Agent 86: Electric turntable technician

Agent 86 was already a fixture of the Adelaide scene for several years, playing alongside the city’s turntable fiends and competing in the DMC and ITF comps, before he eventually made the shift to Melbourne to take on it’s urban and hip hop scene. Never one to be tied down to any particular style however, he eventually began the long-running ‘electroclash’ party Roxy, which has allowed him to showcase his love of what he terms ‘real electro’ for many years.

He’s a veteran in the clubs, and as a measure of this he was chosen buy the Balance crew as the one to mix the next installment of their offshoot Electric compilation series. Electric 04 serves a perfect showcase of his skills, with him seamlessly blending the different genres while keeping the focus on a strong dancefloor groove. ITM chats with Agent 86 about his new release.

I’m a fellow Adelaidian, and I still have a copy of the Supersonic Porno Funk on tape somewhere. I still consider it one of the best mix tapes I’ve ever heard!

Hi there! Can’t believe you have that tape. Amazing! I like it myself, it was a bugger to put together but I was happy with the outcome.

Which brings me to my first question: can you please do another Supersonic Porno Funk mix?

I’m not ruling it out, but it’s not on my agenda at this stage….

What attracted you to DJing in the first place?

The dials & sliders! I started out building FM transmitters and conducting my own radio station that broadcasted a massive 1km, then I got into doing the school radio station and around the same time I started hearing stuff like Run DMC and Mantronix and being amazed by the scratching and vocoders, and then finally when I was 16 I went to three different clubs (Le Rox, Infinity & Metro) in the same night and that night I knew what I wanted to do as a career.

Why the move from Adelaide to Melbourne so many years ago?

The moment I first stepped foot in Melbourne when I was 17 or 18 years old, I knew I was going to eventually live here. It took over ten years but it finally happened. I love this city. It’s like a big version of Adelaide in some respects, a chilled out version of Sydney in other respects and yet very unique in it’s own right.

Do you have any regrets about moving at all?

None whatsoever. I like Adelaide, but Melbourne is well and truly home for me now. Besides, if I hadn’t moved here I wouldn’t have met the woman who became my wife…

You play a cross section of music and clubs, are there any styles you prefer playing?

At the moment I prefer funky, disco-ey, live sounds – but knowing me, my tastes will change at some stage.

You have your own style of playing, where does this come from?

My music selection style comes from both emotion and wanting to please the punters in any given situation. That includes playing for crowds as diverse as an afterwork crowd to a hip hop crowd to a techno crowd. Whatever I’m called to do I try to make it work and put my stamp on it. My technique is basically a hybrid and mutation of the DJs I studied when I began. DJs like Housemaster C, Groove Terminator, Chico, Uzi and a little later down the track Mike Evans, Angu$, Madcap, P-Voy and also a radio show producer by the name of Chris Despotakis. I also studied scratch DJs like Too Tuff and well, scratched my head wondering how they did what they did! Basically, I listened to all sorts of DJs and even bands and groups and I would note what I liked and what I disliked – in fact, that’s still how I listen to DJs and it means that I can enjoy all sorts of DJs because all have something unique to offer. I also think of musical arrangements mathematically, and I kinda calculate when and how I would make a certain mix.

Why have you stayed so fresh when so many other DJs of your vintage have dropped off the radar?

For one, my memory is shocking. I’m like a fish basically. Saturday night: “Wow this is fun – I think I might keep doing this.” Wednesday: “Hmmm… I wonder what I did last weekend? I can’t remember.” Saturday night: “Wow, this is great! I think I might keep doing this.” And so it goes on and on, now for nearly 20 years… I guess the other main reason is that I like so many different genres and my contemporary favourites are always evolving. When I get sick of playing a certain genre, I switch to another, and then when I’m sick of that genre, I switch to another. I might not be a genre purist, but I am a music lover.

Your Balance compilation – most of these tunes sound very 80s. Where do they come from?

I beg to differ, actually. I think it spans the 60s to now. There’s a number of 60s sounding samples and scratches, 70s disco sounds, 80s electro-funk sounds and 90s/00s house and breaks sounds. All in all, it represents what I’m playing at the moment and what I have done in various ways for the past 10 years.

Why choose this 80s sound over the more modern electro sounds?

It wasn’t a conscious decision. They just sounded good to me. In terms of electro and ‘electro’, modern real electro, someone like Boris Divider for example, is breathtaking. The garbage people call ‘electro’ these days is really just ‘electro house’. Real electro has gone underground again. Mind you, real electro has never been that popular, even at the height of the ‘electroclash’ movement.

What do you think about Melbourne’s 2am lockout?

If the government successfully implements it, it could really hurt the industry and the industry staff. I appreciate the underlying reason for it – too many drunk and iced-up idiots being violent – but I just don’t know how the lockout is going to stop that behaviour. I have a few ideas of my own but I don’t think any one idea is going to change people’s decision-making and behaviour.

You’re busy working on an album. Are you working with any big names, from either Australian or from overseas?

No big names, just me. In fact, this album is a world apart from what I do as a club DJ, so the album isn’t a priority and it will come out when I get the chance to finish it.

What sound or style are you going for?

It’s very slow and quite melancholy in places. I know it’s entirely the wrong thing to say, but I don’t think many people will like it. Hopefully a few will because the music on it really represents who I am as a person but it’s quite removed from what I do as a club DJ.

Do you have any fears putting out a record in the current music market?

No fears. I’m not banking on buying a new car with the sales of the album. In fact, I’ll probably make a loss on it. It’ll simply be an artistic statement made for the simple fact that I have the freedom and opportunity to do so.

When will it be finished?

I said at the beginning of this year ‘by the end of the year’, but that ain’t gonna happen. Let’s pencil in sometime in 2009 shall we…

Agent 86’s Electric 04 compilation is out now through Stomp.