A RAW Cut with MCDE

Interview with Motor City Drum Ensemble

A RAW Cut with MCDE

21-08-2014 | 10.11

A few years back, a close friend played me a record. It was around the time house was experiencing a well-deserved resurgence in Europe. It re-introduced the genre to its Chicago and Detroit roots while it also explored the deeper bass lines that were left behind from the dubstep era. The track was called Frontin and it was unique to everything else that was around at the time. It still tipped its hat to the origins of dance music, but there was a raw quality that was unrivaled amongst its contemporaries. I was hooked. After inquiring, my friend informed me that German artist Danilo Plessow created Frontin under the guise of Motor City Drum Ensemble, a name that reflects his auto-Industry-home origins of Stuttgart. Shortly after I was introduced to the rest of the MCDE catalogue and the remarkable RAW Cuts series, a collection of music mostly lifted from other records, which exposed the avid music fan in Plessow. Sampled from the disparate corners of music’s vast language the RAW cuts series brings everything from Afro-Jazz to Soul together in the form of adventurous dance music. (The last release on MCDE’s own label of the same name is a collection of remixes from this series.) As a DJ, MCDE’s exceedingly legendary reputation behind the decks has also preceded the artist, but due to the excessive demands of touring, he took an indefinite hiatus from touring to assess the validity of this schedule on his personal life. During this break, he started Vermont, a collaborative project with Marcus Worgull, which showed another side to the producer through heavy textures of vast synthesized landscapes that negate any measured rhythmic and melodic possibilities in favor of harmonic constructs. He has recently returned to touring after a much-needed rest, but has kept his appearances selective to avoid the same strenuous circumstances from the past. We, at Trouw have been fortunate enough to have had Danilo entertain us a few times in the past and thanks to a recent move to Utrecht, we’ve enjoyed a privileged position to see more of MCDE than any other dance institution since his return to the stage. He’ll be back this Friday and for those that have had the pleasure to see this DJ perform, know what to expect. He has obliged in answering a few questions for us, ahead of this performance and we get a rare insight into the esoteric nature of Motor City Drum Ensemble. 

It’s only a train journey from your home in Utrecht. We know that you got your start in Stuttgart, but how has Utrecht and the Netherlands influenced your music and your sets?
"I really like it here in the Netherlands and finding good records is way easier than it was in Germany, so the regular spots like Rush Hour, Redlight Records, as well as some more remote secret spots have definitely influenced me. It's great to have a hub like rush hour with their great selection and of course it’s also great to have a playground like Trouw where you have an open-minded crowd to test your new records."

You must be very familiar with Trouw and its audience after playing there on numerous occasions before. What is it about the venue that makes you want to come back, especially considering your very selective appearance schedule?
"What I love most about Trouw is that it is actually quite a big club, yet it feels way more intimate than most of the "super clubs" like Berghain, Fabric etc.. In this way I think it's also easier there to play weirder records, because the crowd is open towards it. I’m sure gonna miss it!"

If there were a track that would define your experiences with Trouw what would it be?
"I was truly moved when I dropped Eastbound Expressway's "Better Look Before You Leap" at Trouw back last year at ADE. I had never played that one before and it went off really well - since then it’s become one of my personal classics, I guess."

Let’s get into your music, because your last release was as your collaborative alias Vermont.  It was a departure from both the dance floor and your work as MCDE. Was this a reaction to working with Marcus Worgull or a need to explore new territory as an artist?
"That was basically just two good friends having fun in the studio without thinking about whether this will ever be released. It was a lot of fun and very relaxing, kind of like yoga in the studio haha!"

Am I correct in thinking that that album was mostly improvised?
"Yes, it was almost 100% improvised and usually we also stuck with the first take. So it came together really quick, which is nice because my own stuff always takes forever."

I assume it was to bring an emotive quality into the music. You always seem to achieve that in MCDE productions. How do you manage to get that visceral edge in your music without over saturating it with vocal samples, when considering a track like Frontin? 
"Wow Frontin is an old one, I don’t really remember how that one was done, but yes, I always try to bring some heartfelt emotions into my music. That’s just what happens naturally, I don’t force it. Its probably because of my preferences in music, like growing up listening to stuff like Yuseef Lateef's "Love theme from Spartacus", Coltrane etc.. I just love music that carries a certain sadness."

Besides some remixes at the beginning of this year, you haven’t done a RAW CUTS track in a while. Do you have anything on the cards for that series?
"We kind of finished the Raw Cuts with the remix twelve inch that came out a couple months back. That doesn’t mean I will never do music like this, but I was just afraid of the "brand" part that comes with the name. It’s become so big that I feel like I needed to change the name and also the concept a bit. But I love sampling and it’s still my forte, so you can definitely expect tracks that will be somewhat in that vein."

I assume the sampling side of things originated from your relentless pursuit of finding new and interesting music, while digging through crates that might find its way into your set? 
"Yes, I’ve bought some really obscure African disco in Paris two days ago that I definitely plan on playing.. Spiritual boogie from Togo."

Thank you for taking your time to answer these questions, Danilo. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
"I just want to thank Trouw for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to have this residency in the last year. You guys changed Amsterdam forever and I’m truly sad to see it close. But we still have half a year to celebrate, so let's do just that."

Text: Mischa Mathys