An Interview with Moe Espinosa: What drives Drumcell to be Drumcell

By | June 5, 2015
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Exactly two weeks ago today I was in the back of a car on my way to Detroit for Movement Electronic Music Festival readying to interview Moe Espinosa, better known in the dance and techno music circuit as Drumcell. As an avid techno listener, there was a lot I wanted to ask, but wasn’t exactly sure which direction to go. I knew what to start with as recently two opposing articles by Thump and Mixmag aimed to dissect the LA techno scene but instead created a lot of internet noise, but beyond that I wanted to get a real feel of what drives Drumcell to be Drumcell. As the co-owner and spearheading figure of Droid Behavior together with Raiz, Moe has been at the forefront of the West Coast techno scene for over a decade while exporting his signature sound to all corners of the globe. He has also launched the infamous Interface/Scene party series, which has had a home in Detroit during Movement weekend for the past 4 years in collaboration with Detroit’s BLANK CODE. That weekend, he was poised to take over the Underground stage for two hours as Cell Injection alongside David Flores aka Truncate/Audio Injection, on top of managing the latest Interface/Scene party at The Works.

My previous experiences with Moe consisted of a dark silhouette whose knob twists and motions produced extremely hard, visceral and almost hypnotizing techno. Needless to say this was to be a very different situation: as I met him later that evening outside of the Westin in downtown Detroit, I was greeted by one of the nicest most down-to-earth person I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Conversation felt natural, fluid and hardly like an interview at all – something very hard to find with touring DJs of his caliber. In fact, we talked for a while outside and on the way up to his room before things really got started. And where to start it from if not with the recent articles that had LA’s techno scene on the tongue of many these past few weeks…

DownBeats: There’s been a lot of chatter about the recent articles by Thump and Mixmag on the LA techno scene. What is the current direction you are going with Droid Behavior out there at the moment?

Moe: I think at this point we are just trying to continue to curate good music in the scene as much as possible. Obviously things are a lot different than how they used to be. At the beginning when we first started Droid the scene was at its worst and at a slow dying rate. We just did everything we could to spark interest back into the music and do our part in educating the city to the music and I think we accomplished that. Now a lot of transplants are moving out to LA from different cities that have large techno scenes so the educational part of it is not as much of a necessity. But there’s a lot of people in the city doing great events like the new opening of the record store in LA called Mount Analog – they are throwing a lot of incredible parties. We are doing our share and there’s this new club in LA opening up called Prototype that is doing a lot of nights as well. We are doing a lot of teaming up with promoters and working together and I can speak personally from my perspective, and I don’t know if everyone thinks with me, but I try to avoid the same flaws that other cities have with competition where everyone is trying to out-book each other. Personally I think this music is far to small for promoters to be in the same city in the US competing against each other. I think that we all have better opportunities of the entire country flourishing with this music when everyone is working together to make this music become more relevant. With this “EDM thing” that has been taking over it has been more and more difficult to take the younger generations into this music and to educate them on the roots and foundations of where this music came from. 

We are just continuously throwing our Interface parties and doing what we can in the city and trying to, more so now than ever before, push the record label and get a lot of this whole younger generations of upcoming producers that are putting out a lot of great music to help establish this great sound for LA techno.

DownBeats: You mentioned EDM. It wasn’t something that I particularly thought about talking today but you mentioned that you feel it’s more difficult now to bridge these young EDM listeners to the techno scene?

Moe: Yeah we live in this generation of kids that want this instant gratification with music. There is such a short attention span where people don’t want to actually sit and spend the time to listen to such a meditative style of music like techno. With EDM, it’s instant gratification with drops and big build-ups and breakdowns and all this shit. What I hope is that for a lot of people getting into the rave scene in the 90s, your taste of music kind of matures. I hope that with the young kids into EDM now, if they stick with electronic music long enough and they love it enough their taste will eventually mature and they will start liking deeper music that you need to put a greater deal of thought into. I made this kind of reference the other day where EDM is similar to this giant Michael Bay film with giant explosions where techno is more of a Stanley Kubrick type of movie you know? There’s a lot to pay attention to and get the small nuances in between the music and actually really learn it. To give it the time it deserves.

DownBeats: I couldn’t agree more. As a techno fan when I speak to people who are more on the EDM side of the dance music scene they feel that techno is very repetitive whereas that’s how the continuous build-ups and drops feel to me. It’s crazy how important it is to train your ear to listen and be patient with music.

Moe: Yeah. So I do not know if it’s necessarily harder or what but it’s difficult this day because most of the kids that are into this EDM world skip the entire generation of knowing where techno and house music came from and frankly it seems like most people don’t give a shit. Steve Aoki is God to them and nothing else matters (laughs)

CELLINJECTION

Cell Injection – Underground Stage Movement 2015 Photo by Dean Paul De Leon

DownBeats: You are talking about roots and obviously we are in Detroit today, the birthplace of techno. Are there any particular artists that inspired you in the beginning when you started off?

Moe: Oh absolutely I was part of the whole run-of-the-mill thing in the early 90s when I was young and going to raves. I don’t think genres really mattered so much. In the West Coast you had these massive raves where you had drum & bass, a house room, a hard-core room and a techno room and it was such a mixed bag and everyone wasn’t so particularly genre focused. But obviously you find your niche and it was the same thing for me and the one thing I picked up from my older brother, who was such a huge influence on me, was learning the roots of where your music comes from because if you don’t know, you don’t have a very firm standpoint of where it’s going in the future. All the early Detroit techno stuff was a big influence on me from Kevin Saunderson to Derrick May but in particular the one person who had a major impact on me was Jeff Mills. That one really got me deep down inside and even in the early days the original Plastikman stuff that Richie Hawtin was doing, that stuff just absolutely blew my mind. It was always weird being this young teenager from the West Coast as Detroit was so far away… this exotic world. You conjured up all these ideas and would hear stories of all these parties that were going on and it became like a dream destination like “Some day I am actually going to go to this city!” And we did, we came out here for the first time in 2001 and this is my fourteenth year actually coming to the festival.

DownBeats: And your first time was a fan right?

Moe: Absolutely. I mean by then it already meant so much to us to come to the festival. The festival first went on in 2000 and I didn’t go the very first year but we saw it happen and we were like “Oh my God! We got to go!” and being in our young 20s we were scraping up whatever cash we could to come out here. We rented this hotel room at this motel “Knights Inn” which was like $40 a night and crammed like 9 people in the room. Totally budget, doing everything we could to be here but that’s how much it meant to us

DownBeats: That’s crazy. It reminds me of my first Movement a few years ago when we crammed 7 people in a run down airbnb house. It was just whatever it took to get to Detroit for Movement. Shows how much this festival means to people though. How many Interface parties have you done here now?

Moe: What number are we on? 53. For Detroit this is our 4th with the Blank Code guys of course, but we have been doing them all over. In Amsterdam, New York, Denver Colorado. This October we are doing one in Paris, France. We are taking the party series around after it started in LA. The whole entire concept behind Interface was to go back to the roots of break in underground parties that influenced us so much growing up and to bring this element of this whole audio visual experience. It’s not like most raves where visuals are an accessory to the party that no one gives a shit about, we want the visuals and sound to be as big of a party as the music the DJs that are performing. The music and the audio experience work together as one. For us it’s really important to get this point across. Promoters contact us from all over the place saying “We want to do Interface” and they would send us a picture of the club with absolutely no audio visuals and it doesn’t work that way. We will do Droid label show-cases in clubs, but we can by no means lower our standards of what we consider Interface to be, because to us it’s something we hold very dear to ourselves. It needs to be done the proper way.

DownBeats: Definitely, you cannot compromise on the whole Interface experience. I saw videos of an Interface party you did in LA with Marcel Dettmann that looked absolutely crazy!

Moe: Yeah definitely, that was our 10th year anniversary party and there is always this pressure in LA to do something bigger and better than the one we have done before. That year we wanted to go all out and we did this whole 180 degree wall visual in this film studio where they shoot movies. It’s funny the week before we were there, Daft Punk was shooting their video for their new album and it’s apparently the biggest green screen/digital video room in Hollywood. That was massive and when our 11th year anniversary came along, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to top that so we skimmed it back to what Interface was when we first started and we took it back to its roots.

Drumcell

Cell Injection – Underground Stage Movement 2015 Photo by Dean Paul De Leon

DownBeats: I remember seeing you a couple of times in Chicago, both at Smart Bar and Primary. What’s your view of the city as far as the techno scene there?

Moe: I have a bit of a special relationship with Chicago because the city was one of the very first cities outside of LA that I had the chance to play in. I think it’s one of my favorite cities in the entire United States and maybe not particularly because of its music scene necessarily but because of a particular set of friends there that make it so special to me. So every time I am there I have had such a great time. Back in the day there was a record label called Kompute Records and this guy called Matt Knee used to run this label and throw shows and I was flying out there three to four times a year playing gigs and I remember that every single time I went it was one of the best times of my life. It’s a mixture of nostalgia and I know that in the last four to five years things slowed down with techno and it wasn’t so happening but with Jeff Derringer and what you guys (Spybar) are doing… I think it’s a great thing and I love to see the Chicago flourish (with techno) the way it used to back in the day.

DownBeats: Have you ever done an Interface party in Chicago?

Moe: Not yet. Well me and Jeff (Derringer of Oktave Chicago/Smart Bar) did an Interface party in New York. I think he was still living in New York at the time before he moved to Chicago but we haven’t had a chance to do Interface in Chicago yet. One day!

DownBeats: What is your view on ear protection from a DJ standpoint?

Moe: I think it’s extremely important. I mean I have my fitted custom ear plugs but I do not use them while I am playing. I do not know what it is but there is something to be said about the amount of energy and intensity I get when I am playing music and for me, to get in my zone, I need to listen to music loud. Sometimes I am in the studio with David, you know Truncate/Audio Injection, and he is like “Man you mix your music way too loud, turn that shit down!” but I feed off that energy. But the second I stop playing I pop in my ear protection and enjoy the rest of the party with them on. I mean it’s my livelihood you know?

DownBeats: Definitely, monitor volume and where you stand all play a role too. I remember when I first went down to the Underground stage (at Movement) a few years ago and just not being able to stand in there without ear plugs it was so loud.

Moe: Oh definitely. I think about a lot of DJs like… I remember Omar Santana, he was a big DJ in the 90s and he lost his hearing because he was just producing super loud and DJing all the time and his hearing just went bad. And it’s just such a heart breaking thing for a musician who relies so heavily on your ears to do what you love and if you don’t take care of them and protect them as much as possible the day they are gone you lose a part of yourself. I think it’s incredibly important for everyone to really take care of the one thing you need the most.

DownBeats: How about from a fan’s point of view, the people at your sets?

Moe: Yeah of course even from a fan’s perspective, if you want to keep going to shows in 5 to 10 years time you have to protect your ears.

CELLINJECTION1

Cell Injection – Underground Stage Movement 2015 Photo by Dean Paul De Leon

DownBeats: What do you have in store for us tomorrow at the Underground stage?

Moe: David and I have both been on tour so we haven’t had a lot of time to get together and figure something out but met up on Wednesday and threw together some edits and last minute jams to open up our set. We have something special to open up with… and a few big jams. And between the both of us playing two hours… well it may sound stupid but we are spoiled playing in Europe for so long where we get these very long sets where you can go in a lot of directions emotionally and are able to experiment. We got two hours split between two people so you kind of go for the jams and deliver the hits as quickly as possible. We have an arsenal of some pretty cool tracks for you!

DownBeats: It sounds like a real treat. I will see you front right and center tomorrow!

 

And what a treat it was. I was covering the festival for the weekend but I let myself go for those two hours, refusing to worry about track titles or special edits, but instead concentrating on 120 minutes of dark subliminal techno. Thank you Moe, I look forward to the next opportunity to see you and perhaps who knows for an Interface party in Chicago. My techno heart can only hope!

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