Dustin Zahn Interview
Techno, Purists and Minneapolis
The story behind Dustin Zahn is not a particularly unique or exciting one. There are no breakthrough moments or mentors who have taken him under their wing. But since 1998, his work has put his career on a slow and steady ascent. Along the way, Dustin has gained over 10 years of experience and unrivalled musical diversity as both a producer and a performer. This alone has earned him respect among techno and house legends, purists, and contemporary DJs.
We caught up with the Enemy Records label boss ahead of his set at Egg alongisde Gaiser, Luca Agnelli & Kyle E, this Saturday.
Your Facebook bio says you're 'Too purist for the club kids, but not pure enough for the purists.' Has the current popularity of techno kicked out the purists and clued up the club kids?
The great thing about techno’s current resurgence is that there is enough room for both crowds. Movement Festival happened in Detroit this weekend for example. On one stage, you have the likes of DVS1, Truncate and Ben Sims, Ben Klock, etc. and you also have other options like Adam Beyer, Paco Osuna, and Richie Hawtin.
My only disappointment is that people tend to pick one side of the fence and stay there. While my tastes generally lean towards a deeper, purist preference, I try to remain open-minded to everything. I believe this is part of the reason I still get to DJ regularly after almost 20 years.
You grew up near to Minneapolis, then moved there. What was the dance scene like there when you lived there?
It was fairly massive at one point. Like everywhere in the States, there was a major period of transition. I saw the rave scene fade away while club nights ramped up. In some ways, I think it was musically ahead of the curve more than other metropolis areas realise, but that’s because the city was never really interested in flaunting it.
Social media wasn’t a thing yet anyway. For example, minimal techno was really big even three or four years before it blew up all over the world. We had Magda and Matthew Dear for some of their earliest gigs outside of Michigan. Years later, the city would continue by hosting people like Klock and Dettmann before they became techno royalty. One after party, I tagged with Silent Servant and Dettmann. That wouldn’t happen anymore.
Also worth mentioning: the city still has the biggest sound systems you’ll find at parties. But again, you’ll never hear about this stuff because nobody there really gives a shit about social media. So far, most techno references to the city usually refer to myself, DVS1, or the Communique/Missile era. Minneapolis was always great.
With all the changes going on in America, is there more going on there now, or has it unleashed any producer following in your footstep?
Hell, as far as I know, I haven’t inspired anybody. Droid Behavior, Blank Code, DVS1, this harder side of techno seems to be a big inspiration for US producers and DJs. Feel free to prove me wrong, but generally it seems like America’s current generation is all about bangin’ ass techno. So it would be insane not to credit these people. On the event tip, it seems techno parties have slowed down overall. NY and LA are still going off every weekend but everything else seems a tad slow. Reputable producers and DJs like myself have had success overseas, so the events at home tend to take a back seat. Some people get upset about this. They think they’re being left behind but I look at it as the circle of life. It is time for some new crews to bring something fresh to the table. This should be exciting for everybody.
Where does London currently rate for you in terms of the best places to play? How about record shops, if you still buy vinyl?
Honestly, I never get to play in London. But the last time I played was absolutely incredible. As for record shops… I live in Berlin. I get my share of vinyl here, and if there is something I absolutely need to have I order it online, so I rarely record shop in other cities. I guess that’s a horrible thing for a DJ to say in an interview, but it’s the truth. I guess I’d vouch for Phonica though.
Reading an older interview, you said you went through a period where you didn't have much to say musically. What's the current output of your studio like? Is the turbulent state of the world helping or hindering your creative output?
I’m having the most fun since I started making music. I’ve reached a point where I’m very technically fluent, and I can finally translate ideas or concepts that I wasn’t able to write before. My coordination is still horrible for playing instruments, but I understand music theory at a greater depth now. This means there will be more material coming from me after the summer. I wouldn’t say they’re massive hits, but I believe in them regardless of how well they are received. I’m also started to branch out into other genres. It’s really just the beginning, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that song-writing elsewhere will be the direction of my 30s. Techno will always be in my DNA.
You're playing alongside Gaiser for his album tour. Do you have any plans to follow up your own debut album 'Monoliths'? Do you think next time you might go for an album that deviates from dance floor techno?
Yes. I started one last year, but I felt it was more of the same so I will put some of the tracks on EPs instead. Doing an album can be a lost cause these days. Not many people listen to them anymore and most musicians write one simply as an excuse to tour. However, with that being said I am still a massive supporter of the album format… for the musician!
There is no greater way to push your art than by undertaking a big project. If you remodel your home, take a class, or learn a new skill, you come out stronger and more educated on the other side. The chances of returns like this are considerably smaller when the task is smaller. If you’re a musician, you should write an album anyway, even if it’s just for you and your friends. You’ll learn from the process and you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.
As for my next album, I have things in early stages. It won’t be a techno album but there will be an undeniable hypnotic, electronic backbone that can come only from techno.
What's next for your label Enemy?
Two women have joined the label, Nastia Reigel and Gabriella Vergilov. Nastia’s record is very dark and tough while Gabriella’s record is the opposite. There will also be a new one from myself, and a follow up from Z.I.P.P.O. The label is picking up the pace. I used to sit back and wait for my friends to give me music that I liked. Now, I’m very into the idea of pushing them harder. I never chase after my friends for music, but these days I have no problem lighting a fire under their ass or telling them they can do better. They get bummed out for 15 minutes, but they always come back with an EP that is much better than what they originally intended. This is what labels need to do.
Name three tracks that sum up what you're likely to play at Egg Presents.
Actually, I have no clue what time I play yet, so that would determine everything. This weekend I had to pick out a bunch of techno for someone who knows nothing about it, so it reminded me of so much great music. I’ll have too much that I want to play.
Tell us something interesting about yourself that isn't currently public knowledge...
A while back, I seriously considered studying with the Upright Citizens Brigade but I never convinced myself that I had what it takes.