Irish Techno luminaries talk shop.
Musical institutions have come and gone from Dublin over the years, but the Techno scene in the Irish capital is arguably at the healthiest it’s ever been with big name international artists visiting each and every weekend and multiple generations of promoters, partygoers and diehard enthusiasts nourishing this burgeoning scene from the ground up.
For those that don’t know, Sunil Sharpe is widely regarded as one of Dublin’s best DJs. Asides from being a proficient selector he has released on Trensmat, Black Sun Records and Blawan & Pariah’s Work The Long Nights imprint. He is also one of the biggest supporters of the Irish scene via his radio show on RTÉ 2FM.
Lakker are an electronic-duo comprised of Dubliners Dara Smith and Ian McDonnell, both of whom were heavily influenced by the city’s scene in the early naughties, before making a name for themselves as a duo and releasing on the likes of Blueprint Records, R&S, Stroboscopic Artefacts, Killekill & Candela Rising. Both recently made a big jump in relocating to Berlin. From city to city to city, three forces came together to discuss geography, Opera and of course, Techno…
Sunil: I think we first came across each other at a gig we were both playing at the Thomas House in Dublin, I think you guys were called Undermine at that point?
Dara: We were probably called Undermine DJs.
S: It was a charity gig I think. Promoters were finding good opportunities in charity gigs to get people to come along to their shows at the time, the Tsunami disaster was anything but a disaster for promoters in Dublin!
Ian: I heard about you through Dara who was more into Techno than I was way back when, He told me about this Dublin lad called Sunil Sharpe who had played at Tresor years ago and I was like, who is this guy? It wasn’t until much later when we actually met.
S: Since we last spoke on my radio show, how have both of your moves been to Berlin and was it a joint decision to both go or did one go and the other had to follow?
D: I suppose it was a joint decision in the long term plan. Eo had been talking about the move and I thought I could do with getting out of Ireland for a while. My daughter wasn’t going to be starting school yet, so it was my last chance and I went for it. It made sense for music, making contacts and it’s much easier here than living in Dublin when you’re making the millions that we are from electronic music…
Hyponik: Where exactly do you both live in Berlin?
D: I’m in between the borders of Neukölln and Kreuzberg near Hermannplatz.
I: Dara’s in the cool part, I’m in Schöneberg, the not-cool part.
S: I love Berlin and London as cities and two core places for electronic music in Europe. When I come back home, I’m happy to have visited but that’s the beginning and end for me. I don’t know if it’s the familiarity and the fact that I’ve always lived in Dublin, but it just suits me. Was it difficult for you guys when you left?
I: I didn’t want to leave Dublin in my twenties, I loved the atmosphere and the community at the time being in with the !Kaboogie lads. After a good few years I wanted a change in my life, and it was between London and Berlin. Musically Berlin made sense and already having a relationship with Killekill here already it was an easy move for me.
D: I don’t think for either of us it was like fuck Dublin, I still really like the city. If things didn’t work out here I’d go back in a heartbeat, I wouldn’t see it as a failure.
I: We were actually planning on asking you if you would you ever leave Dublin Sunil?
S: I’m very deeply rooted here for a number of reasons. I teach a DJ class in a college during the week too which is a big vocation for me. I don’t want to walk away from that and I’m quite comfortable with my life here.
D: Do you find that the Techno scene is healthy in Dublin today?
S: The scene has matured a lot. I came in at the tail end of people like Francois and Warren K being at the centre of things, D1 Records really making a name abroad and the harder sound starting to take off in the city. In the early 2000s what was missing in our scene was that there weren’t many people putting out records. I’d seen a fair few producers come and do great live sets but never release a record. D1 were a generation ahead of us, they knew the importance of pressing vinyl and establishing club nights.
D: Nobody really took over for them in that sense.
S: Eamonn (the founder of D1) has moved away from Techno a bit being more into photography, but he may bring the label back this year and as an extension for other projects he’s got lined up. Once Techno is in your blood it’s hard for anyone to fully walk away and he’ll always have that curiosity I think. Today it’s nice to see almost four generations of Techno enthusiasts all doing different things at the same time.
I: That’s a nice image Sunil. There is a lot of stuff happening, do you find the scene interesting today?
S: For a long time there was only the Twisted Pepper pushing things but there are new places opening up – District 8, Hangar, it’s really healthy at the moment. Often the tendency is to say “Things could be better” but sometimes you’ve got to just say “No, it’s actually really good now”. Lets hope it stays like this for a while. Obviously later opening hours would be an improvement but things are still good.
I: I’ve had great nights in Dublin that finished at 3AM and they’ve been some of the best clubbing experiences I’ve had.
S: I have a feeling that with the stroke of a pen, later hours will come in without a fuss, although it’s still a good distance off yet. We started a campaign for extended opening hours in 2004 and nothing has changed since then. Opening hours should be down to customer demand and venues should be able to set their own times within reason. There was a lot of scaremongering when the subject of 24 hour licensing was brought up before – “The health of the nation depends on this” etc – when the reality of it is that only a small percentage of clubs would want to avail of 24 hour licenses, and probably only at certain special occasions in the year.
I’ve noticed that a lot of Irish people get very wound up when the UK takes credit for an Irish person or their achievements in music, sport or television. In our music scene we can’t deny that Britain influences all corners of the world in electronic music. What do you make of this?
D: I think it’s just confusion from abroad, you would be surprised how little people know about geography. In terms of the influence we’re lucky to be so close to such a centre for new sounds. For a relatively small island, the UK have produced such a strength of genres and musical movements in Jungle, Grime, UK Funky or Garage.
S: Has it happened where a journalist has instantly labelled you as being from the UK?
D: There’s always lazy journalism, someone won’t do their research and get your label wrong or whatever and you’ll just end up correcting them.
I: There was an article being written on upcoming British producers and I had to point out that the title should be feature upcoming British and Irish producers. I’m not a very patriotic person but there’s always a deep rooted thing with your nationality.
D: Sunil, In terms of DJs, who through your career were the people were the people who really blew you away?
S: In the early days probably UK guys like Carl Cox or Easygroove, and other DJs from the Dutch/German hardcore techno scene. It was a bit later until I heard about people like Jeff Mills and really enjoyed the singular intensity of what he did, but for me Cox did a better job at marrying styles. I wasn’t aware of ‘The Wizard’ sets then though.
D: Were you ever into Hip Hop?
S: No, there were a few people I knew growing up who were real actors and into the image side of Hip Hop. It didn’t resonate with me and I felt nothing from it. It got on my nerves actually at the time but I can appreciate the music much better today. I was really into Classical music, I even made my mother bring me to operas because I didn’t know anyone who would have been interested in going as a kid. I had a primary school teacher who had pictures of all the great composers up on the wall. I’d be looking up at Verdi with his big grey beard and he just looked so old and wise. I thought he must have really fucking known what he was doing.
H: Do you see any similarities between the music you guys make today with classical music and opera?
S: Definitely, people like Wagner or Beethoven.
H: What do you think Beethoven could do if he was handed say, a 909?
S: I think you would be better off giving him a synth over a drum machine, you could give Haydn a drum machine and he could bang out a load of tunes like Jeff Mills, the way he did with symphonies. Beethoven would definitely make a standout tune either way…
I: Stravinsky, there’s a section in the middle of “Rite Of Spring” that’s just bars of 4×4 Techno on massive timpanis, it comes out of nowhere. I’m surprised if nobodys sampled it. Have you heard the switched on Bach records by Wendy Carlos? She did all these versions of old Bach pieces on 70’s synths, it’s very beautiful.
D: Did she become a man?
I: I think it was originally Walter Carlos and then she became Wendy Carlos…
S: You can definitely hear classical music in Trance. The early guys like Cosmic Baby were probably classically trained and you can hear it in their melodies. Unfortunately the genre got very cheesy very early on. I do love that early section of Trance from whenever it was good to whenever it got bad!
A lot of your music wouldn’t be what you describe as straight up Techno although you integrate quite well into that scene?
D: It just happens when we send of a bunch of tracks to a Techno label, they’re naturally going to pick the more Techno leaning tracks. We’ve always considered ourselves electronic artists. Although being very into Birmingham Techno, getting released by Blueprint was perfect for me. I love the starkness to James Ruskin records but I don’t think our music is very stark ourselves. KillEKill are a different kettle of fish and R&S of course have a blank slate, you can release anything you want with them.
S: Has your workflow slowed down at all as things have got busier?
D: We’ve found ourselves doing a lot of different things whether it be remixes, prep for gigs, the audio visual set. As time moves on you need to schedule time in to actually make music. It’s handy that there’s two of us in Lakker, we can divide the non music related work up between us.
S: You’re releasing with Electric Deluxe soon Dara, was it because Ian was getting so much extra attention with his Eomac stuff that you had to step it up?! People were saying you were only doing the visuals…(laughs)
D: I wasn’t getting recognised in the street so I had a hissy fit. The Electric Deluxe release came about because I had some free time. I do run the visuals through my laptop in the background but I can confirm that I do audio too!
S: I was thinking Speedy J was somebody you would have been a fan of, especially with albums like ‘A Shocking Hobby’.
D: Yes and thanks for the advice! I rang Sunil asking for some advice around that time so nice one boss! What I really like was that he was using Techno sounds but it was super slow and distorted to almost a Hip Hop tempo with weird breaks. I still consider Autechre’s music to be Techno because of their sound palate.
H: Ok guys, you’re all performing at Corsica Studios next weekend – Who’s the darkhorse on the line up, who will be the one melting faces?
I: Sunil Sharpe.
S: I won’t be playing any Techno, I’ll be doing an 80s set, mostly Def Leppard and Dire Straits tunes. Corsica is one of those places I’ve always been interested in and have never actually been so I’m glad this has come about…
Lakker & Sunil Sharpe form part of the heavy line up for the Individual Collective x Dsnt party at Corsica Studios next Saturday February 7th. Click here for more information and tickets.
Interview: Conor McTernan