Fast-forward to 2009, and the common ground linking those early explorations, and an artist on the verge of releasing her fourth LP, is hardware. A commitment to dusting the patchbays, paying for maintenance and investing the time: It's all in exchange for the sonic capacity that the machines bestow. Anemik, her latest album effort, has just wafted into record stores via Canadian imprint Wagon Repair, and although Dinky will openly admit that the LP is not as far removed from the dance floor as she had perhaps intended at its inception, it's nevertheless bathed in peerless flourishes of percussive adventure, and acoustic/electronic collisions; the latter of which is recurrent theme of conversation as we pull up a pew in her Berlin studio.
How did you initially became involved in production?
I was in Chile actually, around when I met Ricardo [Villalobos], Luciano, Dandy Jack, Atom Heart and Tobi Fruend. They were all coming over to Chile. Luciano was the only one living there at the time. I was really into house at that stage, although I had my Detroit side as well. I was into Carl Craig, Jeff Mills, Robert Hood and Plastikman—I was a big fan.
What year was this?
Around about 1994—I was 19 or something. I also had my IDM side: Aphex Twin, and all the Warp things. At that time Warp was putting out a lot of dance music: LFO, Nightmares On Wax, 808 State—things like that.
And what about the production side of things?
I guess it came when I was 21 or 22, and I moved to New York. At that time it was really difficult to DJ because the police were really tough. There were no clubs, there were places shutting down, so if I was going to get into music I really wanted to produce. I asked for some advice from people; for example Dandy Jack convinced me to buy that machine [points to MPC 2000]. I still have all the material from my first album sitting on it so I don't want to thrash it, or sell it, or anything. So I bought that at a very young age and I started to learn that and sampling; it's a very basic thing.
My first introduction to a studio was with Jorge González from Los Updates in New York. We were both living there, and he had a studio and we decided to make a track together. He showed me everything and from that point I became totally hooked on it. He was using Cubase at that time, and we did kind of a Chilean thing with samples which was really cool. I was really young, maybe 21.
How long was it before you owned your own equipment?
I think it was the same year. After I did the track with Jorge, I brought the MPC and started to play around, and I think it took me a year to make my first record, which I signed to Traum when I was 23 or something. At this time Traum were not putting dance music out. My music was like more experimental and ambient. It had some beats but half of it was ambient.
Is there a way of working that you have settled upon over the years?
It's always different. It depends on which year, or which gear I have—it always changes. I'm never so attached to my stuff, so I'm always buying and selling to get inspiration again. Like for example, before I was using Logic, and now I'm using Pro Tools. With Logic I had a different way of working, and the same with Pro Tools. And now I also have step sequencers which help a lot for composition which I didn't have before, so it really depends on the set-up.
I tend to start with the bass as a fundamental for the pitch. The thing with bass is it's so low sometimes you can't really tell which key or note to use. First I compose the bass line, and then tune everything off the bass. Say if the bass is a C note, I'll have drums that are tuned to it. Sometimes if you put the bass in at the end it's a little bit harder as the bass is at a much lower range, which makes the key much harder to recognize so it's good to start with it—for me at least.
Do you have quite a high turnover of gear? How long have you had the Prophet '08 for example?
The Prophet I've had for maybe two years, but I don't want to get rid of it. Some things I do like to get rid of, but if I really like something I don't get rid of it. For example, I had a Virus and I got rid of it and had a few little machines instead, like that one for example [points to the DSI rack Evolver].
Is that a key thing for you: drawing inspiration from the gear?
Yes, for the sound. It's important to have new sounds. Now for example, I realize talking to Matthew Jonson, or Mike Shannon, or people who are really into modular synthesis, they tell me that this stuff is much more interesting because you can make your own sounds, and you never really have to go buying things to use, or change the presets, you can actually make your own. Of course you need to have knowledge of modular, but it's not that hard; probably have a few lessons or whatever. This is very interesting, and I think what I'd like to do now.
What would you say you find easiest? What's your strong point?
I'm not sure I can say, it's hard for me, but composing is something that I'm quite fast on. And creating mixes with acoustics and electronics which I really like to do. Instrumentation and voice stuff like that.
It changed my life."
Has that been since childhood?
No, guitar I started two years ago. The piano I played when I was a child, but of course you forget. I used the Rhodes on the album a lot for example, but through these [points to a selection of guitar pedals] so you can't really hear it the same.
What are some of your key bits of gear right now?
Let's start with the sequencer: For this I use Pro Tools HD. They have three variations of it, but HD is the highest level they use for like pop music.
Did you make the switch from Logic to Pro Tools for recording reasons?
Yes, because there is no latency. I'm still a little bit sloppy with it as I got this version from Onur [Özer] a month ago because he uses Pro Tools for all of his productions. For electronic music it's a strange thing to use; Donnacha Costello uses it I think, but few people use it because it's so expensive unless you get it secondhand. But there is a huge advantage for vocals or guitar or anything: There's no latency. So basically you record, and you get the recording, and you never have to nudge anything. For example, I was losing the groove so many times with the last album. You compose something and you think it's great, but listen back to it and everything is out of synch, or it sounds stiff, or it sounds too swing-y. So, yeah, Pro Tools is a dream—for me it changed my life. I've already done 12 tracks since finishing my new album.
For the bass I usually use that [points to the SND SAM-16 step sequencer]. I'm fairly new to them—maybe a couple of years—and I didn't even know what they were before. The main thing is they just make everything sound really funky because they have their own tempo and it's almost jumpy. This one was built by the guy who built a sequencer for Kraftwerk. It's an amazing piece of engineering. A lot of people have this now: Onur, Ricardo, Tobias Freund and Matthew [Styles] has it. It's very jacking and it has a lot of shuffle so for bass it's perfect.
Does it have its own distinct swing would you say?
It does, but it can be really tight as well. It has its own swing, but you can shuffle.
It must be advantageous to not have to look at the monitor screen when you're programming a bass line?
Yes, that is the good thing about step sequencers. The other one [points to the Latronic Notron MK2], which is off the market now, is from the '90s. It took me a long time to find it, but I eventually found two and sold one to Pier [Bucci] because he loved it as well. This one I use more for melodies because it only has four channels. It's really cool because it has LFOs which tweak the sound.
With regards to the instruments you play, are you always capturing live performances, or sampling the instrument and then programming it afterwards?
Well, you always have to move things a little bit, and you always have to take out the bad notes. Sometimes you're lucky and get a good take, but with vocals it's always a lot takes which with Pro Tools is a dream because it's designed for multi-takes.
Let's talk about bass.
It's always this one [points to the Studio Electronics Se1x] which is like a bass dream machine. It has a Moog filter.
Have you ever gone down the Moog path?
I'm not really so into Moog. It's a little bit too aggressive; it's too "errghhh." I like it and appreciate it, but I've never gone with it so much. Maybe I need some time to explore it but... I really like the Dave Smith stuff. For me at the moment, he is my favourite synth builder. It's the sound and I also really like the step sequencers. Some people are criticising the Prophet '08 because it doesn't sound the same as the Prophet 5, but I don't think it was his idea to make it sound the same. It's a little bit softer. The Prophet 5 was really big and fat and aggressive, but this one is more soft and cloudy...
Good for house music?
Yep, it's good for house music and this one also [points to the Evolver] is very good for house music. This is what Omar-S uses, but a keyboard version.
And are you using any software synths?
Not really. For the album no, but I just brought something: the [Spectrasonics] Omnisphere which I'm trying now.
I use the Meyer HD-1s for monitoring. I got into them through Ricardo and Atom Heart and those types of people in Chile who were really big fans of the Meyers. It's an American company which hasn't been very big in Germany, but now they have an office here. They mainly make big sounds for concerts, things like classical and really high class things; they are really expensive. These are the only monitors they had and these are discontinued [Meyer HM-1]. The big ones they still do, but they are very pricey so I got them used of course, and these are probably 15 years old.
They are very true: What you hear is what you get. If you play an album you can hear if someone is playing a guitar—you can hear the strumming. They have a very nice bass frequency which is very low so you don't need a sub woofer with them but most importantly you can work with them for ten hours and not get tired of them.
[That's important, because] I don't have tinnitus yet, but if I continue exposing myself I'm sure I will get it. I know a lot of people who have it but don't accept they have it because it's very heavy to say you have it because it's terrible and you can't get rid of it. I'm super anal about my ears.
It's a Studer 269. I think this one is from the '70s. I picked this one up four or five months ago, but before I had a half version. I gave that one to Matthew [Styles] because he fell in love with it and Pier also got one. It's really super high quality in terms of EQ and dynamics. Of course you have to maintain it, and that's a little bit expensive, but it's relatively easy to get parts for. A lot of people like the channels. This one is class A so you really can't "red" anything because you'll destroy the mixer; it's not like an analog or tube mixer that you can "red," it's a little bit more clean and is used on classical and pop.
Let's talk about the process behind your album. I read last year that you said this would be the album where you went more into experimental territory—do you feel like you got there?
I didn't feel like I fully did that, because it still had the kick. It isn't there on every track, but it's still present, and I think for me to go fully experimental, it would have to be on another label. It's not a club album, but there is some after-hours and deep stuff on there with some experimental connotations as well. Maybe this is the transition to my experimental album.
The bridge record?
I think so, yeah. In terms of composition it was pretty smooth as I was spending a lot of time in the studio. I wouldn't say it was fast, but I was really inspired. I love Wagon Repair, it's one of my favourite labels. It's really open and Mathew is a really inspiring person because of the way he works and his philosophy. I was really inspired to make something for him that he was going to like, and the label was going to be happy to release. He told me that I was free to do whatever I wanted. I actually could have done something completely non-dance but I still wanted to keep up my dance side.
Do you find it easy to maintain inspiration? Do you have periods of time when you don't feel creative?
Yes, and I won't even come here [to the studio] during those times. They aren't long so I usually just concentrate on something else like playing instruments or rehearsing guitar, or reading, or whatever, because you can't really force it I think.
Do you ponder much on why these dry periods occur?
You have to find inspiration from different things. Of course I'm super inspired by Matthew [Styles, fiancée] because he's my inspiration, but you need to like, travel. For example, go to a strange country—not to play—but go somewhere like India to see other things. And I also find listening to too much electronic music is not so inspiring because I think a lot of things sound the same, and a lot of things are just fashion now. You can end up thinking "OK if I'm going to be successful, I need to be in fashion" and this is something I really don't like. Of course I don't want to dismiss it because I'm a DJ, and I have to find out about fashions, but as an artist I try to do my own thing. I'd really rather listen to other sorts of things...
For example, everyone knows that I really love Arthur Russell: he's among my favourite musicians. He has a really inspiring use of Rhodes and jazz. Disco is actually the sort of music that I can listen to a lot and it inspires me because of the instrumentation, the vocals and it's amazingly well done. Even things like Portishead and Radiohead—like progressive rock —progressive sounds horrible but... What I miss in electronic music is this live feeling of instrumentation. You can never get close with a drum machine to a drummer, or a synth to a guitar player. I think when you are tying acoustics and electronics together there is something really special; there is a certain humanity in it because sometimes electronic music can be too machine-like, which has its charms, but coming from instruments it's a little bit... maybe un-soulful.
Do you have anything in the way of advice that you'd like to pass on to people who are aspiring to produce?
I think it is very important to stay true to yourself in terms of... it sounds clichéd, but the basics of being an artist. Not even to think about success. Don't think "Oh my god, people are going to hate my record because it's not house, or it's not the Mannheim sound"—you should never be afraid of that. It's really tough because the critics are going to be hard. You always have to have a thick skin and not take it personally because there will always be someone who won't like you. If everyone in life likes you, then there is something wrong [laughs].
Of course, you need to survive if you're relying on it to eat, or feed your family, but I think if you really like music you have to think about that: the love of music and stay true to why you are doing this. I can totally understand that people are doing this for the fame, to have money and travel the world —it's fun, you know. I don't respect that, but I can see why. If this is the case you should approach production in a different way. You can have a producer, you can use sample loops that you buy from the internet and make the record in half-an-hour. But if you're a musician, or if you really love music and you are interested in experimenting, and it's your life, then you have to stay true to yourself and do what comes out from your heart.