We catch up with MUTEK 2012 act DANUEL TATE to discuss stepping into the spotlight and the development of his musical abilities
Dimitri Nasrallah - May 07, 2012
A longtime member of West Coast electronic-impov groups Cobblestone Jazz and The Modern Deep Left Quartet, Danuel Tate has played an important (if occasionally overshadowed) role in the evolution of the musical community around the Wagon Repair label. In 2010, after years of collaborating with Mathew Jonson, The Mole and Tyger Dhula, he finally stepped out on his own with his solo debut album, Mexican Hotbox. The record had all the rhythmic hallmarks at the core of his other projects, cementing Tate’s affinity for the jazzier, more melodic elements of house music.
Since then, Tate has begun to spread his wings. A solo performance at MUTEK 2011’s closing night turned an unsuspecting audience into a sweaty frenzy in just over an hour. His versatility with the keyboard belies a childhood love for the piano. These abilities are also the most tangible thrills of his live sets, adapting to turn a room on its head at a moment’s notice.
Danuel Tate returns once again to the MUTEK stage this year, for an outdoor daytime engagement as part of Red Bull Music Academy’s Experience 4 showcase.
Your live set at last year's MUTEK stole the show for many people. How was it from your point of view? Are all audience reactions generally like that one was?
All audiences and playing situations are different. A couple of months ago in Lyon, a woman got excited and she reached over the booth and cranked the EQs to 10, which put everything in the reds. Everyone went crazy, so I left them there and it sounded great!
How is it that it's taken so long for you to step out from Cobblestone Jazz/Modern Deep Left Quartet perform solo electronic sets?
I love playing with those guys. My stuff was always secondary. I love the friendships and sharing success. I felt I would learn more playing with them than by myself. I believe I was right. Everyone in these groups brings a different strength, which we call upon to find new sounds, so the group dynamic is very easy for us now.
Obviously, you've got some formal musicianship in your past. A lot of producers don't necessarily come with such skills. How do your abilities with instruments affect the way you perceive techno, both in a live and recorded context?
Yes, I have a relationship with the keyboard, and DJs have a relationship with turntables or computers or whatever. Musicianship is having the courage to share. There are no lessons, no better or worse. If you make music, that's enough. Each show for me is different, because I use a different rig. I always have a Rhodes, a keyboard and a vocoder, but all the other gear changes from show to show.
I'm really excited about the rig I'm getting together for MUTEK next month. I am going to use a single track, which comes from live my keyboard and my hands. There will be no preconceived sequences, only arpeggiators, and I'll play the whole set off a single VST (virtual studio technology) in Renoise. This is what I'm working on.
How early on did musicianship enter your life? What are your early musical memories, and what formative experiences helped define you as a musician?
“Sam”, I think it was called, on Commodore 64, when I was 9 years old. It was a program that you could type in text and it would speak. My brother and I would crack up. “I can talk like a little old lady,” it would say. I also made MIDI compositions for my elementary-school music teacher, Mrs. Wright, for music badges. Then, I would give her the music. I was just learning what all the notations meant. She would play them on the piano for the class and me. I knew I would play piano then, but all I had was a tiny cheap Casio sampling keyboard.
I remember learning the trumpet solo from the end of a Run DMC record that had trumpet on it, and also learning [Run DMC’s] “Can You Rock It Like This?” and stuff. A few years later, my dad bought a piano, and I started learning. He taught me some things, and then I got right into it and had the most amazing teachers along the way. I still do.
How would you describe the music community on the West Coast while you were growing up?
There was and always will be an endless supply of ultra-creative individuals on the West Coast who care about people. They seem to stick together, whether they’re artists, musicians, writers, or whatever.
When and how did you begin working with Mathew Jonson, Colin de la Plante (The Mole), and Patrick Simpson – the guys who make up Cobblestone Jazz and Modern Deep Left Quartet with you?
The first six years (1998-2004) of us playing together had everything to do with performing. It didn't even enter our minds to record anything. We just wanted to write sets for the parties or club nights.
What do you have in the works these days, or what are you most excited about from your current roster of activities?
I'm playing on one of Deadbeat's new records, and there is a remix of a Blue Fields (Mike Shannon’s new project) song coming out on Haunt. This summer, I'm touring solo in Europe and with Cobblestone Jazz, as well as finishing up our third album for !K7.