DVS1: In Conversation

For over twenty years, Zak Khutoretsky, or DVS1 as he is more commonly known, has carved out a career within electronic music on the back of his habitual rooting for pureness of sound and an ever-present penchant for learning things the hard way.

Such is the reverence for his DJ sets, particularly his marathon sessions at his adoptive home the Berghain – at which he is a resident of Panorama bar too – DVS1 has become one of the most prominent figures in voicing his concern for the preservation of true club culture.

This July he makes an appearance at Farr Festival, the petite forest festival in Hertfordshire at the vanguard of the UK’s impressive electronic summer festival programme. Engulfed by an eclectic array of disco and house artists, DVS1 leaps out as one of the must-sees, where his proclivity for deep, purist techno has the potential to close out Friday night’s proceedings with an uncompromising thunder.

Ahead of his appearance at Farr, I caught up with the man from Minneapolis to discuss his incessant pursuit for quality of sound, his labels HUSH and Mistress Recordings and how he’s feeling about gracing the Hertfordshire woodland…

First up Zak, how are you? What have you been up to of late?

I’m good! I’ve just been working on music, digging for records and setting up some curated events for end of 2018!

Farr has carved out an excellent reputation as an intimate woodland festival with a true commitment to booking artists that have and are shaping the electronic scene. Did you know much about the festival beforehand?

To be totally honest, not really. It was only after I was actually invited by Mr. G to join his stage this year that I did a little research on the place/history etc. I’m excited from what I’ve seen so far, as this seems more of a curated outdoor party versus a generic festival lineup. This is absolutely up my alley in terms of proper musical vibes and focus on sound/setting!

This year it’s nice to see a few techno names scattered in amongst the eclectic mix of disco and house artists. You are without doubt the heaviest hitter on the bill, have you played in a forest before?

I’ve actually played in many forest surroundings over the years! The Midwest of America has plenty of campouts in its history, campouts that I was a part of both as a DJ and a fan!

Usually I would actually agree that a summer festival and outside surroundings is much more conducive to deeper, eclectic and outside vibes, so I absolutely understand the choice of music in the past years of the event. I’m honoured to have been asked to join this year by Mr. G. As much as everyone knows him for his current style and swagger, he was half of The Advent and comes from a proper techno/electro background. We reconnected a few years back when he saw me playing and we have stayed in contact since. I’ve invited him to a few things I have put together and now he’s requested my presence and I couldn’t say no!

To be very honest, I don’t know what I plan on presenting at the festival. I come from everything and I’ve been known to play house sets and more freestyle music when given the right setting. I know Colin requested me because of that ability, so I would be doing a disservice to him just showing up and banging out techno. I can only guarantee that you’ll get my same energy level and thought process that I give to any gig I’m excited about, but musically I won’t know what will happen until I get there and see and hear the environment, all in the moment!

I’d like to focus part of the interview on sound specifically. As curator for Mistress Recordings, what do you look for in tracks you want to release on the label? Is there an example of a track that particularly resonates with you? Is there anything in the pipeline for the second half of 2018?

As I mentioned, I come from a wide range of music influences, I can expand further and reiterate my interest in beats and rhythms in general.

I judge all music by its personal connection and if it resonates with me. Genre’s don’t matter for the most part. I’ve released beautiful vocal tracks by Daniël Jacques to heavy mental techno by A&S (Dimi Angeles and Jeroen search). I try and describe the label as my secret weapons, and that’s what I look for. Names are not important, the music is.

We have a few new things coming out soon: Lando will be out by the time this interview hits, Kirill Mamin (both had tracks from my Fabric mix), Frag Maddin, D’Marc Cantu vs. Rival and ASOK are all coming out in the next year. The label was quiet over the last year, but I’m stacked with music now and it’s time we go full steam ahead with putting it out. As I mentioned above, I’m way more interested in the music over the name on any of these releases, and a few are fairly new or unknown, which means the music has to sell itself.

With your background in sound, and constant exposure to different sound systems around the globe, have you found the perfect configuration for your style of DJing?

Perfect would require more than just an answer about sound, because it takes everything from the sound, lights, technician, crowd, and even temperature of the room to make the perfect surroundings. But in terms of just sound, I would say it has to be body moving pressure. I play body music and for that you need to be pushed on by the various frequencies and just let go, large speaker stacks to look at instead of the DJ. I like to be in the dark when I play and inconspicuous so that the crowd has to find other things to focus on.

I went to your Wall of Sound event at ADE last year, and I have to say it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The pure violence of the bass combining with the almost pitch black dancefloor was a special concoction that left you in your own headspace completely in focus with the music. How do you think your Wall of Sound project has evolved so far?

Exactly what you described is the goal of this. MUSIC has to be the center of your focus, even other people on the dancefloor instead of ‘the DJ as the messiah’, center stage that has taken on all aspects of our culture lately. I’ve been able to do two editions of the wall in Rotterdam with a third one this September as well as one at ADE last year. Each one is an experiment back in time with how I experienced my first parties, dancing to stacks and stacks of speakers and going for the full adventure and experience of getting lost in music.

I was talking with Oscar Mulero about the event, and he was telling me that he received some friendly complaints from people in the crowd who felt duped by having the DJs at the back of the room instead of the front. He said it was another method of getting the crowd of focussing solely on the music, how important do you think the removal of all external distractions is on the dance floor?

It was interesting to see the people’s reactions via messages, comments or even that night when they didn’t or did realise that the DJ was not in front of them. Most people had no idea and just danced and faced the direction the music was coming from and hopefully got to experience something new that night. I saw a few messages that said they came to SEE the DJ and were upset by the set-up. I responded that they should have come to HEAR the DJ… I strongly believe that festivals in general (excluding well-curated outdoor events like Farr and others) are destroying the club culture of dancing in the dark to music. These large scale events with short sets, short attention spans and DJs on stages are basically creating this need to see the DJ instead of listen/hear the DJ. I’ve actually been slowly removing myself from playing as many of these large scale festivals as I used to for this reason. I am much more satisfied playing in black boxes to one room crowds who are there for the ride of the night.

Let’s talk about MONOM, the new spatial sound project in Berlin. Could you tell us a bit about the room, your involvement and the 4DSOUND experience?

I’m a sound addict. I’ve owned and operated a few large scale club/concert systems for nearly 20 years and to this day still build speakers and operate a small sound rental in my hometown. Due to this reputation and addiction to speakers, I was approached about the opportunity to buy in to a one of a kind sound system and jumped at the opportunity. I partnered up with a few people in Berlin, William Russell and Gratia Napier and then we opened up MONOM at the Funkhaus complex.

For those that don’t know, 4DSOUND is a technology and sound approach of spatialising sound to allow the creation of a fully multi-dimensional listening experience. The basic system consists of 16 pillars in a grid with speakers in the floor, at your head and five metres up. Below the transparent floor are 9 subs. I always say to people that the possibilities are endless, but truly they are. You are only limited by your imagination as an artist and as a listener you can be taken out of your expected context of what music should sound like.

The room and system are actually a large instrument and in the right hands it’s amazing what can be created. The room is perfect for the system. This type of musical representation is suited for people who want to intently listen to experimentation in sound. I’ve seen the system placed in the wrong environment where there were too many people and no one could really understand what they were experiencing. In our space, the footprint of the system fits in the room literally by inches. The space is basically big enough to accommodate the physical size of the speakers and 300 people, which dictates the experience being intimate and personal. We had to treat the entire room acoustically as a big studio, and spent a lot of time fine-tuning ideas to achieve the current sonics of it. Because it’s a very niche listening experience, the people that come to us respect the requests of the artist and us as the venue by immersing themselves and shutting off outside distractions.

For some shows participants have been blindfolded, for others the room has been so smoked out so that you can’t see in front of your face, or even blacked out to just allow your other senses to take over. Some artists ask the listeners to sit, while others tell you to walk around and experience the placement of sound around the room and the different perspectives you can get from each area. The experience for everyone is different and the technologies and possibilities keep expanding. We are only at the cusp of what this can do.

I’ve basically entrusted my partners to have the creative direction to run this and I’ve stayed more as a consultant on how to operate and run the venue because of my background in sound and club ownership in the past. While I’m more of a dancefloor producer/DJ, I wish I was more of an experimental artist to take advantage of the system… maybe in the future I’ll take some time to see what I could do in there!

Your own productions seem to have a uniting characteristic, and I find it difficult to put into words. They all have an intriguing sound that lures you along the track’s entirety, and whenever you hear them, they always captivate. Are these the kind of sounds that you as a listener, are drawn to? It would be interesting to know your musical influences.

I hope that each of my tracks captures an emotion or inevitably leaves room for the listener to have their own emotional response. I make stripped down music for my DJ sets. The sounds come from my experiences over the years and it’s just simply what I am drawn to and what comes out of me in the studio. I don’t ever set out to make something specific. What comes out of me at any given moment is what you get. I’ve said it numerous times, but I’m not a producer, I’m a DJ.

Last year saw your own imprint HUSH, and all your different projects that it has encompassed over the years, celebrate its 20th birthday. In a musical sense, how would you say your ear and taste has changed, if at all?

I think my taste has matured with age, but it’s still very much in-line with where it started. I have always been a fan of beats and rhythms and that is inevitably why I describe my taste with those words.

Travel is a constant within any successful DJ’s life. You have the opportunity to spread your sound and your emotion through music to audiences around the world. How have you embraced the touring lifestyle? Is it something you really enjoy?

I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to do this for a living, so I take it extremely serious and understand the responsibility that comes with it. It’s not always the easiest life to live, but to have the chance to play music to people all around the world is extremely special and continues to push me year after year.

It is always interesting to get a DJ’s interpretation of how different dancefloors receive their music. From culture to culture and crowd to crowd, what is the most fascinating way people have responded to your music?

Every place is different for sure… The hard part is balancing art vs entertainment. My upbringing was to go see an artist and take the ride with them during their presentation of what they envisioned musically for the night. Nowadays people come with too many expectations and want to be entertained… They show you their cell phones requesting tracks or just simply want to see you vs listen to you!

I try and create the environment of being free to play what I want and how I want. I don’t need nor do I chase getting a reaction from the crowd. I actually prefer dancefloors where people give no feedback and just dance, eyes closed, heads down. The best compliment I get is the private messages from fans describing their experience from the dancefloor… I can see/read when they received what I was putting out, when they felt the vibe of the night or I was able to change their perspective or give them a life-changing moment of reflection on the dancefloor. I know that may sound dramatic, but that’s what this music did for me and if I can provide that for others, that’s when I’m satisfied.

My mother doesn’t really listen to electronic music off her own back, but I always tried to introduce her to new sounds. She largely ignored lots of my suggestions, but when ‘Black Russian’ was playing, she immediately got up, entered the room and added it to her Spotify playlist. Now this is a lady who loves Abba and Norah Jones. I know that your own mother embraced your style of music when she used to help out at your parties, do you think these are some of the biggest indicators that techno music can be a vehicle that traverses all boundaries, whether it be age or something else? Is it this pureness that needs protecting in club culture?

Music has always crossed boundaries and united people regardless of language, race, religion, gender etc. Music is the absolute uniter of people. So yes, techno in its purest form is beats and rhythms and to experience it in the right place, on the right sound or even in the case of your mother or mine from a different generation, connecting to a track proves that theory.

Club culture absolutely needs to be protected as it allows space for people to have that experience hopefully in safe places, with like-minded people where they feel safe to let go and not worry about the outside world and what happens when they step off that dancefloor.

Thank you, Zak.

Thank you!

Catch DVS1 at Farr Festival 2018, July 5 -8 at Bygrave Woods. 

More info and tickets here.

Featured Images: Salar Kheradpejouh, Brian Lubking, Rebecca Crawford, SBH Photography

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