Frivolous in the work of Vancouver-born
Daniel Gardner, one of today's most interesting electronic music
producers and, if you believe Wikipedia, a pioneer of the genre known as
"micro house." He recently unloaded his latest magnum opus on the
world, an intergalactic electronic feast known as
Midnight Black Indulgence. I
caught up with Daniel via email from his new home in Berlin to discuss
what it's like to be lean, mean, and really good at making music.
Let's start with the new album. Midnight Black Indulgence sees a
jump to Stefan Betke's ~scape label. How did this happen? Are more
releases planned for ~scape and are we going to be more stuff
coming out on Karloff and Background?
Well, I always go through phases. Karloff was my home-stead label for a
few years. My theory about that label was that it hits directly at a very
small demographic of club-minded individuals who have a profound respect
for experimental stuff, which is a very small group of people.
~scape has forever been a label for people who are ready to adopt
electronic music into their domestic everyday lives, and that is where
I want my music to be appreciated; by anybody and everybody, not just heads.
Are there any acts on ~scape that you especially admire?
Well, I have huge respect for Jan Jelinek, especially his earlier
Also, Safety Scissors has been a pretty big influence in my own music.
John Tejada can't go without mention either.
A notable element of the new record is "The Long Way..." and "You
Gotta Sing," which are sort of like lounge singer tunes from another
galaxy. They round out the disc and give it a certain unique
personality. Where did these come from? Everyone I've played them to has
loved them - any chance of a full disc's worth of this stuff?
HA HA, thanks! Well they definitely aren't for everybody and they are
definitely a surprise for a lot of ears expecting something else.
Canada is a desolate place, and you adopt your influences from multiple
sources. This kind of music just happened to be relevant to my childhood,
and so these little 'indulgences' of my early inspirations make a brief
appearance. I don't know what they actually do for the record from a
functional aspect but some people really freak out over them, glad you are
one of those.
Heh, it seems everyone I play them for immediately likes them
(especially "The Long Way"). Of course, these are people who aren't
necessarily into electronic music to any serious extent so these tracks
are probably the most publicly accessible ones on there. You mentioned
Canada being desolate, though - do you feel you would have rather grown up
someplace else? I suppose it depends on the person's interests but it
seems many Vancouverites swear by their hometown...
Yeah, it's funny. I rejected a lot of my upbringing. I was never too
thrilled about the farm-life either. I appreciate it much more now for
what it was, and I'm pretty happy with my life so I don't regret anything.
Vancouver is a beautiful place no doubt about it. My theory is that it is
SO beautiful that it neglects to support things like alternative culture.
It just doesn't need to, because it has the appeal already.
The album's subject matter is considerably more intellectual than many
electronic records. Tracks like "Me and My Social Anxiety" and "Soooo
Savey" suggest a shyness and an entailed frustration with showy social
climbing. Is this you speaking?
Definitely. You GOT IT! I hate to sound bitter, but I could care less
about that crap. If you feel the music and the concept as I feel it, then
you will love it.
These fake, smoke-blowing scenesters who are constantly hyping crap
music with no thought behind it are the bane of my existence.... aren't I
I don't disagree for a second. It's for sure something hopelessly
entangled in any scene with a concept of "cred." You see it a lot with
noise music. I guess the "lamer" and less sceney scenes are ironically the
only ones with fanbases completely there for the music... Related - what
are your thoughts on recorded music compared to live
performances? Which do you prefer in terms of listening vs.
proliferating your music?
Hmmm that is a difficult question and part of the reason why I'm so
late in my response here.
Just like the rest of us crazy irrational vinyl collectors,
I have a
passion for the medium. I love the sound of Vinyl, the obscure shape of it
and the potential for creating a congruently special and interesting
package with artwork. I've always steered clear of doing any artwork
myself. It's a weird rationale though, because
I have formal training in
graphic design before I started music full-time. I've always been too
picky in designing the music and the artwork all by myself and
spend months on a design before I would be content and that's why it's
always been delegated to somebody else. I AM realizing now that it will
never be "perfect"... that's either the artwork or the music, so
toying with the idea of starting to design the whole SHA-BANG from the
ground up. Doing this would be for me the equivalent of putting a message
in a bottle and throwing it out to sea. I think it's really cool when you
can communicate something that is interpreted differently by people
never met who can see the whole package as a window into their own self
identity. Live performances can be really special too. I think they are,
however, more effective when the people have discovered the music
before-hand on their own.
Moving back, how do your years of piano training play into your
music now? How did your craft come together?
Hmmm... well for lack of anything better to do? No I'm kidding.
Although, It was a totally natural development and i didn't really have
too many choices in the matter. A good ear and then 12 years of piano,
then a fascination with the P.L.U.R. of rave-days and the ego-transcending
music of Detroit and Chicago, then electronics and design in school. Where
else was I supposed to go with that? Insurance sales? Not likely.
You started off your "performance career" with a residence at an
afterhours club at age 16. What was the nature of this chapter of your
life? What do you remember?
Yeah basically like above. I remember washing dishes at a Greek
restaurant in the suburbs of Vancouver and then driving down to the
skid-row of Vancouver every Friday night to put in a solid 8 hours of
partying and playing music every weekend. It was an accident to meet my
musical mentor who offered me this opportunity at such a young age. After
my first few raves I met this guy named John Hawkey who drove all the way
to the suburbs to sell me a turntable. He was about 8 years older then me,
and it was his club... I think the address was even 420 Abbott St. Green
Velvet, Paul Johnson, DJ Sneak, Johnny Fiasco, early Thomas Bangalter,
this was the kind of stuff we were playing.
Was there much of a scene for your type of music in Vancouver? How
did you get implicated in the whole minimal house thing?
I dunno! I was looking on Wikipedia and I'm credited as being one of
the pioneers of 'Micro house' which is absolutely hilarious.
I've always been the bull-headed guy to do the opposite of what
everybody else is doing musically. I don't know if it's just my
preferences at that moment or if I'm such a complete rebel. So in
Vancouver this was definitely NOT the sound, and it's what
I really got
into buying and making. Then when I went to Montreal where everybody was
doing minimal, I started to dabble in this really Jazzy stuff and I swung
180 degrees again, but how I ever got pegged as a techno artist and slid
into the category of serious minimal producers is beyond me. I think
that the Background records had a LOT to do with it.
It seems that since your humble beginnings in Suburban Vancouver,
you haven't been able to stay put (even spending time in Montreal,
where I live during the school year). What was the impetus behind
the move to Germany? How long have you been
there and what do you think? How much better is the scene there?
Well Berlin was totally intimidating for me at first. I've been here
for about 8 months now and i don't think I got a single thing done in the
studio for the first 6 of those.
So many artists everywhere, and so many people supporting this ketamine
thing which i have a bad reaction too. (the music, not necessarily the
People are always asking you what you are doing and comparing the
volume of their output to yours when you aren't even running in the same
vein of inspiration. (It's totally shit for the creative process!) So now
I've created a little piece of paradise away from the hipster's and 24hr
party people and I'm finding all the inspiration i could ask for hidden
away up here in Wedding which feels more like little Turkey then Berlin.
It's true, i am a nomadic type.
From what I've heard (wikipedia), Wedding has a big gallery scene
(and a nudist beach!). Have you considered lugging any of your instrument
sculptures out to do a showcase, and are you immersing yourself in the art
scene at all?
No, you are definitely referring to Mitte, not
Wedding. That's the thing
about Wikipedia I guess, it's not always reliable.
But a nudist beach? I don't know where THAT is. Hmmmmm... could be
nice. I have immersed myself a bit in the art culture here. I recently
acquired a romantic interest in a girl who works at DNA gallery which is
quite famous in Berlin. There are so many levels of art happening in this
city from totally under-appreciated independent stuff to totally blown out
of proportion "high-end" stuff. Witnessing all the conduct and code of
etiquette surrounding the business of the "high-end" stuff makes me so
grateful for the casual nature of the electronic world. I've even been so
encouraged that I've began asking my favourite producers for remixes. The
next couple of records are planned with remixes by DJ Kose and Soul
Phiction. I haven't thought about doing a showcase, but when ever
the chance to perform at "art" events, I jump on them as fast as possible.
It frames the music in such a different way from this standard dark and
dirty night club environment which is a nice change for me.
As legend has it, you started out by sending five incomplete demos
to 5 German vinyl labels and getting three requests to put out your
records in return. How did you decide upon Andy Vaz's Background
label? How did this compare to Karloff?
Yeah Background just jumped on it the fastest. I hadn't even decided
what name to release it under. I told him some ideas I was toying with
(since I was DJing in Van under the name 'Frivolous Dan') and Andy just
slapped 'FRIVOLOUS' on the label and it literally stuck. Karloff happened
actually by way of an unsuccessful demo to the label Treibstoff. Marcel
Jovanosky and Falko Brockseiper are good friends and so he passed off what
was totally inappropriate for his label to Falko and the rest is faded
Was the first demo actually released "as is" or was it modified or
rearranged at all before it hit the press?
Nothing at all! That's the Krankongestion EP!
Looking back, your older music is more straightforwardly electronic
than your more poppy recent work. How often do you pull out a record like
the Crankkongestion EP, and what do you now think of it?
Yeah as I said, I've always been doing the
opposite depending on my environment. Vancouver was so far stuck up its
own ass-hole for "sexy house music" in the late 90's (a term which made me
involuntarily spew out my guts) that they had a very pessimistic view
towards anything synthetic or electro-ish in nature. (Keep in mind this
was before the no-wave 80's revival right around the time
I left). The music slowly leaking from Germany
was considered poncy art music (which,
to be fair, some of it actually was). Crankkongestion (or however it is
spelled) was actually my tongue and cheek reaction to this reputation,
where upon I'm sampling myself speaking fake German. Funny though, that
Kongestion is actually a german word.... "shrug".
How much more attention has Midnight Black Indulgence garnered as
compared to Somewhere In The Suburbs?
Well it was a real risk for Karloff to try and push an album. They just
weren't set up to do that. I think that there were only like 800 copies
pressed. Most of my hardcore fans would argue that it is the most special
FRIVOLOUS release to date for it's blatant honesty and genuinely personal
inspiration. MBI is basically the same thing, but slightly more jaded by
the demand for functionality. The huge variety of styles are radically
contrasted back to back on the same track listing. As I become more
confident with my audience (which seems to have grown substantially with
this release) and more confident with my own skill level as a producer, my
style will probably level back out while keeping the dancey stuff dancey
and the rest just "frivolous". It's one long process of development and
comparing my first works to current ones is like comparing apples to
For me I feel your music is more about the overall picture - the
atmosphere and tone - than being "dancey" or not. It seems the rhythm,
etc. is more of a by-product than the main goal. Am I way off the mark
here? What do you feel priority number one is when making your music, and
do you work track by track or do you compose the release as more of a
Yeah you definitely have something with that theory. I try to create a
mood with each track. Each piece should try and be a complete concept in
and of itself. An album is a bit of a challenge because you can't
really peg down one concept and expect to keep feeling it for a whole year
or however long it takes to put a full-length together. It becomes more of
a collage of where you were at in general for that period of time. I expect
now that I'm in Berlin, there will be a lot of dance-floor stuff on the
next album. I usually try and re-invent myself from one track to the next.
My development as a producer is really hyper-active. Actually
surprised that I've even been able to concrete
two albums now since I become
very discontent with older works that I can't even relate to anymore
after, say, 6 months.
I feel this release might be inspiring people to check Suburbs out,
which is fortunate because it is a really strong (if very different)
album. Has there been an increased interest in your back catalogue with
the new release?
As I mentioned... 800 copies and SOLD OUT! Eventually will come a day
when the license expires and I have the freedom to re-release 'Somewhere
In The Suburbs'.
Two requests I always get when
I'm playing shows are for "Can't Stop The
One, Two" from this disk, and also any of the Kisses Mixes off of the XXX
ep (Proptronix, but also out of print). Right now I'm just finishing a
kind of response to the XXX ep. It's featuring samples chopped and
arranged from another country music classic from the 60's. I think that it
will come out on ~scape with a remix or two and we are talking about doing
some limited edition double packs including the XXX EP re-released.
Electronic music needs more country samples. Are there any sources
you especially like to sample from in your music?
Sometimes I just go into the chat rooms on Soul-seek and start browsing
the libraries of the different users in there. I just download stuff at
random and sometimes I catch just a tiny little sample from something that
inspires a whole 12". I remember that the Kisses tracks (the XXX
all inspired by just one rhythm sound that
I heard from the TV while it was
on in the other room. It was one of these "TIME LIFE MUSIC PRESENTS:"
compilations. I think it was "kings of country" or something equally
cheesy. Anyways, I kept the TV on and when
I heard the commercial start
again I ran to the other room and watched the track listings as they
scrolled down the screen over horrible still photographs from the "golden
age of country". Just goes to show that you never know when inspiration
Tell me a bit about your homemade instruments. How do you build
these (and how do you know how?) How much of your recorded output is
comprised of their sounds?
Yeah, it's funny because I've had a lot of interest from people wanting
me to build installations of my "DIY contraptions" for galleries and clubs
There are a few staple-pieces that I rely on a lot, like "The
Electro-Magnetic Chef's Knife" which Ii always perform live with.
Double Cable-Tub Bass" has made a few appearances in tracks, but it's
really hard to mic for a live situation. "The Broken-Ruler Music-Box" was
also a main feature for about a year, but has since been retired after
its last appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival because of
complications with mic-ing as well. Currently I'm building a "Cycle-Powered
Spring Reverb Modulator" for BAR25 here in Berlin. It will be an
interactive piece which is "played" by riding a bicycle and works as an
effects send for the music running through the house system.
(My fingers are crossed that it will actually work like
I have it
planned). There is a demonstration video of the knife up on the net, so if
anybody wants to take a look just search FRIVOLOUS on Youtube.
Where do you get the electric and technical knowhow to build these
Well, I've been un-successfully doing "home-repair" since
I was able to
pick up a screw driver. Ask my mother how many home appliances she had to
replace when I attempted to fix them. I remember when
I was 7 I tried to
top up the oil in our car, and I poured it all into the transmission and
the car had to be professionally flushed out resulting in a whopping
mechanics bill. I guess it just runs in the family. My grandfather had
this farm on Vancouver Island called 'Artifacts' (yes just like the
Plastikman album, but long before). It is filled with archaic machines
from the industrial age all rusting away under moss and ferns through out
the forest. My uncle who also founded the "society" built by hand a
(working) scale model of a steam tractor from the late 1800's. It is about
the size of a ride-on lawn mower, and he shovels coal into it with a
little trowel and rides it around the farm. We even disconnect the hoses
once a year a steam cook and giant pot of corn-on-the-cob for our annual
family picnic. I also did one year of electronics and
one year of
interdisciplinary design, but I could go off about my childhood for pages,
so I won't.
Crucial: what is your favourite colour?
Green... yeah... pretty sure
I like green. Oh, and process colours;
Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black. (I used to be a printer).
can be found here.
His label, ~scape, is
here. Our review of the last Frivolous album is
here. Check out a live youtube clip