This techno artist approaches DJing with a producer's mindset. Matt Unicomb gets to the core of her style.
Temple's high-energy style is a natural extension of her vinyl DJing in the late '90s and early '00s. Specialising in the rapid type of mixing made popular by the likes of Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke, Temple played records with relentless energy. Despite building a solid fanbase during her first decade of DJing, Temple quit music entirely during the minimal boom around 2006, only returning, in 2013, once a more experimental brand of techno—Blawan, Surgeon, Truss, Perc etc.—had been re-established. She's now more popular than ever, with tracks out on R&S Records and her own Noise Manifesto, and a touring schedule that's recently taken in Unsound festival, Tresor and Colorado's Communikey Festival. I caught up with Temple in her Berlin apartment, where she broke down her immersive and almost obsessive approach to DJing.
What do the different parts of your setup do? Let's start with the Ableton controller, Push 2.
When I'm using the Push 2, I don't really have to touch the computer at all. If I'm in the Ableton Session View page on my laptop, I can be launching clips. I can have a bunch of clips playing at the same time, which means I can layer them. It's a real joy to use, and much better than the first version. I also link this up to a few VSTs. I always rigorously check which VSTs are stable, because there could be a really buggy virtual synth—I need to use VSTs that don't crash.
What kind of clips would you be launching?
They can be full tracks, incomplete tracks that I've been making in the studio, or really stripped-down ideas—pads that I've been playing, or maybe something I've come up with during the week that I want to test in the club. I'm doing a lot of edits. I'm editing in the hotel room all the time. Maybe a track has come in—I love it, but there's something in there that I want to emphasise. Or maybe there's something I want to cut out. I like to do that before a gig, because it gets me in the zone.
How fast do you move through the clips while you're DJing? You must have access to thousands.
In an hour I'd probably play between 25 and 30 tracks, but that's how I've always done it, even with vinyl.
If you see a combination of clips is getting a good reaction, do you let it play for longer than you'd planned?
Yes, absolutely. I've been playing a lot of amazing percussion tracks lately. Sometimes I'll be layering one type of percussion track on top of another, and then interweave between the two for like ten or 12 minutes. I'd normally be bored after that long, but it works so well that I'm happy to keep it going.
And the opposite will happen, too? Maybe you bring in an element and then think, "Oh, that doesn't sound so nice after all."
It happens if I've edited a track too hastily, and hadn't really tested it properly—too quick in the hotel room, basically. But it only happens very rarely. Maybe the edit doesn't flow right, and I have to find a way to quickly move on from that.
Are you using headphones a lot while all this is happening, to check how different clips are going to sound when they're played together?
I don't so much anymore, because I get to know the music really well beforehand. But sometimes I do, so I have a separate soundcard—the last thing in my setup. It means I can have another output I can preview through.
How often will you preview a clip then decide not to bring it in?
Quite often. I'd say every second or third track, because I've got a new track nearly every two minutes.
That's the unique thing about your style: you're not really playing full tracks, but snippets.
That's interesting because the last ten years in techno seem to have been about long transitions and letting full tracks do a lot of the work for you. You're doing something completely different.
That's just always been my style. I don't aspire to be like everyone else, but I don't aspire to be different than everyone else either. This is just how I do it. I like the energy it creates.
Going back to your setup, the Allen & Heath K2 is like your mixer, and, like the Push 2, it's connected to your computer, right?
Yes, this has all my EQ controls and effects. I've actually programmed it so I know exactly what I'm in control of. I know what my movements will do, especially with the detail in the bass frequencies. I know how much effect on the sound moving it just slightly will have.
Because you've already edited the frequency response?
Yes. So much of my DJing is about playing between kicks and bass, layering them. On one track, the kick might be resonating around 50Hz, and another might be higher at around 60Hz, so I could blend those kicks together and play between them, and have an effect on the dance floor. It's really subtle, but the crowd is getting constant movement—not just the same kick all the time. Using the K2, I can cut out the low-ends of two tracks, or cut one then the other, or play them both together as a blend. That kind of technique is really important to my style. I love to play with these different kicks.
This must be one of the benefits of having lots of DJ experience. A bedroom DJ might not realise that little differences—such as the difference between 50 and 60HZ—can often have a huge impact through club and festival soundsystems, because they probably can't hear the difference at home.
That's why it's really important to calibrate my hearing to every soundsystem I play on. I don't like to just turn up ten minutes before my set. I like to be there an hour or at least half an hour before, and then get a feel for what it sounds like on the dance floor and what the people in different spots are hearing. I check if it sounds the same in the booth, because the monitoring can often be so different from what's on the dance floor.
You have to take into account all these differences. Sometimes I can be surprised, because the soundsystem will have been set up so that it's focusing on specific frequencies. When you're expecting to hear something and it's not there, it's like, "That's missing, I really wanted that—OK, forget it." But then sometimes other frequencies are really enhanced and surprise me in a good way.
So you adjust your track selection to the soundsystem you're playing on.
Yes. For example, when I first played at Tresor they'd just put the Void system in, and had tuned it in such a way where it was pointless playing anything melodic. It was just bass and hats. That's why it's a pleasure to be able to play at a club again and again, because you get to really know the soundsystem. You also, without even thinking about it, prepare tracks you know are going to work there. And you know to avoid some tracks, too. For example, I love to play more textural and detailed stuff in intimate clubs, but if the soundsystem won't handle the detail, I just need to have clear kicks and more stripped-down tracks.
What are you listening for when you arrive at a venue?
I'm paying attention to the detail of all the frequencies, and if the system is balanced or sounding harsh or lacking in some areas. A balanced soundsystem is the best. I'll pay a lot of attention to the detail in the low-end, too. This is key.
You seem to have double the amount of work than most vinyl DJs. During the week, his or her main job is to look for music. But you have to look for music and do a significant amount of editing.
There's a lot of pre-preparation. I enjoy it, though, because it gets me in the zone for what I'm about to do. But recently, so many DJs are moving to CDJs and saying stuff like, "I just turn up with my USBs—it's easy and convenient." Alarm bells are ringing in my head when I hear this, because they're actually being paid a decent amount of money, and they're saying they want ease and convenience? On the other hand, if you're touring a lot, ease and convenience actually does come into it—you can preserve your energy better.
I've recently been asking myself if I should switch to CDJs, because it would save me a lot of time during the week. I need every spare moment to produce, so it would be nice to free up some time. But I would miss so much of what I can do in my current way. I really enjoy how I can perform the way I do, making the edits, doing remixes on the fly, slipping in some new tracks. I could do a lot of that with CDJs, but it would feel so removed.
I think you'd get bored.
This is part of the reason I often have a vinyl deck included in my setup. It means I can layer stuff on top of the clips I'm playing. After DJing with vinyl for 20-odd years, you just want to be able to touch it. It's just the self-satisfaction, really. So sometimes I'll just switch to a deck and mix a track in and then go back to the Push 2.
You can't really socialise while you're playing, can you? With a lot DJs it's a party behind the decks, but you have to focus. Do you miss being able to relax and hang out with your friends while playing?
I'm just not that kind of person. The closest I've had to having a totally relaxing time was the last time I played at Berghain. I was so surprised, because I normally like to do shorter sets. I was worried and thinking, "Oh, I've gotta do a four-hour set at Berghain," but then I actually really enjoyed it, and I had my friends there in the booth, which I normally don't allow at all.
I think with DJing you can be a marathon runner or sprinter, and I think I'm more of a sprinter. It's bizarre when people are like, "Oh, you should do long sets." You don't expect a sprinter to run a marathon, so you should respect all kinds of DJs, really.
Do you ever feel like having to concentrate so intensely disconnects you from the party?
No, that's not what would make me feel disconnected. It would be something like tiredness, which only rarely happens because I can cut through that. It could also be the distance from the crowd—if the decks are raised and really far away, and there's a bunch of security people in the middle who keep interfering with the crowd and their enjoyment.
You play in a large variety of situations. For some house DJs, the most different act they're going to have to play after is maybe a techno DJ. Whereas you might be booked after a house DJ, a techno DJ, a drone artist.
Yeah, my gigs are really diverse. It can be festivals, it can be club nights, or it can be an arts event. That's why I have to judge it gig by gig. I generally start looking ahead to my next gig and preparing for it at the beginning of the week.
What are you thinking about in the minutes leading up to the beginning of your set?
I always have some clusters of tracks that I know work super tightly, and that when I play them in a certain way they'll have an impact. So I know that there's this selection I can choose from, and I don't always go for everything—it all depends how things are going that night. My biggest stress is planning how to open the set. I usually have an idea about where I'd like to end, but I'm not yet sure of the flow or how I'm going to get there. The way I start is really important because it helps me get in the mood for the journey I'm going to take people on.
What do you do if the DJ before you is playing something totally different to what you want to play?
I'm at a stage right now where people know what I play and have expectations, so I'm not going to bend and deviate so far away from that. And if it turns out that the lineup has been programmed so someone is playing music totally different to mine before me, I didn't program it [laughs].
You're able to play sets with a lot of energy the whole way through using short snippets of tracks. How does someone successfully play this way?
They can be snippets or they can be specific phrases on their own without much going on. But once you start layering them and have two melodies counteracting—or two types of rhythm—it adds this intensity. That's what I'm always listening out for and why I spend a lot of time pre-listening to stuff figuring out this works amazingly with that, and then I can add this kind of pad from that track, or this ending from another track that people would've dismissed or never even considered, but actually could make an amazing middle part or breakdown.
You're producing while you DJ, more or less.
Yeah, I'm constantly producing. And that's why I love the flexibility of this digital setup—I'd find it super frustrating just sticking with vinyl.
You were involved in developing one of the earliest digital DJing tools, the MXF8. What was your role in that?
Around 2000, I started getting to know Gerard Campbell, an inventor. He was introduced to me by Claude Young, the Detroit producer. We'd met at The Orbit in Leeds. At that time, Gerard had this other invention called the Notron out. It was a four-channel hardware sequencer that every creative producer wanted. The Orb was crazy about it, The Prodigy, Björk—it was just insane. I got one of these Notrons and then Gerard and me became really good friends. He would come to all my gigs.
Gerard had this idea to somehow blur the line between how producers are in the studio and how DJs perform, and he wanted to create this kind of controller. So he had the idea, he's the inventor, but he asked me if I could co-develop it with him. We started on the basics of it in 2000, but we really got into it in 2001. MXF8 stands for MIDI-crossfade, eight channels.
What could you do with it?
There was nothing else quite like it at the time. You could have up to eight channels, and it had a crossfader with four channels on each side. So you could effectively transform Ableton into eight virtual decks if you wanted to. And then, as a MIDI controller as well, you can assign any MIDI control to any other machine, but it was designed in such a way that it made you feel like you were bringing your productions to an audience live, being able to perform your productions like a DJ.
Which meant you could essentially build a track live with parts from other tracks?
Yes, it blurred the boundary between producer and DJ—you could be both. I was gigging with the MXF8 between 2002 and 2006, and my performance setup was two vinyl decks and Ableton Live with the MXF8. It sounds a bit crazy, because it was basically ten decks in total. I started calling them hybrid DJ sets quite early on, but I don't think anyone understood what that meant.
Would you ever have all ten channels playing at once?
Sometimes, because I would sample tiny bits of tracks that I loved. I could take a loop from, for example, Carl Craig's "Jam The Box," then take a tiny riff from a DBX track, a kick from another track, a hi-hat loop from something else, and then have my own stuff in there, too. As long as I didn't do too much, which is tempting to do with this kind of setup, it worked.
This technology enabled you to perform the music, which was much more enjoyable than being stuck rigid on a grid. It was a perfect combination with Ableton's Session View, which is all about jamming and coming up with ideas on the fly. But I didn't want to lose the physicality of vinyl, so I kept the decks in the setup.
Would you run into problems when too many channels were in use?
That doesn't really happen, maybe because I've always played sober. I can imagine that after having a few drinks I'd be looking at the MFX8 and not being able to see which channels are on and off, and then make mistakes.
You told me that your last few gigs before taking a break from music in 2006 were with vinyl.
Yeah, I'd decided to give the hybrid setup a rest for a moment, and then went back to just pure vinyl. But the airport kept losing my records, and I just took that as a sign. I was already starting to lose motivation with techno anyway, because it had lost something.
Were you mixing records at home during the years you weren't playing out?
No. I stopped listening to nearly everything, especially techno. It just felt too painful. I had a vinyl collection, something like 12,000 records—four times what I have now.
To quit like you did took a lot of character. You were already pretty successful, so to completely stop was a big move.
I think that's the true techno spirit. You're there because you're really into the music and the scene that comes with it. But then when people you really respect start to step away and so many other factors are against you, you just think, "OK, it's time to stop." Some other DJs morphed into a different sound, maybe because they loved the DJing aspect more than the actual content. They were shape shifters, so they could keep doing their profession. But I think a whole bunch of us didn't see techno as a profession—it was our life.