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It is now exactly 20 years since Detroit pioneer DJ Bone started his career releasing electro and house tinged techno. As he says in our conversation, “people often think of pounding, faster techno” when they hear his name but not only is his music fast, immediate, powerful – it’s also incredibly emotive. Bone’s 1999 track Shut The Lights Off starts off with a thumping 4/4 and an android voice shouting the track title as a command before a dewy, melancholic pad kicks in and the icy, robotic heart of the track starts to melt away. It’s a perfect example of how the two sides of his musical personality combine.
Last April, his life was changed forever when his mother passed away from cancer. Part of his grieving process involved going to the studio and making a song that was for her. Releasing the track that came from that time in the studio wasn’t the initial intention but his wife managed to convince him to share M.O.M. with the world. “This track shows that you can be hard and soft at the same time just like my mother taught me,” he said when it was first announced. While he’s not very interested in reaching out to many others labels that aren’t his very own Subject Detroit, he put his faith and trust in Bristol label Don’t Be Afraid.
DBA are the sole label to have anything released under Bone's alias Differ-Ent, showing how central the label are to him. Our only other glimpse into that alias is an RA podcast last year, where he went back-to-back with himself. In our conversation below, we touch upon M.O.M., his forthcoming second album, and his daughter learning the art of DJing.
You recently released a record under your Differ-Ent alias on Don’t Be Afraid, which is the only label that you’ve put anything out on using that name. How did the relationship with DBA develop?
DJ Bone: “Well DBA approached me quite a while back as they were interested in having me do a remix for them. We kept going back and forth and after some time they suggested that I do an EP instead. I really admired their catalogue, attitude and determination. I don't like releasing on other labels but I knew that if we worked together it would result in something special and I think it has.”
The record is a tribute to your mother who recently passed away which you’ve talked about a bit before, how important was making it to accepting and grieving her passing?
DJ Bone: “Honestly this record was never meant to see a release. I made this in order to help me process my emotions about what happened and was happening. I took a night to pour some emotions into the machines and this is what came out. It's always been important for me to use music as an outlet for my emotions and experiences. That's the only way I know how to produce. My wife actually convinced me to release it after hearing it over and over at home. DBA did an excellent job with respecting the song's meaning and purpose.”
How involved was your mum with your music, did you play her productions when you were piecing them together, would she ever come to see you play?
DJ Bone: “Her role in my music career happened at the very beginning. She played music for me almost every day when I was young. She taught me how to feel a song, as opposed to just listening to it. Once I knew there was a difference and that my ears could freely choose to enjoy or disregard certain sounds, I was hooked. Once I started to release music, I very rarely played her any of my productions. But I would sometimes describe them to her when we had dinner. She only saw videos of me playing and unfortunately never had the chance to see me perform in person.”
“Honestly this record was never meant to see a release. I made this in order to help me process my emotions about what happened. I took a night to pour some emotions into the machines and M.O.M. is what came out" – DJ Bone
You made a podcast for RA as DJ Bone vs. Differ-Ent but how exactly do you approach doing a back-to-back with yourself? I remember Shed did a Boiler Room this year, which was him vs. Head High and it was interesting to read about him explaining the distinction between the two.
DJ Bone: “I know that a lot of people often think of pounding, faster techno when they hear the name DJ Bone, but I'm definitely so much more that that. Anyone who truly knows me or has known me for a few years knows this. During my '90s residencies at The Shelter and at Motor in Detroit I would play four hour sets that included a lot of house and deeper Detroit techno. I think I thrive more when I play for longer as I can take the crowd on a journey.
With my back-to-back set I can draw a true distinction between my usual funky self as DJ Bone and a darker, harder, creepier entity with Differ-Ent. I like the sweet spot right in-between house and techno as DJ Bone.”
Mostly releasing music through your own Subject Detroit, you put out It’s All About/Tipping Point via Leftroom as well as another EP, what made you want to branch out onto other labels?
DJ Bone: “Leftroom approached my agent and they were looking for some of my housier stuff to release. I love really funky, danceable techno so releasing on Leftroom had an appeal to me. They also were very tenacious and wouldn't take no for an answer. They are big DJ Bone fans and run a nice independent label. I never wanted to release on any of the larger techno labels (aka the go-to's) that everyone goes to or deals with. I wanted to break new ground as well as support another true independent. It's great because they've helped me to reach a different audience that might not have been so aware of my version of what is underground.”
Back in 2009, you told RA were working on a new record that at the time was called Another Language. Are you still working on a full length follow up to 'Out Of Knowhere' and if so, what stage are you at with it?
DJ Bone: “Great memory! Yes, I'm definitely still working on that. I don't like to give myself deadlines or use release dates but I'm very sure that it will be released this year. I have a few more moments to capture for it and then it'll be finished.”
"With my back-to-back set I can draw a true distinction between my usual funky self as DJ Bone and a darker, harder, creepier entity with Differ-Ent." – DJ Bone
Having made techno records for 20 years now, what does techno and its connotations mean to you now, as opposed to when you first started out?
DJ Bone: “Techno means the same to me now as it did back then as it's only changed in how it's being created. To me techno was a rebellious, electronic, black music full of soul and emotion…and It's still that for me. As long as I can continue to express myself through music, I don't think those feelings will change. The only problem is the glut of material. There's just so much more to sift through now due to technology, digital releases and big business. But for my taste, I still want to produce new, relevant music in unconventional ways with more sounds that I continue to create myself. I know there are a lot of people who still look outside of the usual suspects of techno.”
You’ve mentioned that your daughter can DJ, is she following in your footsteps or is it something that she just does in her spare time?
DJ Bone: “My daughter's path changed a while back when she decided to pursue acting and dancing in theatre but I think she's ready to get back on the wheels now. She's been asking for some studio time lately to mix and also produce some new material. I can't wait to see and hear what she comes up with.”
You’re playing at Bloc in March, how does a set of yours at a festival compare to when you’re playing selections in a club?
DJ Bone: “The club is always more intimate no matter how big it is compared to a festival. I can get a lot deeper in a club setting, especially if it's a one-room party. At a festival it's time for the full-on DJ Bone in overdrive experience. It's a high intensity, more banging (but still funky) three-deck session. That's when I can really try my best to tear the roof off the place (figure of speech here since most festivals are outside) in the short time I have. Get ready…I've got some very special things in store for those coming to see me at Bloc.”