, - on 8/11/10
Happy tenth birthday, Dumb-Unit records. For a decade now, the Canadian-run, Berlin-based label has been consistently synonymous with top-quality, tough-talking techno. Boasting an impressive back catalogue of over fifty EP's, Dumb-Unit was releasing records from the likes of Adam Marshall, Lee Curtiss and Visionquest well before they became the household names they are today. Despite their varied and significant achievements, a distinct feather had always been lacking from the Dumb-Unit bow; namely, a full-length artist album. The wait, however is over: Cue Sebastian Galante, aka Seph. Ahead of the release of the Argentine techno fanatic's debut LP, Pulse caught up with the man himself alongside Dumb Unit owner, DJ and producer Jeremy P. Caulfield to talk all things Alquimia.
Pulse: So Jeremy here we are – ten years of Dumb-Unit. As label owner, could i start by asking you to try and describe the past decade? What kind of ride has it been? Jeremy: Well ten years is a long time in some senses and really not in others, so much has changed and at the same time I wake up everyday and do the same things I have been doing for ten years. I mean things are changing and always developing but basically I wake up and think about techno all day, then I do things to take my mind off techno and then I go to bed. Although compared to ten years ago sometimes that bed is pretty far from home, so I guess the biggest change is the amount we play and tour and get to see the world which is great because that was kind of the point of starting the label. Now there's a new roster but still I'm constantly in cahoots with all the old artists too. Jake Fairley lives in my building, Repair just did an EP for us..
Why has Dumb-Unit waited this long for its first full-length album release? So many artists do album snot, not because they have something to say but because it's a good promotional angle and it gets them press and gigs. I mean sure, that's good but albums with stories are more important. So Seph had not only a story to tell but created a world - which I'm into and I felt I could devise a strong framework for the album. And together with our designer Simon I think we did.
Before I ask Seph about the album, could I ask first what you think of it? What is it about it that you think really represents Dumb-Unit? In a sense it represents Seph much more than Dumb-Unit but I think with Seph this has always been the case. His music is very personal and introspective and different from a lot of our releases. After ten years though I have learned to think of this as a positive for a label to be quite diverse and in essence Seph flys the 'sound design techno' flag for the label and I think this makes for very interesting album listening.
And Seph, what do you think of it? Perhaps a difficult question to answer, but is it as you imagined it? Seph: It's definitely an accurate account of my electronic music obsessions. There's always something I want to come back and change (especially in the mix), but I am always fighting against this. The way I imagined it became easier for me to understand as more tracks were finished, and only now that I am able to look back I can properly think about what I first imagined. I actually didn't have a strong vision of what I wanted to do, it just came out like this. I realized I was happy with how the whole project was turning out once we saw the final artwork. It's also cool for me that I finally did something much more intimate than my previous techno releases.
The process of writing the album was spread over the course of 2 years. Why such a long period? Well, my working speed has gradually reduced little by little over time. I guess its because I demand more from myself as time passes. Also, I've been touring quite a lot and working on other projects. On the other hand, it was just difficult for me to find something that I was happy with. Luckily for me, my friends were constantly supporting and helping me. It also took me some time to mix everything down properly, I wanted it to be perfect.
Could you describe how you approached the album and the process of writing it. Did you have a specific idea or concept in mind before you began writing it? Well the first part of the process was just making the tracks, cutting the grooves, putting out whatever came out. There wasn't any general idea or concept at the beginning but as time went by and I started to finish more tracks, an overall feel for the album became clearer. We had to lose tracks on the way but it was for the best and was definitely worth it in hindsight, as the ten tracks on the record definitely share similar sounds and approaches. Even if I wasn't conscious of it, in my head the music was going to be dreamy, mysterious, melodic but at the same time twisted to give it an abstract and glitchy element.
Do you feel there is anything specifically Latin American/Argentinian about the album? (inspired perhaps by the techno scene in Buenos Aires, Cocoliche etc.) There isn't anything particularly Latin American but there is definitely an influence from my friends and I always say that Buenos Aires is one of my greatest sources of inspiration, even if it isn't exactly reflected musically. One thing that is true about the Argentinian minimal techno sound is that it is expanding in all directions music-wise (artists like Dilo, Pablo Denegri, Funzion, Gurtz, Qik, Mekaz, Sebastian Cohen), with a cool experimental attitude, and this is what I feel the album kind of turned out to be. But if the question refers to traditional Argentinian, Latin American sounds, then no, I don't think theres much reference within the album except, perhaps, from the fact that at moments the melodies are tango-ish, in a sense. At least that's what my friends told me, it's hard for me to see everything objectively!
"Some of the tracks were born from combinations of sounds during LIVE sets at gigs. It was especially at after-hours or at our private parties at Aula Magna where I could experiment much more with weird sounds and beats. Usually those sets go up and down and aren't limited musically like the club or festival ones, and I'm free to do whatever I want."
Did you write it with the intention of releasing it through Dumb-Unit? Yes I did. When the guys and I became close friends and colleagues, which happened pretty quickly, I immediately felt that this was going to be my base. Now that I think about it, the idea for the album was one we had quite early on in our friendship.
If so, were you conscious of remaining true to the labels sound? Did you feel any pressure? I never felt any pressure although Jeremy did want me to put out the best work that I was capable of, which is the best thing any label owner can do for an artist. I never thought about the label sound, because I think that I naturally share many ideas with the other artists from the platform.
The album has so many layers to it – an amazing range of noise, mood and tone. What is it about including such a variety of different sounds that you find so powerful? What effect do you think it has on the listener? I've never thought much about how powerful a sound can be or what the listener will think. This is all much too relative anyway. My music has always been composed of layers, only on a few occasions have I been a dedicated minimalist. If I ever do proper minimal techno, then I'll do it hardcore. I think it's important to keep the sound palette as varied as possible so one can have more fun with the composing process. Both approaches are great, but this piece just came out like this. On the other hand, it can also be great to have fewer but modulated sounds.
How do you go about manipulating all these individual sounds? is there a method or is it just pure experimentation? it must take so long! There isn't really a method. I just let it flow and if it takes longer than expected, well so be it. It does tend to take long though!
You're known for performing as a LIVE artist and not as a DJ. Do you think this had an influence on Alquimia as a piece of music? it's certainly more than just a dancefloor record... Some of the tracks were born from combinations of sounds during live sets at gigs. It was specially at afterhours or at our private parties at Aula Magna where I could experiment much more with weird sounds and beats. Usually those sets go up and down and aren't limited musically like the club or festival ones, and I'm free to do whatever I want... At the moment I would really like to start DJing. There is so much great music out there that would be great to play out. I just need to make some time for it.
What's the current process behind your LiVE show? Playing only your own music, do you feel you have as much room for creativity and experimentation as a DJ would? In my LIVE act I'm always fiddling with up to fifteen different channels, often all at the same time, modulated and sequenced on the go, sometimes with external hardware effects. As a DJ you can concentrate on other things, approach it in a different manner as there are less channels (have to beatmatch) but, with practice of course, you can throw in more turntables, more effects, etc. So the creativity really depends on how well you can DJ or how much effort you put into your LIVE set. I've seen too many LIVE acts who have everything sequenced at the back or that play only full tracks. I don't think its necessarily bad to play full tracks, but if the whole set is like this then you're a bit of a hypocrite...
Jeremy, Seph - You're celebrating the anniversary and album release in style, with two international tours. How have the shows been so far? Any anecdotes you'd like to share? Jeremy: Seph is making me share a room with him after our fabric gig so I can take him to lame sites the next day. I wanted to do cool things but he said no. I will indulge him because it's mostly his tour but I might do something to him when he's sleeping.. But no we travel well, he laughs at what I like too so that makes us good tour partners. We do agree on one thing though; Argentinean steak.
Seph: There was one night in Denmark where there was this guy that was like “Hey maaaan greeeat showw, love ittt, love youuu woooahh” while he was giving us the finger! Very weird and very funny.
For those that aren't in the know, what can people expect from a Dumb-Unit show? Anything they can/should do to prepare beforehand?!? Jeremy: I think with Dumb-Unit what we do well is take the familiar back bone of techno and tech-house and give it a darker, weirder edge. We keep people moving and dancing but it's not all this hands in the air crap. I mean I like getting people's hands in the air but I'm confident enough to only need to do that so many times. It's kind of a lame ego thing for a lot of DJs that they have to keep getting adulation from the crowd. We also work well as a team and while each artist has an individual show we are much more concerned for the common good and vibe of the party.
Jeremy, Seph thank you and best of luck for the future.
Seph and Jeremy will be playing London's fabric on the 20th November as part of the '10 Years of Dumb-Unit' Tour. They will be joined in room 2 by Cesare vs. Disorder. More info available here.
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