NB: This article is an oral interview, it was recorded and written. We thought better to stick to the spoken language of this exchange.
Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. There is no better word to describe the talk we had with the man. Being involved in the electronic music for almost two decades, DVS1 AKA Zak Khutoretsky has built a huge following over the years. He is now considered as one of the top class DJ’s and only few contemporary techno Dj’s can rival him. Well-known for his infamous sunday afternoon techno sets at Berghain, he can also deliver house music at its best. Splitting his time between the US midwest metropolis Minneapolis and Berlin, DVS1 has dedicated his life to music. We caught up with Zak right before his set at Nuits Sonores in Lyon.
– First of all, I’ve always wanted to know something : what does DVS1 mean?
It might make more sense in the United States than in Europe. If you say the word DVS1 fast, you can hear devious. For me the word devious means to kind of not take the straight path, to deviate. It’s not necessary a good or bad thing but its kind of sinister, there is something a little dark about it. It was given to me by some friends who were graffiti artists.
-You have been involved in electronic for two decades. What seduced you at the beginning in electronic music?
I would say I was lucky enough to be taken to a really good party, a proper warehouse party. I got to see amazing sound, amazing warehouse and I was hooked right away by the whole atmosphere. The power of this music I had never heard before got me addicted.
– Basically you are still based in Minneapolis, which is the place where you come from, but most of the gigs you are booked on are in Europe. You are a bit of a frequent traveller and it would be much easier for you to live in Europe. Why did you choose to stay in the US?
I was born in Russia and my family came to the US when I was two years old. I was raised between NY and Minnesota cause my father lived in NY and my mother lived in Minnesota. A lot of people when they find success in this music, I feel like everyone moves. They go to Berlin, London, Paris, and bigger cities. The reason why I am the way I am is because of where I am from and it’s important for me to keep that attitude and that vibe. Where I am from, we struggle for this music, its not part of our culture, so everything I have done to get to this point is because of where I live and I don’t want to loose that.
– You grew up in this city, which has not such a well-known scene, but did you have access to what was happening in NYC and Chicago?
I mean there has always been an amazing underground scene. It’s not the first place you think of in the states but obviously I had access to what was happening in Chicago and NY. The beautiful thing of Minneapolis is that we don’t have to live up to anything. When you live in NY or Chicago, you have this reputation of what these two cities were, it’s kind of history. In Minneapolis you can take the best of everything and make it your own doing what you want with it. There are no rules in Minneapolis.
– How was structured this underground culture over there?
The underground culture has always been good there. There are not so many labels but I would say Dj’s and people who threw the parties were the same because there was nobody there to give you the opportunity. The club scene was always terrible because the city shuts down at 2 am. The good thing about it is that there is a need for an underground; there is always a push for that kind of things. It’s small but it’s really powerful.
– You opened a club in Minneapolis, how was it to be behind the desk instead behind the decks?
It was terrible. I mean it was a good experience, something that I needed to do. I’ve been doing stuff in Minneapolis for so many years, I threw parties, I owned a sound company and I own a building +now where there are studios for musicians. I mean that was the next step in my progression of my city. It was good but you are fighting so many battles with the city, the insurance, the licensing and in the end I am happy I did it but I am happy that it’s gone.
– What did you learn from this experience?
I learnt that my love for music is much more important than the business behind it.
– What was your motivation to stay involved in music after this experience?
The interesting thing is all the sound equipment in the club was my personal sound that I owned. When I lost the club I lost a lot of money and when that happened, I had to sell my sound company to pay for the money that I lost. I really was scared of selling my sound because it was something that defined me for so many years. I sold my sound and it gave myself time to produce music. Then I released with Ben Klock and Derrick May and now I am sitting here with you doing this interview. In the end it was the best thing that happened to me to loose all that money and to loose the club.
– Do you think that nowadays, in this industry, all the actors are playing with the same goal ?
Absolutely not. Let’s go down the line from promoters. There are a lot of promoters right now who see the popularity in our music and I don’t feel they have the vision that maybe I have. Sometimes you end up playing at parties where the promoters have no experience booking anyone but they have the money and money doesn’t buy you experience. Agents want to get the best fee because they get the best percentage. But then sometimes the people that offering the best fee are not the best place for you to play. To go down the line, I did this because I really loved this music and I never had the idea of being successfull at it. I just did what I did because I loved it for the last nineteen years. My vision in this is still very pure and I feel that a lot of DJ’s are not doing it for the right reason. You should never do it with the idea of success, just do it because you love it.
– What was your motivation to create Hush Sound?
I mean it was the next natural step to me. Everything I’ve done was under the name Hush. My first Hush party was in 1996, my studio is called Hush Studio and my sound company was called Hush Sound. I was now in a position where I wanted to release music on my own and Hush was just the next evolution.
– Is it only a label for your productions or did you planned to release other artist’s stuff on it?
It’s a label only for my stuff with original tracks and no remixes. But I am starting a second label that is gonna be released in the next two months and it’s called Mistress. It’s only gonna be music by outside artists. This is all for me to release music that I’ve been playing by people who’ve sent me tracks that deserve to be put out. It’s not just gonna be techno, it’s gonna be half and half. Where I come from, House and techno were played together. Techno artists played house and house artists played techno. I have an appreciation for both and there is no line that I won’t cross. If I like it I will release it. Just look for Mistress Records!
– During the last year, it seems that you really focused on remixes (Trus’me, Terrence Dixon, Markus Suckut). What do you think about this exercise as a producer?
It was good for me to do these remixes cause I was feeling very uninspired to do my own music this last year because of personal issues and travel. It was really hard for me to find the right vibe to write music as I’ve lived so much in-between Berlin and the States. As well as my place in the states, I finally have my own space in Berlin as well and I have just settled into my own studio there, trying to duplicate what I use at home. Now I feel more comfortable. Doing all these remixes was very good because it kept me in the studio but it took the place of my own creativity. Now I am finished, no more remixes and I am only releasing my own music for a while.
– I may be wrong but you never been remixed, is it a personal choice?
Interesting, I’ve never thought about that. I don’t see the point of doing remixes just to do them. That’s a big mistake that a lot of labels are doing at the moment. If you notice the big trend at the moment, a release will put out one track and five remixes and it’s not right. If you look at the history, there will be three originals and the label will pick one important person to remix one track. Unless it’s meaningful, I don’t care having people remixing me just to do it.
– I’ve read somewhere that you have lived in New York for a few years. There is such an important emulation about electronic music in that city these days. Do you think it’s hype?
NY is a special place. When I was there in the 90’s, it was amazing. In a lot of ways, it was almost like how Berlin is now. It felt very free and opened to anything. If you look at NY history, there is Mayor Guliani who cleaned up the city. He made the city clean and safe but he took the soul out of city. Now people are starting to come back with that soul. It has always been there but it had to hide for a while. NY is putting out so much good music and so many good artists and the community there is really trying to do something good. In the end, I would say that it’s not a hype at all.
– You’ve met Ben Klock after doing your second liveset, which was the start of your relation with Germany. Why didn’t you continue to do some live acts?
I would say that I am a DJ first. As a DJ I feel like I have a master degree in Djing. I know how to DJ, I’ve been to school for the last 18 years. I’ve learned how to express myself doing it, playing anything and everything.
As a producer, I am still learning to speak. The livesets are a little more of a commitment for me because I’m not a guy who produces ten tracks per day. At the moment I prefer to DJ because that’s where I come from but in the future, I’ll do livesets for sure.
– Today what is your vision of the live acts in Electronic Music? Do you think live lost a bit of its meaning?
I don’t know if it has lost it but I feel that the technology made the ability to mess up less, which makes it less live to me. When I did my liveset for instance, I used two computers running Reason on both and controllers but there were no synch between everything. The opportunity that I could have screwed everything up was always there and it made it live and energetic to me. I come from a time also before the laptops where livesets were drum machines, synthesizers, a mixing board and people made mistakes. These mistakes are part of the live energy; I am tired of hearing everything so perfect and so clean. I mean I am realizing nowadays that young kids don’t even know anything but perfection and that’s not real because human is not perfect.
– You are well-known as a proper techno DJ who’s spinning records for hours at Berghain or in any other first class European club. But it seems that you always have been interested by house music too. What does House represent for you?
As much as I love europe I sometimes don’t undertstand when I go to play a party and it’s 18 hours of just techno from the beginning till the end. I mean I love techno but I don’t want to hear techno for that long. I remember in the US the way they would do the parties and the way I would throw my parties was you start with something very deep and you build your way to techno. Techno was the peak and then it would come back down again to something deep or house. I was raised with starting my night with house and ending my night with house and techno was in the middle. Now I am in a position where people trust me as a DJ and Panorama Bar has let me played couple of house sets. People realize that I actually play house like a proper house guy so it’s great. I’ve always told people that I am not a one trick pony, I don’t always play fast. I always try to play what I think I would like to hear from the audience perspective. Honestly the best quote that I have ever heard from somebody was from DJ Tracks and he made a really good point. He said »I dont give you what you want, I give you what you need. Don’t worry about what you think you wanna hear, you have to trust us to give you what we know you need to hear right now ».
– You are a kind of unofficial resident at Berghain club in Berlin as you are playing there almost every month. How special is this place for you?
This place is amazing. I feel that if I didn’t have the Berghain, I wouldn’t be content with Djing around the world. Berghain is what makes me feel content. It gives me this feeling like this is why I do this. I feel that I am built for that club. The crowd there is so willing to go anywhere with me and I just feel so at home there. I never knew that I could play 12 hours set until I stepped in there. I hate to sound cliché but Berghain is the best and it lives up to the hype. Everyone says it’s hype but it lives up to it and that’s the thing.
– You will be in Paris next week for the weather festival, and it looks like you will play at the mini weather which is an electronic music tutorial for kids. What do you think about this kind of initiative? What are you expecting from that special afternoon?
I am really excited about that. Ever since I started, I was telling people that I really wanted to find a way to do something outside of just Djing at parties. There has to be more meaning to what we do. Otherwise it’s just not meaningful. The one person that I’ve watched over the last few years doing stuff that are so meaningful to me is Mike Huckaby. If you look at what he does, he teaches kids in Detroit, he does seminars, he teaches production. He has got so much knowledge to give and he has the opportunity to give it. I am really excited to be able to show some kids how I can present to them what djing is, from vinyls and cd’s and not on a computer. I am going to give them a different perspective from how I’ve learned. Who knows, somebody in that room could be the next great DJ in ten years from now
– Do you think that a child, without all the conditioning that we have, would react differently as adult clubbers would ?
Definitely. Unconsciously a clubber has already seen and experienced too much, they already have their own vision of what it is. The kids are very open to what they see. They are taking so much information’s and they are in this unique position to really experience what you tell them. If you open them up, they are going to look for more; they are not already stuck on what they think everything is.
– What would be the first records you would make listen to your child ?
Interesting question. Honestly I think I will try to play them two or three records of all the genres I like. A little bit of soul, funk, jazz, disco, hip hop and just see where they really start to get into it. That’s basically how I find music. There was a club in Minneapolis that did nights for young kids. When you go there, the DJ would play five records of every genre and you would start to realize what you are most attracted to. If I had a child, I wouldn’t force him to any genre but I would really show him everything of quality music and just see what make him smile more.
– Do you have a joke or a last message to finish this interview ?
I am not funny on the spot; I am only funny at the moment. I totally don’t even know what to tell you right now. I don’t have anything good for you at the moment.