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Audion Talks New 'Alpha' Album & Achieving Balance In the Studio

Audion
Chris Armace

Audion

Matthew Dear debuted his Audion side-project in 2004. “It’s always been a pendulum swing from stuff under my own name -- where I can use softer tones, singing, guitars -- vs. Audion, which is strictly dancefloor,” he told Billboard recently at a restaurant in midtown-Manhattan. Though Dear has released singles regularly under his techno moniker during the last decade, today marks the arrival of the first Audion full-length since 2005.

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The DJ touched down briefly in New York last week to DJ MOMA’s Garden Party. He stepped behind the decks after a short, sparkly disco-heavy set from Robyn – “that band was sweet,” Dear said – playing songs for a crowd that was mostly focused on seeing, being seen, and drinking free booze. “It was what I expected, it’s not really about the music,” Dear noted. “I had an hour to prepare some songs that I thought would go over well.” (One of those tunes was Fatima Yamaha’s excellent “Love Invaders,” which inspired the most vigorous dancing of the evening.)

Dear spoke with Billboard Dance the next day about his decision to release a new full-length and the way his studio process has changed since Audion's inception.

Why did you decide to put out an album now?

The songs have been piling up; the ideas have been piling up. The album started about three years ago – I kept tinkering, messing with different pieces of gear. I finally got into some modular synths two years ago, and that helped become some of the glue that made me feel pretty invigorated and passionate about the music again.

What did you like about the modular synth stuff?

The randomness, doing loops and weird riffs. I’ve always been about letting things happen as they happen. Modular synths are really great for that -- it’s really easy to never repeat the same thing twice. Once you have a patch going, you can tweak it and go crazy. It exists only in that moment of time; it just feels a bit more unique. I was working with a different palette than I had in a long time, so I could make wilder, weirder stuff.

Have you had to make adjustments to the Audion sound over time as dance music has evolved?

There’s no doubt that I’ve changed as a musician – what I experienced techno music as, early ‘20s since now, has changed quite a bit. Audion as an outlet hasn’t really changed. I need that balance [between Audion and Matthew Dear]. Having one frees me to do the other one. Knowing that I have this back door to escape to if I ever go too deep into one world allows me to go further in that world.

How has the way you experience techno changed?

When you’re younger, you’re still very excited to be on the dance floor going crazy. The first wave of Audion was surrounded by debaucherous, non-stop touring – really trying to feel the party in that sense. Now I take a bit of a step back. My musical production techniques have gotten a lot tighter, as opposed to throwing caution to the wind and making red-line, crazy techno.

That was the evolution of the album. When I first started, three or four years ago, I was overly concerned with semantics and production techniques. Then I realized slowly but surely how to reincorporate the abandonment – when you’re producing you have to enter two mind sets. You have to be the creative thinker/idea guy and the mixing quality/technique guy. But you don’t want one to overpower the other. Over the years I figured out how to balance the two. Part one: jam and go crazy. Part two: clean-up crew, make it sound good. It used to be just part one, then I’d send it off to mastering and hopefully that guy could make it sound good.

If you look at the waves of this album, there’s still a lot of peaks and valleys. It’s not totally maxed out. I tried to make it more audibly engaging. You can hear the breath in between the beats, not just the maximum, over-compressed sound – which I’ve done before.

Have you been playing the material out?

Yeah. There are a few that are good peak-time tracks: “Destroyer,” “Time Warp,” “Sucker.” I tend to play my music out while I’m making; I don’t tend to play it out too much after it’s [released]. That’s just me: I don’t like playing my own songs. I feel like it’s my responsibility to dig a little bit deeper and play stuff people have never heard before. I’ve been playing “Destroyer” a lot. It sounds really good and makes people go nuts.

How did that one come together?

That was an example of a modular jam. The main riff in the middle was me slowly turning knobs. Then it devolves into spatial madness at the end – that was all one take. From that, I cut it up and made it into an arrangement and added hi-hats and claps later. Letting it go, then trying to coral it in after the fact.

Have changes in the mainstream popularity of dance music impacted your work as Audion?

Honestly dance music has changed so much just in the period of making this album. Three years ago, I might have been concerned with making something a bit more chart-friendly because of what was happening in America – seeing, “oh shit, if I make this kind of song, there’s a chance I could get booked at X, Y, or Z.” But even since then, there’s been a fall out of what you thought was this massive infrastructure of dance music in America. Seeing all that quick evolution let me know – just make the techno I feel good about.

It’s fun to watch the scene evolve. I’m getting people at my shows now that you can tell came from that [mainstream] world. They’re like, “I just found out about you a year ago.” I’ve always been saying, if you get 5% of these people that are going to these massive festivals to look a little deeper and explore, then that’s great. I’m starting to see that. People at my shows that are wide-eyed and digging deeper.


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