Interview: Jeff Derringer

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I know that all of us here in Detroit really enjoyed your recent set at TV Lounge, playing alongside Brendon Moeller at a party put on by local promoters Blank Code and Paxahau. You’ve been around the midwest area for a long time, and your name is usually associated with Chicago. Historically, Chicago always seemed to be viewed as a house music city, while Detroit was branded the homeland of techno. But now it’s roughly 20 years later; how do the scenes of these cities compare today?

Thanks for the kind words, [Altstadt]. I’ve been doing Oktave shows back in Chicago now for a little over two years, and what I’m noticing is that the appetite for techno is definitely there, it’s growing, but the house, tech house and deep house scenes are more developed. Venues like Smartbar are definitely more focused on house, although they do offer techno lineups as well. Smartbar has been very accommodating of me and of Oktave and I’m grateful for that. I’m also excited about the introduction of a new club, Primary, which seems very interested in promoting good techno. Oktave brought Tommy Four Seven to Primary in October and it turned out well. I’m looking forward to doing more shows there in 2013.

Both Detroit and Chicago seem to be pretty strongly affiliated with their roots – Chicago with house, and Detroit with techno. promoters in Detroit like Paxahau and Blank Code are doing a really great job keeping Detroit strong with solid bookings. every time I’ve played in Detroit I’ve been really impressed with how enthusiastic the crowds are, and the size of the turnout. I’m looking forward to playing in Detroit more as I’m able to develop an audience there – it’s a great place for techno gigs.

Most people don’t know that you are also a professor at Columbia College Chicago, where you are teaching students the ins-and-outs of modern production software like Ableton and Logic. How did this role come about? As a professor at a school that offers the full spectrum of traditional university programs (meaning it includes programs in liberal arts like humanities, history, science, etc), how do you feel about the rise of specialized “DJ schools” like Dubspot? What advice would you have for a high school senior who was determined to become an electronic music artist, but was indecisive about whether to attend a school like Dubspot, or a school like Columbia College Chicago?

I am an adjunct professor at Columbia College in Chicago. I started there about two years ago (soon after I moved back to Chicago from New York). when I moved to Chicago, I was thinking of starting my own school for music production, inspired by several years taking classes at Dubspot in New York. A friend got me connected to Columbia College and I ended up having a meeting with the music department. I had spent that summer (2010) writing a digital production curriculum that focused on Ableton Live, and they were interested. Academia moves very slowly so at first they slotted me in teaching ProTools, which was more known and acceptable to the decision makers there. But after a semester and a four-week trial module in Ableton, they let me start building the digital production curriculum. It now incorporates Maschine, Ableton, and strategies for production, mixing and mastering. I’m really excited about the work I’m doing at Columbia and I’m hoping the curriculum continues to develop. They’ve been very supportive of me.

I spent several years as a student at Dubspot, and I am a huge fan of the work they are doing, both in NYC and in their online course curriculum. there’s more and more schools popping up like Dubspot all over the country. I feel like Dubspot is the most recognizable of these schools right now but as time goes on, I think you’re going to see this kind of strategy really take off – a private institution that teaches kids tools they need to learn about beat making, sound design and mixing, instead of slotting some digital composition classes in between pre-requisites like music theory and humanities courses.

According to your Resident Advisor biography and your Discogs information, you started releasing tracks in 2010. However, even these early tracks have a much more mature sound than many techno artists attain after years of releases. In my experience, this usually is a sign that an artist formerly produced under another alias; this has certainly been the case with artists like Rrose, Rivet, and Shifted. Is there another alias for Jeff Derringer out there that we don’t know about, or did you just hold onto tracks until your skill level had reached critical mass?

As far as my production goes, I’ve never released under any other aliases before. I spent years and years playing drums in indie and alternative bands. my route to techno came through the studio and my exposure to computer recording technology. I always loved electronic music, and as a kid I was heavily influenced by soundtracks more than anything, but my migration from traditional musical paradigms into electronic, experimental and techno came through the computer and the recording studio. I spent a lot of time doing scores for commercials, actually, which is how I learned ProTools, my first DAW.

Regarding my compositions and what not, I appreciate the kind words and I’m glad things sound assured in some way. I guess that’s mostly from spending years in and around music, not necessarily techno. I’ve been on an instrument since I was 6, and on the drums since 11, so I’ve spent quite a long time playing, writing, and recording music. I hope that comes out in the quality of my writing and production. That said I feel like I still have tons to learn and I’m always trying to evolve and grow. There are always mountains to climb in this respect.

Going off on somewhat of a tangent, there’s a theory out there (largely popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”) stating that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to master any skill, whether it is playing the violin or computer programming. Since hearing about this, I’ve always been curious to see if the theory holds up when applied to techno production. If you think back to the days you’ve spent messing around in Ableton or Pro-tools, would it be possible to estimate the hours you’ve invested?

The hours I’ve invested in music cannot be counted. When I think of pure hours spent on the computer making techno, definitely thousands and thousands of hours. I try to work every day, although that’s not always easy. But I’m in a production or a mix virtually every day, and I can’t ever see that changing.

In a recent conversation I had with some friends of mine that are just now putting in the hours to become solid producers, they all had a notion of what their “dream collaboration” would be. One friend said he would do anything to work with Steve Reich. I said I would probably chose Regis above all others. Is there any artist (or artists) that you fantasize about one day working with?

There are tons and tons of artists whose work I respect and would love to work with. That said, I don’t think I’m a very good collaborator creatively and I don’t do much of it, really. If we’re talking fantasy worlds here, I’d say Function, Regis, Luke Slater and Jeff Mills, probably – guys whose work consistently blows me away.

In a similar vein, which up-and-coming producers are on your radar?

As for up and coming producers, there’s some people here in Chicago whose work is really nice – Savile, the Black Madonna and Olin. They make tracks that are on the housier end of the spectrum, but they’re talented and deserve success. Ness is a guy making deep, dark, dubby techno that I love, as is Deepbass. NX1 – very solid. Everything I get from the Semantica label is great, and the boss there is Svreca, making killer techno. There’s so much good music out there right now it’s kind of crazy. Keeping up is nearly a full time job!