Name: Dee Montero
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Recent release: Dee Montero's debut album Artifacts is out via his very own Futurescope imprint.
Recommendations: I’d recommend The Hero Of A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, who was an expert writer of mythology, dreams and Eastern philosophy.
Another is a graphic novel called The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Dune), illustrated by French artist Möbius. Two genius sci-fi minds ahead of their time.
If you enjoyed this interview with Dee Montero and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My early influences were bands like Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and that 80s synth-pop sound during my childhood. My parents had a piano at home, and I would play along to cassette tapes mimicking my favourite songs like Jan Hammer’s ‘Crocketts Theme’.
Even though I wasn’t a classically trained pianist, I was drawn to the warm overtones and harmonics and later got my first electric Yamaha Portasound synth when I was 8. I discovered house, techno and jungle in the early 90s by listening to mixtapes at high school, and that changed my tastes dramatically. I spent my Saturdays at the local record shops in Belfast like a true vinyl junkie and got my first Technics 1210s at the age of 12, so I’ve been obsessed with mixing electronic music ever since.
The music production started around 2000 when I bought a 2nd hand Roland MC-505, a Korg Triton and Logic Pro. This led to studio sessions with an engineer friend who taught me the ins and outs of the recording process.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you’re listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I have an honours degree in Visual Communications and studied graphic design, so I get the visual connection when creating music. I find composing and constructing a track is a similar creative process to painting with layers, sculpting and building in 3D space and editing video on a timeline.
Music production is shaping waves and reforming audio in real time but what makes it feel real is the emotion it stimulates and the memories it triggers. My label Futurescope gives me the freedom to create my own artwork and animations, which I sequence to the music. I’m creating this anime fantasy world using a 3D program called Blender which has been an intense learning curve over the past year or so. The artwork is inspired by 90s video games and retro-futurism sci-fi artists like Roger Dean and Moebius, whose nostalgic style compliments the music.
I’ve expanded on this idea with my album ‘Artifacts’ and created a surreal visual narrative and landscape combining sacred symbols, geometric shapes and floating relics in space.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I’ve been producing for over 20 years, so success doesn’t happen overnight.
My major breakthrough was in 2017 when Solomun signed my track ‘Halcyon’ and it became Pete Tong’s BBC Radio 1 Track of the Year. It is still a huge honour to have that recognition and accolade from such an influential dance music figure. It felt like all those years of putting time into music were finally appreciated and recognised on a wide scale.
After cutting my teeth on the club scene in Belfast in the late 90s, I played in Ibiza for around eight seasons as a resident DJ at Cafe Mambo, which definitely helped shape my sound by playing those long eclectic sets from day into night. I made the decision to leave the island in 2018 to spread my wings and play amazing places, from Burning Man to jungle parties in Bali.
I’m more interested in longevity and developing at my own pace rather than playing the popularity game, to be honest. Music will always be paramount to me and more important than the short-lived gimmicks of social media. I feel like I’m just starting to mature as an artist!
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I’ve always resonated with deeper emotive music since childhood and love immersing myself in soundscapes, movie soundtracks and journey sets which I guess I’m subconsciously influenced by. It’s important to stay true to yourself.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
It stems from a feeling based on simple chords and a groove and expands from there. As the track forms, develops and takes shape, I use my DJ knowledge to edit it into a more club-friendly arrangement depending on the project.
My 12-track album concept made better sense as a whole cohesive listening experience from start to finish rather than a bunch of club tracks, so it was a good challenge to approach from a different perspective.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I guess I’m one of those producers who keeps with the tradition while also trying out new ideas and blending between genres.
When I first heard techno music in the early 90s on labels like R&S Records, I thought this was so alien and futuristic, but now it’s ubiquitous and easily accessible. I’m all for pushing things forward and being innovative, but sometimes a good track is just a good track without trying to be too smart.
I’ve always wondered how some early techno and house tracks from the 90s still sound fresh today! I think we’ve lost something with technology’s convenience and distractions and shouldn’t focus too much on the latest tools. We have plenty at our disposal already.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
As I’ve been travelling a lot over the past 15 years, my most important tools are the Macbook Pro running Ableton with soft synths from Arturia and Native Instruments. I love being back in my studio at the end of a tour and fine-tuning on my Genelec monitors, Moog and Arp, but without the flexibility of a portable setup, many of my ideas would have been lost over the years on the road.
I’m happy I switched to Ableton from Logic five years ago, which has vastly increased my workflow speed.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
My daily routine constantly changes as I’m never in one place for a long time. I’ll try to get up reasonably early and have breakfast while checking emails, social media etc. In the afternoon, I’ll motivate myself to exercise or have a walk, but most of the time I’ll listen to new promos, make edits or design artwork for my label.
I work better at night as there are fewer distractions, and if there’s a deadline I’ll put in the overtime to finish tracks ready for mastering. Inspiration comes at random times, so I keep my schedule relatively flexible!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that’s particularly dear to you, please?
My album was conceived in early 2020 when lockdown struck when I had time to reflect and sift through hundreds of unfinished projects on old hard drives. I rediscovered field recordings, ethnic samples and vocal parts, which became the foundation for the project. I then laid down melancholic pads and textures, which set the overall tone and theme.
Recycling old projects from the archives was very fulfilling, and I reckon I have another album’s worth of material backed up somewhere.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I’ve always preferred working on my own, especially after a hectic tour, but I still really enjoy bouncing ideas around and collaborating online with fellow producers from time to time. I need to be in the zone, and my studio is like my laboratory where I can experiment and work at my own pace.
It’s not healthy to constantly work in solitude, so it’s important to get out of the comfort zone now and again.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think we could do with more bliss and positivity in the world. There’s a lot of negativity and prejudice going on, so I just try to make hopeful and optimistic music that strikes a chord with the listener.
It’s a cliche, but music’s power is to bring people together regardless of background.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
My early single ‘Halcyon’ was made after a break-up, and ‘In The Wild’ was about the distractions of social media, switching off and getting back to nature.
My new album is a tribute to my Dad, who passed away last year, so meaningful music wouldn’t exist without pain and suffering. It’s a soundtrack to our lives and a therapeutic cure for many.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I like to compare music to a chemical formula or a magic potion. Atoms, air molecules and wave frequencies are all working together to create a powerful internal reaction in our bodies and senses.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn’t or wouldn’t in more ‘mundane’ tasks?
Music and art are an escape from the mundane and have the ability to transcend and inspire us for a very long time and be enjoyed by future generations to come.
I’m not sure a great cup of coffee has that same eternal impact!
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
It’s in the eye (ear) of the beholder. Some are more sensitive than others who will have a deeper connection to a specific piece of music or song.
It’s subjective, but when a club connects and gravitates to a common frequency, that’s hard to explain.