By Cooper Saver
Originator, innovator, pioneer, and godfather are only a few of the words one might use to describe the legend that is Juan Atkins. With his mind constantly set to creating something new for future generations, Juan Atkins has served as a foundation of Detroit techno for nearly 40 years. It’s guaranteed that the music we dance to would not exist in it’s current form if it wasn’t for Juan’s creative breakthroughs during the dawn of the 80s. His many projects and aliases such as Model 500, Infiniti, Cybotron, and collaborations with German musician Moritz Von Oswald cemented the foundation of techno as we know it today.
These days you can catch Juan performing around the world, still producing tons of forward thinking music and running his long-lasting label Metroplex. Los Angeles in particular, however, is very lucky to welcome Juan back into town for another instalment of Oscillator, a local underground focusing on deep synth exploration. Oscillator founder Nicole Berger has been bringing Juan into town for a series of events where he demonstrates his expansive knowledge of Roland instruments and how are they used to create original music in a live setting. Ahead of Juan’s next Oscillator performance this weekend — this time, an original live set with LA’s own Egyptian Lover — I was lucky to speak with him about the past and present, as he provided great insight on his creative process and everlasting enthusiasm toward authentic dance music.
First off, you’ve had a big year of touring in 2016 with a handful of international gigs multiple per month. With a large increased number of younger people getting into techno and all electronic music, have you noticed your crowds change at all? Are you happy to see more fresh faces on the dancefloor even if they don’t necessarily know the history?
They’re all fresh faces – no matter what day, what year, or what decade. However, I’m surprised by the amount of knowledge that the younger audiences have about the history. I get a lot of people asking me to autograph their records…and you know, these kids are young enough to be my kids. Some of these records they ask me to sign were released before they were born! And that’s a very refreshing feeling, a very good feeling, to know you’re influencing a whole new generation.
How have you managed to stay excited about performing and traveling over the many years you’ve been doing it? What are the most crucial things one must do to stay positive and energized?
I love music and I love making music, and that’s what keeps my energy going. There are always new inventions, new developments, and updates that allow you to expand enable you to do things you maybe weren’t able to do 10 years ago, 15 years ago. Just the thirst for knowledge and exploration and drive is what keeps me going. As people become more tuned in and acclimated to electronic music, you’re able to go a little deeper and do more, and that’s what’s driving me.
Now that the year is nearly over, are you able to reflect on any highlights from your summer on the road? Any gigs stand out in particular to you?
Every experience is a different experience, and I make the best out of every experience. I try to live life by getting the most out of every endeavor, so to me they all stand out. Every experience stands out because I make them stand out. It’s hard to choose what’s best – I love em all.
Tell me a bit about 2016’s release “Transport” with Moritz von Oswald. You guys have been working together for a long time, and I’m sure your relationship in the studio is quite refined. Do you each serve different roles in production or is it more of an “anything goes” situation when you collaborate?
Anything goes basically. We just bounce ideas off of each other. Sometimes I’ll arrive at the studio and Moritz is working on a bassline or a keyboard line and I’ll just jump in and start adding. We ping pong off each other. Sometimes I’ll start an idea and he’ll improvise. It’s kind of a free for all.
“Transport” came out on Tresor, just like the first Borderland record and many other previous releases of yours. What is it about Tresor that makes you feel at home? Do you remember the first time you stepped into their club in Berlin? How did this relationship develop?
Berlin, and Tresor in particular, was actually the first stop when I first went to Europe. That’s a bit of a long story in itself. Basically, I met Dimitri Hegemann, the founder of Tresor, at the New Music Seminar, which was a conference held in New York every year. A lot of the electronic dance labels from all over the world went. I met Dimitri while they were passing out promos at the conference, and everybody wanted their record because it was so hot. They were walking around like heavyweights. Even though I had never been to Berlin, the reputation of Tresor preceded itself. The word was “you gotta play Tresor when you go to Berlin.” The buzz was about their basement, an old bank vault – that’s where I played that first time. And they have a love for Detroit and our style of music, it was a natural progression to develop this family like exchange.
What are you using in your current live setups and what are some of your favorite contemporary pieces in the studio?
You gotta come see the show, we’re developing a new show and you just gotta come see it.
Speaking of gear, you’re returning to LA soon to debut a new live set. It’s mainly consisting of Roland gear, right? What’s the setup looking like for this show?
Well basically, Roland has just released a bunch of new gear and we wanna put it to the test. TR-09 drum machine, VP-03 vocoder…I started with Roland, I want to let the public know what Roland is all about and how they contribute to the development of electronic music.
Out of all the Roland instruments you’ll be playing with, which would you consider the main centerpiece that ties everything together? The piece you absolutely couldn’t live without.
Well Roland has always been known for the drum machines, the 808, 909, the TR-55…in this situation the focus would be on the rhythm section.
Tell me a bit about the event series and your relationship with this party.
I was introduced to Oscillator back in January 2016, and I was asked to do an all Metroplex set. And nobody has asked me that for at least 10 years. And that music and that style, my early style, definitely holds a dear place in my heart. So given the opportunity to do this, I took it. I like what Nicole is doing with Nick at Oscillator. They’re staying true to the real foundation of quality electronic music.
LA’s dance music underground has been growing a lot in recent years and people are more excited than ever before. Based on your latest trips out here have you felt a positive energy, especially around the synth community downtown?
I’m liking what Oscillator is doing in terms of cultivating an electronic music culture in LA. A real pure, authentic, culture.
What’s currently in the works? Any upcoming releases under your name and aliases?
There’s always stuff in the works. There’s an orchestra reconstruction of some of my old tracks that’ll be coming at the end of the year. Lots of remixes. There’s a lot happening.
And how about Metroplex? It’s continued to actively release on a regular basis – but you never overdo it with putting stuff out. Quality over quantity. Any upcoming signings you can tell us about? How do you go about signing releases and deciding if it’s the right fit?
We just put out three EPs together, we don’t currently have anything slated for release. Of course there are artists we’re considering, but at this moment it’s just those three new releases. People send demos and if I like it, something I would play, then I would like to have it on my label.
What advice would you have for young DJs learning to make techno, and young techno producers learning to DJ?
Keep an open mind, don’t be scared to take chances. That’s my biggest advice – do not be afraid to take chances.
Catch the Juan Atkins in action with Egyptian Lover, on Saturday, January 7th at Oscillator — RSVP is open now, and presales are moving quickly.