There aren’t many artists that have profoundly impacted the progress of the things you’re passionate about. Everything seems to be a byproduct of those people that influenced you, which isn’t something to be disheartened by or even taken back by, but that’s how it works. If you look back to when you were young, when you spent the evening with your friends listening to electronica in high school or even later, there was always that air of conduciveness that propagated your vision for reinventing the commencement of that saga. In your own space it was the place where everything made sense, and it’s the reason why it still does. Even when things are at their worst, perhaps it’s those thoughts that reinforce your resolve to sanction that consistent effort to at least make an attempt to do the things you love as often as you can. If you live your life like that the margin for error is negligible because it supports the infrastructure that facilitates happiness. There’s nothing that should be more pressing when you reserve that moment to reflect on your own life than that idea, irrespective of the fantasy it may reside in.
It’s 5PM here in Brisbane Australia, and 9AM in Amsterdam Netherlands. I don’t think there’s anyone that would disagree with the aforementioned if they questioned themselves with genuine honesty. Perhaps none more so than Dave Clarke.
EC: So there’s a clear context on what we’ll chat about, what’s your perception of yourself, and how you look at life? Not just music, but friends and family and..
DC: (Laughs) That’s a very deep question for 9 o’clock in the morning, wow. Here I was thinking we were going to talk about music. Well I work hard in my approach to it and I’m a workaholic. It’s really important to have good friends and not just those in the music industry, which doesn’t mean I don’t have acquaintances and colleagues that I’m always happy to see. It’s not the same as for going out for like, a Sunday drink, or a BBQ or something. People think you can replace that with fast cars, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, and buying loads of property but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about trying to find the right balance. To be honest it’s not something I may have found yet because I work very hard. Yesterday was the first day I actually had a sleep in for a long time and I felt very guilty about it. It was just after Amsterdam Dance Event, and I thought it was a great idea, and then I realised I’d lost 2.5 hours of work. And you really do just have to keep working hard. I mean, if you come from a back ground, where financially you didn’t have a lot, even a roof over your head or hardly any food. You do your best to make sure you don’t want to be in that situation again, and I think that’s what one of the biggest drivers is for most people. You don’t want to be on your arse again. I mean look at fame, it doesn’t interest me at all. I don’t need that to justify where I’m going. It’s very shallow and you know, when I do public talks, and people ask me what it takes to be a DJ, I say you become a DJ because that’s what you want to do, not because of money. Maybe you’ll become famous and maybe you’ll like it, or maybe you won’t. It doesn’t concern me.
EC: So when you talk about your friends in the industry, and a lot of your close friends aren’t involved in music, but if you look at the ones that are, have they inspired you to think like that?
DC: Umm, wow. I think the only inspiration I got from a DJ was John Peel, only because he was very down to earth and very committed to the musical vision, which was peculiar to him and him alone. When it comes to respecting DJ’s and technique, it would of come from the early hip-hop guys, they inspired me to take up DJ’ing because it was just amazing what they were doing. As for DJ’ing around the world, there’s a lot of respect I have for some peoples work ethic. They work very hard but that’s about it really.
EC: Yeah and when you mentioned the point where you do look around the world, environment plays a big role. I watched a recent documentary called “Paris/Berlin 20 Years of Underground Techno”, have you seen it?
DC: No I tend not to watch that sort of thing. Recently I’ve been reading a few books about people that I know, and it’s actually quite upsetting because you realise that the bit you knew at least, isn’t even covered and isn’t representative of the person you knew in the first place. I take any of those kind of books with a pinch of salt as well as any films like that with a pinch of salt, because it’s not how I necessarily experienced that. I watched “The Sound of Belgium” for example, which wasn’t really accurate. I just carry on doing what I do, and other people do what they have to do to adapt. You have to realise, there’s always a hidden agenda. Whether it’s malicious or whether it’s based upon making something more interesting and actually quite innocent, but there’s always a hidden agenda, so with these sorts of films I don’t go out of my way to watch them to be honest.
EC: Sure. I guess one of the reasons I raised it, is because it juxtaposes the scenes of Paris and Berlin, two very different cities. You made the choice to move to Amsterdam and obviously there’s a big influx of artists moving to Berlin.
DC: Well firstly, I’m never in this mindset where I’m “building the scene”. I came to Amsterdam for a variety of reasons, some personal, some pure chance and somethings just had to happen. My first gig that I did in Amsterdam was in 1990 I think, and when I came over here I just really loved the place. For someone that’s not into drugs at all, it may seem like a strange thing, and it was very druggy compared to what it is now. Brighton certainly has some energy too, but Amsterdam has that certain energy and I felt that and I wanted to attach myself to it. I was on the breadline and couldn’t really afford anything in those days, so I put it in the file of “I’ll dream about it later”. Just by chance and the way life works out, I ended up coming back more and more here, and eventually I was in the position to move and live here to test the water, and it’s important to test the water. I’m not one of those people who does knee jerk reactions, I’m one of those people that deliberates about things probably too long. Berlin is a different thing. I mean if you’re not really that established and you don’t have a career, it’s probably a great place to go to for a couple of reasons. Firstly it’s one of the cheapest cities in the world to live in. Dirt cheap. For that money you get a large place. If you’re one of those “hipster scenesters” that wants to be surrounded by other “hipster scenesters”, then it’s a great place to be. You’d probably want to be in that position where your career is either starting and you want to take it to the next level, and you think you can do that by riding on the tails of others.
It’s happened many many times throughout history, Andy Warhol, whatever. ‘Let’s just imitate what others are doing, and it doesn’t cost me much money, so what do I have to lose?’. For me that’s not something that interests me. I’m not interested in having sex with random people either. I’m also not interested in bumping into loads of people, that’s why ADE is a bit special. I’m really happy and excited that people are here and I love bumping into them, but would I love to bump into them every weekend? No I wouldn’t, I really would not. Amsterdam Schiphol airport is big enough and I never really run into that many people. It’s not that I think I’m above or below them, it’s not like that. It’s just that I like to be a private person, so Berlin is great if you’re looking for that. Amsterdam was freedom for me.
At one point I was forced to move to the countryside.
DC: Relationship pressures. (Laughs) I couldn’t live in London. It’s way too intense and claustrophobic. I was born there and I lived there for a quarter of a century. There really wasn’t anywhere else to go to. I tried the country but it really wasn’t me, you know, getting in a car to go do your shopping. I felt isolated and I didn’t see my friends very often. I found Amsterdam and it really suits who I am.
EC: So your mindset must of changed a fair amount over the years. Where do you see yourself now as opposed to then. I mean you’re a private person so do you reflect on the ethics and morality of what you do. How has that changed?
DC: I don’t reflect on the morality of my job, it’s kind of thought of beforehand. If I’m preparing music for a festival, then maybe things might be harder to digest if it’s at a bigger festival. I don’t look back and question my morality on that. I find it difficult that some people who I work with, put fame first without the integrity. That’s their decision and that’s what they have to live with but for me, I don’t think “oops”, though perhaps I’ve had a few minor hiccups, but I haven’t changed what I do to suit musical fashion. It’s not about financial gain. I want to get paid for what I’m worth, sometimes I get paid a little more, sometimes a little less. It’s really about playing the music you enjoy and it probably sounds cliche because the people that did go for financial gain still say these things, even though it’s not true.
EC: So that was something I wanted to ask you. When I do listen to you play now, as opposed to say back in 2002, you haven’t really changed the way you mix. You moved from records to digital, so has that had an effect at all?
DC: No it hasn’t. One of the things from moving from records, is that it’s enabled me to be as direct as I wanted to be with vinyl. Like do I fancy playing this, or do I fancy playing that. It hasn’t changed at all. Technology has allowed me to carry my record collection on my back, which is something I’ve always dreamed of. Vinyl wise, I don’t miss playing with vinyl, and I know I’m not supposed to say that and it’s not meant to be offensive, but I really don’t miss it one bit at all. It took a little while to get used to and not have static platters, but I’m happy with that. With the technology now, you can hide behind smoke and mirrors and have everything synced and then push a few buttons and pretend you’re a hero. Or you can use it to do new things and keep edgy and that’s what I hope I’m still doing. If you look at the video from ADE that isn’t out yet, nothing is preprogrammed.
EC: and while we’re on technology, you helped design the Denon SC2900, what was that like?
DC: Yeah and I can’t really go into the technicalities because of disclosure agreements. But for example, the lights around the outside, I came up with that idea because it’d be kind of cool to see that. With other mixers, you don’t really see any action, you don’t really see what’s happening and I think that’s causing an issue with a lot of newer people coming into dance music because either they don’t really understand or don’t really care, and that’s what I wanted people to see. For me, it’s important when you’re performing because you want people to see what’s going on.
EC: Just quickly, we’ve gone passed our allocated time, is it okay if we keep chatting?
DC: Yeah sure, we can talk for another 5 minutes or so then I have to eat! (Laughs)
EC: Okay well, being in Brisbane myself, things start to deteriorate once you leave Europe. When you do travel globally, do you ever look at other scenes and think they shouldn’t be doing this, or they should be doing that?
DC: Just follow what your inner voice is telling you because it’s much truer. If it’s your outer voice, then it’s obviously influenced by the people around you and a lot of people are surrounded by “yes people”. For me, one of the things that went wrong was the end of vinyl in places like Brisbane, which is kind of more out of the way as opposed to maybe Paris or Rome. So you go to Brisbane and one of the things that kept it together were the records shops, because it was the record shops that had the avid fan dribbling inside for the records and they’d tell everybody. Now, without that centre of community that’s where things get a little tricky because people aren’t as attached to the music as much as they should be. Like itunes certainly doesn’t do it for this community and to some degree Beatport is the same. You don’t have that knowledgable person behind the counter that can steer someone who’s very enthusiastic. Hopefully there’s a gap for something like that to step into, but I don’t think there will be. Also, the magazines are where things have gone wrong because those magazines aren’t making any money, because record labels and others aren’t bribing them with massive advertising. It was always based on that. Although in the older days, you’d get some music reviews where they were biased but you couldn’t always draw the link between the label and the review. There’s not that many magazines now and if you look at the dreadful things like the Top 100, there are people in that list that have absolutely nothing to do with the scene what so ever. It doesn’t make any sense. So you’ve lost those two things – magazines and record shops. All you then have are people who are just interested in music, and I know what you’re saying. I’ve been to Brisbane a few times and I remember when I was there for Big Day Out, and I remember hanging around afterwards and it was the only moment in my life where I wanted to get a tattoo because I didn’t know what to do with myself.
EC: (Laughs) So with the record shops, we’ve basically got none left. You obviously get sent a lot of records and for someone at your level, do you even walk into record shops anymore?
DC: Okay firstly there’s two things. Today with my radio show I currently have about 4 GB of music I have to get through, and I do that myself. Obviously I don’t listen to start to finish but I have to get through all that today. I don’t have any physical pieces of music to sort through because there’s no way I’m playing vinyl again professionally. But yes I still go to record shops, because I really enjoy say, buying the latest Nick Cave album because it’s recorded through analogue and analogue instruments. It’s recorded on tape so why not press it onto vinyl. For me that makes sense and it’s music based on different emotions and lyrics. Sure you can look up lyrics online, but it’s not the same as listening and sitting there holding the album cover in your hands. I like that kind of vibe, but for actually buying music for DJ’ing and walking into shops, it doesn’t happen. It rarely even happened when I played vinyl because it all got sent to me.
EC: I guess we’re both about to go, but finally you mentioned Nick Cave, do you turn to other sorts of music often?
DC: Oh definitely man, the other day I was listening to some old devo, some old punk and reggae. I listen to different music all the time and it’s important not to be in one theme, otherwise it’s very sterile. I mean if you claim to love music but you only listen to one type of music, that’s like being into food and only eating cheezles or something. There’s loads of great food out there to be enjoyed and the same goes for music and the same goes for art really.
EC: On a side note, there’s a bottle of sake on your tech rider. Two friends of ours are in Japan at the moment and will be bringing a bottle back – that should be ok?
DC: (Laughs) That would be nice, but I only have a few sips or so. I wouldn’t drink a whole bottle, that’d be crazy.
EC: Thanks a lot Dave. I’ll be seeing you when you get into Brisbane, can’t wait.
DC: Thanks mate.
Elliot Clarke, Wednesday October 23 2013
Dave Clarke plays –
Friday November 1st. MELBOURNE. Roxanne Parlour.
Saturday November 2nd. SYDNEY. Chinese Laundry.
Sunday November 3 – LGM & Kana Present Dave Clarke.