Acolyte of the polyrhythm and practitioner of physical modelling, Florian Meyer, AKA Don’t DJ, cuts a curious figure in electronic music. Where some are content taking an orthodox approach in the studio, Meyer uses algorithms and experimental techniques involving turntables to aid him in the creation of his otherworldly exotica and strange rhythmic experiments – one such method incorporates the Euclidean Algorithm to render patterns present in both subatomic particles and music of Greek, Namibian, Rwandan and Central African origin.
Cutting his teeth in rhythm as a member of Institut fuer Feinmotorik and then The Durian Brothers, the first Don’t DJ release materialised on Meyer’s own Diskant label back in 2013. Complex and hypnotic, this and the following EP paved the way for an increasingly textured and nuanced sound informed by African drum circles and Indonesian Gamelan, most notably on Travel By Goods, SEXES and Berceuse Heroique.
Just days ahead of embarking on a trip to Intonal Festival in Malmö, Sweden, we caught up with the German producer to discuss polyrhythms, cultural appropriation and the role of (or lack thereof) the pseudo experience in his music, among other things.
Hi Florian, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
So where did the name Don’t DJ come from? Was there an unwillingness to play records when you first started?
Hahaha, naah. Back then I was only DJing, not producing. I just wanted a name which included “DJ” so promoters don’t add a “DJ” in front of my name and I thought Don’t DJ would do the trick – well, promoters still managed to put a “DJ” in front though – but now it was funny!
You also collaborate with Marc Matter and Stefan Schwander as The Durian Brothers. How did that project come about?
Marc and me were members of a different project called “Institut fuer Feinmotorik” (IFF), we were 4 persons only using Turntables and Mixersm no records. Stefan asked us for a remix for his Antonelli Electr. project, we liked the combination and The Durian Brothers was what came out of it.
From the early Diskant EPs where pattern took centre stage, to your recent releases, would you say that texture has become an increasingly important element in your work over time?
I have a hard time distinguishing between “texture” and “pattern” in this respect. They both reference some kind of structure, right? Both not necessarily implying harmony or melody, right? They both translate (among others) to the german word “Gefüge”, which is a nice description of what interests me back then and today!
Is your fascination with polyrhythm long-standing? Can you trace its beginnings back to a specific experience?
No. I do however remember listening to Gamelan music the first time and it was a magical experience! But even before that, when experimenting with turntables in IFF I became fascinated with rhythms which function well with different possible starting points. This fascination had a certain influence in IFF and TDB but only with Don’t DJ it became the main captivation.
Could you pick out three of your all-time favourite polyrhythms?
My realtionship with music is ever evolving, that’s what I love about it! There are no pieces in music I would never get tired of – once I know the inner structure by heart it stays with me and re-listening becomes unnecessary or even boring. Most tracks that stay with me for a really long time do so not because of their structure, message or feel but because of factors that have very little to do with the tracks themselves – for example when and with whom I listened them the first time.
That said three rhythmic structures that excite me recently are:
- The works of El Mahdy Jr
- The recent releases of Drums Off Chaos
- Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring
Your creative process often renders strange results in the emulation real-world instruments. Has there always been an interest in the uncanny?
Yes! I do have a certain distrust in reality. All phenomena which are hard to pin down, which occupy a space in between, which are not instantly recognisable as something already known to you, which make you question your perception – all these share some potential of teaching you something about the world and your relation with it – however small that aspect might be. At least that is my experience and hence this fascination.
I’ve read people suggesting that some of your productions take on a new life if played at the wrong RPM. How do you feel people playing media in a way that wasn’t originally intended?
I support the approach in every aspect! It makes me happy if people take the stuff and make it something different, if the releases start a life of their own. I don’t believe a piece of music is finished when published! They should be mixed, played backwards, sampled and whatnot!
And all that aside, the perception of music is very different between different listeners, if the artist really wanted to control the experience he or she would have to control the perception first and foremost. Besides this not being possible it is also the opposite of what i want! Every new listener and “way of reproduction” brings along a potential to discover a new aspect maybe even give birth to new ideas, which might as well surpass everything I originally saw in that piece.
Speaking of, the blurb for the Nagoya cassette on Svbterrean Tapes says it was recorded with Ableton and a “prepared turntable.” Were you using similar techniques to those employed with IFF and The Durian brothers?
Yes! I still use prepared turntables as a major source of sounds and structures! Not as prominently as in the other two projects but it has become a very useful tool for me, I have a huge palette of sounds, endless variations and easy access/fast availability. The prepared turntable probably is the instrument I’m most virtuosic on.
Berceuse Heroique, Planet Almanac, Wisdom Teeth, Emotional Response, Travel By Goods; your music has materialised on quite disparate labels. Do you have any preference or a destination in mind upon entering the studio?
No. I have some idea for a track – but even that never turns out anything like i imagined it. They start how I think of starting them but then they begin to ask for stuff i did not imagine in there. Recently I finished a track at quarter the speed I started it! It’s not always that extreme, but there is some strange dialogue between the music and me in the production process, if a track doesn’t start to talk to me, to ask for things and to surprise me I abandon it! I’m not that genius that has everything worked out in his head already before it sits down to work.
How did you come into contact with Travel By Goods? Can you tell us a bit about the label and how your release came to be?
The guy who runs TBG and Arthur Boto Conley’s Music Workshop came to a strange little event in Basel (CH) when I was DJing there. Upon opening the door he immediately pointed at me and shouted “Don’t DJ!!! finally!” It turned out he was a big fan of my mixes, in particular the 3ball and Cumbia stuff I did some years ago. Later we spent a really fun night dancing to Donato Dozzy and contemplating how Basel neglects its most important contribution to pop culture: LSD – a contribution BTW which turns 75 on April 19th.
Anyways that’s how he got me if I remember right…
The label is sick!!!
Is the concept of the pseudo experience intrinsic to your creative process?
Hmmm, I have no idea what a pseudo experience is supposed to be. I always found it plausible that if one or more axons leading to your brain are carrying an electric impulse – generated anywhere by anything from a dying neuron to an external or internal stimulus on a nerve ending to pure chance – your brain will somehow transform that into an experience. Yet it is a tricky thing: Though conscious experience seems to probably be the only thing we can be certain of, there seems to be no scientific evidence of the existence of consciousness. I can not prove to you that I am consciously experiencing anything. I could be a deceiving machine good at faking it, and as far as I am concerned you could be too! Maybe it has to be that way as it most likely was consciousness that thought up the whole scientific method, thus encompassing it and not being able to appear in it as its own object. In fact some scientific experiments in modern physics dramatically hint towards the importance of the observing consciousness.
So how would a pseudo experience be different from a real one? How could they be told apart? By majority vote? Like if you have one person certain of an elephant being in the room and three people in the same room being certain that there is no elephant, would the experience of the one then be the pseudo experience?
It often occurred to me that bigger groups are more efficient in self-deceiving strategies. In the biggest conglomerates this produces the constraints of what we call reality.
Reality would be the most evident example of a pseudo experience if I had to come up with any, but I would prefer to stick with the basic phenomenological approach to consider any immediate experience which is encountered by something that considers itself conscious as just an experience and go from there…
A recent Mixmag feature spoke about how politics and dance music are “intertwined.” Considering some of your past releases have featured quite academic literature, referencing the likes of cultural theorist Victor Segalen or Godfried T. Toussaint and the Euclidean algorithm, would you say the same applies to music of a more worldly nature?
I would like to reject the term academic because the academia requests certain form which my texts clearly fail to provide. Also academic or even theoretical texts are not necessarily political by nature or even intended that way. However, I find all music thought provoking, especially the ones that have not been intended to be.
I don’t make music out of political impulse, in fact I found most music which was intended to be political in one way or another to be rather boring – or if they are not, it mostly isn’t due to their political intent.
Musical subcultures have often been intertwined with politics, and pop-culture in general carries a very open and playful relationship with political thought. You can easily derive political statements from every song yet you can also just enjoy the listen without thinking at all, like a meditation – I have always loved that aspect of music as the discourse is much less regulated then in most other fields!
Studying sociology, philosophy and cognition sciences in Freiburg must have made quite an impression.
Looking back I’m more drawn to agree than I was back then 😉
But it was discovering Salon Des Amateurs that set the wheels in motion for you to begin producing as Don’t DJ. Do you think you would have taken a similar direction without those experiences?
IFF played the fist ever concert to happen in Salon des Amateurs, so the ties are pretty close and Salon nights most certainly had a big influence on me. However it is hard to speculate how my music would have developed if any aspect of my biography would have been different because how to determine which of the unnumbered experiences and encounters are more important then others. Same goes for the Salon’s biography I guess…
You’ve talked about the ‘hybridisation of culture’, which becomes particularly interesting alongside the Authentic Exoticism release. What are your thoughts on appropriation? Is there a permissible lens through which artists can create art that appropriates?
I know this is a sensitive issue. People hold their identities most dear because it’s the only thing we really feel like owning, and the thought of having your identity taken away is frightening. Identities are mostly provided by culture, heritage, traditions and social structure. Appropriation often threatens the integrity and uniqueness of culture, tradition and so on, often being another instance in a series of plunder a specific culture has already endured. So it often makes sense to fight appropriation in order to conserve a certain culture or traditions. That being said, I do not believe you can not appropriate.
In the most basic way the “use of form” is something everyone who produces anything has appropriated from the ones who did it before. So are crafts, languages, music etc. It feels most obvious to me that every culture which ever existed took some elements of other cultures which proceeded them. A culture which stopped appropriating has stopped being alive. Hybridisation is the name of the game in cultural evolution!
Yet there is a political aspect one can not ignore. We don’t exist outside of history, its horrors are very present in our lives and cultures and it makes sense to look at every case of appropriation individually. Sometimes artists evoke images that directly connect to a historic lineage which is associated with exploitation and discrimination of groups which are still facing blatant discrimination today.
It makes total sense to call out these instances and highlight what kind of feelings and mindsets they are able to produce in the recipients. Hence which developments in society they are in favour of and which not. This is the political aspect of cultural production and it is important to watch it closely!
For my taste the 280-charcter online shaming-culture is not the most productive tool in developing this discourse. I think it is a far more complex issue than most people realize or are willing to try to wrap their head around. I also reject the allegation that everything you don’t understand while browsing your phone on the subway-ride home is elitaristic. For me there is no shame in taking a long time and intense effort to get to the bottom of a sentence, but I prefer people getting involved than becoming apathetic.
You’ve also discussed hybridisation of machines. This may sound like it has a Cronenbergian tack to it, but do you think machines are something to be feared or fetishised?
Neither. Whether we like it or not, machines will not go away and their development will continue to push further. There really is a strange fascination with machines most humans seem to share, you have plenty of evidence if you look into the cultural artefacts and the ever growing importance of the human-machine relationship in popular culture. Terrence McKenna famously proposed that humans could be some kind of catalyst brought forth by the earth in order to help consciousness emerge directly from minerals without taking the detour of the whole amino-acid based wetware.This might be farfetched, but it does provide some good explanation for some aspects of human behaviour.
Apart from speculations like that the machine seems to have become the exoticism of global culture, it is our “other” something we are scared and fascinated by and I believe it is crucial to not blindly embark on this journey but also anticipate possible consequences and compare different routes to go down, which seems an activity human kind would be well advised to engage in anyways!
You once described your DJ sets as “experimental crowd control based on postcolonial cultural imperialism” where those present might “pay the price.” Even cloaked in your wry sense of humour, it often feels like you’re angling at something deeper, challenging themes of exotica and modes of representation in a post-colonial world. Was something you set out to confront from the very beginning?
Hahaha yeah, that was a silly thing I said. And you are right: it aims to bring together different aspects we discussed in this interview and which interest me in music. I am a white guy, in love with rhythms which are obviously not of German descent. There is a brutal and bloody history of white guys being interested in products of other cultures.
This is not part of some Don’t DJ concept, it simply stems from the combination of musical styles I like and an interest in political discourse.
Also, the elevated front-stage from where one or a few individuals control the atmosphere of of the whole room, often with assaulting volume levels, has a hierarchical aspect which should be questioned on regular intervals – like any authority if you ask me!
The role of the recipient in this is essential to the whole setting and a good audience is conscious about their part in the game.
And finally, it doesn’t actually say whether you’ll be DJing or playing live, so what can Intonal Festival attendees expect from you later this month?
Don’t DJ plays Intonal Festival (Saturday 25th–30th April) alongside Arpanet, Avalon Emerson and Pan Daijing. Find out more and buy tickets here.