Motor City Drum Ensemble Interview
Ahead of playing at Trouble Vision's 3rd Birthday bonanza next weekend, R$N's Tim Wilson caught up with Danilo Plessow aka MCDE aka the fantastic Motor City Drum Ensemble for a rather meaty sit down on a plethora of things.
Having attained such widespread recognition for most of your work so far, do you feel a pressure to keep your sound very much driven by the same ideas or are you always focused on doing something new and original?
I have experimented quite a bit with my different releases and remixes, and have more or less a clear vision on where I want go with the project. I'm really excited to work on my album now and elaborate in ways I didn't before. At the same time, I do love my dirty dancefloor house jams and will keep on releasing these on MCDE records.
Reading past interviews, it seems youre very much committed to maintaining a raw and authentic sound (in the same vein as Theo Parrish, Kyle Hall et al.) , what do you think makes this kind of sound so special in comparison with the overproduction you so often hear nowadays?
Well, I would say that the artists you mention definitely have a higher goal than only keeping the dancefloor satisfied by simple means, which I can definitely relate to. I wouldn't say I'm bored by what's going on, but I do feel that a lot of people stopped taking risks, be it as a producer or a DJ, making everything kind of the same-o just to be part of it.
That's why I think people who DO take these risks are more likely to get noticed in the flood of new releases. There is a lot of amazing music being released now, but unfortunately also a lot of the generic formula stuff, with lots of hands in the air breakdowns and your average "i just googled for accapellas" vocals.
I recently read you managed to string together your DJ Kicks so well (despite the use of seemingly discordant genres) thanks to Ableton, do you consider yourself a vinyl purist, an Ableton convert or are you now happy to combine the two?
I never liked Ableton as a production tool to be honest, mainly because I really couldn't get into the look/interface and the sound. But for the DJ kicks, there was no way around it with what I had in mind, unless I would have done edits of each track and pressed them onto vinyl, which would have taken forever. I am still relying on Cubase for my productions and can't really think of a switch to Ableton, I'm more likely to go way back and work on an MPC60.
But that's just me – I am constantly amazed by who is working with the program and what the results are. I guess it all comes to down to how you work with it.
Considering the success of people like Terre Thaemlitz, and more recently, Nicolas Jaar, who have created dance music driven primarily by intellectual ideas, (for example, railing against the commercialisation of house music in the case of DJ Sprinkles Midtown 120 Blues) do you find that your own opinion converges with some of theirs, or do you adhere to the view that dance music should exclusively be about escape (and nothing else)?
I am all for politics or any deep thoughts in music, and although in dance music it is definitely not as easy to communicate these views as in other genres, mainly because the average clubber wont necessarily start thinking about the state of the world when he`s listening i.e. to Gil Scott Heron's "The Bottle" at 9 in the morning surrounded by all sorts of hedonism, I'm still very much touched by people who want to express more than just joy and escape.
I think its quite tragic how today`s music, compared to what was going on some decades ago, has been cleared of all deeper meanings and become more of a commodity. We are not exactly living in easy times, yet all you hear in the mass media is pretentious, hedonistic and plastic garbage with no other intent than consume. Show me the new Curtis and I'm all ears!
I've noticed you cite hip hop as something that first really motivated you to take music seriously, is there a particular era you consider the golden age?
Definitely, the golden era for me starts somewhere around 91 and ends some 10 years later. Pete Rock, Premier, early Dilla etc.
Similarly, are there any other times in the course of a particular genres history which you find especially interesting and influential?
The most interesting time for me musically were definitely the 70s. From Jazz and Soul over Kraut-rock and early Electronics to Disco and the birth of the 12". As of a single genre, I love the political, spiritual and moving Jazz from that era released on labels like Tribe, Strata East or Saturn.
I really love your remix of T Coys Carino, when approaching a remix, does your approach differ from say, your original productions, or other projects like the Raw Cuts series?
The remixes have more or less been a playground to test stuff. In most of these, I wouldn't relate on sampling other than from the original track and use a lot of the possibilities I have in my studio, meaning drum machines, synths etc.
More generally, does your approach focus on building from something improvised, or do you like to keep things more structured?
The basic structure is more or less always very improvised, when I start sequencing it's usually more of a structured approach, although I want to try to get more "free" for my album.
You've previously mentioned that the Raw Cuts series was entirely made up of samples, yet your remixes and other productions are completely original, however in L.O.V.E. (your recent cut for DJ Kicks) you combine what seems to be excerpts of both sampled and original vocals, is this combination (of sampled and original work) something youre likely to pursue in the future or are you keen to keep your sample-driven work separate from the rest?
That's exactly what I want to do in the future, for my album. In "LOVE", all the keys, melodies etc are played by myself, only some short vocals and parts of the drums are sampled. I want to really combine the two worlds in a way – sampling, giving it the rougher edge, and my own keys, drums etc, making it less depending on sampled melodies.
I'm also thinking of including more musicians as a part of it and maybe also cover one or two songs I love, some spiritual jazz or soul.
But I also still love the "MPC-House" approach of Raw Cuts and I'm sure I will release some of that on MCDE records, be it under this moniker or some of my others like Jayson Brothers. Maybe I'll also start a new concept series with a different theme, let's see what the future brings.
Your remix of Shit Robots Answering Machine has just been released physically on DFA, a label which has a great roster and a great history, are there any other labels, which you would be particularly excited about doing something for, remix or otherwise?
It's always nice to see labels like DFA with a certain diversity and own sound, I really appreciated doing a remix for them. There are quite a few labels and artists I'd like to work with, at the same time I do also want to focus on my own label, so let's see what the future brings.
Youre playing at the Cadenza night in Room 2 at the Warehouse project in December with Luciano headlining Room 1, an act which many wouldnt immediately associate with you, if a crowd is maybe not as attuned to your sound as you would have liked, do you like to cater for these different tastes or are you determined to turn them onto your own preferences?
Depends on a lot of factors – the crowd, the night, the soundsystem and of course what the DJ before me plays.
I usually try to keep the vibe going and not make too much of a cut, but I also always try to elaborate and play lots of different stuff, even in "big room" clubs i will usually play some disco or in general some more obscure suff, but in return I also don't have a problem to play certain famous tracks in small clubs if it fits the vibe. At the end of the day I want to make the crowd happy but also play for the "heads".
Are there any records which youd never dream of leaving out of your bag?
House2House – Taste my Love / In Sync – Storm / Terry Brooks – City Life (Carl Craig dub) / Idris Muhammad – Could Heaven ever be like this / Theo Parrish – Dusty Cabinets / Loose Joints – Is it all over my Face / Dopplereffekt – Infophysix / Vance & Suzanne – I cant get along without you / Metro Area – LP / Underground Resistance – Timeline
Youve mentioned DJ Shadow and Nightmares On Wax, as the people who first motivated you to make music, are there any DJs/producers perhaps more affiliated with dance music who made a significant impression?
Well, Warp records was more or less the only thing available at the CD store`s electronic music section in the 90s in my hometown. So my first contact with electronic music was through them – biggest influences would have been the albums by Elektroids, Boards of Canada, Two Lone Swordsmen. When I started to buy records a year later, I also got hipped to stuff like Masters at Work, Moodymann and Larry Heard, alongside all the jazz and soul records I bought.
The music of Detroit is obviously a major influence for you, with the majority of electronic music communities focusing on its legacy, do you see Detroit as a place that will continue to provide such incredible music, or are you less optimistic about its future?
Detroit has always come up with new talent and I believe that with people like Mike Huckaby and his effort to bring the kids away from the street into making beats we are definitely gonna hear more. You have to admire his passion!
Your label, MCDE records released a remix of Monorail by John Roberts in January as well as that absolute beaut you did with Stee Downes (Theres A Truth) can we expect any equally exciting releases on your label in the future?
Next release will be by multi-instrumentalist Latecomer, a track I featured on my DJ Kicks as well ("Cosmic Cart") with a beautiful Soulphiction remix included as well. This one is really special for me, not a peak-time floor-killer, but speaking about "taking risks" – here we go. I think its one of the most beautiful tracks I heard in the last years.
There is more to come after that, and yes you can expect more of what shaped the label. We believe in a certain sound and will continue to explore it, we take quality extremely serious, thats why we are only at the 7th release after 3 years.
I see your touring pretty extensively this autumn (Brazil, America, UK, Netherlands), any future plans once youve finished?
Working on the album, drinking some nice wine and listen to all the Brazilian records I bought down there. Tip:
Tenorio Jr – Embalo and Milton Nascimento`s Club de Esquinha.
Motor City Drum Ensemble play Trouble Vision's Double Trouble 3rd Birthday Weekend next weekend… big!