Q&A: Siren's Darshan Jesrani and Dennis Kane - XLR8R

Q&A: Siren's Darshan Jesrani and Dennis Kane

The longtime friends team up to produce sweeping and sophisticated music.
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Photo: Anastasia Crisis

Photo: Anastasia Crisis

Want to peruse a couple of great curricula vitae? Here you go: Darshan Jesrani is one half of Metro Area, the hugely influential duo that, back in the late '90s and early '00s, did as much as any other entity to muscle the concept of electronic-disco revivalism into clubbers' consciousness via such still-vibrant tracks as "Miura" and "Orange Alert." He's a fabulous spinner, too, as well as a talented solo artist, most recently working under the Cylinder moniker for his own Startree label. Dennis Kane, meanwhile, has been an integral part of NYC’s nightlife since the mid-'90s, when the Philly transplant hit town and established himself in the scene as one of its most knowledgeable DJs and producers. He’s also established a pair of respected record labels in Disques Sinthomme, which has released a wide range of work featuring the likes of Max Essa, the Beat Broker and Richard “Padded Cell” Sen, and an edit imprint, Ghost Town, which has seen contributions from Brennan Green and Bicep, among many other notables.

Given all that, you'd figure that if Jesrani and Kane teamed up, the results would be killer. Even so, not many people were prepared for "Gauntlet," produced by the duo under the Siren name and released late last year on the venerable German label Compost Records. Compost is most known for its jazzy inclinations—it's released music from the likes of Trüby Trio and Beanfield over the years, and counts Jazzanova Compost Records among its sublabels—but "Gauntlet" was a different beast entirely: The song, infused with live musicianship, was epic in scope, a windswept and dramatic tune that conjured up images of sun-baked adventures and infinite vistas. (Its slightly-more-housey Ray Mang remix was pretty nifty, too.) And now, there's "A/Way," an equally ambitious tune coming out on August 28; a radio edit, which led off Compost's recent 20th-anniversary compilation, is already in the digital shops. And the two aren't done yet: There are more singles on the way, along with a remix for Galaxians and another for pairing of In Flagranti and Jonny Sender—and there's full-on Siren album in the pipeline as well. XLR8R recently had the chance to chat with Jesrani and Kane as they took a break in the studio, where they talked about their history, their musical ethos…and knee socks.

You two started DJing together long before you started producing together, right?
Kane:
I met Darshan when they installed the Funktion-One sound system at [the long-since closed] APT, and he and I came in to EQ it. We started playing records to test the system, and ended up going to lunch afterwards and hit it off. Someone suggested we do a night together at [the also defunct] Opus 22—which we did, and it was a really good night.
Jesrani: And then the second time there wasn’t. (laughs)

Despite that second night, you obviously must have enjoyed playing together, since you've continued to do so over the years.
Jesrani: For sure. After that, we started playing at Love. The sound system there was great.
Kane: But we were frustrated with the club itself, so we finally just said, “Why don’t we throw our own party?” Those were the Strobe Lodge parties. The first one we did was on Canal Street around 2007, and that was a pretty memorable party.
Jesrani: Dennis actually bought an AC for the place and installed it. Otherwise, it would have been hell! I was coming in from Belgium that day—and I came straight from the airport, took a shower in the place’s bathroom, and then started the party and played.
Kane: Even with that air conditioner, steam was coming off of people’s bodies. It was packed.

Sounds like a great party.
Jesrani: Yes, that was a good one.

How would you describe the music that you were playing then?
Jesrani: I would say it was the template for what we still do now. Dennis, in the beginning of the night, would play all this really sweet and easy stuff—really slow, sometimes beatless music.
Kane: We’d take our time building the night by using a sophisticated palette. We’d let the room warm up, and then slowly build to a really intense period. We were mixing everything, but in an order that made sense.
Jesrani: And it ended up really, really nice.

You ended up doing Strobe Lodge in a few different venues, right?
Kane: We did it in a variety of places. We did it in a ballroom-dance studio on Mott Street; we did it in an old burlesque place; we did it in an onetime printing place in Bushwick; we did a couple at a nice poolside in Long Island; and we did one on the main floor of Santos Party House.

That’s a lot of places!
Kane: It helped that we had a crew of people who really worked hard with us. A lot of them are still with us. We were able to craft something that was really warm and complex, musically, and that was a great thing.

Photo: Anastasia Crisis

Photo: Anastasia Crisis

While you were doing Strobe Lodge, were you thinking about producing together as well?
Jesrani: That just kind of happened. We’d always talk about music and about production ideals. Dennis would always send me clips of music, and we’d sort of take it apart and talk about what we liked in it. We started doing some edit stuff, but we didn’t really go fully into the studio, composing from scratch, till a little later. It took some time to germinate, but I think it helped to let it just let it develop organically rather than to force it. Siren has grown out of a musical rapport.

Kane: After I started Disques Sinthomme, Dar gave me an edit for the label, and then we did an edit together for Ghost Town. And somehow from that, it just became, hey, why don’t we start a few things? I came in with a couple of melodies, and we started fleshing them out. And we’ve been at it ever since.

The Siren tracks so far seem to have an epic, windswept feel to them. Is that something that you’ve been striving for, or is it just the natural result of your work process?
Jesrani: I couldn’t really tell you! That sort of feeling isn’t really part of my usual wheelhouse, as you can tell from my solo work. I think it might be that something that Dennis brings to the table…or something that arises from the two of us working together. It’s probably a mix of Dennis’s contributions, the work of our session players, and then maybe my synthesizer stuff.

Kane: I can definitely see in that cinematic intensity in tracks like “Ledger” and “Night Fever.” But I think the main thing with Siren is that we started working with really good players, which kind of opened up that intensity.

Was it your intention to work with live musicians from the start, or is that something you decided on once you got more fully into the process?
Jesrani: We knew we wanted to work with musicians from the start. Dennis would be sending me clips off of 45s or whatever, songs that had real songwriting and real musicianship, saying that “I want to do that. And, of course, there’d be no way to simulate that.

Dennis, can you recall any of that music that you sent his way?
Kane: I remember one very clearly: It was the bass part off of a Petulia Clark record. We did try to work on that ourselves, but because we know a great bass player, Mark Dann, we went to him.

Jesrani: Our records would not be the same without him.

Sal Principato from Liquid Liquid plays percussion, right?
Kane: He’s a friend, but the first time I really worked with him was on the remix of Cosmic Metal Mother. He came in, had rehearsed already, came in and finished his parts in one take. It’s very easy to work with him. And there’s Daniel Chavis, who sings on “Guantlet”—I had put out a track from his band, Apollo Heights, on Disques Sinthomme. I remember being so impressed the first time I heard him sing with the band. Darshan, I can remember telling you that right away.

His vocals on that song are amazing.
Kane: There was a point where we actually thought it was done, and then our friend Brennan Green said, “Hey, why don’t you add a vocal?”

Jesrani: That was a real eleventh-hour change. We almost had the song mastered at that point.

Kane: We had definitely done the final mixdown. But the amazing thing was that Daniel just came in and just nailed it.

Jesrani: It was another one-take situation. He was perfect.

What’s the story with Mr. Reed, the vocalist on “A/Way”?
Kane: We had originally written it with a more established singer in mind, but there were some scheduling issues with that. But then I was in the subway and heard this man singing—it was Mr. Reed. I sent Dar a not the next day, saying “We’ve got a singer.” He’s terrific, and his vocals on “A/Way” are stunning.

I read a review of “Gauntlet” which described it as “macho acid disco sleaze.” Would you agree with that description of the Siren sound?
Jesrani: (laughs) Actually, that’s cool. We want the music to be visceral, and it should have layers of enjoyment. We want people to be able to enjoy it on a sophisticated muso level, and we want them to be able to enjoy it in other ways as well.

How did you end up on Compost? It’s not an odd choice of labels, but perhaps a bit of surprising one.
Kane: It was in 2011, and we were in Miami. Tomas (Ceddia) from Aquabooty asked us to play this epic party. It was DJ Harvey, Aeroplane, a bunch of other people—and then we closed it out.

Jesrani: We were hanging with (Compost founder) Michael Reinboth.

Kane: And he just said, “If you guys ever do anything, let us know.

Jesrani: He was really into what we were playing. Then, when we were getting started with Siren, we were wondering who to shop the project to. We realized Compost might be a good fit.

Kane: So far, it’s been very good. They’ve been supportive, and they’ve been behind the music a great deal. They’re professionals, and we have a great working relationship—it’s nice to send them an e-mail and actually get an e-mail right back, for instance. And they like and are supportive of the idea that we’re working towards an album. I think it’s a case of we’re what they need, and they are what we need, so it works.

"There’s a glut of stuff that all sounds the same nowadays—it seems like there’s a certain paradigm that ‘s kind of taken over—and we think it’s time for music with some nuance and some complexity."

Who do you envision your audience to be? Your tunes have a bit more of mature edge than your average club banger has.
Kane: I’m thinking 16-year-old skater girls and guys in muscle shirts!

Jesrani: Or girls that wear knee socks.

Kane: Yeah, that’s our music in a nutshell. (laughs). But really, it’s hard to say—it’s hard to make songs that are dance songs, that will bump on the floor, but also have strength of songs.

I’m guessing it’s a difficult balance to get right.
Jesrani:
Yeah, totally. I’ve always like clubby music that you can enjoy as a stand-alone piece of music outside of the club environment, and that’s what we’re trying to shoot for.

Kane: We look at people like Don Ray is a good example of the kind of thing we’re shooting for. But the other thing is that there’s a glut of stuff that all sounds the same nowadays—it seems like there’s a certain paradigm that ‘s kind of taken over—and we think it’s time for music with some nuance and some complexity.

Jesrani: People keep repeating the same forms of loop-based music. For instance, right now were in the third or fourth iteration of acid. (laughs) But we feel like you have to at least try to grow, try to do something new.

Kane: There’s been a real period of contentment with these tropes—the sound palettes, the attack, the build-ups and all that. It’s all pretty much the same. Sometimes it can be tasteful, some of it’s well-made, but in the end, it doesn’t feel very urgent or essential.

And Siren’s goal is to make music that is essential and has some staying power?
Jesrani: Absolutely. We’d actually feel bad about committing all the resources we have for Siren, just to make something that people might play a couple of times and then just shelve.

Kane: We don’t want to have that kind of manipulative with an audience, either as DJs or producers. I was somewhere the other day, and there was this DJ, and I felt like going up to him and asking, “Why even bother? You’re playing all these clichéd records—none of which are bad, exactly, but it seems like your only motivation is to make yourself famous.” Fuck that! Give people art. But still make it something that girls in knee socks can get down with.

"A/Way" is available for preorder through iTunes here.