Throughout the last 10 years, many people have been responsible for the development of the techno music scene, and moving techno forward and seeing what is achievable through new ideas and architectures of sound and boundless creativity. Within the techno scene, few people can claim to have done quite so much as DJ Surgeon.
Growing up in the industrial centre of Birmingham, he rose swiftly to worldwide recognition with a barrage of startling releases in the early ’90s. Putting out material first on local label Downwards, before progressing on to imprints such as Tresor, and his own project Dynamic Tension, he shocked the globe with his uncompromising, machine edged music. Under his moniker of Surgeon, he also began tearing up the dancefloors with his jerky, virtuoso DJ skills, earning him the enviable position of one of the most famous players of the era; and playing a part, along with his fellow Downwards crew, in setting up Birmingham’s premier techno event, House of God.
Having recently launched his new label Counterbalance, and for the first time involved with releasing work by new artists, Tony continues to be a driving force in the music.
Throughout his career, he has been well known for his interest in music above all else, and tired of press distortions and media bullshit. Because of this, we have chosen with this interview to explore some of the less known sides of his work, and his feelings on the techno scene as a whole.
Question: There has always been much talk of Detroit forging the dancemusic it has become known for – what and how much influence has the city you live and develop in had upon your sound?
Answer: I’ve always felt that environment and experience have a large influence on my music. I think the main influence Birmingham has had is the fact that if something didn’t exist there, then we had to make it ourselves. There was no techno club, so we made our own (House of God). We’d heard about Lost in London, but didn’t have the money to come down to London for a night out so we just made it up as we went along, we had nothing to compare it to. With Downwards, Karl (Regis) started it because I played him some tracks I’d done. I never thought about sending them to another label, I just did them for the hell of it. This whole ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude is very strong in Birmingham.
Question: What positive things have you experienced in the techno music scene since you first became involved?
Surgeon: There is a much bigger network of distributors, promoters, booking agents and a lot more DJ’s than when I first became involved! These days I think it’s a lot harder to break into the scene that when I first started, today people seem a lot more ‘career minded’ about trying to break into the scene and ‘work their way up the ladder’
Question: In a scene occasionally stagnated by repetition – generic music, constant plagiarism, etc., how difficult do you find it to keep pushing ahead and creating new music with an edge, when it would be so easy to give up and jump on the bandwagon?
Answer: The techno scene seems to ‘fold in’ on itself very easily. Techno influenced by techno, influenced by techno… etc. I don’t hear most of the tracks that are put out these days, that doesn’t bother me. I know the good records will find me in the end. Musically, I draw influence from music outside just the techno music scene, whether it’s Coil, or Missy Elliot or The Velvet Underground, etc. I try to create my own ‘blend’. Too much techno music sounds as if the same producer created it all with the same setup, no character or personality to set it apart from all the other generic records.
Question: What are your thoughts on the rapid commercialization of electronica – is it a passing trend, or will the promise of money clamp it down until it falls apart?
Answer: For me it comes down to the difference between creating music and creating product, it depends on the motives behind its creation, but you can always hear them.
Question: Do you have an interest in other art mediums (film, literature etc), and if so what (or who)?
Answer: Yes, but it’s hard to make the time. Film – Mike Leigh, David Lynch, Francis Coppola Literature – William S. Burroughs, Bret Easton Ellis Photography – Cindy Sherman
Question: Do you think techno music has a long term future, or is its life limited?
Answer: Electronic dance music is very effective, so as long as people want to go out and have a dance it will be here. I don’t think techno will ever be the most popular form of dance music but I’m sure techno will always be around in some form.
Question: You once cited your greatest influences as The BBC workshop recordings and the Doctor Who theme – - in what way were you inspired by such electronic experimentation?
Surgeon: I’m sure most of us remember watching Dr Who when we were very young. I used to love the music and sound effects, they were sounds you’d never heard before, not of this world, very dark. My dad had a few Sci-Fi/Space themes records by BBC radiophonic workshop. I really liked these when I was about 4 or 5.
Question: Some would say that techno has long been influenced by external media, particularly science fiction – do you draw influences from such areas in creating your music, and how do you think the shift in the media towards electronica will affect those already producing it?
Answer: Apart from my answer to the last question, I wouldn’t say that science fiction is a big influence on me, I don’t follow it, but I do draw a lot of influence from external media and other types of music. The shift in the media towards electronic music makes it more popular, more people want to DJ than play the guitar and all that. None of this changes to way I work, the music is the most important thing, there are no real stars anymore