Derrick Boyd may have blipped across your radar a couple years back with his dark deep techno releases as Dead Seal. But Tone of Arc, Boyd's collaborative project with girlfriend and vocalist Zoe Presnick has definitely showcased the San Francisco producer's talents to the world this past year.
It's pretty hard to miss the pair, with cosmic gypsy costumes and expressionistic live antics. But Tone of Arc isn't just about quirky fashion and theatrics. The duo's live show, complete with string instruments, singing, and the palpable chemistry that can only exist between two real-life lovers is a reinvigorating breath of fresh air in an EDM scene dominated by laptop-staring DJs and pre-programmed sets.
Crossfade caught up with Mr. Boyd ahead of Tone of Arc's headlining performance at the newly re-opened Electric Pickle tonight to chat about the duo's musical roots, why live EDM is the future, and tonight's show.
Crossfade: We know you guys are a couple. How did Tone of Arc come together as a creative partnership? What's it like for two people who are romantically involved to also be artistic and professional partners? Does the personal chemistry cross over into the creative?
Derrick Boyd: One day I found a dirty little secret that Zoe was keeping from the world: she was a closet singer. As soon as I found out, I got so exited about what we can do together. I told her right away that she is the missing element that would balance my work out and take away the focus on one man.
From there it has been a big challenge on both sides to learn how to use each other to get what we want, and feel like it's quality production. Our love is caked over this album sparingly but evenly. Apparently, when we sing together, our chemistry hits home for our fans. That being said we are so close to each other and it's our routine, not pushing it for theatrics. But theatrics are the future. I'm getting bored all the time via A.D.D. I call it A.D.O., Attention Deficit Order. No diss.
You've been writing and producing music for years, and have even boasted of having some 200 unreleased tracks under your belt. Why the sudden success in 2012? Was bringing Zoe into the fold and adding the female ying to your male yang, so to speak, the needed ingredient for success?
I'm constantly remembering songs and tracks I have written and forgot about or lost. I've burned through countless hard drives and computers, losing years of work. I used to average about 50 songs a year. I have over 200 songs that haven't been lost. Success really shifted at BPM in Playa Del Carmen 2012, at the No.19 party, accompanied by a name change from Dead Seal to Tone of Arc.
It then doubled the second time this year. This success was all in efforts of my team and No.19. and Jonny White. You can't do it alone. Bringing Zoe into my production was the most important thing I ever did. There needs to be balance of male and female for a perfect song, in my opinion. It's a formula that is hard to deny.
San Francisco has long been home to a vibrant underground electronic dance music scene and fiercely independent acts like Dubtribe Sound System, Doc Martin and Hardkiss. How has the scene there shaped you as artists? Is there anything inherently San Franciscoan in Tone of Arc's sound and aesthetic?
Tone of Arc is all-San Francisco. Old-school underground legends that still rock today, like the Sunset Crew, AKA Solar, Galen, Tasho, and others like M3 and Lance DeSardi were huge impacts on my music production and DJing. After 10 years of living there, it's impossible not to pick up the magic sprinkles people leave on the walls.
It was very difficult to carve a place in the music scene there. It's very crowded and locals don't get paid unless you are a legend. The undergrounds are snuffed out, and it seems like all my friends are flying from the nest or have already flown. PillowTalk, Safeword, Alland Byallo, Navid Izadi, all my best friends have grown successfully in the world because we all had each other to learn from.
S.F. Is my home though and I'm not living in it but right outside of it in the woods. It's my nest where we keep my heart. Zoe was following [DJs] Jenö and Garth in the early '90s, which predates my techno days by a few years.
You've cited Skinny Puppy's shock theatrics as being a big influence on your live visual presentation. What else can you tell us about that? How important do you think visual theatrics are in dance music, where the dancefloor and crowd's dancing itself has traditionally been the focal point, and not the DJ booth or stage?
I used to get all dressed up in costumes and sometimes a wig, and break smoke machines and club stuffed baby seals, like golfing cute keepsakes into the audience, while playing clarinet, bass, guitar, keys and singing over deep techno or whatever you call it. Some weird shit.
I want to do it again, but I need a bigger stage. Doing it in front of 20 people is a waste of energy unless you're at an after-party high off your nuts -- then anything goes. Dancing is wonderful and should always be exercised. But there is need for visual entertainment. Looking at a guy with a computer hits short of the mark for just about everyone. DJs go to live acts too.
So do you consider yourselves a live act who crossed over into the dance music scene, or a dance music act who is trying to do it differently by playing live? Do you think people are getting fed up with the cult of the DJ and looking to the excitement of live performance again in the dance music scene?
Story goes, a long time ago when I was in a garage punk band, we all broke up and my best friend became a DJ. He then got an ego. I thought DJs were acting as if they made these songs themselves. I swore from that day that I would always be known as a producer/musician. I didn't know really what that meant, of course, but all I knew is I didn't want to get credit for other peoples work by playing two songs together.
I always knew I would be able to mix and would do it when my music was ready to be heard. I've been producing for 17 years now, DJing for 9, musician since I could walk. All self-taught. The live thing was inevitable as my attention span for music, crowds, and the stage belongs to the rockstars that kick and scream and sweat and break shit.
I'm just doing my thing. I think I may have to sacrifice my name as a DJ soon for the success of being a live act. Live is the future and the now, and will always be the future forevermore, no matter what planet you are on. Things change, but they always come back with a new look.
What have been some of your personal highlights during the past year's meteoric rise? Any favorites parties, performances and moments?
Two times at BPM Mexico, Fabric, You Are We London, Panorama Bar Berlin, Montreal's Piknic Electronik, playing in front of 10,000 people. We are finishing our month-long Europe tour in Miami, and a lot has happened in terms of international. So much has happened, I'm starting to forget. Goes with the territory I guess. We are really looking forward to doing big festivals though. It's all a dream, except the planes, lines, customs and shitty food.
What can Miami expect during your upcoming headlining show? What is your live M.O. and how do your studio records translate live?
You will see and hear me on bass, plus guitar, and Zoe and I singing our hearts out over some fresh classy melodies and beats with a house punch. Sexy vibes with a real sense of color and originality, mixed with our story as gooey disgusting lovers. Every show, I do something different.
The song order changes as I please, while I mix them together and often sing songs differently to match the sound system. All the songs we try to make them sound exactly how they sound in the original mix. It's important because people get used to the original and when you change the sound it can throw you off. But if you know, you can do better. It's all or nothing for us: via our M.O. "all or nothing".
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So what does the future have in store for Tone of Arc?
Oh man, big plans. Lots of gear, more live and analog, less computer, better outfits and costumes, makeup, videos and film -- the works. I want this thing to go to the moon, and there is nothing stopping us except ourselves. Up, up and away! Thanks for your support.
Tone of Arc. Friday, May 10. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave. Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.