30 years of dance music, as seen by Moby
It’s natural to be a little nervous when you’re preparing to interview a star. But my face-to-face session with Moby earlier this month produced more than its fair share of angst. In the parlance of daggy sequels, this time it was personal. I was friends with Moby years ago, around the time I moved to New York, and then ended up touring North America with him as a stage performer in 1993. After the tour, we drifted apart and I hadn’t seen him since.
I recently wrote about all of this in a pair of well-received features here on inthemix. The stories were pretty frank about the use of fake keyboards in Moby’s stage show at the time (with yours truly as the fall guy), along with some of the tensions on the tour between Moby and the other acts, including Aphex Twin and Orbital. But I also felt they were very fair and showed how this difficult time was part of Moby’s development as a prophet of a more inclusive indie/electronic hybrid.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Moby had read the articles, and if he did, what he thought of them. His displeasure at my ill-timed and immature spilling of the fake-keyboard stuff to a nosy Ravenet user and a Spin magazine journalist during the tour was part of the reason we fell out. Or so I imagined. We were probably moving in different directions anyway. Whatever the case, I tweeted the articles “at” him, as did inthemix, with no response. (By contrast, Paul Hartnoll from Orbital tweeted back with effusive compliments.) Lo and behold, not long after the articles were published my editors offered me the chance to interview Moby in person during his brief stopover here in Sydney (which would also include a one-off DJ gig at Chinese Laundry). I couldn’t believe the timing.
As I was pacing up and down the hall outside a suite on the 40th floor of a CBD hotel, waiting to be invited in, I had no way to tell how Moby would react when he saw me. I’d already decided not to say anything about our history at the start. I didn’t want to put the focus on me; I had no intention of asking him about the 1993 tour during the session, and I definitely didn’t want the famously sensitive Moby to feel like it was some sort of ambush. Like anybody else I just wanted to do an interview about his new album, Innocents (which is out now). On the other hand, maybe he wouldn’t remember me – it had been 20 long years, and he’s, y’know, been busy.
As it turned out, a jetlagged and over-caffeinated Moby suddenly realised he recognised me a few minutes into the interview. There was a brief moment of confusion, we had a laugh over it, and then the interview you can read below continued in businesslike fashion. Sorry to say, no uncomfortable confrontation or juicy gossip is recorded here. He was really cool about it. But it did ultimately make for a more relaxed session, and allowed me to ask a few questions from our shared perspective of what the music scene was like back in the day. In the end the interview reveals a 48-year-old music icon who’s more chill these days, who’s learned a lot about what makes him happy, and has remembered how to have fun spinning records for party people young enough to be his grandkids.
You’ve already made known you’re not going to tour behind the new album, except for three shows in LA. Are you a little bit tired of explaining why?
No – the funny thing with doing interviews is I almost always enjoy them. The only times I don’t like doing interviews are when there’s a huge language barrier, because then it’s just frustrating – because you can’t comfortably express yourself. And then the other time is, I just did an interview the other day with someone who clearly just didn’t like me. I don’t know how he ended up doing it, but he just went into it quite antagonistically. When someone is clearly being antagonistic, it’s almost like three and a half billion years of evolution have trained us to respond with defensiveness or antagonism in response. It was really hard to not rise to that. During the course of the interview, he wasn’t saying mean things to me – he was quoting incredibly nasty things that other people had written about me, asking how I felt about that.
So about why I’m not touring. The main reason I’m not touring is so I can spend more time at home working on music. It’s a tricky question to answer, because I never want to sound like a complaining musician – because I’ve had terrible jobs in my life. One of my first jobs was…the Macy’s in Stamford, Connecticut had a restaurant attached to it, and I was the dishwasher. And that was so disgusting, and I would go home smelling like every particle of disgusting food that everyone else had eaten. So if I was working as a dishwasher at this terrible restaurant, and I read an interview with a musician complaining about how hard it is to go on tour, I would have found him and hit him in the head with a brick. So that’s why I refuse to complain about touring.
All I can say is, when I go on tour, I give up a lot of the things that I really like about being alive. Which is being in my studio every day, spending time with dogs, trying to have real relationships, having friendships, et cetera. Playing music is great, but living in airports and hotel rooms? Over time it’s not the healthiest way to live.
So how would you address fans from, say, Argentina or Australia, who want to see you perform this year? What would you say to them?
Well, I’ve been to both places many times in my life, so I’d say, hopefully in the past you’ve had that opportunity, and maybe in the future that opportunity will arise again. And for this album, we’re streaming the concert – like, we’re bringing in lights and cameras – so in some ways what I would say to them is, look, it’s the best of both worlds! You can watch the show in your underpants, and check your Twitter feed at the same time, and have a snack.
And you don’t have to pay ten dollars for a beer.
And we’re streaming a show the week that the record’s released [Friday October 4]; and so in a way it’s like anyone anywhere… Normally if I was playing a show in Berlin the week the album was released, someone might have to go there – and this way they can stay home.
So, you’ve been DJing more often lately?
Yes, the last couple of years.
And you’ve been enjoying it?
Yeah. I mean, it creates a lot of confusion, because the music I play when I DJ sounds nothing like the music I put on my records; and the music I make on my records sounds nothing like the music I play when I DJ. So people who like my records come to my DJ sets and are sometimes confused. And in turn…like I DJ’d at Coachella last year, and someone who comes to this Coachella DJ set and bought one of my records expecting a big techno-rave party, and instead gets quiet, sort of delicate low-fi indie music? Maybe they’re disappointed, I don’t know.
But, yeah, DJing – it’s just really fun! You show up, play records for a couple of hours, jump up and down. You get to take credit for other people’s records.
So to you it’s a different animal than playing live.
Have you been influenced by other, younger DJs lately? Or is it all coming from your own collection?
When I first sort of got back into it… I was playing a lot of my old favourite rave and house records. And then I got an account with Beatport – and it’s just so easy to hear and buy new music. In the olden days, as you know, it’s like, save up your money, go to the record store – maybe Vinyl Mania or one of those dance stores in New York would have 20 new records, and they were all imports and they all cost $10. And so you’d have to listen to them and go, can I afford to buy four of them or five of them?
And they had maybe one track each.
And then you get it home and you’re like, oh gosh, it’s really not as good as I thought. Whereas now, buying stuff online, the records cost $1.99 – and say you buy 20 of them, and you’ve just spent $40, and there’s a good chance you can actually play them. So now when I DJ, it’s 98% new records, and a few old. And oddly enough, a lot of Australian records. It seems like Australia, as a relatively small country in terms of population, certainly punches above its weight in terms of its influence on the global dance scene.
Any particular Australian producers you’re into lately?
The other thing is that in the world of dance music and electronic music, I oftentimes don’t know where people come from. Like there’s this one guy, Donald Glaude, and I assumed he was German – turns out he’s from San Francisco. Or someone gives themselves a name, like, you know, Sound Corporation. Does that mean they’re from New York? Does it mean they’re from Korea?
But [speaking of Australian artists], Tommy Trash. That song The End – granted it’s a couple of years old now, but it was such a monster. I’ve been playing a lot of festivals. The thing I’m doing tomorrow [at Chinese Laundry] will maybe be a little more nuanced because it’s quite small, but at festivals it’s all about the bombast. Big, over-the-top, bombastic – and that’s where some of these Australian productions [by] Loops of Fury, Tommy Trash, just make so much sense, in a stadium for 50,000 people.