Najaaraq caught the rising, Atlanta-based producer Distal on Skype for a chat about his religious upbringing and falling in love with the rave.
The first time I listened to Distal’s 2012 album Civilization, I immediately fell for the sample heavy number ‘Temple People’. The song’s fast rhythm is composed by a ton of very diverse little sound bites, ranging from something that’s ‘stapler’-sounding - to bells and words cut into pieces. It was the fact that this odd medley of sounds resulted in something quite emotional and heartwarming, similar to what you will find on Boards Of Canada’s all time classic ‘Music Has a Right To Children’. I think this song pretty much sums up what this producer is all about. His output is diverse – in fact, it’s very diverse. You might even have a hard time linking it all to the same person, but somehow it all comes together beautifully. I’m not even going to try to force some modern genre categorization on this music. Lets just call it rave music. At least that’s what Distal prefers.
Besides being busy in his Atlanta-based studio-slash-home, Michael Rathbun - Distal’s given name - is the co-owner of the imprint Embassy Recordings and recently had the honor of being accepted into Red Bull Music Academy’s next class in NYC, alongside 60 of the worlds most promising young musicians.
I caught up with Distal last week on Skype. He told me about how the rave scene was when he first entered it and how it how it changed for the better.
NV: Tell me about your first experience with rave culture
D: »Like two months before I went to my first rave I was on a heavy diet of the funk rock band Primas and Rush; a progressive rock band from the 70s and 80s, and some rap. You know - a pretty normal diet of suburban white kid music. Within a couple of months I started listening to some records that my friends had gotten, some trance records, house records and then after two months I went to my first rave and then I just got immersed. It was just like, oh my god, this music that I had never heard before, it’s so centralized and there is a whole movement behind it, a whole scene«.
NV: How old were you?
D: »15-16 years old and it was around 2000. The only rule was that I had to be in church on Sunday. My parents were very religious, so for me to be able to convince them to let me go to raves was amazing«.
NV: How did you convince them?
D: »Its funny, it ended up being true, I told them; “I have fallen in love, I don’t know why, but I have a really huge calling to it, I really want to DJ, and I really want to get in to this scene. You know my personality, you know I won’t do any deviant behavior“ I think I just gave a good presentation, didn’t use PowerPoint or anything, but yeah, they believed it and let me go, and the rest is history«.
NV: What would you tell them when you came back? Like, wouldn’t they ask you what was going on at those raves?
D: »My family, they wouldn’t pick on me too bad, but they would always be like; “Come on, show us how you dance…” You know, I was a bigger boy when I started going to raves, weighing like 180 – 190 pounds. And I actually lost weight dancing. All In all it got me out of my room more - I changed and became a more positive person. So they saw it as a good thing for me. It re-upped my soul. But I did try to let them listen to the music, which just confused them [Laughs] «.
NV: What was your favorite spot in the club?
D: »Man, back then it was definitely in front of the DJ, I would just stare. I was that guy. When I’m DJ’ing now I see that guy sometimes, and I’m like; this guy is just staring down on my hands the whole time watching exactly what I’m doing, and that’s what I did«.
NV: I read a in a recent interview that you felt like you came up in ‘the dark ages of electronic music’ - what you mean by that?
D: »When I started going to parties everything was very segregated. Basically if you liked jungle and Drum’n’Bass that’s ALL you liked. You hung out in the jungle or Drum’n’Bass room, you would dress a certain way, and you only liked that kind of music. You hated on people that liked house and trance, and then there were the house and trance people that dressed a certain way and they would hate on people that liked Drum’n’Bass and jungle and there were the hardcore kids, you know, and the would hate on…and so on… it was just a circle of everyone making fun of everyone else’s music, but all having to be under the same roof, the same rave. It was like, Darwin’s island, the Galapagos Islands of club music. Everybody sitting around classifying everything, putting everything in to its right order, and you had to follow strict guidelines to being in each one. Nobody worked together, and it was just really annoying. Now it’s like the total opposite, and I love it. That was what early dance music was like, no one could really define what it was, so they just called it club music«.
NV: So you’re optimistic about the future?
D: »Oh yeah, yeah I think so, as technology grows, the ability to make new sounds is going to increase, and the ability for people to experiment, is going to increase«.
NV: What would be the worst thing that could happen?
D: »I don’t know, I feel like some of the worst stuff already happened. People thinking dance music is something that it is not. Having our music sold out in to the mainstream, never ever getting a breath of underground sounds. For instance, did you hear that Skrillex track that just came out like last week? He tried to do a deep Burial type of thing and it didn’t work. You have these guys who are on the forefront, basically the ambassadors to the mainstream, and it would suck if we didn’t have a representative like a Pearson Sound (formerly known as Ramadanman red.) or a great DJ, like Ben UFO - someone to direct the traffic. If all our music sold out, and that’s what all people thought that it was - I guess that would be the worst-case scenario. That kind of what happened to dubstep in a way. In America people are like; “oh dubstep it sounds like robots” that’s just an example of something gone wrong. There is actual dub music in it like Marlow or Silkie, but they will never hear it«.
NV: With regards to categorization, what’s the worst thing someone’s ever called your music?
D: »Man it takes a lot to piss me off. I’m doing a second album with Rob Pinch the guy who put out Civilization and a bunch of my singles. I just sent him a couple of demos and he said; “man, some of this tuff is just straight up Happy Hardcore” [Laughs] its not though, its like slower, its like 130 bpm«.
NV: That’s almost a compliment now I must say though.
D: »We are getting around to a full circle people are going to start playing Happy Hardcore again. And I will be right there with my old record collection«.
Words: Najaaraq Vestbirk