The amount of producers releasing groundbreaking material may have diminished but of those that remain innovation is still a key component of their work. In small pockets the US scene is still shining brightly. Jon Tejada has consistently been peerless in his productions; Bryan Zentz still remains a genuine musical professor and Dirty Bird Records is shaping up to be one of the most exciting tech based labels around. And one of the biggest stars of the contemporary techno scene is Matthew Dear - who interestingly represents the unique combination of both US and European sounds.
Texan born, and based in Detroit, Matthew's music, like that of the many European minimal producers currently enjoying the limelight, has been influenced by early US techno before evolving into its own movement. However, despite his location Dear's Detroit influences developed later in his career - a development that demonstrates the ongoing importance of American techno music in contemporary production.
Matthew Dear has made remarkable steps towards becoming one of the best techno artists in current circulation - at the relatively young age of 27. Between his stunning live performances and evolved DJ sets, Matthew has perked the ears of the industry's best since signing to Ghostly International in 1999 and has gone on to become a true innovator in his field. Despite his place in the upper echelons of techno music, the legacy that surrounds Detroit is never far away from the core the artist. However, his respect of the scene and his healthy approach to the origins of techno appear to have allowed him to expand beyond the Motor City and it's musical web.
"In the beginning, when I first started making music, electronic music, I knew about Detroit's history and I respected it... but to be honest I wasn't one of those guys that would try to out do you with facts on the forefathers. In retrospect I think that was a good thing - I didn't obsess over it so that it would hinder me from going forward. " Matthew says.
This fresh vision has allowed the producer to create his own path, disconnected from the producers that came before him. This detachment has enabled him to learn about the history of his home city and techno as a genre from a comparative level.
"Now I'm learning more, I'm an open sponge for information. Its just such a history here that you can't compete with it, you can only help or maybe add to it. I've never stated that I'm a Detroit artist and I'm not trying to take what they have done before and use it for my credit'. Reflects Matthew. 'I don't think a lot of people are around here. It's an honour to be part of this, to be involved in this city. I have lived downtown for the last two and a half years now and I have seen the remnants of this scene and the community that still exists. It's an amazing thing to feel even if you go to a small bar and just see a local DJ playing, the chances are he knows what he is representing and what city he is from. It's an amazing privilege to be part of Detroit. "
In the case of Matthew Dear the delayed influence of Detroit reinforces the argument that America is still a crucial component in shaping modern techno. Matthew's mainstream profile further cements this argument, and also displays why his case study is a suitable representation of the techno community from a generic perspective. His second artist album 'Backstroke' followed 'Leave Luck to Heaven' and was accompanied by mainstream praise.
"It was a strange influx when you see that a different side of press and a different musical community starts to recognise what you are doing as an electronic artist. It happened before with artists like Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers getting really big in America, so I guess it comes in cycles. I'm in no way trying to compare myself to that, I'm just saying that music has an influx every now and then where it peaks out just over the cliff and someone can see it and a couple of people like these big magazines and these big TV shows pick up on it".
It could be argued that there is little benefit of mainstream press attention apart from for the artists and labels bank balance. The mainstream press have a limited understanding of the internal mechanisms of electronic music and crudely evaluate the scene from the outside looking in. So when magazines like Rolling Stone, NME and Spin report on artists like Matthew Dear it does very little for the representation of techno as a musical movement. However, Matthew himself is able to see past this, and is more in touch with the tactile artist and audience relationship.
"As long as the music is good there is no reason why it shouldn't be seen by millions of people". Matthew reiterates.
That said, it is more important that dance music publications cover artists of Matthew Dear's calibre. Matthew's rise has been a joy to witness, whether by simply buying his records, seeing him live, or reading his glowing press reports in both the States and throughout Europe. During this time his strong relationship with Ghostly International has been a crucial platform for creative production.
"I met Sam (Sam Valenti - founder of Ghostly) over seven or eight years ago, so we've know each other for a long time, before Ghostly International started. He had seen me play live at a small party in our college town of Ann Arbor and from that first meeting we created this bond where we shared music together. He shared his ideas of starting a label and said he would like to put out some of my music. It was definitely just a good relationship, where I could always show him what I was working on and he would always give me an honest opinion of what he liked and what he didn't like, and what was worth putting out". Reflects Matthew.
Ghostly was conceived in Valenti's college dorm in 1999 with Matthew Dear as the label's first artist. It was the start of a productive partnership, that later incorporated the sub label Spectral, where experimentation was encouraged and developed.
"It is the most amazing thing about Ghostly, about working with him (Sam), that I can show him whatever I make, whether it's me strumming a six string guitar and singing pop tunes or something, and I don't have to hold back. I think that if I had come into this as a solo artist - without this brotherhood at the label I would be afraid to show somebody these creative projects. But when I show Sam, he'll give suggestions and I can evolve off that and build that into something. It is a great relationship when it is open and based on trust".
The continuous support Dear has received personally from Sam Valenti and from Ghostly and Spectral as labels has resulted in some of the most creative and experimental techno albums of recent times. The application of vocals on both 'Leave Luck to Heaven' and 'Backstroke' demonstrated an innovative approach to electronic music that would not have been possible on less supportive platforms.
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A strong artist-label relationship enabled Matthew to add further complexity to his production profile through his Audion guise. The stronger and darker techno material on 'Suckfish' illustrated Dear's precise understanding of the dancefloor, but tracks like 'Kisses' and 'The Pong' still integrated more experimental components with the heavy 4/4 beats and synth waves. Again, it is doubtful if this approach would have been nurtured within a less creative label environment.
The success Matthew Dear is experiencing through his Audion profile is profound. 'Suckfish' was critically acclaimed by specialist journalists as well as once again within some sections of the mainstream media - and tracks like 'Just Fucking' have been, and still are, played by top class DJ's like Slam, Lee Burridge, Ivan Smagghe and Michael Mayer. As further evidence of his present relevant, Dear's Audion guise has recently been showcased on the Fabric CD series and he is currently embarking on an exciting tour that will take in (amongst many other locations) Detroit, Chicago, Berlin and Barcelona. The Spectral Sound showcase at the Sonar festival will feature Matthew, accompanied by Body Code and Ryan Elliot, and has the potential to be one of the highlights of Europe's premier electronic festival. This show and the tour in general will be an exciting prospect for fans of Matthew's varied musical styles, and for fans of DJ technology and creativity.
"With so much going on now in terms of computers being involved in DJ sets, with CDs, loopers and samplers I guess I'm using less vinyl than when I first started out. I still use Final Scratch technology that allows me to play records at the same time as digital files. For my Fabric mix I was able to use different technologies, which is reflective of how I play live. I used Ableton Live and a control mixer by Allen and Heath that allows you to control loops live and Ableton files, as well as any file on my computer. I also used vinyl and a Peavy Loope". Enthuses Dear.
The boundaries between the studio and the DJ booth are quickly being removed thanks to software advancements like Ableton, and hardware interface investment from industry leaders Allen and Heath. Despite the divisions becoming less prominent there still remains a unique and hard to define relationship between each discipline.
Matthew agrees. "DJ-ing and producing both hold very high places in my heart and in the way that I work. Before I started DJ-ing I remember everyone saying that everyone is a DJ and that everyone wanted to be a DJ. I said, well I'd rather make the music that goes on the records rather than learning how to actually play the records. So I concentrated on the live set and bought in synthesizers and samplers while my friends were going off to DJ and buy records. But the more I DJ-ed I realised that when you learn, you can take a lot of things that you apply to your live music and productions. Right now it's a really good balance. I like to DJ because it keeps me buying new records from new artists and it keeps me up to date with what is new and fresh - which I then take home to the studio and apply".
Matthew has touched on the core of what techno music, and electronic music in general, means to the majority of its consumers. Buying records and finding and supporting new artists is one of the fundamental joys in being a fan of electronic music. And from this initial reference being able to absorb these new and exciting sounds, then attempting to create your own sound and identity - whether by DJ-ing or through production is the single most important process that keeps techno evolving and developing. It is what makes it so important to so many people around the world - including Matthew Dear and his various disguises.
For further information on Matthew Dear and Ghostly International visit:
Special credit goes to Matthew and all at Ghostly, and Fabric (especially Danna Hawley) for kindly allowing us to produce this article.