© Photo by Paul Krause
We interviewed US guy Matrixxman from San Francisco who released on labels like Dekmantel, Ghostly etc. and just recently co-produced the Depeche Mode album “Spirit”.
Hi Charles. You are a busy man. You released several EPs on labels like Manhigh, Dekmantel Records, collaborated with different people, worked on the recent Depeche Mode album “Spirit” and for sure you are on tour for djing. So let’s start our small interview with your youth. How was it growing up in the US during the 80ies? To what kind of music did you listen when you was a teenager?
Growing up in the US during the 80s was a crazy time in retrospect. Naturally I was too young to experience nightlife during then since I was just a kid. I didn’t have my first club experience until the mid 90s but I still have very fond memories of the 80s as a decade. There was a certain romantic perspective of the future at this time that spread all across the musical landscape whether it was rap, latin freestyle, synth pop, or whatever. Not sure why but there was this epic or perhaps transcendental quality to the futurism back then. I think the combination of new technology (like synths and samplers) in tandem with a shift in the collective unconscious towards visions of the future somehow created the perfect storm. Songs like Moments in Love by Art of Noise could only be possible during a time like this.
I went to elementary school in a rather rough part of town at the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic so it was a bit scary at times, but looking back I am grateful to be exposed to inner city culture. Particularly, inner city music. Exposure to rap and hip hop culture was certainly life changing as a kid. I somehow naturally ended up getting involved in the elements of hip hop: writing graffiti, breakdancing, (and even rapping a bit) but this all paved the way for DJing ultimately. Along the way there was no lack of wild adventures and I’m actually lucky I didn’t get into a lot more trouble to be honest. The climate back then was ruthless if you were running around as kid on the streets being a vandal. The places my friends and I would go paint were deep in industrial ghettos and usually had some dangerous people around so you seriously had to watch your back. It was hellish actually. Some of the other graffiti writers were literally crazy criminals who took pleasure in beating up other artists for little to no reason, not just because of territorial stuff but because I think they enjoyed it. Cops would fuck with you too. It was an intense part of growing up to say the least. A friend who mentored me (his alias was Myer) died while writing graffiti on the highway. We bombed (tagged) the same location several years before so it was scary to think that could have also been my fate. You might wonder what all this has to do with music so I have to stress the importance of the original impetus: graffiti was a pillar of hip hop culture and this provided my first artistic outlets of expression.
Growing up in Virginia, on urban radio you would hear a regional genre of black music that only exists in the DC metro area and that’s of course Go-go music. Go-go basically consists of a band usually with a couple vocalists, instruments and a big emphasis on heavy percussion with lots of drum solos. My first club experiences were at these go-go functions and it was out of this world. The drum solos would go on forever and people would really lose themselves in the dance. They had parties at rec centers but the downside was they were also quite frequently plagued by violence. One time at this particular go-go party, a gang from a rival district in Alexandria showed up and started brawling with the Green Valley local gang known as 24 Mob. It was like some gnarly fight scene out of a movie. Me being the only white kid, I somehow go overlooked and no one bothered me because they either didn’t know what side I was on, or they were confused. Anyhow, it escalated so much cops showed up in riot gear with a helicopter above the location. I think I stopped going to go-go parties around this time.
Around then I also started skating and one of my skater friends gave me a mixtape of the perfect music to skate to: hardcore. Since I was mostly listening to rap and urban stuff up until this point, this tape had a profound impact. It had a bunch of tunes from Minor Threat, Fugazi, and even some obscurer punk stuff like Tsunami on it. It was an interesting direction for the pendulum to swing for me however it made sense as it was similar aggressive in attitude to rap. Previously I shunned most rock related music so this was turning point. I guess I was around 15.
Fast forward 2 years later, I discovered Jungle which was starting to morph into Drum and Bass. I had always been mad about music and obsessed in my own way but D&B marked a new period of fascination. I think I started to realise my love of music wasn’t just something casual but something very deep and spiritual. During this time I befriended Paavo Steinkamp (the other half of 5kinAndBone5) and James Hainer who played a crucial role in taking me to underground parties. At one of these parties we were all rolling (and probably tripping) nevertheless we had this realisation we wanted to make music for real. We made a pact to make the most futuristic shit ever, and to never give up that pact. It was a very serious moment for Paavo and myself. It was life defining actually and we started to make all of our important life decisions based on how to best facilitate this pursuit. Shortly thereafter we started buying our first synthesizers, samplers, and digging records and what have you. It was a point of no return.
(Promo photo Matrixxman, © Paul Krause)
As we know you started djing and releasing records in 2012. What inspired you to enter the DJ booth and spin some records? Where did you play your first gigs and how was it for you?
My very first gigs were at shitty places probably around the year 2000. I played some student party in San Francisco and then some awful bars in Japan when I lived in Kyoto around 2001. They weren’t what I would consider proper though and as you know, things didn’t start to really happen until 10 years later. I had long had a desire to play music in front of people but it just took a really long time to come to fruition. Vin Sol played an instrumental role in seeing this drive in me and pushing things. In fact, I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I was a bit nervous and didn’t know how to navigate the scene initially and Vin just tossed me up into the mix, like throwing a baby into the water. It worked out.
(Dekmantel Podcast 123 by Matrixxman)
I heard you several times at Berlin’s famous club Berghain. For many techno lovers this club has a special meaning. Many DJs want to play there. What does Berghain mean for you? Is it a club like every other or do you prepare in a special way before playing there?
It is a sacred space. Like anywhere, it depends on who is playing and what your tastes are. If you are in the right mental space and are hearing someone talented play music in there, it can be a religious experience. Nothing is quite like it, really. You can play stuff there that you would never be able to play anywhere else and that is rather special.
(facade of Berghain, © NovaFuture)
There is a corner at Berghain called “vorne links”. Some of the guys dancing there founded the label Front Left Records which is the translation of “vorne links”. You made a remix for their first record which contains productions by label founder Elad Magdasi. How did that happen making a remix for a new, unknown label? What’s your relationship to the label guys before that and nowadays?
I became good friends with Elad and Mathias and so of course I was happy to make a remix for his record. It’s a killer tune actually and I still prefer his original over my remix to this day. They helped me get established in Germany in a number of ways so I will always be indebted to them for their kindness.
Before making remixes for other people there were some nice productions by yourself. Did you have a special moment when you realised that you want to express yourself via a musical output? Did you play around with different styles before making techno? Any bands or other projects before the release of “Wicked”?
I’ve experimented with more genres than I can count. During my 5kinAndBone5 period (a duo with Paavo Steinkamp) I was making a variety of stuff like rap, UK garage, post-dubstep stuff, etc. We released songs with YG and Ty$ who back then were relatively unknown. Now they are superstars but we were a bit too ahead of the curve. I also had brief period where I was making dancehall riddims. One of the riddims I made called Numbers Riddim had some big names like Elephant Man on it but I was never properly credited. I was super broke back then so I didn’t have any option to pursue it legally and I’m not sure how that would have worked out down in Jamaica. A brutal music industry lesson, I guess. But I didn’t let that stop me. Musical diversity has always been an asset for me since most of techno artists can only make techno. My tastes are too broad to ever really limit myself to one genre and I think that is precisely why Depeche Mode sought me out.
You had EPs on labels like Dekmantel, Planet Rhythm, Figure, Manhigh etc but also released the album “Homesick” on Ghostly in 2015. Is it a different process working on album instead of club 12 inches? How do you start and work on an album and how on an EP?
Most certainly. On an album you can be a bit more creative and not worry about making stuff for the clubs. It’s a totally different experience. An EP can just be a few tracks that are cool whereas an album needs to be a journey. Sometimes dance music artists just lump a bunch of songs together and call it an album but I think you can hear the difference a mile away. You know when someone has taken time to make something that will transport you somewhere, wherever that may be. You know when that sentiment is real and one can’t fake it.
(full stream of “Homesick” [GI-245])
Some of the EP mentioned above were collaborations like the Figure release with Setaoc Mass or earlier stuff with Vin Sol and Echologist. How did you work on these releases? Who delivered which part/idea? Did you spend some time in the studio together or just send files via the net? What are the differences for you between working with someone else on a production and sitting alone in your studio?
Most of these were made in person. The roles have always changed with each track, it’s not super defined. It would be hard to say “Oh, I made this synth noise here” because we were probably both working on it together at that time. With Echologist on the other hand, we have never met so we have only worked over the net. But it is still super fun to work with someone who is on the same wavelength even if they are across the planet.
When you’re alone you can be a bit more selfish with you pursuits but the fun thing about collaborating is the fact that you can share that experience with someone else. It’s simply fun sometimes to make something cool with your friends. I basically work in a similar fashion if I am by myself, not so much changes in the process.
What equipment do you use for your productions?
A TB-303, TR-909, various synths, an 8RAW8 808 clone, and a computer.
One of your latest activities were the co-production of the recent Depeche Mode album “Spirit”. Please tell us something about that. How did it happen that you got involved? What was your part during the production process? Let us know how it was and felt to work for such a famous band? You are also featured in 2 Videos playing the keys. Any nice anecdotes about making the video?
The whole thing seems like a dream. It happened a couple years ago now so it almost doesn’t even feel as if it is real. So surreal. I’m still not quite certain how it all came about. Martin Gore called me u one day and asked if I would like to work with them and I eagerly said yes. I was mostly dealing with synthesis and drum machine programming although that could vary a lot. Sometimes that consisted of making noises they wanted, other times I’d play something that got used in the song (like the rolling arpeggiated synth that comes in at the end of Cover Me). It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. To hang out with those dudes and jam is just something else. They saw that I could play a little bit of keys in the studio so they asked me to perform in the live video versions of those songs, which was fucking hilariously unexpected, if you ask me. I had never performed with a band before and there I was, playing with Depeche Mode. That’s not normal. lol
Dave is a big Bowie fan so it was definitely a powerful moment after we recorded Heroes. Especially with Bowies relatively recent passing. You could tell this meant a lot for Dave. The moment we finished and faded out was very intense. I felt like crying for an instant so you can only imagine what Dave himself felt.
(Matrixxman playing the keys for Depeche Mode’s “Heroes (Highline Sessions Version)”)
Already coming to an end of this small interview we would like to know what’s coming next. Any new releases in the pipeline? Some special gigs?
Yes, a double disc vinyl EP of my own music on a new label in addition to several new releases with Echologist among other friends. As for gigs, I believe I am playing Berghain again in the near future 🙂
Matrixxman’s “Sector III: Polyphony” on Dekmantel Records
“Pitch Black EP” by Matrixxman x Setaoc Mass on Figure
Matrixxman’s “Sector III: Polyphony” on Dekmantel Records
Matrixxman’s “Deep Mind” on Manhigh Recordings
Elad Magdasi’s “Finger Trip EP” w/ Matrixxman remix on Front Left
Depeche Mode’s album “Spirit” on Columbia
Paramount Artists for Matrixxman
© Photo by Paul Krause