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Desyn Masiello interview


written by Yuri Wuensch

Chat with DJs like Danny Howells, John Digweed and Deep Dish, amongst many others, and ask them who's a name we should be watching out for and Desyn Masiello is always on the top of their list. After the Voice got through chatting with Desyn, not to mention hearing his latest mix CD compilation, Balance 008 on EQ Recordings, we've been made believers, too. Desyn is without doubt among the more thoughtful DJs I've ever spoken to about the actual art of DJing.

Read on as I ask Desyn about his three labels, the healing power of rhythm from Peru, bad questions from the press, where to get the best music and an ill-fated gig in Taiwan.

Yuri: How old are you and how long have you been playing?

Desyn: I'm 32 and I started getting the bug at about 15 or 16.

And how are you?

I had a late night; I went to bed at about one o'clock this afternoon. (It was almost 6 p.m. that day when we reached Desyn) I get a bit of a bug looking for records and sometimes I just can't stop. It was about a 12-hour straight hunt on the Internet looking for tunes. You literally have to spend that much time to find the best stuff.

I've read that about you before, that you do the marathon sessions just listening to music.

That's a good way of putting it. I've been two weeks without leaving my room. That is a proper marathon. It's kind of an addiction looking for music. If you DJ three or four times a week like I do, as well, you love the music you play but you want to keep yourself kind of on the edge, inspired and surprised. Sometimes I'm just listening to new music for myself. It's nice to play the same music over and over again, especially if it's a really good song, but eventually you want to hear something new. The first time you hear a song is probably the most special. It's almost like a drug; the first hit is always the best. You're trying to always retain that feeling and it's the same with music. That's why I'm kind of an addict, because I'm always looking for that first feeling you get from an amazing track.

Where do you go looking for music?

I look on Beatport, Juno Records, Planet X and Magnetic Grooves, which is probably the best one.

So, you're all over the map then?

Yeah, German sites, Italian sites. If I had time, I would literally go to all the local places and look at their specific sites, but I don't really have enough time these days. I only have time to look at the main ones, really.

Do you mainly look on MP3 sites?

No, I mainly buy vinyl, but I've started to buy .wav files now, because the quality is better than MP3s. They do sound pretty good now, most of the MP3s. I've actually bought MP3s recently that sound better than vinyl, but maybe that's just because of a bad vinyl pressing. But the technology is getting into a good state now.

A lot of the MP3 sites are offering stuff encoded at a really high bit rate these days, right? That's better than CD quality sound, isn't it?

It's a bit of a mystery, actually. A lot of people say that. But when you amplify the sound on a club sound system, whether it actually is the same... I don't know. I've heard people say that it isn't the same. I'm not sure if that applies because the more you amplify something the bigger the discrepancies get. I don't know, to be honest. But I know that .wav files sound amazing. Beatport is selling them as is Magnetic Grooves. Real hardcore audio junkies will always go for .wav files. And that's me, definitely.

I'm not sure a lot of big DJs would make that investment of time to listen to music like that. Some of them depend solely on the music they get sent.

The music I get sent... I don't even listen to it most of the time - it just sits in the corner. I've discovered that isn't the place to find the best music. The best music is out in the stores and you have to spend the time looking for it. There's no one source for the best music and there's no one artist that consistently produces good music. You might get one or two a year, someone like Mylo or Eric Prydz, that you know they always make really good stuff. But amazing music seems to be hit and miss. But that's the way dance music is. There are hundreds of thousands of producers out there now, and there are thousands of releases out every week. But to find those gob-smacking gems, you've got to put the time in. If you don't, you're not serving the people you're playing to as well as you could. Simply put, the DJ isn't doing their job.

You played some dates last year alongside John Digweed. I read that you surprised him with a few of your selections. That must be pretty gratifying to surprise a guy like him.

Yeah, but I think the way I surprised him was just by spending more time looking for records than he does (laughs). People are impressed when they hear a good tune and if there's a DJ playing it then they relate it to that DJ. The more you put in the more you get out of it, there's nothing more to it than that, really. I just worked my tits off for a while.

You've got two labels yourself (Alternative Route and Sex on Wax). Do you find it difficult to make that kind of time looking for new music?

Three labels now, actually.

What's the third?

The third is called Symphonic and the first release is just coming out - Wize's "Again." If there's any trainspotters out there, Magnetic Grooves will have the MP3 promo coming out. I used it on my Balance CD and played it on Essential Mix from Miami last year. It's a really great track.

How do you find the time to DJ, produce and run three labels?

I just work with really great people. I don't have time to run labels, do royalty statements, calculate taxes and all that stuff. The secret is finding good people to work with, which is what I've done. If you have good partners, you don't have to have all the responsibility on yourself. There's five of us doing A&R. Now and again, I'll come up with something that fits the vibe of a particular label and they'll do the same.

I've read that you don't play out tracks from Alternative Route. I find that kind of funny.

It's not that I don't. I do occasionally play an Alternative Route track... Chris Lake "Changes," which is at the end of my Balance 008 CD 1. I played that to death and played it everywhere. But the way I play, I may play a track once and never play it again. I may play another track two or three times a week. Alternative Route records may not exactly be my style, but they may still appeal to thousands of people. It's not a reflection of my tastes, specifically, but it is about great music.

You seem downright philosophical about the connections between the DJs and the audiences. You do a lot of reading on Eastern philosophy, don't you?

I read all the time. I read about four or five books a week.

Don't you sleep?

Ha. Mainly when I'm traveling, because I spend about 30 to 40 hours a week on planes. I do sleep (laughs). I sleep a helluva lot, actually. I just really utilize every second of my awake time to work or study. I guess the whole DJing thing is something I'm still trying to work out whether there's any kind of philosophical or spiritual connection there. The basic thing about DJing is that you're giving people vibrations through sound and you're trying to raise their consciousness or awareness, or mood or spirit. Than in itself is a very profound thing you're trying to do, right there. There's a connection between the DJ and the crowd, there's a communication going on there at a spiritual level. I'm constantly striving to raise that and do something special with it. I actually feel quite frustrated sometimes when I play a gig, because I feel like I want to give more to people all the time. Sometimes I feel quite limited with what I can do and I'm always trying to push and do more and more. It's fascinating what can be done with rhythm and music. I'm reading a book at the moment called The Forgotten Power of Rhythm. (<--For more on the book, click on the title and it will take you directly to its page on Amazon. Or on the cover image at left.) It's about certain shamans around the world that literally just use rhythm to heal people and put them into trance-like states. These kinds of things have been forgotten by most civilizations, but they're still held in some places by small tribes. It's ancient knowledge. They kind of use drumming rhythms to hypnotize a sick person's body to heal them of their injuries. There's thousands of shamans, for example, operating in Peru today that can heal people without science.

Does that kind of knowledge influence how you approach performing as a DJ?

I want to change people's way of thinking through music, if that's possible. If you can do it through reading books, I don't see why you can't do it through music. I'm looking into it because we're here to try and make the world a better place. I guess that's part of the mission.

I know you and Diggers appeared on CNN last year. You expressed some surprise that the questions they were asking you were quite good...

They were proper questions. They really hit the core. (laughs) Most interviews you get from big conglomerates like that or other magazines that aren't geared to music specifically will normally ask you questions that are, I don't know, pretty shallow. They basically asked me the question you just asked, but in one question: What is DJing and why is it a special thing in so many people's minds? You could answer it and say it's just playing music.

You could also have a hundred different answers for that, too.

Yeah, but the way he asked it, he was trying to get right to the root of it. I was like, ‘Wow, that's a good question.'

Conversely, what would be an example of a really terrible question you might get asked?

A terrible one would be, if you had to choose one record from your collection or if you're stuck on a desert island and you had to take one record with you, what would it be? It's such a stupid question. I know people just want to hear what records you love, but you'd never just take one record with you. It would be such a weird situation. So, that's a stupid question (laughs).

It might be more troubling if you were on the desert island and you had two turntables and no mixer.

That would be a bit of a bummer, yeah (laughs).

This goes back a few years and I'm not sure if you'll remember it or not, but in 2003 I saw you and Luke Fair in a club in Taichung, Taiwan for the In House We Trust 3 tour.

Ha. That sound system was a nightmare! The sound was bouncing off the walls.

So, you do remember it, because you two looked really unhappy.

The only thing that will affect my mood, and I've been through a lot of gigs now, and the ego will certainly play up sometimes when you walk into a club and there are only four people there, or somebody will come ask you for a bad song. All those things are irrelevant to your mood - they shouldn't affect you. But the one thing that still gets me to this day is if the equipment and setup is bad, because you want to give your best to the people. If you walk into a club and you can't hear anything because the monitor is echoing and you can hear five different sounds in the booth, it gets you down straight away.

It's funny that you remember that so many years later.

I pretty much remember all the gigs I've ever done, including whether the sound was good or bad. I think we mixed everything in the headphones that night, which is disappointing because you like to hear the music how the people hear it.

If it's any consolation, as bad as it may have sounded to you guys, it sounded just as bad on the dance floor.

Haha! Great! Thanks you've made it worse.

Thanks a lot, Desyn.

Thank you. Take care.

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