Motor City Drum Ensemble: een Duitse grootheid, verborgen op de Oudegracht

Analoog bastion in een digitale wereld

Tekst: Jelle Talsma / Foto's: Raymond Dekker ,

De Oudegracht. Slagader van Utrecht, op spitsuren ondoordringbaar door de massa’s fietsers en wandelaars die anarchistisch langs elkaar heen manoeuvreren. Wie verder kijkt dan zijn neus lang is ziet meer dan alleen de winkels, werfjes, kroegen en mompelende zwervers. Zo vonden wij onlangs uit dat de Duitse dj, Danilo Plessow (28), alias Motor City Drum Ensemble, op de Oudegracht woont. Waarom resideert een Duitse dj die van Berlijn tot Detroit gewild is om zijn dj en produceerkunsten of all places in Utrecht? Voor deze vraag, en nog een aantal andere, zochten we hem op in zijn ondergrondse studio.
Om de essentie van het verhaal te behouden wordt het interview in het Engels weergegeven.

“I doubted if I wanted to continue like this: travelling all the time and getting even deeper in not feeling comfortable with it. That’s when I decided to take a break.” Danilo Plessow, a.k.a Motor City Drum Ensemble, prepares coffee in his small, cozy apartment while he talks about a difficult period in his life. His Dutch girlfriend, who is finishing her master in Utrecht, is hanging the laundry to dry. The reason for moving to Utrecht was romantic: he met his girlfriend in Amsterdam and moved to the Netherlands to be with her.

Not so long ago Danilo took a break from djing, he decided to take it easy for a while. “The last record I released in January contained some tracks I did since I had a burnout. This period for me was just a time of coming back to my senses. Now I play three or four shows a month. It may not sound so much compared to others, but it’s still quite something. I just don’t want to do two or more shows a weekend all the time for now, because I’ve did it for so long.”

When the photographer arrives and everyone’s provided with something to drink, we descend to Danilo’s studio. It’s an imposing cellar, with what looks like medieval castle steps leading down to it. The studio is stacked with loads of vinyl, drum computers and synthesizers from another century. Danilo resides here most of the day, working on tracks that get a massive response in the dance scene. Would he say Utrecht contributed to his creative process? “There might be something subconsciously happening but it’s not that I noticed doing something very different. I must say that the way of living here is quite inspiring to me. For instance, in Germany it was really hard to find the right records, while here it’s like heaven with all the record stores, flea markets and kringloopwinkels. I do miss Germany sometimes, now is a really cool time to live there. The Germans are very aware of their bad history and learned from it. We are all brought up in a way that when there is something slightly racist everybody is reacting supersensitive.  If you look at Europe and the political situation, Germany is doing pretty well. It’s not too conservative - there are no crazy right wing people with big political influence like you have in Holland, like Geert Wilders. Even Merkel’s party, which is the right wing party, is picking up all the left wing stuff like green energy and gay marriage. I like that and miss that a bit, but at the same time Holland had that ten years ago and right now you’re going back to a more conservative direction.”

Motor City Drum Ensemble is known for it’s organic sounding house productions, with a lot of influence from jazz, soul and hiphop. Danilo has a strong affiliation with all these genres, and played classical instruments from an early age. “I don’t separate house music from more classical genres. For me house music is jazz music and jazz music is soul music. It all comes from the same source. House is a bit alienated these days from where it actually came from. It was a rebellious thing, that’s where you see the connection to jazz. If you go to clubs today there’s nothing rebellious anymore, nothing political attached to it. That’s what I miss sometimes with club music, I wish there was more a message than just the ‘let’s get fucked’ thing.”

With the djing on a relative low level with three or four shows a month, Danilo has loads of time to work on his productions. With his approach his underground studio has become an analog bastion in a digital world. “These days everybody uses Ableton and downloads the same samples on the internet. So naturally the end results are quite similar in a way. There is also a certain expectation from people how things should sound. For example if you play out some crowds expect that the bass drum has a certain level, that it cuts through and is really punchy. I don’t want to produce like this because it has the maximum effect and it’s the simplest approach, enough people out there do it already. If you play a set with all these modern type techniques, more analog orientated records really cut through the mix, because they sound different. That’s why I still like to produce in that way. These days not many people do it anymore.”

Danilo describes his production technique as ‘mixing and fitting together stuff in productions that you wouldn’t fit together if you thought about it in the first place.’ His unconventional approach brought him a long way, but he also feels the pressure from living up to expectations and dealing with critics. “I don’t want to do tracks for the sake that people have something to talk about, I always wanted to do music for myself. I had to learn to not listen to all the people criticizing your music but just to let it out and do it like I always did it.  It’s really hard to make that step.  Especially when it’s criticism that’s completely wrong, that can really hurt. If you’re a very confident person then you don’t give a shit and you do whatever you think. If you’re a little more emotional like me that becomes harder. I like it if the record gets good feedback and sells good, but at the same time if I truly believe in it I don’t mind if people don’t get it.”

When the interview comes to an end Danilo gives one last performance on his synthesizers and his rare drum computers, which he calls ‘machines with balls.’ Though he’s not even trying, it’s an impressive and mystifying experience. Characteristic for Danilo is the extreme enthusiasm when he talks about records or plays with his drum machine. With more time, less travelling, this passion blooms on the Oudegracht and will probably resound in his productions and gigs for a long time coming.

Te zien: Motor City Drum Ensemble, Dekmantel Queensday, dinsdag 30 april 2013 @ MC Theater Amsterdam