DVS1, Minneapolis’ Zak Khutoretsky, is flying the flag for a dwindling kind in electronic music.
It is increasingly rare to see an artist’s reputation grow predominently on their DJing ability, and although DVS1 has released a highly-respectable handful of his own records, there’s no doubts as to where his talent really lies. In twenty years behind the decks, Zak’s seen it all. He’s promoted his own hometown parties for years, taking care of everything from the soundsystem, to manning the door and cleaning-up afterwards, accruing a somewhat legendary status in the Minneapolis underground scene.
Becoming the first guest on Ben Klock’s label Klockworks, in 2009, kickstarted a new phase in his career. He followed that with records on Derrick May’s longstanding Transmat imprint and Dustin Zahn’s Enemy Records, before returning to Klockworks and, most recently, his own label Hush. His list of remixes is equally impressive: lending his hand to the work of Trus’me, Nina Kraviz, O/V/R, D’Marc Cantu, Marcus Suckut and Darko Esser, all in just a couple of years. But, it has been in the worldwide bookings that have come with releasing this music that Khutoretsky has really excelled. His infectious energy and physical presence behind the decks translates through precise mixing and seasoned selection, making him in-demand worldwide and revered amongst fellow DJs.
Before he heads to London for fabric’s NYE party – with the likes of Skudge, Anthony Parasole, and George FitzGerald – Hyponik had the chance to Skype Zak from his apartment in the US. He shared some thoughts on his new label, favourite DJs, and longevity in this profession, as well as showing us around his newly-inherited record collection via webcam. Without further ado…
As we’re coming to the end of the year, let’s start by talking about how 2013 has been for you.
2013 has been great – my agent and I agreed to really push me this year, taking more bookings and being overseas more. I’ve probably done over 100 gigs already, which has been intense. It’s hard to say anything bad about the travel because I’m flown around the world and paid to do what I love, but it does wear you out. I’ve made a conscious decision to take less gigs in 2014, because I want to concentrate on working in the studio, digging for music and trying to have a more normal life.
Do you party much when you’re on the road?
No, I’m definitely in the half of DJs that treat what I do totally professionally. You won’t see me at the after-party unless I’m playing. I grew up on the dancefloor, but I’m 37 now, and I’ve done my time. I don’t look at techno as something where the DJs are are celebrities or separate from the crowd though, I still feel very much connected to them. The great thing about underground house and techno, is that it’s one of the genres where the DJs and producers actually interact with the people. If you go to a concert, or any commercially successful event, there’s a clear line between the artists and the crowd. I’m glad our genre isn’t like that.
When you’re back home do you spend much time DJing?
No I don’t. Back in the day you’d come home with a bag of records and get all excited, mix them, mark them, etc. Now I come home and listen to the records but don’t practice mixing. After twenty years I feel that I’m technically proficient and, having played in amazing booths and shitty ones, I know I can figure my way through any situation. I’ve said it before, as a DJ I feel I have a masters, and as a producer I’m still in junior high.
Is your production catching up?
Not really. Over the last couple of years I’ve had some personal stresses and real life issues that pushed me away from producing. I did a handful of remixes to stay active in the studio, but wasn’t writing much original music. You definitely learn a lot less remixing someone else’s work. Finally, over the last six months, I’ve found myself in the studio a bit more, and writing original stuff.
Will some of it be released in the New Year?
Yes, I will release on my own label Hush again, and also on Ben’s label Klockworks. I’ve started a new label recently too, Mistress Records. Mistress is not so much for my own tracks but secret weapons. Everyone knows me as a techno guy, but I love house, old drum & bass, and electro. This label is an outlet for me to be able to put out all the styles I appreciate and have crammed into my sets into the last couple of years. The first release was Borrowed Identity, from Berlin, and next is Juxta Position (aka Marquis Hawkes). I don’t want Mistress to release ‘just another drum track with a dark drone’, it’s gotta’ have soul!
The fact you’re playing CDs and USBs as well as vinyl now must help with the A&R, road testing demos etc…
Definitely. It’s not the reason why I’ve stopped only playing vinyl but has helped me choose which tracks to sign for sure. I played ‘Mercy’ from Juxta Position’s record on my Dommune show in Japan and within an hour I had ten messages asking what that track was. Those kind of responses make me think I’ve made the right choices. The reason for changing the way I play was travel though. Now I have an apartment in Berlin where I can stay and keep records, but that wasn’t the case when I started doing all this travel. Then, I would have to lug my bag around for 4 weekends in a row and I’d get tired of playing the same records. Now I play about 50/50 digital and vinyl, as I’ve found playing only USB and CD to be too flat for my liking. Keeping vinyl in my sets is what gives it that up-and-down and that variable sonic texture. I’m not about perfection.
Has this switch affected the pace at which you DJ?
I guess a little, but mainly it’s affected how I’m able to layer and loop things. I make sure I’m using digital tools creatively, otherwise I just feel awkward using them at all. I see the benefits of what people can do with a laptop, but unfortunately my view is still that a lot of people who use digital are lazy. It’s just a way of carrying their music.
Who are the best DJs you’ve seen play this year? And over the course of your career?
It is hard to pick a current one because a lot of the time now I’m turning up, playing, and leaving. The standout performance of this year, for me, wasn’t actually a DJ, but a live set. It also wasn’t every time I’ve seen this person play live, but one particular time. It was a Planetary Assault Systems (aka Luke Slater) show at Berghain, the first time he really brought it back. It was one of the most momentous music experiences I’ve had for a while. The sound there is always good, but that performance was sonically above anything I’ve heard. I was flailing around, screaming and hooting and hollering, and to have that kind of moment when completely sober tells me it was really good.
Do you find, twenty years into your career, you’re inspired by other performers less and less?
I find myself more inspired going backwards than I do by current stuff. Did you see the photo I posted on Facebook a while back with a bunch of vinyl I got? I’ll turn my webcam on and show you now.
I remember that picture, someone passed away and left you their records right..
Yeah, so, I probably own about 12,000 records of my own. There was a guy named Thomas Spiegel, or DJ Man-X, who had 25,000. He was a Minneapolis house DJ from the early 80s, one of the first proper house DJs we had in town. He took a break from music, then came back to it in ’05-’06 and contacted me as the guy who did big parties here. We did some parties together and became friends, but in the last two years he disappeared again, to Miami. Last year on New Year’s, I was on my way to play Berghain and got a message saying he’d passed. I met his family at the funeral and helped them sort some things out. When they went to pickup his collection, which they thought was about 15,000, they discovered all these other records and panicked. They trusted me and asked me to make an offer. Honestly, I offered well under what it is worth, but it was a fair offer and what I could afford. Two months later I sent someone down with a truck and they brought back 197 boxes of vinyl.
As a collector he had everything – old Underground Resistance, old disco, Chicago house – the roots of everything. A lot of this stuff came out when I was too young to know what it was, and I wouldn’t have the means to buy a lot of it now as you just don’t see it. If you do, the prices are ridiculous. For me to get this collection at this point in my career is massive. I’m literally just starting to go through it, alphabetising and throwing away the fluff. I had to get a new apartment here big enough just to store it all. I’ve listened to two of the letters of the alphabetical order and I can’t tell you how many gems I’ve found, and how many ideas I’ve got for edits. This collection is my main source of inspiration at the moment, it gives me the opportunity to make things no other DJ will have. I have the rest of my life to go through it, so there’s no rush.
How much longer can you see yourself living this lifestyle?
What people know about me as a DJ is my energy, so when I become less energetic behind the decks, that’s when I’ll know it’s time to take less gigs. I don’t do this for the money. The money is great but I’ve always been a hustler, and I know I can create income other ways. Take Jeff Mills – I was DJing with him on his 50th birthday, and the car ride to-and-from the gig was the most I’ve been able to sit and talk with him. He’s been touring the world for nearly 30 years but you can feel he’s still excited and his vision is still really complete. If I can do that until I’m 50, I’ll be a happy man.
Is the next ten, or so, years about shifting the load from the DJing onto the labels and production?
I suppose a little, but I’ve always been a DJ first and I’m always going to be. So, the production and labels are, in some sense, just tools for me to standout as a DJ. The most exciting sets I hear are when I don’t know 90% of the music. Nowadays everybody shares charts and mixes online and there’s too much information. I want to produce more and work on the label, yes, but it’s all part of a plan to give me secrets for DJing. That is always going to be why I do this. I love when people are like “I think I know this track!”, but it’s actually an unreleased edit I’ve layered into the mix.
You never got around to telling me who the best DJs you’ve seen in you’re career are..
Mills is one of my biggest influences as both a person and DJ so I have to say him. The way he has stayed true to his vision with no compromise is unique. When Jeff Mills retires, there is no other Jeff Mills to take his place. There’s no-one even close. I know this a little cliché because they’re they’re both big names, but also, Laurent Garnier. I got to see him in Minneapolis in ’96, in the height of his ‘dancefloor’ career, when he was bringing together every genre. He was so aggressive; you were just holding on to see what was coming next, and hearing tiny parts of stuff you thought you knew before they disappeared. That’s the school I’m from.
To wrap it up on the topic of NYE this year, how have you found playing at fabric in the past? And, what are your favourite clubs in the world?
I think I last played at fabric for James Sigha’s birthday about six months ago. It’s a really good club, with nice people behind it too. The more I’ve played in room 2 there, the more I’ve come to like it. The booth felt a little disconnected from the crowd when I first played, but I’ve gotten used to that and made it work in its own way.
Favourite places to play… apart from playing at home, and excuse the cliché again, Berghain. I’ve heard mixed reviews from artists playing there but I’ve been lucky enough to play every couple of months for the last four years, and have become very comfortable. There are records I don’t play anywhere else. I love playing in Japan also; Eleven has closed down now but all the other venues there, especially in Tokyo, have been amazing. A new favourite is in Portugal, a club called Gare in Porto. There’s something about that room!
What track would you play if you’re on at midnight?
Tough question! ‘Flash’ by Green Velvet comes to mind, but it has been a bit played-out in the last couple years. I think I’d try to find some record that has a meaning to the countdown or the New Year, and make a special version.
Interview: Richard Akingbehin