JANUS: Searching for a Sound that Doesn’t Exist
JANUS is a Berlin-based club night founded by Dan DeNorch and Michael Ladner in 2012. Soundtracked by resident DJs KABLAM, LOTIC, and M.E.S.H, its parties are experiments in the most radical musical possibilities, cultivating a sound that’s allusive, brash, and completely new. Leading up to the party on Saturday, May 10, 032c spoke with Janus in Berlin.
Can you explain the slogan “copy-hype-hate”?
M.E.S.H.: I think the cycle is actually hype-hate-copy.
LOTIC: No, I think it starts with hate. The hate comes first, when something new comes and people want to hate on it because they don’t understand it. With what we’re doing, there are little scenes. If something is outside of the scene, or is perceived as a threat, then they hate it automatically, even though it’s not a real threat. But then they start to integrate it for their own reasons, so then they hype it, and then of course they copy it.
M.E.S.H.: The term “trend cycle” is good when it comes to things bubbling up in different parts of the world that then get adopted by other scenes or groups or artists. It just kind of accelerates the process and makes everything very transparent at the same time.
So control is nearly impossible. What have been your reference points for communicating the party—your promotional graphics?
Dan DeNorch: The most important thing has been this idea of data loss—being overloaded by data but at the same time not being able to process even the finest amount of it. You don’t know where the signal is. It just seems like bullshit if you’re trying to be a clear signal. It seems very inauthentic.
LOTIC: I think the illegibility, or the desire to be illegible, graphic-wise, is born of a desire to intentionally introduce noise, but in a way that seems like a signal.
DD: But it’s definitely a balancing act. Janus has also become an experiment in trying to trying to manage the most radical musical possibilities, but at the same time making it commercially viable.
What’s your take on industry then? What’s the relationship between entertainment and underground?
LOTIC: It’s getting complicated. Because what is underground? I don’t know. Being a black gay dude from Texas, underground always meant being black and gay and from outside of New York, London, Paris. It was that simple. And now, I don’t know what I’d say underground is. Here people say Berghain or techno is underground and I don’t think that that’s true, at least compared to what we’re doing. Obviously things like Kanye doing Yeezus like he did—pulling people from the underground—complicates things. A lot of them still aren’t playing much though, so there’s still some kind of disconnect, but that gap is getting smaller.
Are you genreless?
LOTIC: Not intentionally.
M.E.S.H.: It depends on whether you’re casting us as DJs or producers. Because J’Kerian [Lotic] and I are both producers as well, so the way I DJ at Janus is not necessarily the way I produce. As residents, we’re always trying to think of the whole context of the night.
What are the differences in producing and DJing?
LOTIC: I think on a base level, one is more of a job and the other more of an expression. But personally I’m really trying to make those two things one. With me especially, focusing on underground genres like Bounce music, things that gay black people were doing in the States, I realize that it’s only so much to play it to other people. As a producer now, and as a better DJ, I’m more interested in merging all of those things with what I want to hear if I walk into a club. So I want to hear those things, but also things that I don’t know about. And one way to do that is to create it yourself.
DD: I think there’s a feeling that we’re searching for a sound that doesn’t exist. It’s kind of always been that way, and there are a lot of things that inform that – Jersey Club, Kuduro, Ballroom, a lot of unnamable shit as well. DJ HVAD from Copenhagen, who doesn’t really make any music from any category. The way that Total Freedom DJs, the way he makes edits and remixes. He DJs in a way that has no specific precedent.
There’s a lot of homeless club music right now, which is really weird to see. There are a lot of scenes and networks that get promoted but there isn’t a place where it exists. That’s why Berghain’s such a huge brand name—it’s had residents who have helped to manufacture and sharpen a very specific sound and kind of techno. I think as residencies become less and less the norm, club music becomes more theoretical. It’s like people could dance to this somewhere. This might go off in a club somewhere, I don’t know what club, because I don’t play anywhere. There’s a lot of that. Music has always been made for the space it was supposed to be in. Madrigals and early choral music, that was made for big churches which had a lot of reverb, so it was meant to work with reverb. So that’s still a problem that’s being worked out in club music. Because you have club music that’s made in a lot of different spaces that travels and goes everywhere, even though it’s not sonically supposed to work in the places that it ends up being played.
M.E.S.H.: Music that has a social context is so much more valuable because even if no one is paying money for it, it still has a place to be—it’s not just cast off into the void.
What’s difference in experimental club music and experimental music?
LOTIC: There isn’t.
M.E.S.H.: You just have different constraints. When you’re producing club music, you have a whole different set of factors in mind. Before I was making club music, I was making music, but not necessarily for the club. I find it much more interesting to make music that needs to butt up against other music. There are all these constraints but these create new possibilities as well. It’s like what kind of a tool can I make to bring to Janus.
LOTIC: Exactly. It can be a dance track, or it can be something that you want to shock people with or laugh at or whatever.
How much does dancing have to do with it?
LOTIC: I never played club music partially because I always thought it was music that people can’t really dance to. Being in the South, we just dance to different things. Things like New Orleans Bounce music, baile funk, types of music that are played more on loud speaker. Party music, not club music.
DD: It’s also interesting that subwoofers are only like 40 or 50 years old now. I think right now we’re still in a period where people are working out all the things that you can do with sub bass as a medium.
LOTIC: Four-on-the-floor will always work. Certain kick drum shuffles will always work. But for me, and I think for all of us, it’s about playing with that, mixing certain patterns with other patterns, and figuring out how to trick people into dancing.
M.E.S.H.: It’s about having control. Even if on paper your set sounds all over the place, when you hear it it sounds unbelievably consistent, even though there are different tempos, they’re hugely off, there are different parts of the world represented. There’s so many DJs that are just sort of hobbyists—they just play whatever, like pop trash—but to be able to play an edit of a pop song with a proper club track, you have to have control and confidence as a DJ to do that. And for me right now, the most interesting DJs, like Ashland, are doing stuff like that. They’re not just confining themselves to a really narrow scene of producers or one city’s electronic music culture. I think we’re all more interested in DJs who have their own personas and express that through multiple types of sounds.
DD: In a way club music has followed a pretty stable, linear path, depending on where you want to trace it back to. But in Berlin we’re still at the end of this period that started in the 80s in Chicago and Detroit with house and techno and clubs in New York, post-disco. And it went to London, it went to Berlin, it bounced back a million and a half times, but for the most part, we’re still in that period. There have been outliers, sort of rebel branches, but they kind of cul-de-sac-ed somewhere along the line. Drum n Bass. Dubstep. Grime is something that’s reworking itself in and out.
What’s your take on EDM?
DD: We talk about EDM a lot, and in some ways I relate to EDM more than I do the mainstream house and techno scenes. I think in terms of the form of the DJ set and how they treat themselves and the idea of what entertainment means as a DJ, EDM kind of makes more sense for us than house or techno. I think we’re currently operating under a very monastic form of house and techno.
LOTIC: But EDM says you can be a DJ and entertain people and you can also be like a pop star.
M.E.S.H.: It’s like the last gasp of the music industry. It’s a ploy in a way, because it’s making huge money with the infrastructure that’s already there, but it’s also cheaper booking a DJ than a live band. I’m just interested in it as a phenomenon. It happened after I’d moved away from the States, so as an American in Europe, I look at it askew, but I’m fascinated by it at the same time.
How much of minority and queer culture is still important to club music?
LOTIC: I think queer people and black people are still making the most interesting music. I think it has something to do with the fact that they’re probably always going to be on the outside of what’s happening. My family members are never going to go to an EDM concert. They might hear it on the radio once or twice by accident, but these cultures are actually living on the margins for various reasons. Every group of people needs its own culture, a form of entertainment that distracts themselves from the normal day-to-day. That’s something I think people don’t realize, that the Internet can never do. It’s not people, it’s data. As many interesting things that go through the Internet, it’s never going to be a substitute for community.
Club culture is seen as one of the most interesting offline.
LOTIC: It’s always been important for us to reject the Internet in that way. It’s useful to build a following, but like I was saying, that’s just a number, and that’s spread out across the world, so you have to look back locally, or else nothing’s going to stick.
DD: It’s also about the technological supremacy in music: certain music won’t make it to certain ears because of the technological limitations that it’s been created with. The music that’s mainstream now in Berlin, for instance: we’re talking about people who work on a single track for six months and then get it finished to be really high quality in the studio and have every single frequency sound fucking amazing because it’s going to be played on an amazing system. That also means there’s a lot of exciting club music being made, but because it may not conform to the technological standard, it just gets deleted or remade by people in a way that kind of erases its origins.
M.E.S.H.: And release it.
DD: So we have that situation a lot where we’re trying to listen to and work with music that maybe doesn’t have the same technological standard that a lot of clubs ask for or require, but it’s music that we love. It’s hard though because you’ll pull a lot of tracks from the Internet and some of them will sound great, others will sound bad, and others will sound okay.
M.E.S.H.: We pull from a lot of scenes that either don’t have access to or interest in proper mastering techniques. The Jersey club scene is notorious, at least in the early days, for just having home-mastered tracks that if you play on an expensive sound system you might break it. The subs are just in this out of control range.
LOTIC: That music is made for the place it was made though. Jersey music is meant to be played there, so they produce it to sound the way they know it will sound when it’s played there.
DD: And they’ll have a much bigger midrange, because they’ll have more midrange-heavy systems. Whereas if you go to Berghain, there might be nothing happening in the midrange. I think if you could wave a magic wand and take every track made in the world and just make it sound perfectly mastered, we’d have a much different world musically than we do now.
Lotic: You’d be hearing a lot more music.
DD: And a lot different music.
So mainstreaming has to do with technological access.
LOTIC: It’s money and time and access.
It doesn’t have anything to do with style.
LOTIC: Almost nothing.
So that’s where economics comes into it—and place and background.
DD: Race, class, all that shit.
LOTIC: Pissing people off is important in the club because it’s a rejection of the way music becomes popular. But it’s also just an ego thing to show people it’s yours.
M.E.S.H.: Forcing a little bit of ugliness on people, that’s important for sure.
DD: Techno just has a different relationship to space and time than the music we play does. I think that the music we play works best in three-six hour periods tops. Anything more than that can be hard, because there’s a lot of tempo changes.
M.E.S.H.: They’re often looking for smoothness in other scenes, which we don’t really pay that much attention to. Start and stop is a part of what we do. With house and techno you don’t stop. A techno DJ could spend two and half hours from 118 BPM to 131 BPM, and if he pushes it too fast at a certain point, everyone’s going to notice that. But with us, this track is 140, and the next one I really want to play is 92. Conceptually it’s perfect, or harmonically, so you have to figure out a creative way to get back down there, whether it’s through effects or just being really ugly and stopping the track and playing the next one. It’s all mood.
DD: In terms of the dynamics, it’s almost like an opera.
LOTIC: My style is a complete rejection of smoothness. It’s changing a little bit now, but I was always trying to be rude and disruptive. You can only do what I do on CDJs.
What are the advantages to using CDjs—analog control of digital?
DD: It’s a different form of DJing—it’s a completely new art form. There’s only so much you can do with a turntable. Now what we use are Pioneer CDJs, and the mixer, and that allows you to do things you couldn’t fathom ten years ago. That also means you don’t have to put a record on, put another one on, match the BPM, and blend them to DJ. The whole point of it used to be to not make the music stop and now the range is much larger. It’s like the introduction of oil paint. Before it was all flat, and then you could paint depth. In a lot of ways, that piece of technology is really crucial to what the sound is and what it means and how you’re playing. That’s everything. It’s all about that relationship.
LOTIC: But it’s going to take a while before people actually begin to explore all the possibilities. There are literally about 10 DJs who DJ like this: Venus and Shayne from Ghe20 G0th1k, Total Freedom. What we do is specifically tied to this set of technology.
DD: The Pioneers were made for professionals, but they’re not being used in that way. Ghe20 G0th1k, in terms of their use of CDJs, was completely revolutionary.
M.E.S.H.: Since you can’t afford to have it at home, having a residency makes you more comfortable with that set of materials and accelerates you.
DD: That’s why Ashland has his residency in a club where there’s a set of CDJs. It’s how Ghe20 G0th1k got their sound because they made sure that the club got a pair of CDJs, which meant that they were able to develop that specific sound. There are these sort of headbanging moments, not because they’re playing rock music, but just because what’s happening is completely direct and unfiltered and live. And that’s not something that you necessarily associate with DJ sets, but it’s what they do.
M.E.S.H.: But it makes it that if a friend of a friend comes to the party just to have a good time, they can intuitively know that something really awesome is happening. They don’t know the track or realize how it’s being mixed, but a good DJ that’s intuitive and flexible will make that person have a good time. That’s what’s amazing about DJing as opposed to going to an experimental music show or something like that, where people are just doubting their perceptions and whether they’re having a good time. You’re building an atmosphere and you don’t care whether people give you credit for it or not, you just want to make the club rock really hard.
Janus, Saturday, May 10, at Chester’s, Berlin Kreuzberg, featuring TOTAL FREEDOM, PRIMITIVE ART (Live), LEXXI, WHY BE, and residents M.E.S.H., LOTIC, KABLAM, & PERCY.