Dave Stuart Interview

Dave Stuart is a DJs DJ who prefers to let the music do the talking. He owns and is resident DJ for Shrug Events & Touring, a unique travelling club night devoted to giving the crowds only the best in underground house and techno. Originally a very successful promoter in Sydney, Australia, Dave is now promoting events and DJing all over the world and has spent the summer of 2013 living and working in Berlin, Germany. We caught up with Dave recently to discuss his career, touring and his wife – Trinity.

Hi Dave, Thanks for sparing the time to chat to us at This is Progressive. So hows the summer been? Busy?
Urgh don’t get me started on summer, Im a bit of a hermit and love winter over here and just missed it as was over in Europe…so will be having 2 years of summers…its seriously not as fun as it sounds, id rather some time to literally chill out! And busy? Doesn’t even cut it at the moment, currently i’m Djing every weekend, running a weekly event, working on about 6 artist tours plus all at the same time holding down a 9-5 job….I’m a sucker for punishment.

How did you get started as a DJ? What was your eureka moment?
Not a great exciting story to tell unfortunately, I’ve always loved electronic music and had an interest in Djing but never took the step to buy decks as I let other things get in the way….girlfriends, job etc… Eventually one day brought some to just mess around on, had enough people try to convince me to play out and eventually landed a set at an up & comer night…and from there I was hooked. Saying that I realised that it’s a pretty over saturated market with DJ’s and I didn’t feel that I deserved gigs over a lot of the most established DJ’s in Sydney at the time, so instead of playing the game and hustling for gigs I thought it would be better to do my own thing and run my own parties, which I did for about 18 months every sunday night (work on mondays was always fun).
I think this gave me a great insight on how to DJ better technically, musical flow of nights, and what’s involved behind the scenes of events. So eventually when I was ready to start playing at other peoples parties I feel I was much more aware of what I needed to do, there’s a lot more that just sending a promoter a demo mix to land a gig with them…a point I think is lost on a lot of up & comers.

What sort of equipment did you have back then?
When I started out just had a budget pair of Denon CDJs, Vestax mixer and horrible stanton turntables…it’s been interesting over the years trying different formats and equipment, the advances in technology have really helped push djing into the public eye and make it more accessible, which in itself carries its own pro’s & con’s.
Personally I don’t stick to one format when DJing, really depends on the gig and what I want to play on the night as to what equipment / format I use, could be CD’s, vinyl, Traktor with CDJ or vinyl control or even sometimes USB….I don’t think any format makes me a better DJ or more relevant.
Currently at home I have a pair of 1210’s, CDJ1000’s and a borrowed mixer from a friend as my trusty old Elcer has gone to to mixer heaven.

What was the scene like back home then?
Really the only difference was the number of clubs, it seems that its just not financial viable these days to have a music focused club in Sydney, after all I guess being the 3rd most expensive city in the world takes its toll. Music tastes, people who go to events, what’s cool, what’s not, fashion etc is all cyclical, I’ve never been one to really say “oh such & such was better back in the old days” kids these days are just having as much fun as we did back then, its just that we ourselves have changed and moved on to new things. Though I look at what music kids listen to know and sometimes wonder wtf are they thinking, I’m sure many a person would have said the same about us at that stage.

Who do you regard as your all time heroes musically?
Could you ask a more difficult question? I don’t really have anyone I idolise any more, there are a hell of a lot of people I respect, and there’s a lot of music out there I love. But even that changes over time, I love a lot of different music that i’m into and depends a lot on what mood I’m in as to what ill listen to, could be anything from Reggae to ball tearing techno.
What inspires me the most with artists are those who are really honest with what they do, and put a lot of their own passion into what they do, people who don’t compromise for trends. I don’t know if i’d say heroes as such, but some of the people I look up to for inspiration mostly are artists like; Luke Hess, Kirk Degiorgio, Aril Brikha, Deepchild, Christian Vance, Vladislav Delay, Steve Rachmad, Kangding Ray, Echo Inspectors, Brickman, some of these have been the some of the stand out artists I’ve booked for my Shrug parties, these are just a snap shot of people that I hold in high regard because of their attitude, output and commitment to what they do……and that shines through in their music.

How did Shrug events get started? What was your business plan in the beginning?
I touched on before that I started a night pretty much as soon as I started playing out right? Well that was called Sunday School, was a night based on getting DJs out of a bedroom and playing on a proper club system. Was held in one of sydney best little venues at the time, The Bunker, which was a small 150 person room, dark, dingy, and had a great big sound system. It was great fun and we gave a lot of young DJs a chance to play out and build up a reputation based on what they played. This was really important for us as I really hold a grudge against those promoters who book DJs based on the size of their guest list or how many tickets they sell…..its a fine line between booking someone and telling they have to bring a crew versus booking DJs you know people want to see.
So after running Sunday School for a year I wanted to branch out and run a night where I could invite some of the bigger local DJ’s to come and play….that was the idea behind Shrug. It wasn’t anything innovative I guess, I just wanted to hear my favourite DJs play on a line up that I chose…..and well it snowballed from there, started out in 2008 and is still going today though no where near as frequently as ill only do it when I have someone to play who really excites me….I’m not going to just put on a party for the sake of it.
As I’ve spent a huge part of this year overseas i’ve put Shrug on the back burner a little, and have focused a lot of my energy into a new party I have started up called La Famiglia, its a joint party I run with 4 other promoters focusing more on local DJs. Its a fun party, two proper floors one house / one techno…its all about having a family vibe, reasonable entry prices and just creating a good vibe on the night. It’s been running weekly for 6 months now….so i’m not planning on getting some Shrug parties locked in for 2014, i’ve got a few European arts that i’ve ‘discovered’ on my travels that i’m working on tours on for the new year which is exciting me a hell of a lot.

As your events grew in popularity, did you start thinking differently about club culture? Did you adopt a more business minded approach to bookings and venues?
My 9-5 jobs have always been pretty “professional” and with me not being young I think i’ve always taken the organisation side of thing pretty seriously, when running events you have to treat everyone involved with the utmost respect, be it the venue owners, bar staff, security, your DJs you have booked, door staff, people who pay money to attend….each and everyone is critical to the success of a party.
Im very mindful of that balance between the venue having to make enough money to open vs what I want to do on a night. It’s no use booking your favourite act in the world if no one else comes to see them play….that situation serves no purpose.

The success of Shrug has meant you’ve been able to DJ with some pretty big names in house and techno. Do you think the job of the DJ has changed over time?
As well as booking some talents artists such as Kollektiv Turmstrasse, Steve Rachmad, Luke Hess, etc etc i’ve also made some lovely friends from it, whenever we have someone come to play we really try to ensure they have a nice experience out side of the club as well as in it….especially as its such a hell of a long way to travel to Australia and the costs involved with coming here really eat into the fees we can pay artists. So I really appreciate the artists who do take the time to come. As to if the role of at a DJ has changed? Well we don’t get on the microphone and announce tracks like they did in the 60’s & 70’s…..that’s certainly changed. But pure and simple, the job of a DJ is to make people dance…its that simple. I do love playing weird, deep stuff time to time….but I think you have to be extremely conscious of your crowd and provide a mix where you can introduce them to music that they may never have heard of before…but which they might fall in love with. Playing the big hits that people want to hear is the job of amateurs.

How do you feel about characters like DJ Sneak using twitter to beat his chest? Is this the way in which DJs have to generate a buzz in the internet era?
Ah good old Sneak, you cant help but think he’s just got a massive chip on his shoulder from losing his relevance these days. The crap that comes out in his twitter goes against pretty much everything that makes clubbing great. It should be an environment where people are accepting of others peoples ideals and come together in a fun & free space to let go and escape from their day to day lives. I have no issues at all with people speaking their mind, I don’t hold back when I see or hear something that bothers me….but for someone to ONLY ever spout hate and negativity like Sneak benefits no one, not even himself.
Social media and the internet is a great tool, you get to hear music and read about people that you would never have been exposed to before and that’s a HUGE positive. But then there’s the negative side where people abuse it, paying for Facebook fans / likes, soundcloud plays etc to try and increase their popularity. I’d like to think people are knowledgeable to see through that though, I just came across a local DJ today who’s got over 7000 fans on their FB artist page, most of which are from mexico or the middle east / asia…and they only get one or two likes on their posts on their page when they post stuff up…..if they really did have 7000+ fans i’m pretty sure that when they post up mixes etc they’d get more that 3 likes for the post? Plus having 5000+ plays on a mix on soundcloud when they have less than 600 followers? Well that looks pretty suspect to me….

Deaths from party drugs have hit the headlines again here in the UK. The phenomenon of kids experimenting is not new, but do you think the way in which the media generally handles these stories is correct? What do you you think is the answer to these tragedies?
Drugs & experimenting as you said certainly is nothing new, and defiantly not limited to dance music, we wouldn’t have any where nearly the amount of creative art in the world (and not just musically) if it wasn’t for people pushing the boundaries both artistically and with substances…look at how well respected the Beatles are as a historical act, and how much of their artist output was influenced by drugs….yet society tells us drugs are wrong? And then there’s the fact that one of the most harmful drugs in the world, alcohol, is legal? We just had a death at a festival here in Australia due to a kid taking 5 or 6 pills at once because they heard there were police at the entry with sniffer dogs, a lot of people blame the police for their over the top presence (I don’t believe catch a kid with a couple of pills at a festival is very productive) but a huge part of the blame is that kids aren’t educated sufficiently on the potential dangers of taking drugs. There should be much more freedom of correct information and harm minimisation strategies put in place, rather then tell kids “drugs are all bad, don’t do them” tell them what the actual side affects / potential risks are and chances are that armed with the right information kids will make the right choices. There’s way too much black & white media exposure about drugs, people really need more information on the grey areas. Young people are a lot smarter than they get credit for, they see straight through the media & governments zero tolerance approach to drugs.

Your wife Renae is also a DJ in her own right. How did you guys meet? Was it love at first sight?
Hahaha, well I fell in love with Renae’s (Trinity) DJ at first listen. The first time I saw Renae was when she was playing at a friends party, would have been back in 2009 and she was playing some really awesome deep techno & minimal back then. My first reaction was “fuck this DJ is amazing!” not because she was female, or good looking or any of that. We got talking after her set and released she was really nice as well. We bumped into each other at a few gigs after that, and I developed a big crush on her but I was very conscious of that Djing is a very male dominated area and wanted to show her respect as an artist first and foremost. As fate would have it we really hit if off and we’re still crazily in love with each other, and got married last February :D. As well as being a DJ for 12 years Trin’s a great producer and is coming a fantastic live act. She is a constant source of inspiration to me and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the DJ I am today if it wasn’t for her.

So you’ve moved over to Berlin this summer. Hows that been?
We’ve just done 3 months in Europe, 2 ½ of those based in Berlin, but was also fortunate to travel to Austria & Dresden for gigs plus had a little week holiday on the cost of Italy. There’s been enough interviews with DJs who’ve gone to Berlin and lived the cliché of being inspired but the city, yes its a tired old cliché….but its a fact. Berlin is one of the most culturally interesting cities ive been in the world, especially when it comes to electronic music.
One of the unexpected surprises for me was Dresden, a couple of friends live there and I played my favourite European gig they. Was a great little city, will definitely be spending some more time there in the future.
Day to day Trinity spent pretty much 8-10 hours a day working in the studio on production work, so this left me a LOT of time to go record shopping (which is now near impossible to do in Sydney), meet some really cool artists and hear some great music. Having a good amount of time in Europe really meant we could delve into the depths of the scene there and found some really cool parties that you don’t hear of from the other side of the world.
The vast majority of DJs over there play music that is quite similar to what we hear in Sydney, and actually made me appreciate the talent we have at home. But there is that 5% of artists in Berlin that are just something extremely special….and we’re planning to try and get them to Australia next year ;)

Have you lived outside of Australia before? Whats been the biggest cultural change for you?
I actually grew up in the UK and got moved to Australia when I was 10. Whilst Australia has a lot going for it; beaches, high employment and a general good standard of living, i’ve never felt truly at home in Australia even after all this time. I think a huge part of this is the lack of history & cultural in Australia. There is too much focus on sports in schools, a drinking problem that is never going to be resolved, over regulation by the police & governments, and a high cost of living that is become more and more of a reason to leave. The biggest cultural difference I found between Sydney and Berlin is the allowance of freedom that Berliners generally are afforded and in turn they seem to treat the people around them with much more care & respect that I see back here.

If you could have a party anywhere in the world, with anyone you want, money and death no object, who would you choose and where would the party be?
Well if money was no object i’d arrange two Shrug exchange parties…one in Sydney and one in Berlin. I’d have the parties both with 50 / 50 Berliners and Sydneyrsiders. Would be great to give both cities a taste of my favourite DJ’s from both cities. Its actually a dream of mine to do this one day.

Touring takes its toll on your mind and body, what do you guys do to relax?
Well you pretty much answered that for me, relax! You have to take time off for yourself to relax, pure and simple!

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to the 18 years old you if you had the chance?
If you have an inkling you might want to try something do it and put everything into it. I think in my early 20’s I played things too safe and lived too much of a “normal” life…saying that though I have no regrets and am truly happy with where I am today.

What advice would you give to club promoters just starting out now?
Take it slow, don’t try and be the biggest & best straight away if you want to last a long time in the scene. Respect those who were there before you. Make friends with the artists you want to involve. And don’t be scared to ask other promoters advice, its not as cut throat as people think. I’d like to think that most other promoters would love to see most of the other promoters in the same city / area do well and thrive, after all if everyone can do well it means a vibrant scene and will create more opportunities in the long term.

Finally Dave, whats the rest of 2013 & then 2014 got in store for you?
The years coming to a close pretty damn soon! Got our weekly La Famiglia party which is just rowing and growing nicely so working on that a lot. Have a Shrug gig with Eelke Kleijn in November. And then playing at one of the best festivals in Australia “Subsonic” in December.

2014 is shaping up to be even more fun that 2013, got at least 3 artists tours we’ll be looking after in the first half of the year (I wish I could say who…but has to wait till contracts are signed!). Looks like Trinity and myself will be playing a few dates in Goa early in the year, then we’re thinking about having a break in SE Asia for a few months before heading back to Berlin again……this time for much much longer than 3 months!