See OktoRed at Movement on Monday, from 4:30-6 p.m. on the Underground Stage.
Movement brought the world of electronic dance music to OktoRed when he was a kid in high school. Now, he's bringing in a version of Detroit bass music to the rest of the world.
The Motor City's OktoRed (aka Joel Dunn) might be the first artist to play Movement to have been inspired by its music in its 13-year history to want — and earn — his own career in electronic dance music.
A suburban metalhead who grew up in a household where dad was bandmates with Grande Ballroom buddies of the MC5, Dunn discovered electronic music through late-night mix shows on urban radio in the mid-'90s. He soon traded guitars for gear and was on his way to making tracks steeped in Detroit's classic and ghettotech traditions. But he kept one eye on the future — or at least outside Detroit — and his sonic reference points include the slowed-down reggae-house style called moombahton, the wildly popular dubstep and the future bass-juke.
After almost a decade of dabbling, Dunn committed to music full time late last year after being robbed at gunpoint — and it's paying off. Last year, he was named one of Beatport.com's 2012 Detroit Artists to Watch and has a new EP, "Gemini 1," out on the YoSucka! label, as well as remixes for DJ 3000 and releases under Generation Bass out of UK. His first gig as a bona fide Movement artist is Monday, from 4:30-6 p.m. on the Underground Stage.
Metro Times: What impact did the early festivals way back in the DEMF days have on you?
OktoRed: There were three performances that really left a lasting impression on me, Adult., The Kooky Scientist and Laurent Garnier. My favorite was Adult. — very futuristic while maintaining this insanely old feel. I still listen to the bootleg from that performance on a regular basis. It was just real music, no more, no less.
MT: Speaking of 'real music," you come from a more traditionally Detroit rock 'n' roll family, correct?
OktoRed: I grew up in a very musical house — my dad still plays in an old-school garage rock band with all these guys who hung out with the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom. I think one of the guys used to play with Bruce Springsteen. So, yeah.
MT: Electronic music must have made you sort of the white sheep of the family. How'd you get into that?
OctoRed: I actually got way more into metal via White Zombie and then into more heavy stuff like Cannibal Corpse and Obituary, but I also started getting into a lot of trip-hop stuff listening to DJ Shadow and Tricky. From there I kind of fell into industrial music and then jungle. The radio stations like 96.3 and 98.7 were playing stuff like Poison Clan ["Shake Whatcha Momma Gave Ya"] which was more like electro than straight-up rap on their late-night mix shows. So then by the mid-'90s ghetto-tech started popping up and that got me right into the electro and techno and I was sold.
MT: So sort of full-circle. Metal certainly explains the taste for a lot of low-end. I think it's that taste for tasteful extremes. I mean, Mad Mike from Underground Resistance is like this King Crimson/Rush-level prog-rock guitarist who started out in band, which, you listen to how he approaches techno as this sort of sophisticated pummel, you can totally hear it. So how do you start making music?
OctoRed: The funny thing is that one of my dad's friends actually gave me an old Korg drum machine to practice with when I was playing guitar in a band. After a while, I realized I didn't need a band.
MT: How did that evolve into OktoRed?
OctoRed: I started making more glitchy-sounding stuff — not completely IDM [intelligent dance music], but in that vein of electronic music. In 2003 I started working with a classically trained French pianist-vocalist under the name Gauche Kids and we covered Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
MT: Which there are like a million covers of, but like a Leonard Cohen song, it gives people a frame of reference and a starting point, and by "people" I mean reference-hungry journalists and hotel lounge DJs — and by them I mean me.
OctoRed: Well, that cover and some originals actually did catch the attention of Brian Gillespie [Blue Collar Records, etc.] amongst other originals, so I guess, yeah, sort of.
MT: Now your sound, and what I really like about it, is that it shows that command of that really authoritative, kind of less-is-more Detroit sensibility — I mean that one track, "Broken Car Windows," everything sounds like it's happening at, like, 3 a.m., I dunno, maybe it's just the reverb — but it's not "techno" in that classic sense. And you've done dubstep remixes of Katy Perry songs, which would be blasphemous if Mark "MK" Kinchen, a techno O.G. from like 1990, wasn't producing super-commercial Pitbull tracks for the Men In Black 3 soundtrack these days. So where does all this, I guess you could call it "post-Detroit," sensibility come from? I mean, dubstep is kind of everything great and terrible about dance music right now.
OctoRed: Actually, around 2004 I started working with emcees from Detroit doing more straightforward rap and hip-hop stuff, so that was pretty Detroit-y, I guess you could say. I was listening to a lot of the grime [U.K. rap style] stuff coming off of the pirate radio stations — I absolutely loved the bass and the way these British emcees were tearing through the beats lyrically. It was all about hype and danceability. Then I started hearing some of the deeper, more dubby dubstep stuff coming from the UK and I wasn't completely impressed — the beats didn't move me. By then I found a local emcee with Jamaican roots and we started recording our own brand of grime tracks. Nothing really came of it but did get a better sense how to make tracks that were more DJ-friendly. And then that UK dubstep came out and I was shocked — both at how it sounded but also how popular it was over here [like Skrillex].
MT: Dubstep is like a DJ/dance genre designed for people with no reference points to DJ or dance culture. I mean, it's like if Korn had invented dub reggae instead of Lee "Scratch" Perry.
OctoRed: I never associated it with dance music, but it had some primal thing I really liked. It was like how I thought drum n' bass should have been sounding — just minus the breaks. It also sounded more to me like the grime stuff with less of a soul. I still get chills when I hear a massive tune on a giant system, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere fast.
MT: So how do you make the transition from a dubstep dabbler to "OktoRed: the future of Detroit bass for the rest of the world."
OctoRed: Last October, on what seemed to be an average delivery at my pizza job, I turn a corner and have a gun in my gut. At that point I knew I had to make a change and get very serious with the music, because anything could happen — and almost did.
MT: You can do it full time?
OktoRed: Well, now juggling music as work, instead of music and work, trying to balance between the OktoRed stuff, Cocky Balboa (GhettoTech/Juke) stuff. I'm still working with Lise as Gauche Kids and helping her with her second solo release for Cinq7 out of France. I'm pretty much a recluse.
MT: Where does OktoRed sit within the Detroit traditions?
OktoRed: Detroit music has always been about keeping things fresh and original. I mean you listen to "Strings of Life" and then, like, "Knights of the Jaguar" 10 years later, and those are like, completely different and original. For me, I'm not trying to keep up with what is going on everywhere else in the world. Even with the brand of moombahton I've been making, I make it my own.
MT: Let's talk about that. I mean, a reggae-fied version of Dutch music sounds about as funky as fanny packs on German tourists in white socks and sandals. How does it go over being a Detroit cat doing moombahton? I mean, why moombahton?
OktoRed: I really like the slower tempo and the different groove you can get out of the 106-115 BPM [beats per minute] as opposed to the 124-145 BPM range. Moombahton has less preconceptions so there's more wiggle room than writing stuff like tech-house or even dubstep now.
MT: But people are picking up on it?
OktoRed: It's a little harder to get a crowd to catch on because it's slower than most of the stuff at the clubs. I've actually gotten a better response outside of Detroit. For example, I have an EP coming out via a UK label Generation Bass in early June. They have featured a couple of my tracks on prior compilations as well. I'd say 90 percent of our vinyl sales come from Europe as well. It seems like a lot of people are looking to Detroit artists for new stuff but with a certain Midwestern sensibility for dance music. But right now I'm really trying to capture more than just club tracks. I'm really into the melodic side of dance music. Good melody with banging drums equal win.
MT: What does it mean to be playing Movement?
OktoRed: It means that I've made at the very least some good impression on the powers that be around here. I am 100 percent excited and zero percent nervous at this point in time.