7 Questions before Movement: Echologist (Brendon Moeller)

brendon-moeller

“7 Questions before Movement” is an ongoing series in which we ask the same seven questions to as many artists playing at this year’s Movement Detroit festival (formerly known as “DEMF”) as we possibly can. The goal of this series is to familiarize festival goers with the styles and personalities of artists they can expect to see at the festival (because let’s be real – there’s always at least a few names we don’t recognize right away). Given that this is a techno-focused site, we’ll start out by seeing what artists in this genre have to say.

[Editor's Note: This particular interview was conducted via Skype call, and so the conversation is transcribed relatively verbatim below with only minor edits.]

So have you ever been to the festival before?

I have not!

Have you been to the city of Detroit before? Oh wait, I know you have, I actually saw you play in Detroit last year.

Yep, that was my first time.

So do you have any favorite classic Detroit techno tracks or artists?

Jeff Mills, Theo Parrish, Juan Atkins, Stacey Pullen, Carl Craig, Moodymann are some of my favorite detroit artists, but I’m leaving many greats out here too.

Carl Craig’s “At Les” absolutely blew me away when I first heard it.

Diving right in, what kind of equipment will you be using for your set, and why do you prefer it?

I’m going to be using an Elektron Machine Drum, UW-SPS1. Having tried out a number of drum machines specifically for live I finally settled with Machine Drum as I feel that in the live scenario I’m capable of achieving the stuff I want from a drum machine. electron1It’s very playable, I like the sounds, and I’ve become quite good at it. In fact, I familiarize myself with pretty much all Elektron gear, and they all operate on pretty much the same premise. Once you get to know the sequencer and the general mode of operation, the sky is the limit. In my mind, when I first started deciding that I wanted to move towards doing live techno more than DJing, I felt that with these great machines, getting up there and jamming in real time is what they’re meant for. They’re built that way. And that’s what the musicians in the 70s, the crowd rockers and electronic pioneers from Germany, they realized that and they’d have these big get-togethers where you would bring your synth. And you’d set up in a field, in a church, in a concert hall, and just jam for like 48 hours. I’d like to see things go back to that, and I’d like to be able to get up there with an instrument and be competent at it. I want to be seen as a musician, and I think in order to justify calling myself a musician I need to be able to play my instruments with some skill. And that skills comes from practice, and I feel I have not practiced nearly as much as I should. But now that I’ve finally come to this epiphany about how to proceed, that’s how I work now, and everything is moving towards me mastering instruments that I can get up and jam with. And jam with other musicians as well. Get up and mix in with whatever – live musicians, someone DJing, because all these machines have tap tempo functions which are simple enough to sync up with beat-oriented music. And then even experimental music that could even be atmospheric or droning.

The other instrument I’m using is a Moog Minitaur, and I’m using it for very great Moog-sounding basses and Moog lead atmospheric things that are so distinct. It’s why Moog has such a great rep. moogminotaurYou get one and you play with one, and you realize “man, this thing is sweet.” It’s just got a feel about it and a sound about it that is very well tuned and well thought out, and just sounds great. When I first took it out and played it on some systems it blew me away, it blew people away, because it’s a beast. It really is a beast.

I’ve got an Elektron Analog 4 that I’m using for all the synths and atmospheric stuff.
It’s also an extremely programmable instrument with a 64-step sequencer, four separate tracks with different synths for each, and an effects track as well. It’s very easy to sort of do things on the fly, it’s very easy to come up with stuff or go through a library of things you might want to try in the live scenario.

So will your set this year be entirely live then? Or a hybrid DJ/Live set?

It’s going to be entirely live. 90 minutes of me with no laptop doing live, mostly improvised techno. I’m going to come in with some elements and some signature things, but the majority of it will be reading the vibe and the crowd and seeing where I need to go. And that’s also what’s great about this equipment, is you can play it by ear. You can go in any direction. You can do an opening set, a peak hour set, a closing set, an experimental set. You can use all these elements and speed them up or slow them down with ease. I like the fact that I’m going in there and the crowd and energy will determine the outcome of the set. So that’s basically all the result of my kick to do live music and justify calling myself a musician and get up there and play an instrument.

Anything can be an instrument, I’m not knocking anything. I think you choose your instruments and then you master them. So whether your instrument is a laptop or an iPad or some vintage synthesizers or digital synths or whatever it takes to express yourselves. This has just been my own trip. I’m not knocking anything, it’s all really up to the artist and how they want to present.

So if I remember right, your Subterranean album a few years back, wasn’t that one live take?

Yeah, that was a live take that I did in my studio after pulling together all these elements in Ableton and then hooking up Ableton to some of my hardware and then hitting record and jamming everything in one take.

I guess that stems also from my wanting to put together these things that have a concert feel. Another point about doing live shows is that there are so many DJs and tracks out there right now, there’s a lot of pressure to be seen or to be booked and therefore go with that sound instead of going with your own. And I think we’re getting to a point where people in clubs are wanting to hear something different – they want to be surprised, they want that something that’s going to be like “whoa, this is something new, I like it.” They don’t just want the familiar. That’s how everything evolves, and if it didn’t evolve, club music would die. But it seems to be the opposite. There seems to be more clubs and venues for people to do this sort of stuff, so it’s alive and kicking. You’ve got your DJs that are pushing the scene in a direction and you’ve got fans who are starting to think about those directions. And then you’ve got the press, such as yourself and various magazines and blogs that are pushing things with their visions. So it’s all these elements working together to keep things moving forward. And hopefully not too quickly. I think sometimes I feel things do move a little quick with technology and everything.

Going back to the club question, do you find yourself more drawn to playing at clubs, or do you prefer festival or some other kind of event? Do you find yourself varying your style according to where you are playing?

I like to think that I’m able to go out and now start doing a show that I can tailor to the venue and to the audience. I like all of them, they all have great potential. I’d love to play more slots in clubs where there are bands. I’d love to open for a band. I would like to see that sort of mixup of things going on. It’d be great to do those gigs as well, because rock venues don’t stay open until 12 in the morning. Sometimes those seven in the morning gigs are hardcore.

I know recently in Detroit, Disclosure played a set. It was one of the official pre-parties for the Festival. It was interesting to see, they were up there playing like deep house and garage. But at the same time it was almost like a rock show because the two of them are up on stage playing live, and then the venue shut downs at like 11 [Editor's note: I exaggerated]. And then everyone goes home or tries to find an after party. Thankfully, Mike Huckaby was playing right down the street so well all just went down there. Speaking of which, can we expect to see you play any after parties this year?

Not that I am aware of at this point. Obviously I’m open to it, I’m going to be there from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday. I’m playing Monday afternoon. I’m open to things, but I haven’t been asked so I’m thinking it’s unlikely. So I’m probably just going to be hanging out and checking some of my peers. I’m looking to really soak up the vibes, and there’s this really spectacular lineup, and a lot of inspiration to be had by that alone.

Are there any standup names on the lineup that you’re excited to see?

Right off the bat I’d say Mike Parker, because I’ve known him for many years.

Oh right, your Prologue colleague.

Yeah, and after all these years we’ve always known each other peripherally through the industry or chatting here or there, but I’ve actually never heard him DJ. Fortunately for me he’s going on right after me so the timing couldn’t be better. And there’s a host of other names. I’d like to catch Rrose as well. I’d be up for catching Mala. There’s a shitload of great stuff as you know. So I’m going to soak it up and try to see as much as I can without it being one of those situations where you move to another spot every fifteen minutes. That’s one of the tough things with festivals, there’s so much going on you have to make up your mind “this is where I’m going to hang” or else you’re walking around and not getting into the real vibes of anything because you’re not there long enough. But I guess that’s part of it as well. It’s going to be fun. I’m going to be seeing a lot of people for the first time as well and running into people. So it will be a nice social event. Hopefully the weather will be good.

Well they say it always rains one day of the festival. But I think you’re going to be at the Underground stage so I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that.