A Labor of Love: DVS NME Talks New Album, Early History, Studio Techniques, and All Things Electro

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

Johan Sebastian Bot aka DVS NME © DVS NME

Over the years, DVS NME is a name that we have all come to know. As a tireless supporter of all things Electro music, whether it be through his various social media outlets, his weekly radio show Dark Science Electro, or his timeless (and absolutely alluring) musical adventures through many of the best labels out there, this is one artist you simply listen to...through and through! He knows his stuff, and we are here to let him speak about how it all started for him, how he sees the growing Electro scene these days, and what he has been doing about all this great new gear coming out recently.

In this in-depth interview, we get to learn all about the man behind the iconic artist, and one of the few people that can truly hold the title of ambassador of Electro music. Let's get started!

Welcome! Lovely to get to do this interview with you, it's well overdue. I am a huge fan of your music, and I think everyone will agree that we all want to know where this all comes from, how it all started. When would you say music first became a thing for you?

As far back as I can recall I’ve always been drawn to music in one way or another, whether it was playing with a random instrument any time I was in the same room as one, or soaking up influence from the music my parents played. Both of my parents were into some great music in the 80’s, and that impact on my interest in music couldn’t be overstated. David Bowie, Duran Duran, Fleetwood Mac, Depeche Mode, Blondie, Billy Idol, and others really helped to shape my initial interest in music at an early age.

I didn’t really become an individual consumer of music until about the 5th grade. That was when I had the ability to buy things with the money I made from mowing lawns in the neighborhoods of Southern California. First CD I ever bought was ‘Memorabilia’ by Soft Cell, and it kind of snowballed from there. Just a few years later (by way of my older brother and his friends), I would be introduced to Industrial, Goth, and EBM, which would also help to shape my sound as a musician as well as my direction in deejaying.

Sounds like Electronic Music was an eventual progression for you then?

It was only really around the time that I started collecting my own music that a different kind of Electronic sound came into focus for me around the age of 11. I was lucky enough to have had Los Angeles public radio to help in shaping my opinions on music. Pioneering Hip Hop artist Kurtis Blow used to have a show every Sunday night called ‘The Old School Show", and that is really where it all started in terms of my obsession with Electro music.

My first glances came in the form of Egyptian Lover, Afrika Bambaataa, Kraftwerk, Art Of Noise, George Clinton, T La Rock, etc. I absolutely owe a massive debt of gratitude to Kurtis Blow (and Power 106 FM) for that, as I believe that his show helped to change my musical life more than any other person. This time also represented my first interaction with the idea of deejaying. Listening to this show, I would make pause/play tapes of my favorite tracks, and sell them to kids at school, or give them away to my friends. I can pinpoint that time in my life as the moment that I decided that I wanted to influence the music taste of every single person I came into contact with for the rest of my life.

Interesting to think Kurtis Blow was such an influence to you. He's a great man, and a great musician and pioneer for sure!

Switching gears a little, were you a part of the Rave scene at all by any chance? Ever attend one?

Not even once. I’ve never been a fan of Techno, House, Jungle, Trance, D&B or 98% of what was being played at those events, so I opted out and lived vicariously through my friends instead. By the time I came of age to attend shows, my focus was more on Industrial/EBM and Post Punk. I spent my teens at Goth clubs in Hollywood like Coven 13, and Dungeon. From about the age of about 15 through 19, I was obsessed with bands like Bauhaus, Front 242, Joy Division, Front Line Assembly, Siouxsie & The Banshees, and the like. It wasn’t until the emergence of "Electroclash" that I started to take interest in the idea of returning to the funkier Electronic side of my established music taste.

Considering you are perhaps one of the most tireless supporters of the Electro sound I know, when would you say your love affair with this particular sound began?

There are two answers to that question. The first one is the one I like to tell more. I would say that my love affair with Electro music started before I even knew that I was listening to Electro. The first track I was obsessed with that, in hindsight, was clearly an Electro beat was "Tootsee Roll" by the 69 Boyz. I got the CD single and listened to the instrumental until my older brother wanted to murder me because of the repetition. I didn’t know why I liked it but I knew there was something. That is the first time I can recall loving an Electro beat to the point of obsession, however, my current level of obsession with Electro started in early 2000 after Electroclash made itself known to me.

The release of Miss Kittin & The Hacker’s "First Album" really tipped the scale for my tastes away from the Goth/Industrial dance stuff, to a never-ending quest to know everything about Electro music. Here we are 26 years later, and I love it every bit as much as I did when I had "Tootsee Roll" on repeat for months in the summer of 1994.

DVS NME - Trans-Asia Express (2019) © DVS NME

You have a new album that just came out a few months ago, and it is quite a masterpiece I must say. Your love for Electro comes through quite strongly on this one. But what I really appreciated was not just the music or even the concept of Nyotaimori, but the usage of Japanese and Chinese musical scales.

Did you find it difficult to work with non-traditional scales?

The entire concept actually happened by accident. I have been using an iPad to make music for years, and I acquired an app called "Gadget" by Korg. Not only is this application an extremely powerful digital audio workstation, but it had a functionality that I had never experimented with, which was isolating a key scale in a way that removed all non-applicable notes from the keyboard roll on the screen. I found myself immediately drawn to Japanese, Chinese, Gypsy, Arabic, and Egyptian. Something just clicked in my brain when I walked up and down the scales. It led me to my most productive year in producing music in 2018.

Many of the tracks on the album were made during that initial exploration phase of the feature. Many more in 2019 would follow in that same spirit, and lead to my second most productive year. By the middle of 2019, I thought it was about time that I put something out officially, as I was collecting tracks at an alarming rate and hadn’t attempted to sell my new original music since 2013. "Trans Asia Express" was born out of that after I picked out my favorite tracks written using Chinese or Japanese scales. I kind of felt like I was hoarding my tracks and it was getting to be a bit unhealthy, so I just self-released the album on Bandcamp as an act of catharsis.

Talk about your process in-studio. How does a song begin for you? Where do you draw your inspiration from to write?

My process changes regularly. I make a habit of rearranging the synths in my studio to ensure I don’t get stuck using the same machines for certain sounds just based on sense memory. The same thing for applications on the iPad. I am constantly downloading new apps to trigger a different creative response as every app has a new impact on the way I will approach the production of a song. I draw inspiration from everything in my life. My 5-year-old son, my friends, family, the weather, disappointment, anxiety, hope, successes, and anything in between.

Naturally, I would be lying if I said that the Electro music I spend my time promoting through Dark Science Electro doesn’t have an influence on my music as DVS NME. I think it is fair to say that it would be impossible for me not to be influenced, given the sheer amount of Electro promos I listen to on a weekly basis. I write my best music when I don’t push myself or force time in the studio regardless of the initial inspiration trigger.

I agree 100%, let the creative process flow on its own! So tell me, you have been getting quite a bit into some of the latest hardware releases like the boutiques from Roland. Which instruments have you acquired, and which are you eyeing lately for the future? Do you find hardware more inspiring than using plug-ins and such?

Correct! I have acquired the TR-08, SH-01, JP-08, TB-03, JU-06, SE-02, JX-03 on the Roland Boutique front. The other machines I use are the Arturia MicroFreak, MicroKorg, Roland TR-8S, and Yamaha Rm1x. All of those synths are controlled by an external hardware sequencer called "Engine", made by a Texas company called "Social Entropy".

The synths on my wishlist right now are the OB6, Prophet 6, and the Deepmind 12D. I mean of course, the list goes deeper than that, but those are the only three that I am seriously considering without selling any of the ones I currently use, which I have no intention of doing.

From a production perspective, I don’t find hardware to be any more inspiring than what I would do inside of Reason or with the iPad. My creative brain is really engaged by the architecture of the synthesizer as well as presets that come loaded. I’ve never been that asshole that thinks that using presets is an indication that you are somehow less creative than someone who would sculpt every single sound from the ground up.

The biggest difference between the hardware and software for me personally is how much fun I have when I am creating a track. If I’m using a DAW, I tend to be laser-focused on making a song. When I sit down in front of my machines I don’t necessarily have an endgame every time. I’m content to tinker and just have fun jamming/making strange noises. Something about the tactile nature of touching sliders and knobs has a unique impact on the way I approach music production.

I draw inspiration from everything in my life. My 5-year-old son, my friends, family, the weather, disappointment, anxiety, hope, successes...

What is the state of Electro music in your opinion? Are you really feeling the upswing in popularity via your show and releases?

I feel like we are in a better place than we have ever been as far as overall optics for the genre are concerned. More and more people are trying their hand at making the music which I love to see. Digital platforms like Bandcamp allow for consumption to be easier than it has ever been, while at the same time compensating artists as fairly as possible. Additionally, I’ve never seen so many gig flyers circulating online I think ever in the ten years I’ve been watching closely. There are a lot of signs that point to a healthy subculture, and my outlook is positive overall.

As far as if I am personally feeling that upswing, this year was the most listened to year ever for the DVS NME page on Soundcloud coming in at 850,000 plays, which includes my personal tracks, premieres, Dark Science Electro weekly show, as well as my Post Punk Affiliated series. Additionally, all of the social media accounts that are related to the DSE outlet grew by thousands. People are seemingly more interested and increasingly engaged in what is happening than I have ever seen. On the flip side, there are obvious concerns about how little financial return on investment 97% of labels/artists are seeing, but that is a tale as old as time within Electro.

As far as I’m concerned, you either accept it as a passion that you can’t live without regardless of financial gain, or you fuck right off and save yourself the frustration and self-loathing. Expectations of making a solid living off this genre are reserved for maybe 3% of those who participate in it. Maybe. Anyone who has ever approached me about making Electro music and asks if they should, I always ask them if they are okay with never making a penny with their music. If they say “No, my intention is to make a living”, I wouldn’t be able to tell them fast enough to look elsewhere.

This music is and will probably always be underground and will only ever subsist off the backs of people that grind tirelessly and selflessly to get this music heard. I’m proud to be one of those people and will continue to scream Electro from the rooftops until I run out of breath.

At the end of the day, he's just as big a fan of this as you! © DVS NME

Who would you say are your top 3 biggest influences as far as Electro music is concerned?

Gerald Donald, Anthony Rother, & Morphology

What about non-Electro artists. Who would you say have been your biggest influences?

From a contemporary pool of non-Electro artists, I would say Drab Majesty, Part Time, & Black Marble are my 3 biggest influences. People can check out my "Post Punk Affiliated" series of mixes on Soundcloud if they are interested in the New Wave, Goth, Minimal Synth, and Shoegaze feel.

Let's talk about the Electro chart you have been doing. What goes into it to keep it transparent and what has been the overall response?

The Dark Science Electro monthly chart started in the middle of 2019 as an attempt to measure the most popular tracks, and organize them into an easy to digest chart with links for easy purchase by the casual consumer. In addition, the chart has a non-stop mixed version that takes the place of my weekly podcast once a month.

The transparency aspect of the chart goes like this: It is compiled using publicly available data from sources like weekly podcast plays, personal charts, one-off playlists from leading Electro DJ's, as well as sales data and media coverage. Each of those categories is given different weight as to how they will impact the chart calculation. So ultimately I comb through a ton of data and aggregate that info into an easy-to-consume ranking of the 10 hottest tracks of that month. I’ve always been open to the idea of including as many viable sources for the data as possible. In fact, I spent a good amount of time engaging with fans before I decided to move forward with the idea, just to ensure I didn’t miss any sources that would skew the results.

The key to the transparency aspect is publicly available data being used. My personal opinion doesn’t inform the chart any more than the DJ's that are respectful enough to publish the playlists that I get my data from. The overall response has been great outside of some initial pushback from a small handful of folks within the industry, but never from the fans.

The mix and the chart page itself get decent traffic, and I know for a fact (from feedback) that this process has led to the consumption of the music promoted on the chart. Ultimately my main goal is to remove all purchasing barriers for the consumer to make the music as easy to consume as possible. I understand that not everyone has the time to listen to the amount of Electro that I do, and that some people rely on my output as Dark Science Electro to inform their purchasing decisions. This is just an extension of DSE to get Electro music into the right ears, and to get the artists paid for their work.

Sounds like a huge responsibility! I know your efforts all around are greatly appreciated though. Before we finish, what's in store for the future? Any upcoming releases or remixes?

No immediate plans for releasing anything in 2020 quite yet, though I did produce 47 unreleased tracks in 2019, so I definitely have some songs ready to go if the right label was to approach me.

Great to hear. Best of luck with all your endeavors! Thanks for all your time with doing this interview.

Also, in case you missed it, here is DVS NME's feature for Electric Kingdom's archive series: