Jay Daniel Builds on Detroit’s Past with an Eye Toward the Future

Shawn Reynaldo speaks to the techno-inspired drummer about his debut album, Broken Knowz

Maxwell Schiano

For all the talk of Detroit’s place in dance music history, very little of that conversation focuses on what’s currently happening there. Although the spotlight does occasionally fall on young artists like Kyle Hall, his cohorts – including his friend Jay Daniel – don’t get nearly as much attention. However, with Daniel set to release his debut album Broken Knowz on Ninja Tune offshoot Technicolour later this month, the Detroit producer speaks with host Shawn Reynaldo for RBMA Radio’s First Floor about his hometown’s legacy, how his past work as a drummer factors into his music and exactly what inspired his debut LP.

Listen to First Floor on RBMA Radio here every Thursday at 1PM EDT.

Most people listening to this show are familiar with Detroit’s role in the history of electronic music, but so much of that talk focuses on the past. What’s the reality of Detroit’s dance music scene today?

The reality of dance music is that it encompasses more than just dance music. It encompasses other forms of music that come out of Detroit, like Motown and hip-hop, but it grows mostly from cultural happenings and things that have shifted Detroit one way or another. You know – the automobile industry, the great migration that happened in the ’40s when a lot of black people came up from the South to move to the North. It created a culture boom in most of the major cities, Chicago, New York, Detroit and Los Angeles.

I think that [history] shapes dance music, and all forms of music, in most major cities. That’s something about the past that people were focused on in order to kind of figure out where we’re heading towards. Right now, with what’s going on with dance music, it’s just a lot of hype, you know what I mean? It’s kind of stagnant because it’s making artists complacent: not making them go outside of the box and really call on creative problem-solving techniques to create a new form of music – to innovate. When techno was created, it was an innovative form of music. That’s why it’s so popular now. The same thing needs to happen again. A Renaissance needs to happen with dance music, because it seems like it’s losing its soul to a degree.

As a musician, does being from Detroit hurt or help you? Is it a sort of [historical] baggage, or just a set of expectations that maybe you wouldn’t like to deal with if you didn’t have to?

Yeah, it’s true. I think it’s a good thing to encourage in the sense that it makes promoters and fans group DJs together. It nullifies the experiences of individual artists when they’re generally trying to get out – but it also does help because Detroit has such a strong musical legacy. It’s cool to wave that flag, but it’s hard to break out of being compared to this dude or that dude. I'm called a techno artist when really I’m a drummer. I want to be referred to as a musician more so than a DJ, so that’s where I’m headed.

Do you find that your friends or people your age sometimes aren’t even aware of Detroit’s techno history?

Not necessarily my friends, but a lot of people my age are not hip to [Detroit’s techno history] because Detroit is such a vast city. It’s not connected like that, you know. There’s not necessarily a hub for young people to go to. Detroit is becoming more segregated now and that’s exactly why people don’t know – techno has this veil around it that says it’s “intellectual music,” you know what I mean? It’s not for everybody. It’s created a thing where it’s seen as super exclusive and I’m trying to break out of that as well. I wish more people did know, because [the city] probably wouldn’t be as closed-minded if more people were hip to it.

One thing that really jumps out on the album is the prevalence of live drum sounds. What inspired you to feature live drum arrangements on the record?

I’ve been playing drums since I was three years old. I took a break from it because while I had a drum set at my dad’s house, I lived with my mom growing up in Detroit. When I moved to Maryland for high school, where my dad lives, I really started getting into it and playing drums for the choir. I want to make music. If people call me a techno artist, I want to be a well-rounded techno or house producer. I don’t want to be limited to the MPC.

When you’re putting these songs together, do you record drum takes and place the live drum take into the track? Or are you cutting them up and quantizing them to make them fit?

I use a multi-track recorder. Sometimes I loop two, four, eight, sixteen bars – however many I think is necessary for what I’m trying to do with the track. I don’t chop drums up usually. I did for the Karmatic Equations EP and and some other stuff, and for the Four Tet remix I sampled myself playing drums. That’s cool, but you don’t get the fluidity that you would if you just record it live. I’m trying to expand upon that for my next project.

By Shawn Reynaldo on November 16, 2016

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