Dubspot Interview: MOBY @ 2011 Decibel Festival

The Dubspot rogue squadron caught up with legendary music creator Moby at Decibel 2011 to talk about music production, DJing, vegans, punk rock, productivity, creative resistance, and making mistakes for success.


Moby at Decibel 2011, Photo by Suzanne Strong

So the first question I have for you is.. why Decibel? This festival is an interesting amalgam of music, so I’m wondering what the attraction to this festival is for you.

Well, I’m here for a few reasons. I came because the nice people at Decibel asked me to come DJ. And also… it’s strange because I guess some people think of me as a very well known mainstream artist. But my background is in the bowels of the underground. So Decibel is primarily an underground music festival, which, whatever mainstream success I’ve had has been accidental and a fluke. I’ve spent much more time DJing in the grimy little bars in the lower east side to 30 people at 7 o’clock in the morning than I’ve spent being well known. So that’s why it makes sense for me to be here.

I’ve heard you are playing a techno set tonight?

Well… I’m DJing, and I don’t DJ that often, but I do a lot of different types of DJing. For instance, I did a hip hop set with Q-Tip recently. When I was growing up, in order to have a living as a DJ you had to be able to play everything. So I would perform at weddings, hip hop clubs, and play salsa, house music, as well as Joy Division and Nitzer Ebb. So you had to be eclectic to be able to pay the rent. But I also love different types of music. So now when I DJ, I tend to play either big, over the top bombastic sets or subtle underground sets. I think tonight will be a bit bigger and bombastic.

Dare I ask you to genre-fy it? Will it be house, techno? A certain BPM?

It’s interesting because the word techno has meant so many different things to so many different people over the last 25 years. For me, techno was house music that sounded more electronic. I remember when I got my first Inner City record someone said: “That’s techno.” And I thought – Big Fun, Good Life – these are house songs. But because Kevin Saunderson produced it, it was considered techno. Then in the 90′s house music stayed around 120 beats per minute while techno got faster and faster. But today they are pretty similar. Some house DJs make fast house records and some techno DJs make slow techno records. So anyway, I guess I play loud electronic music.

That seems fitting because Decibel is an amalgam of many styles of music that meld together for this event.

There was a time about 1993, 94 where it became so splintered and fractured that nobody knew what was going on. The difference between genres more often than not is just tempo. For instance, I love drum and bass.. but it’s so fast that I can’t play it. If I’m playing a set that’s 130 beats per minute, it’s really hard to work in a dubstep track or a drum and bass track.


Moby at Decibel 2011, Photos by Suzanne Strong

Are you a vinyl DJ?

I was a vinyl DJ until about three years ago. Three years ago I was DJing in Belgium, and I was standing in the baggage claim waiting for my records to arrive, and they never showed up. Eventually, they did – so it was a happy ending. But for about 30 minutes they didn’t. So as I stood there, I thought, “What if they don’t show up?” If you play guitar, and the guitar doesn’t show up – you just get a new guitar. If you are DJing and your records don’t show up – you can’t play. So at that moment I decided to switch over to CDs because I have multiple copies on USB sticks and my hard drive so theoretically nothing should go wrong. You always have the information somewhere. I love vinyl… I started DJing with vinyl in 1983 and until 2008 I only DJed vinyl. And now I’m not trying to sell Pioneer products, but those Pioneer CDJs and mixers are spectacular. I love vinyl, but I don’t miss needles skipping or having to tape quarters to the tonearm or having records melt in the sun.

Do you prefer a DJ set to a Live set these days?

I’m really grateful for the fact that I get to do a lot of different types of performance. When I go on tour most of the time, it’s with a full band, eight of us on stage. With that I play guitar, percussion, keyboards… and I really enjoy that. I also play bass in a blues band, guitar in a punk band, as well as in a heavy metal band.. and I also DJ.

Speaking of hardcore bands, I noticed your Bad Brains T-Shirt (and Sea Shepard hood.)

Sea Shepard is an environmental organization. There’s such an overlap between the worlds of hardcore punk and electronic music. I grew up playing in hardcore punk bands. So many of those people have become vegans and environmentalists. I’m not sure how we all ended up that way. There’s a place in LA called Cafe Gratitude, and I was there with friends of mine from H20, Agnostic Front, and Cro-Mags and thought “How did we all end up in a vegan restaurant run by hippies?”

Are there other artists at Decibel that you’re eager to hear or inspired by?

Well in my ignorance, and I shouldn’t admit this, I hadn’t heard about a third of the artists here at Decibel. So I did some research and realized that a lot of them haven’t put out records. This is amazing! It’s so underground here, so I didn’t feel too ignorant not knowing everyone. I really liked Ladytron, who are on the rock side of things. I also love Roxy Music, and I like that they got their name from a Roxy Music song. Some friends of mine are in a band called Au Revior Simone, and Erica who’s in that band is playing tomorrow night.

What advice would you give to Dubspot’s students who are getting into music production and trying to find success with their craft?

The great thing about music production in 2011 is that it doesn’t cost much to make music. When I was growing up getting equipment and learning to make music was hard and expensive. Getting studio time was hard and expensive. Today it’s all software based, so it’s much more accessible. But the danger is that it all sort of sounds the same. If everyone is using Ableton Live, Reason, and Logic – all great platforms – but a lot of the productions sound very similar to me. So one of the challenges to an up and coming producer is – how do you sound distinctive?

Do you have advice for this challenge? How do you sound different?

It’s very easy to stay purely in the digital realm because it does everything. Figure out how to incorporate an analog element. Learn how to use microphones, compressors, preamps, and samples. Bring elements in that other people aren’t going to have access to.

As a prolific producer, you’ve completed many projects. Many people face a resistance in completing artistic projects – a writer’s block when they want to be more productive. What advice would you give to people who are facing the problem of finishing a project?

Pretty simply, the variables involved in any sort of creative production, whether it’s making a painting or writing a book or whatever, the trajectories are pretty simple and pretty similar. So when you’re working on a piece of music, there is the musician, the equipment, and the audience. The question I think where a lot of resistance comes is: when do you involve the audience? There’s the literal audience, and then there’s the figurative audience that exists in our heads. What inhibits a lot of people is involving that figurative audience way too soon. You must give yourself the complete creative freedom to do whatever you want, and only start thinking about how people might respond to it when you’re ready to play it for them. Aside from that, nobody needs to hear it. So experiment and make mistakes and be imperfect, don’t judge what you are doing. Sometimes the best ideas come from mistakes. And also… just keep working. If I spend 100 days in a row making music there’s a chance nothing will come of it. But if I spend 100 days not making music it’s guaranteed that nothing will come of it. So keep working.

I have one last personal question. I’ve always loved “The Rain Falls and the Sky Shudders” from the Move EP (1993) and would love to know the story behind it.

Sure. I remember it very well. It was just a loop I made with a Casio CZ1 electric piano played down a couple of octaves. Then I had this half space rack mount piano module that I used to play piano on top of it. It was okay. Just okay. Then it was playing in the background while I was recording an answering machine message. And when I listened back to the message the music in the background sounded so much better through the answering machine. The answering machine had compressed everything and brought in all this road noise. So then I went and found sound effects libraries of road noise, room tones, and rain storms.


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  • Wouter
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Good article.
And ‘The Rain Falls and the Sky Shudders’ is such a lovely number!
New discovery for me. :)

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