Interview: A non-techno conversation with Dave Clarke… part two
Following on from part one of our interview with Dave Clarke (click here to read), today we discuss how the recent Variations performance, which saw Clarke team up with Mathilde Marsal on a reworking of Holst’s Planets Suite, came together.
In addition, we explore the origins of his latest radio show, the Saga Series – a noisy neighbour to his long-running White Noise programme. Over to you, Dave.
How did you come to work with Mathilde Marsal on the Variations gig?
Normally with a project like this, the give you a choice of four or five people to work with, and they are all super-talented, amazing people.
But I need to have a symbiotic relationship with whoever I’m going to be working with. Everybody else can just meet someone a few days before and just start working together, but I’m not like that.
They were offering these incredible Russian violinists, who were like 65 years old, but I didn’t think we would be able to gel. I always felt with them there was going to be this distance, that they would be thinking ‘I’m an artist, and you’re not’.
So, for the Holst performance, I sort of put my foot down, and said that I wanted to work with Mathilde. We hadn’t worked together at that stage, but I had a good feeling about it. I met her in Belgium, and I knew she listened to techno, so I felt it would be a really interesting project.
Plus, she is a ridiculous talent – she studied at the Sorbonne, and she plays at La Scala, for example.
Why did you decide on Gustav Holst as the basis for the performance?
Gustav Holst was the first music that brought me into techno. I got into Holst through the Tomita version, actually, which was one of my father’s records.
In those days, the whole ‘space’ thing was really taking off – you had disco versions of the Star Wars theme, and things like that, with cheeky pictures of women in spacesuits on the front.
Holst’s Planets suite is a brilliant piece of music, and the Tomita version was, and still is, mind-blowing.
I remember there being some controversy about the Thaxted intro that Tomita had included in his version of Jupiter; that Gustav Holst’s family had never liked it. But for me, it was always part of it, because I’ve listened to it so many times.
I previously worked in a classical music shop, for two years, so I really got a taste for Janáček, Debussy, Sibelius, mainly early 20th century composers.
I don’t like chamber music, though, it annoys me. To me, it always sounds like the background music for a public toilet.
Had you had the opportunity to work with classical artists, or an orchestra before?
I was offered the chance to work with a 70- or 80-piece orchestra in Holland about 12 or 13 years ago, but it didn’t feel right at the time. For me, the whole beauty of an orchestra is that you have that human element to it, and things are so metronomic with electronic music, it would miss the point of having humans there at all.
It was different working with Mathilde; if you notice with her playing, she goes from 4/4 to 5/4 at times – she follows me, and I follow her. She was very brave to allow me to put effects on her violin as well.
What kit did you use for the performance?
I used Serato Studio. I remember I said ‘yes’ to the project and then Serato Studio came out something like three days later, which was brilliant, because I didn’t want to use a CDJ or something like that.
It wasn’t too complicated to master, either, so I could focus on the spirit of what was going on, rather than the technicalities.
Do you see yourself working with Mathilde again?
I think we’re going to work together more often in the future. She wants to move to Amsterdam and if that happens then will definitely be working together.
Tell me about the Saga Series radio show, which was reportedly conceived over a lengthy sushi dinner?
I’ve had this stabbing at me for a while now. In the beginning, with White Noise, I’d have part of the show called ‘Punk Out’, where I would play some punk tracks at the very end.
So, I was sitting with [2fm DJ] Mr Spring in a sushi restaurant, and both of us had the same idea at the same time. He said to me, ‘what do you think about doing a radio show that’s not techno?’, and I was like ‘This has been on my mind for the past two years, maybe three!’.
We devised the concept there and then, on the back of the bill.
I called it the Saga Series, because it’s inspired by my time driving around Iceland, and the idea behind the show is that it doesn’t include any techno at all.
As Spring said, ‘we’ll do it for as long as you feel comfortable with it’, so there’s no pressure. But I’m really enjoying it.
[Click here for the latest episode of the Saga Series]
As you have mentioned before during the show, some of the tracks are inspired by nights out in the bars of Amsterdam, others are discovered while waiting for an early morning flight somewhere in Europe. How are you selecting the tracks for each episode?
A lot of the tracks I’ve been aware of for many years, long before I’d even thought of doing something like this.
But yes, actually, four in the morning in an airport is a really good time to listen to music, because you’re sort of in a transitory situation. You are on the way home, you’re tired, and you’re quite receptive to new sounds.
I used to be really bored going through airports, but not I kind of enjoy it, because I have time to listen to new music.
White Noise is a reflection of who I am, and Saga is as well. With Saga, I sometimes tell a couple of stories, but I’m not trying to take away from the music – that comes first.
I don’t think you would hear the combination of tracks on any other radio show; it’s quite a broad mixture.
Do you get sent tracks by friends or other artists you admire?
No one ever says to me ‘you have to put this on the show’, but a lot of friends do send me music from time to time, and I always think it’s better to get music from people than from algorithms.
When you’re on Spotify, for example, it’s all machine-based – they say your playlist knows you better than your closest lover, or something like that. Real people aren’t like that.
I love going into record shops in Amsterdam, and listening to what they’re playing in the store, talking to them about it. Sometimes I don’t even buy anything, I’m just there to listen.
To me, that’s why radio is more interesting than Spotify, because it’s something that has bene chosen by an individual, rather than an algorithm.
I do have a dig at my friends sometimes – they might send you a track, and it’s great, and then they send you another five tracks, and you can see that these other tracks have just been spat out by Spotify. You can see the lineage – they might tick the boxes in the beginning, but they don’t tick the emotional boxes.
Finally, what non-techno artists are rocking your headphones at the moment?
I really like Fontaines DC, but I worry about them because they have the ‘Steve Lamacq seal of approval’ now.
I loved Idles when they first came out, but then I got really bored of them because I felt they were making music for Steve Lamacq, and Steve Lamacq felt they were making music for him, so he played it.
With a band like Fontaines DC, I love who they are, and what they represent, but I worry that it’s happening too quickly for them.
[Thanks again to Dave for the interview. Main photo by Marilyn Clark]