Put a guitar into most DJs hands and they'll look at you with a state of bemusement that suggests they're looking for the sync button. Matthew Dear, on the other hand, has established such vastly differentiated musical identities on either side of the organic/electronic divide that you might just begin to wonder if that divide even exists. Under his given name, Dear's work has weaved through pop-informed, dance-adjacent, Eno-influenced phases wrought through live performances, often with a full band. His DJ sets, particularly under the harder-edged Audion moniker, are straight-up dark and weird-ass techno.
Texas born, Dear had an early and oblique exposure to what was to become his life's work. "I was into the stuff techno trickles down into. My older brother was into more industrial dance music," Dear tells THUMP. "I knew I really liked it, but I didn't know there was this whole thing called techno. As a culture and a movement, I had no idea until I came to Detroit and went to my first warehouse party in 1998 and I saw DJ T-1000 and Atomic Babies. My mind was like 'This is it. I get it. I get 4x4 music.' I was just so enamored. I was naive and so in love with the idea of a movement and a cultural force. Before that, I was really into 60s rock, but once I found rave and dance music, I found it to be my generation's version of what I loved about the 60s"
There are those who claim dance music culture has lost that sense of movement, that sense of extra-cultural enlightenment. Dear disagrees, although tepidly: "I don't wanna say there's no movement, because that's too naive. You're just too-cool-for-school if you think that. Something is happening. Something is always happening. The present day is always the best time to be alive. If it's not, you need to open your eyes because you're not going backwards. You can't live in the future. If you can't make your movement, you don't deserve it."
The willful defiance towards categorization that Dear exhibits isn't without its pitfalls. Often, fans show up to his gigs expecting one thing and finding something totally different. "It happens all the time," says Dear. "And I dunno what to do about it. It's my own fault. I was playing a DJ gig in Berlin and this girl came up to me afterwards, stopped me on the dancefloor, and was like 'that was horrible!' And I was like, 'what?' She says, 'That was just really bad. You didn't play any of your own songs, and you just played techno the whole time and it was really boring.' "
Dear continues the anecdote: "I said to her, 'Well, we're at Watergate in Berlin. This is a dance club. I played dance music. Maybe you wanna see me with my band or something?' It's always been a struggle for me. even from the beginning. When I make a song, once it's released, I hate playing it as a DJ. I rarely play any of my own songs, unless it's an unreleased track that I'm testing out. I feel like it's just boring. Why would I play something everybody's heard?"
That question alludes to the thread that runs through Dear's output. "The constant theme would be playful experimentation," he says. "I always want there to be a sense of carefree abandon in the studio, whether it's stuff with vocals or electronic music. It always has to be a little odd, a little quirky to get me going."
Being an iconoclast causes internal strife as much as external. "I'm always insecure about my music," explains Dear. "I go at every project, whether it's a collaboration or my own tracks, with that sense of 'oh crap. This could go completely wrong or it could work really well.' That sense of unknowing and fear allows you not to rest too long on tried-and-true methods that you've done before. It's just more fun that way. When you really resort to your techniques, you get predictable and stale."
He goes on, "The most uncomfortable moments tend to lead to awkward beauty. Every time is a total crapshoot, man. You can sit at a computer or a guitar for eight hours straight, and if the magic's not there, the magic's not there. You just have to be open to it when it comes. You're always trying to keep your antennae up and waiting and listening and sometimes it doesn't hit for months. You can really go into a dry spell. If you just always have the idea that 'okay, it's not working for me now, but let's not wring water out of a dry cloth right now.' The more you twist and pull and try to get stuff out when it's really not there, the deeper you're gonna dig yourself into a hole."
Based off of that disclosure, you'd think Matthew would respond to a creative block with hand-wringing and soul searching. "No," he laughs. I just book a bunch of DJ gigs." Along those lines, Matthew Dear kicks off a quick string of DJ dates in the US tomorrow night in Los Angeles at Lot 613 before skipping through storied venues like The Dolphin in Philly and Beta in Denver before rounding things out at THUMP fav Verboten in New York on Valentine's Day. A word of advice, though: Check your expectations at the door.