Interview: DJ Sports

DJ Sports is part of the Regelbau crew from Aarhus in Denmark, who’ve made a big splash on the global house scene with their breezy, earthy yet enlivening brand of music over the past few years. He’s released on the collective’s various labels (Regelbau, Help and No Hands) under his own name, in collaboration with others as part of Maizena and Hi Mount, as well as put out a tape on the Dutch label Yield. Last month he released his debut album, Modern Species, on Scottish label Firecracker. It’s a perfect encapsulation of his style and approach, covering blissful ambient, euphoric house and jungle-infused wig-outs. After a long time spent trying to establish a viable connection using Facebook, Google Hangouts and eventually Skype, we spoke to the Danish producer about his plans to study art at university, his inspirations, and some funny experiences while travelling.

“It works! That’s so sick. At last! What’s up?” Nothing much. I don’t know about you but it’s really hot here. “That’s nice.”

Everyone’s melting. Can you tell me about the painting that’s behind you? “Oh, please. I’m in my studio right now, and the studio is part of a small music-teaching business. Some people got their heads together and started this music union where people can learn to play piano or guitar. It’s not our room, but I have it 24/7, and I share it with my brother (Natal Zaks, aka Central) and my friends Mathias (Man-dee) and Simon (pH 1) that I do music with. All the room is filled with our gear and there’s just a piano and some default, generic artwork. So I didn’t really choose it.” I’m sorry! I don’t know much about art so I would not have known that was generic. “It’s hard to see. It could be a painting! If you’re in the room, you know.”

The reason I ask is that you were talking before about going to university to study art. “Ah yeah! I don’t know if I told you but I got into the school. I’m really happy, I don’t know if I expected it that much but it’s really nice. I’m starting in September and doing it for the next five years. In Aarhus.” Is it a PhD? “No it’s only a bachelor. It’s a bit weird, there’s a lot of self-study so I don’t have a lot of class, so it doesn’t give me many credits. Because I study, it’s a bachelor through five years. Outside of Denmark it counts as a master’s as well. But it’s not really a master’s. I can study two years afterwards and do a master’s as well.” Seven years for a master’s seems like a lot. “Yeah, it’s something in between. I think I can do another year or two afterwards but I’m not really sure what that does.” It’s probably early to be thinking about that now. “Yeah exactly, I’m just happy to get started. I think it’s the right school for me. It’s very open minded, free on all forms of art and different mediums, so I can do whatever I want—if I want to do music that’s cool, and if I want to do other stuff that’s cool as well.”

Do you know now what form of art you’re going to be practising to start with? “I mean, I’m not really sure. I had a really fun time doing the application, which was based around conceptual art, where I wrote a lot and I applied with the test pressing for the Modern Species album that I just released, and then I approached the test pressing in other ways than the common way of just listening to the music on it. So I did some different pieces, written on a sheet—one of them was called ‘description of test press’ and then I described the test press function in the music industry, what it does for music culture and what it has been doing, and commented on the fact that it didn’t really have any particular artistic, aesthetic value, because it’s very white and generic, and it only leaves visual marks for practical use, like the catalogue number, and stuff like that. So that was one piece. Then I did some stuff where I took the test pressing of my brother’s album he released on Dekmantel two years ago—I wanted to approach the vinyl medium rather than the music on it. I simply put a match on the centre label, where the “sulphur” end was pointing towards the needle. Every time it would pass the needle I would make a small mark on an A5 sheet. When the needle hit the run-out groove, it would collide with the sulphur end, as the match is around 2mm longer than the centre label. Then I also did some really simple mathematical equations where I took the minutes and seconds on each side and multiplied them by 33.3 and then I knew how many drills there were supposed to be cut, so I set these equations up, and I had the experience of the time, the more mechanical equation of the time. If that makes sense.”

It’s an approach to music I’ve never come across before. “Yeah. It’s a bit weird, and I thought it’s a bit interesting. I had a lot of fun doing it. So I handed all these pieces in together, printed on nice material, did a one-off CD-R where I burned the same music on a CD that’s on the album, and then I talked about the cd medium and how people say the CD is decaying through time. Somehow the silver in the CD oxidates and the data can’t be read. So I referenced this through some previous artists who’ve been working with mediums as well. It meant the concept was a bit stronger. For example, I burned it on a CD that would decay after 20 years, and then I referenced it to a quote that Marcel Duchamp said, that a contemporary piece of art only has a lifetime of 20 years, because after 20 years it becomes part of art history and not contemporary art. So I thought it was fun that piece would never make it to art history. So stuff like that has been what I’ve been occupying my time with for the last month, and it’s been very joyful.” Obviously successful as well. “It’s very nice that the teachers at the school thought it was cool, I think they thought it was nice but I also think it was art that was very suited to an application, because it has way more depth to talk about, and way more insight into how I think rather than what I do, if you know what I mean. They come across a lot of applications where it’s paintings and maybe stuff where they can see people are talented or not, but they wouldn’t know if they’re fitted for education. So I think that’s why they liked it.”

You’ve just got to keep it up now! “I’m not really worried about that. At first I was like ok, I’ve got in and I’ve done music all my life, now I’m going to study art with people who aren’t doing the same stuff as I am. It’s going to be very interesting to see how that clashes, but my thought is that I don’t want to worry too much about it because the inspiration will come at some point. When you ask me what am I going to do, I’ve been thinking that every day! But I can just answer that from one day to another. Something will feel right and something will be done because I really like to work with art in general. Of course, music has been taking up most of my time but I always find an excuse to do music. If something doesn’t work I’ll try to do something else. It’s all about playing and trying not to overthink while keeping in mind that you’re talking to some kind of tradition every time you do art, if you know what I mean.”

To move over to music, is that how you approach music as well? Not overthinking it and seeing what feels right? “Yes, very much.” Obviously, you’re your own artist, but you’re famously part of a crew. One thing about the crew is that the music feels very natural; it’s not overthought, it’s not too clinical. It feels very organic. Does that sound right? “I think it sounds right. I would say that sometimes I do and in general we as a crew, me and my brother, we do overthink stuff, but it’s in a sense where I feel I’ve gone to a point where I’m not afraid to do something bad. If I do something and it doesn’t turn out well that’s cool, because tomorrow will be different, maybe something will turn out good. Not really worrying about doing bad art, because that’s just a part of approach—you can’t hit A+ every time, but then being very conscious when you do something that’s weak, then try to analyse why is it weak and how can I not end up in that boat again, even though I probably will!” So it’s more important to do something than to always do something good. “Exactly. It’s really a balance, because you don’t want to overthink stuff that much that you don’t get to produce, but you don’t want to produce bad music all your life. Sometimes you can listen to a nice record and say I want to do this very particular music, and it just doesn’t work out, and I think my point is, don’t try to force it, because that’s what makes it very somehow, recipe-like. Then at some point, you try to imitate stuff enough that when you forget it, then it comes naturally. I think it’s not a bad thing to imitate stuff.” Just in your own way, that it’s a part of you. “Yeah! It can turn out both really well and really bad, for me, and I think it’s important to keep that in mind, that it can go both ways.”

So an easy question here is, what music inspired the album? “I remember when I got in touch with Lindsay from Firecracker for the first time he had just got my tape off Yield, and he told me that he thought my stuff reminded him of Richard H Kirk. You know him?” I don’t. “Ok, it’s the guy behind that crazy band from the UK, Cabaret Voltaire. He has like 50 different aliases, and he’s released tonnes of material on Warp and a lot of different stuff. He had this one particular record under the name Electronic Eye, which was out in ’94—it’s a massive piece of work, it’s four LPs, and it’s some incredible ambient techno and house and downtempo. I thought that was a fucking insane release. I didn’t know it prior to what Lindsay told me, so I dived into his world and I was mesmerised.” Is this Closed Circuit? “Yeah. I think the CD release has even more music! Some of it is not really up my alley, but some parts of it I feel his compositions on this are insane, it’s basically ambient and house music in a non-club setting; very few of these tracks are club tracks. The composition is building up from nothing, and I think some of the tracks only have a proper house beat for the last minute of the track! But it’s very nice to listen to and I’ve been playing it too much in mixtapes. I always bring one of the records, so that’s really nice. Other than that, 4hero is a big inspiration.” Doesn’t he have a track called “Mr Kirk’s Nightmare”? When you said Kirk that was the first thing that came to mind for me, but obviously it’s something completely different. “That’s quite funny. His later stuff, from like ’94 to late ’90s is very sample-based jungle stuff. It’s not as sample-based as the Tom and Jerry stuff he did, it was very, very early jungle with a lot of disco samples. It’s much more goofy but very high-quality jungle as well. 4hero is much more atmospheric. But I’ve been listening to his stuff a lot as well. Other than that, I mean that’s the biggest inspiration maybe.”

In terms of the crew—this album is out on Firecracker, which is completely separate—did you make that choice deliberately to have your own identity or was there less to it than that? “I don’t think it’s much about trying to have my own ID that will eventually be clear; I’m in no rush to stand out. A lot of the people in our crew do amazing stuff and I just have all this material that would fit for an album and I thought it would be really cool to release through Firecracker because it’s a really cool label with some very solid previous acts, so I was overwhelmed by the fact that Lindsay was interested. Also I just thought it would be nice to try a different process rather than releasing through our own imprints, just to try out how it was. I think it was a very nice process. But I also think that I will still do a lot of stuff through our own imprints because it has a different feel. I think this was really nice, Lindsay’s a really nice guy, we went to Edinburgh and met him twice, my brother and I, and Al White and Roos (Dijkhuizen) did a fucking fantastic job on the artwork as well. That wouldn’t have been the same if we had done it ourselves. So it’s been really nice and I could totally see myself working with him again in future, that would be no problem. So all in all a really good experience, but a bit boundary pushing, at the very last moment we decided to do eight tracks and it suddenly became an album. For me it became a big deal, a bigger deal than previous. I don’t know why. Maybe because I hadn’t thought of it as an album throughout the process.” It became an album by itself. “Yeah! In the end, it did. It didn’t really make sense as a six-tracker, and then I was like, why don’t we do two (LPs), and Lindsay said that’s a good idea, so I ended up with eight tracks and I thought that was way better. The release is much stronger now in my opinion. I’m happy. We waited a couple of months, and that was the best decision I’ve made. I was in San Francisco with my brother, and Lindsay was in Bali, and I had to hand in some masters to Matt Colton, and Lindsay was like, I’m in Bali, I don’t have internet connection to listen, and he didn’t feel comfortable releasing them without listening to the pre-masters, which makes sense, so we decided on postponing the release. So we all came home, and I mixed some new tracks, which I didn’t think at all for the album or the release, and eventually they fitted better than some of the other tracks, and then we made an album instead!”

How much do you DJ vs producing? Is producing your main priority? “Definitely. I really enjoy DJing as well, it’s not that, but I see myself doing music for the rest of my life, and I don’t see myself DJing for the rest of my life.” Will you always be called DJ Sports then? “I mean a lot of previous acts throughout history that I like, they always put that in front of their name, and I thought it looked cool! So I wanted to do it myself. I think the music comes before the name.”

How much do you travel for music? Almost every time I’ve talked to you lately you’ve been going somewhere or coming back from somewhere. “It’s definitely been more the past three or four months. This is the first time, since a bit before I announced the album; we’re starting to get international jobs. Maybe once or twice a month, and that’s more than enough for me. Ideally, once a month would be best, but right now during the summer I’ve decided to do it a bit more because, I’m starting my studies after the summer and I won’t be able to travel as much. So now I’ll just try to get the best out of jobs with my friend and my brother. All of the jobs have been nice, meeting people I’m planning to do music with, both in Glasgow and Florence, and it’s always nice to visit C.K in Berlin as he moved from Århus a year ago. It’s good for me, and it’s a privilege.”

Where’s your favourite place you’ve been so far? “Yesterday I just came back from Tbilisi, with my friend Mathias (Okholm, Manmade DeeJay), and it was a nice trip. That city and the people in that city were very nice. I didn’t know what to expect, I just checked it out and my friend Chris and Liam from Pender Street Steppers said that they were very nice guys, so we decided to go ahead, and it turned out very well. Besides the fact that we missed both of our flights! That was kind of fucked. There was a car crash in the highway, we were flying from Hamburg, so we were stuck two and a half hours, and we missed the flight. We wrote the promoters that we missed the flight, and Mathias and I booked flights the same night, we were delayed two hours, but we had to play the night after so it didn’t really matter. When we arrived and played the show, everything was nice and they were great people. It was a very nice experience. Then we were told that the flight company had cancelled our flights home, because we didn’t get the flight down, apparently, they can do that. So the club owner said he could buy flights for us, but he booked them for Copenhagen, and our car was in Hamburg! So we flew to Copenhagen and I took a bus home, and Mathias took a train to Hamburg. That’s another four-and-a-half hours, and then he drove home from Hamburg to Aarhus. So he was home after being on the road for 35 hours or something. I was home after 23 hours, so that was fine. I mean there were no bad vibes, no blame or anything.” Things happen! “Yeah, stuff like that happens, and it was a good experience. My body is quite fucked though. That was a good experience. We went to Florence to visit the guy behind the gravity label from Siena. I went with my brother to play a show and that was fucking sick. It seemed almost like a private party, the venue was 120 people capacity or something, in this old wine basement, where the walls were cool stones. It was my first time in Italy. I’m really happy travelling around, to meet people who do stuff that’s inspiring, that’s amazing to do that.”

The album’s out, but what’s next? “Hopefully, I’ll finish up more stuff for our own imprints soon, but I have two records coming out with my brother. Natal and I did two records under the names Palta & Ti. One is coming out on 12th Isle, Al White did the artwork, and another one is coming out through Gravity Graffiti. That’s two EPs. And then the new Regelbau is out today of course. And I think that’s it for now. I’m working with some stuff with some friends who use other instruments, and during the summer I’ll try to make some more “band” music, see how that goes.”

DJ Sports – Modern Species is out now on Firecracker. Buy here

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...