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counters. “There are certain things that point towards the future from where we are now, but the idea of looking back came from the idea that there were a lot of things I’d spent a lot of time and money on that people didn’t realise were happening at the time. I thought it was important to show how we were doing things in 1994 or 2004, and what people’s impressions of what techno should sound like felt like then. It was important for people to understand how far techno has come, and then people can look ahead at what could be possible.”


UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Indeed, when discussing ‘Waveform Transmissions


Vol.1’, Jeff can now ascribe a prescient quality to the record — produced when he was living in Berlin — that has only revealed itself in retrospect. “The [Berlin] Wall went down in ’89 but I think the shock and realisation only set in later when people began to understand and feel comfortable with the possibilities of change,” he says. “It was a very difficult time, but people were feeling that things could be better, which fits with the explosion of technology that had happened. “I think people were ready for this. People were thinking democratically then, and it took a lot for technology to catch up, but then it surpassed people’s expectations. Now there seems to be this race between technology and what people want. People are becoming smarter — we know what’s happening on the other side of the planet within seconds — and technology has raised that. We’ve got to reach the point where people will either drop out or technology will transform them. “Technology will definitely change the way we experience music,” he continues. “Technology is teaching us that we can have everything we want, so people won’t just want to listen to a DJ — they’ll want to know what being a DJ is actually like. To experience what it’s like to mix in front of 5,000 people will be more interesting than just being in the audience. People want more out of life, so the definition of techno might change more towards being a feeling than an actual sound.”


Not that this is necessarily a utopian dream. For just as the Axis manifesto acknowledges that “all things are not necessarily good” — and Futurism’s more extreme ideals were perverted by fascism — Jeff talks darkly about how technology is driven by money and corporations that view “happiness as a commodity”. “But it’s not like we’re being fed by something we have no control over. It’s what people want and it’s going to change the way we live.” If there’s one arena in which Jeff believes technology has destroyed as much as it’s developed, it’s in the actual physical act of DJing. One of the world’s most visceral and energetic DJs — as seen on 2004’s ‘Exhibitionist’ DVD, which showcased his dizzyingly quick cutting between three decks — Jeff gives relatively short shrift to the current generation of laptop DJs. “A large part of DJing was discovering your personal timing,” he states. “By timing, I mean that it took time to think of something, then get it from your


record box and mix it in at the right point. That’s been lost now. I don’t think this new way of DJing is better — it certainly doesn’t sound better and people aren’t really presenting music in a more interesting way.”


PERFORMANCE For the presentation of music is of equal importance


as the music itself to Jeff. His ‘Sleeper Wakes’ project, a series of concept albums about space travel which led to a performance art spectacular premiered on New Year’s Eve 2009 in Japan, featured actors and visuals surrounding the audience whilst Jeff DJed, something he describes as “truly creative and amazing”. Contrast that, he says, with the clubs he’s regularly booked to play in Ibiza and where “you would think the production would be amazing, especially as it’s not cheap to get into a club. All it would take is a little more lighting, video and theatrics, but it isn’t set out like that and I can only assume that’s because people don’t want it.”


He also acknowledges that Ibiza’s hedonistic atmosphere isn’t always conducive to cerebral conceptualism. “People aren’t there to confront ideas, they’re there to relax and escape from their jobs. But,” he continues, “what better place to escape [to] than space?” By which he means the outer edges of the galaxy, not the club on the outskirts of Ibiza Town, since science fiction has long absorbed Jeff. He claims that ‘Sleeper Wakes’ was intended to “materialise aspects of science fiction” and as well as his scores for Metropolis and Fantastic Voyage, many of his records refer specifically to astronomy and the stars, particularly the records released on the now- dormant Axis sub-label 6277, many of which were inspired by regions of Mars. But whilst he’s fascinated by the prospect of commercial space travel within our lifetimes, he also believes that we currently come as close to stepping into space whenever we step into a club. “We didn’t have to structure clubs to be dark and we didn’t have to have lights flashing above us, or sound that has to be so powerful,” he elaborates. “These things happened because humans have always had this obsession with space. That’s entirely natural — I don’t see how anyone could look at a sky full of stars and not be amazed.”


ISOLATION Yet despite being one of techno’s most revered and


recognisable figures, Jeff often seems as isolated as an astronaut from the scene he helped create. “Techno is divided between people that need to get involved and people that want to get involved. Some people really need it because they’ve got something to say, and need to bring the sound to other people’s attention because it gives them the sense that they’re expanding the culture of techno. Then there are people that want to play it for the money and the appreciation of the audience, that makes them feel wanted. I feel I fall on the side of the people that need to do it because the audience isn’t


as important as it used to be — in the end it’s just me and the sound.” That makes him sound almost monomaniacal, and there is something undeniably obsessive about his approach to his art. He has never released another artist on the main Axis imprint, saying that he didn’t want “…to assume the ideas of others when trying to build something”. He also masters everything within certain parameters and states that the “concept” always comes before the music, yet maintains that this strict adherence to his manifesto actually engenders creative freedom. “When you have a concept and need to find a sound that sounds like mist, for example, that’s actually much easier than just banging around on a keyboard until you find something that just ‘sounds cool’. I work better when I know what I’m creating for.”


He deliberately constructs records like puzzles, it seems, “where my music is the key to something else”. “Rather than making albums in the same way — so, always putting the drums up to maximum — each sound is considered individually and positioned so that they feel different. I stay within certain groups of notes for each album, so only certain sounds are prominent and I hold back certain sounds because I don’t want to overload it. That’s why every album has a certain character and feels like a certain equation.” And if they’re equations not everyone can figure out, his music sounding as impenetrable as algebra to some, that is no longer Jeff’s concern. “I’ve spent so much time caring about what an audience wants and there are so many DJs that care about what the audience wants that I feel that I’m able to not care now,” he says. “I make music for the people but I can’t concern myself with what they want because that is always changing. I’ve heard so many people say that I’ve lost it, and it can get easy to believe that. When you want to make new things you can’t be afraid that people won’t like it. “But some people do understand and want new things and want to be pushed to create something themselves. That’s always been my main objective — that I can walk into a club or put a CD on and hear something I never ever thought possible. That’s the only legacy I can leave.”


Jeff Mills: a man with a true manifesto for change.


www.djmag.com


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