Doc Sleep is an unsung hero. Low-key and understated, she’s an accomplished DJ and producer, as well as being part of the two-person team behind the consistently excellent Jacktone label. The label has amassed an incredible 70 releases since 2013, putting out tracks from the likes of gayphextwin, Roche, Experimental Housewife, CMD, and past Truancy Volume mixers Isabella and Russell E.L Butler. Originally from the Bay Area but now based in Berlin, she is a regular at clubs like Tresor, as well as being heavily involved as a resident and curator for the Room 4 Resistance collective. Her first official release under this name came in the mid-2010s, but she’s been producing in one way or another a decade longer than that, and like many of her peer group started off in “guitarish” bands. Nowadays she appears on her own label as well as the similarly busy Dark Entries. We talked to her about her origins, influences and the current state of the label among other things, while she contributes a stellar mix that builds with class and elegance from subtle beginnings.
So how have you been? What have you been up to lately and how’s Berlin? “Hi Aidan! I’m doing alright. Lately, I’ve been holed away, working on new music. But, winter is almost over, so life is ramping up again.”
So just going way back a little what can you tell about a basement studio off Dolores Park? From what I understand that’s where your love for creating synth-based music kind of started? “Ooh deep dig, VG+. Yes, the basement studio in SF was where I first had access to a synth collection, piles of records, turntables, recording equipment – all courtesy of my friend, Campbell. She was so generous and genuinely excited to share her time and knowledge. I learned about synthesis and how to DJ, but it also got me involved in the local DIY queer scene, which taught me the importance of creating your own networks and opportunities.”
How long before the name Doc Sleep came in on the timeline and what spurred the name? “The name comes from a book I was reading around that same time – Doctor Sleep by Madison Smartt Bell. I worked in publishing and read whatever I could get my hands on, so many of those fictional worlds and themes made an impression and seeped into creative projects. The book is about a hypnotherapist with insomnia and takes place over a long weekend in London (see, it’s actually about DJing!). But, basically I had just been booked for my first DJ gig, I had no DJ name and a week to come up with something. I liked the book, and Doctor Sleep sounded cool, like a character in a Jim Jarmusch movie. Did I anticipate I would use this name for 15 years? No.”
You’ve had some tracks pop up on different compilations recently (including on my own, for full disclosure) and you told me that one of those was an early track. How much music do you have in the vaults and how often do you go back through music you’ve made? Is there something to be learned from revisiting your old productions? “I think like many people, I have plenty of music sitting on hard drives with incomplete metadata and a disorganised filing system. But, I enjoy going through tracks and sometimes an idea from an older work resonates enough to explore it again. Other times, the track is just a capture of where you were at the time – tools you were using, genres you were exploring, where you were emotionally or mentally. All of this is useful and can help train your ears, spark new ideas, or just help you appreciate how far you’ve come.”
Jacktone recently hit the incredible number of 70 releases with the gayphextwin and Pepe split (with Naive) that came out in January. How do you look back on the label in the past five years? What keeps you motivated in your search for new music? “I feel so proud of everyone for making such weird, honest, awesome music. I also reflect a lot on how the music made its way to us in the first place – there’s usually an interesting story there. Jacktone has been such a rewarding project to work on with Darren, and now also Alex who is running Dreamtone, our sublabel, and Joao, who does our mastering, plus lots of friends who share their skills. As a label owner, searching for new music remains an exciting obsession, and if it isn’t, I should probably hang it up!”
You’ve kept yourself busy in Berlin it seems, I was reading a past interview where you mention having to be quite disciplined with the time management when it comes to prioritising all the projects you’re working on. Do you have a structure to things that works for you? “I have to be a strict dom with my schedule to get anything done. I get up early and pick a focus – Jacktone, production, digging, R4R, gig logistics – and dive in. Three hours before work and three-four after work, with longer sessions on the weekends if I’m not traveling. This system works, but sometimes it really doesn’t. Like, for example, when I want to have a life. I’m spending more time on production these days, so that means extended periods of focused time, and I’ll have to adjust and scale back, but life often helps work that out for you.”
How did you get involved with Room 4 Resistance? “My friend, Rishy, linked me up with Luz, the co-founder, when I first moved to Berlin. I asked if I could help out and get involved in some way, and it started a nice conversation, sharing about music and politics, and so on. They invited me to play a set in March 2016 and I instantly felt welcomed by the entire crew. I remember Yuko’s (Asanuma) set from that party, she was playing these warm, wonky psychedelic records and I felt so energised and like I had stumbled onto something very, very special.
“On March 21st, it will be my 4th year, and R4R moves into its 6th year. There’s been a lot of growth and transformation in that time, not the least of which is throwing events at Trauma Bar, we now have a cinema and can program ambient/experimental sets with live visuals in parallel with what’s happening on the main floor – it has completely transformed the events.”
Who are some of your biggest musical influences now, and which artists have always been influences on your musical output, be it with your own productions or music you put out from others on Jacktone? “I’ve been listening to Velocette and Chris Korda’s Perlon album a lot lately. My friend, dreamlogicc, is making really cool music. Someone I go back to for inspiration is Maurice Fulton, completely and consistently cosmically deranged funk. I love Midwest techno, past and present, mutant and melodic, but that is probably apparent if you’ve heard a set or my productions.
“As far as the label – we started in the Bay Area, where you have experimental and psychedelic influences, labels like Asphodel, Reflective, Tigerbeat6, Silent (who Darren worked with), and they all pushed boundaries and took wider-swath curatorial approaches. So, for me, I followed dance music, but was also deeply influenced by IDM/shoegaze/trip hop, etc. Darren comes from an experimental/noise/industrial background, so releasing diverse styles of electronic music seems quite natural.”
Twitter has its pros and cons, but it can be great for some sense of artist community. Have you made any or many signings through social network in general? “As far as signings, there is often some sort of connection already, an intro from another artist, dancing next to each other at the club, riding together in a Tesla Lyft to an after hours in Bayview (inside joke!), etc. But, there have been creative relationships that started on social media and eventually ended in demos. I do think it’s important to get to know the person far, far away from their social media persona, see where they’re coming from, what inspires them – even if it’s just email exchanges. But, especially in the context of releasing their creative work, it’s an important factor.”
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve recorded for us? Any direction or theme that drove the tracklist and are there any particular tracks or artists you want to shout out? “Well, first of all, I can tell you – thank you for having me. Second, shout out to Jimi Tenor, I’ve been your fan since the 90s! Lastly, always rep your pals.”
Last usual question from us, when was the last time you properly danced and what was the last thing to put a big smile on your face? “The final Cocktail d’Amore at Griessmuehle was my last proper marathon dance session. Emotions were running HIGH! I’m smiling this very second!”