David Morales is a guy who needs little introduction. He is an individual who has been draped in fantastic alocades, a Grammy-award winning artist who has been perfecting his craft for almost 40 years! That is almost half a century in the electronic music business! For us to say David was a leading figure in the realm of dance music would be an understatement. He’s not only a star, he’s a whole nebula of talent. When I was asked if I would like to interview David, I could not withhold my excitement and after some rearranging around David’s hectic schedule, I finally got to speak with the legendary figure.
David was sat on a striped sun lounger with his feet up, taking in the stunning views of Greece with a beaming smile upon his face when I finally got in touch with him. It was a surreal moment for me and a moment I was going to make the most out of, to try and probe the mind of this artistic genius. I began by asking him about one of his most recent releases and on that really caught our attention at Decoded. We began our probe by asking why David produced ‘Freedom’ with Janice Robinson and what message he hoped to deliver. ‘I came up with freedom because, everything I think that is going on in the world, I spoke to Janice and I was like, I need you to write a song about freedom. People need to, it’s something about the message that everybody can relate, to freedom. There’s a lot of different anecdotes for freedom. There is freedom of expression, there’s freedom to be you, and I just think it’s a message that the world needs to hear. At points, there are many people that are trapped in different aspects of their life.’ This was the first sign of the deep philosophical thoughts David was about to share.
Everybody who follows David Morales knows, or at least has heard about, his time in Japan. In 2018, David was arrested in Japan for possession of a controlled substance, MDMA. He was released after 3 weeks with no charges. I wanted to know how this experience has affected David and if it had changed him in any way. ‘Japan was an experience. You know, you go through things, it was an interesting experience. It was a little bit scary but once you go through the dynamics of things and situations, then you deal with it and you manage it because it is what it is. It’s funny, because I released freedom now, and I did that record before, I made that record in the beginning of 2018. It’s funny because afterwards, you know, I had this kind of reflection. I learned, the word freedom, and this is what I have told many people, the first thing you need to be grateful for in your life, there are two things really, health and freedom. Freedom means you can walk where you want, nobody has you on a leash and everything else is a luxury.’
Following on from this question, we questioned what David meant by reflection and if Japan had changed his outlook on life in any way. ‘Yeah, look, you go through some things and that’s what the message is about. What happened was out of my control and I won’t go into all the specifics about it, but what happened happened and I am fine. I wasn’t charged with anything, but because of the Japanese system, I had to do three weeks, and that was in solitary. It’s all about breaking your spirit. For me, it was more like, how do you say, kind of like a holiday where you have no phone and you are cut off from society. No TV, no radio, nothing. I was just reading books, doing 5-700 pushups per day. It gives you time to really think and reflect because all you have is time. I think everybody should, not go what I went through, but take some time for themselves in general and cut themselves off from everything, from society, to take the time to reflect on yourself and your life. Every day there is so much going on, that you really don’t have time to reflect. You are always on the run. Imagine if time stops, it’s really interesting. You learn to meditate, read a book every day, you have a structure. And fuck it, right? I am still here, I am fine, I am having a good year and life goes on.’
David’s time in Japan had, in my opinion, seen him fall victim to a long and drawn-out debate surrounding drugs. I asked him what can be done to end the stigma surrounding drugs and the electronic music industry. ‘Absolutely nothing,’ he said bluntly. ‘It is something that will always be connected together. It has always been that way. In the ’60s, ’70s, drugs have evolved since then. You had LSD, PCP, older drugs like cocaine and heroin, that have been around forever, now you have ecstasy, MDMA, GHB and god knows what else is out there. There are also different levels like if somebody took a lot of cocaine or somebody smoked a lot of weed. There are different levels to it. Drugs have always been there, they aren’t going away and neither is the stigma. It’s no secret that people like to take drugs and listen to loud music, it’s about getting fucked up. That’s a given, it’s fairly obvious and globally known, even accepted somewhat. Even the VIP, the people that are rich, they are taking them too.’
If nothing could be done to end the stigma, I thought I would probe David on his thoughts as to what could be done to at least make things safer. ‘Information,’ David began, ‘you have to give people information. I remember when I went to Australia and I played in a club and they had like, the information in the bathrooms about how to deal with when you are doing drugs. I think the most important thing is information because you are going to have people who are going to do it anyway. By playing your part, what you do is, at least, give information.’
Moving on to more technical aspects of David’s career, I wanted to know how, with over 500 releases behind him, David kept himself feeling creative and inspired. ‘There was a time when I was mixing a lot of records and everything was a House remix, it kind of got boring for me,’ David explained. ‘Because everything was the same tempo, and mixing somebody else’s record is a little different than producing your own. I think that technology, the evolution of technology has played a big part in me getting inspired. I was never a hands on kind of guy. I was hands off with operating the machines, sequencers, but not necessarily the recording process. You know, you had to hire labbys, you had to go to the studio and lalala. Now, with everything being on a computer program, I can create music anywhere right now, which is amazing. It’s wonderful. You have an idea and it’s like, if I had a gig tonight and I had an idea, I could get something together and play it that night. I think also, today, there’s a lot of different sounds and there are a lot of different kids doing some really interesting things. I don’t copy people, remember, I am a DJ first, I am not a producer, I am a DJ first. There’s a lot of new interesting sounds out there and rhythms. I also think there’s a lot of different information out there, maybe too much information. You have to evolve with the technology, you have to evolve with the music. What I mean by that, I guess is evolve with the times. I loved the electronic era because there are no boundaries to that kind of sound. In the old days, before electronic music, it was, you know, guitars and strings, which are still there, but there are limits. With electronic music, with the new sounds, you can do different things. It’s all about how you make something happen.’
David has always made clear that he is somebody with an undeniable skill when it comes to reading a room and getting a crowd full of excitement. I wanted to understand how he did this and whether spontaneity played an important role in his process. ‘For me, always. I don’t know anything else. I think people that plan their sets, I don’t get it, I really don’t. I have seen guys where the have like, their set written on a piece of paper and the paper is next to the CDJ’s and it’s like, you gotta be fucking kidding me.’ David was not holding back!
‘The problem is, I come from a different world of DJing. I come from the world that you play the whole night and there is no warm up DJ. You are not being hired to come in and play a banging 2 hours. There’s people who know this, they are not warming up. They are not there to tell a story, they are just there to make a statement. You are really doing something that anyone can do. To play just 10 or 20 records, I mean, and you come into play like a banging set, there’s no spontaneity. If you are planning a set, I mean, how can you plan a set? There’s even some guys that play a pre-recorded set. When you mix at home it’s one thing, but when you are on stage, or in a club, the dynamic, the people, the energy, all these different kinds of things affect your performance. Anyway, I never know what my first record is going to be. For me, the longer I can play, the better. It’s always like, when I have DJ’s o before me, I don’t tell them to keep the energy down, because the opening DJ thinks, ‘I’ll keep the BPM down, I’ll keep the energy low’, but I’ll be like, dude, do what you want. Don’t worry about me, please, don’t worry about me! I will find my way. As a professional, I don;t need you to make me look good. You playing a mellow set and the people are just like, standing around that’s not good for you. For a new DJ, who might be like, ‘wow I’m opening for David Morales’, it’s a big step for them, and to play a mellow set, no. I just say to them, you need to play to the room. It’s your moment to show people. Because of David Morales, the room is going to be full, so this is your moment for you to show who you are. If the club is packed, you better start kicking asses. As far as me, don’t worry about me, because when I come on, I’m changing the channel!’
Following on directly from this line of questioning, I asked David whether he thought about how that track would be received by others, or whether it was about how the track made him feel. ‘When I make records, I think about the dancefloor, for the most part, when I am making my dance records. Obviously, you have to make something that you like, that you enjoy making. I am not making an EDM record because that’s what is big on the scene. No, I don’t like it, I am not making it. I make what I want to make. I think I have a good reference point because of my experience as a DJ and understanding what can motivate a dancefloor.’
Delving into the deepest aspects of the technical processes, I asked David whether DJing and production had become easier since he began his career. ‘Oh, absolutely. 100%, abso-fucking-lutely,’ David began, to a round of laughter. ‘I mean, this is why we are in saturation mode. Even quality has suffered has taken a hit, even the quality. You have all these plugins, but there was none of that when I started. I grew up using engineers, you needed a budget. Does the new kid growing up have the budget to hire engineers from a minimum of $30 an hour to work on a record? It’s not a two-hour job, you know. If you are constantly making records, it’s expensive, the technology has made it where the process is economical. A lot of studios have gone out of business and musicians don’t make as much money anymore. You have these programs on the internet that will be like, ‘oh we can master your record, bla bla bla’, and some people are paying X amount of dollars per month, but it’s absolute rubbish! You are not mastering your records, you don’t have a fucking clue. You haven’t mastered DJing, being a remixer, a producer.’
David was not holding back on this question, to my delight. He had much to say on this topic and I buckled in to enjoy the ride. ‘The problem right away is, just because you have bought a program, it doesn’t mean you are a producer. Just because you have bought a program, you are making beats, it doesn’t give you the status of an accomplished producer in a sense. Also, because of the programs, Traktor, Serato, it mixes for you. That part of the struggle, that is an art, is taken away, it’s something that you are missing out on. That’s another art. A lot of the DJ’s today are bypassing that art. You are not learning to mix on turntables. That is an art, a science, that takes effort to learn, as opposed to just pressing a button. Look, I really don’t care how people make people dance, because the bottom line is, it’s all about programming. That is the most important thing, you know what I mean? Choosing the right tunes to play at the right moment.’
We then began discussing the evolution of equipment, software and even an evolution in how songs are played and heard. ‘What you use today, in reality, is irrelevant and really, nobody cares. DJing has evolved into something else today and it’s interesting. There are programs, whether it is Ableton, Traktor, these things with 4 decks and remix loops. It’s interesting because this is where the art of DJing has evolved. There are lots of different avenues where you are creating things that are completely new. New kinds of rhythms from different loops that you can put together to create something totally fresh, your own thing. It’s not just like before, where you would take a record and play the record exactly how it was. There are so many things today, so people are going out, more on the floor, having a good time and looking for a good vibe, as opposed to really getting into the song. Today is like, there’s a lot of different things, but nothing really standing out. Years ago, when you went to Ibiza, it was two or three records that absolutely everybody knew. You went to Space, whether it was Daft Punk, Armand Van Helden, there were records that defined different years and different summers. That’s why they became anthems.’
Market saturation seemed to have been a big grievance of David’s. He highlighted how difficult it is, not only for producers to stand out, or for DJ’s to choose their records, but also for fans to love a specific song. ‘I mean today, it’s like, you just don’t have that. You had the winter music and those forms. You would have a conference and it would be like, ‘you know those records right there? They are going to be the anthems of the summer.’ Today, that’s gone. There are so many records, nobody remembers them. What is the shelf life of a modern record? And now, you take the internet, Spotify, people just make their own playlists, so it’s not like, they are not depending on radio exposure to a new record. People were dependant on radio, but nowadays, people don’t have to listen to fucking radio. They don’t wanna hear commercials. In the old days, the radio would shove a record down your throat, you would learn to like a record. So, now, people are like, ‘here’s a song I like, these are what I want to listen to’, and it’s left up to them. It’s like Netflix, right. There’s so many series, so many movies. Obviously we all watch Netflix, so we will have a conversation. ‘What’s new for you on Netflix? What have you seen?’. We end up sharing the same things with each other, there’s just so much information that we can’t be on top of it all. It’s the same thing with music. You have Traxsource, you have iTunes, Juno, Beatport, and God knows what other websites are out there. Then you have Tech House, Afro-House, Deep House, Techno, all these kinds of genres. Imagine, all these platforms and with all the technology, there’s no investment in the arts, it’s all algorithms. You don’t have to worry about pressing a record, the artwork, the sleeve, you just press a button and it’s on the internet like boom. Imagine, we are talking about a minimum of 100 new records a day. A day! In a week, 700! And we are talking about in one genre. Then you leave it to somebody who will like, chose the top 10 and then you have to go, right, let me listen to the top 100, there’s just too much information.’
My final question to David, which would bring this enthralling, exciting chat to an end, was surrounding the saturation of the electronic music industry and how we can change things. I wanted to know if, in David’s opinion, we could reverse the issues surrounding popularity trumping talent. ‘That shit is gone man,’ David began with a tone of disappointment. ‘There is no changing back from that, unfortunately. It is terrible that it is no longer about talent. I mean there’s a DJ that I know, he is not a DJ, never was, never had a passion for it. But all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘I’ve got millions of followers, fuck it, I can be a DJ’. Shame on the promoters that you have no standards of what a good DJ is. You don’t care, it’s like, I’m putting you on this club night, you get exposure or whatever. It’s like, you are not in this for the right reasons, you are not in the same league. You are a trendsetter, going with the flow, guaranteeing what the people want, whatever the case may be. And those ones who just stand in front of the camera, trying to act like a clown, trying to be entertaining. You are doing everything to bring attention to stuff that has nothing to do with the reality of music.’
After bidding David a fond farewell, I sat back and done some reflecting of my own. This was one of the finest interviews I have ever taken part in with some really deep, complex answers to difficult subjects. David’s experience in the musical industry shone through. He has a clear understanding of what it takes to become a superstar and make a glittering career in music. It reads more like a proposition from Aristotle, at times, and David really gets you thinking about the important things in life. David is a spectacular individual with talent, humility and an incredible mind and we were absolutely honoured to speak with such a fascinating individual.
01. Freedom – David Morales & Janice Robinson
02. Smile – Timmy Regisford feat. Felicia Graham & Tiger Wilson
03. Hanging On – The Supremes – Bootleg
04. Never Can Say Goodbye – Gloria Gaynor – Bootleg
05. Ibiza – David Morales – Unreleased
06. Nini – David Morales & Timmy Regisford feat. Toshi – Unreleased
07. Kamchatka – Inaky Garcia – Red Zone Mix
08. Dead Zone Bootleg
09. Joy Joy – Black Motion
10. Djembalia – Tsos feat. Benjy
11. Running – Red Zone 5