Erick Morillo and Tocayo play at Gold Room in Atlanta. The article details nightlife, the crowd, and venue experience for the performance. Music is the answer!
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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Atnarko is a small locality in British, Columbia in the south of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park where you can see moose, coyotes, foxes, eagles, and bears. It is also a river in the same area in Canada where Atnarko Bear Ross was born. The now American-based DJ and producer mesmerized Atlanta on April 22 at Alley Cat Music Club.
His influences include the dirty south, Swamp house, George Clinton, Afrika Bambata, Freestyle - among others. Atnarko dropped proper house, funky, deep, and techno beats that made the ravers, including myself, dance all night long.
The night started with a set from Ernesto Cardenas, an Atlanta resident who has been working in the underground scene in Ibiza for the last few months. Cardenas was followed by the well-known local artist, Tocayo, who hopped into the booth a few minutes past midnight. Hernan Piraquive, aka Tocayo, set the grooves for a merry-go-round of house and techno rhythms. Meanwhile, Atnarko shared the vibes with the crowd, made new friends, and talked about life experiences before he treated us with what he does best, music.
Once on the decks, Atnarko delivered a groovy set with a very careful track selection that kept us dancing from beginning to end. During the three hour set, party goers experienced a bit of what he called “hypnotic house music,” a mix of deep house, underground and hypnotic sounds indeed.
This Feeling EP, his last work released under Viva Recordings, includes two original mixes, "Before Sleep" and "This Feeling." Atnarko Bear has also joined other recognized labels such as Noir, Lazy Days, Robsoul, 2020Vison, Faceless, and Motek.
By Frank Duke
Jonny Cruz is a multi-faceted Dj and producer who explores many styles of electronic music to keep ahead of the curve.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. How has the start of spring been treating you thus far?
It's been pretty good, can't complain. Been in my birthplace Puerto Rico since getting back from Berlin in December. I've literally just been locked in the studio working on remixes and new material.
At first Namito hit me up with the idea to do a vocal for a track of his, I felt like I could send him more than just a vocal so I also did some musical arrangement and send it to him, it worked out and the track has had a very good response.
Last I heard, you were in NYC, but now you are in Berlin. What inspired the move and how did it transpire?
Berlin in the summer is just a lovely place to be. I've been on and off living in Berlin since 2010 I have a lot of friends there. I really enjoy the inspiration it brings to my music when I'm there. Also, the nightlife is second to none. I'm actually moving to LA after a few gigs in South America in May.
How many places have you lived after you were born in Puerto Rico?
I was born in Puerto Rico but I grew up most of my childhood in San Diego, CA. I've also lived in Venezuela, Taiwan, Miami, Orlando, London, New York, and Berlin.
What are two bucket list items for you?
Haven't done Burning Man yet. I also really want to go surfing in Indonesia.
When you approach a DJ set or a new track, what are some of the main elements you consider?
Above all, good sound. Usually If it sounds good, chances are it's good.
You’ve done a lot of work with My Favorite Robot Records in your career. What about this imprint draws you to continue to release and work with them?
I haven't released on MFR in two years, I think it's time for a new EP. I came in contact with the label back in 2011. I liked the music they were releasing because it was a big fuck you to everything else I was hearing coming out at the time. I've always had that same kind of, "I don't give a shit about trends" kind of style. I think they liked that about me as well.
If at all possible, could you tell us a bit about your other aliases and some of the styles that they revolve around?
Ominous with R.A.D. (Ricardo a. Dominguez). This is my live act, it's more an electronica live band kind of thing.
And little ol' me. I don't really pigeonhole into one style I do all kinds of different stuff.
What are you most looking forward to about playing in Atlanta?
Making booty's shake!
Do you have any news that you can tell us about for projects in the rest of 2016?
The relaunch of Discern. Silky and I took almost two years off of making music together now we're back full force. More music with Ominous and performances together. And a lot of new solo material.
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By Kristin Gray
Photos by Sara Vogt
I return to Alley Cat after a stint of time, and the changes this venue has made in those few weeks are completely transformative. The DJ booth now sports their feline logo, giving it a legitimate, tasteful look. Ramzi opens up the night, his set begins with a transcendent mixture of desert vibes and instrumental tracks that set a beautiful scene for us early birds. As the set transitions, we begin to hear nice bassy notes that get our heads bobbing and feet tapping. The beat picks up, the bass drops. The enthusiastic little crowd swells, enjoying this wonderful beginning to such a fine night.
Tocayo steps up to the decks, ready to keep the party going strong. He keeps up a steady beat and the crowd remains pumped. As the venue packs out, I escape the crowd for a bit to have a chat with Clarian, our headliner for the night. His intelligence, desire to find the deeper meaning in things, and love for sci-fi make this conversation a special experience.
Welcome back to Atlanta! How do you tend to handle the cold winters of snowy Montreal versus your summer getaway city of Berlin?
I think I handle it pretty well (laughs). I’m actually going next week to Berlin. It depends on shows. I try to travel as much as I can to play shows. The world is a big place out there, so it’s hard to jump around all over the place randomly so you try to organize it a bit. But generally speaking, you’re right. I spend most of my summers in Berlin. I like the cold winters though, getting to wear my snow suits.
As a lover of sci-fi, would you say this is a big influence in your music, or is it the other way around?
I like that question. Techno music is like this future dystopian thought of machines, and the sounds of industrialization. I think that they’re intrinsically locked together. I’m really interested in finding the link between the future of sound communication that electronic music seems to have as a platform. Other forms don’t really have as much liberty or freedom to explore future sounds. In my view, and from my experiments, from what’s exciting me in finding the music that I’m finding, a musical sequence can actually open up a portal into another gateway that can create space travel. And as ridiculous and absurd as it sounds, looking for patterns of unlocking the universe, maybe there are connections that we haven't even discovered between music and sound. I like to think about stuff like that.
What first got you into producing your own music, and how did that effect your life at the time?
I started producing music when I was a teenager. My brother had a studio and I used to steal myself into it when he wasn't around. He had a mixer and guitars, I grew up on instruments. I was just trying to figure it out, and I loved recording so I tried to write songs on the guitar and piano and then take it to the studio. Without formal training, I intuitively would notice that if I took a vocal take, and then I doubled it, and took another one, then I played with the timing, I could create interesting phasing. I was doing all these things not knowing that the hell that I was doing. That whole world of producing is its own universe. That’s generally where I'm most happy, when I'm in the studio.
There is an interesting story to your EP Mission to Bars involving an Astronaut, his voyages, and his longing for whiskey. Can you tell us what inspired it?
I was in South Korea for a week, I was touring in Asia. I was by myself and I was pretty broke. I couldn't afford whiskey at one point at this bar and I was trying to write, I write sci-fi stories as a hobby. I was writing this story and then I got into this idea about this space man, and he was in his space suit. He could be on some strange planet but he could also be a delusional regular schizophrenic dude walking around downtown with a space helmet on, you don’t know. But the whole thing with this character is, he's an alcoholic obviously, and he wants to have a whiskey but he can’t have it. He orders it but he can’t drink it, so he doesn't know what to do with it. He can’t take his helmet off because that’s what is keeping him alive in his mind. So he just pours whiskey over his helmet in this sad attempt. It was so ridiculous and pathetic and amazing. I was laughing about it to myself like an idiot in this bar in Korea. Since then, I have been writing more stories about this space man. I have another story I finished recently where he's in a hydrogen depository, or that could all be in his mind, he could just be at a gas station. He's thinking about whiskey and meanwhile holding up the line. He's just pissing off all these strange creatures because he's so lost. The tracks that go with it are very dreamy and trippy. It’s called Ankh.
You gifted us with a special mix, NOCTURAMA, a few months back. What was it like bringing to the surface unreleased productions and collaborations from the past eight years?
Oh yes. It was good (laughs). It’s like digging through your journals or diaries, going through old essays from school. I have tons of that stuff in hard drives and disks, on recorded tapes, on floppy disks. Weird recordings and experiments that I try my best to keep track of because I travel so much and things get lost. I think most producers have tons of music that are these gems but for whatever reason the pieces get lost. Maybe they resurface years later or people find the outtakes, or even the demos but the demos are so good that they become hits. So you're always treasure hunting and I was putting all these together to make a mix. It was kind of cool for me, it tells a story, like sketches. If someone wants to see where my heads at and what I’ve been up to and trying different things and ideas. The last track on there I wrote eight years ago, it’s a ballad I made on a synth in this studio. It was the first track I wrote after Utopia. Each track signifies a point in time, they’re like the shadows of my music.
Your music seeks to explore the edges of space and time in an imaginative way. What have been your biggest challenges and joy with this exploration?
I’m trying to find connections with music as I get older. You know you get into all these scenes when your younger to find yourself, when you have the liberty and freedom to exist in these communities that don't ask to invade upon who you are. That’s what I think is beautiful about electronic music, about the culture of it. This movement that we do, that we've created. It’s a revolution in itself. At my point now as I'm getting a bit older I'm wondering where I'm going with my whole life. If I want to try to keep doing music and traveling, which I like and am so thankful for. Either I have to take some time off and try to make more of a contribution to the world beyond just the fun stuff, or find a way to do something a bit more original that I can provide to this community. It’s a hard question, but it’s a fun question. It’s the shit. I love coming here!
What can we expect from you for 2016?
I made another synth pop album, it’s very spacey. It’s more of a celebration of the style of music that I've been very obsessed with over the past ten years. I've realized it’s kind of like NOCTURAMA. The sound kind of evolves in my mind so when I did this album I did it last summer in Berlin. It’s a lot of Footprintz stuff that I've been doing and it has a lot of newer sounds that I've been patching and working on and creating. It’s very celebratory. Like an ending. Hopefully, I can get it out in a presentable way. That’s what I've been working on to find the right label and find the right way to put it out and make it special. That hasn't been easy yet but hopefully that will come together. Then I have the other Ankh EPs and Tiga’s album, which drops in March. I had the honor and privilege to work for such an amazing legend. That was maybe the most challenging and rewarding experience in the past few years. Working with people on that level. It’s awesome to work with guys like him. His album is called No Fantasy Required and it’s really sick. It’s really amazing.
And as a fellow sci-fi lover, I have to ask - what is your favorite show or movie?
Recently I've been really into the Expanse. I particularly love it because the character’s name is James Holden. I also love Logan’s Run. I love the old classic ones.
We return to the foray and Clarian takes his place behind the booth setting up his Mac and prepping. Tocayo finishes out his set and welcomes our guest of the night. As Clarian begins, the crowd pauses unsure at first what to do. This music is dark and heavy, a complete mind trip in all the good ways. The dancing becomes vigorous, the crowd is humming with energy - bouncing together in a frenzied wave of movement.
Clarian’s music sends us on a galactic journey through the darkest folds of space, time seems to stop. The sound from his deep notes and other worldly synth create a frenzy in the patrons as we seek to entrance ourselves in this exploration. For a moment I completely forget about the world outside. This is a type of music not often heard in Atlanta and I look around to smiling faces of glee and disbelief that music can have such a guttural affect.
This set was as much of a physical experience as it was a mind experience and we relished in it. Though more of an experimental sound. I witnessed tonight that Atlanta is more than ready for this addition of musical pleasure.
By Clara Goode
Photos by Sara Vogt
My initial impression of the Alley Cat Music Club was one of trepidation. It shares a well-lit street corner with several boarded up buildings and what appears to be a convenience store. I cross paths with a group of young people who are laughing and chatting animatedly and I follow them through the doors. An underlit bar with a green flow immediately to my right, while an open path to my left leads to an outdoor patio.
I walk straight back toward the main room I am struck by how cozy the space is. The room is filled with dry ice which envelopes everyone in a glowing haze and, at times, obscures the DJs themselves completely. There is no stage, which sets the tone for a more intimate show, decreasing the distance between the performer and their fans. The club is still under construction, the hall to the restrooms glows with an eerie red light that highlights the broken concrete and dingy bathrooms, but somehow the grunginess of the exposed beams and unpainted walls adds to the allure of tonight’s show.
The crowd here is different than what I have previously experienced. The majority of conversations taking place around me are in Spanish and people are more interested in interacting with their companions than they are getting lost in the music. The openers are setting the scene however, with simple, catchy rhythms and people are definitely feeling the music.
There is a very strong sense of community among the patrons of this club. At other shows the crowd has consisted of numerous small groups who seem to isolate themselves and rarely interact through the course of the evening except to fumble past each other as they make their way around the venue. Tonight the place is filled with large groups of people who seem to interact freely and comfortably, even with complete strangers. Each person seems entirely at ease both with the crowd and with the artists playing.
I sat down with Randall M. before his set. A polite young man, very easy to talk to.
You were classically trained in piano and violin. Was there one instrument you preferred over the other?
I took lessons (as a child), but was not classically trained. Probably piano. I stopped violin lessons when I was four. Really, I prefer drums over anything.
What kind of influence does that training have over the music you produce?
It definitely helps with my ear, mixing things in key and choosing certain songs to go with others, I think it all comes back to that.
Is your family proud of you and your accomplishments?
They’re very supportive of it. I’ve been DJing for twelve years. It’s really all I’ve done and in the beginning they were very supportive. Actually, they’ve been supportive the whole time. There came a point where, you know, they were kind of questioning if I was going to be able to make a sustainable career out of it, but the last three or four years I’ve been able to do that and they’re very proud and supportive of it. I feel really lucky about that.
Your love for your pups on your IG page is pretty apparent. Tell us about your fur babies.
I have three dogs, two are ten and eleven that I’ve had since the beginning of college. They live with my ex-girlfriend, but I still see them when I come back home and stuff. Then I have like, not a puppy anymore cause she just turned two, but a Cocker Spaniel as well. I’ve always loved dogs. I’ve love animals. I grew up with a Labrador and I just really love dogs. I wish I could have at home in Berlin but with the touring schedule and stuff it's just not practical. But someday I would like to have a little farm and have like five or six dogs on it.
What are some of your favorite albums you own on vinyl?
Well I have to say it’s not an album, but my favorite records, one of my favorite tracks from The Rolling Stones “Miss You” they did like a disco extended edit. It’s quite rare and my dad had it growing up and he bought me a copy a few years ago. So that one is pretty special to me. It’s all pink, it’s like 12 minutes long, and it’s amazing. Then my original hip hop stuff like Tupac’s On Death Row, Outkast, stuff like that. I love my techno records but the others just stick out for me. Also, I guess I’d have to say Efdemin, Chicago as well, one of my favorites.
What are some upcoming projects you have planned for 2016?
I have my own vinyl label called Thirteen. It’s coming out, the first release is in March and it’s something I’ve been working on for about over a year now and it’s like my baby you know? It’s basically my way to really showcase the music I love from people who I’ve come in contact with. Not only making good music, but cool people. It’s kind of like a friend group and we all share music and now I’m finally releasing some.
As the evening progresses, more and more people are distracted from their socializing and make their way to the dance floor and as Randall takes the stage the main room is packed to overflowing. Randall M uses deep, syncopated rhythms to keep them bouncing then adds a softer, melodic overtone. His lifelong experience with music is made evident by the diversity of sound, multiple instruments can be heard dancing through the layers of percussion in patterns highlighted with timed silences. His underlying rhythm is at a constant tone, not too low to be uncomfortable and not too high to be harsh. The perfect sound for continuous listening.
The ease with which the crowd interacts is evidenced through their relationship with Randall. He is not simply leading them as many DJs do, they are openly connecting with him. Chants spring up during certain sequences, people sing along with repeating melodies, there is a constant interplay between artist and audience. This is an appreciated contrast to many shows in which the DJ seems very separate from the crowd, manipulating them, sometimes in an aggressive way, to feel what they want them to feel.
The number of people on the floor changes constantly. Even with fewer people on the dance floor the ones that are dancing are fully committed. Many stand to the sides, nodding to the music and chatting, but it is not out of boredom. None are eager to leave or disappointed, there is simply an equal desire to socialize as well as dance. He keeps their attention to the very end of the show.
Toward the end of the night, I venture out onto the patio. The air smells sweet with cigars and lighter flames flicker between the faces of those gathered for a cigarette break and small talk. The music is still loud and one must speak loudly to be heard over it. Tomorrow our voices will rasp, and our clothes will smell of smoke and sweat, and we will accept these as fond tokens of an excellent experience.