Virtuoso is one phrase that comes to mind to describe Recloose, AKA Matthew Chicoine.
Also, master turntablist (not a credential you hear much in this era of laptop "DJs"), multi-instrumentalist producer, band leader, and even music academician molding the minds of electronic dance music's next generation of DJ-producers.
Of course, on international dancefloors, Recloose is among the most hotly tipped veterans of house and techno, boasting over a decade's worth of releases on beloved imprints like !K7, Planet E, Sonar Kollektiv, and Delusions of Grandeur.
And when you consider that he's made his way literally from the other side of the planet -- his current home in New Zealand -- to play a rare DJ gig at The Vagabond on Saturday with SAFE, we can't stress enough how sorry you'd be to miss him.
Ahead of Saturday's gig, Crossfade caught up with the eminent and talented Mr. Chicoine to talk about his Detroit techno roots, his new releases, and why you shouldn't worry about him throwing in the towel as a DJ anytime soon.
Crossfade: How did growing up in Detroit shape you as a musician? Which local artists and music scenes were immediate sources of influence?
Recloose: I grew up in the surrounding environs of Detroit in the late '80s to early '90s. Living in the outer circle of 'burbs, you weren't overly aware of what was happening in the city, but I had an inkling of what was happening via the airwaves with the Electrifying Mojo and Jeff Mills' Wizard shows. It wasn't until I started venturing into the city myself, and later moved there in the mid '90s, that it all made more sense to me. The atmosphere and history of the city, and music that comes out of it are intimately connected, and it was this realization that enticed me to take music more seriously, and with a certain respect and solemnity.
My influences and experiences were really diverse. I played saxophone, guitar, piano, but was also working as a DJ. I came up listening to a lot of jazz and hip-hop, but was also listening to Detroit techno and some house. These influences, and my time in Detroit, helped shape the artist I've become (and am still becoming).
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How did you first hook with Detroit techno legend Carl Craig? And what did he impart to you as an artist?
I met Carl by chance through my day job at a local deli. I slid him a demo one day -- on a sandwich, if you hadn't heard the story -- and he contacted me shortly thereafter. For me, having Carl as an early mentor was really important to my development. Not only did he put out my first records and help break my name, I had a chance to witness first-hand his talent and application of his own artistry to the music he made. Carl is one of those Detroit artists who has a certain finesse and deeper relationship with his music, be it in the studio or in the DJ booth. So it was a real privilege for me to be able to absorb what he did, and ask him questions in an immediate sense.
You're an accomplished turntablist, having performed with Carl Craig's Innerzone Orchestra and the Uri Caine ensemble. Do you consider yourself first and foremost a DJ or producer? Which of those two roles is the most rewarding for you and why?
Um, thanks for the props, but I would definitely not say I was an accomplished turntablist. [Laughs] But I like to think I have my own spin on the art -- pun groan. I love both DJing and producing equally, but sometimes I'm more enamored with one over the other. At the moment, I don't get enough time to make my own music, so DJing has been a crucial creative outlet. I think the longer you do it, the more therapeutic it actually becomes. So while these DJ tours can be quite grueling, the performance side can really clarify your understanding of what it is you do, and what moves people.
As far as your original production work goes, it's pretty obvious that you're a classically trained musician with serious chops in the studio. How do you typically approach the songwriting and production process on a track, from start to finish?
I have different approaches, really. Sometimes, I'll lace up drums and just start jamming basslines and chords. Other times, I'll start by mining for different samples and throw them together to see what sticks. The sample route usually works pretty well, because it can reveal new things about music and how you can go about creating it. There's nothing worse than getting stuck in a creative rut -- for instance, recycling the same ideas and techniques over and over again -- so needle-dropping some bizarre leftfield records on top of your early demos really helps challenge you and break you out of boring habits.
What's the status of the Recloose Live Band? Any plans for future releases or performances?
The band has been laying low for a few years now, but it was an amazing experience for the five or so years we did it. That said, we did some recordings in 2009 as Starblazers that were never properly released, so we are looking at putting these out soon with a local label.
What prompted you to move to New Zealand of all places? How has living and working there shaped you artistically?
I moved here to be with a woman, but also to explore something as different as I could imagine from the States, and Detroit in particular. George Bush II's election helped spur on the decision way back in 2001. I have grown as a musician, especially through getting to work with the amazing caliber of musos I had in my band. It has also allowed me to develop other endeavors.
What can you tell us about your DJ and Electronic Music Production program at Auckland's Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand? What sort of education do your students receive there?
I've been program-leading and teaching here now for four years. While we focus a lot of energy on technical skills (production and DJing), our larger goal is to encourage original artistry. We do this by first explaining to students just how much competition is out there (especially with the proliferation of laptop producers and DJs) and how important it is to set yourself apart from the pack with original ideas and music. Through their production and DJ work, we give them feedback on how they might develop their sound and test the bounds of their personal "comfort zones." We also spend a lot of time looking at the pioneers of electronic music and DJing -- using them as examples for the type of radical imagination our own students must exhibit to be successful in this field.
You're also working on your masters program at the Institute. How do you plan to apply this education to your career in the future? Do you see yourself eventually transitioning to a full-time academic type of role, if and when you get tired of the club scene?
I've been spending the last year interviewing artists, reading and writing about music -- and Detroit music in particular. All of these activities feed into my own inspiration, challenge me, and keep me learning. It also gives me other outlets to forge a career and earn money. But having said that, I don't think I'd be a very good academic if I wasn't also a practicing artist. So expect my to see me in the club well into my 60s.
Your Fingertips label has been kind of quiet lately. What do you have in store for the label in the future?
Fingertips has always been pretty quiet. To date, we've only really done a few projects: a live recording of the band in 2007 and a Hit It & Quit It radio compilation in 2011. I am always amazed at (and maybe jealous of) artists who can juggle their own labels on top of everything else. It is no easy feat. Chalk it up to having kids? I'm making excuses now.
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So what can we expect from you next? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
I've just completed remixes for Motor City Drum Ensemble (release imminent) and one for Funkadelic's "Sexy Ways" that will appear on a Westbound-commissioned remix compilation featuring some of Detroit's finest producers. Beyond that, I'm working on original material for labels Rush Hour and Delusions of Grandeur, as well as setting up some studio collaborations that I'm not at liberty to expand on, but I'm very excited about. I'll keep you updated via my website recloose.com.
Recloose. Presented by Safe Miami and Electric Pickle. Saturday, April 27. The Vagabond, 30 NE 14th St., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-379-0508 or visit thevagabondmiami.com.