Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Andrei. First we’ll start off asking a bit about your fairly prolific history. For the readers at home who might not be aware, you have quite a legacy in the global techno scene as being one of the only American producers releasing music on the legendary Planet Rhythm (as well as its sister label, Template) during the 90s. Tell us a bit about how you got to know the label owner, Glenn Wilson, and events that led to those excellent records.
Funny story really, it begins in late 1996. I had been producing for a few years by then, and felt that I had gotten to the point of where I should try and get some stuff “signed” to a big label. So I went through the records that I played a lot, got the [physical] addresses off of them, compiled a cassette tape and sent them off. Then one afternoon I get a call, on the phone was Glenn Wilson! I had never heard of him at this point, only his label. He told me he was going through a pile of “shite demos” he had received (mostly trance crap) and happened upon mine. Once he gave that tape I sent him a listen, he called me right up. He proceeded to ask me if I had more material, as he was starting a new label called “Template”…of course I had tons of tunes. Glenn explained to me that all of the artists on Temple would be working under an alias, that’s when “Jack Mackrel” was born. I had seen the name on a can of fish in the grocery store earlier that week.
I had always wondered where that name came from! You’re also well known for your work with former Chicago-based producer Tim Xavier, who is now a fairly well-known figure in the Berlin techno scene. Any plans on working on a new collaboration with him in the near future?
Tim used to live about a block from me in Houston [Texas], right around the same time i got signed to Planet Rhythm. We actually moved to Chicago on the same day in 2000. In the 2 years there I spent there, we would push each other to make music. Every week we would get together, usually at my studio, and go over tracks. As far as working together, I’m going to be in Berlin early next year. I’m going to spend some time hanging out, and I’m sure we will get in the studio as well. Generally when we get together, we just hang out and shoot the shit. Music is second fiddle to our friendship.
Speaking of Berlin, you’ve recently been asked to play at a club there which many consider to be the current techno mecca, Berghain. Tell us a little bit about how that came about, and how you’re preparing for this extremely high-profile gig.
Well Moe [Espinosa] (Drumcell) and Chad [Parraghi] (of Project 313) asked me to play at the Interface/Scene party at the Movement festival this year. First off, I was extremely excited about this gig, being that I had taken a 10 year hiatus from DJing. For that night I spent the better part of 2 months making tracks to play, as I had recently decided I wanted to play sets comprised of entirely my own material from now on. Halfway through my set, Moe came on stage and said that the talent booker for Berghain pulled him out of the main room and wanted to find out who I was [so he could] get me to Berlin. 6 months later, I’m booked…right place, right time. If I may say so, I haven’t had that much fun performing in a long time.
Now let’s switch gears and ask some questions about your own label, Scope Recordings. What led to the creation of your own techno imprint? How would you define the sound of the label?
It was actually started as a vinyl label in 2003 by my great friend Phillip Trinder along with myself. I had always felt that label owners frequently chose the wrong tracks to release, and I wanted that control over my career. I don’t think I can describe the sound of the label…the main criteria is if it’s good to my ear, really. Generally [tracks on Scope are] on the harder side, but I’m pushing it more towards the classic “minimal” sound of the mid 90’s now ala Surgeon, Jeff Mills, Rob Hood…things of that nature.
Also related to Scope, your upcoming release “Falling Down” on the label is generating a massive amount of buzz in the techno community right now. Some might consider it a rather radical departure from your typical sound with its Detroit-meets-Chicago chords and house-influenced feel. What factors led to the creation of this track? Did you have that specific sound in mind when writing it, or was it a “happy accident”?
On the contrary, it is absolutely not a departure for me at all. If you sat in my studio with me for a few hours, you would see that it goes right along with just about everything I make. I think the chords are very big and upbeat, which I normally don’t do, but the drums, song structure are classic Andrei. I grew up playing the old Chicago house and hip-house stuff of the late 80’s and that sort of sound just stuck in my head. I was making tracks for a show that we both played in Detroit in September (Dystopian Rhythm’s “Pandemic” event), having one of my typical Saturday studio sessions knocking out tracks, and kind of by accident I found this synth patch and loved it. The chord progression was just a fluke too. I’m extremely flattered and excited for this release and it has been getting some great response from crowds already. While I’m hoping it will be a big stepping stone for me, you never can tell in this bizz.
As you mentioned earlier, you’re well known for your tendency to play sets comprised of entirely your own material when you DJ. Is there a specific reason for this? Do you feel there is not enough quality techno currently being released, or is it more of a matter of control over a crowd which influences this decision? Seeing as how Berghain typically expects 4+ hour sets from their DJs, are you planning to break this rule on this occasion?
As far as the quality of music that is being released right now, I don’t think it has ever been better. The real reason I made this change is simple. When I played vinyl I was a madman, mixing fast and throwing faders, lots of energy. When I went to a controller set up, I got extremely bored. So I made a decision: if I would make tracks (basically loops) that do nothing, and I just let them play, the crowd would hate it. So now when I play, I tend to have 4 decks going, maybe one with an actual song playing, and another three with just those loop tracks playing. So I am constantly working and thinking and having fun mixing them all together. That “having fun” translates really well to the crowd, and I love it. For the four hour Berghain set, it will be all my own stuff that night [as well]. I do play other peoples music still, but pretty much only when I’m playing a drum and bass set here in Houston.
As an American techno artist living in Texas, a place which is not very well known for a burgeoning techno scene, do you feel that your geographic location affects you as an artist? Do you think your music would sound different if, say, you relocated to Germany as many techno producers are currently doing? Also, any other artists from Texas (techno or otherwise) which you would like to recommend to our readers?
The scene here in Texas is much better than most people would believe. I don’t think that my sound would change depending on where I was. When I moved to Chicago I kept right on with my P-Rhythm/Template style, and I think my style has just evolved from that over the years. I think most producers have a signature style that they carry with them. You can always recognize a Truncate track apart from a Cisco (The Advent) or Surgeon one, much like a fingerprint.
Texas talent is really deep these days. Austin has a great label named Capital Techno [which is] run by a great bunch of guys who hustle constantly. They are putting out great music that takes its cues from the jacking tribally techno of the late 90’s, great production, too. Guys like Single Cell (aka Steel Grooves), Jeff F, Subforce and John Reyes. In Houston, my buddy Henry Chow is extreme talented, you may remember him from Zenit. I’ve been on his ass for the last few years trying to get him back into production and I think it has finally worked. Josh Dupont and Eddie Spettro are making some killer house/techno these days, they work as a team under the moniker Extended Play.
You’ve gone on-record recently as being a primarily software-based artist, which was extremely surprising to me considering the amazing amount of “retro” warmth your compositions have in comparison to a lot of other “in the box” artists. With a large amount of artists trending towards building complex modular “Euro rack” setups and posting pictures of elaborate studio setups, do you feel any pressure to give in and pick up some outboard gear? Do you have any tips you’d like to impart for those of us working entirely with DAWs (digital audio workstations)?
Oh hell no, no pressure at all! I love working in the box, though I think my sound comes from the 15 years of working outside the box. I guess my ears don’t think it sounds right until it’s nice and warm, and a little dirty. I can’t really figure out why my stuff sounds any different than other peoples, other than I hardly ever use a dry sound or something that’s not manipulated quite a bit.
Besides “Falling Down”, what other projects and releases do you have out right now or in the near future that you would like to tell us a bit more about?
Oh man, stuff is mad right now! I actually have an EP called “Density” that comes out the same day as “Falling Down,” I just wanted to get them out before the end of the year. I’ve got a release on Dystopian Rhythm called “Blessed” that has been getting some good play. Also, check out my release on Ill Bomb “The Prelude.” Additionally, I’ve got a single on Assassin Soldier coming out mid-December as well.
There’s also a few remixes I’ve done coming out soon. First, there’s a remix for Uun’s “Structure” EP on Lance Blaise’s Teggno label which is coming out in early December. Plus I’ve done a remix for Shiva on Different Is Different which is coming out in late December or early January, along with a rework of Maria Goetz’s “Vilify” on Slap Jaxxx which should be out any day now. There are a few demos in circulation now, and a bunch of stuff I need to compile, so there will be no shortage of music coming from me.
Sounds like you’ve been extraordinarily busy! Again, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Lastly, I’m going to stick to Dub Monitor tradition here and ask the same question we always ask: which upcoming artists and labels are you excited about right now?
All of my American brothers and sisters in techno are really making this ride a lot of fun, and there is some great motivation pouring in from all over the country. You [Virulent], Justin Kase and Schumacher, Owen Sands, Lance Blaise, Shiva, Dystopian Rhythm dudes [Garrett Dillon & Mike Clark] are all doing some good shit. Ryan [Malony aka Uun], all my Texas People (don’t mess with Techno)…man I know I’m going to forget so many people, but I tell you what, us old guys in the U.S. aren’t slowing down a bit. Also gotta love the Droid crew, Blank Code artists, Angel [Alanis] is a machine these days, Kyle Geiger, Dustin Zahn, Tim Xavier, freaking Paul Birkin, DVS1, we have got lot to be proud of!