Interview: A Touch of Class
- Words: Fred Miketa
Oliver Stumm and Domie Clausen began their career as A Touch of Class by churning out mixes of off-kilter disco and outlandish electro-rock. Nearly 10 years later, the duo has remixed The Gossip, Scissor Sisters, Le Tigre, and A.R.E. Weapons, and released a hefty catalog of singles along with two full- lengths. All of these releases have blasphemed the beat-defined conventions of the dance-stratosphere. XLR8R sat down with Oliver recently to hear dish the dirt on shitty MySpace bands, the asexual nature of digital DJs, and why no one should remix Bob Marley.
A Touch of Class Still Sucks is out now on A Touch of Class Recordings.
XLR8R: How did A Touch of Class come into existence?
Oliver Stumm: I was in New York and Dominick (Domie) was in New York doing an internship for his graphic-design studies. I invited him to work with me–that’s how we formed A Touch of Class. We were discussing the problems with the dance field in the late ’90s–we were tired of the beat-defining genres… tech-house this, vocal-house that. We thought one should create something that isn’t defined by the beat. We wanted to make something that was about the attitude and approach of things.
What separated your songwriting from the beat-defining producers?
We were dabbling in different fields, intuitively. We produced a record that people would refer to as a mash-up. We made an Italo-disco mix–at the time nobody would even talk about Italo-disco. We created songs that had pop appeal–just getting away from the dance structures of the late ’90s.
People did not understand what we were doing. Distributors passed on our stuff, passing it off as unsellable. DJs would ask us, ‘Why should we play something like this? It doesn’t fit in with anything.’ We were like, ‘That’s the point. You should play something that doesn’t fit.’ You would walk into a club and hear two minutes of a DJ, and you knew how it was going to sound for the next five hours. Shouldn’t dance music be about new directions? New things? Be more experimental?
Do your remixes reflect that attitude?
Yes. We love working with bands like The Gossip and Services. A lot of bands we see look like high-school projects. It’s like in high school when the art teacher says, ‘Alright, you have two hours’ time. This is the topic. Come up with something.’ That’s how these bands sound. Then you hear a band like The Gossip or Services. It’s talent and substance. When we saw Services for the first time, there was so much charisma. It’s an honor to work with bands like that.
How do you feel about remixes you’re not too psyched on?
Sometimes you get a request to remix Marvin Gaye. We’re like, ‘No. Leave them alone. Some songs should not be remixed.’ And why? What’s the purpose? A remix of Bob Marley? The production is still outstanding today. Why make an abstract, dancey tune out of a Bob Marley song? Just make a new tune!
How do you feel about the whole “MySpace Revolution” in electronic music?
It’s not helping music that much. It’s funny these new developments seem great at first. Bands that are virtually unknown can become big through these channels. But then, all of a sudden all of these, what I like to call, "promotional bands" pop up and overshadow everything. They invest 99.9% of their time in promotions. Most of [them] are horrible, and they have 10 times more friends than a very good band. So, yeah, they’re great promoters, but great promoters don’t always make great musicians.
There is so much junk, you can’t see through it anymore. We get so many messages and requests–“Listen to our music…” and “Feedback would be welcome…” Even if the success rate would be 1%, I’d do it. But the success rate is less than 1%. I go on these sites and it has nothing to do with us or with what we do. It’s not similar. It’s not interesting. Even you guys have to sift through this crap. It’s insane.
Like with DJing?
The accessibility of the digital revolution has destroyed a lot. This whole laptop-DJing, Serato thing is amazing. You can walk into a club with 10,000 songs ready to play. That would be a busload of vinyl! But then, what’s the result? All these half-ass, wannabe DJs don’t know the ABCs of how to get a dancefloor going. Everything sounds crappy, because it’s all free downloaded MP3 crap, mixed together in their playlist they made the night before. It’s unsexy. Now, DJs look like two accountants in the club. They’re staring into their screens. Everybody’s playing the same stuff again. We’ve done blindfold tests. You can tell when an MP3 is playing–it’s one big squashed-up thing. I don’t hear good quality music anymore.
Would you consider yourselves minimal in the studio?
Ableton and so forth have really great instruments. You can edit yourself to death, but the quality of Ableton is already a little squashed and you can hear the difference. We try to not go through too much digital processing. We still use analog synthesizers and live instruments. We record them through tube compressors, and then through expensive analog-to-digital converters, then into Logic. I was working with a veteran producer once and he was hooking up all of this stuff and I told him, ‘I can’t tell the difference.’ He said, ‘You’re too young, you can’t hear it yet. Just wait a few years.’ He was absolutely right.
If you could eradicate any musical genre, what would it be?
Trance. There’s no substance to me. It’s really formulaic. I don’t really know it that well, to tell you the truth. It’s just something I don’t like. But I also don’t like liver. Some people may like it, but…
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