by Andrew Duke
Cleveland artist, DJ, and Metamorphic label head Dan Curtin has been wowing music lovers since 1992 with his vibrant and delicious brand of electronic music. Not content to truck in simply one style, he's made fans through his versatility, showing an aptitude for crafting abstract yet luxurious house, techno, and downtempo music. And through his remix work, many an act has been given the unique Curtin touch. Just back from a DJ tour of Ireland and with his fifth full length on the shelves and a slew of new EPs out or forthcoming, Andrew Duke spoke with the 30 year old Curtin about Chicago, Detroit, Switzerland, and outer space.
You've been making the one hour plane trip to Chicago every free weekend lately and plan to move there next year. What's so appealing to you about the Windy City these days?
"I've been there twice in the last month because the music is just so amazing. The clubs are really good and the people who go out dancing really know what's up, they really love the music. Karma, Crowbar, Dragon Room, those are some of the Chicago clubs where I went dancing last weekend."
From 1994's "Green Girl" on the "Voices From Another Age" EP (Sublime) and "Alive" on the "Time Undefined" 12" (Strictly Rhythm) through to this year's "Bring It Back", the first track on Pregenesis, you've continued to demonstrate a love for hip hop.
"Hip hop was my first love in music and it really stayed that way until house became the next thing that blew my mind. I was so into hip hop for so many years and that was the only music I listened to for such a long time, I probably couldn't escape it even if I wanted to. I was into stuff back in the day in the early 80s like Schooly D, Run DMC, Whodini, T La Rock, the classics."
Was there a point where the new hip hop that was coming out at the time started to turn you off or was it that your discovery of house put hip hop on the proverbial back burner?
"Probably both. When artists like Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer got really big, it really turned me off hip hop cos it went far away from the origins and just turned into major label commercial music that doesn't speak to me at all, where it's just to sell a product not to do it for the art. I never got turned off the real shit, though, the underground--that's always gonna be there for me because there's always people who do good music. When I heard Chicago house for the first time, it was like everything I had been looking for in music that I didn't even know I had been looking for. House made such an impression that it became the forefront of my life--experiencing it, and then wanting to make it, so pretty much everything else was forgotten. House was like the perfect combination between disco and electronic stuff, new wave, and even the street feelings of hip hop. I was looking for something new and it happened at just the right time. I was buying the early Farley Jackmaster Funk, Adonis, Marshall Jefferson, just all the Trax Records stuff, pretty much anything I could get my hands on."
So you didn't ever feel the urge to record hip hop?
"I always did record hip hop, I just didn't do it for anyone other than myself. I have lots of tapes, did performances at my high school, all that kind of shit, just didn't take it to the next level and do a record. It was just pure fun. I didn't think about putting anything out on record until I started making house demo tapes."
What is your opinion of today's house music?
"I think it's really progressed. Just last night I was going through some of the records I just mentioned, actually, and thinking how today they've taken all the original feelings, the real thing--the way it touched your emotions and worked on the dancefloor--those elements are all still there, but to a higher degree. It's still continued to be new, and I think a lot of the creativity today is in house. I'm hearing a lot of really good house coming out now on labels like Afterhours, Moody, and Large. I can't tell you the specific format or artists I like, it just has to have the right feeling, and generally, but not always, it's Chicago stuff I'm attracted to. There's lots of other labels pushing the boundaries too. Cross Section, for example."
Purveyors Of Fine Funk is a project you started with Tatsuro Hayashi, with whom you co-owned the Deep Records store. You're now working with Mike Filly under that name. You're also working on a new project called Key Of Soul. How do those two guises differ musically?
"Purveyors Of Fine Funk started out as a diversion from the solo stuff that I was doing. At the beginning it was expressing the harder techno side of things, but then it became more housey. Sometimes it's just been me, but I've kept it open to collaborations. Key Of Soul turned out to be more vocal, whereas Purveyors Of Fine Funk is more pumping and made for the dancefloor and on the filtered sample tip. I've never really worked with vocalists before, so Key Of Soul gives me a chance to do that. It's something new for me. Currently I'm working with Warren Harris who has recorded as Hanna for Metamorphic and Sublime. The vocalist on the first release is Mike Jackson; he's an R & B vocalist here who has worked with Mary J. Blige and on the Jason's Lyric soundtrack. The second Key Of Soul release features Itoko; she's a vocalist from Japan who's studying at medical school here in Cleveland."
You spent October 1997 to March 1999 living in Switzerland after meeting the woman who is now your wife. How did your time overseas affect your music?
"I recorded all the tracks on the new album in Switzerland during the first half of 1998. The tracks were my expression of living in another country for the first time. I'd been outside the States many times through DJing, but this was the first time I actually lived in another country and I gained a lot of inspiration from that."
You've said in the past that techno was in a "dangerous phase" with a lack of innovation. Do you still feel the same way?
"With regard to hard techno, yes. I'm no longer interested in minimal techno and the electro sound. I'm tired of hearing the same thing done over and over and I've never understood why because a few successful records come out with a certain sound it has to become a new genre and then everybody has to do that stuff. I find that boring. There are still people who are making innovations, like Common Factor, that's what attractive to me now. House and techno should be about doing something interesting, that's why I like things like that and Detroit's Carl Craig and Recloose."
Where many find it easiest to keep doing what sells, you've prided yourself on reinvention. How do you keep things fresh as an artist?
"It's a question of maintaining my interest. If I'm working on something and it starts to sound familiar or too much like the last thing I did or like something someone else has done, then I'll get bored and it'll progress and evolve into something else. It's not really a conscious effort to do something different. Studio time is what I really enjoy; I'm in there eight hours a day, sometimes more, making samples, programming, writing, arranging, but I might only finish one track a week."
You're often investigating the universe via telescope and exploring your love for astronomy.
"That's an extension of the part of me that wants to explore something new, to expand on the limits of what we know. You don't have to go to space to do that, but it's one of the obvious places. Plus there's my whole love for science fiction. Like astronomy, working on music was another way to get my psyche farther and farther outside of the body. I had been so into the mind expanding nature of techno music that I had forgotten all about the body aspect. I hadn't thought about making music for the dancefloor for so many years, but going out and dancing again in the last few months has had an influence. It's cheesy but true--music has got to be for both the mind and the body."
Dan Curtin's Pregenesis album is out now on the Belgian Elypsia label; new EPs can be
found on Player and Starbaby. Look for new material to be released on Residual, Moody, and
Afterhours from Purveyors Of Fine Funk and Key Of Soul. Check out Curtin's
Dan Curtin discography:
Dan Curtin--3rd from the Sun EP (33rpm/Sinewave)
Prototype--The Path (Buzz)
Apogee--Tales From the 2nd Moon EP (Peacefrog)
Dan Curtin--Parallel (Peacefrog)
Dan Curtin--The Silicon Dawn LP/CD (Peacefrog)
Purveyors of Fine Funk--Heights Trax vol. 1 (Peacefrog)
Purveyors of Fine Funk--Heights Trax vol. 2 (Peacefrog)
Purveyors of Fine Funk--3 (Peacefrog)
Purveyors of Fine Funk--4 (Peacefrog)
Purveyors of Fine Funk--Love Faze (Nepenta)
Dan Curtin--Dream Not of Today EP (Peacefrog)
Dan Curtin--The Web of Life LP/CD (Peacefrog)
Dan Curtin--Art and Science LP/CD (Peacefrog)
Dan Curtin--Whisper to an Echo (Peacefrog)
Dan Curtin--Time Undefined (Strictly Rhythm)
D. Curtin--Time Undefined-Stage II (Strictly Rhythm)
Planetary--Planetary EP (Metamorphic)
Dan Curtin--Space EP (Metamorphic)
Planetary--Origins EP (Metamorphic)
Dan Curtin--Matter of Sound 7" (Metamorphic)
Dan Curtin--Spatial Relationships EP (Metamorphic)
Dan Curtin--Voices From Another Age 12"/CD (Sublime)
Dan Curtin--Deception LP/CD (Sublime)
Dan Curtin--I'll Take You There Remixes EP (Sublime)
Dan Curtin--New World EP/CD (Sublime)
The R.T.A. Movement--Pleasure Center (Sublime)
Clementine/Dan Curtin--Cosmopolitan For Cosmos (DJAX)
Dan Curtin--The Chase (Multiplex)
Dan Curtin--Life in the Savage Garden EP (Fragmented)
Dan Curtin--Debris (Fragmented)
Dan Curtin--Through The Nexus (Elypsia)
Dan Curtin--Pregenesis LP/CD (Elypsia)
Key of Soul--Incidental Indiscretion EP (Paper)
Dan Curtin--Orbital Love Triangle (Player)
Dan Curtin--When Worlds Align EP (Starbaby)
Purveyors of Fine Funk--Disco Reality EP (Residual)
Purveyors of Fine Funk--Sonicsoul EP (Moody)
Key of Soul feat Itoko--Shine (Afterhours)