Festival they would be in, and we’d have a nice big dinner in Greek Town and just kick it and talk. We just met through music and then he asked me to do spoken word vocals for Life Soundtrack. So we did that and then after that we just kept in touch. It’s a friend thing as well as a colleague thing. We were in Switzerland, just visiting, and over dinner and some wine we were chatting for ages and then just suddenly realised that we had to do something and make some shit happen. So when I got back home I contacted him and said lets do it! I had tracks ready, so the pressure was on. A couple of weeks later he came back with his tracks and they were just perfect. The first things he submitted, that was it.

So talk me through the release, is it you on one side and him on the other? You can tell who’s who, but they really go well together. They’re the perfect match.

Yeah, they complement each other. That’s what we were looking for. And that’s the first one. We’re working on the second one right now and it’s going to involve a different technique, but what we’re going to do with each release is that we’re going to step up the technique. I’m not going to talk about exactly what it is, but we’re just going to take it to the next level with every EP. We spoke yesterday about what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, and we’re both on the same page. I had some ideas and before I could tell them to him, he told me his ideas. So that was perfect and we’re going to do it exactly like that.

How do you find collaborating with people? I know with this first one you’re not exactly sat in the studio working together, but have you collaborated a lot in the past?

I don’t really collaborate with anybody, to tell the truth. It would be easy, so long as you respect the person and you respect the musicality and their vibe, then I it’s going to be pretty easy. If you just try and slap two people together, no matter how good it sounds, if they don’t vibe together then it won’t work. It doesn’t matter about the names, it has to work and the people involved have to know that they can work with each other. That’s why I’m really picky about collaborating and doing remixes. I also like underdogs when it comes to remixes. If someone with a big name comes in, I’m more hesitant than if someone I’ve never heard of comes in with ta really good track. It’s kind of the usual suspect thing if someone comes in to get you to remix a track, but if you remix somebody that people have never heard of, then that’s how you introduce. Not enough people are introducing new music through new artists. It’s almost like this established guy helping out this established guy.

Absolutely. I actually wanted to come onto that a little bit. Certainly with the remix thing, sometimes it just feels like you’re going through the motions and there’s no point to the remix, it’s just because you’ve ‘got to have one.’

Yeah.

But also, when you’re talking about new and upcoming people, are there any new people that you’re buzzing off at the moment? Is there anyone coming up now that’s making you look twice?

There are a few yeah, but I don’t like to name names, as people that I don’t mention could get offended.

Very diplomatic!

But there are a few people who are making really quality stuff. Actually there’s one I can say; the new Transmat from Hiroshi Watanabe. I see it as a throwback to Detroit, but it’s in the present. It carries throughout the whole song and it can be the peak song of your night, you just need to know how to play it right. I like those songs that you have to know how to play. If I go up and I play “The Bells”, people are going to know that. But I’d be the one to go up and play “If” by Jeff Mills and he knew that and that’s why he’d send me stuff and say I should listen to the second track on the B-Side. It’s almost like mad scientist kind of stuff and he knew I was crazy enough to play that shit. These guys put a lot of effort and emotion into these tracks and the made them to be heard, and you can hear it in the tracks – especially “If”. I can remember dropping it at the D.E.M.F, I think it was the second year in Detroit, I closed out the main stage and it was raining and I played that and people just went crazy on that song. So it’s not always the most obvious stuff. There’s another guy, who I think goes by the name of Non, and I got a promo through from him and pretty much every single song is dope. It’s like a soundtrack, but it’s danceable. I love Steevio from Freerotation.

Oh man, his sound is so nice. The warmth in there and the way it rolls is wicked.

It’s really funky as well. I love it when Steevio is performing live as it’s just so pure.

Yeah. I find a lot of people, when they’re using these big modular things, it tends to be quite weird and bleepy and blobbly. The way that he makes those grooves though.

You’re right! It flows so well.

So you’ve got your first album being released soon right?

So, it’ll be my second. It’ll be my first under the moniker of Different. I’m also going to do one under DJ Bone as well. But that’s how I like people to find my stuff, because people don’t normally know me because of the first thing that I’ve done. They’ll get an EP and then they’ll look on Discogs or Google and then see that I’ve got fifty releases and go back through them. To me, it’s like I just made this stuff yesterday. We get people calling up asking if they can use that stuff every day, even though a track might be twelve years old. Nobody will call it a classic, but if you’ve got Nina Kraviz phoning you asking if she can use an eleven year old track in one of her new mixes, then that must be a pretty timeless track!

I guess if you make something and it’s the biggest thing ever for the next three months and then no one gives s shit about it, what’s the point? If someone’s picking you up from twelve years back, then fair play.

Yeah, I like that. It’s not about making disposable music. Its got to contribute something and it’s got to stand the test of time. Most of all, it has to be relevant. It all goes hand in hand. That’s why I think the Storytellers is going to do well, we’re getting a great response already.

So what goes into that? You say you put a lot of yourself into your records, where’s that album come from then?

The Different album is going to be a lot colder, stripped down and kind of obscure. I hear a lot of Techno now that’s obscure just to be obscure and that freaks me out. There’s no reason to it. It reminds me of some Hip-hop we were listening too. My friends are on this crazy ass tip with this song called Panda and he can rhyme and he’s got skills but on this track he’s mumbling his ass off. His metaphors are ridiculously nonsensical to me. It’s so roundabout, like he might say the word rice, and the meaning behind it was that something was white.

Right…

That’s just not a metaphor. There’s loads of Hip-hop out at the moment where it’s just a load of mumbling and generic. Everyone’s sounding the same and I hear a lot of Techno where it’s kind of off and quirky, but it’s just that. They’re just making stuff that sounds off on purpose. It doesn’t have a beat or any rhythm or even a purpose. It’s just so that they can say it’s different. The DJ Bone album is going to be more a more funky, personal thing, but I’m excited for both. It’s not going to be your usual Techno album where you have twelve tracks ready for the dancefloor and everything is 128 bpm and everything starts with a 4/4 kick. It’s not going to be like that. It’s not going to sound like anyone else either, which I think is also important.

When Techno started it was all about sounding like nothing ever before, and not to sound defeatist but now, the next record probably isn’t going to change the world. But, the only thing that you can try and do is be yourself and be different.

It’s sad because back then in ’88 it was phenomenal. I remember playing sets where every record I played was better than the record I played right before it. They were all good and they all quality. You could go and buy an EP and all four songs would be good, instead now only one of them will be good. I’m not one of those guys who longs for the past, but I just think that there could be more quality and more passion put into these releases and less release dates. I don’t get how people do it when they’re under the gun and have to get something done for a certain date. People always call themselves artists but I don’t know if Van Gogh had a deadline. I don’t know if Beethoven was looking at the calendar and thinking, ‘oh shit, well I’d better just turn in what I’ve got right now.’ That’s art, and when you have a deadline and you have limitations, or someone else looks at it and says it’s not right, go change it – that’s not right. That’s not art. You’ve just been stifled as an artist. It just doesn’t make sense, and I like to keep myself in that realm of considering myself as an artist by making sure that when something is done, it’s done because I’m finished. No sooner, no later, it’s just done.

Is there anything else you want to talk about?

Well me and Deetron are going to be touring Storytellers for the release and we’re going to be doing back to back sets. The debut of Storytellers is in Croatia at the Moondance Festival. Moondance is 13th August. We’re closing out the third night. The first is Jeff, the second night is Josh Wink and then the third is Storytellers.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Yeah. We’re just doing a lot of dates. I’m playing a lot of festivals this year, which I’m excited about.

Have you got anything else lined up for Subject Detroit?

Yeah actually. We have some new stuff coming that we’ve been meaning to put out but got delayed on. We’ve got some stuff from Santiago Salazar and some unreleased Aaron Carl.

Oh nice. Santiago has done some awesome stuff recently, so that's pretty exciting.

He makes some good shit. I’ve been playing this stuff out and people go nuts to it, so we cant wait to get it out there.

So when’s that out?

Actually just as soon as we can get it pressed.

So any time in the next six months then…

Yeah pretty much. We might have a shortcut to get it in there sooner, we’ll see. With this Storytellers stuff though, we really just want to push as much good music as we can. I also have a side project that’s going to be coming out soon too. I’ve not completed it yet but it’s called Cheat Codes and it’s basically something that’s going to come out really quickly and on the regular. For a period of ten or twelve weeks we’re just going to pump something out every week and then we’ll see what happens after that.

What’s the outlook on that, music wise?

Really raw. Tools, basically. When you hear it you’ll want to play it out that weekend. Then every week there will be another one, and another one etc.

That sounds exciting.

It still needs some work, but I’m excited for it as it’s something that needs to happen. It’s something that I looked for and realised wasn’t there, so I thought I’d do it.

And is the name Cheat Codes from taken from video games? Unlocking some special level?

Yeah, you know it!


 

 

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