Uncompromising, passionate, and very opinionated: Dave Clarke is the man John Peel famously dubbed the Baron of Techno. As one of the consultants for the Amsterdam Dance Event, the increasingly vital conference/networking hub/party central is in safe hands. Here we talk about what makes ADE so great, techno's role now, helping new producers and more...
Outspoken techno don Dave Clarke is now an Amsterdam resident, having relocated from the UK a few years ago. He's an integral part of the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) as a consultant as well as a delegate, and is doing his 10th ADE party at the Melkweg this month with DJ guests such as Green Velvet, Stacey Pullen, Ben Sims, Gary Beck, Daniel Miller from Mute and Nicole Rosie & Jeff Rushin.
Dave also does his parties at festivals such as Tomorrowland in Belgium and Solar in Poland. “They're not all peak techno line-ups, I don't want to have a pure techno line-up at a festival,” he says. “It doesn't make sense.”
Dave was dubbed 'The Baron of Techno' by venerated British radio DJ John Peel, who he credits with giving him a long-term career in music. His 'Red' series of exquisite techno records in the mid-'90s are what exploded Dave into the limelight initially, and he's still expertly rocking parties all over to this day, as well as hosting a weekly radio show, doing production for bands, and producing music that he loves...
You're quite a part of the furniture at ADE now — why do you think it's such an important part of the industry calendar?
“Because it's done so well. I've been to Miami once and I really didn't enjoy myself at all, it was really badly run and very commercial and everyone was just off their face on ego or drugs. In Amsterdam you get to see people who are much more level-headed, much more easy to approach in a city that's an international city but still a village. It's a great combination.”
Are you doing the Demolition panel at ADE again this year — critiquing new producers' tracks?
“Yeah, I've been doing it for perhaps five years now, my main hope with it is that people take away something good from the constructive criticism or honest support. A lot of people in the industry — knowingly, or on purpose — pull the ladder up after them and don't let people come up. I don't think that's a great thing. In a way, I think a lot of people from the credible music scene who did pull the ladder up behind them have maybe actually created the bastard child that is EDM.
“Logically, if a lot of people pull the ladder up behind them, so that others can't get up on the credible music scene, then it creates another bastard scene. There's more support for people to do that. I hope I don't ever get accused of that, I've always tried to involve new music on my radio show and support new talent where I can always, but I think a lot of people don't support new talent unless it's on their own label and they can make money out of it — and I think there should be an overview on this, cos I think it might have helped create EDM. Just thinking about it now.
“A lot of people are doing EDM, but fuck 'em, to be honest. But there's a lot of people in EDM who did used to listen to house and techno, and did love it. But they thought, 'I can't really get anywhere'... I dunno, it's just a thought.”
How long do you spend preparing and planning your DJ set for your ADE party?
“My DJ set I never prepare — ever. The only time I ever prepare anything for a DJ set is for radio, because obviously you're playing new stuff. But when it comes to clubs, I never prepare whatsoever. Not even my first tune? Occasionally I might do an introduction, but even then it's done on-the-fly in a hotel beforehand or something. So, generally, no. It's all instant — I've been doing it now for almost 30 years.”
What format do you play music from now?
“Serato if I can, but travelling the world now with strange-shaped devices is not much fun. I had a box taken away from me at an airport and they didn't believe that it was what it was — a Serato box. So now I think ahead about where I'm travelling to — is it going to be possible to take Serato? If so, then I will. If not, I'll take SD cards and USBs now. In some ways it's like DJing with vinyl again, cos you have a limited selection and no interface apart from the media player.
“When I went to Israel a few months ago, that was the first time I decided to switch over to SD cards, because of the security situation in the airport. I just had four SD cards and two USBs and a pair of headphones. You're still carrying 600 records with you in this small format, but it was something that needed to be done for me. You have to be a bit flexible with your approach. With radio I still work with Serato all the time — it's a great way of compiling and being historical, so it makes sense.”
What was so great about John Peel?
“I wouldn't have had a career if it wasn't for him. Without John Peel, you wouldn't know who I was. He had the ability of putting together radio shows with music that you would never put together, and he had the art of the credible radio show down to the ground. If it wasn't for John playing my techno records on his radio show, no-one on Radio 1 would've been playing my records. You wouldn't have had Steve Lamacq, Pete Tong or anyone playing my records if it wasn't for John Peel.
“The strange thing was, he wasn't a techno DJ — he was always picking out new styles. I learned a lot about music from him, he was the ultimate radio DJ, raconteur and all-round nice guy. He came round my house a few times, always had a story to tell even over a pizza, and I miss him greatly — I really do. I think he'd have been great on radio now. It would have been really interesting.
Is there a sense in which techno is 21st century punk?
“To some degree yes, but don't forget that punk was very political if done correctly — not just in fashion, but in lyrics as well. Techno is not about lyrics, although it is about challenging people if it's done correctly — it's about getting people on edge in an exciting manner, in a way that commercial EDM doesn't do. So in some ways, yes — and some key people who do techno in this day and age have some punkish element to them, in the fact that they're anti-authority, they're not conservative in their views, and generally do give a shit about the world as well.”
Imagine for a moment I'm a Las Vegas club promoter and I want to book you for a gig. I'm going to offer you half a million dollars for a two-hour set, but you have to play EDM — are you in?
Not for half a million dollars for a two-hour set?
“I already have fuck-off money. What's wrong with playing a bit of EDM? That's the most rhetorical question of the day, I think. Let Richie do that, let Deadmau5 do that, I don't give a shit, it's not what I want to do. If money is the prime objective, then it's not music that I want to be involved in. Is money the prime objective with some EDM DJs? Yeah, totally. Do I mean that they don't even like the music that they're playing? Well, David Guetta looked really inspired when he played recently. Personally, I think that's his cum-face. He was possibly getting a blowjob and he was concentrating on that — who knows? A bit of Police Academy action going on...
“Some managers and money have completely poisoned the scene. It's important to have billboards of your own likeness everywhere, in the same way that Saddam Hussein would have. It's a whole thing about being a dictator, and you have to analyse it for the egocentric vibe that's going on. Money has changed a lot of people. Some people are very clever in the way that they're presenting what they're doing as still interesting, still on the edge — but they're not. A lot of people are just doing it for the money, and that's not who I am. So you can offer me two million to play EDM...”
What about ten million?
“Err, everyone has a price, the prices that you offered were low, and then what I would do is be honest about it and say, 'Listen everyone, I'm doing this for this amount, I'm going to keep half and give the rest to charity, and that was a laugh' — do you know what I mean? Everyone has a price, you were just a long way away!”
If I was the same Las Vegas club promoter and I was asking you to mime your next set, what would you do with yourself while your pre-mixed CD plays?
“Am I allowed to be ironic? I'd do an Alex Paterson [from The Orb] and I'd play chess.”
After the whole EDM explosion that's happened recently, is the bubble likely to burst at some point in the future?
“If the bubble bursts, which I think it has to, you can have a laugh about it for five minutes, but I believe that the bubble bursting will also fuck up all the underground for a couple of years too. And that'll be sad, cos a lot of people that follow EDM, or dance music, can't differentiate between credible and not credible. Then all of a sudden it'll end up in a similar situation to the burning of the disco records — like the Hitler-esque burning of books. People will get fed up.
“The people that are complaining that it's too expensive in Ibiza are the ones driving the prices up. Those DJs are bringing about their own... it's a very selfish thing, it's almost like how far can they push it to the point where it will explode, and then they'll think 'Well, you know what? I have enough money in my bank anyway, it doesn't matter to me'. They absolutely have nothing to lose. If they have a couple of hundred million in their account and the whole scene goes down — a scene musically which they're not inspired by — they'll be thinking 'Fuck it, it doesn't matter'. They can go and do dodgy drinks bars or whatever they want to do, it doesn't matter to them cos they will have extracted everything that's possible.”
Won't it be that instead of the whole thing imploding, it'll just be people looking a bit deeper into more underground dance music scenes?
“No, I think that's the mis-selling of the possible best outcome for what's coming, it's almost like a diversion — it's not gonna happen. If they're gonna rebel at all, kids'll go to rock music, they'll go to something else. They won't go to clubs at all. The thing that's really sad about the US is that, to all intents and purposes, the US was the biggest part of the whole scene in the beginning, and yet the awareness of that on a cultural level from the majority of Americans that are now into EDM is 0.001%. Most people won't know Frankie Knuckles, they won't know about the Chicago house music scene, Hot Mix 5, Ralphi Rosario, Detroit... they won't know anything about that, it's tragically sad. It's like people being into the Rolling Stones without knowing where it came from.
“So I think if EDM implodes, there's not going to be a positive spin. It's not gonna be, 'You know what, fucking hell, I'm so embarrassed about my video of me having cake thrown in my face that I'm actually now gonna go out and find decent electronic music', cos by that stage they're four or five years down the line and in America the clubbing followers are much more age-specific and it's in shorter bursts.”
That's not a very positive vision of the future, Dave...
“The thing is, genres are so blurred within electronic music now that there's no tribalism anymore — in America at least. If you were into punk or metal, there's a tribalism there — if you grow out of one, you go into another tribe. With EDM, it's not really a tribalism at all — it's just consumerism. Even with the Gatecrasher kids of the late '90s, there was a sort of tribalism there, it followed on from the trustafarians in a way and the psy-trance thing and then into trance, there was a tribalism there that people felt attached to. Whereas this is just about consumerism, the prices are so high.
“This is the difference: even in those days of Gatecrasher and the music that I couldn't stand and really hated, there was some sort of skill in putting it together. A lot of these guys now aren't even doing anything, and the crowd wouldn't care anyway. It's more of a spectacle now than an appreciation of musicality — that's the problem because all of a sudden people will think that everything is a spectacle in some respect. There's always been levels of fakery, but the level of fakery now can only lead to one inevitable end — total collapse.”
“However, there is still so much incredible good music out there, and in Europe there are still credible festivals that give a shit about the musical output, and there are still fantastic clubs in London like Fabric, in Scotland and Northern Ireland and France and Spain, that still give a shit and operate on a level that is not about commercialism. But the whole scene in America has not developed in that way.”