Speaking in Code
The oft overlooked genre of techno (and house and countless other permutations of electronic dance music) was given voice last year with the release of "Speaking in Code," a documentary about an international array of producers, DJs and promoters lost in this fringe music. After being screened here in the city at CMJ in the Fall, the praised doc is now out on DVD. Niteside caught up with David Day, a former Other Music record clerk and one of the folks behind the flick, to talk festivals, the media's misunderstanding of electronic dance music and which DJs to catch the next time they're in town.
How large an undertaking was the project and what was the goal? We began thinking about the film over five years ago now, so if you ask how large of an undertaking it was the answer is very, very. We were hoping to dispel some of the myths about dance music and show the humanity behind what people consider computer music. To this day, electronic music comes with all sorts of baggage. I believe it should just be called music.
How was it funded and what was the total cost emotionally of seeing it through to the end? It was funded through a large amount of credit, much of which has to be paid off. As it grew in scope and stature, it became harder to finish as it became intertwined with life itself. "Speaking in Code" feels like a child Amy and I had at this point, there is so much involved with it.
Having seen thriving dance scenes in Europe, why do you think techno/house remains underground in the States? What's preventing Americans from embracing the music on a more mainstream level? Techno and House is still underground in Europe. It is underground everywhere, but it is more tolerated and accepted in Europe. Americans have for years been inundated with stereotypes of ravers and drugs, from exposes on 20/20 to going back to the disco riots. American media doesn't like dance music culture because they don't understand it.
How did you come to embrace techno? For me, it truly began when I started working at Other Music in NYC and learned of labels like BPitch and Kompakt. These labels had a mature vision of electronic music and incorporated elements of noise and the avant-garde into their sound. I came to realize that the history of dance music had yet to be completed. It was the freshest thing I had ever heard and wanted to be involved.
What are your favorite clubs in the U.S.? Big clubs in huge cities are fun, but for me, my favorite U.S. clubs are the small rooms in Boulder or Boston or Seattle or Chicago where a group of friends and devotees have come to listen and enjoy each others' company.
What's standing in the way of making dance music more viable in the States? To me, America needs more festivals for music in general. Each summer in Australia -- or Europe or Asia -- there is a series of weekenders that brings people together. America has [not] figured out how to do that yet, but with new entities like the Pitchfork Festival or Decibel or Communikey, it's starting to get there. Once every city has an area music festival we'll at least be having more fun.
Are there any protagonists from your film that our readers should catch the next time they play NYC? After having avoided the U.S. for a time, the Wighnomy Brothers -- aka Monkey Mafia and Robag Wruhme -- have been spotted in NYC regularly. Their soulful, funk-informed sound is very fresh and fits right into NYC. Modeselektor plays often with groups like MSTRKFT and was recently at Bowery Ballroom. Ellen Allien is playing there next Saturday. Philip Sherburne and Monolake were around for the avant-garde Unsound Festival back in February.
Given techno's ever evolving sound, how has the music changed since you first started this project? Is minimal still thriving or have we moved on? Like any kind of music, once a sub-genre is created, there will always be people who love that sub-genre forever. So though ska and punk divulged, you still have ska shows to this day, for example. Minimal will always be around but, for sure people are embracing a more warm and historic deep house sound. I love that people are into Moodymann again -- his Silent Introduction was the very reason I started liking dance music in the first place. That said, the people we profiled are still thriving. As a company, Kompakt is not going anywhere, and continues to release music out side of what people call minimal. Modeselektor and BPitch have always been more technoid and weird, and Wighnomies play house house and more house. But there will always be people who love minimal, and those people will never move on!
With the documentary finally completed, what are next steps with the project and do you have any future projects in store? My focus is on making the Together Festival larger, which was Boston's first-ever electronic music festival. It was a big success in February.