How was the lockdown residency you did at Radion in Amsterdam?
You know, the fluency of being there every week felt really good, it reminded me of when I first started.
How was it playing to a few people, then none once restrictions changed?
It was very surreal. But I was trying not to get caught up in how weird everything was, and just try and act like this is a new normal. But it was weird, because everybody wanted to get up and dance. And that’s the main restriction, that you couldn’t have people dancing, so it was up to me to play music that’s not going to get them too hyped up.
Which is not really your style.
No, not my usual wheelhouse. So I decided it would be be part music lesson. And then part listening, you know, educational, but still enough so that you want to move. It has to have some depth to it.
So did you change tempo and style much?
I changed up, it wasn’t difficult because when I first started I played everything, but it was just kind of shocking for the people who attended. You know, to hear me playing a bunch of jazzy techno, drum & bass, or broken beat stuff. That was probably my favourite show.
I was gonna say is probably quite refreshing and invigorating for you to do that for change
It felt so good, man. Two step, electro, slower electro and you know, things that are funky and you can follow the beat even though it’s not a four four. And that’s what I was showing them – where the beat was and how there’s always a four four in everyone’s brain no matter what, because it’s been ingrained.
Were you riding by the seat of your pants, in terms of mixing those different styles, having played techno for so long?
The cool thing was, I would spend like the whole week planning. So I had to pick the tracks. You know, first I had the topic and I would do – like – three topics, pick the tracks, then figure out what I wanted to say to people. And it wasn’t that difficult. It was refreshing actually, you know, because when I first started DJing I grew up playing on on turntables on decks. So I would get a bag of records from the record shop that week, and bring them home. And I lived in this loft. And my cousin lived on the floor below me and he would come upstairs, we had this big wooden table in my loft, and I would play the records. And he would just hand me old random records. So my thing was, no matter what it was, I had the segue and had to mix it in. And sometimes he would bump the table so the needle would skip. And I would have to fix it. So I was battle tested, I was battle ready.
Without playing so much in the last year, did you get an itch to practice at home?
I thought I would be like a drug addict, you know, like pining for the decks, ‘I got to come down, I got to play’. But it wasn’t like that. I think it just made me understand what aspects of my life I was missing out on by travelling every weekend.
I just started to enjoy home life more. I started to ride a bike with my wife. And we’re riding around Amsterdam, and we’re exploring, we’re finding this fair, that new butcher, so now we have all these local places we know. It was really cool and refreshing. And then this knowing that this is always here. So if I ever do feel that urge, I can always mix. But I wanted to make sure that with a lockdown, I didn’t want to feel locked down. You know?
Did you do what a lot of people did and spend more time in the studio?
I spent less time in the studio, believe it or not. From the time I started producing, I was that guy who was in a studio all the time. So that was my history. My friends, you know, they would work at the Ford plant, they would get off work and they come by and they’re like, yo, let’s go kick it. What are we doing? I’m like, man, I’m just gonna chill. I’m just gonna work on some music. So they leave and they go out, shoot pool, play darts, drink, go to the club, whatever. And then after that, they will call me up. They’re all drunk, and they come over, and I’m still making music. And they’re like, Damn, so they would kick it. They saw that I was like laser focused. It wasn’t anything against them, it was just me trying to be as productive as possible. In fact, I was cleaning out some old externals last night and stumbled on like, maybe 30 tracks that I have completely forgotten about. And those tracks are like, shit 15 years old.
Do they sound like you? Can you relate to them?
It sounds like the pure version of me.
What are the impurities that have crept in since that time, then?
I think that what was added in was, you know, you get a little jaded for a while. Because when you’re young you’re trying to be the essence of whatever you’re doing. For example, if you’re trying to be a chef, you want to study and study and study. And the next thing, you go out into the open and you got somebody on TV with a cooking show, and three books and all this. And they, and they didn’t have to pay any dues. They just had a look. Imagine if you could just go and buy a stethoscope and then walk into a hospital and then you’re a doctor. That’s how I felt for a while with DJing. Because anybody who bought records was a DJ, anybody who could download some tracks became a DJ. And it put me in a really angry place for a while because I was like, they didn’t pay any dues, they’re social media guys, you know, it’s all about that. But then I got past it, because I’m like, okay, they’re not doing anything to harm me. They’re not doing anything for me. So why am I upset?
There’s a quote in your bio about being 100% independent. I wondered when you decided on that?
I think the choice came when I saw how easy it was for people to kind of bullshit their way into something. You know, I saw people saying one thing, like, I’m underground, I’m doing this, and then they would turn around and do some of the most commercial shit, in the most commercial way. And it was weird because it didn’t, it didn’t pan out. And I’m saying to myself, they’re not being true to themselves. I want it to be able to look in the mirror every day and say, you know what, that’s the guy.
Even my wife said it, she was like, you have no idea. Your hands are faster now. I just turned 50 , but I look at tapes and she’ll show me a video and I see my hands – it’s just blurry and I’m like, where does that come from? And I think it’s because I want to evolve still. I don’t want to be the guy yelling at the kids to get off his lawn or complaining. I don’t have to go after it and follow it and watch it and listen to it, and then come back and yell to everybody, ‘this sucks,’ you know. You just have to evolve yourself.
It feels like dance music has never been more political than it has in the last year. A lot of it is stuff that needed to be said. But then I think there are a lot of people who think that like even Red Bull’s involvement in dance music is too much. Where do you stand on that?
Well, anytime I got contacted at first I would just give them a hard no. My thinking was, what does an energy drink have to do with techno? But what happens is, you start to communicate with different individuals within a company. You see their vision. It’s almost like how there’s a big issue right now in the US with police brutality against black people. It’s always been there. But it’s just become an issue because it’s in the news. So as a black person living in an impoverished area, do you resent the police all your life? Or do you try and become a police officer and change it from within and try and make things better? So that’s that balance.
I actually spoke to one of the guys who started Boiler Room and he was telling me that they saw these videos I did, these mixes called DJ Bone Attacks. And we put them out, you know, beginning of every week, and I’d talk at the beginning to vent about some things that I didn’t like and then I would play, venting through the music on three decks. And he said that they saw that video and that was one of the things that led them to want to do a boiler room.
People often say the 90s was a purer time, you didn’t have all this intervention from big companies. Is that true or rose tinted hindsight?
Yeah, so I guess you would never have had offers from a big drinks companies, but that was the beginning of corporations starting to get in there. Even major labels. They’re like, we want a David Morales or Armand van Helden remix. So it starts to become that game, but they soon saw the demographic didn’t respond to their product or their label or whatever, because underground people in the 90s were very focused. They’re focused on the rave and they’re focused on the music. It wasn’t fashionable. It wasn’t trendy.
A lot of people were in into drugs though, which I thought was horrible. In America at the time, people were doing drugs just to really get fucked up. And I would see it at every party. Kids sat there chewing their face off, sat on the floor. But I went to the UK and I saw people take a pill and dance. It was beautiful, and just so different because of the mentality.
What about Detroit specifically?
There was a danger aspect to what we were doing. I’m not mad at the suburban kids who used to come into Detroit, the deepest, darkest parts of Detroit, where a lot of Detroiters wouldn’t go. They weren’t trying to go there and pose and there wasn’t Instagram and selfies back then. They were going trying to find a party. They weren’t drive by tourists, like stand outside the party, take the photo and then get back in the car. It was real. That’s Detroit, man. I mean, even the gay clubs were dangerous. There were stabbings and shootings at the gay clubs, where you’d have to stop the music. Ken Collier would get on the mic and say ‘children, if you don’t stop this shit, I won’t play any more records,’ you know.
So you had to have your head on a swivel no matter what. It has changed now, but Detroit used to be a real proving ground. Like, okay, you got to play some good shit. And if you didn’t, then they will just give you the Detroit stare and just stare you down the whole time and you have to try to perform and eventually you’re just like, you know, who’s next? Come get me out of here. But it got to the point where those people kind of faded out of the club. Now, all over, you have the people who seen your picture 1000 times and then they have heard one song, but they’re in the front ready to go crazy. Just because they’ve seen your photo.
And so having lived through that, rather than now being the old jaded guy, the legacy booking, missing the old days, you’re still pushing?
I’m so happy that I’m not going to be the old guy in his basement, complaining about the good old days. Like the Radion residency, I was educating people, it was like a lesson, as well as great music. And not only was it older music, but I would play new stuff too. So they could kind of correlate. Instead of just putting the needle on a record from underground resistance I’m trying to encourage people to find more things like it. So it’s changing the mindset not to need just the old stuff.
I call it trying to have a co-sign. So you’ll see DJs, who want to be around Detroit DJs or want to drop their name, some of them do one or the other. It’s usually not both. I know, people who will name drop, but then won’t play any of the records of the people whose names they drop. You know, until they need to try and prove to someone that they’re underground. No, no, no, seriously. They have no idea of the mindset of Drexcyia. They just play it for clout. And that’s what happens because they did their homework as little as they wanted to. And they said, Oh, this is what underground is. Okay, I’m gonna play these. Now I have credibility.
I feel this kind of taps into a conversation about ownership of music and who’s allowed to play what. Is a skinny white dude from London allowed to play private press, black made funk records?
It’s the context. Because if he’s grandstanding, and he’s like, doing the whole shit with his hands, then it doesn’t make sense. It’s completely against what the record stands for.
Do you feel as well received and understood in America as you do when you play in Europe?
I’d rather go play like smaller parties in America. Because the big ones, hmm, that’s a whole different level of commercialism. In my opinion, it’s horrible. I mean, like, they’ll do something at Lollapalooza, they’ll have a techno tent, or some shit like that. And then a lot of these are like, oh, I made the big time because I’m playing. Come on. Why are you trying to peel off some people and an event like that to come and listen to the brothers from the D, you know?
When it comes to bookings in Europe, quite often now if a club booked a lineup that isn’t a mix of genders, sexualities and races, there will be a public backlash. How do you feel about that?
Well, at first I didn’t like it, I didn’t like that they were trying to force a certain percentage. But that’s only because in an idealistic world, the promoters would book the best DJs period. That hasn’t happened for decades. So I think if this is what needs to happen, to make them search, dig deeper, then it’s a good thing. You know, the first time I heard of a lot of these people who blew up came from when I used to go to Freerotation. It was this smaller festival that didn’t take any money, you know. And it was perfect. All these people came out of there, Tama Sumo, Ben UFO, Batu. Nowadays I think it’s complacency. I think a lot of people refuse to do the research. They flat out refuse to push the envelope, because they’re safe, and they’re making more money than ever.
I think what you what you bring is obviously you originated from Detroit, but rather than just being a jukebox for people who want to hear that old sound, you are a terminator on the decks. And that is something that not a lot of people can do. You’re still doing it, you’re not a legacy act.
It does trouble me. It makes me sad, you know, not for the person who booked them. But for the person who got booked. I’m thinking, you step your shit up, you know, step outside your comfort zone. That’s how you became who you are.
For me, people can write about your history, they can do all these features. But what it comes down to is, as long as I done it, and I’ve documented it, it’s my history. And it’s there. And I don’t need anyone else to tell my history, because it doesn’t matter. When people find out about me, I’m not offended when people say. Oh, man, I never heard of you before. But man, that was amazing.
What motivates you most and gets you out of bed and what inspires you outside of music? How do you like to spend your time and money?
Oh, the thing that makes me the happiest now, being able to spend time with my wife, even though she’s been coming on a road with me a lot.
Tell me about your wife. Everybody knows about Ahnne and your love for her.
She’s the person who believes in me the most. Even when I doubt myself. She’s the one who will convince me to put music out when I think it’s not good enough. She’s even gone as far as sometimes to take songs, send them off to get mastered, and then have them sitting there, so when I finally come around and think I might release something, it’s already mastered. I’ve also enjoyed cooking a lot, being out riding a bike, and I love what we’ve been able to do with the homeless homies organisation.
Of course, tell me about that.
My wife and I, both separately before we met, had an affinity for being able to help homeless people whenever we could, her in LA and me in Detroit. And when we got together, she came with the idea to have a company. So we built it and we have been doing these events, raising a tonne of money. Even my label all my label profits, everything from vinyl downloads, go straight to homeless homies because I make my money off of gigs. So we take that money and we either fund projects or donate to the homeless shelters, or have drives to get goods whether it’s diapers for kids or certain size shoes.
We were really, really fortunate in 2019, we hosted a bunch of our homeless friends for Christmas, so we had a Christmas Eve dinner, all of us at the restaurant. And then we rented a hotel, a whole floor of a hotel, all the rooms. So they can have two nights, each to stay and do whatever they want, whether it’s take a nice shower, lay in a real bed, you know, for a couple of nights.
And do these people know you as Eric, or Bone?
They know me as both. But the cool thing is that the reason we did it was not just to give them a cool hotel for two nights, but it was to be able to sit and talk to them twice a day, you know, as a big group over a meal, and just find out more and more of what can be done and what’s needed. And, you know, it was almost like a brainstorming session. Like you said, my main reason to get up in the morning is like, who can I help today? That’s it.
Is that as fulfilling as helping people get away from their everyday grind by laying it down in a club for them?
I mean, honestly, that was the ultimate at the beginning when I first started playing out. Just for people to escape. That’s why I started listening to techno. My friend took me to the Music Institute. I had never heard techno on the radio. And I didn’t know it was called techno. Then I heard it full on in the club. And the next day I was at the record shop, I was just like, what the heck happened? And I was lost. I was there was no windows, it was all dark, just a couple of strobes. You didn’t care about what people looked like, what gender, what race, what clothes, you know, no selfies. They didn’t serve alcohol. It was just juice and drinks and it was amazing. It was the best escape, the best therapy I’ve ever had in my life. I haven’t experienced anything like it since.
And now that you are definitely going to be that gateway guy for many young kids who come and hear you for the first time and either think, what the fuck have I been listening to before now, because this is the real deal?
I try. I don’t even charge a commission to the Detroit guys either. But, you know, somebody’s got to represent.