Rhythmist Interview

Derek Scott is one of the original members of the San Jose techno scene. Derek has been there from the very start in the late 80s and is still one of the major forces that continues to shape the existence of techno in the ‘Silicon City‘ to present day [Interview published c. Dec. 2008-Ed.] with his label, Dobox Recordings. Through it all, The Rhythmist, as he is more commonly known, has remained true to the techno sound and constant fixture on improving and shaping the San Jose techno sound. All the while staying humble, yet unassuming, and banging out his own distinctive brand of techno.


DEFSF: What do you think are the origins of the San Jose techno scene?

 Derek Scott: Personally, it started for me when I first heard techno back in 88-89. A lot of cats I know feel the same way, although they may have been exposed to the music at different times. Mattski has been doing his thang since the late 80s. I started making music in 87, but didn’t start doing techno till 90. There’s also a good number of us who were influenced from each other

What were you pushing out in ’87? I think of 87 -92 as a golden era of techno.

It was mostly….jeez…what would you call it? There’s was some good stuff during that period, but I think it stayed strong until about 97 or so… Then everyone wanted to sound like Jeff Mills.

You have emulated alot of the Detroit sound in your work. Do you think that has influenced others in the South Bay scene?

At one time, I heard certain folks referring to SJ as ‘Little Detroit’. Chicago as well, but we also had our modern rock/dance influences too.

Like what?

A lot of us grew up on Depeche Mode, Westworld, Nitzer Ebb….that was high school for me. Then Live 105 had their acid house Wednesdays show in ’88. Some of the college stations would play acid too occasionally. I love jazz too. Hence a lot of swing/shuffle in my tracks.

That’s the groove I think a lot of people need to consider groove as a major staple of techno, or else its got no soul.

I totally agree.

Do you think that’s where a lot of people left the scene in ’99 with rolling schranz Millsy techno? All techno and just no funk?

I think so…at least for a good chunk of people. No funk….no nothing. Everyone sounded the same for a long ass time. But I kinda see the same thing happening with minimal. There’s some stand-outs in the game, but a lot of the stuff I hear sound very similar, -too similar.

-Getting back to the radio influences early on… What college stations would be pumping out acid house back then?

We’d hear some on KSJS in the mornings before going to school… and of course Mr. Goodwrench on KFJC.

Any stand out DJs?

we spent more time trying to find out what track was playing than what DJ was on. They’d mix it up too, so we wouldn’t necessarily like everything that DJ played.

How would you find your tracks?

I’d buy a lot of compilation cassette tapes from Tower Records in Mountain View. They had all the old school Trax Records stuff, ….DJ Pierre, Mr. Fingers, Hot Hands Hula, Phuture, Humanoid, Fast Eddie and Tyree.

Would you say that a lot of people had an influence from these guys back then in the area?

For some of us, yes

Who for example?

Myself, Mattski, Lucas Rodenbush….The guys from El Otro Mundo had other influences….a lot of ambient stuff.

Is Mattski still doing stuff? I still see Lucas hanging around.

Mattski is in SF now too, in the Tenderloin

Still making stuff or DJing?

Both, but not DJing out much at all. Mostly just making tracks.

We got to fix that!

Indeed, he’ll play out up there or Oakland. He won’t play in SJ.

Why is that?

He has lost his faith in the scene down here….Which I can’t blame him…It kinda sucks.

I know, there have been alot of ex-pats.

There’s headz down here, but no one can hold up a club night for long. Pulling people in to listen/dance to tech in SJ is hard. It’s like….no one gets it.

In a way it’s the solitude and silent struggle in a fake city like San Jose that makes good techno, do you think that’s true? -kind of how Detroit is a fight against what the city is?

I definitely think that having such a struggle helps make us stronger and strive to excel more. But it’s also somewhat of a downer when you have no support in your own city, kinda like Detroit.. But I don’t feel as strongly about them after going to the festival this year. That was my first time, and it was amazing!

I notice a very lax attitude toward producing here in San Francisco. Too much sun and happiness.


You can understand why house is ever-present here.

I don’t feel much support from the headz doing things in SF either. Not to talk bad about them, but there’s only a few that give a shit about us down here. You guys do.

I think alot of people just don’t know.

True, true.

I want to change that… I think SJ tech is very influencial and doesn’t get enough props.

Yeah…there’s a lot of talent here. It hurts me to see them not get much of anywhere. That’s why I continue to run Dobox to try and help pump them up.

Keep it up and it will pay off eventually.

I know….and it’s helping.

But techno is an art, not a profit making enterprise.

Exactly…. I haven’t been charging for tracks…partly for that reason.

Which in my opinion keeps it a really genuine musical genre.

You don’t make much doing tech anyway. It’s the love of the music that keeps me going. Sure, I’d love to travel a bit…do some gigs.

In a way that’s great because it’s more pure, but it sucks that you can’t get recognized as easily.

Yeah…but the net has been helping a lot. Finding the right places to post has been a bit of a challenge. But we’re getting there. I get about 12GB of traffic each month.

Do you remember any events happening in the South Bay turning the tide for the the techno scene?



Yeah, right. [smiles] There have been some good nights though. We’ve had a couple nights where we’ve had just live PAs….those were good.

Any long standing clubs?

Long standing nights for techno……no again. -Wait…there was one night….Mattski’s birthday one year. He played at the Hi-Fi (now Voodoo Lounge). He was goin’ off….and the place was packed. I walked in and he was playing some bangin’ ass tech with some soulful acapella over the top. The crowd was going nuts. Then DJ Sneak came on after. He blew it up too.

No way! Wow.

Ok….that is one cool thing….

But on the large, nothing..?

We had cats like Sneak, Derrick Carter, and a few others coming to SJ on the regular for a minute.

It seems techno has to play second string to house to survive here.

Yeah….mix it in here and there. That works most of the time.

Do you think that if there was a change to the techno sound would that be an adaptation to get more people to come in?

I think that with minimal….people accept that more.

That is true, people like minimal because it’s cocktail music.

I don’t know if folks will dig it as is, but mixed with house….that works a lot. Minimal nowadays is almost like house in many ways.

How is that?

The tempo….the shuffle….the groove.

A lot of the subgenres are merging.

The only thing significantly different is the actual sounds and all the glitching.

More computer?


It seems more punk rock to pick up a laptop and just pirate software and make a minimal track.

Haha….kinda, huh?

Do you feel like that’s why minimal is taking over? Just cause it seems easy at first?

I cant’ talk bad about the stuff…..there’s some damn good minimal. No it’s not easy….it’s just the thing right now. Every genre has it’s rash of copycats…cheaters.

For sure, the truest survive the longest. What bearing do you think minimal has had on the South Bay scene over the years? I remember the first wave… and now it’s back again with a more Detroit edge.

I think minimal has had a great affect on the South Bay. It makes it easier to sneak the harder stuff in or the weirder stuff.

That is true. Do you think now that maybe techno music is feeling its roots more? -That San Jose techno which is similar to the minimal at present, stands more of a chance?

Rhythmist: I think so….or should I say, I hope so. There’s been a lot of referring back to roots lately and the recent 80s flashback has helped too… Not that I like a lot of this electroclash stuff or whatever, but just looking at that time period’s music a bit more carefully this time around has shed some light on things for a lot of people.

Afrika Bambaataa said a lot of things go into cycles. I believe that.

Not so much stuff I’m sorry I did/wore/listened to in the 90s ;-)

But I wouldn’t like to see techno ever as a retro thing.

I don’t think it can be a retro thing…it’s always had a timeless sound, for the most part.

I agree, so original it’s classic.

There are tracks made at different times that you can tell when they were made….but not all of them. There’s plenty of times I’ll hear something, ask when did it come out…and hear something that blew my mind.

Yeah, there are a few things that were waaaay ahead of their time.

Most definitely.

Any artists in the South Bay that were ahead of their time and not recognized? You included?

Haha…if you say so. I think Mattski, without a doubt.

You mention Mattski a lot.

It’s hard not to, that guy is so way out.

What would you say his contributions were to the SJ scene?

We used to be roommates for four years, but that’s not the reason he influenced me a lot. He’s DJed some amazing sets all over the Bay and many folks would agree with me on that. His productions are way out…sometimes hard to catagorize. Definitely grounded in house/techno, but there’s something different about it. He just never released much, but I’ve been on him about that. He’s sitting on an arsenal of music.

DEFsf:Is he shy about his music?

No…he just doesn’t shop his music. Nor does he have the greatest mastering skills. That’s the part I’m helping him with. We were just in SF last Friday mastering a track of his. His levels are all over the place…often redlining, and in the digital realm…that’s not good.

Digital distortion is scary.

He’s too used to the analog world.

I love the combination of digital and analog personally.

Yeah…I’m trying to set that up myself right now. I have an old tone module I want to start using again, a Yamaha FS1R. Loooooove that thing! It’s the last piece of hardware I have.

Its like the mesh of old and new, gear versus softs, that really seems like the direction people are going to have the tactile feel with limitless possibilities, as well as pushing real electricity.

Yuup. I’d love to get some old gear again….but I’ll have to wait till I can afford it.

Does Mattski ever use a live PA? Or has ever thought of it?

He did once. The crowd liked the music, but it wasn’t a smooth process. He needs something like Ableton Live. He was just using some hodgepodge apps for that one PA.

Do you think software is making a lot more waves in the South Bay sound?

Definitely. It’s given a lot more people access to music-making tools.

It’s like the price isn’t terribly beneficial to use gear. This is one of the richest states in the U.S. and it seems noone can afford anything.

But it’s so expensive just to live here…everything else is hard to pay for. Rent and gas kill me. Cable is expensive too, but my lady won’t let me get rid of it [grinning].

Do you think that is why people are also switching to mp3 DJing like crazy here?

Partly…I think it’s also because it’s way easier to get the music you want. You can get tons of classics digitally that you’ll be hard pressed to get on vinyl. But, that means there will be less classics or rare tracks as things go on. Even if you put up an mp3 for a day, then pull it down….it’s out there…circulating.

From Ipod to Ipod.

but DJs could do like the old days….Remember covering the label on records with tape?

Yes. I saw a girl ask so see what track Kenny Larkin was playing. He pointed to a line on his laptop.

Haha…exactly. DJs could start covering their screens….Using the privacy filters…or just using iGlasses instead of computer monitors.

For sure.

Have you heard of DJ Lembrouille?

No, who is he?

He’s from France, he’s been throwing down some serious mixes in the mp3 world. He’s a cool dude….totally supports Dobox too. That’s what I mean…there’s a lot of cats in the world that are down with us, and the net has made it possible for us to connect with them. It’s also helped us connect with heads in the U.S. too….especially in Detroit and other Midwest cities.

That’s like people in Detroit never knowing that their stuff would ever make it to Berlin.

Exactly. It’s weird to see that most of our traffic is from Europe and Russia.

Do you think that San Jose techno is influenced by such a high tech city? Like for example I know quite a few people in the IT field who do techno.

That definitely has an influence, I think. I’ve always thought that us being in the heart of Silicon Valley has had a lot to do with the sound we emit. We’re surrounded by the companies that make the software and hardware we use. Creative companies, for example. How many of us have Soundblasters in our PCs? Apple is headquarted here. We’re surrounded by technological business parks. Personally, I like it. We do techno in what feels like the second home for techno. Or third, if you’re counting Germany. ;-)