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The Baron Of Techno

Dave Clarke

Words Paul Watson

Dave Clarke knows a thing or two about music... The legendary UK-born DJ, producer, and remixer, talks to Headliner about production values, working with vinyl, and his happy life in Holland...

How did it all begin for you?
I started off DJing and then, in the late ‘80s, the whole rave scene came through, which really killed off club land, which is where I was based. It became a really cheesy rave manifesto, and I think we’re seeing the same thing sometimes now as well. At that point I didn’t want to DJ at raves, nor was I being offered to DJ at raves. It was at this time that I started putting some more money into kit for a studio, which I’d done before, as I come from the days of a four-track. I was breaking the four-track, as I was using it as a sampler, cutting stuff in, and wondering why the pause button didn’t work anymore! I was working in a shoe shop, saving up for Yamaha drum machines, and linking them up together with MIDI, but when the rave thing started, I got more serious, so got a sampler, and an Atari computer. I had a hacked copy of Cubase from ‘Mike Hunt’... You get the idea... [laughs] And I also used to use C-Lab Notator as well – that was a proper copy... And I started making music, then my first record came out on XL Recordings in 1990.

You live in Holland, also the home of your first international gig...
Yeah, I had my record out on XL, and I used that as an international calling card to come to different places, and I’d always wanted to go to Amsterdam. I don’t know why, as I’m certainly not into drugs at all, but I came over here, and a club allowed me to come and play, and I fell in love with the place. I always wanted to live here, but never did; then I got divorced, lost my studio, and met someone in Amsterdam. I kept coming back and forth, then eventually I decided to settle here full-time, a few years back.

What’s your core production setup?
It’s taken a long time to get the Dutch one up to the standard of the one I had in the UK. I had to get rid of so much outboard when I moved to Amsterdam, which made me very sad; and only recently, about four months ago, I felt I had got it sounding even better than in the UK, so I am now very pleased. It’s just taken such a long time to get it there.

I’m not someone that can make music on a laptop wherever I am in the world, as travelling is not a creative experience for me; it’s about reading magazines and catching up on sleep. I still like the occasion of walking into a studio that’s built for making music. I have a high regard for outboard – I do the hybrid production of in and out of the box, and Logic is my main DAW. On my last album, Devil’s Advocate, I was using Cubase, just as it was coming into VST; and to me, I’d used it on the Atari, and it was a very good and easy program to use, and my computer was a massive Atari with 192 MIDI channels! I have some hardware compressors now, which is why you don’t really find compressors in my plugins of choice, and that’s the way I like it.

Tell me about the Waves EMP Toolbox you recently brought out...
Sure. I’ll get the meters out the way first though, as people find it funny that I get excited by them! I was very happy when Waves brought out the Dorrough Stereo Meter; it’s really good as a ‘quick look’ energy meter, where you can just see and feel what’s going on instantly. For me, they’re that good, so I had to have those. Then I have the LoAir [Subharmonic Generator], which was a really good one for me also, because back in the old days, when I used to work just on a sampler, if I had a synth line on top that was going to be the hook line, I would duplicate that, and then heavily go into the LFOs of the sampler, filter that down, and then back it up on another channel before bringing it out on the mixer. That was like parallel processing, and the LoAir does that for me instantly. I use that as a real subharmonic support, and it’s a fantastic, fun plugin to have.

The Kramer Master Tape I use a lot on synthesisers. There’s a group called My Bloody Valentine, and I think they would have done anything to have been able to actually automate with precision, wow and flutter, which you can do with this plugin. Having that there is great, and having it on buses is also fantastic; using it at different speeds gives you different tonal characters, so it’s a very good tape machine that I use mostly for the wow and flutter, and just gelling drum buses together.

Plugin technology has come on a long way in recent years...
Yeah, I remember the first time I tried to use Waves on my ancient G3 which had more noise than a Dyson vacuum cleaner, and loading one plugin actually took a long time, whereas now, I can have 500 plugins running concurrently on my system at any one time, which is fantastic.

Also, I made the decision a long time ago to stay at 44.1 [kHz]. In an ideal world, everybody should have maybe switched to 48, like in the old days of the DAT machine, because it’s above CD quality, and of course you should always record at 24-bit. But I thought, ‘Fuck it, 44.1 across the board’, because it makes everything easier, project to project, and ultimately, even though it hurts to say this, 95% of the people who are going to listen to it are going to dither down to far less than 44.1, so what’s the point going to 192, or even to 96, for that matter?

John Peel named your first record, Archive 1, in his Top 20 albums of all time. Since then, has your approach to making music changed?
That was quite something... And I’m a huge John Peel fan, too. I actually still approach music production the same way, and that’s with a clean slate, even though the technology has changed massively. It was the same when I was a little kid, building Lego; as opposed to building onto something else that I’d built, I would just break everything down to its basic core bricks, and build from scratch, and that’s exactly what I do with making music.

Is there still a place for vinyl in dance music?
I still have my record decks, and I go out there and buy vinyl, and I enjoy that it takes me away from my computer every 23 minutes to change the side, for a start! I also like that it suckers you in and you listen, listen, listen, and you get a different vibe. I listened to Wu Tang Clan’s W album a long time ago on CD in the car, and it’s great, but listening to it on vinyl has a different feel, and I think vinyl for analogue music makes a lot of sense, But sadly, vinyl for dance music makes no sense anymore, whatsoever; I think it’s tragic that people are not going to accidentally find music that they like anymore, because that’s the music that you cherish the most – by not tuning in to look for it, but it finds you. That’s why John Peel was so important; you’d tune into his programme, and go, ‘What the fuck are you playing, John?’ And then all of a sudden, three weeks later, you’re looking for that same piece of music because it touched you in a way that you wouldn’t have allowed it to touch you if you tried to search for it, because you wouldn’t have searched for it! That was always my favourite way of finding new music.