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ZOiD - electronic musician

90s Reminiscenses: Alan Dobbyn’s mix tapes+DJ sets, Decal, D1, Eamonn and getting into techno

The second track on my next release The Lost Tapes is called AD, in tribute to an old friend, Alan Dobbyn. I lost touch with him long ago but would love to know how he’s doing – if anyone knows where he is please let me know by sending me a message on facebook or by carrier pigeon or somehow.

Here’s the story of how I met AD, and how I got into techno…

Around 1993, I bumped into this tall kid who lived down the street from me. I was 13, and he was a year younger than me. We’d been in the same class in primary school so I’d known him since I was 5. He used to be the class bully in Junior Infants! He was rake thin, taller than anyone else in the class, kind of different to the other kids and a bit of a loner.

So we didn’t hang out too much between 85 and 92, apart from a couple of times. But when I met him in 93, he invited me up to his room to show me something he was excited about: he had bought some records. I remember one was by The Orb. Who I’d never heard of. At the time my listening consisted of Jimi Hendrix and stuff from my parents small record collection (of maybe 15 records) like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. His records seemed like a weird hobby… but I was curious. At that point, I did not start hanging out with him… yet.

Around a year later, I met him again. He had been buying records constantly. He also now had 2 turntables and a mixer and was able to mix records together. He even had his own radio show on a local pirate station, DLR FM. He invited me to come up to the station while he did a show. I remember him playing Aphex Twin “ON” while I sat there, listening; in awe of this 13 year old kid DJing this music from outer space, broadcasting it out to the world. What the fuck was going on!?

That day made a big impression on me, but it still took about another 2 years before I started hanging out with AD regularly. By the time I did, his small room contained thousands upon thousands of records EVERYWHERE, and a table with 2 decks and a mixer. There was no room for any chairs; me and anyone else who came to hang out there would sit on the bed smoking while he stood and mixed records. I started going over to his house every day after school. His house was a 2 minute walk from mine. Every day, he’d say something like “Here’s a new Jeff Mills record. Wait what? You’ve never heard of Jeff Mills?” I’d never heard of anyone, I was brand new to the music. The next day it was the same except “You’ve never heard of Surgeon?”. and then “Robert Hood?”. Then “Mark Bell?”. Then “Joey Beltram”. Then “Drexiya””Dan Curtin”“Dan Bell””Blake Baxter””Basic Channel””Tintonton”””Adam X””Acid Jesus”. and then another, and another, and another, again and again, on and on and on. Every single day there was more techno to listen to, AD was introducing me to the great masters of techno music. I couldn’t get enough.

He spent all of his free time buying records, listening to them, mixing them, and creating 60 or 90 minute mixes which he would record onto cassette tapes. Me and my friends listened to these mix tapes hundreds of times, and we would wait for the next one with high anticipation (remember that Derek, Donal, Jenna, Caroline, Annelli, Alice, Russell??). They were INCREDIBLE. He would work on each one for weeks before recording it – the tracks were selected and mixed so smoothly I could never tell where one track stopped and the next started. His mixing style was devoid of tricks; just impeccable track selection and very gradual loooooong fade ins and fade outs. I absolutely loved those mix tapes.

Those first tapes found their way to some promoters and soon AD started DJing in clubs, way before he could legally attend them. First in The 13th Floor, a dodgy club 2 floors above a pub on O’Connell street. I can’t remember what was on the 1st floor, another club I think, but I can remember that the toilets were shared between the 1st and 2nd floor and and some of my mates described walking into them and seeing people shooting heroin. One of the first times I ever went clubbing was to The 13th Floor, to hear AD play. I remember him telling me there was no monitor working in the DJ booth that night and I couldn’t fathom how on earth he was able to mix so smoothly just with his cheap headphones and the front of house PA. He could mix records anywhere, anytime. At the end of the night, we walked down the stairs and headed out through the now-empty pub, crunching our way over a thick layer of broken glass which covered the entire pub floor.

The next club he played in was a bit of a step up: The Kitchen. He used to do Tuesday nights, once every few months, at a club night called Genius. This was where I first realised the power of a great DJ. As I stood in the club watching him absorbed in the mix, I would feel the music emanating from him; aware of the thousands of hours he had spent digging, listening, practicing, learning, understanding the music… and knowing that so many of the tracks he was playing were so obscure, and so in line with HIS taste… we would never be hearing them if he hadn’t chosen it right then. It was just so clear that this was a master DJ at work.

Over the next years I have known many so called “real” musicians that don’t understand what a DJ does. They think it’s easy, they don’t think it takes much skill. But I never saw most of those musicians work a fraction as hard at their music as I saw AD work at his artform. He was completely obsessed with techno and driven to be the best DJ he could be.

(Years later, after studying jazz, I thought about it this way; a jazz musician learns many musical phrases (called vocabulary), and when they improvise, they create new phrases out of new combinations and variations of all the possible phrases they know. How many possibilities are there for a jazz musician? It’s hard to say, but it’s clear that for a student who doesn’t know that much yet, there aren’t that many. For a very advanced player, there are thousands upon thousands. The larger amount of choices available to the advanced musician is exactly what allows them to play something that fits perfectly in any situation. A DJ who has 10,000 tracks catalogued in their head, and can choose the perfect one next in order to take the music where they want it to go, is doing the same thing as the advanced jazz musician. In both cases, practice and knowledge is what separates the weak from the strong.)

Anyway, after AD got me hooked on techno, I had a burning desire to start MAKING this music! I would ask AD, how can we start producing? I was really spurred on by hearing early D1 records by Rob Rowland and Donnacha Costello at AD’s house. People were making great techno just down the road from us! But AD, who at the time was extremely negative about just about everything except DJing, would say “No way Dan, we can’t do it. We could never afford the equipment. We’d need 1000s of pounds to get started”. (One time after a night out, I remember he went mental when I mentioned to him that I believed there was some hope for the world. “No way Dan, there’s no hope, there is definitely NO HOPE!!). But I was not discouraged. I saved up and bought a Yamaha CS1X synth, I think it was £400. I plugged it into our home computer and got a copy of Cubase working. Then I tore my hair out for six weeks trying to figure out how the hell to get sounds out of it. A friend’s older brother was the only person I knew at the time who had an electronic music studio. He answered my questions until I called him one too many times and pissed him off! One time after 15 minutes of me explaining my set up and being confused about why there was no sound coming out, he finally tracked down the cause… I hadn’t plugged headphones into the synth, and it wasn’t attached to any speakers! I thought the sound would travel through the midi cable. Next time I called him he basically shouted “DON’T CALL ME ANYMORE FFS!!”

Yamaha CS1X

Somehow, very slowly, I got to the point where I could sequence 16 different sounds on the CS1X through 16 midi channels from Cubase. I would also use one channel of audio, and sometimes I’d make sample instruments with a really early sampler (some early version of vienna soundfont). So using this one-synth-and-a-computer set up, I started making my first techno tracks. By ’97 I remember playing some of these early tracks to AD and he said “holy shit Dan, that’s like… music.” He couldn’t believe it could be done so easily with one synth. He soon bought himself a CS1X and installed Cubase on his own computer. He also couldn’t get it to work initially and I spent hours with him getting him through the basic midi setup, how to change the sounds on different midi channels using control messages… and then he was also up and running. After outgrowing that setup, he started buying other bits. At one point he had a Waldorf Pulse and a Tr-909 at one point. When I set up a label (Diatribe Recordings) with Eamonn Doyle’s help, the first release was a white label by me (Subingersoll EP) and the second was DIA002 by Alan Dobbyn).

Meanwhile, I was busy recording my own first tracks onto cassette tapes. I called the first tape “Testrun Tracks”. It found it’s way to Alan and Dennis of Decal, and Eamonn Doyle from D1. After hearing the tape, Dennis lent me his TB303 before he even met me, sending it via a friend while I was in school one day (the guy, a mutual friend of ours, turned up at my school unnannounced and gave me the 303 in a bag). I couldn’t believe it. I went home and, not having the right 9v dc power supply, tried to plug in my 15v mixer power supply and blew the 303 up. Nearly had a heart attack! That was one of the biggest fuck ups i ever did do. (I only semi-redeemed myself by putting Dennis in touch with another friend of mine who was an electronics genius. Dennis brought the 303 over to his house, he downloaded the schematics from the internet, replaced the blown resistor and it was fixed. Phew!

One day soon after that Eamonn Doyle rang my house to talk to me about the tape. I felt like I won the lotto or something! Eamonn was really positive about the ideas I’d recorded on the tape, except for the production standard which was not release quality. I started spending time with him and the D1 crew, Donnacha and Rob Rowland, and lots of other DJs and producers… Rob lent me a Roland TR-505 drum machine. I started going to the Funnel. Eamonn advised me to get a mixing desk, as without one it would be impossible to get “that sound”. I bought a Spiritfolio SX with money i made working at a local petrol station. I spent all my earnings (which weren’t much, think i made around £5/hour) on records, but also saved enough to buy a couple of pieces of equipment, including an Akai S3000XL and a Novation Drumstation.

That brings us to the period of time during which the tracks on The Lost Tapes was made. Despite being younger than me by a year and a half AD was miles ahead of me musically. I owe him for all the great influences he bestowed upon me, bigtime.

I’ve zigzagged around musically since then, from jazz to experimental, and tried all sorts of fusions of electronic and acoustic music (eg ZoiD Vs Jazz Musicians of Ireland Vol 1). But over the past decade I’ve realised more and more that the seeds were planted firmly during those years in the mid-90s with AD. Those roots are there forever now, I can’t get rid of them… anyway I don’t want to. All the music I make now is infused with the awareness of those techno roots.

This will be the last release of old music on Zoitrax, there is a batch of new tracks rising to the surface… and very soon, they will be ready…

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