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Interview with DVS1

img  Tobias Fischer

To Zak Khutoretsky, there can be no compromises in DJing. It's either full commitment or nothing, absolute dedication or none at all. As DVS1,  Khutoretsky has developed a personal style allowing him to channel his  sentiments through a combination of knowledge, virtuosity, deep listening and unfettered passion. DVS1 sets never mark time, they're constantly moving, transforming, shapeshifting, equally musically challenging and physically stimulating. The same can be said about the releases of his hush- and mistress imprints, which have breathed new life into the idea of secret weapons. Still fledgling, Mistress has mostly been about showcasing the talents of rising producers, but Khutoretsky has recently returned to the studio himself to record a follow-up to his widely praised Klockwork 08 and HUSH 01 release. A new release is now immanent and although the silence has been long, you can expect the music to be worth the wait. Just as with DJing, after all, there are no compromises when it comes to producing for DVS1. 

We caught up with Zak for an interview about shaping sound in the moment, DJing as a technique for channeling emotions and the post-set blues.

What's the meaning of secret weapons in a time when nothing seems to be secret anymore?
I remember and come from a time where the DJ had things no one else had. Digital promotion wasn’t even a thing then and plenty of DJs had tracks no one else had that they were playing out at the time. Now everything is being stolen, given away, charted, promoted to death etc ... The tracks on mistress have been things that I have played over the last year or so and I've never shared them, never gave them to anyone else. Many of these tracks were the little gems that helped me describe my emotion, my vibe or show my energy on any given night. They are almost always not the typical sound that people associate with my name, but I don't come from just techno. I love lots of different music and try and incorporate any and all types of beats and rhythms into my sets.

What's your perspective on the ongoing relevance of labels today?
I think a record label is still one of the most relevant pieces of expression an artist such as myself can have. Especially on the scale we are doing it, it only makes sense to have an outlet that you control 100% of. No one tells me how many, how often or what it should sound like. I choose what I want to put out, when I want to put it out and how it will be presented to my audience or fans. I go through the entire process of creating, playing, mastering, designing (with help) and then releasing these projects. On the other hand, the sea of digitally accessible music is currently making it a bit too easy for just anyone to make something … and put it out. I’m not arguing for the relevance of digital or vinyl, I’m arguing for the creative process and quality control of music in general. If you have to actually have a process and put your money where your mouth is, you think twice about releasing something mediocre or something that you don't believe in 100%.

How important are not just the entertainment- but also the curatorial functions of DJs?
To quote an old friend and musical inspiration, TRAXX from Chicago: "I don’t play what you want, I play what you need". That is the difference in our genre compared to something more mainstream. There is definitely still a balance of entertainment vs. art. But I feel that for the most part people are coming to still see what we do and are open to the ride that we take them on.

I’ve had plenty of nights that fans expecting something, running up to me fist pumping and screaming the words techno, techno, techno ... Only for me to play a deeper set and find them dancing with their eyes closed later thanking me for doing something “unexpected”.

I think if this genre of music is to be respected and looked at in the future as something legitimate, then it is our responsibility as artist’s to push knowledge and education as much as entertain our crowds. I don’t just play what’s new or what the charts say is popular today, I try and play timeless music.

When you started out as a DJ yourself, DJing was still a fairly young artform. Apart from the technological changes, in which way, would you say, was it different from today in terms of concept, approach and mentality?
There are the obvious differences in technology. Before, you only had Technics turntables, a mixer and your records. Now you can play with CDs, USB, computer, controller, turntable ... The biggest impact I think this new era has brought is that ANYONE who can download some software and some tracks off a blog can now call themselves a DJ. Similar to the issue above about labels and their relevancy, DJs used to have to invest money, time, blood and sweat to start DJ’ing. That sacrifice made a bit of a natural selection of who took this seriously and who just wanted to do it because it looked cool. Now that line is no longer there and unfortunately its bringing a lot of mediocre people to a position they aren’t intended to fill.

One of these things that set you apart is your deeper understanding of the relevance of the club's sound system.
I’ve said that the physical feeling of the sound system is almost as important as what you're actually hearing. This music - house, techno - is body music. It's based around a drum that repeats over and over. It's vibration and tones and pressure that you need to feel as much as hear. When I know I’m playing on a great soundsystem I can play so much more thoughtful and deeper. When I walk in to a smaller system, I’m almost compensating for the energy that's missing from the physicality of the sound and I end up playing harder music. My ideal set up is one that allows me to feel the music the same way the crowd does. I need subs, and tops in the booth to really feel that. I manipulate and Eq things constantly and the more I hear/feel the better the final result will be.

What, concretely, are you working on with the Eqs?
I mix aggressively. I don't just let tracks play - I play them. I’m always in the mix, I’m always working when I'm up there. It goes with my aesthetic about the sound systems as well. If I can really feel what I’m doing, all the little subtleties and shifts, then my manipulation or drawing out of one sound or another makes the most sense. I’m always pushing my own boundaries and abilities with each set. Some people have made comments that I don't look up much, or that I don't interact with the crowd, but I always wonder if those people are actually watching or aware of what I’m really doing. You will never see me up there waving my arms or being social. I’m at work, and if my head is down and my hands are moving, then don't worry if I’m looking at the crowd or not. I’m very aware of what’s happening on the dancefloor and I’m extremely sensitive to the vibe in the room.

As part of your approach, you're sometimes considerably reworking tracks. What's your perspective on respecting the original versus creating something original?
To clarify what I use when DJ’ing: 2 Technics, 2 CD-Js and a mixer. As far as DJ’ing the tracks and using only short parts, or adding them as a layer on a third deck, I see nothing wrong with that, it's on the fly, and it's live, never to be repeated unless by accident. I miss not knowing what the DJ was playing, or hearing a snippet of what I thought I knew only to be thrown a left turn by the next track and wondering where that other bit disappeared to. The point of this music is to take you away from what you know, from what you expect and to lose yourself in the moment.

Can you tell me a bit about what it feels like to express your personal emotions through other people's tracks?
Technically I feel solid now, so what’s left is for me to come from a different perspective, to focus on the message and the feeling. I’ve realised that for me, this music, whether when I DJ or when I produce is essentially a moment in time I’m capturing. A feeling or emotion I’m trying to describe through sound. I’m a very honest and usually an open person. That openness makes what I do either work very well and allow people to vibe with me, or if I’m not in the mood, if my mind is on something really heavy or even wandering about not sure, then my sets will have that feeling as well. I remember playing recently when I was in a very stressed and unsure place in my head and the people who know me well said they could hear it, they could hear that I couldnt‘ find my way in the music. As much as I hated knowing that my emotional state was in plain site, I realized the positive was that I was still doing what I do in terms of describing my emotion through music.

How important is track selection versus the mixing from your point of view and how do you select the tracks to play in your sets?
To me, I see music as an emotion, vibe or attitude. You could even say I see it in colors. Each track is more of a tool, since I come from the DJ perspective. So it's a blend of both equally. Of course the tracks matter, but the way I mix them, or layer them with other tracks can one night make a simple loop track the stand out track compared to the recognizable track in another DJ’s set. I rely on the momentum and vibe of the music I play to make an impact, not on one distinct moment.

You've gradually pushed yourself to longer and longer sets. Can you describe the sensations going through your mind and body when playing a twelve hour performance?
Let's first state that there has only been one place that I can continuously pull off these long sets. Berghain has given me this ability because the room, the sound, the dj booth, the crowd, the management and staff are all conducive to my performance. I have a lot of my own energy, but I also need the energy of the people and the sound to keep me going. I never knew I could play that long until I was put in the right place with the right tools to do it. It's completely exhausting emotionally and physicall. It's also a test of your ability and knowledge as a story teller. When you have 10 + hours you can’t just bang out track for track, you have to have something to say, you have to have a deeper knowledge of this music to not only keep the crowd interested but yourself!

Now I’m branching out to do some all night sets in a few venues that I trust and get a chance to show people who can’t make it Berghain to see me.

Do you feel you're getting better by branching out and playing as much as possible or is there something to be said for keeping things special and a bit more exclusive as well?
At first I definitely felt that the constant touring was good for me, it expanded my abilities and my stamina to DJ as well put me in a position to basically practice my skill every weekend. At this point, I’ve decided to actually slow down a bit and spend more time in the studio and back at home in the US. From the outside perspective my schedule still appears busy, but it's more thoughtful to my needs and finding a balance to keep it exciting and fresh.

The work of a DJ is ephemeral for the most part, sets turning into memories the morning after and then fading away. How do you feel about this?
It's a such an extreme rollercoaster. If you're someone like me who is honest with the music, themselves, then you are truly exposing yourself up there each night. We are up there bearing our souls and giving everything we have to the crowd. They are out there having these amazing experiences and on some level sharing that energy back with us through dancing, screaming and smiling etc. But at the end of the night, when most people might go continue their experience with a partner, an after party or whatever ... when it's all over, we end up alone in our hotel room, ears ringing, no sleep, running to the airport to do it all over again. It's a tough subject, because I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but to say that it's easy, or to say that I don't feel anything wouldn’t be true. I now understand first hand, why many DJs show up 30 minutes before they play, and leave right after. For me I want to save all my energy for the moment when I’m performing and am able to share it.

Interview with DVS1 by Tobias Fischer
Photos by sbh Photography

Homepage: DVS1 on Facebook
Homepage: Mistress Records on Bandcamp

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