JEFF MILLS for FBL: The biggest strength of Techno music is the freedom to explore
When we read biographies of other electronic music artists, no matter if they are techno, house or trance DJ’s, visual artists, designers etc., we will notice that one name frequently shows up as important and often as the most important inspiration – Jeff Mills. Everyone who follows and listens to electronic music is familiar with this name. Jeff Mills – an enigma, a visionary, an alien, the God of Techno, the number one. We had an honor to exchange a few words with this fascinating artist from Detroit, and talk about his latest album The Clairvoyant, the decades of his work, what inspires him and more.
Mr. Mills, first of all, I would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity and for sparing some of your time for this interview. To someone who is guided and inspired by techno music for his whole life, it is a great honor to be able to ask you a few questions.The Wizard, Man From Tomorrow, The Messenger, The Visitor, The Clairvoyant. The theme that’s often present in your music is bringing the news from the other side and selflessly sharing it with the people. Is that what inspires you when you create and play music, to present something new to the people, something out of this world which they have never had a chance to encounter with?
– I think it could be reflective of the way I was influenced and learned about music. Growing up in Detroit in 1970 and 80s, there were many examples to watch. Throughout Disco era and the late 1970s, there were many funk bands that appeared themselves to be from another time and dimension. Down to groups like Parliament Funkadelic, Soul Sonic Force to Public Enemy. The Detroit radio personality The Electrifying Mojo had a major affect – there was always this special way of presenting music like it was cryptic messaging from another realm. That and my fondness for comics and science fiction brewed an outlook that constantly points toward the Future and the Other World.
When I listen to the music, I always imagine how would people who never heard such music react to it. I believe that the first encounter with something new is far more intense than if you get used to it, and I often miss that feeling. Would you prefer to play music in front of an experienced crowd or to people who never heard something like your music?
– I would prefer to present to the most experienced because the odds of understanding the idea and concept have a greater chance of being understood. I think that if Artists think and create too much for the least most educated, music itself suffers from that marginalization.
When I was listening to your latest album The Clairvoyant, I was trying to hear it with the ears of someone that has never heard your music before, so I could get the non-biased impression and so that I wouldn’t compare it to your previous works. At the beginning it sounded a bit frightening, but as the story developed the feeling became warm and positive, as I felt guarded by the hypnotic music that guided me through a pretty dark theme. Do you believe that it’s similar to the experience of a séance with a clairvoyant and is it possible that it is its true purpose, to have someone as your guide and protector while you’re facing the dark side?
– Well, the other side doesn’t always have to be considered as dark. The intention of the album was to give the listener a type of ceremonial feeling. That the music could be matter of consequence, and not for recreational design. It was not made to make someone feel good, but rather, created to awaken a person’s internal feelings about the possibility of when a person dies, their soul transcends to another place.
Let’s imagine that we’re going to a séance with a clairvoyant, a techno event or an art performance, without any knowledge or experience about how it actually looks like. We heard some stories and we got an impression that it will be intense, we feel butterflies in the stomach and even fear. Can mystique and preconception intensify the experience?
– I believe it can and even more if the person has already experienced that [Techno event] situation before and knows what the atmosphere feels like. Techno music can be quite infectious. I think that when music is presented as just one element in a larger context, along with a subject, a theme and purpose that the listener might already have an impression on, it becomes easier to distort that impression.
The intention of the album The Clairvoyant was to give the listener a type of ceremonial feeling. That the music could be matter of consequence, and not for recreational design
What gives you the feeling of mystique and how much it inspires you?
– I’m generally inspired by things that often defy normal reasoning. Subjects and possibilities that are beyond our World. Not only that, but what it takes to get there. Space and Time Travel, Remote viewing and out-of-body experiences, The Escape Velocity, etc.
How do you accomplish to have your music be so haunting and introspective, but also playful and cheerful at the same time? The perfect example would be the track Questions, Decisions And Consequences, from the latest album. I would name this feeling a soul dance, and I would describe it as if your soul was dancing in the transcendental realm, while your body was standing still in the reality.
– In a concept like this, the tracks are as only relevant as they are effective, so I had to work on the tracks until they made me feel a certain way. On that particular track, some elements are made of individual rhythm scales and only occasionally do they repeat the same bar together. So, the impression of simplicity is there, but it is really a long accumulation of effort by the parts. This was thought of because I really wanted the listener to invest in the time to listen through the track.
You were making music in various genres and you were often musically ahead of your time, whether it was Hip-Hop, Electro, Industrial or Ambient, and you were one of the first artists that combined Techno with classical music and Jazz. You have committed to Techno music the most, which is considered the symbol of futurism, and you took it further than anyone before. Do you still consider Techno as the music of the future, especially since it’s becoming more and more mainstream and not so unusual?
– Like in any genre, there are various styles and levels because it’s the result of many people creating. Techno Music is not just one type of sound. It never was. I think because we think that what we hear is what it is, is a easy way to assume. But this case or probably in any creative art, consolidating to make an impression isn’t always a good thing. For example, some Jazz artists disagreed with the term Jazz. Many artists (and I agree) viewed it as Black Classical Music. I do not view Techno as music of the future. I think it’s a device that we can use to think about it. And if we think enough about it, we might want to materialize those ideas.
I’m generally inspired by things that often defy normal reasoning. Subjects and possibilities that are beyond our World. Not only that, but what it takes to get there. Space and Time Travel, Remote viewing and out-of-body experiences, The Escape Velocity, etc
A bit more than a decade ago, Minimal oversaturated the Techno scene and the music got slower and softer. It lost its speed, intensity and sometimes even its expression. Today we have an opposite situation where DJ’s are mixing Techno with Trance, Hard Dance, and even Gabba; the music is getting faster, more aggressive and sometimes banal, reaching the other extreme. As someone who was present in Techno from the beginning, what do you think about it and do you believe that there is a boundary where Techno starts to fade into one of these extremes?
– From what I’ve seen, there is always constant balancing. One action creates another. All are necessary and its probably wise to not measure by the moment. Instead, what is most important is to look at what the common threads are between all these styles or the people that make it. Overall, I think it’s rather useless to try and define something that is constantly moving, changing and evolving.
What do you consider as the biggest strength/ability/magic of Techno music?
– The freedom to explore.
In the past period, the world was struck by many turbulences, such as pandemic, civil unrests across the world, but also wars and huge economic crises. Different Techno institutions published their opinion and always took side with the endangered ones, at present, but also in the past. As a former member of UR, a Techno group famous by its expressed political stances, how much do you feel that Techno movement is political and socially engaged? Is there a room for politics in Techno?
– As long as I’ve known, music was always political. It is because music is the result of what people think about. What they envision and what they would like to see. This makes it a politically infused form of communication. So, the idea of there being room as if fame and fortune is all that music is about, is misleading. Sometimes, music is just the extension of what people feel and what the listener does with it is actually something else.
For a long time you haven’t released other artists on your Axis label, and then in the past and present year, you have released great albums by contemporary Techno heavyweights such as Echelon (Jeroen Search), DVS1, Jonas Kopp, Dimi Angelis, Deetron etc. What made you take this step?
– When this pandemic struck and everything came to a halt, one of things I imagined was that certain areas of the dance music industry might suffer to a point of extinction. I thought about the style of Techno that is mainly responsible for pushing this genre forward. The style that produces the most innovative ideas and truthfully, the style that moves the most people (mentally and physically), it was the style of Science Fiction Techno. A form that has been here since the early beginnings of Techno. The music made for ideas and concepts about the Future and Space Science. I imagined that our industry would let these artists that produce this style, just fade away without any attempt to preserve this artform. So, I decided to create something that these artists would have a project to release and connect with their listeners. The project is called The Escape Velocity.
Each one of these new releases, but also the old ones such as the ones by Elektrabel and DJ Surgeles, immediately reached a cult status. It’s like everything that comes out on Axis immediately becomes a timeless classic. How does the Axis maintain the status of the most influential label without the aggressive marketing, practiced by many labels today?
– Well, the music has to be special. It has to have something to say creatively. As A&R, I have to be convinced that these artists really know what they’re doing and that their music just isn’t like that by chance – that there is real thought behind.
You are more concentrated on the albums, rather than singles and EP’s, unlike most of the artists that rarely release albums. What attracts you in this format?
– Artists are mostly defined by their albums, rarely by singles. An album is a composite view of an artist’s thoughts at that time in their lives. Albums are important because they can be measured on the progress of an artist. So, at this time in my career, I’m thinking a lot! Nearing close to 100 albums so far, the album has become something of a time capsule or something that might be found and opened by far in the future. I’m interested in making music about things that might be relevant to someone ahead in time, not always for today.
This year, you started a digital magazine The Escape Velocity. In the time when artists are mostly communicating with their public through social media and eventually blogs, you have chosen the magazine, which is pretty old-school format. What made you choose this format?
– A magazine or fanzine of this nature was something that I realized was missing from our industry. An assemblance of interviews, articles and content for people that have a long relationship with dance music was just not there. We’ve always had magazines and medias, but most are focused on all those things that revolve around music, not music itself as an art form. This current pandemic made me see this. We choose the form of magazine because though we have blogs and other formats, the idea of not knowing what’s on the next page can still be interesting. In re-thinking this concept of what a magazine could be and what the digital form provides, we can reach more people, faster with more content and new ideas.
Artists are mostly defined by their albums, rarely by singles. An album is a composite view of an artist’s thoughts at that time in their lives. Albums are important because they can be measured on the progress of an artist
You are currently leading one of the most influential labels and its many sublabels, you lead a magazine, you release so many albums, you have side-projects where you explore new genres, you even held your own exhibitions… How do you accomplish all of this?
– With true passion.
For the last question, can you tell us which art pieces had the biggest impact on you?
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