Full Interview with Dan Hekate on Sound System History, Music and Movie Making – YouTube.
The Hekate sound system have been long time friends and allies and our Noise & Politics Channel already featured some footage from the live sets of C_C, Les Trolls and Dan himself from the Hekate 25 years anniversary party in Lyon last year, as well as other Hekate related material including trailers and video clips. Dan is of course under his moniker The Wirebug also the producer behind the album Factory Food which came out in 2019 on Praxis.
Dan is of course also a Datacide author, who has published a number of texts and short stories in the pages of the magazine over the years.
We’re talking about the origins of the sound system in the mid 90s and the development of the music and the counterculture it is a part of and taking it up to the present discussing Dan’s own adventures in music and what led him to become a feature film director.
We’re sitting here March 3rd, 2023 in Berlin, the day after Dan played at the re:focus night and I want to ask him a few questions about his career as a musician as part of the sound system and as a filmmaker, as well as all the other things in between. Tell us first how did you get into electronic music originally, what attracted you to it, how did you get involved and what was the main inspiration?
I was very lucky – I’ve got an older brother who’s five years older, Luke, who was listening and going to Raves at Labyrinth and big acid warehouse raves and so he was already passing tapes to me when I was 12, 13 years – old school hardcore and such…. coupled with that I was I was really into sort of Indie music, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins all of that sort of stuff and so that was all sort of bubbling away in the background and when I started to be old enough to want to go out, 15, 16, there was a load of things going on – protests and squat parties.
I just loved the environment – it was such an amazing contrast to the sobriety and the the boring mundaneness of London life. It was a combination of those two, sort of getting pulled in by the the lifestyle and this new and exciting music that seemed so much fresher than anything else that was out there…
So you started first just going to raves – what caused you to become more actively involved?
You know I’d go to different sort of raves, stuff that was happening in Claremont Road in Leyton that was more sort of protest based, where they’d have tiny squat raves in little houses, to sort of bigger warehouse raves happening in Hoxton and and all around London. And I was always attracted to the harder and faster and and darker music, which was mainly Gabba at the time. And it was also from going to a Teknival in the south of France and other sort of bigger festivals. Always sort of drawn towards that darker music and not really finding much of it out there… There’d be an hour or two at the end of the night or there there would be these small events that would occasionally take place that I’d go down to, Hellraiser and Dead by Dawn, which for me and my small group of friends were the most exciting things going on musically. But these sort of events where there would be this really hard music, were removed from the environments that we really enjoyed, the underground Raves which would happen in these huge abandoned buildings where there wouldn’t be a cut off time… And me and my friends we just wanted as much as possible to bring that sort of stuff that we liked and put it in the environment of a free party and Teknival.
That basically inspired us, me, Francis, Ben and Davey to get together and form our own sound system. We managed to get a connection to buy two double scoops and two mid cabinets with tops set in them from a mate of a mate basically. We managed to blow the sound system the first event that we did and quite a few events after that… Actually it took us a long while to get our heads around how you sound engineer things, and the first few years were confusion and mess…
We managed to make it out to Czechtek in ‘96 by basically putting different speakers in different vans and then getting all the stuff together when we were on site. I think we only managed to have our rig playing for like a total of eight hours over a three day period, and we had all sorts of brilliant sound engineers come over and look at our rig and scratch their heads, and it would work for a bit and then it would go off, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.
And then to get to the next event we had to send one of our crew, Francis, off by himself – he had to go and find a lift in the Teknival, going asking people truck to truck ‘have you got space for me and some speakers’, so he had to basically hitchhike with these double bass bins to Rotterdam where we did a Teknival on a beach. That was great, we had loads of cool people come and play on our tiny sound system, it went on for a long time the Teknival, I can’t remember how long… At one point I believe one of our crew played two records for like four hours on in the middle of the night sometime to a couple of ravers. So it was very small beginnings!
Away from the sort of competitive nature of the London free party system at the time we found a ton of cohorts who were more than happy to to find these teenagers who had this sort of real energy and Verve to get out there and and put on events, and so we got we got a lot of help and eventually found our way.
You mentioned to Czechtek – was that when it started?
The first party I think happened as an it was an after party to Reclaim the Streets with Cheeba sound system and Chiba sound system in a party in London Fields, in a building that was squatted just for the night. We had very few of our own DJs so our sound wasn’t properly fully formed. Ben was our main DJ, he was one of the crew, but he’d only been mixing for like half a year or so – we weren’t old heads at all, we just had this real taste for hard music and a desire to to get it out there.
And then you started doing quite a lot of parties in London as well
Yeah after that in the following years me and and the other core members were still at Uni, we didn’t yet have trucks and stuff but our actual posse grew quite quickly. My brother Luke joined and started doing artwork, Ashley joined and started doing some backdrops, we met up with Marc and Claire and Zayn and Ian who had this great squat in Stockwell where we used to go back to plot after these Gabba parties or after we’d done an event, and they had a lot of connections and from them we brought in other DJs. People like will The Reverend came and started spinning for us and and then as soon as we started doing things people realized that we were providing this sort of different new sound, and so anyone who was keen on that sound would come and play. Christoph would come and play, DJ Scud would come and play, and and a big big inspiration for us was Plasmodio Sound System, an Italian sound system that we met when we were traveling in the summer of 96. They – and especially Sasha – hated the idea of this sort of boring formulated techno that was what most people were playing at the time. They came with all these fresh records from Italy – Sounds Never Seen by Lory D., stuff by Leo Anibaldi, and we’ve joined up with Sasha and Leo and did events in London, sometimes with this great sound system Vox Populi and sometimes they’d be very successful and our room would be full, everyone would be completely into it – and sometimes they’d be a complete failure, we’d have three people who weren’t even listening to the music, we’d all get too fucked up and the sound system wouldn’t work, so it was a very mixed bag…
I moved in with a lot of the posse and we we had a squat in Brockley and in this road Foxberry Road and the next summer after ‘96 we got our shit together, and we we bought a truck and we put all the sound system in that, and by that point we had a lot of artwork and that was always as we moved forward a big draw for people because we had so many great artists doing these brilliant backdrops. They were basically paintings that you could hang in a gallery, they were so good – they weren’t by my hand I can’t paint for shit – but these these great artists would put up stuff. I think it just snowballed because when you have a lot of diverse and eclectic art that you’re producing you act as a homing beacon for other artists and musicians who haven’t had a chance to play their stuff because they were stopped – because they were female DJs, or because they were playing jungle at a time when people only wanted techno, or they were playing stuff was too experimental or too hard, or they wanted to do paintings and backdrops or sculptures, but none of the other sound systems cared about that. So they were drawn towards us. We were never though – or rarely and when we were it didn’t work for us – the main sound system… We worked so much better when we were linked up with other people, when we could do our thing and we didn’t have to pander and cater for a dance floor that hungered to have a driving techno beat all the way through the night. We were able much more as a second room or a sound system that you’d find at the back of the Teknival to really experiment and give an opportunity to a sound that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else.
And you expanded your activities into Europe
What we would do is, we’d do occasional forays into Europe in the summer when there’d be a lot of Teknivals happening in Eastern Europe and more and more we were drawn to that and the life on the road, and we all tried to get our driving license and buy trucks, and by the end of the 90s we were living in Europe and what we would do mainly is travel around in the summer and then plot in what it’s generally Italy or Spain for the winter months, where we’d we’d do a series of parties in Rome with Fire At Work, or in Spain where there’d be big social centers, where we could work on our music and our sound and do little events and then go off traveling in the summer. This built more and more until we were a properly fully fledged part of the whole technical circuit into the mid-noughties – then it started to die off. A lot of people uh don’t like to talk about the end of stuff, but there was very much an end to what we were doing. Not as a sound system because we still do the odd event and we’re still connected, but it’s it’s nothing like it was, and it happened because people get lives they they have kids, they find jobs, they didn’t want this constant lifestyle so we shrunk from a crew that was 15-20 strong and was very multinational we’d have Italians, French, Germans, Swiss, whoever would be part of our sound system, but everyone sort of broke off and even though we had all the equipment and loads of art, I found myself with two people with all this equipment, all these trucks but unable to put on events because we didn’t have the crew to put up all this great art that we had. We didn’t have the crew to run the sounds and so we’d all have to play for hours on end and it just became a bit sad you know… because the whole power of our sound system came from the team from the ability to to move from Ska music into a Jungle into Breakcore or into experimental into Gabba and a range across all these musical genres and create a night that surprised and and engaged you to something that was that was smaller because without that crew it it lacked that power. And so it got to a point where where we had to scale back, and I moved back to England. That’s not to say we haven’t kept those connections. They’re still there – we did an event in Lyon last year this year, we’re plotting a three-day event in Forte Prenestino in Rome, but life moves on and a new crews come, and things evolve. So you know we had our heyday and those memories will live forever – and we will create new ones but it won’t be ever at that power and volume that that it was…
I guess that’s the sound system history…
Yeah in a very condensed environment… Lots of people I haven’t mentioned, but yeah…
But spinning off from the sound system you started making live music and later records and you/the sound system ran several labels… shall we talk about the music or the labels first?
Yeah, I guess the music and then from there into the labels because the music came first. I’ve always been into creating stuff. I’m now a filmmaker and still a musician… At the time I was hugely interested in in music and excited very much by live sets and what you could do with a live set. Particularly what Sasha was doing, what Simon Crystal Distortion was doing, particularly those two were very inspiring to me… I was just traveling around Europe and I was in the back of a truck, Simon was playing a live set and I was like ‘can I have a go?’ and he was like ‘yeah,have a go’ and I played to an audience with his beats and loops, but for half an hour before anyone noticed that this spotty 16 year old was was doing a live set, and they were like ‘what what are you doing here?’… Sasha sold me his sampler for next to nothing, showed me how to use it.
I was never classically trained as a musician, so when I went in I was just experimenting and throwing stuff together and seeing what worked without the pressure that’s put on you as a composer when you’ve got all that weight of knowledge of what music should be. So it was very easy for me to go in with this fresh approach to music and I found that people really connected very well with with what I was doing when we were in the right environments.
I also had people threaten to beat me up with hammers, and physically me abuse me for my music, cut off generators while I was playing to stop me, so there was a lot of stuff to contend to – but that sort of thing just made me more insistent to continue what I was doing and the road that I was on… It wasn’t long before um Kevin from New Skin proposed that I’d do a split with with Christoph from Praxis on New Skin one and people seemed to like that first record.
At the time it was very easy to make and sell records, and so soon enough I started uHex with Andy Redmax, Davey started Coven H, and then eventually I took on New Skin from Kevin.
At first it was it was an avenue to get my music out but soon enough we we started releasing and producing stuff from other artists that we were connected to that was exciting to us and we felt needed to get out there…
And it was just such a lovely playground because it coupled so well with what we were doing in terms of traveling around. I would produce a record, make 500 to a thousand [copies], then swapped my record with people like Christoph Praxis, Christophe Toolbox and others as well as people I’d meet on the way, so I’d have a huge selection of different records that I’d paid very little for because I’d only paid for my records to be produced… And then I’d go to these different cities where we were traveling around as a sound system, set up my stall or just have people come to my truck and I’d be able to sell them vinyl and live off that because the markup was great! If only such a thing existed for musicians now it’s it’s very sad that you can make so little money from making your own music now, and those bastards at Spotify and all the other channels that that basically rape and pillage music for their own ends… we can’t forget how much those people destroyed the livelihood of independent musicians.
At some point – you already hinted at it – the labels became defunct in the early 2000s I think. Was that in the context of the whole music industry changing or was it more personal motivation?
I mean that was a period when I was trying to pursue film stuff and coming back to England from living in Europe so I guess there was less the chance to to sell vinyl and when you’re not selling vinyl then it becomes less interesting to make it. You’re not having all those exciting conversations where people are coming and discovering stuff, but it was also the massive drop-off.
We’d make stuff and uh the birth of YouTube and the proliferation of the internet just sort of destroyed people’s desire to buy vinyl. We made Coven H7 which was a massive failure for us it was an album that I made with this amazing artwork that my brother Luke did, and you know we put a lot of time and energy in it and no one bought it. We ended up having to throw boxes and boxes of that vinyl away and I think after that we tried other records and things just weren’t working. They weren’t selling. Part of that maybe was a turn I took with my music. The change from in my own sort of production, from hardware to these softwares that weren’t yet at the point where you could create stuff that was really strong… using stuff like the first versions of Reason and Fruityloops which might have been good enough to do interesting live sets with, but I wasn’t producing music that was at a level, so I think everything coupled together just sort of brought all of it to a close. Which is sad but you know it lives on in other forms. So yeah, I guess a combo of things as most things tend to be, you know.
But I mean you’ve continued to make music yourself and still release music such as the Wirebug album on Praxis and I assume you intend to continue…
Yes, I do, but I’m less than less and drawn to sequence stuff out as tracks. I spend a lot of time making music for my live sets because it’s a bit sad for me to just release a track that sits on Bandcamp and gets a couple of plays or you put it up on YouTube and no one really checks it out. I mean I’d much rather spend my time creating live sets and then releasing them into the wild and and people can enjoy them like that. Maybe that’s because I’m going out less maybe that’s because I’m less linked up with DJs who are knocking on my door asking for tracks, but I think more than anything it’s to do with a lack of vinyl. Vinyl was an amazing thing for collecting your thoughts and and stamping your ideas of that period.
I don’t think that people should just produce vinyl – if no one’s gonna buy it, then it’s pointless and the lack of that drive means that I’ve got less of a drive to do that, but that doesn’t mean the music’s less exciting for me. I feel I’m still excited to go out and play my live sets. The whole coupling of my artistic approach to film has sort of opened it out – I do AV sets, I do sets where I play visuals that I’ve created.
I like doing visuals for other people’s music, so there’s that, it’s an evolution, a mutation this sense that we should continue to just keep driving forward records or tracks as they were, because that’s what we used to do… I mean it seems a bit pointless to me…
You mentioned AV sets – audio visual sets – you also increasingly got into filmmaking. How did you get into that in the first place and what were your first works in that field?
I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker for a long long time. When I was eight or nine I remember wanting to be a detective, so uh I mean that that’s not a cool thing, ACAB and everything, and after that, even at 11, 12, I wanted to be a film director. My mum saw an advert – this was before the age of reality TV, the early 90s – for this thing called Video Diaries. She said ‘Dan, you want to be a filmmaker – you’re directing this play at school, why don’t you go for that’, and I wrote to them and they they liked me and I ended up producing a documentary for BBC Two as one of the ‘Teenage Video Diaries’ called The Greatest Director in the World, and it was me generally being a stuck up 13 year old who was having his bar mitzvah, had divorced parents and wanted to direct. From then on I went to Children’s film school and was really excited by film and it was what I wanted to do more than anything. When we first created the sound system I wanted to do visuals and stuff for them but more and more within that period 16, 17, 18, I was pushed away by the snobbery and nepotism that I felt was everywhere in the film world. You could only get somewhere at my children’s film school… the prettiest girls and the guys that licked the teacher’s ass would get all the the cushy roles and me and the other kids who wouldn’t do that, we’d be the runner on set and it was all like why are we getting these shit jobs… and so that really pushed me away for a long period while I concentrated on Hekate and and the music.
I didn’t want anything to do with film and then at one point I thought, no I do like film, and I started even when I was on the road popping back to England and making a few short films with Gabi Norland, who’d come and shoot stuff for my mad ideas that I’d had, and I just got more and more drawn to that, and so I guess I saw it as a way out from the sound system that was collapsing around me and wasn’t really a force to be reckoned with.
We weren’t as Hekate a forced to be reckoned with anymore, and I felt that that was a really strong artistic avenue that I should return to, so I came back to England and I started running on set and then being art department while I was doing my own films in the background and then writing and I eventually managed to get the stuff together for my feature.
Tell us more about the feature!
Davey, one of the cohorts which I started Hekate sound system with moved out to Uganda about 13 years ago and a few years after I visited him and was just so inspired by people’s thirst there for filmmaking and I taught some semesters there in semiotics and film. We shot a short film and soon afterwards me and Davey started pondering how we would go about creating a feature and we started batting around some ideas. I was heavily inspired by Philip K. Dick and other science fiction pioneers wanted to come up with something that was Science Fiction that could be done in a way that didn’t look cheap. Came up with this drug that shows you the future and that along with my experience of the Rave scene felt like a good start for the feature. It’s called Imperial Blue and it’s about a drug called Bulu that shows you the future. It’s set in Uganda and this drug smuggler goes over there from the West to try and make it big and bring back a load back here but falls foul to Uganda and the drug itself. The film came out, it’s played at Raindance, The Guardian and other people reviewed it you can find it online in some countries. In other countries we hope to bring it out on Vimeo in the coming months.
Did it do well? No, it didn’t make its money back, it had a massive drop off, we were trying to distribute it during Covid and it had no named actors in, so it didn’t find any sort of big distribution channels. Was it a complete failure? No, not also, because you know it’s got a Rotten Tomatoes page it had reviews, people have seen it, some people like it, it sort of sits somewhere in between and now I’m in the struggle of many Indie filmmakers trying to get my next feature off the ground, trying to find that balance between something that’s commercially viable but still is potent enough to incorporate social issues, because for me to just do a film that’s only entertainment I’d feel like I was disappointing myself – So yeah, I mean I guess that’s that’s how I’d sum it up…. go and watch it!
What are you working on at the moment? Do you manage to strike a balance between music filmmaking and writing – something we haven’t talked about yet – or are you focusing on just one of these at any given time?
I guess you could see it as a glass half full, glass half empty type. It depends how I’m feeling about things… I find time to produce music and it’s very easy for me to just slip back into something, and because I’ve removed completely the commercial aspect from my music making, I’m happy to go to play for free whenever or I’ll be booked for a fee, whatever feels right for the party. If it’s a free party where no one’s making money, then I don’t want to be paid, if I’m playing an event where people are making money, then yeah you better pay me because someone’s making money somewhere… Having removed that I feel very free to just express myself how I want and with all the wealth of software and samples that are out there, as well as collaborating with a host of other musicians. I’m hugely inspired by what I’m doing musically, I’ve got a band that I’ve started with Will from Deadsilence who used to DJ for us on Hekate as The Reverend and Phil who’s a spoken word artist and storyteller who’s our front man. We’re called Brace Brace, and I combine my filmmaking with the music there. It’s a whole story about this post-apocalyptic flight stewards who crash land, and that I’d say is a very good coming together of the two things that I enjoy, the storytelling and and the music making. We find it difficult to get gigs though because we don’t sit very easily… we’re not theatrical enough to be a theater performance, we’re a bit too noisy to be with other bands we’re a bit too bandy to be just on in an electronic night… If only Hekate were doing more events we’d sit perfectly there, but we only do a couple of events a year.
As for the filmmaking – yeah I’m working on a number of things, I’m trying to get a couple of projects off the ground, scripts that I’ve written but it it’s difficult. More and more as a filmmaker I want to pay people, I want to pay people for their work. It’s it’s all very well when you’re doing a short film you’ve got people coming for one, two days, they do you a favor and then in return you somehow help them out ,but when you’re doing a feature it sits so badly not to pay people when they’re dedicating months of their time, and you’re demanding – I’m very demanding – to to create something that’s very strong then it’s it’s impossible not to pay them. That’s where that commercial aspect comes in and this is difficult. It’s a difficult conversation in the underground to speak about commercial viability, but people have got to eat and if you want people to dedicate their time, then you need to find a way to pay them.
So that is what is very difficult and I struggle with that. I guess the way that I’m dealing with that as a filmmaker is I’ve got more commercial projects that would cost a bit more money to make and then I’m developing other stuff that’s that’s cheaper that I could do for very little money, that might not have as much reach.
What are you working on right now and or in the near future?
I wouldn’t want to tell you exactly what I’m doing now because a film project that I’m working on now might not be the same in six months or a year and so I decline to comment on that. Musically I’ve got this this Brace Brace band project, I’m in a duo called Incirrata with Amousement. It’s very exciting for me as a musician who’s never really been in bands, to do these projects as a duo or as a band that feels like more than the sum of its parts. I’ve also got different live sets that I’m working on, ones that are more broken dancefloor, ones that are more sit down and you know sort of more for noise events and those are those are hugely exciting. But as for the scripts and the films I’m going to keep those under wraps, you just have to watch this space as they say!
- also on Datacide: Stories by Dan Hekate
- Dan Hekate introduction to Everything Else is Even More Ridiculous
- Dan Moss Web site
- Dan Hekate SoundCloud
- Dan Moss YouTube
- Brace Brace Bandcamp
- Incirrata Facebook
- Dan Moss IMDb
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