A big, warm, upcoming Happy Birthday is being celebrated at the Blackflag Recordings Showcase for its founder, the techno guru, Mr. Stacey Pullen. What better way to celebrate your big day than by throwing an official Movement 2016 Afterparty with the likes of Guti (live), Cocodrills, and Mike Brown? We can't think of anything, especially when it's also being held in the birth city of techno.
Pullen is far from your run of the mill producer. He represents the second generation of techno stemming from Detroit who continue to be innovative with the genre. Having been raised in the city, his skill was guided under the mentorship of dance music pioneers like Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson. He also attended the Detroit Institute of Music, learning from veterans such as Alton Miller and Chez Damier. That mentorship is not to be taken lightly and Pullen didn't waist a moment. Now he leads the charge in educating the audience in progressive techniques with his unpredictable showmanship behind the decks.
Fresh off finishing his new EP, ROK, set to be released under Blackflag on June 20th, as well as organizing his crazy birthday bash in Detroit, Magnetic had the chance to talk with Pullen in order to get a better understanding of his musical outlook and see what to expect when it comes time to party in the Motor City.
How’s your year been, what have you been working on?
It’s been fairly busy. What month are we in? I’ve had a full year of gigs and preparing for the future. I usually take one day at a time, one gig at a time, and one studio session at a time. When each year starts, everyone sets their goals to be successful and complete the things they didn’t do last year in order to conquer new territory, and I seem to be right on track.
We’re not at the halfway point yet, and although I’ve already completed some projects and remixes, I’ve just been taking the time to nurture the project.
Any memorable gigs this past year?
Well, I can tell you the memorable gig that didn’t happen. I got caught in the earthquake in Ecuador. I was supposed to play in a club that night and that experience will go down as the infamous gig that never happened.
And it stopped the entire show?
At that point the government was not sure if there was going to be aftershocks. So their responsibility was to tell everybody to stay home. I never experienced an earthquake before and I didn't know the rules and regulations on what the recovery and rescue process was. But, yeah they cancelled gigs; I mean they cancelled all public outings and events.
Sounds interesting being in the middle of all that chaos.
It was, but for a memorable gig that actually did happen, I would say Blue Marlin in Dubai. That was in October of last year and I played with Kevin Sanderson. It was one of those times where you never really imagine yourself going to a middle eastern country and being able to party like you're in the US. But this club had no rules. It was more like an outdoor beach club; like a beach in the middle of the dessert.
You have to give it a chance to spread your wings and take gigs in places that you never thought you would ever go to. Then you get there and the people are so receptive to the music and are educated about the culture. It was wonderful, it was a great time.
What have you been working on since being back from the tour?
I just finished my new EP that's going to be coming out on my new label Blackflag on June 20th. The EP is called ROK and it's the first release under my name on my own label in three years. It’s a four track EP and the second track on the release came about spontaneously. I didn’t think that I was going to do another track for the EP, but then I went on and started putting something together. I’m really happy with the EP that’s coming out. I don’t really like to put out too much music because there is already so much that’s out and the market is already saturated.
I was going through some music the other day and I went through 1,099 promos, but only 7 made the cut. I’m slowly going through and ripping my old vinyls and getting some tracks, which is very time-consuming. You have to open the email, then you have to download it, then you have to listen, etc. All these different stages.
What went into the production of your new EP and where did that inspiration come from?
Actually, my inspiration comes from DJing. Being a DJ, I play music to make people dance, and sometimes I tend to come across a lot of crap tracks. This makes me motivated to go into the studio. But when I do hear that one track that I really like, or there's something that I’m really feeling at that moment, I really feel inspired. I like to stay right there on the cusp of innovation or on the cusp of keeping people interested in what I’m doing. For me, I don’t really record or release a lot of music. I’m in the studio all the time, but I don’t really release everything because it’s such a saturated market that I really like to make it special from the heart. That’s me being an artist, not just me trying to release music to try to get people to know it’s me.
On that note, you watched techno develop and progress in so many ways in the last 20 years. What are your thoughts on how the sound has developed?
It’s definitely gotten slower now, you have techno tracks at 120 BPM. You can’t even play a record at -8 and it be 120. It’s quite amazing to see the scene move with the generational shift. When we first started it was pretty much all guys. Guys at 136 BPM and dirt-box clubs. The focus wasn’t even on the DJ, we just happened to be there playing music. Now there is more of a sex appeal to techno. Its part of a new generation of kids who want to be cool…which is what it is. From a technological point of view.
The word techno, is short for technology, so we’ve always been right there turning the page and helping to create the future. That’s the good thing, that’s why techno has had longevity more than any other genre. That’s why it won’t go anywhere. You have other genres that came, that are still there, but not as prominent as techno. Things like Grime, and Garage and even Deep House have taken a totally different turn than what it used to be. Now Deep House is much slower as well. But unlike other styles, you always know techno, even though the BPM slowed down a little.
I think it’s also interesting to note that some will say all techno sounds the same. But, if you had to compare techno from Detroit and techno from Europe, they are vastly different.
Exactly, it’s funny. In Detroit we still have that name recognition where we have artists that are still kicking strong. Now you have this German style going strong for more than 10 years. Then things started to change with the minimal sound that came out of Berlin and evolved into so many different sub-genres. Now you have Berghain and all those hipster places. It’s good because we are reinventing the wheel, reinventing a different way to understand and create the music.
You also came from a generation when music was physical. Now it’s all digital and the ability to distribute it is much easier and perhaps more aggressive.
Yeah, you have DJs and producers in a box now. It’s like a jack in the box. That’s why we have so much music out that’s such crap. That’s the truth though, everyone wants to do it and it’s so accessible. It’s cool and I’m not knocking the genre. It is just that some of the tracks are not up to par, but I’m still fortunate to be able to see how modern music and techno has been able to evolve. Not many producers have been able to see that. I appreciate it because this is what keeps me on my toes, listening to what’s coming out next and listening to young producers who are on the top of their game. It’s all good in all areas; it’s just that there is too much out there. We need some type of quality control.
Of course, I think that’s important in any genre, in any industry.
It’s all there right at your fingertips, where as years ago you had to search for it a bit more. That made it exciting because you got to interact with people on a daily basis and not just in clubs. It was about being able to be a part of a community, versus just going to a club all the time and having a DJ make the kids raise their hands in the air, and then on to the next DJ an hour later.
Speaking of community, Detroit in the last 10 years has become the hub for today's techno, bringing people from all over the world to this once space. How long have your parties been running in Detroit during Movement?
This is my third party. I don’t really do parties that often. It’s just too stressful, I still get nervous and I hate getting that nervous feeling, pre-party jitters. The weeks leading up to the party or right before the gig, sometimes I just try to be booked as a DJ and come in and do my thing. But I also feel that with Movement it was the perfect opportunity to do a party because it’s home and I got a good club and the guy that runs the club has a good vision as well.
What equipment do you carry now?
I play with my whole Traktor setup, X1 Controller and I play with a vinyl controller. That’s how I learned how to DJ, playing vinyl. I will play digital music, but with tools I learned on. That’s been my comfort zone and I don't have to worry about too much technology taking me out of my game. I use the computer as a library and I just play like I did 20 years ago.
I think it’s fantastic when I see DJs play on vinyl.
It’s more common in Europe than in the US. You will never see too many DJs playing vinyl here, but you go to Europe and it’s like the biggest thing. It had a down point when technology took off, now it’s back bigger and better than ever. So that’s one thing I enjoy, still traveling over to Europe and being part of the community club culture. It’s not like they jumped on this band wagon just because it’s cool like some countries have. But it has always been good to travel at ease. They have good club culture, they know the club culture, no matter what country you go to in Europe they continue to thrive with the younger generation.
Tell me a bit about Blackflag and the showcase, did you have purpose or idea behind it?
Blackflag originally started so that I would have another outlet for my music. At the start I didn’t want to have any other artists on the label. To make a long story short, I had some legal issues to deal with regarding my major record deal that I signed 14-15 years ago. Blackflag kind of got tied up into that major deal and I couldn’t release anything because of other deals, so I got the rights back in 2011-2012 after the statute of limitation ran out and I was able to go back and regroup. Then I had a different point of view for wanting to release music on Blackflag. I no longer wanted it to be about me as a solo artist. There was so much music out there and I was getting so many great demos from artists, that it would be silly for me to not continue on the tradition like I started.
I felt it was my duty to release another artist's music. That’s when I was constantly receiving demos, so I would release about 3-4 a year. Now it’s all about branding your label and artists, and doing showcases. I haven’t done too many, but I do some periodically. I just don't want to put too much stress on it. I don’t like feeling so much pressure to do this or that. At the end of the day, I just want to go in and do my thing, have DJs who release on the label and will come in to showcase their talents.
Are you excited for this year's showcase?
Yeah, because I’m celebrating my birthday!