Thursday, February 14, 2008

Between Chaos and Control: Jeremy P. Caulfield interview

After bugging out at a rave in late nineties Toronto (somewhere between chaos and control), Jeremy P. Caulfield ‘saw the light’, bought decks and began to develop his unique sound, which has remained steadfastly deep, dark and (most of all) tight. Always adept at balancing the intensity of minimal techno’s direct impact with the depth and atmosphere of deeper styles, Caulfield’s DJ sets are renowned for their pace, flow and ‘hidden corners’, some of which even contain possible gold coins, and turtles... Well, I guess you’ll have to show up to one of his DJ gigs to discover what all that means, but in the meantime, here’s the lowdown on one of techno’s tightest…
I saw/heard you follow on from Jennifer Cardini at Rex in 2005, and it was remarkable how much tighter you were than her – tight as a drum. Then, when I listen to some of your older releases on Trapez, again, it’s the ‘tightness’ that really stands out. I wonder if you could describe for me in your own words your approach to DJing and production, and whether you can relate to this box I’m trying to slot you into ;) ?

Well thanks! Yes, tightness is my calling card. It’s both godsend and a bummer of a birthmark. It’s both what I’m into and the frame/constraint which I enjoy working within, and it has been since the beginning. I just think there is a lot you can do with being ‘tight’, and to me is the essence of the techno or minimal that I play. I like my sounds to slap and pulse in a mechanical repetitive way. Even if I’m trying something organic or fluid, I like it to feel man made and contrived. It creates both a comfort and an edge – like talking to someone who doesn’t have eyelids and never blinks…

More simply: what makes a good DJ? And what makes a good techno DJ? And what have you learned through experience playing out? What would you say are the common mistakes of novice DJs?

I come from an old school of DJs and my old favourites were always tight, had good energy and flow and had a dark and mysterious edge to them. I like people that play music with hidden levels and corners to it, like Nintendo Mario World or something – there’s a beat and a groove but there’s also a secret corner that you can get lost in (with coins and turtles?). But when I started it was Derrick Carter, Richie Hawtin, Marco Carola, Laurent Garnier, Zip, DJ Bone (etc) that influenced me, because regardless of the type of music they played they were similar styles of DJs. Things have changed a bit now: Carter plays vocal house and Garnier is French and loves cheese, but they created a room or defined a space with their sound – this to me is a good DJ. A common mistake of novices is playing bigger than the room they’re in. Sound should be contained and only overflow the edges at peak times otherwise you just have a flood… and a mess and then there’s fucking turtles and coins everywhere.

How do you see your craft developing? And how is technology influencing this?

I have much more control now than ever, but control comes at a price, and the more I try to control the more I get controlled by technology or limitations etc...

I also spend much longer than I ever did organising my music as I play on Serato. I have especially worn a hole in my delete button because of the tonnes of disposable music I get sent to me. It no longer takes any work for someone to send you a promo, so the ‘work’ part has been left to me and that’s downloading… and 95% of the time deleting. Technology also fits my attempts at being ‘tight’, but tightness can be an offshoot of obsessive compulsive behaviour, so I now have to say ‘that’s enough’, ‘that’s enough organizing’ ‘that’s enough tweaking’ etc, etc – let’s leave some decisions ‘til the night of the party. So now I’m trying to be both an avid pre-planner and a skilled improviser – no easy task.

Abletonitis? Does it exist? And is it as bad a disease as some people say?

Yeah, but again, it’s part and parcel of the OCD of today. In the end it’s way more work and not that much fun for making mixes. For production it’s great, although I still wish I could sit in with the developers one time and say “Listen, it’s time for you monkeys to fix a few fucking snags, capiche?”

How has the digital revolution affected you in terms of sales and distribution? What are some of the uses and disadvantages of this new economy? Would you say it’s a positive or negative thing, on balance?

Right now it’s all a balance... everything is in tandem... but let’s see...

I love the idea of a ‘dumb unit’ – perhaps it’s the use of ‘dumb’ (I have a parallel fascination with the idea of a ‘dumb waiter’). What have been the best and worst moments for you with the label (in terms of running it, accomplishments and the like)?

Well, I’m glad you see it as that kind of dumb, because that’s what it is. Simply empty, and ready to be used, not dumb as in stupid. I think the best moments are right now. The fact that someone asks me intelligent questions about a label that I‘ve been running for some time makes me feel good... and to run a label and know that people have an interest in it is great and more than I can ask for. The worst, well that’s just constant as well and usually involves people not doing what they said they would, or failing to live up to promises of just end up being total psycho ass dicks who turn on you. Some people suck and they just ruin it for the others like us who just want the label to run smoothly, for artists to get paid and so forth, but this happens in all industries and techno is not so bad compared to fashion or film… I think this cartoon from the Farside sums it up ..

Tell me about your background in music. How did you get interested in groove-based music? What turned you on to techno, etc? What was the turning-point where you thought (cosmically) ‘YES!’ Or was the process/damage incremental?

I remember being at an old rave in Toronto years ago. I was on acid. When I looked into the crowd my mind would yell ‘CHAOS!’ an then when I looked at the DJ my mind would yell ‘CONTROL!’ That was the crossroad. The next week I bought a (one) turntable and started from there… and I never looked back.

What have been the biggest ‘landmarks’ in the ‘landscape’ of your musical development?

I think they’re coming up, which is great. Australia, Japan, Fabric, South America, the label doing well. These are all landmarks for me. My musical development is simply about where I get to go explore and play as a DJ. It’s all about who I get to meet and hang out with and possibly a noticeable rise in bed linen quality while on the road that I use as a gauge. It’s the main reason I do this. I just want to bring what I do different corners of the world and meet like-minded people, and the more this happens consistently, and the more I can cover my ass for the future, the more I feel I’m in my comfortable and desired landscape.

In a 2005 interview, you said the following: “There's been a real resurgence of minimal here (in Berlin), lots of good music and artists. Some of it is kind of redundant, though. I was around the last time minimal got its head stuck up its own ass, and I could see it ending up going that way again. Too many tracks with changes so minute only other producers would notice.” Okay, so cut to ’08 – did the feared cranial lodgement occur? Or… ?

Twofold: it grew two heads and stuck both of them up its ass.

What is something that might be a ‘hidden’ or ‘silent’ influence on you and your work that might be inaudible from listening to what you do?

Lots... Sound and other music is of little influence to me, but visuals and environments make me think about what soundtrack would fit that landscape or time. For me my biggest influences have been Lebus Woods and his experimental architecture, Fluxus, Archigram, Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas, and the early modernists and their theories and delusions on building and the transformation of an environment. I’m also into brutalism and find solace in what others deem ugly. JG Ballard and his non sequitur short stories, Mike Davis, my favourite drive-by journalist, and anything with regards to the edges and fray of society. Of course film plays a big part, especially Terry Gilliam and his visions of the dark fantastic. I grew up in Hong Kong for some years, so this hyper urbanism is a big part of what I do. Getting to Hong Kong put it all together for me. I had been dreaming of neon and rain since I first saw Bladerunner and then boom, I was this white kid in the thick of it. It had a lasting effect.

Who have been some of your biggest influences (producers, DJs, labels, sounds etc)? What are some of your favourite all-time records? What about recently – what’s been ‘floating your boat’ of late – top 5 for 07? Predictions for ’08?

My biggest influence hands down these days is Lee Curtiss. There’s no one else like him and I hope (and I will try to be a part of making it happen) that Lee gets the respect he deserves. He’s the perfect mix of smooth sexy music with a healthy dash of grit and darkness. He has a scant disco underpainting that is extremely complex but only comes to the fore if you choose to find it or listen for it, other wise he’s so smooth and accessible. Additionally Ryan Crosson, Seth Troxler, Seph, Butane, Seuil, and of course Bruno Pronsato are all guys pushing the envelope these days. Favourite records, songs and moments (from the electronic world) : Quo Vadis by G-Man . Pingpong by Speedy J, Studio Eins, Profan, Zip and Sammy D in 2000, Richie Hawtin at Jak’s back, Laurent Garnier at the Planet E party in Detroit 2000, Jake Fairley’s Crisis, Funkenflug der Traum by Ellen Allien, Stone Age by Luciano, Into the Duster, Pantytec at Mutek, Luciano at Weetamix NYE 2006, Mogwai, Scotty deep, Cabanne, Teste, The Wipe, so many.

What has living and working in Berlin taught you about Toronto (and vice versa)?

Berlin taught me that I wasted a lot of time trying to be a big fish in a little pond in Toronto and that localism is a waste of time. For anyone struggling to get respect from your hometown, fuck it – work in the studio, live your life and then pack it up and hit the road, you’ll be better off. I have great friends and crew in Toronto but at the end of the day trying to succeed there was all just so unimportant. Toronto is an odd and unhealthy mix of non-producing DJs all fighting for a little piece of the pie, and the pie is stale. But then I miss the innocence of Toronto. I could work in my studio there without a care because I was alone and just get things done. It was away from everything. Berlin has been good to me; I have fought hard for my position and in the end never met that much attitude. Right now, being in Berlin is very cool and packed with great people, friends and influences.

What does travelling teach you about being home?

That I need a better bed and softer sheets.

What are the things most often neglected by club owners that could facilitate ‘next level’ parties?

The best sound they can afford; monitors volume proportionate to the room; proper acoustic room treatment; isolated DJ booth set ups; full digital set-ups to accommodate quick switching between digital DJs; a real back room that doesn’t smell like vomit or look like somebody overdosed in the corner the week before.

What should the Melbourne fans (un)expect from your upcoming visit?


What’s something that pisses you off about techno, the scene and everything?

Not much jades me anymore. Unless someone gets in my face I let everything be as it is. To me there is never a perfect time for sales, for bookings, for the scene. It’s just about waves and you have to just keep moving forward and not get caught up on the fact that M_nus this or Ricardo that, etc...

What’s something you’ve learned through music that has helped you in life (and vice versa)?

Drugs are good and bad.

What do you know now that you wish someone had told you ten years ago?

Drugs are good and bad.

What’s something that’s guaranteed to make you: angry/crazy/smile?

angry – waiting for people (in general, for emails, at the airport, in life)
crazy – a room full of enthusiastic punters, good food
smile – a new city

What kind of music would you make in a world without electricity?

Bongo congo music.

What’s troubling you… ?

I worry about everything.

Finish this sentence: ‘The world would be a better place if only…’

...old tired men weren’t in charge.


  1. great interview, definitely heading to his gig on Saturday!

  2. always good to read an insightful article about electronic dance music that doesn't take itself too seriously ;)


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