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Interview: Dave Clarke, Baron of Techno (and swearing)

The British DJ has been producing uncompromising techno and electro beats since the early ‘90s – and now has his very own Waves Toolkit

Once dubbed ‘The Baron of Techno’ by legendary UK DJ John Peel, Dave Clarke has been producing muscular, uncompromising techno and electro beats since the early ‘90s. Such is his influence, Daft Punk even name-checked him on their album track Teachers.

Originally from Brighton, UK, Clarke relocated to Amsterdam in 2008, where he has been building his ideal studio ever since.

Recently, he’s been collaborating on remixes with Jonas Uittenbosch (aka Mr Jones) under the moniker [unsubscribe], while still travelling extensively for his DJing appearances. Every week, Clarke’s taste in techno can be heard via his White Noise radio show and podcast. “It’s just been [syndicated] to the official radio station of the Portuguese Air Force in the Azores,” he says, “so if anyone’s angry over the mid-Atlantic, it’s my fault.”

Earlier this year, Clarke put his name to the third Waves EMP Toolkit, a collection of effects designed to aid dance producers. His choice includes API 560, Scheps 73, Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter, LoAir, MetaFlanger, Kramer Master Tape and Dorrough Stereo.

How’s your studio on the Dutch barge?
I’ve finished it to a point where I feel really happy with it. The last things to change, apart from the air conditioning, were the speakers. I’d been using Tannoy Ellipse monitors since the Devil’s Advocate [2003] and Archive One [1996] albums, and they just weren’t cutting it any more. They were good but you just couldn’t hear any dense mixes and the midrange was a little bit lacking.

I moved over to ATC, finally, [with] a decent monitor controller, the Cranesong Avocet – although a separate volume control for the headphones would be kind of nice. I needed some smaller monitors as well, so I went for a little British company called Neat, who do a tiny monitor with a ribbon tweeter which sounds incredible.

The final thing was to get the Towersonic stands – I was using the Argosy ones with the acoustic isolators; they just weren’t cutting it with the weight of the ATCs. The Towersonics are fantastic.

So I feel, OK, I’m there.

But, honestly, we are at the stage where we are mixing down and I don’t need to reference the mixes on other speakers any more, because everything is in place and the sound translates. It’s scary changing monitors but the ATCs became very quick to know.

I had issues with the computer for a while, it wasn’t powerful enough, but now I can throw anything at it, and the DSP hardly ticks over.

I think the next think is to change my final mastering compressor: I have a secondhand Focusrite Blue 330 which reminds me of the Blue 230 [I used to have]… it’s nice but it’s just not there, so I’m thinking about the Cranesong STC8M.

How long have you been building the studio?
About five or six years. It’s the only place where I can fully allow my OCD to take control: I really enjoy embracing that geekiness. I’ve had these cables handmade made in Japan – with ridiculous medical grade silver and carbon-fibre wrap, palladium bezelled connectors, for instance…

Everything’s so smooth with the studio. I can even tell when there’s solar flare activity because the computer is a little bit weird. It’s true though, right?

[PSNEurope laughs]
I’m not going to build a Faraday cage around myself like Wendy Carlos did. Though I did think about it.

How did the Waves partnership come about?
They were at ADE 2013, the Amsterdam Dance Event, and I was telling them I’d been using Mercury [Collection] since you had to wait three minutes to load in one plug-in on a G3 Mac, and we just clicked. So they invited me to a compilation of my favourite plug-ins. I [even] went to Tel Aviv to shoot a video…

These are the plug-ins that I use the most; that were already within Mercury.

There are no new ones here, though I wanted to design a new one, in honour of my father who passed away six years ago, based on this old JVC spring reverb. Waves said it would take a year to work on, and it wouldn’t bring anyone any joy other than myself and my dead father…

If you are an upcoming producer that makes music across the board, but most specifically in the dance area – but not in EDM, please, I have nothing to do with that and never will! – if you have these plug-ins, you can do something across the whole of your process, from beginning to end. Almost like a mixing desk. So, you’ve got an EQ, the MetaFlange which I really like, some tape processing… There’s no compression, though, because I use outboard for that.

If I use this, am I going to sound instantly like Dave Clarke?
No, of course not. But, why would someone invest their money in this? Because this is a sensible, rounded approach to the best Waves plug-ins that I would choose.

What about your take on sound design?
I’ve never worked with templates. Every time I worked on Archive One or Devil’s Advocate, it was always with an empty sampler, never with an array of drum weaponry, like, “this is the snare that makes me wet” I made it from scratch, always.

Before, I used to sample drum loops because I didn’t have access to the tools. Now, you can start with any bass drum [and] transient design the shit out of it, EQ the shit out of it, do everything you ever wanted, freeze it, bounce it, and – bang – there’s your bass drum. It sounds like a long process but it’s really quick.

If you could only one keep one plug-in out of the seven, what would it be?
Probably the API EQ – it’s quick and makes it easy to tonally shape something.

What reaction have you had to the Toolkit?
Someone called me “pottymouth” because I swore a little too much on the video.

You have a bit of reputation for swearing though, I gather.
I did come across some wonderful new phraseology, talking about deadmau5, where someone called him a “cock-womble” I thought, I must add that to my armoury. I have technically what you might call “Artistic Tourette’s Syndrome” – I have a way of making new swear words off the cuff. I’m sure Shakespeare would be proud.

What about you DJing?
For a long time I was using purely Serato [using timecoded vinyl to line up tracks on the laptop]. But you need the Rane [interface] box with you, and some airports don’t like that: you have to power it up and turn it on… But now, I don’t check in luggage, because I worked out if I have to wait for my luggage I’d lose seven to 10 days each year because I travel so much.

You just pack your gear, your socks and your toothbrush?
Toothbrush? I’m back home in the morning, mate! But if I’m going to Israel for instance, I can’t be bothered with the security process going out there, so I just take SD cards for the Pioneer Nexus [CD and MP3 multiplayer] and rekordbox [software].

What are you listening to currently?
The new Interpol album, Ministry, Cowboy Junkies, Soft Moon, Chelsea Wolf… everything. I love music and I’m passionate about it. Reggae, roots, the occasional piece of classical. It gets sucked into me and it comes out somewhere, somehow.

What do you do when your studio is complete?
Just enjoy it. But also, next year is going to be about producing bands; bands that I like but have nothing to do with dance music. I love producing: fitting sounds together, making everything make sense, conveying a sense of emotion with a sonic sensibility – I’m relishing being able to do that.