Dave Clarke is a DJ with an anarchist streak a mile wide and punk in his soul. Technologically, he’s an early adopter with the studio to prove it, but he also embraces sounds outside the staunch electronic dance remit, from Nick Cave to Savages to old favourites Bauhaus. Such music informs his attitude as, using Serato on a 13” Macbook Pro Retina for his ruthlessly effective, fat-free club sets, he pushes the worldwide boundaries of what techno and electro can be.
After a break , recent years have seen him make his presence as a producer felt again, working with Dutch partner Mr Jones (Jonas Uittenbosch) as _Unsubscribe_ and dropping remixes ranging from John Foxx’s seminal synth-pop gem ‘Underpass’ to Gesaffelstein, Detroit Grand Pubas and Octave One. Not a week passes when he doesn’t live up to his nickname, the Baron of Techno, a moniker given him by the late, great BBC Radio DJ John Peel.
Ahead of ADE 2016 UK Editor Simon Huxtable spoke with Dave about being the Baron, ADE and the fate of London clubland. Impassioned as ever, he pulls no punches…
Hi Dave, thanks for finding the time to chat with us at Decoded. There’s so much we’d love to ask you, it’s working out where to start! So I guess we should begin with something simple. What’s a typical day in the life of Dave Clarke like?
Time-wise, I do not have so many luxuries, but I try to have a slow morning to make up for the lack of sleep over the weekend. So I will be quite serious about breakfast, then I will do emails, or meetings, or studio, or radio, or sometimes all.
I’m mindful about asking you too much about your past given that much of it has already been covered in other interviews, but I wondered if you tell us about the influence John Peel – arguably one of the greatest radio DJs ever – has had on your career and how the ‘baron’ nickname came into being?
He left it on my old tape answer phone (I still have that recording), I think he came up with it because my Red series was in full flow….(Red Baron) and he was the first person to get behind it, and he was a natural at “linkage”. I then used that tape recording as a Radio Drop during my Essential Mix, and it stuck from there, being picked up by my Irish, Scottish and Northern UK fans first, then with the advent of basic internet these mixes became more available internationally so it crossed borders.
Have there been artists you’ve wanted to support in the same way John did? Via your White Noise radio show or at gigs.
It is one of the reasons I keep going, I find it tough time wise sometimes and it can make me despondent when preparing the show (never when finished… that always feels like a good deed). But as successful artists, it is our duty not to pull the ladder up and I make no money from promoting my own label, or from doing a show. It really is that pure and very influenced by John’s spirit.
Our generation has been one of the more fortunate musically. Many of us first became aware of the wealth of 70s and 80s music through Punk and Ska before Acid House swept us along for the ride. So given today’s penchant for bland pop and manicured reality stars, what legacy do millennials leave for their children?
Listen, your opening statement in this question labels you an “old fart”, it is limiting to say it was “better in my day” there was always crappy pop music. Today there is still good pop music, I would say it is going to be a hot bed for UK pop music in the next few years actually. Politically there is anger. Anger always fuels a UK Pop revolution, so I feel quite excited by what is happening, just keep listening with an open ear; keep searching. Yes, we grew up during a fertile period for pop and yes, we didn’t have the distraction of smartphones, but the world isn’t over, it is changing. Learn from Darwin and extend; adapt to thrive.
Could we talk about the car crash that happened on the way back from Exit Festival this summer? We understand you had a very lucky escape. If you’ve fully assimilated the events that night, would you mind telling us what happened?
I am lucky to be alive, I was lucky to not break bones, I was unlucky to be in that car, I was unlucky to be mistreated by the promoters with no follow up of any consequence, I was unlucky to get delayed concussion, unlucky to have a forced break with cancellations, but overall I came out really well considering. I will say more one day when the legalities are over.
Festivals are many DJs bread and butter over the summer months, and we’ve caught your set a number of times in the Netherlands; the Dutch crowds love their techno! We wanted to ask you about your stage at Tomorrowland. You’ve said in the past that you don’t subscribe to the ‘EDM is a gateway’ theory, so we wondered what made you decide to run a stage at such an overtly mainstream festival?
Because I represent, simple. Belgium historically loves Techno, so there will be a Techno crowd at the world’s most successful festival. Not being there would be foolish, especially as the organisers are a joy to work with.
It seems Techno has had something of a renaissance over the last few years, and it’s popularity has never been so widespread. A lot of the older techno tracks are now considered timeless, even by today’s production standards. Do you think the techno of the last few years will be talked about with the same love?
Unlikely, as they are not physical objects and the market is saturated. When you have vinyl from years ago and still have it, that says something. I cannot easily find music on my iPhone even though it is only 180gb, without the physicality I doubt it will have the same feeling. For me it will, as I am organised in my DJ computer, but there is too much music now, the quality filter control (aka A&R or investing your own money) is so low these days.
Clubland in the UK is once again under the skewed microscope of the Government. Fabric has borne the brunt of this particular attack and it appears, as new information comes to light, that a much more elaborate subterfuge is at play. MoS co-founder Justin Berkmann has said the city thrives on having musical diversity, so what in your opinion is the best way forward for London?
I am sad for Fabric, really sad. They have been so professional both in terms of sound and facilities and musical policy, it is wrong the way they have been treated, I hope that situation reverses. As for London I live in Amsterdam and have for a while, I am not qualified to suggest policy, I left the UK for a few reasons, but the lack of support and understanding for clubbing was one of those reasons.
Dave Clarke presents is back again this year. As one of the stand out parties during a week of amazing shows, which nights to you personally look forward to?
I might go out on Saturday with some friends, but my energy for ADE is purely professional, so all my panels/meetings and of course my two gigs at Melkweg take a priority.
No interview with Dave Clarke would be complete if I didn’t ask you about studio gear. We were recently privy to an interview with Detroit house pioneer Marcellus Pittman who told us of his love of MPCs. When you look back over your studio, is there anything which gives you that sort of buzz?
Compressors, always compressors – in my opinion the only thing plug-ins can not do properly. I also love the Fucifer.
You can catch Dave Clarke DJing at ADE on Friday for Dave Clarke presents The Dirty Dozen with Marcel Fengler, Luke Slater & Phase, Louisahhh, Tommy Four Seven, Black Asteroid, Rebekah, Miss Kittin, Mr Jones, Estroe and Charlotte de Witte and on Saturday for Dave Clarke presents Whip It with Zeta Retulica, DOPPLEREFFEKT live, Antony Rother and Brutuzz. And Dave’s radio show, White Noise is on Sundays through RTE and on podcast via iTunes and Mixcloud.