Techno straight out of New York’s womb: Interview with Donor

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My first encounter with Greg Schappert’s output was a couple years ago, when the Donor/Truss name combo sparked my interest on a popular music seeking platform I will not mention here. Their 2011 EP ‘Endo‘, out on London based label Perc Trax proved to be just the tip of the techno iceberg, without even considering their releases as separate musical entities. Fast forward to 2015, and his debut album is out on Prosthetic Pressings. After globetrotting the world, Donor’s ‘Against All’ is an auricular encyclopedia of his homely New York, encasing sinuous industrial bits and pieces taken as field recordings on his way from Brooklyn to Manhattan. As with most of his tracks, daunting build-ups tower above heavy grooves, leaving just enough headspace for the listener to become completely immersed.

When coming across your name, I couldn’t help but think about DJ Shadow’s Organ Donor. Where did you get the idea for the name?

Yeah, it seems to always come up when searching any site for Donor. I came up with the name will living in Tokyo. I’m not sure why I chose the name but it has nothing to do with DJ Shadow.

You’ve been quite the globetrotter, living in several cities across the world. What do you think is the correlation between the peculiarities of each scene/audience and their geographical coordinates?

I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to live in all of these different cities, each of which had an influence in a unique way, and all of which seemed to be in their prime in regards to Techno when I was living there. I will never forget living in Madrid, Spain in the late 90’s, I was supposed to be there for school or whatever. The parties never seemed to end and it was a time when I was exposed to a lot of great artists, especially Oscar Mulero. He had a huge following in Spain back then, a bit of a rough crowd at times depending on where he was playing, but I wasn’t  really there to socialize as much as I was to hear a lot of great music from artists that he would frequently share the line up with.

After finishing school in Washington D.C. in 2002, I moved to Tokyo for a few years with my good friend Bob Rogue. Japan is an amazing country with an incredible underground music scene. I had so many good nights out, some of the most memorable at Maniac Love. The culture is unique in that people can be quite reserved during the day but that all changed at night in the club. You would never believe that the same people you interacted with during the day were the same people you partied with at night.

It was a tough move initially returning to the States in 2007. While the scene has grown tremendously since moving back, I really appreciated the smaller club venues, warehouse events and parties like The Bunker where most who attended were either involved in the scene in some way or another or at least knew what was going on around them. The scene seemed fresh and quite underground. A lot has changed since then as the music has gotten more popular and some bigger venues have opened, shifting a lot of the scene back into the clubs. I feel very disconnected from the scene in New York at the moment which is my fault really. I just don’t have as much time to go out and socialize and stay connected these days.

There were a few other cities involved as well but these are the ones worth mentioning. What I really liked about some of these cities in regards to both culture and the club scene, I didn’t about others, but in one way or another they all left a lasting and inspirational impact.

What made you plant your roots in NYC in the end? 

After spending many years living overseas and finally being denied working papers in Barcelona, Spain, it was the easy move. I wasn’t getting any younger and I had no money saved up at the time and my parents had a couch for me to crash on in Manhattan until I got a steady job and could afford my own place. I guess things just fell into place after that and I got comfortable. In the end, I’m very happy with my decision though as it was in New York where I really found the time to focus on music, drew a lot of inspiration, and ultimately started releasing records.

For me Tresor was the perfect environment for Techno; a dark, intense, smoke filled room, and once you entered that basement you lost all communication with those around you. It was the perfect environment and a huge inspiration.

What was it that sparked your interest about the kind of music you are playing now?

While I did quite a bit of clubbing in NYC (Twilo, Tunnel, Limelight) prior to moving to Europe, it wasn’t really until I moved to Spain in ’97 that I knew the direction I wanted to go with music. It wasn’t just Madrid but also the easy access to the rest of Europe. I had a lot of really amazing nights in the original Tresor that I will never forget. For me Tresor was the perfect environment for Techno; a dark, intense, smoke filled room, and once you entered that basement you lost all communication with those around you. It was the perfect environment and a huge inspiration. I can’t specify what it was about the sounds that I was being exposed to during these years that left a lasting impact on me, it just sounded right and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Aside from 80s horror film scores can you tell us other influences that have helped shaped your vision?

Yeah, these film scores, especially John Carpenter stuff were a huge influence before I even knew anything about electronic music. I grew up a fan of 80’s horror but it wasn’t until later that I realized the apparent influence that they had and their relation to what I am currently producing. Electro as well. Names like Kraftwerk, Drexciya, I-F, Dopplereffekt, Arpanet and Anthony Rother have all been have been major influences over the years.

Walk us through your debut album, the name and the concept behind it. What was your mindset when putting it together?

I did a Track by Track for Ransom Note quite recently. Here you can find info about the recording process and intention of the album, along with some exclusive previews.

What is your preferred studio setup? How do you translate that into your live sets?

I’ve been collecting gear for quite some time but my current set up that I used to create my new album consists of a Roland TR-909, and Edirol R-09 Field Recorder, Even Tide Guitar Pedals, Guitar Rig and loads of Universal Audio plug ins. I find that most of my originality comes from my field recorder but I tend to use the same effects to process most of these sounds. I did get quite a bit of new gear as of recently so I excited to start experimenting with some new stuff when I have time. As for my live set, I have yet to include any of my hardware, other than the guitar pedals. Maybe its the fear or frustration of traveling with it, but I use a laptop running Ableton Live, an iPad running TouchAble as a controller and a Apogee Quartet with multiple outputs that I run into 4 separate channels on an Allen & Heath Xone:92 mixer. I basically use the original tracks and a lot of the loops and sounds used to create them, reworking them on the fly.

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What are your thoughts of the ongoing analog vs digital dispute producers talk about these days. What about downloading or streaming music?

I’m not really too concerned with how the music is produced as long as it’s interesting and sounds right. As for myself, I use an even mix of hardware and software. I am a heavy user of Universal Audio plug ins which sound fantastic and  I’m not even sure I would be able to tell the difference between the digital replicas of the analogue originals.

As for downloading and streaming music…
I’m a huge fan of Spotify, not the royalty payouts, but the amount of interesting electronic music. I never buy anything digital anymore but when I hear things that I really like, I buy the vinyl. Believe me when I say that I am a heavy supporter of artists in that I spend as much money as I make supporting the scene. We can’t hide the fact that digital is where the future is going. I see the future being more about subscription based services and clubs with Wifi connections where you will be able to have a huge library of music at your fingertips through services like Spotify or Beatport. It’s sad to think that all of the tangible things that I take pride in and have collected over the years will be a thing of the past for the generations to come.

 I read somewhere that almost 70% of the entire Beatport catalog has catalogue has never been downloaded. What do you think sets artists apart nowadays and how do you filter your preferred tracks/acts?

Well there is a lot of shit on Beatport which is probably why. It’s difficult these days to control quality when pretty much anyone can start up a digital label at very low costs. It’s unfortunate that with the limited time I have for music these days, there are a lot of promos/artists that I don’t even get a chance to listen to. A lot of times I find myself listening to artists that I know and labels that I trust. I guess that is one way of weaving through a lot of the crap that comes out these days. The problem is that I am probably missing out on some quality stuff as well. Techno is in a very good place at the moment but there is a lot of stuff that is starting to sound the same, a similar situation that the scene suffered with back in the early 2000’s. With that being said, I’m always in search of artists pushing new concepts and ideas and keeping the scene fresh and there are definitely plenty of artists that are currently doing just that. I definitely buy more electro these days than anything else.

What does your agenda look like for the next months, do you have any new releases in the works? What about the gig schedule, is there an album tour coming up by any chance?

No touring as my schedule is tight these days. I have a full time job and a 2 month old baby to care for. I make whatever time I can for music but my travel for gigs is pretty much limited to one, sometimes two, weekends a month at this point. With that being said I have a couple gigs coming up in the States in New York, Seattle and Detroit and I’ll be making a trip out to Europe in June where I will be hooking up with my good friend Tom for hopefully a few Donor / Truss shows. As for the album, it has seen extensive delays, which on a positive note I guess should buy me a bit of time, but I plan on getting back to work in the studio towards the end of the month.

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