Filed under: Interview
Originally from Sacramento California, Daniel moved to Detroit after a surprise success with his first 12′ “Technarchy”,released on +8 records and co-produced by Richie Hawtin and John Aquaviva. Daniel then started his own company Accelerate Communications in 1992.
With Accelerate Daniel released a small string of influential releases. He reduced the Detroit techno sound into funky, streamlined grooves. The formula proved to be successful and helped launch a new minimal aesthetic in techno and house music. With the overwhelming success of his “Losing Control” single (an international underground hit in 1994), Daniel set up Seventh City Distribution. For the next four years he worked to assist smaller Midwest labels to get distribution in overseas markets. He helped finance the start-ups of several labels including Anthony Shakir’s “Frictional” and Dopplereffekt’s “Dataphysix”. He also created three new labels – 7th City, which to this day releases cutting-edge techno music, Elevate (with then unknown house producer Theo Parrish) and Harmonie Park (originally with Rich Wade).
Because of the workload of owning and operating many ventures his music production ceased for a few years. In 2000 he released his first mix c.d. with Tresor Records entitled “The Button Down Mind of Daniel Bell” and in a surprise move relocated to Berlin, Germany. In Berlin he has developed and promoted new talent for his 7th City label and has quietly restarted his recording career with a series of remixes for a diverse range of artists including, John Tejada, Pantytec, Akufen, and Anthony Shakir. In February 2003 he will release his second mix cd “The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back” on the Paris-based label Logistic. In the near future, Daniel will start another new label to release his latest productions.
Interview by Laura Brown (ArcTokyo)
HRFQ : You just got back from playing in Nagoya and Osaka. How did those go?
Daniel Bell : They were very good. People were great – especially Osaka. Generally really nice gigs and we met so many cool people. I think for the most part they were receptive.
HRFQ : You’ve been involved in the four record labels, Accelerate, 7th City, Elevate and Harmonie Park? Are you still involved in them?
Daniel : Elevate is kind of dormant for the moment. Almost the same with 7th City. Just figuring out exactly where I’m going to go with that. Accelerate, I’m working on a series of re-mastering the old things. There’s still quite a demand for a lot of the stuff I did in the mid 90’s, so I’m going to re-master that and repackage it. And that will hopefully happen within the next year — get everything out. Slowly in stages. And with Harmonie Park, I was really only involved in the first record and the start-up of the company with Rick Wade, and then after the second release I had to move on because I had too much happening at that time. I left it in the capable hands of Rick Wade. I might start another label, because I really like the idea of having a beginning and an end to labels, instead of them continuing on and on and kind of fizzling out. I’d rather have this set package, you know. And the idea was never to release too much — to take our time with each release and make sure it’s consistent with the idea and the focus of each label. So for that reason, I don’t put out a lot of releases. That’s the status with those labels right now.
HRFQ : What are the concepts behind these labels?
Daniel : With 7th City, it was loosely based and the name came from a comic book where the 7th city was a fictional city based on Detroit, so the idea behind that label was to have music that was based on what happened in Detroit and the Detroit techno scene, and try to evolve it in our own little way, because the music is different on each release on 7th City, but that’s the common thread. It all kind of was inspired by Detroit techno. 7th City I only recorded for one or two tracks, so that was always something I had for other artists, besides myself. And Accelerate, it is only my music. There’s nobody else expect for maybe a remix or something. The concept of that was much different. It was started in 1992 and at that time, the rave scene was really big in the US and I was working with Richie and we were doing a lot of tours, threw a lot of raves in the US and UK. I didn’t really like it — it was 100 degrees the wrong way. Coming from being a fan of the earlier Chicago and Detroit stuff, this [the rave scene] was more like a carnival atmosphere. It didn’t seem sophisticated, it was just always over the top. So Accelerate was kind of my reaction to pull back and go back to the roots, to the specific style I liked. So not only in the look of the label and how it was presented, but also in the music and to take out all of the unnecessary stuff and create a blueprint, continuing something that I felt wasn’t finished yet. It’s also like when Detroit techno came to Germany, it mixed and created a different sound called techno, but it was removed from the original idea of it. It was mixed with a lot of high energy music, so now you have a lot of extra extra extra energy all the time and to me it’s a false thing. Or rather, stylistically it’s not what I want to do. So it was pulling back from that, and more centered on grooves and stuff like that.
HRFQ : Have you recently signed any new artists?
Daniel : Yes, this guy Frankie. He’s from France and he’s a younger guy doing some great stuff. He has already had a few releases on his own label, called Frankie. And he’s got a really cool sound and has a really stripped down approach to it and like I said, I think he’s been DJing for a while, but he’s really just started into production, so yes his records have been a big hit for our whole crew.
HRFQ : Are you currently working on any new releases?
Daniel : I don’t know when I can start to work on my own stuff again because I have such a backlog of remixes to get done. I’m trying to get through a remix for Ark and a remix for Krikor, another guy from Paris and Oliver Hacke for Trapeze and a few more. It always takes me a long time to do music. Not because I work really slow, but also because I’ve been traveling a lot and I’ve been getting away from doing tracks while I’m traveling. I like to just be in the studio, alone with no other distractions. Now it’s taking a while to get stuff done. When I start doing music, I’m going to be doing a lot because it’s really built up now, so I’m looking forward to it.
HRFQ : You don’t generally use any software or new technology when you are performing –only vinyl. Would you ever consider using anything and if so, what?
Daniel : I’m pretty much only vinyl. If I have a CD, I’ll play it. I’m not against it, but vinyl is best for me. I’m not that much into Final Scratch or anything like that.
HRFQ : Do you think 12-inch shops will be anyway replaced by online stores selling MP3 via download?
Daniel : It’s really hard to say. Yeah, you could look at it as whatever trends are happening in the mainstream and think that is also the trend for what we are involved in. It’s been proven before because when CDs came, a lot of people thought that the underground vinyl market would move into CDs, but that never happened. So, I think that there will be a market for people to do something like that, but still for what we do, vinyl is still really strong. A lot of my friends who do use Final Scratch are buying the records and recording them to play, so there’s a certain resiliency for dance music being on vinyl and it hasn’t changed since the ’70’s, so I don’t think it will disappear that fast. There are a lot of people like myself who prefer vinyl anyways, because they feel it’s the best in a club. If you play MP3s in a club, it does not sound the same. There’s a difference, especially on a good system, you can really hear the difference. Whether one thing will replace the other, I don’t know. Definitely for more home-oriented stuff, listening that’s not so DJ oriented, yeah I can see that being the future.
HRFQ : If any of online stores say they want to sell your labels’ music with MP3, what would be your answer to that?
Daniel : Sure, we already started with some discussions with Apple…
HRFQ : Now you are in Berlin. If you would have stayed in Detroit, would your music have been affected? Can you explain how your music as grown/or not from living abroad?
Daniel : To be honest, I don’t think it affects my music at all — to move from one place to another. I know it sounds kind of arrogant to say that, but I don’t think it’s had that much of an impact. For me, being in a community that’s kind of working together to push ahead, of course there’s going to be competition, but as long as everyone is kind of cool, it’s the best thing for the scene overall. That’s what I was finding in Berlin that maybe I wasn’t finding in Detroit all the time. But yeah, I think sometimes you have certain elements of being in Berlin leak into it, but not that much. More my DJing has changed a lot since moving to Berlin because my DJing wasn’t so set, it kind of moved a bit, stylistically, but I’m kind of set in stone with how I do music, so it doesn’t change that much.
HRFQ : What new artist have you been listening to recently who has challenged or inspired you?
Daniel : For this type of music, there’s a lot in Germany, and a lot of the people aren’t that well known yet — maybe they’ve only had one or two records out. I think it’s a really good scene. Especially in Germany, Switzerland and France right now. There’s a lot of new artists coming out that are coming with their own ideas and they’re own style, so that’s cool. I think that’s the most important — that they feel confident to do their own style and not mimicking something else. That’s what really interests me, is something totally fresh-sounding. To get into individual names, it’s hard. There’s a lot of guys like Baby Ford, or Zip who does Perlon, Ricardo [Villalobos], Luciano or Ark, these guys who have been doing music for a long long time. With Ricardo or Luciano, it may seem like they are newer, but they’ve been also doing music for a long time. That to me is great. Especially people like Baby Ford. I started doing records in 1990, but he started I think in 1988, or 1987, so he’s pushing forward. To me that’s great because then it’s a different tradition than this throw-away consumer culture. This is more a long-term thing, like Jazz music, where the artist is able to expand and evolve his style over time. It’s a really cool thing when you are allowed to be in a situation like that. So it’s always an inspiration to see people who’ve been doing it for so long and still pushing themselves. It’s not only the young guys, but also the old guys.
HRFQ : So many art forms have evolved because of surrounding circumstances – political unrest or injustice. Do you agree with this statement that struggle creates stronger or more influential art, etc? Have you seen this kind of elements from Berlin’s music scene?
Daniel : I don’t know… I think that’s kind of a romantic way of thinking of things sometimes. It’s almost a dangerous way of thinking because it could lead you into some dark areas if you think that only creativity comes from struggle. Just making music and trying to further it and develop it on your own terms, it’s always going to be a struggle. Maybe more of a personal struggle, but that’s always in the background. If it’s too much though, then it totally kills things also. So I think, for anything to blossom, there has be some kind of place where people feel safe to do it. Like in Detroit and then again in Berlin, you have cities that are cheap to live in, in comparison to NYC now and Tokyo. I think it’s really hard to be as self-indulgent in cities like that because you have real realities with paying rent and the cost of living is much higher. But in Detroit and Berlin it’s much cheaper to live, so you have a lot more breathing room for what you do. I think even more than struggle, that’s also very important. And sure whenever people feel oppressed or whatever, it can come out it a creative sense, but that’s not the rule. There is so great music that came from people with very wealthy backgrounds, so you can’t discount what they do, just because they didn’t have to go through this struggle. You can never though guess what people go through though in their lives — what brought them to that thing. But going back, I’m a little wary though of the struggle statement and I don’t know how realistic it is.
HRFQ : Do you see yourself living in Berlin for the foreseeable future?
Daniel : No, I don’t really look at it that way. With all of us now, we all move around quite a bit, so it’s not a big deal for us to pull up stakes and move somewhere else. I can see having an apartment there for a couple more years for sure and see what happens. If prices go up there, then maybe I’ll have to look at somewhere else.
End of the interview
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