Moe Espinoza, aka Drumcell, walks it like he talks it. Hailing from Los Angeles, he has taken a lifelong love of electronic music, and been able to translate it into a successful career of forging techno aimed straight for the harder edged dance floors. Through his productions and party curation for events like Interface, Espinoza has been able to spread his love of techno music with the community while fostering local artists and talent. I connected with Espinoza as he touched down back in America from Germany, and we discussed his beginnings in the scene, his love of analog gear, and his upcoming Decibel performance on Saturday, Sept. 26th.
How was Germany?
I was doing a one-off gig in Stuttgart, and the Atonal festival in Berlin was going on around the same time. I really wanted to go to that, plus my friend Alessandro Cortini was playing. He’s a former member of Nine Inch Nails & just released an incredible album on Vatican Shadow’s label Hospital
Productions and i really wanted to see that live.
I love Cortini and Vatican Shadow!
Yeah, me too! I went and showed my support by seeing his gig. I also got to see Clock DVA which was great.
Speaking of Clock DVA and the labels they were on, like Wax Trax, a lot of the techno coming out of the L.A. scene right now has a harder industrial edge to it. Do you try to incorporate industrial influences into your music?
Absolutely, yeah, basically because the foundation of my electronic music background comes from industrial music. In the early 90’s I suppose I was weened on the post-industrial sound like all the stuff on Wax Trax, Ministry, My Life With Thrill Kill Kult, and Revolting Cocks, which was more on the rockier side of things. I always had this personality where I wanted to know the history of the music I was into, so I was always digging back and then discovering bands like Coil and Throbbing Gristle and those original foundations of industrial music. What got me into dance music was when I was younger I went to a gabber/hardcore party. There was something about the intense energy and speed of the music that made an instant connection with me and sort of dragged me into the rave world. From there I got more in touch with the roots of that scene, like with Detroit techno, Chicago house, and stuff along those lines. So in the early days of my recordings, I would more or less stay within the parameters of a normal techno formula, but as I grew older and tried to find my own identity those older records I heard in my youth are becoming a larger part of what I do now, so I can see that being identified closer with an industrial sound.
Do you find that a lot of your L.A. techno peers share this same background and passion?
The L.A. scene is interesting. We were coined being the guys that brought techno to Los Angeles, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth. Our whole crew were all fans of techno music in the early to mid-90’s when we went to parties, and that’s where we discovered all that type of music. However, no one seemed to be taking the time or effort to curate or build a techno scene. It was always more of a rave scene where you had the drum and bass parties, the house room, maybe one techno DJ, and then a bunch of trance DJs. What we were able to do in the early 2000’s was actually build a grass roots movement solely based around techno, and also educate people about the music. As a result of that, in the last 15 years, L.A. has had an incredible underground culture pop up, and there is so much great stuff happening, like noise parties, to these nu-wave, darkwave, coldwave nights, and no matter how different these genres may seem, the scene is totally mixed.
Mt. Analog seems to be the record store in Los Angeles where fans of all these genres meet and this community you speak of can gather information and buy the records they want.
It’s true, it’s a great place. They’re relatively new and came in at the right time. In the 90’s we had a shit ton of record stores to buy from, like Beat Non-Stop, This Is Music, etc., and they were at the epicenter of rave culture — people would also go there to buy tickets to the parties as well. Then when Amoeba moved in it sort of shut all of the smaller independent record stores down, so when Mt. Analog popped up they proved to curate incredible music, they throw parties with incredible music, and they are very supportive of everyone in the scene who are doing cool shit. It’s great to have a store like this pop up who are willing to fully support the scene as a whole.
Can you tell me about Droid Behavior?
When we first started Droid the internet wasn’t so in the face of everyone yet, and there was almost a sense of privilege of being on the Droid newsletter, and people really looked forward to it. It ended up being a focal point and a source of information about underground culture in the city. Even if something wasn’t necessarily related to techno but we were passionate about, we put it out there. From there we realized we had this incredible newsletter with a huge following, let’s just start throwing our own parties. From this we started Interface which is a series of underground warehouse parties where we try to also build these immersive environments with visual compliments. We’d also have local artists come in and create a different world inside a warehouse space, almost just using the space as a blank canvas to create an art piece all its own.
Do you look to employ any of these visual accompaniments to your Decibel performance?
We will be doing visuals, but whether or not it will be a full-on Interface production I’m still not sure about. I’m really hoping we can do something big.
You’re a big proponent of modular production. Can you talk about your production methods in general? In addition to being inspired musically, were you also inspired by synthesizers, etc.?
Certainly, I’ve always been incredibly passionate about the instruments that make electronic music — since their earliest conceptions, synths and drum machines have intrigued me greatly. I was already collecting gear in the 90’s and had some exposure to some heroic synthesizers during the rave days.
Like the standard Roland gear: TB 909’s, 808’s, 303’s, that type of stuff. I guess any cliched idea you may have about what a techno producer uses in their setup has crossed my path! And of course, there would always be a super rare synthesizer that I would lust after, but they were so far out of reach I wouldn’t entertain the reality of acquiring one. It’s so great to see what a big industry it is now for gear! When I first got into it I probably knew six people total who were into it like I was, or even had a system.
Do you DJ digitally or do you prefer vinyl?
When I play live I play digitally, however, I do come from a vinyl background so the largest portion of DJing was played on vinyl. The way I play live is more of a hybrid — I play with Abelton, Traktor, a drum machine, and effects on a mixer, so it’s kind of a complicated setup, but is more flexible for me than playing records. I will say that when I release my own music, putting it out on vinyl is priority number one. I really don’t feel like it’s validated unless it’s on vinyl. I’m still a massive vinyl collector — my collection is starting to flow outside of my house, into my parent’s house, and into their garage! I just love the physical form of it, the art work, the size, and in addition to all that, it’s a way for me to visualize my own music and consider it officially finished and done.
Do you approach your remixes the same way you approach your own music? Can you talk about what you may or may not prefer about doing a remix?
Dude, I have conflicting feelings about remixes. It’s so funny because a lot of producers think doing remixes is easier than doing originals because you’re just working on other people’s stuff, but for me its a bit more difficult to reinterpret other people’s music.
So it’s something you’d rather not do at all?
No, it’s not that so much as me not wanting to buckle under expectations of the labels. Everyone always wants you to deliver something that fits their label and they already have some sort of pre-existing expectations of what you will turn in. I’m not really down with that. I work more freely under the notion of being completely free to do what ever the hell I want to do. As soon as I have a label asking me to change something in a remix to better suit what they want, I get instantly turned off and want nothing to do with it anymore. On the other hand, a lot of times you get remix requests from people, and the parts they give you are just crap. I mean, sometimes I’ll get nothing but a hi-hat, a clap, and a kick drum. It’s like, man, I’ve got thousands of these sounds myself, please give me something I can work with! I’m not willing to create a completely new track so someone can slap it on their album and call it a remix.
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of remixes and what artists will ask for. Do you get very specific requests? For example, someone asking for a downtempo remix, or a remix that’s more of a straight-ahead four-to-the-floor beat?
I do, but I won’t take them. I’m very selective about what I remix these days, simply because I’ve been trying to make more original music and don’t always want to consume the free time that I have to do remixes for other people. If it’s somebody I really respect or a song I truly love and believe in I will definitely get involved, but I always make it very clear that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it my way.
Right, it seems like if an artist asks another artist to do a remix, they respect their body of work and would just let them do their thing anyway, and trust their overall style and judgments.
An interesting example of what I’m talking about is when I was asked to do a remix for Maynard James Keenan‘s band Puscifer. I’ve always been a big fan of Tool and was very flattered by the offer. Then I felt like “oh shit, what the fuck do they want me to do here? I don’t think they want a techno remix, why the fuck would Maynard James Keenan want a techno remix?” All these things just flood your head and you overthink stuff. I finally just talked to them and said I wasn’t sure what they where expecting and asked if there was anything in particular of mine that the band liked, and they just said “dude, do whatever the fuck you want”. That really helped me get over the expectation, and I turned in a remix that the whole band absolutely loved. It helped me learn that I just need to stick with my gut and trust what I want to do. I’ve done remixes for techno tracks where my interpretation was more of a experimental broken-beat vibe and the artist loved it, and other times where they asked me to change things, which I won’t do.
It’s a funny twist on things to see someone like Keenan, who’s in an entirely different genre tell you to do whatever you want and still appreciate the results, while having another techno artist not be happy with your experimental interpretation.
(laughs) Yeah, what can you do?
Any new releases in the pipeline?
I have just finished a new EP under the name Hypoxia which is an ambient side-project of mine that will be released soon. I plan on doing a series of five Hypoxia releases. I have another Drumcell release coming in October which will be accompanied by another physical release that I don’t want to announce quite yet, but that additional physical product will have a number of bonus tracks on it.
Do you use Discogs?
It kind of goes in waves for me. About six years ago I was just feeding upon Discogs. I was trying to pick up everything that I’ve ever wanted, and then it dissipated from my circulation somewhat. I have to say though, the past four or five months Discogs has definitely worked its way back in to my life. I went back recently and found the triple-pak of Plastikman’s “Consumed” that I’ve been looking for forever!
For sure, there is just something so dreadfully hypnotic about “Consumed”.
You probably paid a pretty penny for that, huh?
My wife is in the car, so I probably shouldn’t talk about what I spent on it. (laughs)