ICONS; Dave Clarke – Wisdom to the Wise

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ICONS; Dave Clarke – Wisdom to the Wise

In the second half of the nineties, no one was bigger than Dave Clarke, setting new standards for European techno with his ‘Red’ trilogy and taking dancefloors by storm with his thunderous DJ-sets. Twenty years later the Baron of Techno is still one of the major forces in electronic music.

Born In Brighton, England, Dave Clarke has always been a rebel in every sense of the word, categorically refusing to do what is expected of him. As a kid, he ran away from home, sleeping on beaches and in carparks, taking every badly paid DJ gig he could get. Starting out as a hiphop DJ (an influence that can still be heard in his dj-sets, complete with scratches and backspins), he gradually moved into techno, house and rave territory. By the dawn of the nineties Clarke had invested every penny he earned in all the equipment he could get his hands on, resulting in his first productions.

“I was always into technology and loved four track recorders, computers and drum machines, but it was only when the whole rave scene went ballistic in the UK – with illegal gigs and bad music in most cases – that the club scene died, even though we were playing acid way before the ‘summer of love’. Not wanting to sell out I put my energy into making music and after an initial EP that came out on XL I then spent more and more time in the studio.”

“Every advance I got was either ploughed back into equipment or rent. I was a lot thinner in those days. I had loads of releases under different aliases because I was trying to find out who I was. I went under the unimaginative guise of ‘Hardcore‘ for my first single, then things like Directional Force, K.O.D, Graphite, Fly by Wire – I made a gabber anthem without even thinking about it. It was only in the mid nineties when I found my production sound and I dropped all the aliases. And it was cool to hear John Peel mention my name on the radio.”

Dave Clarke – Wisdom To The Wise (RED2)

It was BBC Radio legend John Peel who gave him his moniker ‘The Baron of techno’ and for good reason. By 1995 Dave Clarke had released his immensely powerful ‘Red’ trilogy, influencing everything that came in its wake, even though that’s not something he’s happy to admit. Even suggesting Clarke was a major influence on the Swedish techno sound that was omnipresent in the second half of the nineties, for instance, will get you in trouble. “It’s a real shame you link that to my sound. That is not a sound I have ever really been into. Too bland. Obviously there are a few exceptions – some great electro has come from there, as does mister Joel Mull – but that boring Swedish tech house sound hasn’t changed in 20 years. 20 years! It is not and has never been contemporary. The funny thing is that I had no idea of whether it would be special or not when I made the ‘Red’ EP’s and that in a way made it special.”

“To make music with freedom, without any expectations and then to be rewarded. It was the same with the Electro Boogie and then of course World Service compilations which sold close to 100k copies. You just do your best and hope for the best.”

Times changed however, and a few years into the new millennium Clarke decided to slow down his production output considerably. “My life changed. I had to sell a lot of my old studio equipment, I moved to Amsterdam and I was waiting to see what happened to the old business model.”

“I wasn’t exactly excited about the new business model: people buying their own tracks to chart them higher and sales being tiny to insignificant.”

Clarke took some time out and focused on building a new life in the Dutch capital. “My first international gig ever was in Amsterdam in Richter at the end of the 80’s. Back then I knew I wanted to live there. Maybe there are laylines there, who knows. Then I got divorced and after being in England all my life I ended up in Amsterdam. I still loved the city. Eventually I made the decision to move there. Aside from a few small gripes – dreadful customer service, the Dutch not knowing how to queue – I ended up living in the most beautiful city in the Northern Hemisphere with the best airport in the world and some great friends, so I feel blessed how life worked out.”

A few years ago, after more than seven years of inactivity as a producer, Clarke got itchy production fingers again and started remixing tracks, this time with his new Dutch partner in crime Mr. Jones (real name Jonas Uittenbosch) as Unsubscribe. He’s still not ready to release new solo work, but he seems to be heading in the right direction slowly.

“I’m still trying to find my sound, to be happy with my production and to get deep, really deep into studio technique.”

Gesaffelstein – Aufstand (Unsubscribe remix)

He may be known for setting impossibly high standards for himself, Clarke is also pretty critical about the developments in electronic music in general.

“The manipulation that is happening in social media by fake buying of followers, the manipulation of music by PR companies buying the artists’ music to put it up a chart to then claim it’s a hit, these things are obviously not good. But the technological development has been amazing. The fact you can easily touch base with fans, that computers are ridiculously powerful, that music software keeps getting better is good. It’s a waste however that fans seem to not be political any more, not tribal. A lot of this bland unchallenging non contemporary tech house has made lethargic non responsive followers that use music as a backdrop, not as a tribal rally call with passion. But let’s be positive.”

“It will be seen through one day and the artists making great music that are coming through will and should be celebrated.”

Dave Clarke DJ Set at last year’s ADE

Picture credits: Gabriella Hengeveld and Michel Mees

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Rogier Oostlander

Rogier Oostlander is the former editor-in-chief of Bassic Groove Magazine, one of the first magazines worldwide dedicated to house music culture in the early nineties. He now works as a record dealer and copywriter in Haarlem, the Netherlands.