Listening to Portland-based producer and DJ Etbonz's live analog sets and cosmic techno jams makes one suspect that he can channel music from the future. As if embarking on a musical space odyssey, Etbonz employs physical synths and sequencers to play a mix of Italo-disco and sci-fi-sounding tracks, all of which are made without a laptop.
His musical evolution began eight years ago, making mixes for friends on the program Acustica, which lead to him buying a mixer and turntables and producing original tunes and mixes. Most recently, his track "Dream Recall" was featured on Beats In Space Radio. All Shook Down recently spoke with Etbonz about his beginnings in DJing, his favorite space movie, and the Portland DJ scene versus San Francisco's. He headlines Haceteria at Deco Lounge this Saturday with local DJs Ash Williams, Smac, and more.
When you first started making mixes for your friends, what type of music were you interested in?
Mostly songs on the electronic side, but tons of other stuff as well. An example would be mixing some old-ass Cambodian pop track into some old dub into Cut Copy into Elastica, or Cibo Matto into Boards of Canada into Flaming Lips. Stuff I remember really being into was Cut Copy, Boards of Canada, The Orb, KLF, Sonic Youth, Lifelike, Fred Falke, David Axelrod, Joy Division, and tons more. It was a time of music exploration. I had just gotten my first computer and was diving into the world of online music; that's a lot of music.
You are known to be a live hardware performer. Explain to us what that means.
It basically means that I use all real physical synths, drum machines, effects, etc., without the aid of a computer.
What's your favorite machine to make music on and why?
I have to say the Roland Juno 60. It can sound super lush and dreamy or really tough and aggressive. It has an awesome arpeggiator and is really straight forward and easy to use.
What appeals to you about playing live analog sets?
I actually do use some digital equipment too, but as far as doing live hardware sets I really like the randomness and improvisational aspects of it. It's kind of like DJing except you have complete control over every part of each song. You can decide on the fly when the kick, snare, hi-hats, bassline, pads, leads, etc., come in and out on each track. It lets me feel my way through the set instead of having everything preprogrammed and automated to perfection, and it makes every performance unique. Also, you've got to love being able to touch real physical gear with all the buttons, knobs, and blinking lights. It's really the only way I know how to play. I get so lost when it comes to music software; there are just too many options.
You make a lot of "future music." What does futuristic music mean to you?
It means Detroit techno, Dutch electro/house/techno, Chicago house, Krautrock, Italo, new wave, new age, or any kind of music that puts you in that sci-fi, future zone mindset. It doesn't even have to have any synthesizers in it. I would consider a lot of Steve Reich to be futuristic music. It can be old or new; it just has to have that future feeling.
What's the future feeling?
Basically when whatever music you're listening to puts futuristic imagery in your head, like some scene from a sci-fi movie or book or a palette of colors that might feel futuristic. Total Recall totally gives me the future feeling, or Aliens, Predator, Dune, Star Trek. Movies like Independence Day or Armageddon don't. The colors blue and green feel very futuristic to me. I guess it's probably different for a lot of people.
What artists influence your sets and tracks?
There's lots of Dutch influence for sure with guys like Legowelt, I-F, Mark Du Mosch, Orgue Electronique, and TJR. I really love how they put their own unique twist on Chicago house, Detroit techno, disco, and electro. I think they really understand what makes the music so special and that totally comes through in their own music. Seeing pictures and videos of Legowelt playing live with a big table of hardware was definitely a big inspiration for what I do. I even bought a Yamaha RM1x, which is what I use for sequencing, because I kept seeing it in his videos. It ended up being a real awesome piece of gear that is still the heart of my setup.
Another big one for me was discovering The Cybernetic Broadcasting System aka IFM (a Dutch Internet radio station based on the West Coast of Holland in Den Haag). I was just starting to really get into Italo, Chicago house, and Detroit techno but didn't really know where to look for the really dope stuff. One day I stumbled on to CBS and it was like hitting the jackpot for all that kind of music and much more. Definitely wouldn't be where I am today without CBS.
Videogame music has definitely rubbed off on me, too, especially Playstation One games from the late '90s to early '00s like Wipeout, Ace Combat 3, and Armored Core.
Tell us a little about the Portland electronic music scene versus the S.F. scene, to the best of your knowledge.
From what I gather, the S.F. scene seems a lot more robust. Seems like there are more people down there that are into the real shit. There's definitely some good shit going on up here [in Portland], and it's definitely been growing a lot in the last few years, but I think there are still a lot of peeps that nobody knows about and have yet to unveil themselves. As long as things keep progressing like they have, things should be super dope in the near future. Also, we don't see nearly the same amount of awesome more underground DJs and electronic acts coming through Portland as S.F.
Recently, your track "Dream Recall" got featured in Beats in Space radio. How did you connect with Tim Sweeney?
It was a nice big surprise when I got on Facebook that day and read a post on my wall from my friend Matt that said, "You're on Beats in Space dude!" I later found out that my friend Jared, aka Max Bass, who owns Clinton Street Records had given Tim a 7-inch of mine when he was in town DJing.
Lastly, your favorite space/sci-fi movie is what and why?
Total Recall. It was definitely one of those movies that you saw when you were kid and really stuck with you throughout the years. I think was nine or 10 years old when I first saw it. It made me question what really happened at the end of the movie for about 12 years and even when I watch it now. I'm still not sure if he's dreaming or in reality. It also just has the perfect amount of '80s grime, even though it came out in 1990 and there are just too many cool scenes to list. The Johnny Cab, exploding disguise woman head, pulling the tracer out of his nose, and the part with the hologram wrist band? Man, I think I'm going to watch it tonight.