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Go BackAN AUDIENCE WITH ‘EXHIBITIONIST’ JEFF MILLS - 'The Wizard' of Detroit techno conjures up fine words to express the conceptual depths of his art…

Posted: 30/5/04 12:19

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"As barriers fall around the world, the need to understand others and the way they live, think and dream is a task nearly impossible to imagine without theory and explanation. And as we approach the next century with hope and prosperity, this need soon becomes a necessity rather than a recreational urge. Theories and subjects of substance is the elementary element that fuels the minds within our AXIS." Jeff Mills on Axis Records registered NYC 1991. 

As an artist Jeff Mills may need no introduction, and if this is your view then we advise you skip this hefty prelude in favour of the words uttered by the ‘man like techno’ himself, (see below…)  

Jeff Mills has emerged as a name synonymous with quality art and mind-altering ‘techno.’ After growing up in the erratic 1960’s amid serious social disorder, Mills has achieved a remarkably civilised, almost clinical order to his life and work…  A technically terrific, truly unique DJ/ producer and all-round precision guided artist, Mills’ challenging search for music with meaning has taken him to all four corners of the earth, but also beyond this material world.

As you may (or may not know,) Jeff Mills together with Mike Banks and Robert Hood initiated the legendary Underground Resistance label collective...  Now the word ‘legendary’ is habitually over-used in music journalism, but I believe that in Jeff’s case we have just cause …  Anyway, making a long story shorter, Mills absorbed elements from ‘first generation’ techno artists like Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Derrick May; thus connecting the next forward thinking wave of Detroit techno with its eager, international audience.

Not unlike the universe itself, Jeff is motivated by multiple substances revolving around a singular source point - a pet concept that Mills has nurtured since 1991 when he set up his own experimental record label ‘Axis’ in New York.  Furthermore his interest in the DJ performance as an art form gained momentum in 1996 when he founded the ‘Purpose Maker’ sub-label; then a year before the millennium a third label division surfaced as Jeff flexed futuristic concepts with the content of his ‘Tomorrow’ project.  According to Jeff, there will be four labels eventually, representing the graphic structure of the original (cross-like) Axis logo, designed by Mills himself. 

‘A medium for the record consumer,’ Jeff grew up during an age when DJ’s were humble figures, in stark contrast to the 1990’s idea of ‘DJ as guru.’  However, Mills’ last revolutionary (DVD & CD) assignment gives the world a graphic education into what his agile art actually involves – an Axis effect sure to cause DJ adulation for good enough reason…  “The ‘Exhibitionist’ took about nine months to complete, and was the longest project I've ever created,” says Jeff of his latest cutting-edge marathon adventure…  Understandable really, as on board there’s programmable software (with use of three different cameras) to view Jeff’s sparkling technique in its full glory… There’s a forty-five track, (seventy-minute) CD mix, aside from the DVD with its four mixes, extra features and a deep interview with the man himself.  Here Jeff describes the concept of Axis as an extension of himself – and also tries to define the elusive term ‘techno…’ by firstly stating what it’s not, (a particular sound, a piece of equipment or a minimum b.p.m.) before detailing his concept of what it is – ‘a multi-purpose format…’ not something that he goes to, but a pliable format which he creates around himself… 

But enough styled preamble now, let’s move forward to Jeff Mills’ fundamental content as he discusses the ‘Exhibitionist,’ ‘Slimelight,’ VJ’ing, ‘interesting’ questions, techno, playing for Pure Pacha and more, so let’s unleash the media…     

Greetings Jeff and congratulations, you’ve been busy promoting your acclaimed ‘Exhibitionist’ release with a few tours; you must be content with the results?
”Yes, we are all very happy on how the project turned out.  It is still yet to be discovered and viewed by people everywhere.  I've received responses from people stating that they've been to hundreds of parties, but it wasn't until they viewed the DVD that they really had the chance to fully understand what the DJ really does.” 

Your mix ‘Live at the Liquid Room - Tokyo’ rocked very the foundations of the electronic dance scene back in 1996 - However it took eight years for your next mix (‘Exhibitionist’) to reach a conclusion.  Why the gap, was it due to the fine meaningful detail achieved in the ‘Exhibitionist’ project or for other reasons?
”As a DJ, I've always looked at the format of a DJ mix as a substantial and important point in a DJ’s career.  By approaching the DJ mix in the same way a musician would approach making an artist L.P. - time should be allowed to pass so that there is a considerable difference in between each project.  The ‘Exhibitionist’ took about nine months to complete, and was the longest project I've ever created.”

How was it for you returning to Avalon (in May, formally Limelight and home of your NYC residency in 1992,) and is it to be a regular haunt for you?
“Going back to the ‘Slimelight’ (that’s what we used to call it, back in the day,) is always a unique experience…  Over the years, I’ve seen so many outrageous things in that place and I have this certain affection for the club.  It was the first NYC club that I ever DJ’d at and was the first venue that Underground Resistance performed at - It was also a home to many other experiences besides!”

It’s said that you’re from the ‘second wave’ (or generation) of Detroit techno artists… With your considerable wealth of experience, what do you foresee for future generations around the world?
“Clearly from the massive amount of electronic music producers generated during the decade of the 1990's, some will go on to have incredible careers.  In that decade, a certain approach to music making was created, exercised and mastered.  Different from the 80's, producers starting out in the 90's had technology working with them hand-in-hand.  Whether producers of the future will be able to fill the ever-growing demands of audiences is yet to be seen…”

Following on from your cinematic ‘Metropolis’ work in 2000, we hear you’ve been working on the soundtrack to a film called 'The Three Ages' (1923) by Buster Keaton –debuted at the 57th Cannes Film Festival.  Can you tell us more about what this project means to you?
“’The Three Ages’ is such a pleasant film, I really enjoyed working on it.  This is the first comedy that I have worked on, so the soundtrack is somewhat light-hearted.  I chose a techno jazz approach to scoring it.  I wanted it to be enjoyable listening in itself without having to watch the film as well.”  

Jeff you’re an artist and an intellectual – now (as an eloquent interviewee) if you had to ask yourself an interesting question (it’s open), what would it be and what’s your answer?
“Hmm…  How about ‘How do I feel about music journalists asking me questions about interesting questions?’  I think that the current music industry suffers from a certain amount of proficient journalists, however there’s maybe a judgment made by most music magazines that most readers are ‘first time readers,’ ‘new’ or just find interesting topics boring…  And since uninteresting content doesn’t sell magazines, they take illusive measures to keep their readers unconsciously focused upon certain names and places, unaware of what's coming and their projection of music as ‘candy-coated.’“   

Fair comment…. so let’s discuss the DJ’s art form…  You’re already familiar with the art of blending music and visuals together and now Pioneer has selected you to be one of the first DJs to use their DVJ-X1 unit.  Do you therefore think more DJs must now consider expanding on their audio art with a greater vision?
“I do hope that more DJ’s feel the need to integrate video aspects into their DJ sets.  Unfortunately, the enhancement of visual aspects within clubs and at parties has never really had a fair chance to be noticed.  Every once in a while DJ equipment manufacturers create something that has the ability to take the art of DJing (or music making) to a completely higher level…  I believe that the DVJ-X1 is one of those machines!  Having the ability to affect with the hand what people will see, while listening to dance music could have enormous possibilities.  I'll be receiving the DVJ-X1 unit soon, and will work on it for special presentation at Sonar in Barcelona this June.” 

Can you reveal a fact that we’d be surprised to know about you? :-)

Okay, so what’s your personal philosophy on the music business?
“No matter what happens, stay focused on the objective.”

Indeed, then what about future studio projects/productions - any more Axis releases?
"Musically, these days I’m trying to reach into even further depths.  Hopefully, I can explain through sound and music just what I'm feeling these days…  The next project I'll begin shortly will be AX-009 G/H  ‘1:1’ or ‘Even’ and AX-040 Every Dog Has Its Day Vol. 5.’ "

You’re appearing in Ibiza this July (2nd) at Pure Pacha, but have you ever spent any leisure time on the isle, or do you just fly in and out?
“Because parties are generally scheduled before and after each gig, I just typically fly in/out.  This will be my first time at Pure Pacha and I’m really looking forward to it.  I was informed that the night favours house music, so I'll be preparing for this…” 

Thanks go out to Jeff for taking part in this interview - His inspired and thought provoking ‘Exhibitionist’ project is out now!

Jeff Mills DJ Diary May – July 

8th May - Avalon, New York, USA
14th May - Worldleague, Badeanstalt, Munich, Germany
15th May - Input, Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina
19th May - Mad, Lausanne, Swizterland
20th May - Decadence Club, Gent, Belgium
21st May - Resistance, Mission, Waterford, UK
22nd May - Les Nuits Sonores, La Sucriere, Lyon, France!
28th May - Tribal Sessions, Sankey Soap, Manchester, UK
29th May - Speaker Play, Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, Holland
30th May - Rock in Rio Festival, Lisbon, Portugal
4th June - Sonarclub, Ocean, London, UK
5th June - U-Matic Club, Athens, Greece
12th June - Creamfields Festival, Moscow, Russia
19th June - Sonar Festival 2004, Barcelona, Spain
2nd July - Pure Pacha, Pacha, Ibiza

Useful Jeff Mills Links - 

Find out more about the talented ‘Exhibitionist’ here

Jeff Mills’ own record label portal

Jeff Mills’ PR

Pioneer details for the all-new DVJ-X1 unit! 

Words by Lisa Loco