Photo: Rebecca Crawford (Eric Cloutier)
Eric Cloutier is one of those rare DJs that can give new meaning to old tunes. A walking encyclopedia of dance music, the Berlin-based US American’s sets are full of surprises and „I’ve heard this one before“ moments. There are, of course, also some nuggets to be found in Cloutier’s mix for our Groove podcast, tucked in neatly between new and obscure material the Palinoia founder has dug up.
Born and raised in Detroit, you moved to New York in your twenties and became a resident at The Bunker. In fact, you mentioned The Bunker affiliate Derek Plaslaiko as an influence in your formative years. What is about him and his DJing impressed you the most?
Derek has an unbelievable discography in his brain – and his shelves – and he finds surprising connections and ways to layer tracks that is just unparalleled. He’s always had this groovy weirdness that you really have no choice but to dance to – your body just does strange things when he’s behind the decks. First time I saw him in Detroit I remember being like “who is this guy and how can I own every single one of these records.”
You are sometimes vocally critical of certain trends in dance music and the industry surrounding it, recently stating on Twitter that the techno community “doesn’t challenge the audience enough anymore”. Which producers and DJs in your opinion, however, set a good example – and, polemically speaking, why does the audience needs to be challenged in the first place?
Right now there’s a few people that push some boundaries in a good way – Nina Kraviz, Courtesy, Forest Drive West, and Valentino Mora all come to mind immediately – but reliably and historically being solid as hell from the start like Donato Dozzy, DVS1 and Jane Fitz holds just as much merit. I think it’s important that us as DJs spend a little more time looking for interesting music to play rather than resting on an inbox full of promos and playing predictable, easy-to-mix mindless garbage. There’s a growing trend of basically pushing play and relying on cheap fills and breakdowns like it was trance from the late 90s – big whooshy filter sweeps and snare rolls every single track – and it’s childish and is setting the entire talent pool backwards instead of embracing a world of music at our fingertips in an engaging way. The paychecks are astronomically high for the ones that play the most pedestrian sets when they should be the ones setting the bar for educating people on the dancefloor with quality, intelligent music.
After many years as a DJ, you have debuted rather late as a producer and remixer and the name of your label – Palinoia, Greek for “the compulsive repetition of an act until it is perfect” – could perhaps be understood as a tongue-in-cheek explanation why that is so. When do you have the feeling that a track or a whole release of yours is, well, perfect?
It took me a while to come up with a title for the label, but when I found this one my wife said “that’s exactly you to the letter – it has to be the name!” I’m a perfectionist, for sure, but I’m also studied and I know what I want, so I would rather take my time and get it right and put out only a handful of things than turn into an assembly line of forgettable tunes that get recycled in peoples’ record bags or hard drives after a couple weeks. The problem I have is that I’m perpetually tweaking bits and pieces and really nailing it down, but the usual way I know its done is if I get it to near completion and then walk away from it for a few days and listen start record shopping or have a little dig on my shelves to find some things I’ve forgotten about. After a thorough cleansing of my ears I usually then discover that I’ve got it, or something was off that I was overlooking because, after hours and hours of the same thing, your brain just glosses over subtle flaws. If I disconnect from it and then return I almost immediately hear what it was missing – or doing too much of – and then I can mark it final.
A few years ago, you even talked about your plans of recording an album. How far has that proceeded, and what in your opinion constitutes a good album, especially in the field of dance music?
This is the one that I’m struggling with, and clearly have for years. There’s albums out there that are literally just nine dancefloor bangers, which, honestly, is just three EPs that you released in an expensive way, and that’s precisely what I don’t want to do. As someone that regularly dips in and out of techno, house, and ambient sounds I want there to be a story to the album, much like I curate my sets in a way. I definitely want it to express all of the styles that I’m known for over the last years, but also surprise the listeners on their first time with it. If it takes me six months to write three tracks for an EP, I can’t even imagine how long this album will finally take. Fortunately I’ve hit a really good stride in the studio and my comfort level is returning there so if I can knuckle down over the dull, grey winter of Berlin I might just have something for spring… in theory. Hah!
As labels and producers especially find it harder and harder to make a living through record sales and/or royalties, many people are searching for new strategies. You have also recently been pondering on releasing either a special edition Palinoia release through Bandcamp or to go the “proper route to stores with it via a distributor and a (print and distribution) deal”. Which advantages and disadvantages do you see in either option?
Going the Bandcamp route definitely nets me the most profits, but the time it would take to sell out of said release might be five times as long since it’s only one store selling it. The financial risk factor is higher, but the reward would be a bit better, especially spiritually. It’s also time consuming – I’d be boxing and shipping everything myself, so the local DHL shop would get to know me very well very quickly. Going the route of a distro that offers P+D would mean that my input financially is less, but I basically make nothing except positive press out of it. I think for this specific one I might keep full control of it as I want it to remain something special and not just be in every store on earth, even if that does seem logically backwards to most people. In a sense it’s no different than Record Store Day special editions that you personally have to be in said shop for – make the connoisseur hunt for the music they want similar to someone passionate about whiskey, wine, or cheese.
You have famously referred to yourself as a “record digging psychopath” once. How do you prepare for your DJ sets especially when you are playing at a club that you have not yet visited?
I treat every set differently, but I also respect the audience and the promoters around the world that want to book me 100% so I can’t ever just phone it in. I’m constantly updating my Rekordbox playlists and shuffling things around in my flight case to mold the music to be appropriate for the setting and time slot; I would get very bored with my own sets if I was recycling the same tunes over and over. I’ve educated myself enough over the years to know that face ripping techno sounds ridiculous at 3p on a beach, just as I’m not going to play a psychedelic tribal set if the guy before me is playing disco house – though I might make my way there over the course of my slot. I’ll alway ask, days before the event, for the timetable so I know to make sure I’m fitting in the arc of the night or day’s sound, but I regularly look at the opening DJs if they have a Soundcloud so I can get some sense of the club if I’m unfamiliar with them or they’re simply locals in that area. I’ll sometimes look to see if a friend has played there previously and ask them for thoughts, but the most important thing is that I show up prepared for any situation, without stressing my spine out carrying around 400 records.
What was the idea behind your contribution to the Groove podcast?
To be honest, a one-hour anything for me as a DJ is infuriating, which is why I almost always turn down festival gigs, so that was an intimidatingly short amount of time to fit what I wanted to do in to. However I decided to flip the concept on its head and challenge myself to play, in 60min, what I would normally do if I was given an all-night set somewhere – condense opening, peak, and close in that short amount of time, yet still keep it an engaging set that doesn’t seem jarring or too cut-up and incoherent.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the near future and what are your plans as a producer and label owner?
I’ve got a busy October coming up with me at Labyrinth Festival for the first time in five years, though it’s actually the first time I’ll get to play it in ten. The last time I was on the lineup was a year a typhoon cancelled the entire last day so I have a lot of anticipation for this one. After that I have a couple more gigs in Japan, then doing a back-to-back set with one of my all-time favorites, Jane Fitz. We haven’t done one in almost two years and her and I alway having a belter of a time together, so that should be one for the record books. Outside of that I’m really knuckling down in the studio and hoping to finish a couple EP’s of various styles, but as previously mentioned, try and flesh out this album and maybe make it see the light of day sometime before the collapse of civilization.
Stream: Eric Cloutier – Groove Podcast 224
01. Loop LF – Terra [Well Street Records]
02. Plants Army Revolver – Enki [Mental Modern]
03. D&S – The Way Things Really Are [Sungate]
04. Caim – Drift Meditation [Caim Records]
05. Doubt – Just Pain [Mistress Recordings]
06. Luigi Tozzi – Oplite [Voltage]
07. Unbalance – Bloodlust [Propaganda Moscow]
08. Rue East – Summer of Blood (Hardgroove Remix) [Pure Plastic]
09. User – Untitled 01 [User]
10. Royal House – Dirty Beats [Idlers]
11. Och – Whalesong [Trelik]
12. The Chemical Brothers – Just Bang [Virgin EMI]
13. Wice – Yes, No, Never Appropriate [Steinlach]
14. Sterac – Primus [100% Pure]
15. Damon Wild – Opaque (Surgeon Remix) [Synewave]
16. James Ruskin – Disaffection [Blueprint Records]
17. Surgeon – Floorshow Pt.1 B1 [Counterbalance]
18. James “Jack Rabbit” Martin – Only Wanted to Be (Unreleased Acid Version) [Westside Records]
19. Al Wootton – Rahma [Trule]