An Interview with DJ DRASL

The dazzling Icelandic-Welsh DJ DRASL is next up in our set of DJ Interviews, where we aim to find out some interesting facts and stories from our roster.

DJ Adam Wood / dRasL - Epsom Derby Festival - Storm DJs

DJ Name
DJ DRASL

Style(s)
HOUSE

Current Favourite DJ Performance Equipment
You can’t beat some 1210s. It’s a clichéd answer I know, but there is nothing like playing vinyl. I don’t get to do it a lot these days which makes it even more special when I do. So my current set up runs Native Instruments Traktor, which I converted to from CDJ maybe 4 to 5 years ago. I’m really sold on the idea of the Native Instruments Stems file format and associated controllers. I’m slowly trying to introduce the Ableton Push into more of my performance to add a live dimension to gigs.

What got you into DJing?
John Peel and a love of music. I never wanted to be a DJ and I fell into it by accident. I just remember attend the Saturday Sanctuary in Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff and I kept harassing the DJ with songs/artists/albums they should listen too. I must stress here, these weren’t requests, I was just telling them stuff to check out as I was loving the music they were playing and my enthusiasm for my latest crate digging finds I just had to share. I must have been annoying as they eventually asked if I wanted a set the following weekend. It was the first time I had ever been behind a mixer and I think the guys running the night were worried they’d made a mistake. I listened over and over again to the tracks I was going to play and there wasn’t much beat mixing but it didn’t matter as they invited me back the following week. Back then it was really about showcasing new music. I would use samples and ambient sounds as a way to hid my lack of mixing ability. I moved to Vienna when Kruder and Dorfmiester were at the height of their fame and slowly immersed myself in the Vienna scene. It’s here I actually started practising and learning to beat match and first used Ableton Live. When I returned to UK I bought my 1210s and mixer and set out from there……. It’s been a journey which has been a series of happy accidents all the way.

Which big name DJs’ style do you most reflect?
I used to listen to John Peel a lot on the radio and when I saw him DJ live for the first time it very much reflected my style at the time. He knew every second of every track and didn’t care to beat match or anything, it was about make a mood in the room and selected the music perfect for it. Till I had 1210s and a mixer to practice on this was very much my style since I’ve gone digital I’m more into loops and I’m relating more to Richie Hawtin in his loops and clinical deep techno. When I purchased the Ableton Push and started experimenting with music production in Ableton Live it was the logical step for my DJ sets to take. More recently after reading an essay on timing by James Holden of the Border Community, I’m trying to introduce some more live element into the sets. There is also the clash of acid and pure techno that Nina Kraviz is playing. She got a lot of flak in the early days but I think her selections and sets are vastly improved. I’m a fan of Biogen, who is an old Icelandic artist who pretty much found the rave/eclectronic scene in the country and ran a record label who released a lot of my all-time favourite artists. He unfortunately died recently but has now found his way onto Nina Kraviz label latest release along with an old favourite in Aphex Twin and a new favourite in Bjarki which is kind of where I’m at currently.

Do you remember your first ever gig?
Cher in 1993 in Vienna! I then saw Suede in December 1994 and from there ended up in Glastonbury 1995, where I saw the likes of Leftfield, The Prodigy, Goldie, Massive Attack, Plastikman, Tricky along with the standard Brit-Pop of the era. I kept going back to Glastonbury year after year till 2001 and found myself less on the main stages and more and more in the dance tent. It was in 2002 I went to Sonar Festival in Barcelona, and I’ll never forget the first bar of Jeff Mills set Me and my friend had massive grins across our faces.

Tell us about your all-time favourite artists.
The first real electronic artists I got into in a big way were the Warp Records artists like Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and Autechre who although their music was deeply rooted in electronic it was very analogue. It had a warmth to it, which I think I was drawn too. I was coming into the scene from a Brit-pop background so this humanist element was important. I think a lot of the electronic music from this period I found to clinic and cold but in recent years I’ve flipped and loved the clinical aspect of people like Richie Hawtin and Ben Klock. I’m a fan of the ambience/noise artist Ben Frost and Tim Hecker who push an idea to the minimal core. It’s very minimal; very repetitive and I think this is where people like Klock and Hawtin share the values. Searching for this perfect loop which could last forever. I remember a visit to New York in 2002 where I visit Le Monte Young’s ‘Dream House’. It is a room full of massive speakers playing carefully constructed sine waves I had an amazing transcendental experience in the space. The minimal repetitiveness of a Klock set or the drones of a Frost gig are the closest I’ve ever got to this experience since. I love how some people can distil an idea down to such an amazing minimal core. I think this is such a hard art and an amazing skill knowing when enough is enough If you look at the artist Donald Judd and Mark Rothko which share this principle in the visual world. But again, if we take this analogy who doesn’t love a bit of pop and Andy Warhol. Sometimes unadulterated pop in it purest form is all you need and as satisfying.

What has been your most ridiculous DJ request to date?
“Play something more modern like Abba”…

How do you think DJ technology will change into the future?
It’ll become a lot more intuitive, and it’s getting there now. I think you’ll see a lot of new interactive controllers which I think could be horrible, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be some people who find a way to use them in an interesting way. I’m pretty late to the technology scene and having started on vinyl I like a dial or knob or cross fader to touch, something tactile. They’ll be plenty of bedroom DJ out there who’ll have started playing around on an iPod screen and that’s fine and technology will probably advance for these kind of people, but the fact that Pioneer are to restart production of the Technic 1210’s shows there is still a lot of people like me out there. One thing I have enjoyed in the visual feedback you get from Traktor and with Stems and Ableton, I think Live remixes are really going to pushed further in the future, and that excites me. I’m excited to see Richie Hawtin’s new mixer he is prototyping at the moment. He is someone who is always at the forefront of technology and music and a good compass of the how DJ technology will change in the future. He is always happy to embrace the new……

What was your worst gig and why?
I was a Wednesday night resident for a summer in Taunton, but living in Cardiff. Every Wednesday I’d load up the car with my vinyls, 1210s and my mates and drive 1.5 hours full of optimism and turn up and realise every week no one had been flyering and the night had not been promoted at all. Each week at 19:30 I’d be on the streets of Taunton trying to get anyone to come along….. at that time of the evening, the streets were deserted. It meant most gigs were played to my mates and a few stragglers. They were some memorable nights and it really gave me a chance to hone my skills and style.

What was your best ever gig and why?
3 immediately come to mind and for very different reasons. I’m most proud of playing in Sirkus in Iceland. It was my favourite club in the world, I used to love my nights out there, every night was memorable. An Icelandic friend of mine who I would DJ with annoyed them enough to finally let us have a go on the decks on a Thursday night. It’s a moment I’ll never forget especially as the club has since closed down , but the legend of the name continues. The most fun I had was at the Queens Diamond Jubilee at Epsom in 2012. It was by far the biggest crowd I’d played to; it was like a festival. I remember just a sea of people all having a good time It was one of the moments you dream of. The best set I’ve ever played was at a little festival I play in the Brecon Beacon’s each year. It’s attended mainly by friends now so there is no pressure and it loosens my style and brings the best out of me. The past 2 years I think have been my best performances, so much so that I tried to record last year’s set in anticipation….. but we blew the generator half way through so everything stopped. I don’t have much luck when trying to record live sets. This year is approaching and I’ve been preparing for it all winter, so maybe we’ll have more luck this year.

Do you think we will see DJ robots soon?
Yes, no doubt, but they’ll remove the important factor, humanisation of the whole process. Kraftwerk have for years tried to be the robots, and even written songs about it, but after all the years, they’ve always kept this human element. Algorithms are all well and good but sometimes, mistakes are sexy. I think this is a problem electronic and computer music has always had; where someone is hiding behind the screen of a laptop, it puts up a barrier between them and the audience which never existed before the laptop became prevalent in modern music. In the early days where it was new and everyone used it to make this perfect music they could have be playing minesweeper for all you know as it lacked this human element. This is definitely something the scene has learnt from and is less of a problem nowadays. I always try to make sure where possible that the computer is always to the side of me and never between myself and the crowd.

Do any ‘star’ DJs get on your nerves?
They used too, but not anymore I used to get annoyed by the whole fame thing of star DJ, and the laziness it brought with it. I think nowadays though with the internet, you quickly get found out and you can’t drop your guard for any set you do as it’ll be plastered over the internet within minutes. However, this has brought the opposite effect; where it is less about the music and more about the fame for some people who are looking for stardom . I know this annoys a lot of people in the scene where it is more about the Instagram/Facebook/Twitter followers and buying this success, but it’s quite easy to ignore these guys. With the advent of the digital scene over records I use the stars of the scenes I follow very much like I did with the old fashion record shop back in the day and a filter for what I should be listen to and exploring.

Your best ever YouTube clip 
For my old style this mix which I used samples and keyboards to hide my mixing ability at the time. It was all about creating an ambience and atmosphere, and I think it is most definitely one of my best at doing that and since I’ve gone digital it’s probably this one which I think has aged well, which I something I don’t often think happens. I think I’ve got ones which have better transitions but the song selections and ordering of this mean I keep going back to it. And for the memories and good times  always brings a smile to the face, but that doesn’t really count.

What one useful tip would you give to the layman looking to book a DJ for their event?
Get to know the DJ a good DJ set involves getting your personality out on to the dance floor. But it’s a two-way relationship as the DJ should get to know the client too. I think this is often overlooked. My best gigs are where I go in with a confidence of the client/crowd which means I’m comfortable in the songs I play and can adjust, rather than having to take risks all night.

To find out more about DJ DRASL click here.

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