Having been a part of the scene in the home of techno for over a decade, the Minneapolis-born, now Berlin-based producer and DJ Dustin Zahn made his Hong Kong debut at Volar on 21 March this year. Fresh out of the studio working on his first album, aptly titled Monoliths, coming out on techno honcho Adam Beyer’s label Drumcode, Zahn will be bringing over a taste of the illustrious Berghain (where he holds a residence) with his darkly bleak, hardware-centric sounds. We caught the Berliner ahead of his gig to chat writer’s block, the Asian music scene and what to expect from him next.
Being your first album, what was your working process like for the new record?
Honestly, it was no different than usual. My biggest obstacle was getting back in the studio. I had been so busy with touring and personal things that my mindset wasn’t on production. Prior to taking a fairly decent sized break from producing, I was just chipping away at tracks every day. I’d do a little bit here, and a little bit there. These days, I have to be much more productive with the little time I have, so I tend to have very intense and short bursts of creativity. I might do 5 tracks in 2 days that end up being some of my best work. Then it might be another 2 months before I write anything else. It’s random…almost too random to be honest. After the album tour, I’ll be back in the studio every day.
How limiting is it to use hardware in terms of making new sounds or is that a positive element for you? How did you tackle writer’s block?
Limitations are powerful! Being physically limited to what you can do forces you to make more creative decisions. Too many possibilities leads to “option paralysis.” Anybody in this industry probably has a friend who owns a ton of gear that will never get anything done. Then you know a guy with $100 monitors and a Macbook who is making it happen. My studio computer is just a 6 year old laptop with only 3GB of RAM. You don’t need as much as you’d think. I’ve gone back to using a lot more hardware and it’s not limiting. It’s just a different approach. As for tackling writers block I have a few suggestions:
1. Just focus on sound design and make parts you can use later.
2. Try writing a different genre of music for the hell of it.
3. Go outside.
Drumcode has long been an influence for you, did it feel like were you working towards a particular soundscape catered to them? Do you feel there were personal limitations in this particular project if so?
I didn’t cater towards the record label at all. When you listen to the music, you will find that it’s very different than the usual output from what they normally release. At the same time, it’s fitting enough that it works. The only personal limitations were ones that I set. For example, I decided to put an emphasis on the sort of thing you’d expect from a 2xEP or 2xLP from the 90s, which is pure club tracks for the most part. In other words, I decided solely to write a “techno” album.
Have you played in Asia much before? What are your favourite cities to play if so/not?
I’ve only played in Japan. The rest of Asia is completely foreign to me! It’s really exciting because when it comes the Americas and Europe, I feel like I’ve seen it all…more or less. The biggest perk of DJing is traveling and seeing new things, so naturally I’m excited!
Do you feel that the East Asian audience are/will be as receptive as a European audience for example?
I have no clue what to expect but I certainly hope so! If not, I’ll look at it as a means of educating rather than any negative connotations. As a DJ/producer that’s in the middle tier of this world circuit and also as a person who caters more towards a niche crowd, I have to assume that anyone booking me this far from home tends to understand what I’m about. This gives me confidence that I’m coming exactly where I need to be.
What’s next for you now?
I’ll be doing an extensive tour through June. After that, I might like into getting some resemblance of a real life again!