It's mostly Mexican actually. That's the biggest out of all the Latin ethnicities. Mexican Town is in southwest Detroit. But I suppose when you look at it, in general terms of population it's quite small in terms of the population as a whole. But, yeah, if you want to get a good Mexican food you go to southwest Detroit.
Your father was a musician.
Yes, he was a musician. He was a very talented guy. He was one of these dudes who just picked up an instrument and—BOOM—played it right away. I wish I had half the talent he had.
Were you surrounded by music then while growing up?
Definitely. Mexican music, of course, was always playing in the house and just going outside and hearing Mexican, Puerto Rican or Cuban music. There was always some Latin music around. It was a part of me and my upbringing. And, on the top of that, growing up in the '80s and late '70s, you had the end of disco, and all the New Wave and electronic stuff coming out. It was quite a good time to grow up. Just to have all these amazing sounds coming from every direction.
When did you first start DJing yourself?
I first got my equipment in 1987.
Picking up a turntable instead of instrument like your father. Do you remember why you went that way instead?
I think if he would have been around through those years that there is a 99% chance I would have probably played an instrument. My older brothers and sisters played instruments because of my father. He passed away when my younger brother and I were very young, so we missed that opportunity. Going back to why we jumped into DJing, I was always into music anyway but never really saw the musician side of it. Then I saw Jeff Mills in 1986, as The Wizard playing live at a party. That just blew me away and that was the point when I said, "Right, that's what I want to do. I want to be a DJ."
His style of playing, was that the kind of style you found yourself emulating starting off?
No, I think it was many years later. There's no way you can just jump into and mix like that. It's not going to happen. You have to get the confidence. That mixing style that Jeff had was always in there in the back of my mind though. I think it had an effect on a lot of Detroit DJs to this day, mixing very fast, and just doing tricks and whatnot.
I imagine so. But I didn't get into that whole techno scene for many years after I was already a DJ. For me it was a bit different. Playing in my neighbourhood, you were the DJ for the night. It was me and my brother and they booked us to play. Maybe a few other friends, who came along and they would play a few records. Once I got into the techno and house scene, I said "Geez, look at the bill of this party. It was only five hours, and it was like 15 DJs!" I was like: "What's going on here?" Yeah, it seems ridiculous to have 45 minutes to play. You were lucky if you got an hour.
What were you playing before you got into techno and house?
I started off with early hip-hop, electro, early electro. And also there was Latin Freestyle, which was massive in southwest Detroit. Very small doses of techno and house I could play. But it had to be a big record like "You Used to Hold Me." If it didn't have any vocal, people were like: "Hey, what's going on here?" That was quite frustrating for me because I was really into techno and house and I had all these records I was buying, but didn't really have the chance to play them. It wasn't until the early and mid-'90s when I went to my first proper techno or house party. For me, it was unbelievable to hear a whole night of this music. It was life changing.
You were soon introduced to the Underground Resistance guys after that. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about some things that they taught you along the way during those years.
I've learned a lot. We had Mike [Banks], you also had James Pennington, James Stinson, Andre Holland. There were so many guys coming and going. And also just to be in that environment of the old Submerge building. It could be any day, a Tuesday at 3 PM, and there was something going on. I was just like a sponge. It was like techno central. Being in the studio with those guys and seeing how they work and being open about it and just giving me advice on what I could do. Those are the things that had an impact on me, and I'll never forget that.
Obviously the story of "Jaguar" has been told time and again. I wonder about one particular point, however. When did you hear that Sony had recorded the version that covered it?
I think somebody sent us a record. It was a promo record. They had already pressed it up. I got a phone call from Mike saying "You need to come down." So I went down to the studio. He didn't even tell me on the phone. It was only when I got there he was like. "Wow...what the hell is this?" And when he played it we were like "Damn, it's already pressed." They were sending out promos. It was quite a shock.
You moved to Edinburgh in the mid-'00s, right? Did you move to be with your wife?
Yeah, she was based here in Edinburgh and I moved over here.
I guess you'd already been doing gigs there. Was the transition hard for you?
No, it wasn't that difficult at all. The first time I came to Edinburgh was like 1996 so I spent quite a bit of time here coming over doing my gigs, staying here for a month or two months at a time, so I was familiar with the place. Also, the majority of my work was in Europe, so there were no more transatlantic flights every weekend, which was killing me.
whiskey, kilts and bagpipes.
What else do you need?"
What do you like so much about Edinburgh?
For me, there are many things. The history here, the architecture is amazing. Even to this day I walk around like a tourist sometimes. There are museums, you have a castle here, you have an extinct volcano here, fish and chips, beer, whiskey, kilts, and bagpipes. What else do you need? It's totally different from Detroit, but there are so many great things about it. You have to get used to the weather though. That's the only downside. There's a lot of rain. It's not as cold as Detroit, but there's a lot of rain.
It seems like you've found a pretty consistent home at Berghain over the past few years. Why do you think your particular sound works so well there?
I'm not sure, because it seems that every time I go back there I'm playing different things. The first time I went there to play I was a bit nervous. It was in 2006. It was the second birthday party at their new location, and it was a while since I had played in Germany because of that whole minimal thing. I was a bit nervous. "Oh no, are they expecting minimal music?" So I got there, and they were really excited with the way I was playing and doing my thing. From that point on, I've been a regular. Every three or four months I'm back. It's been really great, I play whatever I want. There are times when I play hours of house music in Berghain and people are going for it, or I'm banging out some Berghain-style techno, the really hard techno that most people associate with that place.
Do you feel that your own sound has changed as a result of that place or even any other place in the world?
I think it definitely has had an impact on me—that club in particular—because of how often I have played there. Every time I go and play there, there are always three or four other great DJs that are also playing, whether it's at Berghain or upstairs at Panorama Bar, so I get inspiration from them. Just hearing other records people are spinning. I always leave and be like: "Wow...that was great." It's not only from playing, but also from being there on the other side of the decks. It does definitely have an impact on me when I approach making music and I think it has shaped my sound.
You mentioned that it was the first time you had played in Germany for a while at the time when you first played there. Were there other places like that for you?
No, I think Germany was the only place in particular. Everywhere else seemed pretty steady. In Germany, though, it was almost like the borders were shut for me personally. It was really weird.
How do you feel with things right now?
I'm quite happy. Every time I approach music in different ways. I may do one record this way, one record that way. I'm quite happy that I'm still making music and people want music from me. I had a few remixes out this year, I still have a couple more I'm working on at the moment. I'm really excited about making music as well, which is important I think. It's not that I have to do it, I actually enjoy it. It gives me pleasure to do it. If you hear somebody play your records—that's just the best. I am at a good place right now when it comes to production. I'm quite happy.
Yeah, or UK funky. I didn't know what that was. I met the guy last year from NY, Contakt, and he played me the track. I didn't know that they called it UK Funky, I just thought it was funky. I just do what I do. It could be weird, because I think that label is classified under that genre of UK funky or maybe even dubstep. I'm not sure. It is great to be part of something different, it gives you exposure to a different audience, a different crowd, different DJs. I think it's good.
I think one of the interesting things about that scene these days is that it seems to me to be as open-minded as Detroit was back in the '80s. No one is closed off to anything.
Well, that's good! That's a healthy way to approach things. There shouldn't be any walls. If it's obscure or kind of freaky, just do it. If it works, it works.