“How important is image? Quite important. Some see this as good, some bad, but the fact of the matter is that it is all part of the evolution of the DJ / Producer / Electronic Live performer. Resistance is futile.”
Managing John Selway’s acclaimed underground techno label CSM since 2005, Brooklyn raised Berliner Dave Turov remains at the heart of underground club culture as a DJ, producer and more recently marketing man.Setting up one stop DJ management agency PullProxy in October in Berlin last year (he’s Pulllproxy’s General Manager and booker, while business partner Philipp handles publicity), he’s involved in promoting the likes of Jamie Anderson, Terence Fixmer, Speedy J and others and has more than a few views about the importance of branding. http://www.pullproxy.com “With so many DJs/producers/etc today and the flattened hierarchy of the Internet, it’s harder to stand out. Unless you are one of the top 10-20 producers who reach their audiences regardless of press and promotion, in my opinion your marketing plan and brand are almost as important as your skill and style,” he suggests.Born in Uzbekistan in the 70s and growing up in Brooklyn, he first made his name on the underground techno circuit of 90s New York, spinning alongside the likes of Abe Duque, Adam X, John Selway and Frankie Bones, going on to promote parties featuring many of the same names. While the likes of Abe Duque crossed over occasionally into Michael Alig’s club kid world the predominant ethos of the scene was about music, though today he’s under no such illusions.“The costs of entry to being a DJ are substantially lower these days, digital DJing costs a fifth of what vinyl does, and tracks are much more readily available so consequently there are more people who want to be pro DJs,” he notes.“International media and DJ promotion lists are also now more accessible to more DJs so there’s more competition; this makes image and marketing more important. Just as globalization has forced companies to compete on a global level, so too with DJs. In the end, I think competition is always good and pushes the whole industry forward.” Scrolling through Dave’s own press pictures, he’s notable for favouring a Russian style bearskin fur hat and wild facial hair, though he pleads circumstance rather than carefully constructed design.“The hat I got from my grandfather recently after he passed, otherwise I don't wear fur other than my beard,” he insists.“What’s the attraction of facial hair? No idea, ask a fashion person. For me, my genetics dictate that I will never be an Olympic athlete but I can grow facial hair like gangbusters, so I was set when that came into fashion. Who likes shaving? Before the beard I was kinda’ famous (infamous?) for my handlebar moustache. It’s just fun. I have a big nose that I try to minimize with facial-adornment-based misdirection,” he laughs.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) Starting with your label CSM and where you’re at musically: your online biog mentions jazz-techno: what’s the appeal of jazz: what does jazz techno actually mean?
Dave Turov: “I have always loved jazz. My dad is really into jazz (which was contraband in the USSR because it was distinctly American) so I started hearing it from a young age. Its appeal for me was based on its swing, its personal interpretation by performers, and improvisation; It’s truly a ‘live’ medium. To me, jazz-techno is techno that evokes a jazz feel, either it its swing, style, or instrumentation. Obviously this isn't a strict classification, but to my ears there is much jazz has in common with techno: its emphasis on experimentation and the DIY culture of both genres. But that’s where the similarities stop. Jazz can be much more complex than techno.
Skrufff: What’s your perception of what styles of music are most popular in Berlin right now? Is minimal a term your marketing agency Pullproxy uses?
Dave Turov: “I think we have evolved past minimal. In my opinion minimal has always been just another word for tech-house. Most producer friends of mine that have been around for longer than 5 years tend to agree. I also think the minimal Berlin sound was a natural progression from the minimal-house that proceeded it and deserves no special attention stylistically. Its significances rests more in the way that minimal became so popular so quickly, and how its sound aesthetic lended itself so easily to the predominant production method during that period: Ableton Live.
As in the 1980s, the sound cannot be considered alone but should be looked at in context with the production technology of its day. Those years where minimal was dominant, say 2005-2008, PCs finally got to the point were they became fast and cheap enough that productions could easily be done entirely in the box. With the production prerequisite bar lowered, that further lead to the democratization of music production. With the cost of entry lowered, a popular sound that is by definition limited, and the general move to the web that the music press and promo made, I believe that this constellation of factors lead to the dominance, and later oversaturation, that we saw of minimal.
What’s popular today in Berlin? Grandaddy House in all its flavours always has been and always will be big in Berlin and beyond. Perhaps equally (depending on what time period), techno can be considered in the same way. If anything, I think that techno, albeit with a slower BPM than in the late 90s, is on the upswing and where we are going at the moment.”
Skrufff: Why are there so many DJs in Berlin playing almost identical styles (of often indistinguishable tracks?)
Dave Turov: “Good question, but one that’s not so easily answered. To me, when I lived in New York, sets were more about how deep your crate went than how new your records were. So we all tried to dig deeper and expand minds and cover much more musical ground. And most of the time the New York City audience rewarded such efforts. When I moved to Berlin in 2003, I found the opposite. It seemed to me that the audiences, despite the fact that they tended to have clubbing in their blood from a young age, were comparatively less musically ‘educated’ and less interested in how deep your crate went. Instead they expected to hear a specific sound and got fairly perturbed when they didn't get it. So somehow, despite its reputation as the liberal centre of electronic dance music in the mid-late 2000s, Berlin's audiences were, in general, not really interested in experimentation or expansion of their musical repertoire.“
Skrufff: It’s been seven years since you moved to Berlin: how much has the club scene and city changed since then? How much has more and more internationals moving over increased competition? Made it harder to survive as a producer/ DJ (if at all?)
Dave Turov: “Berlin has changed a lot in some ways, in others not so much. When I first arrived in 2003, not speaking German mattered, and there were not many English-speaking expatriates. My first two years here, until I was functional in German were pretty hard and isolated. Now I speak less German than 5 years ago. In that sense Berlin has become more foreigner friendly, with even the Imbiss workers schooled in enough English to take your order minus hot sauce, but that is just the periphery. Sure we all have better internet connections now (for the first 2 years I had ZERO internet at home), more food options, and a bigger influx of international tourists. But in relation to the underground music scene, things have changed more significantly.
The most apparent change has been club audiences. It used to be that after being around for a while, you knew at least 1/2 of the people at any given party. Now I'm lucky if I recognize 10 people, and that's only Sundays at Pbar, things have gotten a lot less personal. The other change has been the gradual move to more club parties and less illegal venue parties. Sunday after hours options are more limited, and that fresh feeling of being at that ‘special party’ seems to be a rarer event.”
DJ-wise, Berlin is perhaps the most competitive place in the world. I remember laughing with some friends, we were at a party, and we realized that at least ½ the people there were DJs themselves. But there are also a lot of venues. When many from the electronic music scene centralized here over the past 6 years, of course that made things more competitive, but perhaps only marginally. For a time I think it had more of the effect of maybe ‘spoiling’ Berlin audiences and making parties very line-up dependent.”
Skrufff: Berghain is still rammed whereas more than a few other big clubs seem often to be empty: what makes Berghain so popular? What does it have that the others don’t?
Dave Turov: “OK, that’s an easy one. Firstly, it's run by professionals who have a long and storied history in Berlin and know what they are doing. Secondly it’s 1/2 gay, and no one parties or brings energy like gay men. Third it’s a big industrial space (very Berlin) with a big sound system. And fourth, parties go on for so long that even if you have a bad time you don’t remember. Musically their bookings are pretty consistent and they are not afraid of techno. Finally techno is on the upswing again, feeding back into their success loop.”
Skrufff: You’ve recently launched your management agency Pullproxy: how are you prioritising between business stuff and promoting yourself as an artist/ DJ?
Dave Turov: “To be honest, right now I’m having trouble balancing those two, for the last six months I’ve effectively had two full time jobs: PullProxy by day and music by night. That resulted in a cranky, tired me. But hey what can you do? When you run your own business there is no-one to take on stuff if you don't, and the repercussions are yours to bare. Thankfully I have Philipp to run the company with. Since we officially launched in October of '09, I have prioritized PullProxy first and my own music career second. I'm working my damnedest to help get PullProxy to a point where I can work on it 3-4 days a week and work on music the rest of the time. If I don’t get there I’m not sure what I'll do, become an insomniac probably.”
Skrufff: How does the reality of Berlin match people’s perceptions of if from the outside?
Dave Turov: “I’m not sure about other peoples perceptions, I can only elaborate on my own. When I moved to Berlin, I expected more of a Russian influence, a permanent footprint of the past that was so deeply intertwined that peristoika and the fall of the wall could not simply erase. Part of this was ignorance of course. East Germany was East Germany, not West Russia. The traces are still here, just not as pronounced as I expected. My favourite spot in all of Berlin is the Treptow Russian War Memorial. I expected the whole of East Berlin to be like that.
Musically, I expected Berlin to be more techno. When I packed my record bags before I left Berlin, it was mostly fairly aggressive techno of that period. When I got here, there weren’t that many venues playing that sound. In a way though, I didn’t have many expectations, and I felt strangely at home. Berlin in some ways symbolized my life: East-West, the actual border. In the states I often lived on that East-West edge, not Russian enough to be Russian, and not American enough to be American.”
Skrufff: You were born in Uzbekistan: do you ever go back?
Dave Turov: “No. My family ended up there as a result of being displaced by war and their hometowns being pretty much destroyed. Half of my grandparents were evacuated from the Ukraine in 1941, the other half were in the Red Army. There was no war in Uzbekistan, and no Jews to lure Hitler. About 3 million people were evacuated from the Eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, mostly professionals and Jews that somehow got out of serving in the Red Army. That’s how my family ended up there. We are not ethnically Uzbek. In the early 1990s, after the fall of the central Soviet government, things got pretty dicey (dangerous). Some Uzbeks became nationalistic and anti-Semitic. Lots of "foreigners" were kicked out. Partly as a result the economy collapsed.
Since then pretty much all of our remaining family and friends have left. Also Tashkent has been mostly rebuilt and is hard to recognize for other family friends who went back to visit. Finally, my parents LEFT, as in, ‘we’re getting the hell outta’ here’ if you catch my drift. Taken together, all this means that we don’t have much of a connection with Uzbekistan, and to me (we left when I was 4 years old) it was just where I was born, displaced by war, like millions of others. I should add that I considered going back just long enough so I could attend the Olympics representing Uzbekistan in some obscure sport that wouldn’t give me a heart attack during competition.”
Skrufff: The president of Uzbekistan is notorious for killing rivals by boiling them alive?: how many giant saucepans do you own? Or giant frying pans?
Dave Turov: Ruthless Dictator. 'nuff said.”
Skrufff: Are Uzbekistani’s keen communal tea drinkers? (is an invitation to tea seen as in any way ominous?)
Dave Turov: You funny. Sadly I don’t know much about Uzbek culture, but I do know its close to Turkish, as is the language. After living in Kreutzberg for the last 6 years, I can confidently say yes, Uzbeks are communal tea drinkers, as are Russians. We drank a lot of tea. We still do.”
Dave Turov's 'Useful EP' (CSM020) is out on CSM on April 22.
Wiki on Death by boiling: ‘This penalty was carried out using a large cauldron filled with water, oil, tar, tallow or even molten lead. Sometimes the victim was immersed, the liquid then being heated, or he was plunged into the already boiling contents, usually head first.
The executioner could then help speed their demise by means of a large hook with which he sank the criminal deeper. An alternative method was to use a large shallow receptacle rather than a cauldron; oil, tallow or pitch then being poured in. The victim was then partially immersed in the liquid and fried to death . . .”)
Jonty Skrufff (http://skrufff.com) : Follow Jonty on Twitter