Join us as we politely interrogate one of the many faces behind Kontrol. Disconnect gets inside the head of Greg Bird on his origins in the scene, views on DJ politics and trying to keep it all together..
Disconnect: What got you into techno in the first place? Where are you from originally?
Greg Bird: I grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, about 1.5 hours South of Minneapolis.
Did you pick up on the Midwest scene? The techno there, or was it more Chicago house?
I was always super into music, listened to the radio every night falling asleep. So I have this crazy encyclopedic knowledge of radio from about 75-90. I grew up loving FM, then got into Prince around Purple Rain. I’m also a big Beatles fan.. Madonna..etc. Then late HS it was all about the metal! [laughs] But then I started dating this girl into Euro stuff, electronic stuff, got into NIN, Depeche Mode, New Order, etc. Then Kraftwerk and stuff, anything with neat electronic sounds. Went to college in Minneapolis and was a total indie rocker.
Did you get into the rave scene at all?
Nope, no rave nuthin.
So what made the big click for electronic music?
I liked dance remixes and stuff, but never raves, always was curious, so….After being almost done with college and practically living at First Avenue on rock shows (Pixies, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Pavement, etc.), finally at age hmm….. 24, I went to a rave. [laughing] Is that right?
You tell me?
It was June 16, 1996 -‘Bublicious’ in Minneapolis… Keep in mind that up to this point, age 24, I was NOT about dancing and never danced, so….. this party was epic.
– Well, I think a lot of people don’t dance at their first raves.
I can’t remember the whole lineup but I do remember this; I got there and was really anxious, uncomfortable – it was hot, I was out of my element. All the kids were younger than me and wearing elaborate rave outfits [laughing] – Incidentally it was also one of my first experiences (maybe first 4 or 5 times) trying MDMA.
Do you think at the time a lot of people were curious and doing the same thing?
I know there was a big established scene but I was oblivious to it, it was like the Dead scene to me, fascinating, but didn’t know what it was.
That’s when it really started blowing up I think.
But this party…. to this day, still epic. So my buddy Nate got me a pill and I sat on the side, watching.
Any specific imagery come to mind?
I’m in this big theater with church pew seating on the sides,-HUGE thundering wall of sound, it was so intense! The drugs started kicking in…The beat infected my brain and body. I was kinda sitting down, but started kinda jacking in my seat.
What was the music?
MIKE DEARBORN- Hard fucking aliens landing and attacking acid techno.
Woah no way, cool! I would give a lot to hear that, first roll at a rave.
Then the moment I’ll never forget, I jumped up, almost involuntarily, and just started dancing my ass off, but it was so weird, I felt like I wasn’t controlling my body.
‘Let the music take control’
It was like the music was just working through me.
I love it when that happens.
I was a total slave, watching from this floating head going “WTF is happening?!?!”, but it felt sooooo gooooood. I was just getting pounded and i felt all this pent up aggressive/frustrated/etc energy coming out, really cathartic.
So you could say you were hooked on techno from then on? Or did you find inspiration from house as well?
Well i didnt know what any of it was. I knew I liked Mike Dearborn [laughs]. So I went to the dance music store and asked what he played. They said, ?hard acid? they directed me to Jeff Mills’ “Live at the Liquid Room”. I listenend to it, thought it was ok, but was sure this wasn’t what I’d heard. This pattern continued until I finally got Mike Dearborn tapes; I listened and was like, “this STILL ISNT IT!” Which was impossible?
Yeah, it’s hard to replicate that first feeling.
Later I listenend to the same tape while dosed and realized it wasn’t just the music?-it was the music + the drugs [laughing.] There was some synergistic effect there.
Plus Mike Dearborn is really, really good live.
So then I figured all that out, started going to more raves, doing a lot of acid, lot of pills, like most ravers. I was supposed to be graduating from college, that got delayed a couple years [laughing]. So that was it. Mike Dearborn, and to this day I still love the really intense shit.
So when did you find out you wanted to leave Minneapolis?
Well, after two years in Minneapolis and mad raving, I FINALLY finished my senior thesis and graduated, also got kicked out of my pad of five years for playing loud techno music. I liked house too. -Liked everything, not huge into jungle, although theres a big scene for that in Minneapolis.
Did you DJ for a time there as well?
Nope. never DJed, never have [laughing].
Eh, who knows, not competitively. That’s the thing, I always saw a lot of ego involved. Like people were doing it to inflate themselves rather than loving the music.
Like DJing for political reasons, I have seen since the late 90s.
So, I was and always have been a collector, enjoyer, I’ve always made mix compilations, mix tapes.
When did you move and why?
I felt I’d gotten everything I could from Minneapolis.
It’s a small town?
It got to the point where you’ve seen all the DJs, been to all the places, know all the people. It was just not a challenge anymore.
Why a challenge?
I felt like I could stay there forever and be content but I’d be missing out on all the world had to offer.
Mainly it’s all about exploration for me. I have 10,000 CDs or whatever, but it’s all about that one just around the corner. Once you absorb something you want something new.
Yeah, for sure, I always need new records to inspire me.
Exactly, I need new everything. So, I had an opportunity to move to San Francisco, I knew it was a house city, but I was cool with that, I figured there’d be some techno too.
What was the opportunity?
A friend I met in Minneapolis had moved out there and had a room open.
A very opportune moment
This was right when I got evicted so I moved home temporarily with my mom; this was the only way I’d ever have graduated, I needed to get away from the party for a bit.
She kept you down?
Good call, although it sucked. She lived in Mankato. No friends, no scene. I had to finish this thesis so I could move & finally I did, submitted it, it was accepted, and that day I bought a one-way to SF.
How different was the scene for you in SF?
Very. First off, really diverse. I didn’t really like it at first. All the soundsystems were all around you, I didnt like that, and most of them sucked. I still haven’t figured that out about SF.
I think SF has always been more about the vibe.
Minneapolis would never do a party with big talent and put ’em on some janky ass system. Also, I hated the whole bongos shit, I wanted to stuff my fist down those fuckers’ throats!
Oh, the funky techno thing? Or the drummers who’d be off time ruining a DJ set?
At several events I personally asked the bongo players to stop playing or go home [laughing]. It always ruins a set! I look at it like this: Say you went to go hear Pavarotti sing. This guy’s pro, people pay good money to hear him. Now, if I got up and started singing along with him, what would happen? That’s right, security escorting my ass to the door as it should be.
You’d get a dress shoe thrown at your head.
‘Cause people didnt come out to hear you practice your bongos, bro. When you’re good enough that YOU’RE on the flyer, I’ll check that shit out.
What do you think of Ricardo Villalobos? He was one of those guys.
Was one of those guys? Bringing bongos?
Yeah, the bongo player in the corner high as a kite.
Oh Jesus! What a douche.
I was high as a kite, but without the bongos.
So we’ll see him at Kontrol next week?
I guess I shouldn’t say much more about that…
I’m confused… I like Ricardo, we’d love to have him, assuming he leaves the bongos.
Sven Vath said he was the guy who brought the bongos to the club.
Gross, maybe its different in Chile.
I think he’s moved on.
I hope so.
How long was it until you decided you wanted to do more in the scene?
So yeah, I just kinda went with it out here. I used to go to all the Stompy parties, I met a couple of the people doing Maze, said thanks for bringing techno out.
Maze was pretty cool.
They said they needed help, I said I’d help if they’d bring out Mike Dearborn. I did, and they did.
That was the Joel Mull party, correct?
Some good shows, yeah I believe so.
I was there.
Nice, me too.
I really wish more people came out.
Yeah, they were always under-attended, but such is techno in house city. I-ve made my peace with it. It was actually kind of cool. You’d meet people that were into techno.
I’d say you’re getting revenge for it.
Yeah, [Kontrol] is a very different flavor of techno mostly tho.
Who would you meet for example?
Who? Techno Joe. My buddy Eli.
Nah, Joe the clapper guy.
Old Detroit cat, you’d recognize him if you saw him..claps alot. I met people that like techno, my best friend Tamara -although I met her at work, but we went to a rave together and that cemented things, and so…. Went to Maze to hear Misstress Babrabra. (Here’s how the promoting thing started) We ate mushrooms and were pretty lit. I wandered into the back room and heard the Experimental Liquor Museum guys.
What year was this?
Probably 1999, maybe 2000… I think ’99. I was really blown away. I’d not heard music like that before, it was really, really techy and futuristic. I guess today they’d have called it electro.
For those who don’t know them, describe who the Experimental Liquor Museum were.
RD and TL Smith from LA, later Trichome as well.
They still doing their thing?
RD is. I think they all are, but on different levels now. RD produced (The Cubist).
More electro, or different?
Real high tech IDM electro… But they infused house, tech/house with it.
Sort of Space DJs sound or..?
I dunno. I just liked it. I’ve never really gotten into that much electro before or since, But those guys had it.
So, I asked the Maze guys later, “When are you going to bring those guys from LA back?” I kept bugging ’em, but I guess there was a falling out, regarding some money or something. So the answer was never.
With you or themselves?
Not me, the Maze promoters. So, in essence my friend Eli said, “If you wanna see ’em again, you’re gonna need to throw the party. I know those guys, they’ll hoook it up.” I knew a girl that worked at a bar (An Sibin), so I was like, “fuck it, why not?” We booked ’em.
Where was this bar?
T-knob. Now it’s the R-Bar, they had a Techno Tuesday there for awhile, my friend Chris from Madison threw it along with Clairity, etc, Guthrie, then the Vehicle guys, etc. There was a puny but tight techno scene…. At that time I had discovered Soulseek, and was getting into some of the crazy squeaky shit on like Perlon, this was when “tech-house” started happening. Before then the divisions were clearer, techno and house started fusing in some ways.
How did that first party turn out?
The first party was an awesome success. It was small, but super tight.
No way, you lucky bastard!
The DJs killed, the bar was full. On the flyer I told the story of seeing them the first time and how we were blown away, hence the beginning of my long winded flyers. ;)
Did you learn a lot of your promoting skills from that party?
Well, um, promoting skills? [laughing]. I dunno, I was always just the “average partier.” I tried to make some kind of connection with people.
Would you say you had a talent for promoting back then or a particular method ?
Well, my flyers would always have alot of text, really telling some story or about the DJ
Who did you book for that ?
The ELM (Experimental Liquor Museum) guys.
Just them..? No support?
Nope, just them.
Well, what was your crew name back then?
No crew, it was just me! The party was called the Clean Plate Club. I loved the “clean” sounding techno.
Why that name particularly?
As I called it at the time “windex techno”.
Plate? Oh I get it, records = plates.
Exactly, plus im a big fat Midwestern doofus, so my “crew” name was Big Appetite, a.k.a. me. All the flyers were essentially the same, just different guests and different colors. You get the idea.
You were doing monthlies? For how long?
Just for a year. 13 shows. It was too much work. It was fun but I was burnt also. Just before our last party, 9/11 happened. I knew it was all heading South, figured that was a good time to end it.
A good decision
Then we entered what most people remember as the dark days. Maze had folded, Guthrie was doing a party called ‘Integral Concepts’. That folded too, so techno was like, dead and stayed that way for a long time.
I don’t remember doing much during that time. I was building a sound system, I recall a lot of heads in the UG where playing hard minimal techno, it was different.
Like schranz-y Jeff Mills Purpose Maker. I was buying Glenn Wilson stuff and a lot of the Primate techno.
I would usually classify that as just techno I think. In my mind.
So you think techno died then because it wasn’t made for club life?
Hmmm, I dunno, I think the people dropping out weren’t replaced by new ones anymore, it had kinda run its day, like everything does. Minimal, it’s big right now, but people will get sick of it.
For sure. Do you think with the current sound, since rave “seems” to be dead, that techno is trying to be more club viable?
I think the crowd for it got older and just didnt have the will to get f’d and bang it out all night. Plus the same sound just gets old. So, people mellowed out, their tastes got a bit more refined, the technology advanced, and the music is just a result of all that. I mean, could you imagine some of these guys in their 40s doing the same banging techno forever? [I’m sure] plenty do! But some just kind get tired.
I would agree. The newer style techno does reflect that change. You did hear a lot of that incessant banging sound back then. Also, a lot of people just party from 11pm-2am and techno was stagnating for a long time. For example, I have a lot of records I look back on and I say , ‘eh.. maybe I won’t play that’
Minimal is techno for tired old retired ravers.
I heard from DJ Jakub in Seattle that when he booked Marco Carola, he wouldn’t bring the hard stuff because he said he was too old.
Well, depends on hard, I thought what he played [at DEMF], altho ppl would prolly file what he played under minimal, was REALLY intense!
Half the Open System record was hard, and I think he was moving on about then.
I danced my fucking ASS off with Derek Plaslaiko in front of this sweet Meyer stack [at DEMF]. I really liked it, I’d love to get him to play on a big stack.
Was that like coming home again to the Midwest? You seen any changes?
Mainly I miss the sound out here. They just know how to rock proper soundsystems in the Midwest, those cold winters give techno geeks lots of time to go over stats. Changes… hmmm.. less phat pants [laughing], only like 40% now.
So what led you to Kontrol after Clean Plate Club?
But anyway, we’re off track again… surprised? Ah, here’s the story: I was helping Justin Martin and Sammy D do their night at the Top called “Go Funk Yourself”. I was up late at nights, crap slacker job, just going music crazy, getting shit faster than I could listen to it.
With the Soulseek?
Finding guys in other countries with cool collections, they point me to shit and vice versa. I used to get this guy old old old Dirtybird Sammy and Justin shit. He’d play it at their club that night in Germany. He’d tell me how it went over, etc. Anyway, I was really getting into minimal stuff. Sammy would come over after the Top closed
I’d play him this stuff. We were both finding and getting into this crazy funky new German techno shit… eventually the Top folded.
What year was that?
Hmmm, 2003? Can?t even remember. It was going downhill for awhile, it got pretty bad. Anyway, Sammy and I also talk alot to Brian Wall from Oakland, he was getting into that sound too. Also Craig [Kuna] who we knew from around, he played hard techno but was mellowing it out and becoming San Franciscanized.
Who’s Brian? I am not familiar.
Brian Walls aka Econ did a Thursday party at the Oasis in Oakland for YEEEEARS, first Aural Confection, then Stylus. House mostly, but he was digging the techno too. He’s also a really good graphic designer and video artist… So, getting to the point… One of the only minimalish nights going was broker/dealer’s Pop night and Phil Sherburnes Soda night. So I was down at Milk one night talking to Ryan Fitzgerald of Broker/Dealer and he told me Phil Sherburne had given up on techno in SF and was moving to Barcelona, and I was like “What?” That sucks! So….I was just like “That’s it? That’s the end? Techno is dead in SF?”
Hey, I was doing parties man…
Or whatever, you know, club, minimalish, I know was just mentioning that…more commercial side, clubwise.
I see, there was big difference back then.
But yes, you and the UG stayed totally alive.
SF is weird like that, you can go from one to the other, rarely it’s both.
I was just sad that no one else would be regularly booking those kinds of acts, and I just couldn’t believe that SF wouldn’t like that music. So I thought, with the right people and the right promo and some energy, I think we could find a crowd for this. It had to be possible. So I talked to Sammy and was like, “Dude, there’s a Saturday opening at RX Gallery, we should do a party and play some minimal shit.” I was like, “Who else is into this that would be excited about it, and could help us?” Because I knew I couldn’t do it on my own at this point, and [Sammy] first said Alland. I hardly knew Alland at that point. The other person was Brian. We knew he had tons of that music and could bring the whole “free graphic design and web shit” to the table, so originally that was Kontrol.. me doing concept/admin shit and Brian doing the design.
So do you think that having more of a web sense helped Kontrol bring more to the table?
Hmmm. Web sense?
Like, a presence.
Well, I think it makes it easier to get the word out. We’re a pretty net driven culture at this point… You can reach so many people via email, and boards and Myspace than you ever could have via flyering.
I think you touched upon that just as that aspect of our scene started coming around. Do you think you realized this at the time? Or, did you come upon that at the right time and place?
Hmmmm, well we just took for granted we’d have a website. I mean, were supposedly about forward thinking shit, you gotta at least have a website! [laughs].
I think that with electronic music, people were more on the web and knew about goings on by being on the boards without the flyer.
Hmmm, I dont know if I even thought about it that deeply. I knew I looked on the web for parties and stuff, so, if I’m promoting a party, the goal is to reach people, right?
That is true, but I always assumed it was done by hand to hand flyering and working hard, but all of a sudden in ’02 or ’03 it clicked, ‘this is the better way’.
I think its some of everything, because those first parties we were promoting hard, lots of flyering.
You still do to this day.
Yeah, you gotta go out and reach those people that are going out.
Because they will most likely be going out again.
We’ve always tried to do more than just hand out flyers though.
Like actually talk to people.
I think that’s always been important.
Well, you could go hand out flyers to 20 people, most will put ’em in their pocket. If they don’t know the artist or the party, that’s the end of it. But when you actually connect with people it’s so much cooler.
I have always been taken in by your rapport and Alland’s positive vibe.
Like invite them, tell them you booked these guys ’cause they’re sick and you gotta come check ’em out. With that first party I think I must have personally chatted up 200 people and got ’em excited about it.
I think that has been an important aspect of Kontrol; You guys are actually cool and won’t look at people as 10 bucks to break even.
Well, were all music freaks first and foremost. We decided at the beginning that none of us were in it for the money, that’s why we give away all the music.
Like the DJ sets online?
Yeah, and all those t-shirts, we paid for ’em, we give ’em away free mostly. Our first show we printed up 400 CDs and gave ’em all away, it’s really just because we all love the music and want to share it with people. I mean, financially, I really haven’t gotten much out of it, but I dont care, it makes me happy. When the place is going off and people are saying thanks for helping make it happen.. -I just love a good party.
What’s next with Kontrol? Is there an end?
Next? Oh man, I dont know! Alland went to NYC last weekend and now wants to move there!
Do you foresee disintegration?
Without Alland, Kontrol would be f’d. I mean, it wouldnt, but he’s really an integral member conceptwise, booking, everything. That guy’s a fucking machine. I don’t know how he does it all. Anyway, if he moves, who knows? But he always has wild plans. I think Alland’s gonna blow up here soon, with his live set and such. God, I could totally see him moving to Berlin. Hahaha [gag]
DJing in Berlin you are a ‘nobody’ unless you do speed and work like a machine.
Yeah, he’s the most techno of all of them I’d say. Each of the guys have their own flavor, I like that.
I fear if I moved to Berlin I’d drown there.
Oh man, no shit!
It’s like Hollywood for porn starlets.
Everyone wants to be naked and famous.
Fuck it, I’m moving to Hollywood! Screw techno! [laughs]
Ok, so any last words?
Music should be fun. I think when people start taking shit too seriously it stops being as fun. So relax everyone, it’s just techno [laughs].
So get on that porno shoot with those AKGs… I would love to see that!
Good luck next party.