One-of-a-kind is just scratching the surface when it comes to describing Petar Dundov. We take some time out with the man, who many consider to be a genius.
Petar Dundov, thank you very much for joining us today. You’ve been Djing and producing for over 20 years. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started? Where was your first gig in Croatia? Were there any local artists you either formed a bond with or had an influence on you musically?
I was involved in computer music since teenage years. By the time I started going out at beginning on 90-ties, I immediately fell in love with new electronic sound that DJs started to play in clubs. Scene was very small at the time and after while you pretty much knew everybody just by hanging out. As I was interested in music it wasn’t long until I learned to compose simple pieces and then I had a lucky break when organizers of first Croatian rave party took one of my songs as an anthem of the party. This recognition opened up possibilities to see that maybe I could try to release records for living.
I started doing live performances, it is a bit fuzzy where I played my first gig, but one of the first was in Aquarius club in Zagreb. They had Thursday nights reserved for techno parties and that night was a big deal for me because that month I had my first record out. I was very excited. At the time there were just few artists interested in this kind of music, we had good relationship, helping each other and everybody were looking for their own particular sound. Croatian scene in general was more rock oriented, so our influences were mainly coming from abroad.
We don’t hear so much about the Croatian club scene. Could you give us your opinion on it. How has it evolved?
Croatia is small country with urban area of some 2 million people and dance scene is also small, having roots in just few major cities. In a last couple of years scene is getting more attention, mostly because of promoters throwing festivals and parties on a coast. It evolved since 1992 starting in a couple of clubs in Zagreb during war for independence. Soon after we had a first big rave party and things really took off. Till end of 90.ties parties slowly moved to big clubs and techno become a regular weekend thing. We had a big peak somewhere around 2003 and then it slowly went underground again only to appear back in a recent years as we were coming closer to EU. Reason for such a big oscillation was the fact that Croatia’s music industry wasn’t really interested in supporting electronic artists. It is difficult to live from music here, so many musicians or DJs had hard time to stay in the scene for long term. That is the reason why it is all based on throwing parties. When it all become a business at some point we had this tug of war between promoters and clubs. Soon clubs won and most of promoters were out and after while there were nobody to promote new DJs or acts. It all stayed in same names appearing over and over and eventually people lost interest. We had a big gap of 7 years until recent coming of promoters abroad. Now because of EDM popularity we are experiencing good times again.
Which of your releases would your describe as most important? Or has had the biggest impact on your career?
I think it is “Escapements” album that brought attention and everything afterwards really took off for me. I just moved to a new studio, something I really wanted all my life. Everything sounded much nicer, was like a fresh new start all over. I wanted to do concept album and it took me something over a year to write all the songs for “Escapements”. After release in 2008 it was welcomed by reviewers, I received some very good feedback. There were many good songs on it but I think it was “Oasis” song that become a hit single and I was surprised how much response I get from DJs playing different genres, still embracing this song in their sets. That gave me a strong belief that musically this is the way to go for me. After that I released single “Distant Shores” that put me really on a map all over the world. I followed up with two more albums and this is where I am today.
You’re one of the few artists that can perform truly live and we feel your amazing talents have gone largely unnoticed by many. Pleased to see the big bookings are starting to arrive now. Please tell us about your live show. What gear are you using? How much preparation does it require? Are you doing things on the fly? Or working with loops? Is everything triggered via Ableton?
I have been doing live shows for a long time and I tried all kinds of different approaches. I used to work with sequencers and drum machines and at some point as music get more complex I switched to sampler. That was good for a while, I could recreate songs quite accurate just by looping sections, but pretty soon I become aware of limitations of that approach. After couple of shows I would exhaust all the things how I could manipulate song and it started to bother me. This was pre-Ableton era and adding a new song to a setup was a painful and time consuming process. When you are doing live show with electronic music and you are solo artist you have to be able to be become the instrumentalist, mix engineer and conductor at the same time. Technology today is good in helping you achieve last two, but at the core of any performance is live intervention, something spontaneous, happening right know. Thats why I went back to playing live keyboard accompanied by sequencer and drum machines. I still use loops, but midi loops that I can also manipulate in real time. Sound is generated in the synthesizer so I can create sound at its fundamental level. There are preprogrammed bits of course, but I am able to create complete song from scratch on stage. This level of freedom is crucial for me. I worked a lot on the system and took me couple of years to make it really work. I still need to practice before every show, I take a day to go trough all songs, add something new or just play out.
Your tour schedule this summer will see visits to South America, Eastern and Western Europe, and the infamous “ENTER” Opening Party at Space Ibiza. How do you feel things are going for you right now?
Things are going very well. I like to travel, play music and meet people, that is very important part of my life. Whole inspiration to do new things is coming from that. I am happy to be part of the global music scene and be able to play in some of my favourite places. I feel like all those years of hard work, dedication and belief that you are not alone in your pursuit of sound is now justified. That is such a powerful and liberating thought that gives me much inspiration to do more things.
You have self-described yourself as “the antidote for anyone who thinks that techno is about senseless, dull looping.” What does techno stand for as a genre in your mind? Do you think the modern world embraces your view of techno? Do you feel that the new generation has strayed away from it’s original musical message and intentions? Is techno commercial now?
Techno for me has always been synonym for sound of the future. That is probably why perception of what that sound should be changed so much in a last decade. People have certain expectations of where this new future is and it reflects how they are perceiving what techno music should be. My favourite artists were coming from Detroit techno scene and later on I become interested to more abstract forms of industrial and minimal techno sound. But still after many years of doing techno I saw that to move forward would be to go back to harmony and strings, something that was lost in a process of ever looking for a new edge in sound production and design. I think people are embracing this idea more and more. I can see that in my DJ sets when I play particular songs that this is exactly what they were missing out. Also I believe that new generation is much more open to original message because they are living in this futuristic world of tomorrow. Also electronic music today is everywhere and there is one thing that is much different than before. Today anything can go, just as long as it is not longer than a minute. The way music and any content is delivered is in short messages, mixed in with everything else. If you look commercial music of today sounds like a mesh up of everything including techno, it is all one big remix. In that sense even techno is commercial, but If you look real techno artists they are still doing their own thing.
Your 2008 single “Oasis” was a smash hit by all accounts, and saw a diverse variety of artists giving it support and play time, from Sasha to Ben Klock and everything in between. Can you give us an idea from your point of view of what in particular about this track you think made it so widely appreciated? It seemed to bridge the gap in the underground between a variety of styles: do you intentionally write your music to be a bridge between the more progressive and more traditional techno spheres? Did you approach developing this style with a certain preconceived notion, or did this just sort of develop naturally and spontaneously as your career progressed?
It is quite unusual story regarding “Oasis” song. I was in a studio messing around with my System 100 and I get a sequencer hooked up playing 3 step octaves. I just sit down at keyboard and played around for 10 minutes and record midi session on my Atari. Next day I when I was back to studio I tried to do arrangement, slice it down to a measure, make everything nice and tidy and in a process of doing song disappeared. I spent whole day trying to figure it out and on the end I erased everything and just took those original 10 minutes exactly like I played them. I even didn’t quantize anything. Thats it, that was the song. I listened it over and over and there were something special about it and this was hidden deep in a way how I played it. It is melody that progresses on a different key and with a fixed bass in F it creates a harmony. That is why it is so universal because it has all the elements that I talked before. This was a spontaneous session but it was a kind of subconscious answer to a question that I knew the answer to, just didn’t know how to do it. After that all fell down to its place and now I am still exploring this style.
What is your current studio setup looking like? Do you have any favourite pieces of gear, software, or plugins you can’t live without? What technology is getting you excited these days?
I still work with mixing desk and keyboard in front of me. I am just used to work on music like that. I have my synthesizes around me, everything is connected and accessible trough master keyboard and control surfaces. Majority of mix is done OTB but lately I am using plugins more and more, specially recent effects that sound really amazing. My favourite piece in studio is Roland Synthesizer System 100 and I also couldn’t live without my Jupiter 4 or Prophet 600. I can quickly program cool sounds on them since I use them for many years. I am also excited about recent developments in soft-synth domain, friend of mine introduced me to Uhe’s Bazille, it is modular synth and I was surprised about possibilities of modulation once you have everything ITB. I always try to stay open to new things.
When you look at festival line ups – it’s practically the same names at every festival all over the world. Can you tell us the news of some new new artists we should be looking out for?
That is true. It would be more interesting to have more people in a rotation, but it is a difficult choice to make since there is always risk involved in organisation of such a big events, so naturally most of the time promoters are playing it safe, specially when competition is growing over the years. I would like to see more names like Vince Watson, Fred P, Minilogue, Jona, etc.. If we want to keep things interesting we need to rethink how it all started in a first place and why we can enjoy what we have today. Imagination was the driving force and if we don’t keep inventing new ideas, eventually people will turn their back and go somewhere more interesting.
If you could work with anyone in the music industry, who would it be and why?
There are many people I would like to work with. For example I would like to spend some time with Steve Reich to teach me how to work with delay. Also would be nice to work with Moritz von Oswald, I admire the way he can use stereo space to create those 3D sound motions. Or would be cool to have guitar sessions with Manuel Gottsching. List can go on…
What is your advice to aspiring producers and DJs? Are there any big do’s and don’ts that newcomers to the business need to know?
Have patience. It can take years or even a decade to break trough. If you don’t have time to wait maybe this is not for you. Think about reason why you are doing it. If it is love for music you probably will make it. It is dedication and hard work and if you are good, think that there is always someone better than you. Try to reach for the people rather than wait for people to reach you. And of course, be nice, you will make more friends and that is a good place to be.
What’s coming up for you that you’re really excited about work-wise? Any hints of yet unreleased work we should be on the lookout for?
I am excited about getting back in to studio after summer craze. I have some sketches done that would appear on new album. There will be more singles coming out till end of the year. Also I did lots of remixes, plenty of good stuff, quality artists, I am very excited what world is going to tell.