O N _ V E R S A T I O N S
dego, part 1 (1994)
dego, part 2 (1994)
carl craig (1994)
jeff mills (1995)
dan bell (1994)
H I N K
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and experimental music
S A I D & D I D
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and experimental music history
NOTE: This interview was recorded by Todd Sines in the Summer of 1994,
and transcribed by Edward Luna in December 1995. Some of what is discussed
in this interview--especially Dan's associations with Submerge and
Plus 8--were to change significantly by the late 90s, with his foray
into record distribution through 7th City Distribution.
started you out, and what got you into creating music?
d-well, I guess...I played piano and everything when I was
a kid. You know, my mom made me take lessons...so I had that. I was
doing that for a while.
t-(chuckling) you weren't into Kiss or anything...
d-(laughing) no, I was never into Kiss...
t-I was...(laughing with embarrasment)
d-well, you know...when you're a kid you're just into everything,
you know...But I was probably into things just as goofy as Kiss, you
know? But um...don't put that in the interview...
d-I didn't mean to call Kiss "goofy."
t-like they're going to SEE this, come on...
d-(laughs) what I'm saying is that what really hit it for me
was Gary Numan...and that was sort of like the beginning...and
some stuff like that...I really latched on to Gary Numan and Devo,
and then I really latched on to Kraftwerk.
t-couldn't tell. (laughs sarcastically)
d-yeah. Definitely Kraftwerk has always been the biggest influence
t-were you kind of like backtracking with Numan or where
you there when the albums were coming out?
d-I was there when "Cars" came out and everything...I was big
into that...I was like 13 years old at the time. And I was really
big in with Devo, I was just automatically attracted to that stuff.
I don't know why. I listened to a little bit of disco earlier on,
and stuff like that, but I was just automatically into that for whatever
t-were you ever into hip hop?
d-heavily into hip hop...in fact that's how I sort of started...doing
that stuff. I was sampling old breaks and everything, and at the time
I had some guys that I worked with...I was living up near Toronto,
and they were called "Poetic Justice"-
t-that sounds familiar...
d-...long time before the movie...(laughs). Anyways, I did
some stuff with those guys and they were real cool, but then...um,
I gotta backtrack a little...I'm sorry I'm making this confusing.
You threw that hip hop thing in too early.
d-the thing that really, really, REALLY did it for me was...um,
my grandparents had a cottage on the Canadian side of Lake Huron...and,
I would stay with them over the summer, and you could get all the
Detroit radio stations. When I first started listening, around 15
or 16, there was one guy I started listening to, his name was Electrifying
Mojo. he did this show on, I think it was WJLB at that time...the
stuff he used to play...just really opened my eyes because I had heard
Kraftwerk, and knew all their stuff, I had heard "Planet Rock," and
then one night when I was going round...he used to start his shows
at 12 o'clock midnight, and one night I came across it and I was like,
"holy shit." he was playing Cybotron, Afrika Bambaata,
a LOT of kKratwerk, a lot of Model 500, and stuff like that,
that I had never heard before. plus, he played a lot of Parliament,
Funkadelic, and a lot of funk like Zap and all that
stuff. I really wanted to do music after I heard those shows...I listened
the whole summer. And the reception was kind of weak, so I had to
hook the back of the radio, the antenna, up to a clotheshanger and
everything...so I could get the station (laughs). But it was just...man,
I loved that show. And it influenced a lot of people.
t-so that was like 10 years ago?
d-yep. You talk to a lot of people, and it was an influence
on a lot of guys here in Detroit...especially the guys who came up
after Juan [Atkins] and Derrick [May] and all of them.
d-anyways, I was in college, I was still working on hip hop--
t-where did you go to college?
d-Niagra College...Canada. I took film...that's what my major
was. but...finishing off high school and college, that's when house
music started to get popular...and I had bought this little "tb 303"--
d-back in 1985, when I was fooling around...
t-so that was the first? Or, one of the first, instruments-
d-yeah, it was, surprisingly enough, this beat-up old--
t-mine was the sh 101...
d-yeah...but I bought this in '85, before I had heard any acid
trax from Chicago, and then when I did, I was like, "damn! well, I
know how they did that!" So I did the same thing, you know. I did
some tapes up...I used to do like a hundred, two-hundred tapes up
and sell them to my friends and put 'em in stores and stuff, and I
eventually started going to Detroit and everything coz I started hearing
some of Derrick's stuff, started going to the clubs down there, and
that's how I met Richie and--am I going too...?
t-no, this is perfectly fine!
d-I'm just going through the whole--
t-you should...I mean, people need to have this explained
to them, because some people don't know...why there's a new school
and an old school, and that kind of thing...
d-OK...and so, I finally met up with this guy Richie...and
it's really funny because, I had gone down there with my girlfriend
and everything, and we were kind of bored because there wasn't much
to do in Detroit, and so we went to this club kind of early like around
10 or 10:30, just to get a drink or whatever and wait for the music
to start, and at that time--well, it's still called the Shelter...it
used to look a lot different than it does now--we went down there,
and met this guy, and surprisingly he was a white guy...there were
hardly any white guys into this at the time--like techno stuff--and
went up and said, "hey what's up, my name's Dan." he said his name
was Richie. We just talked, and...just agreed on everything, like
we were both really big into Derrick's stuff, and some of the stuff
overseas and all that. We just really hit it off...and then, two weeks
t-you met John [Aquaviva]?
d-yeah, I met John, I went up to the studio, and I started
working on stuff because I gave Richie one of these tapes I did, and
he loved it because it was acid stuff, and no one else was doing stuff
at the time...you know, it sort of had peaked and already came down
and Richie was still really big into it...
t-was this about 88-89?
d-no, this is about 1990 we're up to...
t-how old was Richie then?
d-Richie was just a...kid. like 20 or so...I was 22,
I remember that. naw, he was younger than that...
d-young...I remember that. 18 or 19, I was really surprised.
and so I went up and did some stuff with John, didn't really hit it
off with John, uh...musically, so the next week I came up,
Richie and I worked on something, and that was "Technarchy." Our very
first thing we worked on. That was by Cybersonik. The 3rd Plus
t-right...what was the 1st?
d-um, "States of Mind." and then the second one was Kenny
t-"We Shall Overcome?" Yeah. So, pretty much, you weren't
involved with Plus 8 more as a label than just an artist, or--?
d-well yeah, because...I was, but it wasn't in any "official"
capacity or whatever...(laughs). It was more or less...I was there,
and the three of us were good friends...so, they'd ask me...but I
never made any decisions for them or anything like that. But I was
there at the beginning. Kenny dropped out rather early and I stayed
t-he went to Transmat?
d-yes, then he did the record for Transmat, after he left Plus
8...he went to do some stuff for Derrick; Derrick at the time was
looking for people...but, you know...I stuck with Plus 8, because
we were touring as Cybersonik, and everything was going well.
t-can you tell me about what shaped the tone of Plus 8 at
the time? because if you listen to it now it's like sort of industrial,
sort of acid...
d-yeah, that was...when we started Cybersonik, that's exactly
what we wanted to do because, at that time, there was some really
hard stuff --which doesn't seem so "hard" today--but at that time...like
Kevin [Saunderson]'s record "Force Field," and there was a
couple other ones...some of Jeff [Mills]'s stuff...Final Cut?
d-we felt like a part of that...
t-so where did the abrasiveness come from?
d-we just wanted it hard...at that time that was what was "cool"...you
know...that's what got the best reaction at the clubs. But at that
time "hard"...it wasn't really that hard in retrospect, but it was...
"Technarchy" was a super hard record at that time. And we wanted
a break...because all the records that would play at the Shelter or
anywhere else in Detroit, everybody would cheer when the break came
on...you know? All the drums...
t-do you think that the beginning of Plus 8, it was kind
of...more of a "white" sound, as opposed to a smoother electro-jazz
d-yeah. Well that's true up to some points...because
there's some stuff on there, like Psyance, some of Speedy
[J]'s stuff, and Kenny's stuff...that would fall into that "jazz"
or "deep techno" category. But, you know...everybody had their own
sound. Cybersonik was always supposed to be the hardest thing.
t-like "Red Alert."
d-we were all into all different types of music at the time,
but we wanted each group to have a specific sound.
t-so from there...the first Accelerate release was,
what...91-92? And why did you start Accelerate?
d-well, Rich and John had told me they wanted to branch out,
and do some more labels...and Fred (Gianelli) was interested...from
d-yeah...and also Definitive...I also had a label. Me
and another guy, Claude Young, had a label, called 7th City,
which was a sub-label of 430 west...and we did one record called
"Planet Earth." Claude did one side, I did the other side (I did it
under DBX) and it did really well, but 430 West wanted something
different...something a lot more commercial-sounding than what we
were willing to do [Ed note: Dan has since worked very closely
with 430 West and the Submerge collective]...so Claude went and
started DOW records, and I said to Rich and John, "hey, I'm
interested in starting a label with you guys." They were like, "OK,
cool." So we did it. Then I released three records, "Silicon Ghetto"
vol's 1, 2, and 3...that was originally a compilation that was supposed
to be on 7th City, because that's what I was doing all during that
time, was trying to compile a compilation...but when they started
getting goofy, I said to Rich and John, let me try this label and
put out these records...so that's what I did. I divided it into three
t-you had a track on each of them?
d-yeah, yeah...it was originally supposed to be one pack but
I decided --because some people were being late on their tapes and
everything--to release them individually. So I had Rich do a track,
Speedy J did a track, I did a track--
d-"Repeat." Nico did a track, and just everybody I was
hangin' out with at the time contributed a track: Richie, Speedy,
Mauritz Paardekooper from Holland. ..
t-not the other one that we know, right?
d-he did "Exposure," on DOW...stuff like that...which one do
t-I was just thinking when you said "Mauritz," I was like,
"Mauritzio"? Von Oswald?
t-yeah that's a different guy...which you also worked with.
d-yeah. One of the guys that does Drexciya did a track,
oh, there's a bunch of people on there. But then I ended up doing
a few tracks on it. Claude was going to do a track, but he never got
around to it...blah blah blah blah...(laughs)
t-I was told at one time that you were not into...like the
reason that you pulled "Silicon Ghetto" was because you weren't into
it, and you wanted to do something different...which is what "Ghetto
d-well, yeah, at that time--
t-like "Third Rail," I still think that's one of your best
d-yeah, I like that one...I like it, but just...I like everything
on there, you know...but the thing was, I found it was too close to
some of the Plus 8 projects, with like Probe and everything...and
I was getting more and more and more into a different...sound.
t-what was influencing that sound?
d-lot of the chicago stuff...which I was listening to for a
long time, but at that point, techno really started getting a little
too...I dunno, it just wasn't happening for me, not as much as it
was previously, and you know...
t-what kind of equipment were you using? I think your setup
now is one of the most minimal things I've seen...
d-it was sort of a means to an end, because 75% of my equipment
t-when was that?
d-that was when I started living in Detroit...which was around
'91... Richie was busy doing his F.U.S.E. stuff, so I had to
make what I could out of what I had, you know? I really couldn't go
over to the studio because it was in Canada, and there was no way
for me to get over there, so I just...my original setup was like a
909 and a 101, and that was it. I did a lot of stuff with that.
t-were you doing multitrack recording, or--?
d-no, a 909 and a 101, and that was it.
t-wow. Did you still use analog tape?
t-you used DAT?
d-yeah, I did at that time. And I just kept working, and then
eventually, after a certain amount of time I just became comfortable
with that setup, with not hardly anything there. I found that when
I went to Richie's studio I was just like "woah," you know. Couldn't
come up with any ideas because it was just too overwhelming...so much
stuff in there, so...
t-do you think that that limitation of equipment...I mean,
in some ways it helps your song, but also do you think that there
are things that you want to do but can't, because your equipment isnt
d-no, I feel exactly the opposite. Even though I have hardly
anything, I don't feel limited at all. I still feel there's a lot
of stuff I can do. A lot of people say I should get a new keyboard
or something because I only got a couple, but I'm just trying
to keep up with what I could do with just two keyboards.
t-and 3 or 4 drum machines?
d-yeah, I got a few drum machines. I got a lot of drum
machines...(laughs) I actually got about 4 or 5.
t-909, 808, 606, rz-1?
d-I'm not saying...
t-I know what it is...(laughs)
d-you got the "eyewitness report."
t-he he he, right.
t-I guess what I think about that is I started collecting
what I could find, and I feel like I know what sounds I want to hear...I've
kind of had to go backwards, I've accumulated a lot of stuff in the
d-yeah, I think even Richie found that also. That's what he
was telling me recently. He found that he had too much stuff, he had
to pare down to the bare essentials.
t-right. So, do you know much about graphic design? Like
in the past...Bauhaus influences, that kind of thing? Do you
pull any type of influences from that kind of thing with your music?
I mean, I see parallels with using the bare essentials, and that kind
of thing. Doing the most with the least...
d-yeah...well, to tell you the truth I don't really like talking
about it too much, because I don't want to take away from what it
is, and what I do is just trax, you know? And I don't want to make
it sound more important than it may be...but, I took all art history
and everything throughout college, so I know a lot about it...so,
like in college, when I first started getting into house and techno
and everything...I was also really big on the artsy side of stuff...it's
not really influenced but I know it's there, so in a way some of that
stuff can prove to be a guide at times, because there's always cycles
in everything, and as far as anything creative, there seems to be
cycles...and whenever anything seems to build up or get too gaudy
or too overextravagant for what it is or whatever, there always seems
to be a period after it where everything is brought back to the basics.
You know they had it with rock 'n' roll, where they had the original
50s stuff, and then the Beatles...
t-it escalates to a point of "overwhelmingness"...
d-yeah, and it started getting more and more into studio records,
and then just big arena rock bands like Genesis, 25-minute guitar
solos, and then they had punk which was sort of like a back-to-basics
approach...a bunch of people realized it's just a bunch of bullshit...and
had to go back to what it really is, instead of making it more...I
t-don't be so discouraged to say this...
d-I'm not saying what I want to say, the right way...but that's
what I mean. It's the same thing in any type of art, I think...but
I see what you're saying with the Bauhaus and all that...and Kraftwerk
was really big into Italian Futurism and stuff like that...you
know, because the whole Italian Futurist movement (it was like 1912
or whatever when it happened)...it was all about adoration for all
things technological or mechanical, you know? Kraftwerk was really
the first band to bring that into music...you know, those sort of
ideas. I don't really think there is...I could be wrong, I'm not any
music historian or anything, but Kraftwerk, at least for this generation...when
they sang about stuff they sang about their calculators or computers
or whatever (laughs)...and it was funny, but at the same time it was--
t-very indicative of what was going on...
d-yeah, because I just loved all the gadgets, Star Wars, and
all that shit...it's just "cool," and here are these guys into the
same things but they did music...and I think techno, when it originally
started in Detroit, they brought those same ideas from Kraftwerk,
and they had their own...you know, Juan always brought up Future Shock
and everything, that was--no, it was called Third Wave, Alvin Toffler's
Third Wave, where it talks about the "techno-rebels," something Americans
could identify with becasue they talked about how the manufacturing
base of a lot of American cities are just going to fall apart to pieces,
and it says in the book that it's up to these people who are sort
of like "techno-rebels" to utilize technology to escape from what's
gonna happen. And that's exactly what happened. And Detroit is like...
(laughs)...the whole manufacturing base just fell apart here and like
the whole "rust belt" through here, and everything came to a standstill...and
the music was a way to escape or a means to an end to move on from
that whole era.
part 2 of this fascinating interview may appear someday...