Features I by I 05.03.13

“It’s time for things to really change.” South London Ordnance interviews Detroit techno originator Juan Atkins

Juan Atkins interview

This Saturday, 9 March, rising producer and onetime FACT mixer South London Ordnance is supporting Model 500 and Juan Atkins in the first instalment of Bloc‘s 10-strong party series taking place in London.

Over the next four months Bloc. Series 1 will bring the likes of Omar-S, Egyptian Lover, Green Velvet, Man Parrish, Hercules (Marshall Jefferson) and Shackleton the UK capital, and host label showcases for L.I.E.S. and 50 Weapons. The first party features a double-dose of Juan Atkins: the Detroit techno originator will DJ solo as well as performing live with his Model 500 group. For more information and tickets, visit bloclondon.com.

Ahead of the night, Bloc put South London Ordnance (pictured right) in touch with Atkins so that he could ask the godfather of modern electronic music questions about his approach to production and the relationship between art and technology. This is what went down.


“The evolution in software means a lot of people that shouldn’t be making music are now making music.”


South London Ordnance: The stuff you can do on a laptop these days is mad – thousands of pounds of studio gear all crammed into a tiny box on your desk. Do you think too much choice has had a negative effect on electronic dance music? And that the way in which one can potentially do “anything” with a signal has in fact sucked the soul and energy out of a lot of tracks?

Juan Atkins: “No I can’t agree with technology or computers or software programs sucking life out of music. On the other hand, the computer – or I guess software – evolution has enabled a lot of musicians, a lot of people, to make music that otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Therefore a lot of people that shouldn’t be making music are now making music. I mean, that’s the downside. The upside is that you have a lot more creativity, a lot more ideas coming to the table. That’s what I’m interested in. I’m more interested in the positive and good ideas that come from technology as opposed to the people that aren’t talented or that have no skill just doing it to try to make money, or because they can. You have to take the bitter with the sweet, I guess.”

SLO: What’s more important to you when it comes to music, and art in general I guess – the idea or the quality of the execution? Are the two inherently linked?

JA: “I think it’s all important. The idea is just as important as the quality of the execution. A good idea can be executed badly. And I think a bad idea can be greatly executed as well. It doesn’t necessarily make that bad idea a good one. I guess you do have to have a good idea to start from. You should try to have a good idea and a great execution. That’s the apex, that’s the utopian situation, anyway.”


“The digital sampler changed the way music was made, especially electronic dance music.”


SLO: Is music a multi sensory experience for you?

JA: “Yes it is a multi-sensory experience, I think you can feel music just as well as you can hear it. And I think sometimes you can create a vision – you can take your mind and visualise certain things with a piece of music. You can close your eyes and travel any place.”

SLO: I have a very visual mind, I “see” a lot shapes when I’m making beats, and often imagine tracks in particular colours. Can you relate to any of that?

JA: “Yeah…I’m down with that.”

How do you reckon the industry itself has changed since you’ve been involved?

“I started back in the mid-80s, and of course a lot has changed. I think that advancements in technology and different programs and software and hardware definitely have had an impact on the tracks and sounds that have been made since then. In the early 80s there wasn’t even the digital sampler – it was the late 80s before that came along. And it sort of changed the way music was made, especially for electronic dance music.”


“Back in the day, in the mid-80s, when there weren’t independent labels, when there was no internet, it was a big thing to have your record heard on the radio.”


SLO: What effect do you think the internet has had on our relationship with music, especially with the tracks themselves – traditionally tangible artefacts, now more often than not MP3’s etc?

JA: “I think a good track is a good track, no matter what the medium. A good track should be enjoyable whether it’s an mp3, a WAV, a CD or a vinyl. I still like to think of a track – the music – first. That’s comes first to me, not the medium that it will be delivered in. I think it’s still possible to be creative with modern technology – the technology just speeds up the process, basically.”

Can you recall a moment in your life thus far that you think had a particularly profound effect on your relationship with electronic music?

JA: “Just in terms of technological developments, the digital sampler definitely had a profound effect. It might not seem like a big thing to a lot of people now, but people who were making music prior to the existence of the digital sampler can understand the ramifications of being able to digitise any type of sound, from anywhere, and play it on your keyboard. That was a huge leap forward for making electronic music.

“Also the first time I heard my music played on the radio by Electrifyin’ Mojo – back in the day, in the mid-80s, when there weren’t independent labels, when there was no internet, it was a big thing to have your record heard on the radio. And that event probably changed the course of dance music, in a way. What that did for my creative drive and for my psyche – it was a shot of confidence, it was an accomplishment that gave me the strength and the perseverance to carry on. It made me realise that it could work, that people heard this music and they fell in love with it. So it was definitely the catalyst for the whole Detroit techno movement.”


“We’ve been stuck in this cycle of 2D images, speaker to the ear and DJ or band on stage. I think it’s time for that to open up and things to really change.”


What’s next for you? Where do you reckon you’ll take your music over the next few years?

“Rebuilding the Metroplex label with more artists, and more diverse artists other than Model 500 and a couple of collaborations. M040 should be being released soon, we just finished all of the mixes for that. I’m currently involved with some different presentation endeavours that will allow myself to showcase on a larger scale new advancements in…digital presentation, I guess you could say for lack of a better way. I’ll leave it at that – keep your eyes open for that.

“The multimedia stuff is coming together more so than ever now – I think myself and any future artist probably should have a multimedia aspect to their presentation. Different ways of perceiving music – audio and visual together. It’s something that hasn’t been stimulated that much so far. We’ve been stuck in this cycle of 2D images, speaker to the ear and DJ or band on stage. I think it’s time for that to open up and things to really change on that level. I can’t go into any more detail now within the parameters of this interview, you just have to follow Juan Atkins. Follow Juan Atkins. Thank you very much.”


We’ve got two tickets to give away for Saturday’s Bloc party with Juan Atkins, Model 500 and South London Ordnance; to enter the draw, simply email your name and the words ‘Bloc Juan Atkins’ to competitions@thevinylfactory.com. Our winner will be notified by midday on Friday.




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