Absorbing influences of Chicago and avant garde minimalism Daniel Bell took it upon himself to create a sound that changed the course of electronic music. A reaction to the rave music of the time, where over the top stage shows and style had started to reign over substance, Bell looked back to the finer elements in sound and composition to produce what became to be known as, minimal techno. For some the phrase is a pair of dirty words, but tune in to the work he released under the DBX moniker and you’ll be hip to what the true sound of the genre was formed on; a solid, maddening level of groove.
Since his early days as a producer and part of the burgeoning empire of Hawtin’s Plus 8 label, Bell has gone on to play roles both on and off stage. Whether that was from his studio, imparting a new sound on the techno world with 1994’s ‘Losing Control’ or from his business role, behind the formation of some of the most influential labels in electronic music’s history. With both Shake’s Frictional and Dopplereffekt’s Dataphysix imprints - Bell sent shockwaves through the system and he’s been at the heart of some of the most exciting and influential music in electronic history.
We’re set to welcome him back under Lee Burridge and Craig Richard’s Tyrant banner this Saturday in Room One so we took this rare opportunity to track the influential path of Daniel Bell.
You’ve worked under a few monikers over the years – DBX, Cybersonik with Hawtin and Aquaviva – can you tell us a bit more about these projects for our readers please?
DBX, KB Project and also my given name are what I usually record under. DBX is more tracky and minimalistic and KB Project is more of a house style. Most of the DBX material appears on my label Accelerate and with KB Project the main label is Elevate. Cybersonik was a rave act that I was briefly involved with at the very beginning of the 90's.
I wanted to talk firstly about how your music became the foundations for the minimal idea in electronic music – it came as a reaction to the big spectacle of rave music at the time, what else influenced your approach and what are your core ideas about making music?
I grew up listening to a lot of different music at a young age, but what made the biggest impression was avante garde electronic music. I discovered music like Philip Glass' "Music for 12 Parts" and Steve Reich's "Electronic Counterpoint" around 1986, at around the same time I started listening to early Chicago House music. With this inspiration, I soon started making my own club music, but never had the confidence to put it out until around 1992.
Then your record, released on Peace Frog, ‘Losing Control’ number one was a big hit but also stylistically something unheard before looking back did you anticipate it would be so influential?
Yes, I knew it would be a popular record because of my own reaction to it and the reaction of friends.
Looking back there were two waves with minimal music rising into focus, one in the early 90’s – the later one around 2004 was one you didn’t connect with is that correct? What was it about that take on the music that you didn’t gel with?
There were some good releases from that era, ones I still play as a DJ, but just when the marketing hype for a "new minimal sound” started to take off, the overall quality of releases plummeted. However, there is some good that came from it. It's now more universally acceptable to DJ at slower tempos - even during peak time. Before that for example, DJing at a big club in Germany at house tempos could be a dangerous proposition!
And in recent years, talking to someone like Ben Klock for instance who is really passionate about the true meaning of minimal, he feels that in the last couple of years we’re getting back to that – is that something you agree with?
I think good music tends to stand the test of time regardless of trends or genres. There is always a new crowd rediscovering what came before.
What do you think is good about music making today?
The best thing is all the great hardware that has been released the past couple of years. Not since the 80's has there been so much great gear!
As well as being at the forefront as a producer making minimal techno, you’ve been behind the scenes as a distributor and kick starting labels including Shakir’s Frictional and Dopplereffekt’s – what made you want to get involved in that role?
I was pretty much drafted into that role. I worked at a record store in Detroit called Record Time along with Rick Wade, Mike Huckaby and Claude Young. There was a guy, working in the small warehouse part of the store, who took care of mostly regional distribution of Detroit labels. One day he quit and I was asked to take his place. I expanded it and eventually opened my own distribution company, 7th City Distribution.
You had experience seeing the height of vinyl to what many saw as its demise; from your role as a distributor what would you say were the factors in this? And how do you see things moving in the future?
I can't say I saw the height of vinyl, at least not as a distributor. I'm assuming that would have been some time in the 1970s. In comparison, even early Chicago house classics could sell 20,000 or 30,000 units in Chicago alone in the 1980s. So when I worked as a distributor, vinyl was already losing popularity and becoming only something for DJs. It was already an analog medium in a digital world.
When I closed up shop in 1998, vinyl sales were already much lower than 1994. There was a steady downward slide; and obviously, once digital became accepted in the DJing community vinyl took a big blow.
However, vinyl is still alive. Personally, I get far more satisfaction putting out a record than uploading files to a server. So I will keep my focus on vinyl releases. However, I think vinyl for DJs will continue to be a very small market.
But I kind of like that - it's a bit like a secret society.
What records are you in your bag these days, what labels are you checking for their output?
It's funny, but I still follow a lot of the same artists I followed 20 years ago, like Larry Heard or Baby Ford. I'm also a fan of a lot of the UK house and techno that came out around 1997. That seems to have been a golden year for some reason.
You kick started 7th City back into action in 2008 with some reissues, why did you decide to start with re-releases and at that time?
7th City, as with all my labels, has a very slow production schedule. You may get one release in five years or three in six months. It's always random, with big pauses for no apparent reason. Actually, the reason is that when I have a crazy DJ or live tour schedule, I have little time to focus on the labels. It's only when I take time away from DJing, like I'm doing now, that I have time to produce and work on the labels.
You have something new due out on the label soon; can you tell us more about that please?
It's too early to say anything yet.