15 years after kick-starting his music career making tracks with Oliver The Horrorist Chessler, New Yorker John Selway remains one of the world’s most popular underground techno players both as a DJ and critically respected producer.
With his latest tech-house-trancer Mistral hotly tipped and coming out on John Digweed’s high profile label Bedrock, he’s apparently sitting pretty, though chatting to Skrufff today he’s quick to admit he’s concerned about the state of today’s music industry.
“If I hadn't been around for so long and established a decent reputation, I'm not sure I'd be on the radar at all in the current climate,” says John.
“I'm actually considering looking for a manager right now, to help me do a big push when I'm ready with a new album. Or maybe I’ll just get someone to help out with my online promotion and social networking.”
“Maintaining Facebook alone is a full-time job but nowadays it's absolutely necessary to stay on top of stuff like that,” he continues, “The new young guys are 100% savvy with it, though I'm no stranger to that either as I've always been a serious computer geek and I was on the Internet before there was even a World Wide Web. But it's more the amount of time it takes away that irritates me. I'd rather be working on music than keeping up my online profile,” he says.
And keeping up with new names is increasingly pre-occupying if not over-whelming him, he also admits.
“As a DJ, it's driving me nearly insane trying to keep up with the flood of releases. I think it's necessary as a globally working techno DJ to be on the cutting edge so I try to stay current, but now I'm actually about one month behind in promos because my wife and I are renovating our apartment and I just haven't had the time recently; I literally have almost 300 unread emails from labels and promo services in my box,” he confesses.
“And that flood of releases definitely also makes it harder to stand out as a producer, the bar has been set pretty high although not necessarily in terms of quality.”
“It matters most that you are consistently and regularly producing, and doing as much promotion and hype as possible. I've never been a natural self-promoter, my success has been almost completely as a result of the quality of my work and the successes I've had over all the years, not how many tracks I’ve released or how I hype them or myself.”
Despite his concerns, new single Mistral (co-produced by long term studio partner Christian Smith) is another high quality tech-house track that’s certain to enhance his already high profile, which he admits has yet to be affected by the credit crunch.
“I've been lucky actually, my fees aren't in the top range anyway and it's stayed pretty consistent, I've even had more gigs in the last year that previously,” says John.
“I'm a little concerned for the immediate future though, but we'll see. I have releases and remixes coming out, and some good gigs and it's still looking OK, but I definitely see the necessity of making a bigger push to keep it that way.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Mistral is a very simple track: how long did it take you to make? And how much do you see it as a DJ tool?
John Selway: “We made the track early this year in Sao Paulo, where Christian recently moved from Barcelona. It is indeed something of a DJ tool, although maybe just a bit more than that in terms of craft and style - and it came together pretty quickly to start with, only a few hours. We usually get tracks going fast but then we often have a long break-in period, where we try them out in the real world and see if any improvements need to be made. This one proved to be pretty tricky, actually. We used some orchestral sounds and some drum loops that were distinctive sounding – they were, in fact, what inspired the overall tone and style of the track - but it turned out to be a little difficult to mix. Also, we started working on the track in the living room of Christian's newly renovated apartment - a lovely place but with terrible acoustics. We got back together into a proper studio to do the final mix-downs and everything came together there”.
Skrufff: Going into your background: what took you to New York in the early 90s?
John Selway: “I wanted to live in New York (NYC) ever since I was a child, for all the same reasons any kid from the suburbs ever wanted to be in the big city. I was fortunate to visit NYC several times a year when I was still a young teenager, studying violin with a teacher who lived near Lincoln Center. At first one of my parents took me but when I was older I got to go on my own and I would steal as much time as I could to explore. I had a girlfriend who would meet me after my violin lesson and we'd run off into Central Park and make out somewhere. I ended up going to university for music composition at a school about 45 minutes train ride away from the city, during the time that techno was first infiltrating the clubs and the rave scene was rising to its peak, and I dived right into that scene. When I finished school I got offered the job to work at Satellite Records (shop), and moved to the city permanently.”
Skrufff: You worked closely with Abe Duque during the period when he was Michael Alig’s Limelight resident: how much did you hang out on that scene?
John Selway: “I was around, yes, but not totally in the depths of that scene. The music was first and foremost for me. I did my share of gigs at the Limelight and that's how I met Abe of course. As for all the madness going on, I was only on the periphery of everything - I heard the stories and rumours and saw some crazy things but didn't get caught up in it. I did meet Michael Alig although I’m sure he would never remember me. I basically knew the people in the DJ booth and a few of the people on the business end when it was time to get paid.”
Skrufff: Abe told us about struggling in NYC during that period, to the point that he ended up getting a day job for a year: how much did you encounter similar hard times, particularly working in a record shop?
John Selway: “NYC can certainly beat you down fast if you're not making the cash, and we all have our lean times. But while my income was pretty low from the record shop and there were definitely times when I didn't know how I'd make the rent, it was absolutely the best job I could have had. I had access to all the best music, I was meeting the noteworthy DJs and producers from around the world who came in to the shop, the party and club promoters, etc. It was incredible opportunity. For example, we used to let Danny Tenaglia come in and buy records after closing, since it was usually insanely crowded and messy during the day. I would put together stacks of all the best techno records for him and of course throw my own stuff in as well. He was really supportive actually, played my solo stuff and Smith & Selway. Then I could go to Twilo and hear him play my music on that incredible sound system with a totally packed dancefloor.
Anyway, around the time Abe was starting his down period and nearly quitting music, I was having one of my high points. I quit my day job at the record shop in 1999 and made a living just from the music and DJing. This was right after "Move", the first big Smith & Selway hit on Intec. Soon after that came my album deal with Ultra and I've been keeping up pretty well ever since.”
Skrufff: You also worked with Oliver the Horrorist back in the day: how much did you share his love of eyeliner and Goth fashions?
John Selway: “Actually Oliver and I are miles apart image wise. I've always had a more low-key image and fashion sense, and definitely was not one for eyeliner. But our musical tastes crossed over enough that we had common ground for a successful and unique collaboration. I met Oliver while at university, when some mutual friends introduced us. At the time there was practically nobody on campus doing electronic music. In my composition department, other than classical stuff, it was primarily rock and jazz. Oliver was studying political science, not music. He lived locally and had a studio set up off campus, so we got together and started experimenting with harder edged techno stuff and ended up creating the Disintegrator and Koenig Cylinders projects, put some demos around, got released on Lenny D's Industrial Strength label and that became our big entrance into the global techno scene.”
Skrufff: Oliver developed a meth problem for a while: one of your labels was called Serotonin: how hard has it been to avoid slipping into bad habits and addictions?
John Selway: “My worst habit is procrastination, actually. I've never had a substance abuse problem. In earlier days I tried things and partied a lot but nothing ever got to me in a bad way, I've kept it pretty clean and the harder stuff at arm's length. Really the only thing even close to a real vice would be my love of good whiskey and red wine, I just can't say no to those.”
Skrufff: Did calling your label Serotonin ever cause you grief with authorities?
John Selway: “Not at all, no. The motto of Serotonin was "It's What You Live For". It was only partly an ecstasy reference. The idea was to point out that it's the naturally occurring serotonin in your brain that's making you feel that way, the re-uptake of it being blocked so it builds up and creates that intense positive emotional overload. But it's not just a pill that does that, the serotonin in your brain is there whether you take a pill or not and lots of things in your life can give you that feeling. For me, music alone can create an ecstatic feeling, and that is definitely one of the things I live for.”
Skrufff: What advice would you have for any new DJs/ producers out there wanting to follow in your footsteps?
John Selway: “For the long run, think quality over quantity. Take a deep breath and spend some more time on your music before you throw it out there - there's just too much well-produced but mediocre generic crap out there (in all styles) and I think when all that burns up, what's left over is that which is honest, personal, crafted and timeless. Keep pushing and promoting yourself, but try to make sure what you are pushing is really worth it. Play music for your friends who will be honest with you about it, better yet play your stuff for people who aren't your friends. Just try to get as much constructive criticism and real world experience with it as you can before you inflict all your MySpace and Facebook contacts with hundreds of messages about your new release on your new label, or send out your demos. Take some time to try and build things in your local scene as well, don't just rely on internet social networking. Throw parties, play music with your friends, do what you are passionate about and have fun.”
John Selway & Christian Smith’s new single Mistral is out shortly on Bedrock Records.
Jonty skrufff (http://skrufff.com)