Today we´ve got a real legend in the electronic music world, a man that has delivered around 80 releases in his long and prolific career and has been djing and performing in clubs and events around the world. It´s a real pleasure to have Dan Curtin in MOAI Magazine.
Hi Dan, thanks for giving us some of your time. It’s a great pleasure to have you on MOAI Magazine.
We´re here to talk about your latest release in Sound Of Berlin, but, if you don´t mind I´d love to dig a bit into your long and prolific career. You were born in Youngstown, a mid-size town not far away from Cleveland. I just read in your Facebook a mention to the great Kurtis Mantronix as one of your early influences… What can you tell us about these early influences in your life, those early musical memories?
Thanks for inviting me! Good timing on that question because over the past week I’ve been going through a box of cassette tapes dating back to my teen years so this is all fresh in my memory. I was very lucky that one radio station in Cleveland carried on Friday and Saturday nights, some of the live radio from NYC like Mr Magic’s Rap attack and other mix shows. I don’t think we have anything today or in any recent years or decade that is so completely groundbreaking and cutting edge as that was. I was hearing the newest underground hip hop and electro coming from a musical style that was in itself new, directly out of NYC as it was played in NYC in the mid 80s. So this was my first influence and inspiration and it had a huge and permanent impact on me and basically determined the path my life would take. I would note the labels and artists being played and then go from record store to record store all over my area to try to find the music. From that I started making hip hop and breakdancing, maybe around 15 years old or so, which eventually led to me getting into house and techno.
You began as a dj with a hip-hop crew, which is always an amazing way to start playing with turntables. That leads to the first steps in music production? There was a big time gap between your first experiences as a dj and getting into a studio or was it a quick and logical transition?
That’s right. First only one turntable, DJ mixer, microphone, and a drum machine. Then gradually adding things to it like a small Casio sampler, then some simple f/x units, and finally a synth. But that’s all I had, just setting that stuff up on the floor or basement or wherever we met. We did some live shows, some school talent shows, made some tapes, things like that. But I’d say there was about a 6-8 year time from the first drum machine until I had a “studio.” If you go on my IG you can see a picture of my first bedroom studio with one of the hip-hop/hip-house crews I formed.
Cleveland is not far away from Detroit, and probably the rising Techno movement was something that marked the early stages of your career. I remember listening to The Silicon Dawn and feeling a difference with some other Techno records from those days. How do you remember those first experiences as a producer, those first steps in the recording studio at the beginning of the nineties?
It is pretty close, so we would drive there to buy records at Record Time or to go out to clubs like The Music Institute and Heaven and at those places I met so many of my techno heroes like Carl Craig, Blake Baxter, Mike Huckaby, Mike Clarke and more. By that time Detroit Techno was the main inspiration for me and I think that was what The Silicon Dawn was, it was me doing my version of Detroit Techno. As far as first steps, well, there was a gradual stepping into doing those tracks. I had been transitioning to it for the previous several years, and even making loads of techno tracks that were never released because they were not ready or good enough yet. But that’s how I learned, I learned by doing. I’d set out to make a complete track, and use that experience as the teaching tool. Then after a while I finally had music that I felt was good enough to release, so I started sending demos to various labels.
Talking about this, now Techno is da hype 😊. Now you can get into one of the websites which you can preview and buy music and almost every track you can find there has got the label on it. It seems to me that now everything is called Techno but that´s not how it really is. What´s your opinion about it?
Yeah, the styles have gotten all mixed up, people have their opinions of what this is or what that is. But whatever – it’s not something I can influence or change so I don’t worry about it. I know what I do and what I like and that’s what really matters to me.
Metamorphic Records is your own imprint, a label that has discovered us a lot of interesting artists and releases from the Midwest. It has a fine catalogue, and, for me, it has always been a guarantee of original sounds, of discovering something special. Can you tell us a special moment, a release that marked the history of the label? Any new release in the horizon?
The next release coming out at the end of March or early April is from a new artist from London called Mirror Touch.
I’ve had so many special moments over the years but I can remember in particular getting the first demos from both Morgan Geist and Titonton. I remember being so blown away, I didn’t think that I’d be so lucky to receive such original and unique sounds. I would listen to those tracks over and over again before finally calling the artists and offering them a contract. So that set the tone for the label and that is why there are only 37 releases over such a long period of time, I’m always looking for that unique sound so the listener, like you mentioned, can discover something special. The next 3 releases up to number 40 are planned and I’ll continue to release music as it comes to me, but not stress to maintain a regular release schedule on the label. The magic comes when it comes!
You recorded under various names, but the alias with the most longevity, and one of the best names I´ve ever heard it´s, undoubtedly, Purveyors of the Fine Funk. The House side of Dan Curtin it´s really brilliant, and the last release, UX2, it was excellent. There will be more POTFF releases soon?
Thank you! There will certainly be more, as well as DJ sets (you can find some on my Soundcloud) but I can’t say when exactly. When the mood is right the Purveyors come out to cause some trouble!
Now you´re based in Berlin, and I think you moved there around 2003… Did you move to Berlin because of professional or personal reasons? What were the differences between the States and Germany, professionally and personally? And the music and clubbing scene?
The reasons were personal and nothing to do with music. My wife wanted to go t a fashion university in Berlin. At that time the Berlin scene was in full on exploding mode so it was pretty crazy to move into that. Back in Cleveland we had a couple of clubs and only a couple of good nights including the night that I had been doing for years. And you know how the scene in Berlin is so there was a massive difference between the two. But as far as which is better that depends on how you define that. In Cleveland you might have one or two things at most to choose from on a weekend night, so those events had a certain kind of passion and energy that you don’t find in a city where everything possible is instantly available. I actually miss that more condensed and appreciative vibe sometimes. But overall it wasn’t so strange to move here. I had already been playing all over Europe monthly for the previous decade and had lived in Bern Switzerland for 2 of those years so it was pretty normal for me to be honest.
Your newest EP, Soul System, has been just released in Sound Of Berlin´s label, a very interesting initiative. It´s just starting and the first three releases have caught the attention of a lot of people. How did you get in touch with them and how did they convince you to release your first tracks in almost two years (If I´m not wrong about this)?
Well, I think you’ve missed a couple of releases! Especially the previous EP on my label called Spatial Relationships EP as well as an EP with DJ Haus on UTTU (https://fanlink.to/DRUIDSDREAM.) But as far as Sound of Berlin they reached out to me and asked if I’d like to be a part of their project. I like the idea of a label showcasing different artists from this scene and was really happy to be a part of it.
The Soul System EP is absolutely energetic, two dance floor fillers combining stunning and energetic House & Techno to achieve a great result. In times of normality, your new EP would have been a killer in any club. How much do you miss the feeling of a full club, loud music and sweaty people dancing around? Did you create this EP as a nostalgic exercise or a preparation for a glorious clubbing comeback?
Well, a little bit of both! After the previous release on UTTU, where I totally didn’t care about club feelings at all on one side, I decided that I wanted to do some stuff that I could play in my DJ sets. Yes for sure I miss it just like we all do. I practically spent all of my adult life in the clubs so it’s like a second home to me and I don’t just miss the DJ part but also the traveling, meeting new people and seeing new places. I’ve basically only known this for the most part of my life. Then it was just cut from one day to the next. So I am absolutely, most definitely, 100000000% ready to go back to it!
You said about the second cut of the EP: “The vocal sample in Body Flap Position and the namesake for the track is from NASA astronauts performing a docking manoeuvre on the ISS”. The Space is a constant in your career since it´s beginnings. Planetary was one of your first aliases, Space was one of your first recordings, and I read in your Facebook wall some criticism about the new Star Trek series (which I share as a trekkie, to be honest 😊 ). Tell us a bit more about this… where did it come from?
I’ve always had that interest, my parents gave me a telescope as a kid and ever since it’s been a big part of my life. Before I moved to this larger city I was able to drive to the countryside and set up the telescope somewhere to stargaze and so many records were made from this powerful influence. Sci fi is a natural part of that, it’s all about looking to the future and to what is possible, and learning about what to avoid, or in the case of astronomy looking into the deep past and experiencing a universe that is free from our meddling.
There is something almost mandatory in interviews these days, unfortunately… where did you spend the last year? How did you cope with the rough times of the pandemic? Did you see a ray of hope in the near future, when do you see yourself in a club djing or performing again?
The past year has been interesting to say the least. The time has been rough to be sure but I’m lucky to have a family to share these times with so for me it wasn’t as hard as for many others. It allowed for a closer family relationship, home schooling allowed me to experience my daughter’s world in a new way, and even though times have been hard we had to find the best of it. I’ve started working at the Red Cross at one of their vaccination centers here in Berlin until the clubs open again. I have no idea when I see myself in the clubs performing again, who knows! Maybe a couple open air things this year, maybe?
MOAI Magazine is based in Spain, and here the music sector, and especially the clubbing and electronic music sector is really affected with the pandemic disaster, with almost zero economic help from the government. In Germany things were completely different, as we have read and heard. Was the help from the national and local governments in Germany as good as we hear? Enough for the sector to survive?
I think the industry won’t collapse entirely but many of the smaller clubs and agencies and promoters weren’t able to survive. There was some help offered to self employed people like DJs and label owners but not enough to last indefinitely. Almost everyone has had to finally take other work in the meantime and find other ways to survive while we wait it out. I think Germany did do a good job compared to many other countries but still, others have done better.
Well, we hope the future brings us a bit of normality as soon as possible. Thanks a lot for your time, it was a real pleasure to hear the views and thoughts of Dan Curtin
Thanks for listening!