Ireland's preeminent techno DJ steps up.
If you're interested in dance music in Ireland, whether it's house, techno, trance or something else, there's a very good chance you're aware of Sunil Sharpe, and it's likely you're a fan of what he does. There are probably two key reasons behind Sharpe's transcendent status. The first is that he's an exceptional techno DJ. He's a DJ who is a joy to watch—his technical skills are exemplarily, ripping records off the turntables and cutting between tracks in a blur of motion, while his selections are as intense as they are varied. Dublin crowds have formed deep bonds with DJs like Dave Clarke, Surgeon and Blawan over the years, and when they come to town Sharpe has long felt like the natural choice to play alongside them.
The second reason could be Sharpe's inclusive way of engaging with the scene. He recently started a video series called Quarterly Crate, for example, where he talks, off-the-cuff, for an hour or more about his favourite new vinyl releases, his easy-going manner characteristic of someone who just enjoys sharing. He also teaches as part of a one-year standalone DJ technique course in Dublin, helping a new generation of selectors to find their feet. His reputation outside of Ireland, meanwhile, has developed rapidly, thanks in part to his strong work in the studio. Sharpe is drawn to a particularly restless style of techno production—see releases for Works The Long Nights, Brothers, Trensmat and his own label, On The Hoof—that features warped sound design and high-impact arrangements, something that's especially true of his ongoing Tin Foil project with DeFeKT, with the pair writing techno as though soundtracking a riot.
In an interview with Boiler Room from 2014, Sharpe discussed the idea that the original prerequisites for techno were a sense of funk and experimentation. It's not something he outright said he subscribes to, but these are central themes of his RA podcast, with syncopated grooves and exciting production twists flowing freely in the mix. If you're heading to this year's Bloc. festival, put Sharpe on your "must-see" list.
What have you been up to recently?
I've been wrapping up a lot of music mostly. Literally just confirmed a couple of releases with Shipwrec and Umwelt's Rave Or Die label, which I'm happy about. I'm not necessarily going to flood the market this year, but there will be a fairly big output of material, starting on On The Hoof, and then spreading out over other labels. I have also been doing initial practice runs with DeFeKT for our first Tinfoil live shows, happening soon in Dublin and Amsterdam.
How and where was the mix recorded?
It was done at home on two decks and a mixer, some time at the beginning of November. Like any studio mix I do, all of the records were out of their sleeves and ready to fire straight onto a deck as soon as one came off.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I was aiming for a smooth, free-flowing mix, keeping the mixing as precise as I could. The mix itself spans 25-plus years, and covers a fair amount of ground I think/hope. Usually for studio mixes I take a short time picking out records and then see what fits well with each other, but for this it was a longer process. I did it at my own leisure, allowing the tracklist to form quite naturally over maybe four or five weeks. I put aside records here and there until I had about 45 to 50 that I thought would make a good "journey." I tested out the tracks with each other, and then cut out the fat, so to speak, for when I mixed it. So instead of playing two or three early trance records, it became just one; or instead of more electro, it became a little bit less—stuff like that. I'm playing a lot of new techno now, but this mix is maybe a bit more reflective overall, and reflective of my time working in a record shop. I think that's why the main decade included here is the '00s.
We understand that you do DJ training and teaching in Dublin. Tell us about the course.
Yes, I've taught at Bray Institute Of Further Education since 2005. It's a one-year, full-time DJ course, the only one of its type in Ireland, I believe. The common age group is 18 to 21, but we have all ages, really, one man a couple of years ago was 52. There are other related modules we cover so it's not strictly DJing, however, the emphasis is on DJ techniques. My role is to get them up to a good basic standard for playing in clubs, and to eliminate bad habits they may have gotten into, while helping them develop their own unique skills. I especially use my own experience and mistakes as a way to show them what to watch out for or avoid. Some DJs who come onto the course are already very good, but I like to think I can guide them in other ways also, and in their more immediate career path. We also have different guests, who would be well-known in Ireland, to come in and talk to the students throughout the year.
DJing is a personal skill, so I try my best not to say that one way is the only way (well, maybe if they're pushing the platter too much, it's like a road to nowhere if the pitch isn't right). With cutting for instance, you can use the crossfader, line faders or line switches, it's one skill that can be noticeably different from DJ to DJ. I enjoy seeing how DJs make this skill their own. This is part of the essence of live DJing, just like the selection process. I actually believe that too many people, and most dance music media outlets, that I see today place an undue emphasis on selection. Yes, variety and originality of selection are very important, of course, but maybe let's acknowledge the physical craft more. It's worth remembering that while one person spends the evening adding to their Discogs cart and expanding their rare Bolivian post-punk collection, there's another person spending all evening trying to get a scratch right or mix tracks in a way that isn't being done by others. I applaud anyone who digs deep, I really do, but there are other aspects of DJing that perhaps need more mention or focus again.
You've spoken eloquently in the past about the health of the global techno scene. Where are we at right now in your view?
Thank you. The techno scene is in great shape now I think, but it did kill itself before by losing most of the variety it had and boring people, which it needs to be careful of again. One thing it has had on its side this time, and propping it up in different ways, is Berghain. The health of the scene doesn't all rest on it, but take Berghain away and things could be quite different. Luckily clubs and scenes in other countries have really grown in recent years, too. I'm still getting to know some of these places better, but it seems like there is a very strong infrastructure in some countries, Holland being a notable example. The new Doornroosje, for instance, is an amazing club/venue, but when I heard that the local government actually funded the building of it, even bigger wow!
I think a lot of techno music has been in an atmospheric loop for ages now. There are still many Jeff Mills and Regis/Sandwell soundalike records (which fools like me still buy) but check out as much new stuff as you can and you will find some new gold. Blawan drew a lot of people to techno in recent years, and you can still hear his influence a bit, too. There are many strong records coming out but I'm probably one of these idealists who always feels techno can be more varied or that it could just be weirder sometimes. But hey, we've got a strong scene and big audience again, records are selling again etc. It's an optimum time for anyone to step up with a new style of techno if they want. It is happening a bit I guess, but without the aid of a big or savvy label, some producers or styles don't break through in the way they should. It's an interesting time though, not only are DJs buying techno records now, there are a lot of pure collectors and casual fans, too. I feel this should give comfort to a lot of producers in terms of how far they want to push their sound.
What are you up to next?
Gigging a lot and just looking forward to the year ahead. As well as the Tinfoil stuff and my own material, I've also started doing some music with Faetch, I reckon we'll have something ready pretty soon. Am lining up the next Earwiggle releases too—this month is an Oliver Rosemann EP with a Sleeparchive remix, then another Faetch record followed by three or four more releases this year, which are nearly done. Also doing a couple of Earwiggle nights in the coming weeks in Cork and Antwerp.
My main personal plans are to challenge myself more in DJing, music-making, and so on. I was thinking of my early music again recently, or my attempts at it at least, and I'm pretty sure many of the ideas I had then were better than ones I have now. For instance, there is a track I unearthed from 2004, and with a bit of a fresh mix I think it's now good to release. I can hear a different type of freedom in it, something that isn't too bogged down by club music or production procedures. I'm going to try to get into a similar frame of mind this year and make something more substantial from an artistic point of view. I still like my new stuff, don't get me wrong! I just want to reset the counter and come at it differently. Anyway, thanks for having me, and I hope people enjoy the mix!