Interview: Dan Curtin

With a past dipping between electro, techno, new wave and house, Dan Curtin has been in the game long enough to earn his name as a producer as well as a DJ with residencies in Berlin. Curtin has been producing with an unmatchable work ethic since 1992, releasing records on Strictly Rhythm, Peace Frog, Sublime and his own imprint, Metamorphic Recordings amongst a host of others. Still today, his output levels are through the roof, with a new Lifeblood LP released on Anja Schneider’s Mobilee imprint this month. And it is on the album format where the American really comes into his own: exploring ideas that wouldn’t fit comfortably on one slab of wax. He takes full advantage of the extra space afforded him on Lifeblood, unearthing the full potential of techno as a genre. Flora Wong spoke to the Cleveland native about staying fresh, the inspirations for his new album and what makes a good DJ.

What kind of inspirations/influences went into this album?

The title is Lifeblood, which is a reference to the flow of energy and life in the universe, and I drew all of the inspiration for the album from this.

You’ve been producing for quite a long time, do you ever feel limited or fear too much repetition in terms of sounds when it comes to electronic music?

Not for me!  I always say that the things still waiting to be done are infinite so there is no need to repeat or copy what has already been done.

What did you want to do when you were young, did you always want to go into music?

Not at all, music wasn’t even something I thought about.  I always wanted to go into science.  Even when I first started to make music as a hobby the notion of doing it professionally never even occurred to me.  It all just sort of fell into place!

What is your production process like? What kind of equipment/software do you like to use?

I use Logic on Mac as the centre of it all, with a very limited set of plug ins.  Usually I’ll start with the basic groove of a track and then build from there using my outboard analog gear or stuff in the box.  And then it depends, either I have a clear idea of where I want to go with the song or I’ll just sort of put my fingers on the keyboard and see what happens.

“Music wasn’t even something I thought about.  I always wanted to go into science.  Even when I first started to make music as a hobby the notion of doing it professionally never even occurred to me”

Where was the best gig you’ve played?

The best?  Too hard to think of because there have been so many great ones…places like Watergate here in Berlin, Kontrol and the End Up in San Francisco, Goa in Madrid…the list goes on!

What do you think makes a good DJ?

A good DJ has passion for music instead of the desire to be a superstar first and foremost. Then a DJ needs a point of view and a very clear idea of what they want to say. It is very important to want to share your passion with other people instead of a selfish desire to have what others have, like fame or recognition. A good DJ knows they are there for the people on the floor, not to inflate their own egos. With those fundamentals down next is to learn how to mix! Learn how to beat match, this is essential in order bring a groove and rhythm. I have never heard a funky set from somebody who was just dropping in pre beat matched tracks, this takes the human element out of the picture and makes it boring.  Learn about phrasing and about creating atmosphere with the music you are playing. A good or great DJ can do all of this with no f/x or gimmicks and still completely blow the roof off of the club. And the most fun and rewarding part of rocking a club is not to forget that the relationship between the people dancing on the floor and the person behind the decks is give and take.

Do you see yourself as a producer primarily?

No, for me they are two parts of the same process and they always have been since I got my first turntable and drum machine and only made music by scratching over beats.  This was how I took my first steps into producing/DJing, they were always one and the same to me.

What are your favourite labels/artists at the moment?

I’m really into Kyle Hall and the new breed of Detroit house artists.  I’ve always been a big fan of Mobilee records, Third Ear Recordings, and Olmeto and I’ve been into Livejam records a lot lately.  Jamal Moss’s Mathematics gets my respect for constantly charting new territories and doing his own thing.

“The most fun and rewarding part of rocking a club is not to forget that the relationship between the people dancing on the floor and the person behind the decks is give and take”

Is there anyone you’d wish to collaborate with?

I want Goapele to sing on a track for me one of these days, what a voice she has.

What’s next?

Lifeblood on Mobilee has just come out and following that this spring will be an EP on my label Metamorphic under my Planetary alias.

Interview: Flora Wong