[Interview] Dave Angel on sweet dreams and blown speakers.
Sitting in my kitchen at home, I await the incoming call via Skype from Dave Angel. A DJ whose experience deserves nothing but deep respect. As we start our conversation, his personality is so humble and good-natured that I almost forget I'm talking to a legendary artist. His story-telling is second to none, and his amicable spirit is contagious. I get completely lost in his stories. The stories of his childhood and his younger years in Brixton. The stories of carting around white labels to record stores door to door, all to make a name for himself. And his excitement for Atlanta. He recognizes in this city the fresh, new energy he felt in the U.K. when the scene was budding overseas.
Have there been any tracks or mixes that you had an idea for, but when you sat down to produce it, the piece surprised you and took you a completely different direction than originally expected?
Oh, many, many times. Especially remixes. I used to do quite a lot of remixes, probably two to three every week. And sometimes you hear a track and you think I wanna do this or that to it. I’m really ruthless when it comes to deciding what I keep. If I like it, I’ll keep it, but if I don’t I’ll get rid of it right away. But sometimes you find yourself just keeping small elements of the original track and completely rewriting the track. And then you sit back and think to yourself, 'What relevance does this have to the mix?’ I try to stick to the original but add in my flavor as well. Sometimes it can go a bit beyond the boundaries, sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not so good. You just take it as it goes.
Having grown up with a father and brother in the music industry, did you feel any pressure to create music or was there always support from both of them?
I never had any pressure, no way! My brother wasn’t so much into music, it was my two sisters. One is a rapper, the other a singer/songwriter. I mean, my father tried to get him (my brother) to play the trombone, but it just wasn’t his thing (chuckles). For me, there was never any pressure to get involved in music, it was just a natural progression for me. I’ve always loved music. I’ve always seen and felt it differently, even as a child. It wasn’t until I started DJing on the radio station and a friend of mine and colleague said to me, ‘You never listen to a track just on the overall scale. You literally strip it down.' It’s true, that’s what I do. I don’t just listen to it for the top lines or the vocals. For me, I rip it apart and listen to each and every individual element within a track. I don't think I needed any pushing or navigation into music, it’s just something that I’ve always loved for myself. I can remember when I was a kid, my bedroom was close to the living room. I would be laying there when my dad would have people over, listening to the music, and I was just listening and stripping it down, even back then.
The last time you were in Atlanta, you and DJ Pierre played quite the memorable set that went well past closing time. Is there a particular memory or story from that night that sticks out to you?
I’ll tell you the truth, I think the past couple of times I’ve played with Pierre, both sets were memorable. I can’t isolate one particular moment because it was just so full of energy and really kind of organic, you know? Both of us just bounced off of each other. And that’s the thing, I really do feel a connection with Atlanta. I like being there, I like the scene. You know, Dee Washington, Hernan, Bobi, all those guys that are involved and play music. I’m feeling the whole scene, it’s really a nice and intimate scene. Everybody knows everybody. And it reminds me of when it all first started in the U.K., and everybody knew everybody. Thursday night, everyone was down at Rage, or Wednesday night everyone was down at Knowledge. It was just a movement that was fresh with good vibes, and that is what I get from Atlanta.
Being a DJ, producing and traveling the world, what is your experience like also being a parent? What have you taught your son about music?
(laughs) That’s a good question, that one. Sometimes I have to fight to get back into my own studio. I’ve got to say, ‘Miles, you can have the studio on Wednesday.' They (my children) will be in there working on their tracks and recording, using my equipment. They’ll end up saying, ‘Ok dad, we’ve got it to the best that we can, can you mix it down for us?' Then I’ll do a quick balance for them and they’ll stand there observing, asking questions, which is nice. But, there is also a bad side. I’ve got a pair of speakers, Yamaha NS-10 speakers. And one day I was upstairs in bed, and Dane, my oldest son, had a DJ gig to do on that same Saturday night. I heard the music just sounding really, really loud. It woke me up! I come downstairs and into the studio, and I could hear my NS-10’s flapping. He had blown them. The horrible thing about it is you can't get replacement short drivers for them, so that hurt a bit, but there you go.
Back in the day, your daily podcast in the U.K., Phaze One, was one of the major factors that launched you into the techno scene. How did you get involved and how did it shape who you are today?
There was a guy called Mendoza, he was the owner of the station and it was a pirate station, we didn’t have a license or anything like that. He makes all of his money through advertising, it’s urban advertising. If you had a barber shop you wanted to advertise on the radio, they would do that, and everybody in the neighborhood listens to that radio station. I go to Mendoza and I ask him if I can get a show on the radio, and he asked for a demo. I made the demo, but I didn’t hear back from him for weeks. Finally I get a call back and he’s like, ‘I like your demo and I’ve got a show for you. I don't know if you're going to like the times, but it’s 4-6 a.m. every day.' I was just like, ‘Yeah, man, I’ll do it!’ I am doing this show for about two weeks when he calls me in a meeting and tells me that he likes the show, and asks how would I feel about doing a daytime show, 2-4 p.m.? I said of course, let me have it! I remember going to the record store and hearing acid house for the first time and immediately I thought, ‘Oh man, what the shit, what is this music?!’ We had never heard this before, it was funk and that kind of vibe. I just bought it and played it on my show. Mendoza calls me back into a meeting and tells me that everybody is going crazy, and in our little Brixton club as well, and that everyone would come (to the studio) once the West End parties ended. And this evolved into us hiring Astoria, one of the biggest venues in London, and we played acid house the whole night to the crowd. It evolved and grew from there. I started working with some top notch guys, and we all started branching off into playing different genres and sub-genres. It used to be all just house. But honestly, if it’s good music, I don’t care what genre it is.
You’ve created so many tracks and mixes for countless labels, is there one particular production that holds a special place in your heart?
It would have to be the "Sweet Dreams" nightmare mix that I did. Nobody commissioned me to do it, it was a bootleg. I didn’t have a fancy studio or anything like that, I had two turntables, two cassette decks, a toy keyboard and a record collection. That was it. I pull out "Sweet Dreams," and I’m mixing it and thought, ‘Woah, this sounds good, this is wicked.' I go down to Black Market Records, the local record store, and have the owner take a listen to it. He liked it, but I had no money in it, so I asked if I could borrow some and promised to press up 500 white labels. I took them around to all of the record shops, dropped them off, and tell them I would came back next week for the money. They (the records) were just flying out, the stores kept asking for more of them! A major record label, Eurythmics, sought me out and called a meeting with me. They are singing me praises, they loved the track and wanted me to recreate it in a proper SSL studio. I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that.’ (laughs) That was it, I was officially a remixer and it grew from there. But that was the most important track for me, it was special.
What goals do you have for yourself personally and for your career in music?
In terms of goals, I think staying healthy is paramount for me right now. I don’t know if you know, but I got diagnosed with Crohn's Disease about seven years ago and had two major operations. I’m feeling good and healthy at the moment, so staying healthy is really paramount. People don’t always understand. They think it’s glamorous, traveling the world, DJing everywhere. But you’re not eating healthy, you're not getting the right amount of rest, you're traveling in different time zones and it soon catches up with you. It caught up with me. Now I am more selective with what I do. I'd rather be in my studio and be productive, only picking the gigs I want to do.
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