From pirate radio to a heavy study schedule in the field of music, it’s all just been a precursor to a consistent sonic assault that’s developed since his younger teenage years. It’s been quite some time since his love of what he does was fused by the sounds of the UK’s underground, but that spirit that ignited that interest has transpired into what’s become a genuine contribution to electronic music as the days have passed us by. It’s certainly constructed the foundations for the most honest approach to the world he resides in, and it’s this world that houses the achievements of orchestrating the success of his label, Monnom Black. Furthermore, as a cofounder of EarToGround Records and releases across Deeply Rooted House, Weekend Circuit and LDNWHT, as well as remix duties alongside the likes of Ryan Elliott & Jonas Kopp to Mark Broom and Phase, his work solidifies the warranted attention even more so.
The aforementioned really only sits as the foundations for the purpose of this article. We’re on the doorstep of the Sephora EP (ETG010) release, and whilst incorporating various media thats so often neglected is undergoing discernible exposure, it really should be encouraged more often in the context of releases and their impact. George Alatakis fronts for the official video edit and interpretation of this fairly heavy record.
Dax J – Corinthians Official Film Clip
Kn: Lets wind it all back to the beginning. Underground raves, DnB mix tapes, pirate radio and releases on Mickey Finn’s “Urban Takeover” is where this story begins. What was your involvement back then, how did you get into that scene and how have those experiences played their part in shaping your sound and career?
Dax J: I was at school and I had just discovered pirate radio. Initially I started listening to UK Garage stations and then about a year down the line I discovered Drum n Bass through tapes being passed around friends. I was hooked on the music from the start, it was so raw and underground, completely different to anything that I had ever heard. There was a group of us. We used to just hang around listening to tapes from rave packs or recordings taken off the radio on our walkmans at break times. It wasn’t long before I started buying the records I was hearing from the tapes I was listening to. I got together enough money to buy a cheap little dj set up, a pair of belt driven Gemini decks and a tiny little 2-channel mixer called a Blue Dog. I don’t even think it had any EQs, it was just a crossfader and some gains.
I was spending the little money I had on records, and after sending in a demo I managed to get a set on a pirate radio station called Time FM 104.6 playing Garage. The show time was ridiculous. It was an early morning graveyard shift, Saturday morning 6-8am when you would be lucky to get a couple of people text in and a few missed calls for a rewind. But I didn’t care at the time, I was 15 and super excited just to be on the radio.
During this time my love for Drum n Bass was growing and I was buying it along with Garage. I started to notice that the only good Garage records I was buying were the older ones and the new records coming out were just not doing it for me. The Time Fm show lasted a few months and afterwards I realized my heart belonged to Drum n Bass and I wanted to solely push that sound. Getting up at 5.30 am on a Saturday morning to play the show was also starting to get a bit tiring too.
It was around this time I went to my first Drum n Bass rave held in a club called Bagleys in Kings Cross, London, which has now shut down. Going to this changed everything and I was blown away as I stepped inside, I didn’t realize that raves were like that. The vibe, the people and music, I loved it and I knew instantly from that moment I wanted to be involved in what I was hearing and seeing. I kept buying Jungle and DnB records and my break came when I managed to get a show on Origin Fm, one of London’s top Drum n Bass pirate stations that is still going strong today. I gave a demo to the guy who was running the station. He told me to call him in a week’s time after he had got a chance to listen to it.
So every week I rang him and he kept telling me that he hadn’t listened to it yet but to call back in a few days. After ringing him twice a week every week for about a month asking him if he had listened to my demo, I was eventually given a show. He told me that he never got round to listening to the tape, but as I was annoying him so much with my constant calls he said he could tell I was keen and so guessed that I’d probably be all right on the decks. I ended up staying on the station for a few years and that was what really got me involved a lot deeper into the Drum n Bass scene. I met a lot of Dj’s, producers and promoters through going to the parties and doing the radio, I started to get some gigs that gave me my first real experiences of dj’ing to crowds, playing some good parties and warming up for some Drum n Bass legends. I was buying records at Blackmarket in Soho every Thursday to get the latest promos to play on my show each week and I was fully committed.
Around this time I was at college studying Music Technology and I had started producing tracks, I focused in and eventually after a year or so of making tunes and not actually doing any college work my tracks were sounding ok. A friend of mine from the radio was pretty well connected and he used to send my tracks to people like Hype and DJ SS. Mickey Finn liked what he heard and signed me up to his label – Urban Takeover, releasing my first vinyl when I was 19. I then went on start my own label at the time “Xplicit Sound” as another outlet to release music. I played for some of London’s biggest promoters and clubs, One Nation, United Dance, and Movement. Origin FM were also doing their own parties and hosting rooms at events where I would play too.
It was good for a while but as time passed further down the line the music started to drift off to a direction I wasn’t so keen on. I started my degree at Uni studying Music Technology and had moved to the opposite side of London to where the radio was situated. The music started to get very jump up and lost its edge for me. I lost the love I once had for the scene and I ended up leaving the radio station as a result of all these things. By the final year of my degree I had left the music completely and in search of something new. It was not long after, that I discovered techno.
I look back on these experiences in that scene and yes I guess I can see it has shaped the sound I have today and my career to an extent. The Jungle/Drum n Bass influences definitely do come out in some slight form or another in certain tracks I make and the style in which I like to play. I suppose this is the result from the music being such a major part of my early musical roots and knowledge.
Kn: I’ve always personally drawn a correlation between DnB and Techno, predominantly due to the inherent nature and intelligence that co exists in both genres. Having just completed the editing of your film clip for Corinthians, it’s clear that the main synth line would sit just as comfortably over an Amen break. Is that something you’re conscious of in the studio or explore and experiment with when creating new sounds?
Dax J: I love the Amen break and will never get bored of it. It’s just a timeless drum break that built a whole genre of music. It’s quite amazing how a 2 second drum break could have done that. Not only have I used it in nearly every single drum n bass track I ever made in the past, I have experimented with it in techno tracks of recent years too. Angel Dust on Deeply Rooted, Dreamscape on Monnom Black and The Grind on EarToGround all feature the break, it is definitely something I have enjoyed playing about with and still do in the present. In those tracks yes, I was very conscious of what I was doing, and I wanted to display the break in someway on them.
“Dreamscape” was kind of like a tribute to my rave past, I sampled a lot of my old Jungle and Drum n Bass records to make it and Dreamscape was an old rave back in the day when the whole underground scene had just kicked off. I agree that Techno and Drum n Bass do correlate well, and with certain sounds I create and put into tracks I sometimes think they sound as if they could have been sampled straight out of an old Ed Rush & Optical track. For me, this is a natural process. I am quite often drawn to that side of the sound spectrum when I make music.
I really love a lot of the old early Techno because of the energy of the drum patterns and I think this influence probably stems from my love of the Amen break. What I loved about Drum n Bass was its dark, rawness and energy, and generally I still try to bring that vibe to my productions today so I think that style will always be there and show form in whatever type of music I am making.
Kn: Transitioning from UK circuit DJ to worldwide performer is a leap that most artists aspire to at some time, irrespective of their origins. Looking back, what would you classify as the defining moments and opportunities that paved the way for your success?
Dax J: I think the most important key to the success that I have had so far along this path has not been a specific moment but rather a consistent attitude to working hard, putting in crazy hours at the studio and having the belief that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to, no matter how unobtainable an idea may seem. I’ve always had a strong work ethic and believed that there is no substitute for hard work. So it is the reason why I put in as many hours as I can into the studio and I try to work as hard as I can all of the time, constantly refining my skills and striving to push myself out of my comfort zone. Even when I don’t feel like working, I force myself to keep going. But I can only do this because it’s what I love doing and it’s what I’m passionate about. Sometimes if I haven’t been in the studio for more than 2 days or I’ve been partying too much then I start to feel guilty and have to re-focus. I think it’s been this attitude that’s got me to where I am now and has created the opportunities for me.
There are so many moments I could pick that could be classed as “defining moments” but if I had to pick one, the most important would probably be that first rave I went to in Kings Cross while I was back in school. I knew from that moment on, as I first stepped into the main room of that rave, I wanted to be a DJ. Back then I wanted to be a Drum n Bass DJ, now I’m doing Techno, the music genre has changed but the fundamentals never did. That was 14 years ago, so I think I was very lucky that I found a passion and I knew exactly what I wanted to do at such an early age.
Kn: EarToGround has come a long way and represents quality techno out of London. Celebrating its 10th release and your first full EP on the label, tell us about the process and inspiration that went into ETG010?
Dax J: I wanted to cover quite a broad spectrum of Techno across the whole EP and wanted a record with something on there that could appeal to everyone whilst still being focused to the dance floor. I think all of the tracks are quite different from each other. Corinthians is very deep. When I was making Blade Runner I had been listening to a lot of old 90’s Techno at the time and my inspiration definitely came from that. Tunnels is very upfront, stripped and bouncy. The 2 Locked Grooves on the vinyl are both polar opposites of each other, Medusa is half speed and deep while Serpent is quite full on and driving. Emmanuel topped it all off and made a great remix of Tunnels where he took it very deep and sinister, I was really happy with his remix. With the help from Gareth and Chris we decided on the final tracks to use for the EP.
In terms of the process I generally try to go in the studio with an idea of what I want to do before I start making the track, this helps with the whole production process and stops me from getting lost in a tune or a loop for too long as I have a direction of where I want to take the track. Once I’ve got the main hook the track just writes itself. It’s getting that killer hook for me that is always the hardest part of the writing process. Sometimes it comes in the first 10 minutes, which is a great, but other times I can be working on it for days pulling my hair out. Once the hook is there, arranging and editing just flows on its own. That’s the part I enjoy the most because you know the track is done, there’s no stress with it.
Kn: What would you say have been the most important factors that have played in EarToGround’s success? Was there a certain strategy or plan that was followed and how has this experience influenced you as an artist and label manager?
Dax J: I think what has worked well is that Chris, Gareth and myself were all good friends before the label began, so it gave the whole project from the start a good family-like solidarity. We all come from a similar musical background but have our own style in the studio and behind the decks, which differentiates us all and keeps it interesting.
We’ve also had a good team around us, our distributor, art guys and all the people who we’ve worked with have always added positivity to what we’ve been doing. We’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by such an enthusiastic and creative group of friends and people wanting to support and help us to do well.
We’ve always just tried to do our own thing and stay true to the sound we believe in. There is so much great music out there, it is easy to get influenced and do what other people are doing, but we’ve always just tried to stick to our guns and push the music we like. There was no specific strategy or plan but to just release high quality music that we love and enjoy playing. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. Not following trends, just doing your own thing! As an artist and a label manager I always try to follow this aesthetic, you have to enjoy and believe in your own music first, otherwise who else will.
Kn: In a musical landscape cluttered with a stream of constant noise, what ideas have you been harvesting that’ll serve to maintain and more importantly build upon the journey you’ve cultivated so far?
Dax J: Well I am always getting inspiration from everything around me, not just music but real life situations and experiences. I have recently been doing a lot of new field recordings that I am yet to use. I’ve been going to tube stations and obscure places to pick up random noises and eerie atmospheres.
I have also been thinking long and hard about a concept for my album, which will see a release next year. It’s still in the early stages but I have many ideas for this and it’s something I am working on at the moment.
Overall I am happy with how my sound has constantly progressed. It’s still evolving and I always try to keep doing new stuff. The tracks I have coming out in a few months are completely different to my current ones. I think it’s very important to keep coming up with new music, trying not to repeat what you’ve done before too much as it keeps you interesting as an artist and pushes you in a positive direction.
Kn: With the European summer on our doorstep, what can we expect from you in terms of gigs, releases on your own label Monnom Black and EarToGround, live shows or other projects?
Dax J: Coming up this month I will play in Cologne, Germany for Transition at a club called the Musikbunker. It’s an old World War 2 bunker, I’m excited to make it over there, as it will be my first time in Cologne and in a war bunker! They’ve had many Techno legends grace the decks in the past so I’m very honored to be added to that list.
We have just started a monthly EarToGround residency at Jaded in London. Jaded is a weekly after party that has been going for 10 years and they are constantly bringing in the freshest cutting edge underground Techno acts week in week out at their home, Corsica Studios, which in my opinion, has one of the best club sound systems in London. They have really been leading the way for Techno in London so it’s fantastic to be working alongside with them every month.
I will also be playing for Void at 1001, in East London’s notorious Brick Lane. The Void guys have built up a great roster of DJ’s, producers and label owners in their group that have really been pushing the underground sound of Techno over the last few years at their monthly residence. They are a solid crew and are good guys to hang out with so it’s a pleasure to be playing with them this month. Further into the year there are more dates in London, Amsterdam, Malta, Scotland and Australia is in the pipeline so keep an eye out for those.
Coming up production wise I have my second EP for DJ Deep’s Deeply Rooted, singles coming out on Pfirter’s Mindtrip and LDN WHT, along with new EP’s on Arts and Monnom Black. There is another single under an alias “DNA” on Industrial Techno Label Fondation Sonore that’s coming up. “DNA” is a co-production between myself and Amélie Ravalec who produced the Paris/Berlin 20 years of Underground Techno documentary. That will be out soon on a huge double EP including tracks from Ancient Methods, Regis and Adam X.
Plus I have a couple of remixes for Animal Farm and Unknown Territory coming soon too.
For EarToGround we have 2 new EP’s coming up after mine from Dualit and then Cleric. On Monnom Black there are a couple of new artists to the label who will be releasing EP’s later this year, more will be revealed on that soon. Plus on top of all this I am working on my Live Show and my album so I have a lot going on to keep me busy!
Article: George Alatakis, Wednesday June 4 2014
Intro: Elliot Clarke
Web Engineer: Adam Gillett
Corinthians Film Clip: Cut and interpreted by George Alatakis for Kn Films