steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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frivolous aka daniel gardner
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 project FARBEN.

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 lovely?

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 I could 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 I'm 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 I've 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 drug itself).

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 I get 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 history.

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 horses.

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 whole?

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 I'm totally 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 ep) was 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:" CD 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 will strike.

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 lately.

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. "The 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 machines?

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).


Frivolous' website can be found here. His label, ~scape, is here. Our review of the last Frivolous album is here. Check out a live youtube clip here.

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