Spotlight On: Deepchild
For Australian-born, Berlin-based producer Deepchild, music is a mystery which unfolds with each exploration into its depths. His discography stretches back to 2000 and contains over 20 releases, all expressing his unique, dub-twinged vision of techno. His forthcoming Slave Driver EP on Thoughtless Music is a prime example of how possible it is for him to utilize a wide variety of elements of post-industrial machine-made sounds to create something entirely human. With this knack for conveying emotion through machines comes a level of appreciation for art and expression that shines both on stage and off. We got to catch up with Deepchild ahead of his North American tour to learn more about his influences, production process, and life in Berlin.
RP: Hiya! Where are you writing us from today?
DC: Heeyyy. I’m writing from my ‘stammcafe’ (local café), which just so happens to be directly below my 5th floor flat on Schönleinstrasse, Kreuzberg, Berlin! I spend way too much time here every day – drinking coffee, studying German and piecing together pieces of a tattered life. You can see the season’s change from these massive windows – from snow to heatwave, and a park currently in full-bloom with massive trees and hoards of little kids playing soccer. It’s a traditional Turkish area, peppered by families in full burka, interspersed by hipsters – particularly this time of year. Berlin is a ridiculous city. I love it. Being Sunday at the moment, and only 11:30AM, half the city is still asleep. Things get moving late here.
If you had to pick three tracks to use to define your sound, what would they be and why?
Only 3? Gah!
1 – Rhythm and Sound – “King In My Empire”
This, for me, is a definitive Berlin dub-techno track; or rather an example of what the form can sound like when it lets down its icy guard a little, and allows itself to weep. Cornel Campbell is such a peerless, compassionate vocalist – and this is an eloquent call to dignity, humanity, unity. It’s a resistance song, but it remains timeless by being non-specific in its social topography. There’s a confluence (and I’d argue a humbling self-awareness) in the fact that the instrumentation and arrangement is (being Mauritz von Oswald) classically German, yet unwilling to exploit the the clichés of the form. The song is a lament, and a triumph – an inversion of so many of the implied racial tropes in contemporary pop music….rather than the ‘black voice’ being contorted and tooled by ‘white technology’, the miracle is that “King In My Empire” (and many other cuts from the ‘w/ the Artists’ EPs) betray a sublime reverence for the voice – the arrangement does what it needs to, yet resists drawing attention to itself. Its ‘calling’ is to the needs of the song and the story held within. Effortless mastery.
2 – Robert Hood – “Alpha / End Times”
Robert Hood is a consummate reductionist; a self-professed ‘black technician’. In the context of Detroit, his sound is almost brutalist, militant, post-human. In the context of the plethora of MoTown clichés, I don’t hear anything like ‘soul music’ in Robert Hood. I hear uprising, fire, Voodoo, and insistent sex. There’s something ancient and ancestral in his work to me – despite his professions of deep Christian faith, his music rings to me as music with deeper, wider, timeless roots – even the gospel-tinged Floorplan project can’t help but reveal it’s hands. I’m in awe of Hood. I’m even more in awe of what he doesn’t say about his work. I think he realizes that it’s bigger than him.
3 – Vladislav Delay – “Anima”
I’ve always been a fan of ambient, drone, experimental material – and the catalogue I could mention at any point would prove too expansive to mention. Somehow (once more, like the other 2 references here – due as much to it’s placement in time and context as its content), Vladislav Delay’s Mille-Plateaux era work and early Huume material has rarely been more captivating than this release. In contrast to the hyper-fanatical micro-edits of early 2000s micro-house, Vladislav Delay exposition in Anima is sprawling, long (a single 60 minute ‘track’) and languidly organic. Where his contemporaries were exploiting the tonality of the ‘machine’, Vladislav Delay was building new machines. Where micro-house scientists were fetishising over micro-edits and floating-points, Vladislav Delay seemed more interested in what happened when the auto-quantise and beat-grids were turned off, burned down. Anima IS (quite literally) and exploration of the ghost in the machine. Nascently Balearic, awash in chemical-haze. Deeper lodged within the narrative (and clear with much of this label-artwork at the time), is Mr. Delay’s clear passion for Japanese design and minimalism, and (in this case) some fairly telling reverence for the Wabisabi tradition. Perfectly imperfect. An alien life-form. I aspire to make music this audacious. (As an interesting side-note, I was lucky to have him remix a single of mine in 2005, in his guise as Luomo)
What made you want to pursue music and not some other art form or career path?
I don’t think I ever wanted to pursue music. Rather, music has generally been something which scares the shit out of me. It’s too big, too arresting, too temporal. Moreover, music is something which literally CANNOT be ‘pursued’. It’s the trickster form, elusive and amoral. These are all the reasons why I also love it. I guess I’m beholden to the chase – Western capitalism is so obsessed with objects, incarnations, acquisitions. Music is my way of reminding myself that we live, most deeply, in moments of silence. Sound penetrates and infiltrates – literally, physically. It’s just such a mystery to me. In this sense, I guess I’ve always just (often too stubbornly) pursued the path out of some strange, complex compulsion. It’s certainly a shit way to make an income, but it’s a great way to make a life – to remind myself that my time here is brief. Most mysteriously, its offered me friendship and community around the world – and in a sense, the rest is incidental. For a number of years in the late 90s, I worked as a graphic designer, but ultimately opted out – you couldn’t pay me enough money to sell products I don’t believe in (at least given the choice). My stint in design-advertising was an interesting experiment. It made me realize that I’d much prefer to spruik my own fictions than endorse the an inflexible dogma of products and services. Music allows me to make mistakes.
Describe a perfect day in your studio.
Most days are perfect, at least when I stay away from social-media and alcohol. Some days are also frustratingly unproductive, and this is the “perfection” they offer to the music.
I have a reasonably regular, regulated, disciplined studio-routine most days. I just ‘turn up’ to my ‘work’, and start making things – generally without a given final-context. I think that this helps keep me sane. I see my roll, moreover, as a ‘witness’ or a ‘curator’ – at least, this is generally the way the best music gets made. More practically, I usually have a couple of 3 to 4 hour sessions every day. I usually spend at least the first of these making elements – beats, pads, textures, noise, feedback, patches etc and rendering them out into a big folder. I try not to judge the value of the elements and ideas too much. The second part of my process involves sifting through previous archives of elements, and seeing if I can find some which sit together in an arrangement – the older the better, to avoid too much attachment to the source material.
For me, the biggest joy is finding hidden ‘conversations’ taking place between elements. It absolves me from the responsibility of being a ‘musician’ and allows me to feel more like an anthropologist. It also ensures that I have a good opportunity to make unlikely mistakes and discoveries. Elements usually find their own context and synergy – my roll is to try to remove myself from the picture so that this can happen. I still find it pretty challenging, particularly as I can be a little dogmatic about what my perceived level of ‘productivity’ should be.
One thing I’m grateful for, from years of classical-music training, is the value of practice. I think that it’s a deep mystery – and ultimately the deepest reward music offers. There is only practice.
How do you think electronic music has changed now that DAWs, soft synths, and loads of other devices are widely available and easy to access?
The more interesting question for me, is (now that I feel we are in a post-DAW world) is how the soft-synth and DAW conventions might have changed and homogenized over the last decade or so – to me, there’s no innate ‘difference’ between hardware and software. When my only options for music-making were hardware-based, I was forced to find creative solutions to working with a set of clear limitations – and this offered tremendous creative benefits. DAW and soft-synth technology, despite claiming ‘infinite possibilities’ is generally pretty directed in its functionality – its promoted, sold and resourced with a clear, financially-driven perrogative. This isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing, but it does mean (for example) that most people who pick up a copy of Fruity Loops are going to be pushed towards making loop-based, quantized music. For me, hardware is still a good way of subverting the myth of ‘endless options’ (and surely, if there’s any singularly definable source of anxiety in modern-life, it’s the paralysis caused by ‘options’. I’ve always felt a little overwhelmed by options, so my DAW approach is generally very simple. I think there’s a lot more I could do to really improve my workflow, but (by way of setting a lot of arbitrary restrictions in my work-process) I’ve found that I can actually generate a lot more diverse and creatively coherent areas of investigation.
I need to remind myself that technology, in any form, is really not a useful thing to ‘fear’. It’s as human and dynamic as we chose to make it. When I first started making machine-music, it was very much grounded in a spirit of ‘problem-solving’…using limited tools and resources to achieve a goal. I remember when just getting certain hardware to synchronize was a massive challenge – but one which also generated some fantastic ideas.
What are the elements of the DAW we can confuse, confound, break, problematise, challenge? How do we hear the hidden voices in our new technology? How do we break free from the tyranny of the form?
How has the definition of “techno” changed since its birth in Detroit?
“Techno” in the dictionary-sense, has perhaps transitioned (like hip-hop) from a hybrid of diverse ideas and histories, into something of a marketing phrase and un-real pasts, rather than unimagined futures. Detroit’s classical techno narrative was one routed in the reality of 80s post-industrial collapse, and framed itself (largely) as a “futurist” music – that was the dream, the escape, the subversion, the encoded survival-tools. Now, quite often, Detroit ‘techno’ (and hip-hop) can be a little retroactive – reduced to a set of clichéd signifiers of supposed ‘authenticity’. This doenst make me feel comfortable, but it is what it is. I think it’s really important to acknowledge the past – but, to me, a 909 kickdrum and a DX7 chord-patch, some vocal about ‘Detroit’ or ‘underground’ doesn’t make something ‘techno’ – though they may well make it dull.
To me, personally, ‘techno’ is just a particular kind of musical conversation we are invited to have – “How do we survive underneath the radar? How do we honor the past without being bound by it? How do we use music to reframe and empower the sounds of the environment we might fear – the loops, the hum, the mundane voices of domestic technology? How do we continue to invent a post-racial future, and what deep problems might this raise of us?”
You have a strong interest in Afro-Futurism, what does it mean to you?
Afro-Futurism, for me, helps to engage with a lot of the questions I’ve previously raised. It’s a problematic area for me to adequately place myself within, as I’m very white, and very middle-class. There’s a necessary restrictiveness to the Afro-Futurist conversation which I’m excluded, perhaps necessarily so, from. At risk of being a little reductionist about it, Afro Futurism resonates to because it takes ‘white’ assumptions of cultural dominance and – rather than directly contracting them, just makes them appear deeply limited.
For example, Sun Ra and contemporaries were well-voiced masters in the legacy of the white musical-tradition, which had done a very good job of reframing and ‘Christianizing’ African musical heritage. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with the ‘Gospelification’ of Black Music – it’s a deeply complex, organic history. But it DOES serve to restrict certain cultural conversations. I feel like Sun Ra opened up these conversations again, when he realized he was from the future, from Saturn, from outerspace. Him and his Arkestra had, in fact, been to space aeons before the White race had used technology to land on the moon. Sun Ra was part of a long legacy, in fact, of individuals who were aware of this Black Secret Technology (see Kodwo Eshun “More Brilliant Than The Sun”). Whilst Malcolm X’s voice was strident and Afro-Centric (“the White man’s got a God complex!”), Sun Ra (and subsequent futurists) served to remind us all that there was a deeper story at play, and that if took the time to listen, we might hear our story, even as we were confounded by it. Noah built the Ark, but Sun Ra built the Arkestra, and it still ferries us to space. Thank god, too.
Of course, Afro Futurism is far more expansive than Sun Ra – but he’s its high-priest, and he lives on.
How has living in Berlin influenced your music? Is its music community as a whole fairly united?
Berlin, for me, is ultimately about space to explore work, a simple, affordable lifestyle, and pervasively self-aware sense of history (and the failures of the past). I’m indebted to the city for its honesty, its wide spaces, public-transport, general affordability, and sense of (ironically) requisite disparity and isolation.
The city is not a ‘place’ as much as a set of ideas, in constant flux. I believe that in order to make good art – we don’t need to feel ‘alienated’, but the reality of realizing that all is in flux, is a helpful tool. Berlin has (traditionally) embodied this truth – although in recent years things have changed so much, as its become a ‘destination’ city.
The city is relatively poor, and employment opportunities are scarce – but this strange combination of both poorness and European cultural centrality, make for an intriguing cultural centre. It creates innovation, and the necessity for co-operation and patience which wealthier cities don’t face. Berlin demands ways to use limited resources in creative ways.
I feel like the ‘music community’ here is diverse, but I wouldn’t describe it as ‘unified’ – particularly not the ‘electronic music scene’, which is as stratified and competitive as anywhere. Having said that, my little musical-network is lovely. I feel like I’m surrounded by a close crew of friends, producers, engineers for whom music was never a way to ‘get ahead’, but has remained a way to feel alive. There’s a LOT going on, and pockets, spaces and opportunities to work – as long as money or recognition is not a primary concern. The city is traditionally very wary of super-star culture, and 100% of people I’ve seen move to Berlin ‘to be an artist’ have left after some years. The city is just what you make it, and the deeper you sew your roots – the more you offer by way of cultural investment, the more you might just find a home here. Berlin is a place I’m happy to live in, with or without a music ‘career’. German post-war history is a curious reflection of so many political/surveillance movements we’re seeing unfold again across the world. I think that this city has taught me the limitations and dangers of borders. It’s challenged me to define an identity outside traditional notions of nationhood.
What do you enjoy the most about playing live?
I’m not sure that I always ‘enjoy’ the experience, but I do find it a very rewarding one. DJing is generally a joy, and a wonderful experience (even when it falls flat), but live-sets still make me feel quite naked, exposed. Both feel like acts of catharsis for me, and necessary reminders that an engaged “musical experience” is the sum of many many parts. As a DJ or a live performer, my ultimate ‘goal’ is finding a moment when the music, the performer and the audience collapse into a sort of singularity. I guess this is all a lofty way of framing things though – sometimes it enough hear a nice tune with friends and a beer.
What types of sounds can we expect to hear on your North American tour?
Certainly a diverse array of sounds, dependent on context. My strong penchant for sterner more Germanic techno may be stymied by the fact that it’s mid-summer, and time to momentarily forget the winter malaise. I hope I can help people feel at home with one another for a minute. The winter will return – it always does. I hope there can be laughter amid these strange times, and I hope I can be a part of it.
Don’t miss your chance to see Deepchild on this side of the world. Come dance with us in Dallas this Saturday!