Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
Less composition than improv. I think labeling playing other people’s music as “composition” is almost taking the credit that you give to a DJ a step too far because there are people who actually perform live. That’s composition in the moment. It’s improv unless you pre-plan your set and I’m not even going to go into how I feel about DJs who do that. Not to say I don’t have an idea of what I’m going to do when I know the vibe of the country I’m in or when I have experience playing the event I’m about to play. But the more improvisational it is, the more of a challenge it is and the more rewarding it is. I think that translates to the dance floor, too, and when you’re really reading the room well and that energy exchange between the DJ and the floor is at a really optimal level, that improv becomes really effective for the floor. You’re basically working together with them.
How do you feel playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?
That's an interesting question. I’ve never asked myself that. Personally, I tend not to listen to the same music that I would play in a club while at home. Environments and mood are hyper sensitive to music, so what makes sense in one especially for my taste doesn’t make sense in another. I’m considering what will be effective on a dance floor and more specifically the dance floor that I’m going to play when deciding what to play at a show. Likewise I’m considering what will be effective in creating the mood or complimenting the mood at home. There are songs I play in both contexts but there really isn’t much. I wouldn’t say that I draw something different from the two although the feeling and experience is different. The one thing I draw from them both is a certain kind of energy and narrative to my life.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?
Wow, these questions. It’s nice to run into a real music journalist in our world who isn’t just asking me how I came up with the name art department. You know that’s a really serious question, maybe just for me because I kind of struggled with that for a couple of years in some respects. There was a period of time where I really found it difficult to enjoy or even realize the path that I was on as an artist and the successes that I had achieved because I was very caught up in all of the external factors like, public expectations, editors and reviews, fans, even a feeling of competitiveness with my peers. I don’t know if people realize this but I think there is more work that goes into maintaining a level of success and profile in this business than it requires to even achieve the initial success. You can get caught up in this dynamic within the industry when so many people around you and on your team are extremely concerned with how you’re profile or brand is doing in relation to others and how to maintain that. It’s nearly impossible to ignore and like I said that was almost ruining this experience in a way until I became really conscious of it.
My goals where never to be as big as this person, or bigger than that person. I’m just an artist who’s been lucky enough to achieve more success than I had hoped for and I try to remember that and not take too much of what’s going on around me into my line of vision. I consider the fans and I’ll write something now and then that I think they would appreciate but I really try not to consider anything outside of being true to myself. I never felt more lost as an artist and in my career than I did when I was concerned with what people’s expectations where to the extent that I did. Look at the proof. I didn’t put out an original record for like 2.5 years after Kenny and I split because I was concerned with people’s expectations. That’s no way to live as an artist. It’s definitely not conducive to making your best art.
Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
Yeah you’re right, a set can go on forever when you have that much music on you. For me it’s knowing when you’re heading towards a road you’ve been down before. Where you start to go to your crutches and safe and guaranteed effective records. Once you’re doing that, it might be fun for the party for a bit but you’re not really doing anything special for them or for yourself. That’s when you should just play your last record … and then maybe one more.
Art can be a purpose but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
For me the approach is very personal. I think that the idea is to contribute something truthful and as a result hopefully something unique. I think that being an artist is finding out more about who you are and what you are capable of when you’re free of limitations. And I think the music that I do and those who make similar music within this culture is very political. People would probably read that and say this guy is crazy but to me there is nothing more political than something that crosses race and language barriers and brings people together across the entire planet. Everything divides people while art undeniably unites. And in particular, instrumental music, due to the fact that language doesn’t tie the piece to any single demographic more closely than another. What could be more political.