The clarion call of techno booms low and punchy, or as Matthew Dear’s Audion Twitter feed recently had it, “All you really need is a kick, hi hat, clap and one organ chord. An intermittent bass note is optional.” Dear grew up in rural Texas, but, as soon as he was able, he answered the call in Detroit, a city whose charms he would go on to concisely extoll in 1999’s “Hands Up For Detroit” (and on which Fedde le Grand would ride to worldwide euphoria). Matthew Dear is a lovely man, one whose deep brown eyes are easy to fall into and who is quick to offer a generous smile. At least that’s the state Noisey found him in at Moogfest this spring, safely ensconced in the analog mountain air. Then we made him tell us all his secrets.
I was given a Casio, one of the old-school SK1s, or whatever, when I was a kid. For Christmas I got one of those. And was doing the sampling and stuff. That was the first, I was eight years old or nine years old. But the first synth that I actually went out to buy was a Korg Prophecy, a digital synth from the late ‘90s that I got at a Guitar Center that I thought was really funny now… I had that with an Ensoniq ASR-X sampler. That was my first real, like, “I gotta make music.” I remember I’d go into the store—we had Guitar Center, it’s really the WalMart of gear, it’s a musician’s worst nightmare.
And none of the customers can tune their guitar…
I don’t wanna slam them, they’ve been nice to me in the past. I went in there—at that time I was listening to the early Chemical Brothers stuff, I was in high school. Maybe Exit Planet Dust had just come out. Crystal Method was huge, and maybe Homework was out, by Daft Punk. And I took in this music and I asked the guy, “I wanna make stuff like this, what do I need? How do I get this sound, how do I make the voice do this?” He was like, “that’s a sampler, you need a sampler.” So I’d save up all my money and buy a sampler, or ask my family for a Christmas present, you know? I want one of these!
And the guy steered you in the right direction?
Yeah, it was cool. I got rid of the Korg Prophecy early on, but I still have the Ensoniq sampler in my closet, with the knobs worn where my finger would be, with like a groove there. I used that for a long time, that was my live show centerpiece. I remember I’d have songs spread out on floppy discs because you’d have to load them. So I’d have like, one or six, and you’d have to load each one! So that was my first gear. The first real analog synth that I bought knowing that I wanted that sound was probably the Polysix or the SH101.
First music program:
Well, early on, when I just got a home computer, SoundBlaster 16 used to come with the computers. And I used to cut up CDs and record voice in there and guitar, and I would cut and paste waveforms together to make a song. But there was no sequence, nothing was in a clock. It was just random collage. And that was probably, like, early, 13, 14, just messing with stuff, making weird samples. I would sample music and mash it up together. But then when I really started making electronic music in a sequenced form—there’s a small program called Making Waves, which is from a UK company. I imagine it’s like two guys in their living room. I just got it again. It’s a Windows-based software. It’s so simple. It’s just basic grid-based sequencing. I got a copy of Parallels on my Mac so I can run Windows. I started using this program again. It’s super basic but I love it. The grooves are amazing. It’s just really straight up. I went so Ableton for a long time—using only Ableton—and now I’ve started using Logic. I really like it for its sound quality and mixing.
It sounds better.
I think it does, I think it sounds so good. The inherent soft synths and drum machines that come with Logic just sound so much more dynamic, and the bass is a lot deeper and clearer than a lot of programs I’ve used. Like a pure sine wave generated digitally is just a bit more fatter, subbier and rounder than you can get with an analog synth.
Depeche Mode. My brother took me. I was 14 years old. I was really lucky. San Antonio, Texas.
First dance show:
A rave in Detroit! I think I was like 19. I saw DJ T-1000. Atomic Babies were there, this old live act. I remember just walking in, finally experiencing it, then walking out at sunrise. One thousand people in a warehouse in Detroit. I was hooked: “Okay, this makes sense.”
Oh man, that’s a really good one. I mean, there’s Nina Simone just for the texture and sound of her voice. And the power that she could get away with. But Townes van Zandt lately, just for the aching honestly, the purity of his voice.
Favorite sci-fi movie:
Sci-fi movie? I mean, I’m a huge Philip K. Dick fan, so Minority Report I love. I think it’s great. It’s up there with my favorite sci-fis, even though it’s a lot newer. I tried to love Blade Runner. Some people just love it. It’s awesome, it’s fantastic, but it hasn’t hit me like it should yet. I’m not counting it out. I think it will one day. But I do love the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep better than Minority Report.
Favorite sci-fi book:
Well, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is really good, but it’s not so sci-fi. Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle, is awesome.
Favorite era in time:
Now! It has to be. (Laughs)
First rule you broke:
Definitely going places that I didn’t let on that I was going there… to sneak out to a party. The nighttime was my first escape. First time I was caught—I don’t know. I’ve been caught many times! The catcher—my parents—let me slide, but kind of gave me the look, like “we’re on to you!” But I never got in so much trouble that I did any harm to anybody. So that was okay.
Favorite food that reminds you of home:
Oh, man, a classic that my mother made me growing up is an egg sandwich. Fried egg, mayonnaise, and white bread. And it turns out her mother made that for her.
White on white on white.
I can eat it anywhere and it makes me feel like home.
Davo is a synth super nerd and he's on Twitter - @Batter_licker
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