A chat with Patrick Russell
In all the turmoil of the past months, Patrick Russell has found a fitting coping strategy. Whether spending almost every day in the studio or doing a 14-hour live stream for his followers, Russell has thrown himself headfirst into music. The result is a renewed vigor for his craft – and a determination to use this time as wisely as possible.
Originally from the Midwest and having cut his teeth in the Detroit rave scene of the ‘90s, Russell is perhaps best known as a key figure in the famed No Way Back parties. A move to New York, where he is now a resident with the Bunker, allowed him to broaden his musical palette. His penchant for deep, psychedelic storytelling is on full display in his recent mix for Patterns of Perception, on the back of which we caught up with Russell to hear more about his current projects.
Hey Patrick! How are you going at the moment?
Surprisingly ok, given the year we’ve had. Outside of DJing, my day job revolved around various aspects of the event industry, which is a long way off from returning…so, like many folks, I’ve adjusted to a new daily life.
In a recent email, you mentioned that you’ve been focusing on making music during COVID. Have you found these last few months particularly fruitful creatively? Why might that be?
It’s been quite productive actually, though from speaking to other artists and DJs I feel I’m somewhat in the minority. I experienced a low point early on when I had to cancel April gigs in Tokyo and Taipei – a trip I was very much looking forward to – and combined with losing work it was a major blow to my overall outlook. However, I was able to pivot and focus that energy into my studio, and ever since then I’ve spent every day devoted to music in some form or another: working on a remix or collaboration, cramming for a podcast or stream, or even just reading and learning about new gear.
As for my own music, well, without gigs I feel like making music is back to a form of pure expression, and so far it’s been invigorating. In the end I simply decided this time was a gift, and I didn’t want to look back and have nothing to show for it. It’s keeping me sane and I feel at peace.
You were recently on the lineup for the Anecumene radio show on 9128.live and took part in a No Way Back stream in late May, among others. I’m curious about how you’ve found the experience of these digital events. Are you able to still connect with audiences through these? Are there any elements of the experience of ‘playing out’ that can be reproduced in such a format?
The first stream I did was my 14-hour ambient listening set in mid-April. Playing with that kind of freeform, psychedelic listening narrative has long been a passion of mine, although it has traditionally been amongst groups of friends or the rare event such as Mysteries Of The Deep or Sustain-Release. I wasn’t 100% sure how it would translate to an online audience, but in the end, I had to trust my gut, and it worked. This inspired me to do another eight-hour set in May that was still freeform but more focused on dub, African drumming and modern D&B. Along with NWB and Anecumene, there has been a great response to these sets and people have been able to connect and share the experience through various chats. While I miss the tangible feedback from an energetic audience (not to mention dancing with friends in front of large subs), I feel this new way of coming together will see us through to the other side.
Are there differences in the way you approach a set for an online audience? Do you adapt your sound or mixing style at all, for example to account for more home listening?
Overall I’ve been feeling a great sense of freedom playing during COVID because I’m not necessarily tied to a “dance floor” vibe. I naturally gravitate towards more adventurous music and narratives, so I’m using this opportunity to push it further, with more twists and turns than ever before.
Eric Cloutier once told us that he feels people sometimes use Detroit as an adjective for a certain sound and standard of djing. Do you ever feel something similar?
I’d say there was a certain time when that applied, particularly as it pertained to a certain sound or style of playing. Standards were always very high in Detroit (and Chicago as well) – because of the level of talent and folks playing only on vinyl, you had to be really good to be noticed and get gigs. Nowadays with digital DJing and the internet, things are more democratised and I’m not sure people have the same sense of evaluation. Expectations, and the bar by which talent is measured, have changed.
However, I choose to believe the cream will always rise to the top, even if the masses aren’t always interested. I still think integrity, hard work and pushing yourself matter above anything else, and that’s perhaps the best takeaway you can get from Detroit.
How would you say your sound has changed since leaving Detroit and moving to Brooklyn, if at all? What elements of Detroit have you retained?
Moving to New York and having the immediate ability to consume such a large variety of amazing music, from experimental to techno, certainly broadened my palette as a DJ. I think I’ve found a harmony in retaining and representing my musical influences while expanding my horizons, and I wouldn’t ever want to lose that balance.
How are things looking for the scene in New York at the moment? In what ways do you think the local scene might look different after the pandemic?
As you know, New York was hit hard early on so things came to a screeching halt before most places. It has yet to recover, and given the state of the pandemic in the US, I don’t really expect it to do so anytime soon. I can’t speculate what it will look like when it’s over but I hope to see more small venues with focused audiences. That’s what I’ve always connected to most.
Resident Advisor recently described you as a “techno alchemist”. Does this accurately describe how you approach your sets?
Well first off, that’s extremely flattering. I can see how it applies though because I thrive on putting disparate tracks together and making new connections you wouldn’t otherwise notice. My philosophy is to create something of lasting value in which the sum is greater than the parts. I can’t bring myself to do anything less.
Tell us a bit about your set for Patterns of Perception. How and where was it recorded? Was there a particular inspiration or concept behind this mix?
This one was recorded at home, two XDJs, Xone 96, all in one go. I wanted to do something special that I hadn’t done before and ultimately settled on playing only at 75/150 BPM and constantly shifting between the two without ever going into ‘proper’ fast techno or electro. It was tough, because there are like, 90% more tracks out there that operate on the 85/170 BPM axis and most lose their energy when slowed down that far. It was a challenge, but I genuinely love all the tracks I selected and it was important to make them sing together.
What would be the one piece of advice you’d give to a DJ who’s just starting out?
Put in the time. I totally get the desire to get yourself out there and be heard right away, but I believe Theo Parrish once said something to the effect of “practice five years in your bedroom before playing out”. While that may seem a bit mad to you, there is a kernel of truth in there: take time to develop your skills, and most importantly, your own voice and style.
You should personally connect with every record you play and know each one like the back of your hand because that will 100% come through in the way you play them.
It’s going to take years to master this, and you might not stand out right away, but if you’re truly passionate about it then practice every day and you’ll get there with perseverance and patience. “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
It’s perhaps difficult to plan too far ahead at the moment - but can you tell us what plans you have for the rest of the year and 2021 so far?
I’ll be doing an A/V stream for a big Detroit promoter on the weekend of December 18/19, and then a radio show for Rinse France right after the New Year. After that, I’m planning another *very* long stream sometime in January/February. Stay tuned for more on those.
Lastly, what music has caught your attention recently?
Sadly, I haven’t listened to as much new music as I should have over the past few months, what with being so focused in the studio. However, I always have some great ambient and experimental-leaning mixes and albums on hand to relax to, and I’m currently obsessed with more rhythmically off-kilter biz from Mohammad Reza Mortazavi, Durian Brothers, Crossing Avenue, and Donato Dozzy. Also, Garçon has been killing it with every new mix, and I’m always going to check out anything by Forest Drive West.