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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: Talking tracks with Tristan da Cunha

28 November 19 interview: Eileen Pegg

We pick Tristan’s brain while he picks us some tracks ahead of his discotech x Pattern show in Notts...

No-one can pack out at tent at Gottwood like Tristan Da Cunha. A DJ whose sets are as admired by fellow plate-spinning peers as they are by dancefloor regulars, Tristan has spent the past twenty years or so organically building up well-deserved respect for his selections, which has seen him glide from his BacktoBasics residency to becoming responsible for ‘not to be missed’ slots at landmark events such as Glasto’s NYC Downlow and more recently, Houghton. Though always rooted somehow by his undisputed knowledge of ass-kicking house, he’s also an artist that wears many hats, regularly switching up his sound and also his roles, now producing tracks, running labels and his own events too - bolstered through time working as A&R for 2020Vision at the start of his career.

Fresh from his debut Boiler Room appearance under the Freakenstein guise, Tristan’s now heading to our Old Angel’s Chapel this weekend to whip up a groove of biblical proportions. We had a chat to discover his musical path up to the underground, alongside a selection of tracks to warm us up for the night.

You made your name as a BacktoBasics resident and have gone on to form a career with many other musical projects such as Dungeon Meat, solo DJ gigs, Hearlucinate and now Freakenstein. What was the transition period like when you first started exploring the other creative routes?
Basics was my “basic training” as it were, so everything that stemmed from there was just a natural progression of holding a residency for what is now two decades. Everything in my career so far has happened very organically and all of the individual projects are there for me to express different sides of my personality and musical tastes. 

To answer your question directly, it’s only really been in the last 10 years I’ve started to play around with music production, running record labels and so on. As a result, since doing so my ‘voice’ has been heard further afield which has been great for connecting with people far and wide and getting me out on the road gigging in other parts of the world. 

Does each project have its own sound? IE does Tristan playing at Basics vary to a set at your own Hearlucinate nights and other gigs, like your upcoming Notts show?
They are all connected in some way but each project or party has its own vibe, visual identity or sound. I try and cater my sets to the party I’m playing at; NYC Downlow will have a certain twist, a Dungeon Meat or Slapfunk party will have another angle while Hearlucinate will be more eclectic, for example. 

There are differences...I usually do some homework if I’ve never played somewhere before so I can find that balance of representing where I’m at musically at that point in time but also give the party some of what they love as well - this will be the case in Nottingham. I have such a broad musical taste and I collect all kinds of music, so it’s nice to indulge in certain styles or sounds with one particular project. Dungeon Meat is offers ‘Dungeony XXX rated sounds and themes with meaty beefy beats. Hearlucinate explores a different shade of house music and also presents breakbeats, electro and techno to the audience. I will be starting a couple of other labels and alias’ next year as well, but more on that later.

You’re never too old to learn and it’s healthy to grow and exercise your mind. Whatever you do, be it music or whatever, it’s always good to learn more about your craft and master it further.

At one point you were also involved the record store-turned-disco den Waxwerks/The Garage - what was it like being part of that side of the industry? 
Waxwerks was the second record shop I part owned - the first one was called Playmusic. I loved those days, they really helped shape me musically and vice versa, I got to shape the city musically too by filtering all the good stuff out there into one shop. 

It was and still is a lot of work to run a record shop, with so many releases new and old, it’s a full-time job keeping up with it all. Now you have the online side of things as well as running the physical shop too, so it really is time consuming and usually, for not much return. I would say it’s very much a labour of love.

RESPECT to all the people out there running record shops, I know how hard it can be. BUT on the flip side, if you love the music it can be very rewarding and the best way to immerse yourself in it all. 

Do you think a solid residency is a good thing for upcoming DJs to aspire to?
Of course, it’s essential training I think. I wouldn’t be half the DJ I am today if it wasn’t for BacktoBasics. Unfortunately, solid residencies are rare these days so to land a good one is much harder. 

Also, residents used to play regularly at parties that were thrown week in, week out. Now most events are monthly...I can only think of a couple of week-to-week parties that still stand and that’s Sub Club and Fabric. The rest have all gone monthly, or one every so often. It’s a shame but that’s just the way things have gone. 

You went ‘back to school’ to hone your production skills not so long ago - how was this and would you recommend it to other budding producers?
Yes it was really fulfilling. First of all the Leeds College Of Music is outstanding … world class. So to attend there was really good and it felt nice to be in such a vibrant academic building and atmosphere. I only did a short course for 10 weeks but I learned a lot and would highly recommend anyone who’s thinking about it to go for it. 

You’re never too old to learn and it’s healthy to grow and exercise your mind. Learning when you’re more mature is nicer anyway I think - I was much more focused and into it than I would have been at 19 or 20 years old. Whatever you do, be it music or whatever, it’s always good to learn more about your craft and master it further. 

The production that definitely put your name on the map was Dungeon Meat’s ‘The F*ck Off Track’. Did you think it would get such a humongous reception when you made it and how did it feel during that period when it was all kicking off?
Yeah we were quite surprised as it was just a club track; beats, bass and some effective breakdowns. We knew it was a "banger” and it did the job on the dance floor - we’d seen it first hand when we played it. We didn’t expect it to sell so many or be so well received though. 

It seemed to cross over to DJs of different styles which also helped to give it a wider reach. That track was really helpful when it came to launching the record label shortly after...people already had Dungeon Meat on their radar so it was easy for us to connect with our audience and fans. We were happy that so many people loved it and I think it still sounds great, six years since it was released. 

On the same level, what other tracks make you shout ‘faaack off’ right now when you hear them on the dance floor?
Lately it’s been a track by my homie Samuel Deep, Slaptrax on Slapfunk. I absolutely hammered it all year and it’s finally come out this month. Proper weapon.

Your recent Slapcast mix was also hugely popular, offering some garagey two-step sounds - is this a reflection of what you’re playing right now or a chance to showcase a particular selection of tracks?
There’s a whole new scene for that sound and I just wanted to crystallise it in a mix as I had so much new stuff on that tip. I also wanted to present something a bit different for the guys at Slapfunk and no one had done a mix like that. 

I’m into my mixes having a theme or thread that runs beginning to end so it tells a story. I was happy with how that one turned out. It’s not exactly how I’m playing now, but you will definitely hear some UK garage-y bits here and there in my sets. It’s just great for the party vibe and people seem to be enjoying it, either as newcomers to the sound or like me, enjoying the new wave of it all . 

Other than your visit to Notts, what else are you up to during the winter clubbing calendar? And which is your favourite - the darker, colder late-night parties or the outdoors summer festival season?
I like both … without one I wouldn’t appreciate the other. I love festivals but if I had to choose between the two it would be a dark sweaty club with a good sound system all day long. 

In terms of what I’m up to over winter, it is mainly dark clubs and warehouses I’ll be appearing at. I’m in talks to do a couple of short tours of some sunnier parts of the world early 2020, but I’ll shout about that more when it’s all confirmed and in the bag. For the rest of the winter in between gigs I’ll be hibernating and making music. 

Can you send us three tracks that give us a flavour of what to expect when you come to town?
Ok let’s see - here are a few relatively new things in the bag...

Prince de Takicardie - Space Dandy 

Paolo Macri - Frog Crossing

Robbenspierre - Gotta Stop Those Robots

discotech x Pattern w/ Tristan Da Cunha takes place at The Angel on Saturday 30 November, 9pm - 4am. The crews will also be playing and live-streaming from Synthetic Pro Audio from 12 - 4pm. 

Event page.

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