When I found out I was to interview Dave Clarke about his latest album The Devils Advocate and his imminent tour of Australia, I was a little nervous. I had heard he was a horror to interview, but now I think it’s because he’s a complex individual and most of the music press is like the press in general – it finds complexity discomforting and unwieldy. The thoughts and the knowledge Clarke relates are more suited to academic texts than a short interview designed to fill up advertising space. I found him to be quite personable, if a little brisk, but it was rather early in the morning in the UK, and most people are grumpy in the mornings. Initially I thought the Devils Advocate was a reference to the mash of styles over the album. Clarke assures me my presumption was wrong. “It’s more to do with my personality”, he states. “I like to make people think a different way and play devils advocate.” Through the course of the conversation I began to get a sense of what he meant.
Other people I’ve interviewed who have burned by record companies in the manner Clarke has been come across as jaded, and I was curious to know if Clarke was the same. “I was already jaded. I came to planet earth a jaded person,” he jokes. “I wasn’t the only one who was screwed by them, there was Felix the House Cat, Thomas Schumaker, Timo Maas and others. But you deal with it and you move on and hopefully you put it behind you as best you can.” However, from bad things come good, and Clarke’s first single after this episode was an “internet-only” download. “That worked out really well,” he says. “I was just a little nervous to see if people were still interested (in me), and I just wanted to do something fun with it.” The single went on to be so popular a run of about 12,000 was released on vinyl. “But,” says Clarke, playing devils advocate, “this was a long time ago. Now you’ve got to take Moore’s Law into account – computer power doubles every 18 months, and this was 6 computer generations back. People’s download speeds are much faster now. It was at the very inception of pay-per-track, but if it was released now who knows… Maybe we wouldn’t have to come out on vinyl,” he muses. “But I still think it would because DJs would want to play it (on record). Then again, there are some DJs now who use digital files in lieu of vinyl, so maybe it wouldn’t have sold so many copies.”
On the topic of downloading, Clarke has some very definite views. “I think it sort of was inevitable. I think it shows that record companies weren’t thinking when A) they were charging so much for CDs when it was a relatively old technology when it appeared and B) when they didn’t realise they could actually sell them online, it had to take a couple of teenagers to prove it. I think it’s a shame because I like the tangible evidence (of music), but then again saying that I’ve just bought a terabyte of hard drive space to store all my CDs on and then download them into my iPod; and use it as an archive. I don’t know,” he pauses, “you can’t always hark for the old days all the time but I think it’s a shame people don’t go into record shops as much and you know, have that ‘hi-fidelity’ moments that we all hope for,” he says, referring to the book by Nick Hornby and movie by Stephen Frears.
Although he’s a technology freak, reportedly owning a light switch that cost over £500, he’s always been rather traditional about making music. “I haven’t ever used any plugins for anything whatsoever,” he says surprisingly. “A while ago I tried to heavily invest in cutting edge equipment and it never did what it was supposed to, so I decided from that point on I’d use it for sequencing and to go hardware on everything else. That’s pretty much what I’ve done up until now.” In doing a remix for DJ Hell, Clarke is branching out a little. “I’ve just ordered a computer as a stand-alone software sampler so I can run that in conjunction with my system, see how a software sampler runs compared to a hardware sample and if I get on with that I’ll move across. But when it comes to VST instruments, I’ve never been a big fan of synthesising. I like to synthesise samples, but I can’t really be bothered with attack, delay, sustain and release because it just bores me to tears.”
His latest album has collaboration with Def Jux’s Mr Lif in a tune that can only be described as hiphop, which is odd for someone known as a techno DJ and producer, although he began his career playing hiphop. “I was thinking about wanting to do hiphop, and I didn’t want to go down the usual route of using someone who’s famous in a big commercial way,” Clarke says. “Someone suggested Lif, and I went to see him live and I liked what he had to say, I liked his presence, attitude and lyrics. After a lot of talking we got together in the studio a few months later and found it very easy to work with one another.” Similarly the collaboration with Chicks on Speed was an enjoyable experience. “I recalled them from years ago in Munich, just hanging out and getting drunk with them, and there again we worked well together and it was a lot of fun.”
With such a diverse range of genres on the album, I wondered if this now reflected in Clark’s DJ sets. “I can split myself down the line (between DJ and Producer). When I DJ I specifically play techno, and electro is some other stuff thrown in, but when it comes to making music I’m a lot more wider… I have to be; I couldn’t survive just making one style of music, I just couldn’t do it”, he sighs.
As the current tour is a DJ set, I wanted to know how Clark would work his new material into it. “I don’t really concentrate on any of my own stuff when I DJ, I’m actually kind of embarrassed by playing my own music,” he confesses “I’ll actually play one or two of my own tunes in a set, but generally I get a great kick out of other people’s music. I always feel a responsibility as a DJ not just to promote your own music,” he says “I don’t know if that’s just me being silly, because a lot of other people do it, but it just doesn’t feel right. To go and play 6 or 7 of your own tracks and raise your hands in the air when you’re playing off vinyl or CD just doesn’t look or feel right, I dunno, it just leaves a bad taste.” I mention how PWEI’s Clint Mansell once said in an interview that listening to his own music felt a bit like masturbation. “Maybe I just like to masturbate in private,” Clarke retorts with a smile.