Q & A: Delano Smith

Delano Smith Art

Emma: Your role in Detroit’s dance music history is fairly crucial, playing the post-disco sounds that shaped the strains of house and techno now synonymous with the city. What’s your reflection on this seminal period of your career?

Delano: To me – The pre House and Techno era was the Golden Age of DJ Culture. Back then, not everyone was a DJ like today. Turntables and mixers were not as easily attainable as they are today and learning to beat match songs that were not produced with Drum Machines proved difficult at times.  During this era, you had to know how to mix and manipulate records and turntables to make a mix/blend work, there were no shortcuts, skill and creativity were crucial. There were many trainwrecks back in those days but I think ultimately, those of us that started in the beginning are better DJs as a result of it. After Disco – we called the music Progressive (before the inception of House and Techno) but we didn’t have a name for what is now coined “Synth Pop”,  all of the music was different and unique. One thing I definitely miss is the camaraderie that DJs shared at the local record shops and at the record pools. There were no egos or divas and everyone supported the scene as we all knew we were experiencing something new and fresh. The crowd knew it too and everyone loved it. Progressive was the only genre, people danced with each other – not facing the DJ. It was a different time then, the Golden Era!

Emma: As a touring DJ-come-producer, you history is fairly unique; few artists can attest to reinstating and triumphing a total departure from music! What changed your mind and pushed you further forward in this regard?

Delano: When I stopped Djing there was no money in it. As mixing became popular in Detroit and more became skilled at it, DJs became somewhat cut throat. Promoters would pay crap fees, if they paid you at all. I grew tired of this and decided to further my education and get a real job. I had moved away from Detroit to further my studies, but on one occasion when I returned home for a holiday, I stopped by a friends house. He had a pair of Turntables and a mixer and I fell in love all over again, but the scene and music had changed. I quickly discovered that being a DJ involved more than just mixing two records together, I learned that to be successful or “noticed” you had to express your musical talents beyond the decks.

Emma: The legendary Ken Collier is known to have influenced your overall approach to DJing. Did you gain similar peer mentorship as you moved into production?

Delano: Kind of, when I first gained interest in production I took an idea I had to my friend Norm Talley’s studio. That’s when I first saw how to write a drum track and how a sample was chopped on his ASR. It was very involved. I knew then that I would need my own gear if I wanted to make a record. You can’t be on someone else’s time when it comes to your creativity, but I would say Norm gave me that push and introduction to production, the rest was all on my own, trial and mostly errors.

Emma: Can you give some examples of the equipment you first made music with? Do you still employ or favour hardware in your production today?

Delano: I did my first two releases entirely on a Yamaha RM1x that I had borrowed from my friend TJ Dumas. He wasn’t using it so I had it for about a year. I learned a lot on that machine. After he wanted it back I bought the Yamaha Motif workstation and did the first Mixmode tracks entirely on that machine. Now I have a whole room full of hardware! Funny how things turn out huh?

I prefer using hardware now as there’s never an issue with Midi. You can’t see the music like with DAWs. It’s straight creativity. Nothing against DAWs as I use them in some aspect of all my productions, but nothing beats that raw sound!

Emma: This year sees Detroit celebrating 10 years of Movement Detroit, welcoming back last year’s inaugural Charivari Detroit and hosting some very special one-off events like the Detroit Beatdown Reunion. It seems like promoters really strive to pay homage to the rich musical history of Detroit through the events they present, even outside of dance music. Is it these kinds of gestures, do you think, that sees Detroit remain a prolific place for music making?

Delano: I actually suggested to Mike and Norm that we do a Beatdown Reunion and I think that it and Charivari will be the parties of the Summer in Detroit. With Paxahau keeping the standard high with Movement, this is a good time for Detroit with the economy turning around and people investing in the city – it’s a good time for Detroit right now. A lot of folks are moving here and things are happening. More and more artists are diving into the production end of music but I think that social media has more to do with that than the resurgence of the scene here. I think that people realize theres a stark difference between being DJ and an artist.

Emma: Aside from what’s come out via your label Mixmode Recordings, Sushitech Records is home for the majority of your output. You and label boss Yossi Amoyal must have a solid working relationship and friendship – how did you come to meet each other?

Delano: I met Yossi the second time I played Panorama Bar shortly after my Sunrise EP was released on Guy Mccreery’s London based “Third Ear” label. We hit it off immediately. The thing about us is that we didn’t start out in a working relationship, we started as friends and forged my sound on his label together. Now, we’re family.

Emma: Further on the Sushitech front, we’re very excited to learn of the coming of Tessera II. In the absence of any track previews online, are you able to clue us into what we can expect from your contributions to the compilation?

Delano: I can tell you this, Yossi and I think my track on the comp is very good. Probably a bit more housey than the dub stuff I was doing previously on the label, which is cool!

Emma: Later this month you’re making a short but undoubtedly sweet visit to us in Australia, playing two shows in Melbourne and Sydney. How have you found our audiences on your previous visits?

Delano: My last visit there the audiences were awesome, the crowds were huge but I know it’s in part because I toured there with Dixon and Ame. Not sure if too many people were really familiar with who I was. I think I played good sets though or I wouldn’t be headlining this tour. It was my intention then to hold my own opening for Dixon and Ame – to sound distinctly different and to let the audience know that I too am a force. I’ve been in this game since there was such a thing- and if you’re willing to come I can take you there! I hope…

Emma: Assuming your upcoming Australian shows are DJ sets, can we expect more live hardware Delano sets in future, a la some of your 2012 and 2013 club bookings?

Delano: I won’t do another live show unless it’s all hardware/analogue and if I can bring a musician with me. Most budgets I found don’t allow this right now. Playing loops with Ableton and a controller is not a live show to me, it’s an Ableton Live show. Live to me is improving, with musical elements intertwined.

Emma: Lastly, what does the rest of 2016 hold in store for you and your music?

Delano: Working on the next Mixmode as we speak my friend and hopefully the records will be ready by 1st qtr 2017. My new Sushitech releases will be available in the fall.

Emma: Thanks very much for your time Delano, and see you soon!

Delano: Talk later, Peace!

Tour dates

Friday July 22 – Melbourne – Brown Alley (TICKETS)

Saturday July 23 – Sydney – Cafe del Mar