Serendipity can really be the start of some beautiful things… For John Debo, his first UK tour in 1992 (albeit a couch tour) developed into much more. Crashing on the couch of one Dave Seaman, one half of Brothers in Rhythm and A&R Director for the then highly profiled Stress Records, John sat back and enjoyed the latest tunes from Dave and his label. As John happened to have a cassette of his new production work, he left it with Dave to enjoy. Days later John was offered a record deal for his Mindwarp project on Stress.
Given the success of his debut material on Stress, it should be no surprise that Debo has found a home for his other work. His remix work and original production has been featured on highly respected labels like Bedrock and Yoshitoshi. He has managed to bring his signature touch to a vast array of quirky tunes. Highlights include work for an eclectic range of artists from cutting edge 80’s bands Modern English and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, to pioneering 90’s bands Blur and The Charlatans UK as well as groundbreaking artists Everything But The Girl.
John’s Mindwarp Records has been running now for close to 20 years and the recent resurgence of material has been spectacular. Chris Fortier, Dilby, Andrea Fissore, Code Talkers and John himself have all delivered outstanding cuts that have been featured in the sets of Hernan Cattaneo and Nick Warren. We had a chance to catch up with John this week to find out what he’s been up to and get some cool insights into his history as a DJ and producer. A transcription of the interview is below and we hope you enjoy it.
1. How old are you and how long have you been producing / DJing?
John: Let’s just say I was born somewhere between the year the 1st NFL Super Bowl was played and the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I started DJing when I was 16 (Radio Shack mixer and belt driven turntables) and began producing my own music when I was 20.
2. What are your earliest memories of music, what did you listen to growing up? How did you get involved in electronic music and what made you decide to pursue it seriously?
John: My earliest memories of music stem back to driving around in the car with my mother listening to classic rock from the 60s & 70s. At an early age I began collecting classic rock LPs from bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd, Rush, early Aerosmith, etc. The band that opened the door to electronic music for me was definitely Pink Floyd. The heavy soundscapes they created through the use of synthesis and effects really drew me in. Depeche Mode though – was the band that made me want to create my own music and had a huge influence on the synths, programming and sounds I gravitated to as a producer. Not surprisingly, New Wave and Industrial music were what I initially cut my teeth on when I started blending music together.
3. Give us a bit of location history, we know you’ve lived in Boston and Orlando but at what points in time were you living in each location? Were you in Florida during the early to mid 90’s when the electronic music scene was very strong there or in Boston all through the 90s?
John: After studying at University Of Maryland, I moved to Boston (January of 1990). While club culture was alive in Boston, I was very inspired by what I saw in Orlando during a gig in 1994. So inspired I had to live there. So I packed up and moved there in January of 1995. Funny enough, as soon as I arrived, they had passed the anit-rave law, forcing all venues to close at 2am (or wa it 3am? – slightly blurry on that). I lieu of the hours being rolled back, I packed the truck (again) and headed back to Boston, only to pack the truck up again in 2004 to head back to Orlando. I’ve been here nearly a decade now.
4. Why did you relocate to Florida? The scene in Boston was very strong when Axis and Avalon were really happening, did that venue being sold have anything to do with you moving to Orlando? and what is the club scene in Boston like now?
John: One word – winter. Kidding aside (although not really kidding), 2003 saw the expansion of the Avalon brand into NYC (the former Limelight) and LA (Hollywood Palace). With that, I found myself in each of the 3 cities (Boston, NYC and LA) literally every week. Add a heavy schedule of touring, a full production schedule – you get the picture. I would occasionally escape to Orlando to decompress and visit long time friend and associate Kimball Collins. During one of those visits, Kimball was shopping for homes, and I happened to see one I liked. I saw this move as an opportunity to become a living, breathing component of my studio, something I never had the luxury to do as the resident DJ and Music Director of Avalon. Regarding Boston, I haven’t been in years, but it seems that DJs like Wil Trahan, Mike Swells and Will Monotone and venues like Bijou and Rise are still pushing things forward.
5. You are currently involved a night at Sound Bar in Orlando tell us a bit about that.
John: DJing has been the catalyst for all I do. Another long time buddy (Chris Fortier) and I had been threatening to collaborate on a club night in Orlando for sometime now. Issue always being finding a venue with the right sound system. Avalon and Axis had absolutely amazing sound. IMO, underground music can’t be fully appreciated on a shit sound system. Sound Bar is a very intimate venue (capacity 100-ish) with a very large EAW Avalon Series sound system. It has a by the DJ for the DJ vibe to it. With a sound system bearing the name of my long time alma mater, I knew it was a perfect fit.
6. You started Mindwarp Records all the way back in 1993. It ran for almost 10 years and then disappeared from 2002 – 2012. You’ve now re-launched with a string of great releases which include productions from yourself, Chris Fortier, Dilby, Andrea Fissore and others. What was it that sparked your interest in starting it up again and where do you see the label going in terms of sound?
John: 2002-2004 were very busy years for me personally, with all that was going on with Avalon & Axis, mix compilations, getting signed to Bedrock, extensive touring, and only 24 hours in a day, something had to take the back seat. The re-launch came after having lunch with Chris Fortier one afternoon. He had a few unsigned tunes I liked and boom – Mindwarp re-launched.
7. What advice would you give to producers hoping to get their tracks signed to Mindwarp? How would you suggest they approach it?
John: Every record we have put out since re-launching has come via a referral of some sort. SoundCloud, FB and our website are a huge source of new tunes for us. We are always looking for fresh, interesting ideas. Find us on the internet, or email me directly! I listen to everything!
8. You opened for John Digweed quite a bit earlier in your career, those nights must have been incredibly special, do you have any memories that stand out from those nights?
John: I am blessed to have the opportunities I’ve had. Touring as much as I have with John (and Sasha) has given me a direct window into the creative minds of two of the best set builders in the game. Truly masters of the art. Memorable gigs include opening for them at Ultra in 2001, Global Dance Festival 2009 in Denver, and perhaps the most memorable gig ever was opening for John at Space in Ibiza in the summer of 2002.
9. The club and party scene in the US really blew up around 2001, it’s almost like that’s when the USA really discovered electronic music. How does the scene compare now to that time, is it stronger?
John: The early 90s was when rave culture really started to kick off in the states. I remember traveling the US and Canada every weekend to play underground warehouse raves. The early 2000s were definitely the peak with regard to club culture in the states. Venues like Twilo, Avalon, Axis, Giant, Spundae were all going full force at that time. What’s happening now reminds me more of rave culture in the early 90s, but by a multiplier of 20.
10. Looking back over your discography what productions are you most proud of, are there any that standout for you?
John: Wow, tough question. My production career started in the early 90s as a remixer for bands like Blur, Modern English, The Charlatans UK and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I launched Mindwarp Records as a vehicle to share my more underground production with the world. Boston Bruins “Raise Your Hands” would definitely have to be my all time favourite, clearly not for it’s production quality, but because It captures the spirit and depicts my interpretation of the essence of rave culture in the early 90s. Every time I hear it I am taken back to a specific event at a specific warehouse style venue in Orlando, which inspired the tune. Close behind is Deported (a collaboration with one Steve Porter) on Bedrock, which cemented my creative direction and helped me evolve into the artist I am evolving into today, if that makes any sense.
11. Many of our readers are probably curious about your current studio setup, what does it look like right now? and how different is it compared to 10 years ago? We assume you’re using much less hardware now?
John: Much less is quite the understatement. I used to refer to my studio as Noah’s Ark, as I literally had two of just about everything I owned. Racks on racks on racks, as they say. Today everything is done in the box, albeit a very skinny box (a MacBook Pro specifically). Ableton Live, Pro Tools and Logic are all in play. Add a MIDI controller, a nice D/A converter and a pair of speakers (which I’ve been mixing on for 12+ years) and you have my setup. Admittedly, I have had an overwhelming urge to touch actual knobs again and have been very seriously considering adding an actual hardware synth to the setup again.
12. What artist or track would you love to remix?
John: New Order “Your Silent Face”
13. Your productions always have elements of deep house, tech house, techno and even progressive to an extent, they have a pretty large scope in terms of who can play them. Where do you get your studio inspiration from? What producers consistently inspire you? Who are some of your favourites?
John: I am a fan and lover of all genres of music, and have a very broad range with regard to what I listen to. My inspiration in the studio literally comes from everywhere. Technology has changed the game levelling the playing field, virtually giving everyone the tools to unlock their inner artist. There is so much talent out there – I see it in the non-stop stream of amazing demo submissions we receive at Mindwarp on a daily basis. If I had to single out a couple though, I’d say Gui Boratto and Guy J are at the very top of my list. They have always been pioneers pushing the underground sound forward.
14. What do you like to do for fun outside of the music? Do you have a regular job? What is a typical day like for John Debo?
John: Relax! I love spending time with my family, who I admittedly don’t see enough of! By day I’m the Marketing Director for an Orlando based marketing company called Team Market Group. They own and operate 10+ venues spread throughout Downtown Orlando. A typical day sees me up at 6am and in the office between 8-9am. I spend my day working with a very talented creative team conceiving ideas for club nights and marketing strategies for our current brands and developing ideas for new brands and venue concepts. I leave the office between 6-7pm and head straight to Mindwarp HQ, which very fortunately is located in a space attached to my house. I typically work until I pass out, usually somewhere around 2am, and then get up a few hours later to do it all again!
15. Apart from electronic music what other genres do you listen to and who are your favourite artists outside of electronic? How big of an influence are other styles of music when it comes to composing your own tracks? Could you give any examples?
John: Man – I listen to everything – from the newest of the new to the oldest of the old, and it all has an influence on my production. I can honestly say, outside of country music (which I flat out don’t get), I don’t think there’s a genre that I am unable to appreciate in some way, shape or form.
16. John Debo Current Favourites (you can list more than one per category if you like)
Drink: French Press Coffee (studio beverage of choice)
TV Show: Law & Order
Movie: Tie between Fight Club & American Psycho
Video Game: Pac Man
Album: New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies
Track / Song: New Order “Your Silent Face”
Producer / Band: Trevor Horn (producer)
Record Label: Factory
Nightclub: Tie between Beta (Denver) and Sound Bar (Orlando)
DJ: Three way tie between Chris Fortier, John Digweed & Carl Cox
17. If the final DJ set of your career was next week what would be your last record be?
John: Inner City “Hallelujah ‘92”
18. What can we expect to see in 2013 from John Debo and Mindwarp Records?
John: Keep pushing the music forward and giving young artists a vehicle to share their music with the world.
Release Promo would like to send a huge thanks to John for taking the time to do this interview.