Although he’s been in the electronic music game since the mid-’90s, DVS1 continues to push boundaries. Hailing from Minneapolis and now splitting time between Berlin and Minnesota, the techno veteran is in the midst of celebrating the 20th anniversary of HUSH, a name he’s used for a variety of projects over the years, including one of his record labels. An outspoken figure who’s unafraid to share his thoughts on the electronic music sphere, the DJ and producer joined Shawn Reynaldo on the latest episode of RBMA Radio’s First Floor to discuss the history of HUSH, his latest record and how the scene has changed over the past two decades.
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“HUSH20” is part of a celebration that you have been doing marking the 20th anniversary of HUSH, which is a name that you’ve used for a lot of different projects over the years like your record label, your soundsystem company, parties that you’ve thrown. What was the first time that you used the word “Hush” for something that you did?
We didn’t have the name – what we had was this image. It was myself and two other guys and we were trying to come up with a production company to throw some parties back in ’95. We were just sitting around and we came up with this image of a girl, like a “Japanime” cut-and-paste. I don’t even think Photoshop was that prevalent then, so we were chopping and cutting parts and pieces out of comics and anime things. We found this image of a girl, and then we cut a finger off of Spider-Man and pasted it in front of her lips. So she was saying the word, signifying “hush” or “shh,” whispering. We made a little pre-flyer and it was just an info-line number, a date and that image.
People kept coming up to us being like, “Oh, ‘shh.’ ‘Hush,’ that's really cool.” And out of that we thought, “Oh, ‘Hush,’ that actually completely makes sense.” We ended up using the term HUSH and came up with it through that image, and then that image stayed and changed over the years to where it is now. But it was originally put together by accident.
When I think of DVS1, I think of volume and loud music. Given that, the name HUSH could be seen as a wildly inappropriate name. What about it appealed to you?
HUSH for us was not the idea of volume or being quiet, it was more the idea of secrecy. We were underground promoters putting together an underground show and our aesthetic was keeping things secret, keeping it out of the public eye. HUSH represented that: ”This is a secret.” So it’s not for everyone, and we’re inviting you to this thing that is off the radar. In that sense HUSH has always fit my aesthetic, because I’ve continued, even up through today, doing underground events and keeping things secret. And I think my general aesthetic when I DJ is I like to be in the dark. I like the focus to be other places. In the end it worked into my aesthetic of who I am and how I like to present things.
Twenty years is a long time for anyone, but in terms of electronic music, it’s an especially long time if you figure that the average clubber is going to be in the scene for only a handful of years, and then they’ll probably settle down in some way. In your mind, what have been the biggest or most important changes in electronic music over the past twenty years that you have been doing HUSH?
As an American, I definitely think the interesting thing from our perspective is that we fought 20 years ago to legitimize this music, or at least to be respected as a legitimate music form. In the US we never had the support, and we still really don’t, of the government, of city laws in our favor to do club nights, to do warehouse events, to do anything. I think what’s interesting from a global perspective now that I’m traveling and gigging is that this music is now accepted – it’s not struggling to be accepted anymore.
When you put too many things under a microscope I think it ruins it, because everything is trying to be dissected and figured out and broken down.
There’s good and bad to that. The good part is is that there’s an industry around it now and that people are able to make careers out of it, and it’s accepted as an art form. The bad part about it is also that it is an industry now, and it’s also abused and mistreated in a lot of ways. It’s something that we fought for, and we got it. And I think there’s a balance now of where it’s treated the right way and where it’s given the respect it needs and deserves, and then there’s other places that it’s just used, abused and thrown away whenever they’re done with it.
Especially in recent years, you haven’t been shy about speaking your mind about electronic music and the culture that surrounds it. Do you feel like the electronic music world should do more to evaluate and even critique itself?
Same thing, double-edged sword. When you put too many things under a microscope I think it ruins it, because everything is trying to be dissected and figured out and broken down. I think there’s definitely a set of guidelines and rules and respect that should be adhered to if we want to keep this legitimate. But I think it’s hard to place rules or opinions everywhere, because everyone has one. It’s why I have over the years taken myself away from reading other people’s opinions, reading reviews, reading whatever. I just have to believe that my opinions or my view of this is righteous enough to push, and that there’s enough people out there that will agree with it, and so we find a connection and just work with that.
Is it difficult to have serious conversations or make serious changes within electronic music when so much of the culture is tied to partying?
Over the years – let’s call them party kids – have come up to me to try to have discussions about what they believe, what they see, what they’re experiencing. Sometimes I felt like maybe I’ve been pushing when I’ve said this to them, but in my mind I’ve thought to these kids, “If you’re still here in five years when that initial party vibe wears down, and you’re actually realizing that you’re still here for the music and you actually appreciate the music...” then I’m willing to have a really in-depth conversation with a person about what can change, what can be different, how do they see things.
But sometimes I have to let people get through that first phase of the initial shock of what they’ve discovered and what comes with it. Because for a lot of people, they come in, they party with the music, they have their experiences with drugs, sex and everything else, and then they run the other direction when it wears off. I’m not undervaluing their experience, but for me to invest my time to have a real discussion with somebody I think they have to get through that part first and be there for the right reason after.
Let’s talk a bit about the new record. When you were putting it together, did you feel any extra pressure since it was designed to mark the 20th anniversary of HUSH?
No, because I never set out to actually do that. When I was nearing the HUSH 20th anniversary I just realized, “Oh, it’s been a couple years since I released anything. I’ve got some tracks, I’ve got some new things, some old things.” And as I started putting together the package, it just worked out really well. Before, I’d only released HUSH01, 02 and 03. HUSH20 is two parts: It’s actually HUSH04 and HUSH05, which if you multiply four by five you get 20. These are all circumstantial things that just happened to work out that made HUSH20 fall into place at the right time, in the right way. I think had I set out to do something for it, I would have felt the pressure, but because I just happened to sit back and realize that I had enough material and enough music ready to put out, it came together naturally. I didn’t put any pressure on myself and I think that’s when you get the best results.
When HUSH20 was announced it was said that the release would have a surprise inside, but no details were given about it. Now that the record is out, could you tell us a bit about the surprise?
The people who will pick up the first press of this record are going to find a secret record inside. There’s a 10-inch in there that we decided to keep secret, to not put up, to not write about on the release sleeve, to not mention it, and it’s two more tracks by me that are a future Mistress release, Mistress being my other label. It’s Mistress 20, which will basically be a release that I probably won’t even get to for another three years. So this will be the only way that this 10-inch record will be released at the moment, hidden inside the first run of the HUSH20 records. If you don’t get it in that run, it won’t come out probably for another two, three years, until I hit Mistress 20 in my catalog.
So HUSH20, like you mentioned, is a double-vinyl release. Just in terms of how much music is on it, I think it’s your most substantial release to date. After stretching your legs for a bit for this release, is it possible that we’ll see a DVS1 album at some point in the future?
I’ve been asked that over the years and I thought about it. The reality is, if something comes out of me that seems to fit for an album, then I’m not saying no. But the reality is I don’t write anything with an idea or a concept in front of me. I just try to capture the moment I’m in when I sit down to write music. And in my head, I view albums as things that maybe experiment left or right, that maybe have some ambient undertones, some experimental undertones. But I make music for the dancefloor, I make music for me as a DJ to play. I make tools for myself, so I don’t know if I’d ever define my music as album material. But if something comes out of my experimentation in the studio in the next couple of years and it works, then sure, I would present it in that way. But I don’t necessarily set out to do it.