Interview, photo: Elena Savlokhova
How is your Berlin transition?
It’s been good, I think it’s very different to New Zealand in a lot of ways, because you go from being a bigger fish in a smaller pond to a smaller fish in a bigger pond. There’s much more of a community around this particular kind of music in Berlin. I find people are a lot more supportive of those who are doing similar things here. New Zealand is such a small place, people can get unnecessarily competitive, whereas here everyone’s got something going on, so I suppose people are not as insecure when someone else is doing well.
How do you find it different in other aspects of life?
Of course, the environment in New Zealand is very clean, very beautiful. People, at least on the surface, are a lot happier, but at the same time New Zealanders are less forthcoming with problems and issues they have: happy on the surface, but sad inside. Whereas in Europe I think people just let it all out and don’t hide how they’re feeling as much. I’m from England originally, which is kind of the worst place when it comes to everyone being a completely miserable bastard haha! Food is definitely better in New Zealand, here the quality is definitely not as good. But these are just small things in comparison to coming here and having a musical career.
Tell me a bit about your background, how did you get involved with music, how did it all start for you?
I’ve been doing music since I a small kid. When I was 5 years old I started playing the trumpet and then as I got into my teens I started playing drums, playing in punk and hardcore bands for a very long time. I was doing that until I was about 18 and I got involved with one hardcore band who went a bit straight edge. I wasn’t much into that so they kicked me out. Around then I decided I should start making music by myself, so from there I moved into making hip-hop beats. Then I got really into dubstep and was making that for ages. From there I slowly found this type of harder techno, which brought the texture that I liked from punk and hardcore into electronic music. It’s sort of what I was always looking for in dance music.
What is the enemy of creativity and how do you fight it?
I think complacency and lack of standards. For example, booking someone for a gig just because they are popular or good-looking, because of nepotism, or even just because they’re nice. I see this happen all the time – people getting signed to record labels just because the label boss thinks they’re nice people. To me it’s besides the point. With my label, or if I’m running an event, if you’re really good, yet a complete asshole, I’ll still work with you. The main thing for me is the music. I think we are living in an era, particularly with social media, where image takes precedence over music a lot. Within that you see a lot of fakery, a lot of ghost production, a lot of people not really learning the skills that they need to have in order to do this in a legitimate way that truly represents what they are capable of and their creative vision. Image and music can complement each other very well, yet I think we live in a time where image does seem to be king over music.
What interests you outside of music?
I’m very interested in politics – I actually finished my Masters degree in politics at Auckland University earlier this year before moving to Berlin. Specifically I was looking at the way perceptions of politicians personalities influences their success in elections – something that I feel is very pertinent right now. So I always keep an eye on what’s going on globally there – or rather right now I can’t peel my eyes off the travesty occuring in many parts of the world.
I also really like food and cooking. Especially japanese food, italian food, and just all types of food really! I like martial arts as well and started doing brazilian jiu jitsu recently after being encouraged by my friend Ossian, who runs S.L.A.M and recently took up BJJ himself. I don’t go with him though because he does it in Wedding, which is ages away.
Yes, really challenging. The thing is I’m pretty small as well, I only weigh 60kg and half the other guys there are over 75kg, so often I’m wrestling with these huge guys that can just throw me around. But it’s good, I like the challenge, it’s a good workout.
Are you’re into the whole UFC thing and ‘star’ fighters?
I do watch a bit of it, but it’s only because I’ve been into martial arts since I was a kid. I’m interested in it from the technique perspective. I did taekwondo for 8 years when I was a kid and I’ve always wanted to get back into martial arts again. Now is the time.
What excites you the most in what you do?
It depends. Nothing quite beats the rush of playing a really great party to a crowd that is loving everything you do, nothing beats that feeling of knowing you’re there absolutely killing the gig with everyone cheering – that’s really amazing. Even just being able to push boundaries with production, even just the rush I get from writing a good track – that moment when you realize you’re really onto something. Just those moments when you know you’re killing it and pushing things forward. Particularly with the DJing I quite like taking risks in a sense that I won’t go in there and play just a straight 4:4 set, I’m more interested in trying to switch things up, change the genres. I really like it when I go in there and I take the risk and it pays off and people will follow and appreciate what I’m doing. That’s when it’s at its best for me.
Do you get nervous?
Every time. I’ve had some particularly bad issues with anxiety in the past as well. I get a bit nervous every time. While its been extreme in the past, I can now level and deal with it. Now it would be weird if I didn’t feel nervous. You can use the nervousness to your advantage, to feed it into your set and give you a certain energy.
What is the appeal of the nightlife for you?
I quite like it as an alternative space, not the business-oriented kind of nightlife with very ordinary people going out and getting really drunk trying to get laid – that doesn’t really hold anything interesting for me. But the alternative nightlife with personalities that you see in the clubs, and just that sense of escape as well. I guess I came to this first as someone who enjoyed going out and partying so that escape was what initially drew me to it: people trying to almost separate themselves from their regular lives and be someone completely different is quite interesting and alluring. It’s fascinating to sometimes watch these people at clubs and realize that they could be doctors or bankers, but they’re here dressed in fetish gear going mental.
Is there something you don’t like about yourself?
Sometimes I maybe wish I was a little more confident in myself. I’m often wondering before gigs if I’ve brought the right records with me and that sort of thing, making me nervous before events. I wish I could just tell myself that I’ve been DJing for a while and I know what I’m doing.
Does it get better over time?
It is getting better. It is kind of ebbs and flows: if I have several gigs in a row where they all go really well then I’ll be completely super confident, almost too confident. Sometimes you need to doubt yourself a little to question which direction to go and then end up changing things for the better. But then if say I have a couple of bad gigs in a row then I’ll go, ‘Oh God, what am I doing, I’m so crap and need to give this all up’.
So is your personality a trauma or a blessing?
It’s a double edged sword, it’s both. I’m a very obsessive overthinker, I think about things far too much and it’s both my greatest ally and my greatest enemy. I spend so much time thinking, when I could be doing, yet at the same time it allows me to get to interesting places creatively – everything I do is very considered. It’s a blessing and a curse really.
What is one thing you’ve never done but you really want to?
I’d like to see more of East Asia, go to Korea, go to China, reach Japan. It’s pretty boring but it’s one thing I’ve never done. I would like to see more of Eastern Europe as well actually, because I’ve only been to play in Poland before, but it would be cool to go to Ukraine and Russia, and all these surrounding places as well.
How would you describe the ideology of Haven?
Well we started it in Auckland, initially starting it as a club night focused on harder and experimental techno. In Auckland techno is not huge, house music is far more popular there. Though even the underground house stuff didn’t bring in that many people, even pretty big artists like Omar S would get around 200 people. It’s a very small scene and for harder techno there was nothing at all. We were bringing people like Perc, Ansome, Headless Horseman and we were getting 80 people to a show. It was initially started just out of necessity, we wanted to have that type of music happening in our city, so we just had to do it ourselves. Definitely we wanted to try and drag the standard of local DJs up there as well, we found there were a lot of people that weren’t that good at DJing, they were taking the easy route and they were using laptops as a crutch. I mean laptops can be a very creative tool and lead to really cool ways of DJing when you watch someone like Perc or Rebakah playing, but lots of people in Auckland were using them quite lazily. We were trying to encourage people to use the standard equipment and learn new things. Also Auckland is a very nepotistic place: people get gigs there because they’re friends with people, not because they’re really good, which really sapps the city’s creativity. We were trying to break that mold, so we were booking artists that we didn’t know personally, but who we thought were really good.
You said that you’re ‘probably one of the least sentimental people’ you know. Is it safe to say that the roughness of your music reflects your personality somehow?
Perhaps. You’d have to ask the people that know me best. I don’t know if I’m particularly harsh. Some people probably would say I am. I’m not sentimental and I think it’s better to focus on the present than spend too much time ruminating about the past, so I suppose that’s what I meant by that. If anything, the rough textures in the music are more of a representation of how I view the world a lot of the time, and it reflects the things going on that I dislike. I think there has to be a certain tensity to the music to reflect these negative things. And then a lot of the time it is reflected in my track titles, a lot of it is inspired by bullshit social politics. I suppose it just mirrors my distaste for that sort of thing.
You also mentioned that techno has a certain deepness to it. What philosophy do you personally see in it?
Well I don’t think there is no one philosophy within techno. You have the original Detroit thing where it was very much about futurism and about that relationship between man and machine; looking to the future and trying to come up with music that sounds futuristic and reflects a time that we haven’t yet seen. But then if you look at the more industrial side, I guess the side that I’m more on, a lot of the time the philosophy is reflecting the negative thing in society back at an audience. It depends how much the audience actually look into the politics and society – that I don’t know for sure. I think a lot of people are there for the hedonism: going out and getting wasted. It probably doesn’t extend beyond that for most. For me, and with what I do, it’s about reflecting negativity in the world in whatever way you can.
Out of all the artists you’ve met or worked with, who struck you the most in terms of personality?
All the people that I’m friends with here, like Ansome, Ayarcana – they’re all very big personalities. They’ve struck me in the sense they are very fun to be around – we’re all very good friends now and we spend a lot of time with each other. Someone like David Foster/Huren is also a very striking personality I’ve come across. He says what he really feels and thinks and is very ‘real’. He definitely has a slightly cynical worldview, in a way that aligns with my own. It’s very refreshing to come across in a scene that is so often filled with fake smiles and friendliness for the purpose of furthering one’s career. Though really mostly the people involved are pretty normal guys really, it’s one of the nice things. There are a lot of big egos in techno as well, even the people I’m friends with might have huge egos, but fortunately everyone is fairly down to earth in most cases, which I think comes from that older tendency of when techno was a faceless thing and no one really cared about personalities.
What about in terms of work ethics?
Ansome, Kieran is someone that works extremely hard. And he has to because his schedule is crazy, he has to play at least two gigs a week and come up with new material every weekend. That’s the thing with touring, if you play two or three gigs you come back and you’re knackered for a couple of days, and then comes Wednesday and he has to start coming up with a completely new set again. He revamps things every time and I’ve always been very impressed with his work ethic. It takes a lot of effort to do what he does. He’s in the studio pretty much every day. I mean I haven’t seen the guy for ages because he’s so busy. Someone like UVB as well, I know he’s in the studio every single day. Everyone who is doing this full time has to know how to divide work and not spend too much time sitting around doing nothing.
Could you share some bizarre or awkward stories from your career?
You always see a lot of crazy things and there’s a million stories to tell, like promoters that try to avoid paying you or funny wasted people at parties, but this is quite boring really. It can be funny interacting with people that are intense fans. The dynamic there is quite weird, because they almost hold you on a bit of a pedestal and see you in a way that’s quite unfamiliar, almost like you’re some weird alien that has come down to enlighten them with your music. But really you just feel like a normal person. It’s always awkward when you go some places and everyone wants a photo at the end. Half of these people don’t even know who you are and just see that you’re DJing on stage – that could be pretty funny. There was one I’ve played in the South of Italy with Ayarcana and 138 and I think by the end of the night each of us has had literally about 50 different people ask us for photos. It was to the point that it was pretty ridiculous.
What’s coming for you? Do you envision a certain future or are you more of a go with the flow person?
The thing is, you have to think ahead to a certain extent, especially when you’re pressing records, because they take so long to come out. You have to really line it up so that releases don’t clash with each other. I have gone with the flow usually, but now that I’m doing this full time I’m thinking ahead a little bit more. And also running a record label we’ve had to plan ahead, I’ve already got half of next year planned out. So far we’re looking at 4 or 5 releases next year. For myself, I should be having an EP with the South London Analogue Material guys again next year. I’ve actually been demoing tracks at the moment. I finished a whole bunch of music a couple of weeks ago, so will see what comes out of that. I’ll probably do another record on Haven next year. But yeah, just want to keep playing and improving. I’m mainly just hungry to play gigs as much as possible at the moment, to get experience under my belt, get myself out there as a DJ, and get that reputation growing.
What’s your favourite place on Earth?
It depends what I’m looking for. If I want to go out and party – it would be here definitely. If I want to eat really amazing food then there are several places like France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand.
What truth have you learned after all these years you’ve lived?
Never expect the best from anyone haha. Set your expectations low and you’ll never be disappointed.
Or don’t have them at all.
Things you can’t unthink.
That transition I fucked up in my set last weekend. I’m literally one of those walking memes. There was the one with Ben Affleck where he’s standing outside looking really depressed with a caption about screwing up transitions – that’s me half the time haha!
What questions do you dislike answering?
I don’t think there are any – I at least haven’t been asked any that are too insulting! I guess sometimes in New Zealand you’d get asked questions like, ‘What does being in New Zealand mean for your music?’. And you’d just think it doesn’t mean anything, my music is inspired by music that is not from here. Things like that could be annoying. In New Zealand they want to get that angle on it, if they interview anyone from overseas there are always questions like, ‘ What does playing in New Zealand mean to you?’. You simply got to throw in those New Zealand questions! It’s how it works with the news there too. If there is a major news story, for example, a terror attack, they will start reporting it by going: “New Zealander injured in terror attack”. So it’s like all the other people from other countries don’t matter, just the one New Zealander.
What was your first performance as Keepsakes like?
It was likely something awful. I’m not sure I remember, but it was probably at some slightly shitty bar in Auckland called Cassette, so I guess I put that memory to the back of my head. It was good to start learning mixing, but it wasn’t a good crowd or a good place to play at all really. I remember my first gig in Europe under Keepsakes though, which was in Leveun, Belgium in a tiny little basement on a Tuesday night, because it’s a student town, so it was packed full of kids going mad for it.
Tell me about a day or a moment you had that you will never forget.
Probably playing in Paris for the first time. That was pretty special. I didn’t realize how many fans I had in Paris and France in particular. Paris is the place that I played to the most people and that first time was at Le Batofar, which was a boat venue that I believe is closed now. That was pretty amazing – the waking up, the realization that people actually like what I do. I’ll never forget that.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
It all depends on who is giving the compliment. It’s really funny because sometimes I play sets that I didn’t think I executed that well and people start complimenting me, yet you become deaf to the compliments in such situations. It’s been good when I’ve had my peers and friends see me play lately and come up and tell me that they really enjoyed it. It’s always good to have people that know what they’re talking about come and appreciate your work. Especially kind words from older ravers. In New Zealand and Australia you’d get really old ravers. In fact, whenever I was playing in Wellington, every time there was a couple that turned up that was in their 70s, and they were so fucked up as well, their pupils wide as anything. There was always a good compliment from them at the end. They said they had a good time and they’ve probably seen it all. I mean all the compliments from people that have enjoyed it are good, but it’s always the compliments from those who are experienced, both as party-goers or musicians, that are particularly special.
What question would you like to be asked at an interview and what would your answer be?
– You’re trapped in a room with David Guetta that is slowly filling with water and you are both chained up at opposite end of the room. You have a key that unlocks Guetta’s chains and he has a key to unlock yours. The moment someone is free of their chains the water begins filling the room much more quickly. What do you do?
– Swallow the key and smash my head against the wall until I’m dead so Guetta gets to die slowly.