Interview Jeff Mills Part II
“If I was on a major label I couldn’t have done what I’m doing now”
Jeff Mills needs no introduction. Always inspiring, always refreshing, always looking for new ways to connect electronic music and techno with all day life to show that electronic music is not just for the dancefloor but has something to say. Next week Jeff Mills will add another chapter to his special projects and initiatives when he will be locked up for five hours in the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam during ADE. Part I of this interview was published last week. In part II of this big ADE interview Jeff Mills will talk about political notions in electronic music, ADE, his first time in Amsterdam and his Time Tunnel party in Warehouse 22 at ADE.
Is it possible to produce electronic music without vocals with a political notion in it?
Yeah, I used to do that in more apparent ways in the older days of the 90’s. But that was the time of the Berlin Wall coming down and Underground Resistance and stuff like that. The messages in those tracks were more subtle and now they are much broader.
I’ve learned it’s almost impossible to know who’s listening to your music nowadays, even with social media and people networking and feedback and likes. So the messages in the music became broader, about subjects as space for example. Space is something everybody can relate to, if they want or not. The future is also something everybody can relate to. If you’re living you’ve something to do with tomorrow. So the subjects got wider but they are maybe even more political in certain ways.
A lot of these things are about considering or seeing things in different perspectives. So, for example, on the Exhibitionist CD I’m using the drum machine differently than most people use that machine. You know, it’s a machine everybody knows, but I’m using it in a way to say something. I’m playing the knobs like I’m playing an instrument. It’s a nod to the idea we should assume everything has been done and we should look at some things more closely. I guess most people never see me do that so graphically, by showing it from multiple angles. My hope is you understand this is something I’m doing because I have the freedom to make electronic music. I mean, maybe if I was an artist on a major label or I had something to lose, maybe I wouldn’t have done that. Maybe I would have given people something they expected. But with the Exhibitionist 2 I’m showing I’m able to do what I can do because of that freedom.
I still have enough confidence that when something different and unique has been done and we’re allowed to show the people, that probably something good will come from it, at some point. So someone will take that idea and take it much further than I have done. And as a result of that, we move forward. You know, I play next to young DJs all the time, every week and I know it’s a bit more difficult for an aspiring DJ or producer to get something out of it than when I started. That’s why we could get much further if we show each other what can be done. I’m confident a lot of them are capable of taking it further.
Have you ever made music that was inspired by ADE or the city of Amsterdam?
No, I never made music inspired by ADE (laughs), nor the city of Amsterdam. I have made music inspired by other cities like Berlin, Prague, Tokyo and Detroit of course. But that’s also because I’ve never spent a good amount of time there in Amsterdam. Not more than two days. So all these years, all these decades, I’ve only been in and out. Certain areas of the city I know a bit, but I’ve always only been there from the early afternoon till the early morning.
Do you remember your first time in Amsterdam?
Yes, I remember. That was with an Underground Resistance tour, a tour of Germany, Amsterdam and Belgium. And yeah, we drove a van (laughs), and we had a very small apartment somewhere off the canals. We performed in the RoXy then. I remember we got there and they didn’t have the equipment we needed so I had to dj. So I played a dj set there and after that we went to the hotel and we were so tired we thought ‘let’s leave our equipment in the van and get it out in the morning’. Next morning all our equipment was stolen from the van (laughs). Luckily for us it was at the end of the tour. I remember from that first time we had some meetings with labels like Go Bang! and some distributors near the Central Station, and I think I also met Steve Rachmad then for the first time. He was roommate with Derrick May back at that time, it was somewhere around 1991 I think.
Are there any locations over here where you would really like to do something similar to your Rembrandt House project?
Well, there’s something interesting about the water that runs through the city. I’m not Dutch, but do people there realize how interesting this water is? I think that if you grow up around water, whether it’s a small amount or a canal, it must have a certain type of atmosphere, knowing there’s something always flowing. A natural resource that’s flowing in front of you, that’s alive.
You know, it’s like people that grow up in between high rise apartments, so no houses, just high rise apartments. That must create a certain type of atmosphere because you grow up at floor seventeen and your friends live at floor thirteen or forty-eight C. So you think vertically instead of horizontally. I would imagine there must be some sort of mentality that happens with the flow of the water through the city. There must be a special relationship with such a natural resource. So it could be interesting to emphasize the way water moves throughout the city and the effect of it.
What’s your opinion about ADE now? How do you see the future of this mass-event?
I think that they’ve really locked into something. For sure, it was so desperately needed to have a conference. There hasn’t really been much like that in the past that was really taken seriously. ADE literally serves all kinds of electronic music, so it’s hardly shocking so many people visit it. But it’s strange if you see how electronic music grew the last decade and there are still no other symposiums or conferences like this. There’s some secret in what they are doing and we should all appreciate it and support it. There seems to be a good balance between what happens by day and happens in the night there, if you compare that with festivals like Sonar for example where the night overtook the day.
Aren’t you afraid that it’s becoming too big or it will become some kind of Ibiza-like experience?
No, I think they are conscious of the fact of the percentage of growth. And with that you don’t let the place just bust up the scene. You have to accommodate the amount of growth and split it out so you can still get around. But they’ve been doing this for so long now they perfectly understand what is needed. It should be flexible with the people they can accommodate, whether more or less. But I’m confident those guys have it together.
You will also present your Time Tunnel concept at the 16th of October in Warehouse 22. Tell us more about that.
Well, it’s all concept. Technically it’s a party, a dj set. It’s all directed towards very specific reasons, the music, the production, the lights and everything like that. Every hour is dedicated to a certain time in place and space. So it gives me reason to play more styles of music for the duration of that event.
So every hour I have the opportunity to change the format of the music, and that can be anything at anytime and anywhere. So it can be the year 5595 out in space at some point. And of course, we don’t have music from that time but I have to make it then as if it would be 5595 at that moment. Or, we can go back all to the year 150 BC, Mesopotamia. The sound will be more tribal then with some sounds of string instruments that were not so advanced. I can try to imagine that and then we try to modify it in a way that it all sounds like a mix together.
I created this concept because I thought it would be interesting to have a night that kind of broke away from the idea the music sounds the same for like six or seven hours. That if I would make every hour different, I might just well have a very mixed audience, because they are aware of that anything can happen. So one hour disco, the next hour you’re listening to the darkest techno you could ever imagine, the next hour could be salsa or could be jazz or it could be new wave or it could be country. It could be anything, so it will be listening to music unconditionally.
Sounds a bit like The Wizard.
Yeah, well that was what I was paid to do back then, but my only criterion back then was that it had to be happening at the same time. So my job was to play anything that was happening in the streets, but in this case it just can be anything. It can be in the future, it can be the present, it can be in the past. So for seven hours my plan is for every hour to go back and forth in time, to experience sometimes very bizarre things, but in the end it’s all fun. Seven hours seems like a long time but when you are changing the music every sixty minutes it can go really quickly.
Txt: Colin Kraan // Imgs: Jeff Mills archive & 909