Wilfully weird and all around adventurous are just a few things you can say about Damon Palermo's music, better known as Magic Touch. Although Damon's been hiding behind the Magic Touch moniker for just over a year, he's been involved in music for quite some time. From growing up in the Midwest USA attending raves as a teen, to moving to California and then eventually to Europe, Damon has grown as a live musician, DJ, and person over the last while and his releases and collaborations on LA-based label 100% Silk is further proof that he's here to stay. Just as his facebook page states, Magic Touch mixes the psychedelic ethos of San Francisco with the house movements of Chicago, Detroit and smatters the whole thing with a solid nod to the UK rave underground...so if that doesn't get you going, then I'm not sure if we can be friends. He just released a new EP with Sapphire Slows called "Just Wanna Feel," which meshes the lo-fi vibe of the collaborator with Magic Touch's classy piano house production, and has plenty more in store for the near future. Anyway, Magic Touch will be heading back to our city early 2013, so I figured it would be best to give him a proper introduction and get the full story straight. Read on for our conversation about everything from growing up in small cities to playing legendary clubs on the other side of the globe.
What’s up Damon, how have you been?
Hi doing well thanks!
So how long have you been in Berlin and what brought you there?
I arrived Berlin October 11th 2012 and am flying back to Los Angeles January 11th 2013. I got booked to DJ at Panorama Bar with Octo Octa playing live, plus DJ Deep downstairs at Berghain so I booked a few shows in Southern Germany and Poland around that date. I was supposed to leave Berlin October 17th but I decided to ditch the return flight and stay in Berlin through the new year. All of my stuff was in storage back in Los Angeles so I didn’t have much to lose.
You’re also based out of LA, but where are you from originally? I think I read Michigan on your Facebook. What initiated your decision to head west?
I'm sort of based out of LA haha. I moved all of my stuff to Los Angeles (via San Francisco) September 1st and took off for a Mi Ami European tour September 5th, then a US tour with Laurel Halo, Ital, M.Geddes Gengras, and back to Berlin for Panorama Bar. So I haven't been back since September but plan on living there at some point. Yep, I grew up in Michigan and lived in San Francisco for 7/8 years. I went to University for a year in Kalamazoo (yeah that’s a real name) and it was about as bad as it sounds. After a year of University my brother was living in California and found a 4 bedroom flat in San Francisco's Mission District and said I should live with him so I just went for it and took it from there.
It seems that most house-heads put Berlin high on their “must visit” lists and tend to come back with somewhat life-changing stories. How has your stay been out there, and what have been some standout moments so far? How can you compare the scene there to what you experienced in LA?
I guess every move you make is life-changing in slight ways but I don’t have any crazy life altering stories from Berlin. It’s been amazing staying here for a bit. There are so many great venues from big to small mostly with good sound systems. You can smoke spliffs in all of the bars and the parties go late sometimes non-stop. I don’t have a lot of experience going out in LA but it seems like it has a 1/2 good parties per month (hopefully I’m wrong) whereas Berlin has 2/3 great parties a week. People seem more appreciative of the music/artist in general here and the overall feeling is looser and more open than the US. Some standout shows have been Jagwa Music at Ritter Butzke, L.I.E.S. label night @ Loftus Hall, Smallville label night @ Loftus Hall, Hunee @ Soju Bar, Soft Rocks @ Soju Bar, Gerd Janson @ Chalet on Halloween, Vladislav Delay @ Berghain, Soundstream, Prosumer and Elbee Bad @ Boiler Room, Black Rain / Blackest Ever Black @ Mindpirates...
Were you going out to clubs and shows a lot before starting your Magic Touch project?
I’ve been going to shows since I was a teenager. I remember my brother driving me to the Beastie Boys and my father driving me to Rage Against The Machine. Once I could drive myself I went to a lot of hip hop shows at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit. My brother’s good friend (and mine to this day) "PAKMAN" used to play at raves in Detroit so I’d meet him there to make some money by setting up a concession stand. By that time the raves already seemed a bit more commercial. The few I remember had techno DJs along side Ol' Dirty Bastard and The Hieroglyphics Crew? Once I reached 18 I was able to get into Motor Lounge which had legendary DJs like Derrick May, Robert Hood, DJ Rolando, Carl Craig, etc…Also In the mid to late 90's Plastikman had an all night party at City Club (another 18 and over venue) which is a goth club in the basement of the Ramada Inn Downtown Detroit. Since then I’ve been going to all types of shows whenever I get the chance and have seen a lot of great shows at Festivals in Europe.
Magic Touch is a fairly new thing for you, as you only started it in the summer of 2011. Was it started just as an experiment? Or did you have experience in music prior to Magic Touch?
The first Magic Touch 12” came out in August 2011 but I had been working on different versions of those tracks here and there while I was on tour. I played drums in Mi Ami (Thrill Jockey, 100%Silk) and Jonas Reinhardt (Kranky, NotNotFun). On the second Mi Ami European tour I was working on some Magic Touch (before the name was created) tracks in the tour van on my laptop. I played them for Daniel ("Mi Ami" band mate also "Ital") and he was really encouraging so I kept working on them and other tracks in a similar vein. He was working on his solo tracks at the same time so it was nice to have someone to bounce my unfinished ideas off of.
Explain your musical background.
My oldest brother was in grunge rock bands throughout high school (while I was in middle school) so I always grew up around drums, gear and cool long hair dudes. I started playing drums in the middle school band and ended up quitting that before the 8th grade rolled by. I was getting more into/better at playing the full drum set and didn’t want to read music or perform at malls, plus the thought of marching during a football game was too embarrassing and uncool. Also at the time I was more into basketball so I focused a lot of time and energy on that.
Magic Touch does both live sets and DJ sets, but what does the live show consist of? Which do you prefer and why?
After the record came out Amanda asked me to play a show at Freak City in LA so it started off as a live project. I wasn’t sure how to pull off the songs on the 12” (live) but I just went for it without thinking about it to much, and the live set has developed over time through lots of touring and practice. I DJ'd here and there in San Francisco and a few out of town gigs but it was never really my thing. For the most part I prefer playing live but it can really depend on the venue/night. I’ve had several live shows where nobody notices that I’m playing live (even though i have two samplers one from the late 90's) and end up making a request (ie Naughty By Nature - O.P.P., Rihanna, etc...) so that can be frustrating. I'm more comfortable with live sets since that's my background but Berlin has gotten me more excited about DJing.
What are some of the main differences between the live set and your DJ sets besides the fact that you’re obviously playing your own music live? Does the tone or vibe change at all?
Well live is about 45 minutes and DJing could be several hours. I’d say both are similar in that I’m going for a danceable set. The live set is more full on since it's 45 minutes all of my tracks whereas a DJ set is extended over such a long period, which creates more dynamics/range of music.
Is it safe to assume that you’ve been DJing for years, long before the Magic Touch alias? When exactly did you first start DJing and who were some of the best DJs you got to see growing up that may have inspired you to do it yourself?
Early on in my San Francisco days I worked at a club that changed ownership so I bought two Technics 1200s and a mixer from them for $300. I already had 12"s from Detroit, etc so I practiced DJing here and there. I didn’t have a ton of time to DJ because I was practicing 4/5 days a week with both bands and playing shows on the weekend, plus touring. Also it's difficult to get really good 12”s (new/used) from California compared to NYC and Europe. I get most of my good 12”s when I visit my folks in Michigan, and whenever i have time on tour. The best DJs I saw in my late teens/early twenties were Derrick May and Carl Craig. At the time I didn't really understand the concept of DJing. Over time I finally "got it" and like any dude wanted to do it myself.
Speaking of influences, what kind of records were you into as a kid, and how did you begin discovering disco and house music? Are there any artists from your early years that you’d credit for exposing you to what it’s all about?
My parents grew up in the hippie generation so they had a lot of classic rock records of Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors etc…My friends and I flew through their records (though I still love Jimi Hendrix, and Neil Young) and tried to go deeper by getting more into Psychedelia and Krautrock. After awhile we were looking outside of the band vibe and got more into Electronic acts such as early Autechre, Aphex Twin, Plastikman, Oval, Vladislav Delay, Basic Channel and eventually started getting more into minimal techno and eventually house and disco. But I wouldn’t really say it was a linear quest to disco or house we were just into buying records, discovering new music (this was also the height of Napster followed by Soulseek) and enjoying whatever sounded good to us at the time.
At what point did you start to take your producing a bit more serious and go for legitimate releases? In terms of actually producing, who are some other artist from either the past or present that you can relate to or seek for inspiration?
I sent my tracks to 100% Silk in early 2011 and the record came out in August 2011. Before that I had some records out w/ my other bands so I was semi familiar with the process. Oh wow there are so many inspirational artists from past and present! I’m definitely inspired by a lot of my close friends on Future Times, L.I.E.S, Ital, Confused House, Amanda and artists on 100% Silk. Also newer stuff from Europe like Smallville, Move D, Gerd Jason, Hunee, Soundstream, Echovolt, I:Cube. As far as old stuff it’s really hard to list so many!
Apart from other people’s music, where does Magic Touch look for an extra spark of creativity? You’ve traveled the world several times now, would you say your travels have influenced your music or expanded your mind in any way? Any particular destinations leave a solid mark on you?
Sad to say but a lot of the spark comes from people sending me stuff over the internet and checking out loads of mixes on Soundcloud and Youtube. Also having amazing record stores (Hardwax, Audio In, Boxhanger Plattz Flea Market, Spacehall) here in Berlin. Traveling has definitely left a mark I’ll never forgot our tour in Japan and South Korea, all of the gigs I’ve DJ’d and attended in Berlin, Wet Play Manchester, Relaxed Clubbing Konstanz Germany, Sundays at the Golden Pudel in Hamburg, Sonar Barcelona, Unsound Poland etc…I quit my job in May and have been traveling ever since. On top of the great shows I've met so many amazing people who turn me onto new tunes and get me pumped on life in general.
When did you start collecting analog gear, and what would you say is the most special element of learning and using such equipment?
My first peace of gear was the YamahaSU700 purchased at Guitar Center for about $700 at the time. I only had that sampler for a long time so I didn’t really collect gear until 2008/2009 in San Francisco. It’s nice using samplers because I tend to get sucked into random stuff on the internet and samplers make it easier to stay focused. Of course I support computers but it’s nice honing in on sounds and feeling separated from the outside world.
When you started Magic Touch, did you have any specific concept in mind regarding sound and image? Did everything just come naturally, or were you reaching out to labels from the start?
With Magic Touch I never reached out to any labels until recently. At the time Amanda approached me after Daniel told her I had some tracks she should check out. She emailed me asking for the tracks but they were in their infancy. Her email made me hustle (Amanda was very kind and patiently waiting) and I finally finished with the help of my buddy Joshua Anzano (played synths, guitar, and helped arrange "I Can Feel The Heat"), and Honey Owens (played synths, and helped arrange "Clubhouse"). While I was working on those tracks I didn’t have any specific concepts in mind but I knew I wanted to make something in the realm of techno/disco/house.
I feel like you and Silk are a really great match in terms of aesthetics. Do you feel like the visual aspect of the label is something that’s important to Magic Touch? Why is that important to you?
Thanks. Yes visual aesthetics are important to me. I’m kind of a failed graphic designer but still appreciate and pay close attention to imagery/design. I trusted Amanda and the sleeve of the first 12” came out beautifully! If you've seen the first Silk 12"s the typography is amazing! Ever since then I’ve pretty much been working with that particular artist Bobby Houlihan.
One of my favorite things about 100% Silk is how Amanda Brown didn’t just start an open-minded dance label, but also created a family that stays true to a certain sound. Did you meet your collaborators such as Ital and Sapphire Slows through the label? What’s the creative process when working with other producers on the label like that?
I met Ital in 2006 and we formed our band Mi Ami. We’ve traveled the world together and have been close mates since we first met. Yes, I met Sapphire Slows through her record on Not Not Fun.
A lot of people put the label “psychedelic” on your music and Silk’s vibe in general. Would you say that this aspect is intentional, or is it simply a product of thinking outside the box? I, for one, really enjoy the unique feel in terms of the music and artwork that comes with it all.
I think it’s hard to generalize all of 100% Silks releases. They have over 40 some releases now! A lot of people say "this would never work in the club this is just hipsters trying to make dance music blah blah blah" but Octo Octa’s track was on Gerd Jansens "Live At Robert Johnson" and Move D played that same track during his Boiler Room set in Berlin. There are probably similar cases so it’s frustrating when people pigeonhole it (or any kind of music) into "lo-fi" this or that. At the same time yes, there are some more abstract/psychedelic tracks on the label. I don’t really see my music as psychedelic (besides the guitar solo on “I Can Feel The Heat” and most of my live sets haha) but don’t mind if that’s how people hear it!
I think the psychedelic thing comes from the sensation of experiencing abstract forms of house music live in the club or better yet, in the warehouse. What sort of feelings do you aim to trigger to the audience when either DJing or playing live? Do you think that connection to the artist and music is what makes the night memorable?
I just perform my tracks and hope that everyone has a good time and enjoys themselves or gets something out of my set. Memorable nights can come from a connection with the audience but also the vibe of the venue, bartenders, etc...
Let’s talk a little bit about your upcoming 12’’ with Sapphire Slows called “Just Wanna Feel.” How did you go about collaborating with the Japanese producer? Was the recording process done entirely over the internet? How long did the whole project take?
After the Sapphire Slows record came out on NotNotFun I sent her a message about her record, and the possibility of touring Japan. Coincidentally she was planning her first US tour/visit, and there was already talk of an Ital show in Tokyo (which turned into our Japanese tour thanks to her, Shimpei Kaiho, Diskotopia). Over time I had the idea to collaborate and we started sharing some simple/unfinished structures via email and it turned into the EP it is now. I think the whole process took a year but I’m really bad with dates.
I’ve also noticed that you will be included on Derrick May & Jimmy Edgar’s “We Love...Detroit” compilation in early 2013. I imagine you’re a big fan of both producers and Detroit’s legacy itself. How does it feel to be included alongside those names and can you tell us a little bit about the track you’ll be featuring in the release? How did that come about?
Yes really happy about this one! I’ve known Jimmy for a few years through visiting Berlin. He was looking for some upcoming artists so I sent him a track and he liked it. It's really amazing to be on a compilation compiled by Jimmy and Derrick May! Jimmy's got some great tracks, and I'm a HUGE fan of Derrick May's productions. The track I have on this compilation "Niks Groove" was done with Nick Dawson who has a great record out on L.I.E.S as "Bookworms". We were close buds throughout our time in San Francisco and started making music together towards the end of his stay. That track was mainly me recording Nick jamming on a Juno60 triggered by a TR-707, MPC, Electribe, and some other gear I can’t really remember! He ended up moving to NYC so we didn’t really have much time to continue working together. I spent a long time going back to that track making arrangements, adding drums and it’s evolved into a nice druggy piano house (esque) track. It will be out on CD soon and eventually a 4x12” vinyl sampler!
I’m looking forward to having you back in LA next month, but you’ll be off to Europe shortly after to tour into the spring. Will you continue to be based overseas or do you plan to come back to the USA eventually? What other plans do you have as far as touring goes next year? I heard you’ll be on the road extensively…will most of these dates be live or DJ sets?
Really looking forward to that, as I haven’t played lots of LA shows as Magic Touch. I’m pretty much set on going to China in March, Europe in April, and Australia in May. I’d say the majority of the dates are live with some occasional DJ sets. After that my plans are unclear. I always think it’d be nice to settle down in a studio apartment and get a dog but opportunities keep coming and I feel too young to say "no".
And for your own music, what can we expect in 2013? More collabs? Remixes? Secret side projects you can’t tell us about?
Right now I’m working on a 12” and have a handful of other tracks that could be on an LP or multiple 12”s. There’s a finished remix of I:Cube’s “SH 50 Storm” (from his album “M-Megamix”) that should be out soon. Currently working on a collaboration with Greeen Linez from Japan, and hopefully with some more pals around the world. No secret side projects at the moment.
What are some current records or artists that you’re feeling at the moment? Who should we keep an eye out for?
I’ve been mostly listening to mixes on Soundcloud: Daft Punk "Tribal 1997 NJ", DJ Deep "Mixtape 1994", Ken Collier "Club Heaven Detroit 1/2", ND Baumecker "1995", DJ Sotofett "Trushmix 03", various mixes from DJ Fett Burger and Gerd Jansen. As far as new artists I’d keep an eye out for Anthony Naples, Featurette, Max D, Aaron “FIT” Siegel, Helena Hauff, Roche, Bobby Browser to name a few.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring producers reading this? Last words?
Keep on keeping on.
Alright man thanks again, see you soon!
Keep up with Magic Touch on Facebook and Soundcloud, and be sure to order some records from the 100% Silk family. Also stay posted with my podcast show, Far Away, to find out about a special party with Magic Touch in LA, happening at the end of next month.