With a musical legacy that already spans two decades, we catch up with one of the USA’s (not so) best kept secrets, meet Titonton Duvante
With a musical history and catalogue that spans back to the early 90′s, Titonton Duvante is one of those true school artists whose talent has continually shone through with a certain style and finesse that few come close to, let alone equal. Straddling the line between the outer reaches of Motorcity sounds and the sheer force of his own musical imagination, his sound very much lives in its own sphere: having cut his teeth with releases on Metamorphic, 7th City, Palette, Environ, Planet E along with his own imprint Residual. The co-creator of the seminal techno band Body Release (alongside Todd Sines, Charles Noel and Mike Szewczyk), he has continued his path through a multifaceted career as a composer, recording artist, producer, remixer, record label owner and DJ, continually striving to evolve creatively. As a DJ, he has always been known for blurring the boundaries of electronic music genres as he seeks to deconstruct, blend and rebuild beats through what can only be described as a unique brand of turntablism – having exported his extraordinary style and energy to clubs around the world from Detroit and San Francisco to Berlin, London, Paris, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and beyond.
What with it being the 20th Anniversary of his first release, Titonton has been keeping himself busy the last few years working on a whole new slate of material. His recent inclusion on Mosaic Split Part Two led us to getting in touch to find out a bit more about his direction of travel as he readies himself for the re-release of his first EP “Embryonic”.
Where do your roots in music begin?
“At a very young age really, I taught myself to play the keys. My parents had a small but very decent record collection and I wrote a fairly minimal tune at the age of 5 called Journey to the Stars. I went on to take violin lessons, I guess music has always been a language that spoke directly to me, it feels as natural as breathing.”
Was it a big thing in your family?
“Not really actually. I am a bit of a black sheep with regards to music and my family. I spent quite a bit of time really listening to and analyzing music as a child. I had two cassette decks and a super cheap Casio keyboard (you know the one that was also a calculator) and would make these tapes. Hand looping bits from disco records, electro cutz or the radio and snippets from television. I’m quite curious to see what would have come of that time if I had access to actual equipment and a mentor.”
You come from Columbus, Ohio – what’s it like as a city?
“Columbus is interesting, in that it is so close to major music hotspots: 2.5 hours in a car to Detroit, a 45 minute flight to Chicago, an hour or so flight to New York. Yet, it still has a small town feel to it. The arts scene is fairly healthy: The Wexner Center has always attracted some major acts. It was there I witnessed the world premier of Meredith Monk’s Atlas opera. It was also the first place I saw the Kronos Quartet perform. They were both pivotal moments for me as a composer. As far electronic music goes, one really had to search for it in the early days. I think it was a good thing though – that search was exciting and made it all the more special.”
You ended up with quite a classical musical education, how did this develop?
“I wanted to receive a degree in audio engineering from The Ohio State University. The program was equal parts music composition and electrical engineering. During my orientation, they told us that program was being dissolved that year. I decided to pursue the composition program. I was very into classical music as a youth and saw this as a chance to learn to nuts and bolts of musical theory. In order to major in composition, one had to pick an instrument of focus. My piano playing was not quite up to par in my opinion, so I opted for voice. I got into the program after my university audition (yikes!), I sang Handel and an Italian Arietta. I was constantly playing the piano and writing songs. I was not yet familiar with Philip Glass, Steve Reich or George Winston. The songs I came up and improvised would constantly be compared to the three. So, I spent many hours in the library finding as many recordings and musical scores from these artists, as well as a few others (John Adams, Terry Riley, Arvo Part and tracing it back to Palestrina). Discovering “Minimalist” Composers and Meredith Monk through these times was very influential even on the music I write, even to this day”.
What led you to get into electronic music?
“Two PBS specials! One on synthesizers, the other on the studio techniques of the Beatles. I was totally captivated. I was into science fiction and astronomy. I knew then and there I wanted to get my hands on these instruments. To be able explore limitless sonic possibilities seemed like the most futuristic thing ever. I loved hearing the song ‘Pop Muzik’ by M. Then a few years later, Yellow Magic Orchestra ‘Computer Games’ and ‘Cars’ by Gary Newman. I mean it was Columbus, Ohio and I was a very young child. So no stories of hearing the most underground sounds ever, I just knew when I heard that kind of music it was something I wanted to explore. Later on, when MTV launched, I was totally addicted: being able to watch all of these videos with synths. Oh man!”
How did yourself, Todd Sines, Charles Noel and Mike Szewczyk all get together
and form your band Body Release?
“As the story goes, I was shopping for records. Todd and I happened to be reaching for the same 808 State record. At that time, it was rare to find another person looking for these tracks. Todd and Mike were in a project called Dirge which was more on the shoegaze tip. I was studying Music Composition and Opera Performance at Ohio State University. We were making all sorts of music at the time (the early 90’s): everything from classical, my take on Chicago to rave style tunes. I had a modest set up and took it over it Todd’s dorm to jam with them and we all vibed immediately. We decided to record the jamming which just came out sounding like some 808 state vs. LFO meets Coil. Charles was in one of my music theory classes and we would see him out at shows and clubs. I was going out all of the time as well to hear as much dance and live music as possible. Todd and Charles met at a RevCO show and we decided to all start hanging out and jamming together really. The rest is history as they say.”
When did you find yourself evolving on from the whole early rave thing?
“Well, I really like to dance and would go to dance bars on the OSU campus as often as possible. They would mostly play ‘Alternative’ Music: The Cure, Depeche Mode, Pil, etc. and the more popular dance hits at the time like Digital Underground. But I would always live for the short blocks of electronic jams – 808 State got played quite often. I saw a couple of television specials about these all night events and clubs that would play this type of music all night, I even recall a clip about the Manchester UK scene. They were playing Derrick May’s ‘The Dance’ and A Guy Called Gerald ‘Voodoo Ray’. We went to our first non club event in the summer of 1990. Slowly, things became more prevalent in our area and we would go out to everything we could. For years, I was out every Friday and Saturday. I was totally in love with the music and the scene. My first trip to Detroit for ‘Journey through the Hardcore’ (Jan 6, 1993) was monumental: hearing Jeff Mills for the 1st time. After this, I travelled to Detroit as often as possible. Our crew threw our first event in May 1993 called ele-mental. We were all about lo-fi, lo-key parties with a focus on the music – equal parts Detroit styled minimalist events and low budget art happenings.”
You have amassed a pretty impressive discography and work with some equally talented people – care to share your highlights?
“I was completely blown away when I received a phone call from Dan Curtin in November 1994. He had heard a couple of tracks I made for Charles’ Fusion cassette tape series and wanted to release them on Metamorphic. I sent him two more new tunes about a month later and that became my first release. It is really difficult to pick highlights to be honest! Receiving a call from Dego saying he wanted a track for the ‘Deepest Shade of Techno’ still blows my mind. I’ve learned so much about working on tunes through my collaborations. Morgan Geist was great to work with as is Fabrice Lig. Then there is John Tejada, John is a beast in the studio! There are some tunes which I really take pride in. ‘Even Deeper’ with Fabriec Lig was just one of those moments. When we were mixing down the down tune, we were just like – DAMN – did we really make that? Voyeurism as a whole is a highlight for me, the tunes are very personal and all fit together well”.
Do you ever look back and think damn, I should have done that differently?
“Not too much actually. The only thing that really comes to mind is the budget limitations to recording the “Selections for Intercourse” album. There are quite a few mistakes by the musicians (myself included) on that recording that cannot be undone.”
How do you feel your approach has evolved over the years?
“It has remained fairly the same actually. The only change really is being conscious of DJing: making tunes to be played out versus being listened to.”
Your currently working on a whole bunch of new projects?
“I’m super busy at the moment which is a good thing. I’m planning to relaunch Residual Recordings in late 2015/Early 2016; the next 3 releases will be Refraction Vol 2-REZ 018, an EP by John Tejada REZ019 and Refraction Vol 3- REZ 020. The Refractions series will feature tracks by Christopher Rau, Frits Wentink, Xtrak aka Todd Sines, Jeff Samuel, Tom Churchill, Joshua Gilliland Myself. In 2011, I started working on tracks for a full length album. The working title of which is ‘Perversions’. The album will be 9 to 11 tracks and everything will be written for electronics, live strings, vocals, drums and other musicians. Be sure to look out for a crowd funding campaign later this year to help with the recording process! I am 9 tracks into it and would like to write 13 to 15 in total. Then pick the best 9 or so. I will go back to working on that project after I finish all of the releases and remixes I have been asked to do, which include remixes for D. Knox, Kito Jempere and US based Krahel along with EPs for Soul Research, Metamorphic, YAY Records, Common Dreams, God Particle and Residual.”
Has Techno always been about expressing a vision of the future for you or do you think that’s too narrow a definition?
“Science Fiction has always been an interest of mine. The whole idea of what and who is out there in the universe. We are not alone – music made from Technology in my personal view is what Techno is. It’s a rather simplistic definition, but it works. Fabricating aliens soundscapes is at its essence futuristic, but not the end all to be all.”
What do you think about the whole resurgence of analogue equipment at the moment. Are you tempted by a modular set up?
“I think it is great. Knobs, buttons and sliders everywhere. Love it! A modular set up would be fantastic so if anyone wants to donate $100,000 to get me going…”
Finally, what’s your advice to give to young artists currently finding their feet and enjoying electronic music for the first time:
“Do your research and respect the past. Do not get into making this music for money. You will be very disappointed. Be true to yourself. When having electronic music as your form of expression and above all – do not worry about trends.”