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The depth behind the groove with Move D
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The depth behind the groove with Move D

John Thorp has a lengthy discussion with the German house and techno impresario as he prepares to take centre stage at Sankeys NYE.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 19th Dec 2014

Image: Move D

One of the underground’s most in-demand DJs, and a true experimentalist and musical polymath among genres as far reaching as deep house, jazz, disco, ambient and beyond, Move D is capable not only of taking keen ears places they didn’t even know they wanted to go, but also turning a party upside down and unify a dance floor like few others can.

The prolific German DJ and producer (hear him in action above), real name David Mouffang, co-headlines this New Year’s Eve at Sankeys, as part of a Music Is Love lineup that also includes another soulful selector in Kerri Chandler. Known for his supping of red wine during his often lengthy sets, he cuts a similarly classy image in conversation.

Somewhat outspoken yet relaxed and thoughtful, a quarter of a century into his career and his passion for music and experimentation is as evident as ever, especially in regards to his side projects, such as the improvisational collaboration Magic Mountain High

Ahead of Sankeys' final soiree of 2014, we caught Mouffang in typically engaging mood, the nuances between studio collaboration and back to back DJ sets, raging against elitism within club culture, and ticking us off over our red wine naivete.

So, you’re booked for New Year’s Eve at Sankeys. I’ve never seen you there myself before, but surely you’ve passed through at one time or another?

Yes, I’ve played upstairs once before, in Spektrum, but also for Sankeys in Ibiza. And I’m not the biggest fan of the whole Ibiza thing, but out of the clubs I’ve seen there, and it’s been a few, Sankeys is my favourite, as it’s the most down to earth. In Ibiza, they’re on the underground side of things. And Spektrum in Manchester is a really nice room.

It’s a New Years Eve set, which is of course different from playing a standard underground club in Manchester, or at a festival in that you’ll probably encounter people who are there, dancing, because it’s New Year’s Eve and it’s Sankeys. When you play ‘occasion’ sets like that, how do you approach it differently, if at all?

Well, I’m playing Leeds and London too, three gigs over two days, and I can only take a bag and a half of records, so I kind of have to compromise. But I have to hope that even people who aren’t specialists are into my sound, which I think is accessible.

It’s not like when I produce records, when I DJ, really I’m there to make people have a good time. And of course, New Year’s Eve by itself already gives you some directions, and you’re right, it’s different from a daytime slot in summer, for sure, but it’ll still be Move D. 

And you’re playing with Kerri Chandler on the line-up too. Have you guys played together before, or do you have any prior relationship or friendship?

Not really. I mean, I’m a fan, like most of us. Recently I was at the Southport weekender and somebody dragged him and Jerome Sydenham and Dennis Ferrer to my stage, and he was a little bit shy. But I’ve seen videos of him out record shopping and whatever and he seems like a nice guy, so I’m really looking forward to it. 

It’s a good job you’re so experienced, because personally, if we were DJing and Dennis Ferrer and Kerri Chandler appeared behind us, we'd struggle to keep our cool.

Ha, yes, well I was playing with Andres and Benji B, which I thought was an interesting and different kind of line-up, so it was not only that they came to see me, but in that environment! But fortunately, I didn’t lose my marbles.

We've caught you a lot as a DJ a lot over the past few years, pretty much whenever you’ve rolled through the North West, but never back to back with anybody. Do you enjoy that as much when you get the opportunity?

No, I don’t, and it’s only a handful of people I’d enjoy doing that together with. So that would be Gerd Janson, Jus Ed, and Axel Boman, actually. So I have to really like the person as well as their taste in music.

It’s become a bit of a trend recently, to have all these DJs go back to back, but even if I was to play back to back with Kerri on New Years Eve, it would feel wrong to me as we’ve never met properly before. It’s quite an intimate, personal thing.  

And if you look at the festivals like Dekmantel or whatever, they have all these combinations, and I experience promoters asking me if I’d like to do it, but I’m not convinced.

I don’t want to sound arrogant or claim to be playing the most challenging music there is, but I did it with Ben UFO once, and that was hard as he operates on a higher tempo, generally, but musically I can relate to him and he has the variety and background to pull something surprising and cool off.

And it’s just easier to get into a groove, laying out the next two or three records in your mind, but if that’s not happening, you can only hope something is coming that you can relate to.

You do seem to like collaborations, though? You worked with your friend, the late Peter Namlook, on no less than twenty two records, and these days you collaborate with Juju and Jordash, making improvised music as Magic Mountain High (hear them live above).

Yeah, in the studio it’s really essential to me, as I’m not 100% convinced music is meant to be produced and conceived by one single mind, then delivered to the world.

I mean, maybe that’s how it was in classical times, but I think since blues, and especially jazz and all forms of rock entered the planet, I think music became more like it’s original function probably was, which was a way of communicating with people.

They would get together and dance and have their tribal rites going on or whatever, so I think music is better and more interesting if you can tell there’s feedback with more than one person.

You can have feedback with your machines, but it’s limited as you always have to set the parameters, but with a person, they can confront you with something that you don’t expect and it’s different in a back to back DJ situation, you’ve just got the moment, and if it doesn’t go down well, the momentum is lost.

In the studio, I look at it differently. Even if something happens that I’m not into, I can try and turn it into something that I like. I just enjoy dealing with that situation, it’s a bit like playing a game of chess.

You do your moves and try and anticipate where the other guy is going to go, be flexible, and it’s the same chess game sort of thrill when I’m playing live with Juju and Jordash as Magic Mountain High.

Juju and Jordash come from a predominantly jazz background, right?

Yes, much more so than I do. I mean, I play guitar and know a little music theory, but these guys are beyond my scale or reach, but sometimes, especially in jazz, you get this attitude that everything that’s not John Coltrane sucks, but they’re totally free of that kind of thinking and always looking for ways to explore. 

You’ve said in the past, over the last ten years, that you’re uneasy with the concept of what people term ‘intelligent dance music’ or music that aims to be particularly obtuse.

Yet, your work with Peter Namlook or your current collaboration with Juju and Jordash is quite high minded, and you’re thought of as one of dance music’s truly smart guys, but you’ve previously said you have a distrust for teachers? Where does that stem from?

Well, I was teaching at the Bauhuas university for five years, so if I was totally against teaching or university, I wouldn’t have done that. The point I was trying to make was that I don’t think you can study becoming an artist or a musician. If that’s within you, you can make it anyway, your way.

And that could be even through taking a jazz degree, but you can become a cook or a chef if you learn how to do it, but to excel or be really special, you have to have it within you. I think high mindedness and education can only get you so far.

I would never really take that as a basis of making something worthwhile, is my point. And as a genre, I think the idea of intelligent dance music is a bit…

Lame?

Yeah, it’s just a lame category and I don’t feel like I can hear that in it. And I hate categories in general, but some of them suck even harder, and I think IDM, and now EDM, have got to be the worst.

But you journalists need them anyhow, to put them in a corner, it does make sense. But then, what’s the famous phrase, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

And it’s true, but I understand the need, and some of these genres have to exist, and describe the sound pretty well in a way. But I tend to say, if it’s produced electronically, then it’s techno, in all it’s shades. And if I was to be really radical, I’d say what somebody like Kylie Minogue does is really techno, as there’s barely a real instrument in it.

We really like Kylie Minogue.

Yes, me too actually, and I’m sorry to hear her latest tour and her album haven’t really taken off, although I haven’t actually heard any of it.

Kylie is quite an offbeat popstar really, there’s always been a level of real artistry about her, and it’s interesting that she’s friends with the likes of Nick Cave, for example.

I loved it when she dug out the guy from Scritti Politti, Green Gartside. In the 80s, they were an important band for me, especially the album Cupid and Psyche 85, and she covered If You Don’t Love Me by Prefab Sprout at the Grammys, which was pretty cool. There’s really something about her.

You’ve also said in the past that you went for a period in which you felt sort of embarrassed to play guitar, such was the scene. How do you feel about it now?

Well, yes this was the nineties, and rock and the guitar was the antichrist. Now people are more relaxed, about vocals, about anything, which is something I really appreciate.

I play guitar in my other side project, Reagenz, with my friend Jonah Sharp, and that dates back to 1993. We have a new record out, The Periodic Table, and we’ve just been on tour in the USA with that.

You’re known as being very accessible and helpful as a DJ, putting up many of your sets on Soundcloud and so on. What is the impetus for you personally?

Well, I think even if I was George Michael, I would give away my music for free. I think these days, hardly anyone is making money from publishing music. The purpose is to be in the scene and get bookings.

In the nineties, I could just stay at home and live off my music, but I don’t think that would be possible nowadays. But I think ultimately, I would like to just put on free parties anyway and give away music for free.

That’s the way I feel about it, and when you look at people who are making millions, you can’t believe people aren’t satisfied, which is why I think people like George Michael are cool. Or somebody like Prince, who doesn’t want to get down with the industry or sign an album deal. 

Do you think such freedom online to access music in your sets has killed a sort of tribalism that once existed? Has that made the club scene better or worse?

The fact, for example, that people have easier access to club music while not drunk or high. You are almost unusually helpful in helping people track down the music you play.

Definitely, it’s easy to be nostalgic about ‘the good old times’, but the internet is really amazing. You can say bad things about wasting time on social media, but what it gives you is amazing.

In the nineties, it could be a secret what a record was, and then of course it made it a bit more special when you found out the name, but now, you could most likely find it on it on Discogs. And yes, sure, it demystifies it a bit, but I think demystification is totally at the will and the interest of the artist.

I think it’s great that people can just Shazam and find out what something is. I never liked DJs that hid their records, I think if your job is playing other people’s music then you should help promote the music. The guy producing it is probably starving somewhere in Michigan in a basement flat, you know?

And sure, there’s illegal downloading, but people were making home cassettes in the early days, First of all, you need to know about the artist, then you might end up buying a record or two after downloading stuff.  

And with Soundcloud, the little bit of power I’ve gained that can help me promote a track, it’s the greatest thing, you know? And I love doing this, especially with stuff people wouldn’t know about if I wasn’t playing it.

That’s kind of the opposite of what happened last week, when Steffi protested in an interview against a Facebook group called ‘Songs Heard at Panorama Bar’, where she’s resident, and then the owner closed it down a few days later.

I like Steffi, but she has a lot of strange views and perspectives on things, and I don’t subscribe to everything they do at Berghain and Ostgut. I think that’s rubbish, you know? Why shouldn’t people be able to find out about the music being played at Panorama Bar? They probably can’t even get in.

It’s a shame, because maybe the fact it was closed speaks a lot about the sort of bubble of elitism people perceive rightly or wrongly to exist in that scene...

Yes, and that’s the problem with the German scene, why it doesn’t cut it. It’s a Berghain problem, but maybe even a German problem.

I don’t like to see how many clubs get influenced and introduce all these no photo policies. I understand in a club with a more sexual policy, but I don’t see why Trouw in Amsterdam, Output in New York, Bob Beaman in Munich, they all have this no camera thing, but there’s nobody sucking anybody’s dick, so why shouldn’t there be photos? I don’t get it.

Elitism is killing it, and for me, it wasn’t even the music that got me into techno, I was happy with my hip-hop. I didn’t need no S-Express or Bomb The Bass - it was the people and the scene and this new framework for partying, really liberal and equal, open to anyone.

It was not about money or different ethnicities, it was all fine, we came together to have a party. And it’s like they lost this core idea about house and techno, yo!

We weren’t even allowed to take a photo of us soundchecking as Magic Mountain High in Panorama Bar. It was just us and the equipment, you could hardly see the club, but they told us to delete it or we couldn’t play.

Personally, we have you down as more as a good DJ despite the breadth of your productions, and it’s been a lot of fun digging into them on Youtube. What are the ones you still feel resonate? 

Actually, I think the one that still really resonates is my album Kunstsoff, from 1994. And that’s not about the dance floor at all, that’s why there’s a chair on the cover. I don’t really regard myself as a producer for DJs at all, actually.

In the nineties, there was an even bigger discrepancy, because I started out doing really chilled, ambient stuff but maybe was DJing harder than I would be now, with techno and what not. They were totally different ball games, but now it’s better aligned now I’ve put out stuff that is kind of danceable, and people can play it and I can play it I have to.

But the twenty-six records I did with Peter, they’re not about the dancefloor, apart from a handful of tracks. I think the records on Philpott, Running Back and Workshop are all playable and a little bit dancier, but I don’t really think of myself as a producer for the dancefloor.

‘Got 2 Be’ from your Electric Minds release (above) is still a really massive tune with a lot of DJs, that’s a real underground hit.

Actually, speaking of Electric Minds, I have just found an alternative version I recorded of ‘To The Disco’, and I think they might be bringing that out.

Oh, is that just something you recorded at the time? Do you often rediscover alternate versions of tracks that are sort of lying about?

Yes, sometimes I keep versions and when I shuffle on my iTunes, they come up and I think, “Woah, this is a whole different story”, you know, the rhythm is stripped back, and it goes on a little longer.

Sometimes I prefer a different version to four or five years ago, but it’s never a good sign when I get to version number 79 or whatever, I try and nail it spontaneously.

You're well known for your love of drinking red wine during your sets, so we have to ask, what are you drinking at the moment?

Haha, same question as another interviewer just asked me. Hmmm, I should name another one to try and up the confusion factor.

Also, name another one and you increase your chances of getting sent a bottle for free.

Pffft, I’m not talking about companies, I’m talking about grapes! I don’t know it’s tough, it’s like asking, what’s your favourite beer?

Well now you mention it, a friend started working in a proper real ale pub, and despite previously thinking it was pretty precocious, that introduction has shown it in a whole different light. 

Hmm, you’re right. In that case... let’s say a nice campaneo.

Move D headlines Sankeys NYE alongside Kerri Chandler (tickets here or via the box below). For his other UK dates head here.

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