One of dance music's most technically gifted DJs goes deep on his unique style.
When Dulan got his first set of decks, aged 17, he adopted a similarly rigorous and unorthodox approach to DJing. Most bedroom DJs rarely look beyond blending two tracks together, but he was quickly setting himself all sorts of challenges, from mixing records blind to practicing how to rescue a mix after an unexpected needle skip. (His cousin would knock the table at random intervals.) This was very much a product of growing up in 1980s Detroit, where a healthy yet intense air of competition fuelled the burgeoning club scene. With DJs like Derrick May and Jeff Mills as the standard-bearers, you had to work hard to be heard.
Those formative "bootcamp" years, as he calls them, followed by a stint playing hip-hop in clubs, turned Dulan into one of most technically gifted DJs in house and techno. These days, a typical set might include dozens of exquisitely timed cuts and fader tricks, as well as lengthy periods of spotless three-deck mixing. He flits from mixer to CDJ to turntable with the speed and finesse of a DMC champion, always thinking two or three moves ahead. Audience interaction is kept to a minimum—he's there to lead the dance floor, not follow it. To see him play is to experience the craft of DJing pushed to its limits.
In preparation for this interview, I watched Dulan play for five hours at Berlin's Griessmuehle, one of several European clubs where he holds a residency. A couple days later, we caught up on a sunny rooftop bar and went deep on the intricacies of his style. Like many Detroit artists, Dulan is unafraid to speak his mind, and he didn't shy away from critiquing the aspects of modern DJing that he dislikes. Mostly, though, he was effusive and enthusiastic about the artform to which he has dedicated his life.
How long before your set do you usually arrive at the club?
My timeframe is usually one hour before.
And in that time you're thinking about your first track?
Exactly. Whenever people ask me what I'm going to play tonight, I always say: "I have no idea." And they don't believe me. But I'm serious. I don't know until I get to the club. Most of the time, when it gets to 20 minutes before my set, I know exactly what I'm going to play.
You're rolling with a bag of vinyl, right? And three USB sticks?
Four sticks, but one is just pure backup. The other three are different genres. And then some really good vinyl, mostly current stuff and a couple classics. But I've been carrying less and less vinyl, mainly because all the promos I get are digital. I don't wanna wait for it to go on vinyl before I play it. When the vinyl comes out, I'll still get it.
When did you make the switch to CDJs?
Hard to say exactly, but probably around the time of the second generation Pioneer and the Technics CD decks. That's when I decided I had to use them.
Was it a difficult decision to stop playing purely vinyl?
It was very difficult for me because I was a vinyl head. Still am. But I didn't want to be a vinyl bore. Just be all complaining. I had to compromise in order to play some of the newer stuff. I didn't want to discount anyone's music just because it wasn't on vinyl. You know? As a DJ I gotta play the best stuff that's out there.
Did it change the way you played?
Do you use many of the CDJ functions? Like the loops.
No. I use the loop function I'd say, honestly, twice in a set. I don't even use rekordbox. I just go in there and play exactly like I played when I was using vinyl. It's on the fly, it's direct. It's exactly what I can do at that moment. Nothing pre-programmed. Nothing pre-planned. And I like it that way. It gets a little to kitsch if you have these loops available at all times.
It overcomplicates things?
Yeah. It just waters it down.
Do CDJs make mixing easier?
I don't know if it's easier. I guess for most people it is. I'm still very comfortable on turntables. On CDJs, I notice that they float in between BPMs often. Like even with vibration. If you have a deck and it's paused, you can see the numbers jump even though it's not playing. So they're still kind of human, you know what I mean? [laughs]. They've got a pulse. But that means it's imperfect as a digital product. It should be stagnant, it should be precise. My ears are way more precise when it comes to knowing if something is off. I can look and it'll be the same BPM, down to the tenth or whatever, but in my ears I can tell it's not on. I have to adjust it so that the CDJs show different BPMs, even though it's a perfect mix. In that sense, it's a little harder. It gives you a false positive sometimes.
You must have tried and tested a lot of different mixers over the years?
There's only two I use. The Allen & Heath Xone:92 or the Pioneer DJM-900. I wish they could get together in a nice hotel suite and have a baby. The Pioneer has the best faders. They're like butter. But the filter they put in there is kind of crappy. It's really harsh and it doesn't cover the whole frequency spectrum. It doesn't come close to the filter on the Allen & Heath or the general sound quality. I like the effects on the Pioneer, though I only use one: the echo.
When do you use the echo?
I use it quite a lot. Because when I chop, it adds a little essence to it.
I've noticed you don't use the platter much. Only very sparingly at the end of a mix. But generally you're just riding the fader.
It's just like when I play vinyl, all on the pitch control.
Is that a Detroit thing?
I think so. I learned it from Jeff Mills. I mean, he still touched the platter a lot, but the way he mixed was on the fly. He would mix a song in straight away. No cueing at all. And I was just like, "That's it, that's the way to play." I can actually play sets without headphones, as long as I have loud enough speakers in the ear. And the club is loud enough.
When I first started DJing I used to practice all kinds of stuff because Detroit was battle conditions. You might go to a club and the monitors were blown. Or the turntables were only coming out of one channel or were missing a leg. How this stuff happened I have no idea. I learned early how to work around it all. It paid off because now when everything is set up perfectly, I expect nothing less than a perfect set from myself.
Let's talk about the early days in Detroit. When was the first time DJing entered your world?
It was on the radio, for sure. I would hear The Wizard [Jeff Mills] and those mixes were phenomenal. And I understood what he was doing, even if I hadn't seen him live before. Because I knew the records. So if you heard a scratch or you heard the record change in a way that your record at home didn't, you knew he was doing something to it. I learned about manipulation by listening to The Wizard on the radio. I learned about mixing genres by listening to [The Electrifying] Mojo. And with Derrick May's Mayday mixes, I learned about vibe and energy. About making people feel the music as well as hear it.
Outside of radio, I had friends who DJ'd. There were parties at universities—University Of Michigan, Michigan State. I'd go up there as a teenager, barely able to get into these parties, and my friend Ron, who's actually one of the people who taught me how to DJ, would get me in. And this is so Detroit—it's funny but also not. You'd go to the party and everybody's like, "What time is the party over?" "Well, as soon as they start shooting." And it was true, because every party somebody would get into a fight and you'd just hear "pop, pop, pop." The music goes off, everybody starts running, the police show up. "Everybody out, everybody out." Some idiot would fuck up the party.
How old were you when you got your first set of decks?
I was 17. But I was already DJing on my parents' turntables. They didn't really like that [laughs]. Because I kept making the belt slip. I knew how to put it back but I had to unscrew the screws, lift up everything and take it apart. One of them was a unit. It was a turntable on top and underneath it was a radio. Underneath that was a double cassette deck. I'd have to take the whole side of the unit off to put the belt back on. My mom hated it.
They had two decks or one?
They had that one, then I got a really old Technics belt-drive from a pawn shop. And then my cousin shoplifted a RadioShack mixer. I didn't even know. He was so supportive of my DJing. It had no faders, just a little click switch back and forth. Battery operated. And I was like, "Where did you get this?" "Ahhh, don't worry about it..." [laughs]. And then later on he told me the truth. He had this long trench coat and he'd cut a slit in the lining.
He was older?
By a year.
And he was into the scene?
Yeah, but he wasn't a DJ. He would breakdance with me and we liked the same music. We both discovered techno around the same time. He'd take me to the record shops and he'd buy me these white labels that said "Not For Sale." I remember we'd go to a shop called Professionals. Robert Hood was working there, back when he was Rob Noise. Eventually, I was able to raise enough money to buy some real [Technics] 1200s. But it took a long time. They were so expensive.
I think my first real club experience was going to Music Institute. Seeing Derrick May and D-Wynn. I was fortunate enough to see Ken Collier at Heaven. Terrence Parker I'd see a lot because he'd play a lot of the parties at universities. And Blake Baxter on a Friday night at The Majestic. There were just certain things that were magical. I just got the fever, man. The way you could have a continuous mix but the mood could change. And the sound. I thought that was so dope.
Were you that guy standing by the booth watching the DJ's hands?
A bit, though I was mostly kicking in with my friends and listening to every single nuance of the music.
You've spoken about the competitive air in Detroit. Every DJ had their thing. It was about more than just mixing two records.
Honestly, you didn't want to sound like any other DJ. And you didn't want to bite someone else's style. Because that's Detroit. It's just the way we are. It's a disappointing thing when someone says, "Oh that's just like Derrick [May]." Or: "This track sounds just like Jeff [Mills]." We don't like that. You'd throw the track away. But in other parts of the world that's a huge compliment.
It seems like Jeff Mills was a guiding light not only for you but for a lot of people in Detroit. He showed how expressive DJing could be.
Definitely, though there were people before Jeff. But I didn't know them. They were part of a smaller circle, away from the clubs. They were throwing house parties in basements or in rented cabaret halls. Those were the people who influenced people like Derrick [May] and Eddie [Fowlkes] and Juan [Atkins] and those guys. Even Delano [Smith] influenced Derrick way back in the day.
So you started off mixing two records, but got bored pretty quickly?
Really bored. The thing is, if you could take DJing and put it into a bootcamp scenario, that was me. I didn't just DJ. I trained. Honestly. I had this huge table and we'd go to the record store and I'd buy maybe ten to 15 records. All genres: house, hip-hop, techno, electro. We'd go back to my loft and my cousin would have the bag and he would hand me two records to start and I'd play. Then he'd hand me the next record. I didn't know what it was. He'd just tell me which side to play and I had to mix it in. I had to make it work. I had to be creative. He'd also bump the table and the record would skip. I never knew when it was coming. The reason we did that was to be prepared: sooner or later, every DJ will make a mistake, but instead of complaining about it, I wanted to be able to correct it, to the point where it's so fast the crowd doesn't even notice it's happened. It became easy for me.
But two decks wasn't challenging enough. I could mix two records really well. I could lock them, work the EQs, do the faders, recover from a skip. I could even play warped records. So I added a third deck and trained my ear to listen to three things at once.
I want to know more about these bootcamp routines. What other kinds of hurdles would you set for yourself?
I'd practice without headphones a lot.
Where were you getting these ideas from?
I'd just think them up. And this was before I'd started playing in clubs. I didn't know that sometimes the monitors would be blown. Or that there'd be bad needles. I was somehow ahead of the curve without even knowing it. So I'd move my monitors. I'd set the decks up at different heights or put them in battle mode.
And this was all just to master the craft. You wanted to be ready if you ever got the opportunity.
Ultimately, I was thinking of DJing as a competition, even though it wasn't. You had to compete with the best. And I wanted to be as good as them if not better. So I had to practice. I'm not saying I was better [laughs]. But it helped me when I got out there.
It's such a unique set of conditions. I've seen DJs in Europe—especially those who were producers first—barely being able to mix when they first played in clubs. But in Detroit the bar was set so high from early on.
I was really hard on myself—OK, not hard, but really precise about what I wanted to do and how I wanted it to sound.
How much were you practicing?
About six hours a day. Every day that I could.
Was this with a career in mind?
No, that's the thing. Until I had a residency at a club, I never thought it would be my career.
Did Derrick May and Jeff Mills have careers doing this at the time?
So there was something to aspire to. You knew it could happen.
When a lot of the Detroit guys came back from trips to Europe, people would ask them: "So how was it?" And they'd be like: "Oh it was OK, it kind of sucked." They were lying! [laughs]. Saying it was 200 people when it was 2000. They just didn't want anyone else to go and do what they were doing. That's a Detroit thing. You had to accept it.
I only started DJing in clubs because [Detroit DJ] Thomas Barnett knew this promoter who said he was looking for a resident for a new night he was doing at The Shelter called Love Club. At the time I was making mixtapes to make money, because people would hear my tape and they'd want to come to my house to hear me mixing. I couldn't have all these people in my house, so I started making cassettes, just to be able to give them to someone.
How much were you selling them for?
$5. It was good extra money. I could go and buy records with my earnings. One of these tapes made it to this promoter via Thomas Barnett and the guy was up for it. I brought this big old crate of records to The Shelter and I was playing a techno set and he was like, "Man I really enjoyed that, but do you have any other friends who can play hip-hop and house? Because we need that. We want the whole night to run the gamut." I was like, "Yeah, sure, I'll bring them next time." So the next week I just showed up with more records [laughs]. I played almost the whole night and Barnett loved it. That was my first time in a club and it was my first residency.
How would you mix hip-hop into house and techno?
I'd have a whole set of hip-hop. Then I'd go from that into house. So I only had to do the one tricky transition. It wasn't back and forth. I learned a lot by playing hip-hop. At The Shelter, you'd have this diverse crowd—black, white, gay. My challenge was to make them all dance, but it wasn't easy. I'd play some Public Enemy and all the black people would be on the dance floor. No white people. Then I'd play some Beastie Boys and it would be the reverse. It was that divided. So after two weeks of that I figured it out. I'd play Run DMC, then Beastie Boys, then Public Enemy, then House Of Pain, then DJ Quik, then some weird remix from Rick Rubin. Everyone got tired of leaving the dance floor every other song, so eventually they just said "fuck it" and stayed the whole time.
Mixing hip-hop must have been great practice for certain techniques, like cutting.
It was. I'd also scratch a lot.
Even over house and techno?
Was anyone else in Detroit doing that?
I only knew about Terrence Parker. The way he did it was soulful and rhythmic, and it made sense. That's the key for me. A lot of people don't like DJs who mess with the tracks too much, but as long as you can keep the beat, it works. Because then people don't have to stop dancing. And the more people hear me, the more they trust me not to mess with their flow. The people who were doubters originally now bring their friends and are like, "Watch this."
So you had this reputation as a trickster from day one?
Big time. I was a risk-taker. Later, Derrick [May] recommended me for a residency at Motor, another club in Detroit. They wanted him to do it but he was travelling too much. Anyway, when I was playing, my friends would bring me drinks and shots. "You play better when you're drunk," they'd tell me [laughs]. It wasn't that I played better; it's that I took risks.
Does that happen today?
Even my wife tries to do it. If she thinks I'm not feeling it, she'll bring me shots.
Have you learnt to limit the amount of tricks you use? As you said, DJs can sometimes mess with a track too much.
I have. But that's mainly in longer sets, when I have time to let the records breathe. Even then I'll still do a lot of tricks, but they're not quick ones. Like at Griessmuehle, I had two records playing for a very long time together and I would just fade one up and the other one out. Back and forth. I'd switch the kick drums. People didn't even notice. They thought it was one song because the melodies were in harmony. When the mix is that tight, I'll just let it play for two or three minutes and then I'll take one of the faders and start messing with the sound. People flip out. If I have a long set, I can go deeper with the tricks.
Do you tend to vary the length and style of each mix?
I prefer to let the records play together as long as possible. I think it's important, otherwise people can just buy the songs and listen to them at home. That's why I get bored if I'm just transitioning from one song to the next. It's like going to see your favourite band and they sound exactly like the CD.
Some people love that.
I know, but imagine going to a Prince concert and it sounded like the album. You don't go there for that. Now if it was Depeche Mode, then fair enough. But not Prince.
And you're more in the Prince mould. You want the crowd to know you're there. This is happening live.
Exactly. I want people to talk about my set three weeks later. The next time they're in a club, watching some big-name DJ, I want the thought to pop into their heads, just for a second. "This guy is good, but damn Bone was killing it three weeks ago." That's what I want.
You mentioned you enjoy executing long blends. Do you have favourite mixes that you'll repeat on the road?
I do. I started that a long time ago, before social media and streams. The only way people could hear that particular blend was live. So if I'm doing ten different gigs, I might do that one mix ten different times, because I want all ten clubs to experience it. I have one mix I'm actually going to bring back. It's an all-time favourite: The Martian's "Firekeeper" into "Icon" by Rhythim Is Rhythim. I did it on my Subject:Detroit Volume 2 mix. Somehow they just feed off each other perfectly. I remember I was talking to Mad Mike (AKA The Martian) one day and he was like, "Man, 'Firekeeper' into 'Icon.' That's the shit Bone!" If I can get Mad Mike to react like that, then why not play the same mix to thousands of others?
You also have an affinity for timeless songs. Each time I've seen you play there have been a couple of tracks that have always featured, like your own "Detroit Is...Soul" or "Detroit Is... Hard," for example. And on Saturday you played "The Bells" and "Strings Of Life." Why give your sets these markers?
I decided at the beginning of last year that I was going to start playing more classics. Not a ton, but on a more consistent basis. The "Strings Of Life" is a re-edit I did in the studio, just to beef it up. I get a good response from it. Because like I said, even if people don't know it, they like the piano. With "The Bells," it's kind of clichéd to play it. It's an easy out. But to me that's the ultimate challenge: to be able to play "The Bells" or Floorplan's "Never Grow Old" and create something new or different out of it on the spot.
When I play "The Bells," I chop up the actual bells. It's normal until the melody, but instead of hearing "dun, der, un, dun," I go "dun—der—un—dun." "Just—the—bells—part." That's when people go crazy, because it's not a remix or a re-edit, it's the actual song and I'm doing that live. The reaction is always the same: "Hey Bone, I've never heard anyone do that before!" That's what I want. Because initially, the crowd will have been rolling their eyes, like "He's playing 'The Bells.' Really?" But then they hear me chopping and it snaps them out of it.
It's the technique that makes it fresh.
Exactly. The crowd won't care anymore that I played "The Bells." They're going to talk about how I played "The Bells." When they tell their friends, they'll roll their eyes too, until they hear the full story. That's why I'm bringing back these tracks. It's to remind people how good a really timeless record is. Like last year, it was "It's Just A Feeling" by Terrorize and Laurent Garnier's "Crispy Bacon." I did it with Donna Summer's "I Feel Love," too, playing it in the middle of a techno set. You have to be smooth to get away with it. My goal is to bring three or four old-school tracks back a year. That's my duty, too, I think. The kids in these clubs are young and these tracks need to be heard.
And the two versions of "Detroit Is..." You play them because of the message?
Yes. I have to play them. Because it's me talking to the people. It's 100 percent true and it's 100 percent Bone.
Speaking of audience interaction, you told me during your RA Exchange interview that you rarely look at the crowd, but at Griessmuehle I noticed you glancing up now and then.
What's that line from Rakim? "Deep concentration 'cause I'm no comedian" [laughs]. It's more like, "Deep concentration because I'm no cheerleader." I have this thing about DJs who dance and cheerlead and pump their fists from behind the decks. I don't mind when you feel it and it makes you move. But when you first press the button and immediately you go into this frenzy, that's false advertising.
You've got too much time on your hands.
Yeah, come on, man. Not every track is the best track ever. Every breakdown isn't a chance for you to applaud yourself. So my thing is to focus on the music and the mix, and let that translate. Hopefully the people who are at the front eyeballing me, waiting for that eye contact, eventually get the message and they're like, "OK, I need to pay attention to the music."
In a sense it's the total opposite to the European mentality, where some DJs feel it's crucial to maintain constant visual contact with the crowd.
For me it's backwards. I'm the DJ. That's why I was hired. Here's how I explained it some of my fans before. I know what's coming up, so I know that two tracks from now you're gonna lose your shit. Because I know exactly where I'm going with this. That's my job. It's not to look at you and say, "Did you like that last one? OK let me play something just like it." Or: "Oh you didn't like that last one? Let me try something else." No. My job is to play fire and be confident enough to go out there and do my thing. I'm on a mission and they have to keep up.
That harks back to the beginning of DJing, when DJs were this faceless presence in the corner of the club.
Yeah! You didn't even know where the booth was.
You've said that back then you knew how well a set was going by how hot the room was. What are you indicators these days?
It's the same. I make them turn the fans in the DJ booths off. If it's hot, people are dancing. If it cools off, they've either stopped or they've left. It's physics.
Do your sets ever go badly these days?
Yes, but not often. Also my version of bad is different to most people's. To me, it's a personal thing because I put so much into it and I don't want to feel like I've let people down. And sometimes they're not giving me the energy, even when I'm throwing my best shit at them. It's like being a pitcher in baseball—there's gonna be that one game where you're throwing your heat but they just keep getting knocked out of the park. People talk about perfect storms a lot. Well, there's the opposite, too. Perfect bad nights, and you suffer. I don't like nights like that, but I use it as a teachable moment to remind me to be humble and how lucky I am for all the great nights.
Let's talk about playing on three decks. Did this start in the bedroom?
I introduced it afterwards. I started on two decks because there wasn't enough room for another deck.
How did you know that Jeff Mills was using three?
I saw him live and then I heard one of the Liquid Room mix CDs. When I heard that I was like, "Yes, this should be the standard." Because if everyone was required to play on three decks, you'd thin the herd.
It's interesting how few touring DJs push themselves to the limits.
Thank you! There's no degree for DJing, all you need are headphones and some records. I can't buy a stethoscope and say I'm a doctor. Or a briefcase and say I'm a lawyer. You have to be qualified. But if playing on three decks was a requirement, how many people would survive? That's the way I'm looking at it. And I'm not saying you'd have to play on three all the time, but you'd have to know how.
Do you play on three decks all night?
I don't do it consistently, but some nights, especially if there's a really good setup, I can easily do two hours on three decks and really love it. A lot of the time it's more subtle. It's having the three faders up and manipulating the EQs, making sure there's not three kick drums fighting for space. It's not as much about chopping, though sometimes I will just to remind people. I'll flick them up randomly—here's some mid-range, vocal, bass. It's still on beat but you hear the chaos of it, so you have to pay attention.
The key is to lock two tracks and then the work is in the third. You bring in the third and eventually fade out one, so now you need to make sure the two left are locked. Then you bring the third back in [laughs].
And you'll do this with new tracks you don't know so well?
Yeah, because I know the way they work. I won't usually try anything too crazy, like electro or some ambient melodic track. Because it's gonna crowd the mix. I want it to be subtle and simple.
You also need the crowd to be with you. Not a crowd that's off their head and just there to jump up and down. So I pick and choose wisely. I like the fact that I can do it every so often and have it appreciated. That people will come up to me and talk, not about the fact that it was three decks, but specifically about the sounds they heard.
Playing on three decks also means you can play a lot more records. You've described it as being able to "press fast-forward."
For one, I like keeping people on their toes. But also, I want a really good track to have longevity in my sets. If I play the entire track, people get used to it quicker and maybe even get bored of it. But if they only hear 30 or 40 seconds of it, they'll really want me to play it the next time I'm there. If I get loads of track ID messages after a gig, that's when I know.
Let's talk about the other defining aspect of your style: cutting, or chopping. Where did you first see people doing that?
I've seen Derrick [May] messing with the faders. And I remember Terrence Parker cutting and scratching at the same time. But I've never seen anyone just straight up cutting.
It's a hip-hop thing, right? Though typically that's more about the crossfader than the volume faders.
Definitely. For me, it's the equivalent of one person being in two places at the same time. I thought it was magical. Some sort of scientific freak of nature. The more I watched the DMC Championships, the more I got into it. The Invisibl Skratch Piklz. A-Trak. Chopping the record up back and forth, up and down. Even stopping the record to stutter it. That's my next thing, actually. I'll give you the world exclusive. Before I retire "The Bells," I've been working on this technique where instead of just cutting it up, I slow the melody down by hand. It could go really wrong.
So you're practicing that at home?
Yeah. The thing is, to be able to do it for one or two bars isn't enough. I have to be able to do for four bars at least.
There can't be many DJs at your level still dreaming up new techniques and working through them at home.
Yeah, though I don't practice that often. Most of them happen on the fly, in the middle of the set. The ones that work really well, I'll remember for next time. Chopping up "The Bells" was like that. It was an accident.
In most of the tracks I play, I'll hear a certain pattern or rhythm that I really like. That's what facilitates my fader work. When I hear a song like "The Bells," I break it down scientifically in my brain and I hear these sounds. The beat doesn't matter to me at all. All I hear is the synth. When it becomes the famous melody, my fader brain tells me that's the time to start cutting it up. Then I EQ the kick out of it enough so that it's not sloppy. It's really important that I cut precise. When I hear the melody, it's like it's daring me, taunting me. And I have to accept the challenge.
What are the different cutting techniques? At Griessmuehle, I noticed it was mostly hard cuts, though there were some slower ones, where you're only cutting the very top of the volume.
Yes. Sometimes it's even half of the fader. Or I could do a consistent chop and at the same time bring the fader down. Imagine a kick drum slowly getting quieter and quieter. Sometimes I'll bring in a new track on a different fader at the same time, and then bring the first track back in. But most people don't notice. That's what really gets me excited. When they react, it's great, but I prefer it when they're still dancing and going crazy but there's no reaction. They just think that's the way the song is.
In terms of your hands, your right is doing the cutting while your left hand moves really fast alongside it. What exactly is the left doing?
It's my metronome. The left hand is doing absolutely nothing most of the time. Just keeping the pace, almost like a counter-beat. It helps me keep the cut on beat. When I see the left hand come in, I know that half a beat later the right has to go back. It's like a ping-pong situation. Imagine trying to hit the ball at the same velocity every single time. It's a rhythm.
Let's break it right down: what's the purpose of cutting? To remind the crowd that you're there? To give them a jolt?
Not just that I'm there, but exactly who I am. It's almost like a statement to say the next eight DJs you hear will not compare to this. They will not be able to reach this level of innovation. They will give you a homogenised, linear set of tracks with breakdowns, with drum rolls, with filters. Whereas I'm going to give you melodies, vocals, spontaneity. The next time people go and see a DJ, I want them to think of me.
So you think some DJs are getting away with murder?
Oh god, yes. That's an understatement.
It's interesting that you have godfathers of the scene, like Derrick [May] and Jeff [Mills], playing to such a high standard, but so few DJs aspire to that. It's not considered part of being a house and techno DJ anymore.
You're right. It's generational. If there aren't enough teachers at the university, the kids are gonna learn different shit. We have to be steadfast and do what we do. We can't cave. Imagine if Derrick [May] showed up and wasn't animated or just played a standard set.
You said something in your RA Exchange about how he's almost daring the crowd not to dance. It's confrontational.
He'll turn the volume down, stare at the crowd and go, "What the fuck?" I've see him cheerlead but in a different way. Out of anger. His ego is part of his charm. But DJs need that. They need to know when they're good, when they're great. Like Muhammad Ali. Like Michael Jordan. Like Floyd Mayweather. They can talk as much shit as they want to, because they can back it up.
Is it true you used to lift weights with your fingers so you could cut better?
With my fingers? Who told you that? No! Are you serious? [laughs].
Another thing I noticed is you occasionally drop the room into momentary silence.
Just enough for everyone to look up and be like, "Huh?" Before bam! It's back in again.
Another little shock tactic. I like the contrast between the faceless persona behind the decks and the in-your-face musical approach.
Exactly, it's the music. It's not me. It's not my personality spilling out. Because some DJs are all personality. It's all aura, all a big show. Like Las Vegas. All flash.
What's your philosophy of DJing?
As I've gotten older, it becomes more and more clear. When I was younger I was just hungry, eager, excited. But as more of the business aspect comes into it, you have to realise that you have to accept certain things. My ethos changed from complaining to solving. I don't like excuses, I like solutions. Even when I fly and a flight is delayed, I'm not mad. It's bad weather, what do you expect! The best advice I can give to young people getting into the game is to make contact with someone who's been doing it for a while. And that you respect. Have a mentor. It's valuable and it preserves the culture of techno. And the number one thing is to be yourself. Be a unique individual as much as you can. Never sell yourself short or sell yourself out. You don't have to do anything in order to fit in. Be the best at being yourself and people will notice you. They have to.