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Josey Exclusive: DJ Declan James Discusses Techno, Producing, and the Art of Striking Through

Blog > Josey Exclusive: DJ Declan James Discusses Techno, Producing, and the Art of Striking Through

Written by Morgan Learn

Posted March 6th, 2024

DJ Declan James Photo by Andrew Leon Bercovich

Shifting away from his hazy Trance and staticy Vaporwave roots, DJ Declan James ventured to the unknown. The Dallas based artist and producer struck gold by redefining his vision of Techno, focusing on an Industrial sound. The steady drum lines, dotted with metallic pings, elicit feelings of a post-apoloctypilic office party. Declan James speaks to Josey Records about his journey with Techno music, upcoming shows and more.

Morgan: Declan, you and I have known each other for a little bit, but I think the only thing I really know about you, music wise, is that you showed me Macintosh Plus, which I really adored. I know you DJ, but I don’t know a lot about you. So, I think this is the perfect opportunity to give you the floor and tell me about you and your journey with music.

Declan: Sure, yeah, so I started producing music when I was about 15. I was in my second year of high school. I had an interest in it for a long time and was always interested in Dance music in general. I really got into it through the EDM wave of the 2010’s; Skrillex, Dead Mouse, those people. It started there and my interest kept growing. I started producing when I was 15. I was initially a Trance music producer, which is kinda like an “uplifting” version of dance music that emerged in the 90’s. While I was doing that, funnily enough you mentioned Macintosh Plus, I was doing Vaporwave music too and was a part of that scene. When I was younger I was really experimenting with my sound, but I had a couple projects that were doing relatively well. I signed with my first label when I was 16. And yeah, I just started gaining traction, particularly as a Trance DJ. When I was doing Vaporwave, I was self-releasing, but it was all online. There was never a show-playing component to it, it was very much online. On the Trance side of things, I started playing shows when I was 17. It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and then I got bored and switched to Techno music. [Techno] was more experimental and I felt like I had more to say artistically. So I made the switch and signed with a label called Drumcode. I was working with them for a while and touring. I went further and further into the bizarre, experimental techno scene, which is where we are today. I toured with Richie Hawtin last year, one of the pioneers of Techno, and I run my own label now.

Morgan: Very cool. You briefly spoke to the style of music you make now. Can you talk about that a little bit more? What are the inspirations behind the music you make? Or is there anyone you look up to?

Declan: Yeah, so initially when I formed my label and the kind of collective that I participate in now, it was very against what was popular in Techno music, which is what we would call “Peak Hour Techno'' or “Business Techno'' now. I gravitated more towards Industrial and “hard sounds''. I found myself getting more into “Mental” Techno, which is a style really popular in Spain and South America. It’s this abstract merging of industrial drum rhythm and science fiction inspired atmospheres. So, you get this like, ambience floating over very aggressive drumwork.

Morgan: You also recently played a show, I think it was early January. It was…how do you say it, “SXTCY”?

Declan: Yeah, yeah.

Morgan: Okay, okay. It felt wrong, but we figured it out [Laughs]. What was that like? How does it compare to your first gig?

Declan: The SXTCY gig was really cool! They’re a warehouse group out in L.A. and we had about 600 to 700 people show up. There’s definitely been more and more interest in the kind of Techno I’m making, which is cool to see because for a long time it was considered fringe. I always felt like it was going to take off in the U.S. because in Europe it was doing so well. It felt inevitable to me. My first show as a Techno DJ was in 2018…2019 maybe? It was in Dallas. There were probably 10-15 people there [Laughs]. But, I was still confident in what I was doing. I felt like what I was doing musically was good, so even if there weren’t that many people that were receptive to it, it was okay with me. I cared about staying true to what I thought was good.

Morgan: You also just released a new song “Binary Formats”. Can you tell me the process behind making that and what you’re trying to convey musically through the song?

Declan: Sure. “Binary Formats” and “Mass” is actually a split EP. “Binary Formats” is my track and “Mass” is a track by a Miami based producer named Elias Garcia. We came together to release it on my label, Voidware. It came together pretty fast, really over the course of a day. It was an attempt to make something really, I guess “angular” might be the right term. The drumbeat stays the same, which is typical of Techno. But, you have so much space over a steady rhythm to impose rhythmically abstract elements. So, “Binary Formats” was kind of birthed out of that idea of like, putting things over the drums that weren’t, in time, traditional. Like, the rate in which they are delaying is not in time with the drums, but because the beat is so strong under it, it imposes like a sort of order to it. So, it’s this weird merging of floaty, non-rhythmic stuff, and really heavy rhythms.

Morgan: You briefly mentioned Voidware Techno, which I did some, we’ll call it “research”, definitely not Instagram stalking [Both Laugh]. Can you tell me about the label and how that came about? What’s the mission statement?

Declan: Yeah, so Voidware started in 2020 during the Pandemic, right at the tail end of it. It was originally just a party. I went to a party down in Austin called “Body Mechanics”. Funnily enough, a lot of the people who were there are now on my label. There wasn’t a lot going on at the end of Covid, it was pretty dry. And, I was really influenced by the D.I.Y ethic of that party. It was just a dude, Devin, who was funding it himself. It was this raw, punk party with a lot of Industrial aesthetics incorporated into it. I liked the feeling of anarchy that was associated with it. So, I came back to Dallas and went back to the drawing board and decided I was going to launch my own party, which was Voidware. So, we started early 2021, I had the first party. It was me and one of my friends from California, Drak. We played the first one and then it took off very quickly. There was nothing like that in Dallas at the time. There was another group in Fort Worth called Beverly Hills Cowboy, that I’ve worked with a couple times and they were doing something similar around that time, but it was very new. [Voidware] started out as this party, and then kind of snowballed into a label because I had so many relationships with these artists. I wanted to start pushing more music out, so I created the platform for it. I guess the ethic for the label, or mission, is to highlight good hypnotic Techno- particularly from North America, but I’ve had some European artists as well. With the label, I’m trying to merge the European and North American sound because there’s sort of a divide there, especially when it comes to shows. Everyone in North America stays in North America, and everyone in Europe stays in Europe. So, I’ve been trying to cultivate a relationship between the two groups through the label.

Morgan: I won’t take up too much of your time, I know you’ve gotta get back to scratching records. So, with that said, take me through what a show looks like. And speaking of shows, do you have any upcoming events we should look out for?

Declan: To walk you through the process of a show: I show up, I have a USB, all the CDJs are linked and I just go. Everything is very improvisational. I don’t prepare setlists ahead of time, I just kind of feel it out. I’ll typically have a starting track, but other than that it’s all off the cuff. I try to read the crowd and think about conceptually what I want to do. Maybe in an abstract sense, I have a concept or feeling of what I’m going for. The next show I have on the books is in February. I’m playing Phoenix, and then some stuff going on at Movement Music Festival in May.

Morgan: Where can we stream your music?

Declan: Spotify. Bandcamp is really good, you can get WAV files from us. YouTube…It’s basically everywhere.

Morgan: Definitely need to be on the lookout for that! With my final question, what advice would you give to anyone trying to get into DJing?

Declan: I think the big thing would be to try to cultivate your perspective in what you’re doing, and not what other people might expect of you or what they want. That’s a hard thing. I think DJing is also about considering the room you’re in. But there’s something to be said about real vision and sticking to that. I think that’s what strikes through eventually, pushing your perspective through your music and staying true to that. Even if it means, like, clearing the floor every now and again. I’ve cleared so many floors in my life, and still sometimes, I’ll clear floors. I think there are so many great artists in so many different domains that have cleared floors over time. One of my favorite bands is Suicide, a New York post-punk band. The history that I can find of their shows is that they only cleared the floor when they played, no one would stay. Yet, they’re now regarded as a very influential act. So I would say, stick to your guns. Don’t worry about what other people think. Be comfortable enough to take risks with what you’re doing musically and eventually, it’ll strike through.