Expert mixing from a pillar of the Midwest scene.
Going to clubs and festivals these days, it's sometimes difficult to spot the connection between today's dance music and its roots in Midwest house and techno. An exception would be Titonton Duvante, whose sound is like a missing link between second wave Detroit and the stripped-down style that's sprung up around clubs like Hoppetosse in Berlin. The current resurgence of interest in Duvante is down to the timelessness of his productions—his recently reissued Endorphin EP from 1998 sounds remarkably current—as well as a prolonged commitment to his artistry. In the early '90s, the Ohio native traveled to Detroit to hear DJs as often as he could. As a founding member of the Ele-mental collective, he helped forge meaningful ties between Columbus and electronic music hubs like Detroit and London, all while putting out his own music on labels like 7th City and Planet E.
Decades later, he hasn't slowed down. For the past five years he's helped throw Midwest Fresh, a party hewing close to Ele-mental's original underground ethos. In 2016, he relaunched his label, Residual, which now serves as a crucial platform for new artists. In the following interview, he doffs his cap to the new school, shouting out everyone from Cleveland's In Training crew to Slow Life to Afrodeutsche. Mixed live and on-the-fly, RA.696 embodies Duvante's tireless ethic.
What have you been up to recently?
At the end of August, the monthly event Midwest Fresh celebrated its five-year anniversary. Shawn Rudiman live and I were the first guests back in 2014. In late 2015, I was brought on as a resident and the talent buyer/artist liaison. For the anniversary event, we booked a back-to-back-to-back session with Carlos Souffront, Bill Converse and myself. In September, I did a brief tour of Europe with shows in Berlin and Lausanne, Switzerland. A personal highlight of the trip was presenting my live PA at Hoppetosse in Berlin. This month, I also had my debut gig at Flash in Washington, DC. What a great venue. I am getting my ducks in a row for my record label Residual Recordings with a serious push of forthcoming activity—all of this while working about 50 hours a week at my day job.
How and where was the mix recorded?
The mix was recorded in mid June of 2019. I do not own turntables or CDJs, so my homie and one of the four partners that put on Midwest Fresh, Mike Amerine, let me use his space to record the mix. It was done on a pair of Technics SL-1200s, a pair of Pioneer XDJ-1000MK2s and a Rane MP2015 rotary mixer. In early June, I went through quite a few tracks and narrowed the selection down to 300 tracks. The day before I recorded the mix, I practiced for six hours and further narrowed the track selection down to 125 tracks. The next day, I went over to Mike's, hit record and after 50 minutes into the mix, noticed that the left channel on one of the XDJs was not coming through. Stopped recording, took about five minutes to calm down then recorded the mix that is presented here in one shot with no edits. There was the choice of using the rotary mixer or an Allen & Heath with faders. Decided to go with former as I wanted to present a more straightforward mix.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I did not want to over conceptualize the mix. The intent was to condense into an hour mix what you would normally hear from me at an event in, say, a three-hour set. None of my sets, including this one, are preplanned. However, they typically follow an arc of starting out deep, building into a rumpus, and then smooth and soothing out the vibe in the end.
You've mentioned in the past that your style has changed considerably over the years. How has your DJ style evolved and who are some DJs you've been inspired by, past and present?
In the past, my style was definitely more random. I would play a bunch of my favorite tunes and present them in almost a hip-hop battle style with loads of scratching, beat juggling and other tricks. While this is entertaining, it takes the focus away from the quality music which I spend so long searching to find. These days, I find myself shifting away from presenting my turntabiist skills and am more concerned with telling a story through a set. Setting a tone through sound and taking people on a journey. Hoping to give them a temporarily suspended sense of time and freedom from life's woes. Sharing the joy that music can bring with anyone who will listen.
There are so many incredibly skilled DJs out there. When I first started out. I would study and be inspired by the likes of Derrick Carter, Derrick May, Jeff Mills, Laurent Garnier, Paul Johnson, Claude Young, Stacey Pullen, Dego from 4Hero, Grooverider, Fabio, Eva Cazal, Mix Master Mike, Dj Q Bert, Roc Raida, Rob Swift. I would go to Detroit or Chicago as much as I could and really study. With the hip-hop DJs, I would watch VHS tapes. Presently, there are quite a few DJs really giving me inspiration. Every single DJ from In Training is killing it right now as well as the entire Hessle Audio crew, the Slow Life collective, Ciel, CCL, Nicolas Lutz, DJ Masda, Daniel Bell, Carlos Souffront, Fred P.,Evan Baggs, Batu, Objekt, Afrodeutsche, Erika and my current favorite DJ is Sassmouth. I am sure there are some people I forgot to mention.
As a founding member of the ele_mental collective, you helped build a crucial Midwest hub between Detroit and the East Coast. Do you still feel the impact of this groundwork today? How has the US scene improved? What's it missing?
To be honest there is but a trace of that groundwork in today’s climate. For better or worse, the internet has really made these connections readily available. The US scene is in an interesting place at the moment. One thing that I have noticed is that are quite a few intimate events with open-minded audiences. Hot Mass gets a shout out, but so does Austin, Miami, Seattle and Denver for example. The underground is rather healthy if 300-people capacity events are your thing, I know they are mine.
Quite a bit is happening in Los Angeles and New York. Larger-scale events happening on the coasts. In my opinion, the things that are missing are risk-taking with bookings and support of domestic artists. Well not entirely though as Smangtasia is an excellent example of risk-taking and domestic support. It is difficult to find venues to support high-quality events in the US. I feel as though it would helpful if the scene was treated more as a cultural enrichment. These are just my quick opinions and I don't know if I would consider myself an expert on the scene.
What are you up to next?
Coming up next, I will be playing some shows around the US. Dates in Austin, Los Angeles, making my Phoenix debut. I am in the process of booking my next overseas tour in late November/ early December with dates so far in Moscow and for the first time, Split, Croatia. For New Years Eve, I will be playing in Detroit for Interdimensional Transmissions. I have started to book Europe dates for February 2020. I am working on a tour of South America as well in early 2020. I will be headlining a small festival in Canada in early April, presenting my live PA.
As stated earlier, Residual Recordings is really pushing strong. I have the music for the next eight releases ready to go with some truly exciting up-and-coming artists. Teakup, Pressure Point, Sepehr, Pierre Codarin, Flora FM and Madezh to name a few. Our 25th release will see the light of day in early 2020 and with tunes from Nachtbraker, Christopher Rau, S-Max and myself—I think it will be a corker.
As far as my own productions, I have a tune coming out called "Continuity" in October as part of a Various Artists 12-inch on the Sol Asylum imprint. A remix of a tune called "Inner Movement" by and Italian artist Dj Audri. A remix of a track by Oshana called "I Can." I am working on a double 12-inch called "Permanence & Gravitas" for the label YaY Recordings that should be released in late May 2020. There are three more EPs for various labels in progress. Midwest Fresh will continue, but on a less frequent basis. The next one is taking place on October 26th.
Next? I just want to keep playing music as often as I can for people willing to take a risk on a guy from Ohio.