Sonos Studio Q&A series part 1: Osunlade, Derrick May & Detroit Swindle.
During Amsterdam Dance Event 2015, Sonos Studio opened the doors to our home away from home for three days of listening parties, performances, screenings and conversations. It was an homage to some the originators of a music scene, celebrating discovery and exploration of the electronic scene. We here present Q&A’s and podcasts with Derrick May, Osunlade and Detroit Swindle who all took part in our first day at ADE. Enjoy!
Derrick May — now based in Detroit, Michigan — lived in Amsterdam from 1991 to 1993, at the beginning of the dance music explosion. It was the era of clubs like iT and Roxy, as soon-to-be legends laid the foundations for a dance community. In this listening session he discusses those early days, his relationship to sound and the future.
What kind of music makes you feel at home?
“Wow, definitely Jazz. I have always loved genres like Jazz and ambient music, and I listen to it every day. Brian Eno is one of my favourite artists. Many producers consider him to be the founder of ambient music. Everyone should know him. It doesn’t have to be instrumental per se. I also love vocals, for example by D’ Angelo. He truly is a genius.
How do you listen to music when you’re at home?
“I prefer to listen to music at a very low volume when I’m in the comfort of my own house. It is equipped with an amazing sound system and, as a matter of fact, I am turning it into an even better one now, adding Sonos speakers to it. I listen to music in my entire house, which is about 4,000 square meters. I even installed speakers outside, allowing the entire five hectares of land to provide sound. There are basically no moments without music playing at home, yet I do not listen to anything loud. The volume is at conversation level at all times.
Why is that?
“Because I think it’s better to keep the volume lower. That way the listener can become fully occupied by the music. Playing songs loud means that often you only hear the banging aspect without really appreciating the essence of the music. When the volume is kept down, the body relaxes and the music is felt in a different mentality.”
How do you prepare for a DJ set?
“I never prepare for a DJ set. I also don’t have a certain fixed pattern I go through before a performance. Although there is one thing I never do before going on stage: eating dinner — so I guess I do have a ritual! I like to feel light and strong in advance. The idea of being full doesn’t make me feel at ease. Also, I don’t drink alcohol at all before I play. I drink while I play, but only an hour after I’ve started. You know why? Because, number one: I drink champagne. Number two: do you know what white wine or champagne does to you when you’re playing? It deafens your hearing! You lose a certain definition to your hearing while you’re playing, which causes you to turn the music up louder and louder and louder. The audience gets ear fatigue, and that makes people want to fuck off. So no alcohol and no dinner; that’s my preparation for a DJ set.”
How does the atmosphere of a location influence your set?
“The atmosphere of the venue influences the set I’m playing to a great extent. First of all, I don’t change my set from place to place. I bring the same records with me, but I don’t always play them in the same way. I’m always paying attention to the vibe and that determines my set. It’s very important to walk around in a venue and feel the energy. You have to find out what the room is telling you. I like to walk from the entrance to the DJ booth to the exit, so I can feel the sound system and see what’s happening on the floor.”
Can you name a track that takes you back to the days when you started out as a musician?
“Wow, that’s a deep one. I learnt how to mix music with — here it comes! — Edwin Birdsong’s track Rapper Dapper Snapper and David Bowie’s Fashion. I was determined to mix those two records together well. I had to mix them over and over again because I could never get it right. That’s how I learnt to DJ; with those two records. Two of the most difficult records you are ever going to mix in your life!”
Are you planning to stay in Detroit?
“I’ve lived all over the world but I love living in Detroit. It’s important to stay there because there’s a renaissance going on right now. There’s a new generation of very talented musicians and they need good role models. I can just sense that something is happening in Detroit, and I want to be a part of it.”
Listening session tracklist:
Track 1 — DJ Marcello & Derrick May — Serenity
Track 2 — The B52’s — Planet Claire
Track 3 — The Who — Pinball Wizard
Lars Dales and Maarten Smeets have worked together as Detroit Swindle for just over four years, and in this short amount of time have taken the world by storm. During their listening session, the duo discussed the tracks that shaped their personality and sound.
Do you prepare for a DJ set?
Maarten: “Yes and no. We select the records we want to bring with us and put all the new music we’ve found on an SD-card. That’s pretty much where our preparation ends. We mostly prepare at the venue. We check out the vibe, get a feeling from the crowd, and then we decide on the tracks to play.”
How do you two collaborate on stage?
Lars: “We take turns and play one record at a time.”
Maarten: “We started off playing two records each in a row, but that made it difficult to maintain the direction the other was steering into. If one of us plays a tune, the other has to listen really carefully to what is being done and build from that.”
Lars: “Sometimes that makes it difficult for us as well. You can be in a different vibe and it might take up to a full hour to find common ground. There are also nights in which we find the vibe right away. That’s why we play longer sets. We don’t do it solely to find the right direction though; we also do it for fun, of course! It doesn’t matter what type of set you play, you will always need time to find the right groove, prepared or not.”
Can you name an artist that you consider to be an originator?
Lars: “Motor City Drum Ensemble. The whole Raw Cuts series that came out in 2008 is quite important for us as a duo. At the time, tech house was very popular in Amsterdam. We couldn’t connect with that kind of music. It was too boring. It was missing something in our eyes. For this session we selected the track Raw Cuts #3, an edit of the series that contains a lot of samples and a dirt groove.
“When the Motor City Drum Ensemble — or Danilo Plessow — released it, we were blown away. It was funky and it had so much soul to it. Personally, this release marks the start of an era in which romance made its way back into the music. The energy was uplifting again, and nothing like all the melodramatic music that was being produced in Amsterdam at the time. The series, especially the third track, gave us confidence that there was a market for the type of music we love. We dissected that track to find out what Danilo did but we weren’t able to, so we gave up and decided that listening to it was just as much of a joy.”
How do you experience music at home?
Lars: I have a small music studio at home. That means I’m also working at home quite often.
I really like playing music immediately after I wake up. Early in the morning I don’t have to commit to my responsibilities as a musician yet, since it’s before regular working hours. Starting the day, I prepare music in my underpants and put on some music.”
And you Maarten?
Maarten: “I have two kids, which makes it hard to play music at a high volume in the morning. They determine the rhythm of my day. My daughter is three years old and is fond of dancing and singing, which often results in us listening to her music. We did implement a house rule: we alternate playing music. First it’s her choice, then mine and so on.”
You guys play back to back daily!
Originally published at studio.sonos.com on October 26, 2015. I conducted the interviews together with my fellow music journalist Rik Hermans. We wrote and edited these as a duo for Sonos.