by Joep Vermaat
If there's one person who has put Detroit back on the map music-wise it is probably Brendan M Gillen, or BMG for short. He's a do-it-all, making music, releasing music, distributing music and even playing it live. How and why does he do it? He explained this himself at the MURDERCAPITAL show in October 1998.
Brendan: I've been here last year. I stayed over at Ferenc back then. I was supposed to DeeJay at "Het Paard" in The Hague. That was my first time in Holland. I did a four deejay tour with Ferenc. And this year we are at the end of a live tour with Adult. And one of the members of Ectomorph couldn't make it because it was her last days at college.
Joep: So Ectomorph isn't this one person?
Brendan: No, Ectomorph is an idea. I'm the director of the project, but I don't have the sole responsibility in any manner. I feel it's like an idea and I have a lot of collaborators and sometimes people join me and sometimes people slip away again. Now I have been working a lot with Erica who plays with us live and straps on 101 and plays it like a guitar. She grew up playing piano. She played jazz piano for about ten years. She sadly couldn't be here tonight, but Adam (of Adult) has been awesome.
Joep: But he looked like he really had to work on it.
Brendan: Oh yeah, it was his first time. Last night would have been the first time, but the Belgian club we were at didn't have the right power converters. So the whole show was cancelled. But I think he did a really good job.
Joep: The audience responded well.
Brendan: Definitely. I have done a lot of live shows. I think it is a really important medium for this music. Making it a bit more personal and brings in a lot more variation. Deejaying is interesting, but playing live brings in more variation. So I do a lot of live shows. I'm really comfortable with it. Thereís things happening, still you go with it. Anything that can fuck up, is being fucked up. But that's not something to be nervous about.
Joep: But I asked Adam, and he said the exact opposite of what you're saying. He hates touring.
Brendan: He is more into order. I guess I enjoy chaos a little more. I know you have to have some organisation, but with the chaos you just go with the flow.
Joep: You have to improvise.
Brendan: Improvisation has always been very important to us.
Joep: That seems strange, because most people won't think of your music as improvised.
Brendan: Well, that's how we come up with the keyboard lines. It all starts with that. Sometimes you hear something in your head first. That happens occasionally. Sometimes when I'm driving I hear a keyboard line or a lead or a pair of keyboard lines. And then I come home and I play it into a tape player. And sometimes I go to the studio and check how close I can get to what was in my head. But live is different from records. Records you make more personal. Live you have a lot more freedom to improvise. If we wanted to work live on a record it would be asking for different recording techniques which we couldn't afford before. And live we would function differently, we would usually change instruments as well. While on record you can do things one at a time. Live you have to be this full armed band, and that makes for some interesting stuff.
Joep: So how different is making records to you?
Brendan: It's a totally different medium. A record is a record. Live is a more immediate and temporal experience. When you have a live show and you record it, when you hear the recording, it's never what you heard that evening. Because you don't hear on the tape the energy of the people around you. The spirit of the people. And that is what a live show is, spirit. The idea, and that is what I love about live shows, is that you get a connection. That is why a show like this is perfect.
Joep: But do you notice, when you're looking at all these instruments what it is like out there?
Brendan: Sure. You can feel the reaction, you don't even have to hear someone scream, you can feel it. The hardest thing in the world is to overcome the spirit of the party. If it is a bad vibe and to make it good again. To give a good performance even if it's a bad party. It's the easiest thing to do a good set at a good party. For me it is to feel the people, you don't have to be looking it is just senses. That is a big thing for me. I don't believe that we just have five senses, there's more to it than that. You can feel it at a great party. When you leave a great party you will feel so excited and you go home and you want to write something or draw something or whatever. It inspires me. It's more than just that the records were good, it's more than that you had a lot of drinks or something. It's like the energy, it's there. I think that is why we all do it, it's because we had some good experiences at parties. And we're always disappointed when it's not at least touching.
Joep: When did it become important to you to make this kind of music? Brendan: Well it's what you love, you want to try it. The worst part is at first that you're thinking about going to try it. I thought it was worth a shot. I buy some gear, if it wouldn't work out I would sell it again. If I didn't feel I had talent or the ideas I would just sell the gear or whatever.
Joep: When was that?
Brendan: Early nineties. I did my first stuff in ninety one. I bought a 303, it was the first thing I ever bought. I realised I liked acid and acid was cool. Cool was the first feeling I had when I heard Phuture's Acid Trax. And I was thinking 'wow, this black music', my mind was blown. The best science fiction music I've heard since the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet. It was so futuristic, and so bizarre. So I figured if I wanted to make some acid I should get that. And that's how it started. At first I did stuff that was very house-inspired, very influenced by early Chicago. The disco roots of it all, and not the mid seventies, but more the very late seventies and early eighties kind, the spacy disco. That has always been inspiring for me. And that's when I started doing that kind of stuff, influenced by that, influenced by house, influenced by Detroit techno. I was working in a record store in Detroit at that time. And I got really tired of people competing with each other over somebody else's sound, like the competition between like Luke Slater and Dave Clarke over Basic Channel sound.
Brendan: Well you had these various waves of techno. The first Detroit wave I was not a record buyer then, I went out to night clubs more. I went to the "Music Theatre" at that time and that was a bizarre experience and I had never had an experience like that before, I was just sixteen. And that changed me a lot. And I kept listening to the music and got really excited about some stuff I heard and I went to a record store to try and find it. And I found out it was Underground Resistance. And that was the first wave after that Plus 8 and the great early F.U.S.E. records and they kicked my ass. A song like "Energy Flash" is as good as "I Feel Love" or "Circulation", it is one of the greatest dance songs. If you would play a song like that anywhere, it would fill the floor. That's when I started buying records. And I was so excited about the music and then I thought that I should try. Right when we were about to release the first record techno had become soulless and there were only about five really good artists then. But most techno had become so empty and soulless. And that's why I had become so unexcited that I went back to my roots. I used to listen to new wave, funk, hiphop when I was very young. It was always in my head and I wanted to bring back the funk. Techno had driven away the funk and had become all mind and no body. It was only about treating certain kind of drum sounds. I wanted music to have the mind and the body. I think that our music has it both, they are not just that dance records. I want them to have sex drive. You know like Miami Bass and electro and hiphop has that kind of sexual undertow.
Joep: And techno hasn't got that?
Brendan: Well house has some of that. But electro has lust. It excites you, it's got a drive to it. Back then I wanted to wait until I had my own original sound until I released a record.
Joep: Why is it that people in Europe are really excited about your music, while nobody cares in the States?
Brendan: I think music moves around in circles. When I started my music trance was big, then trance became less popular and electro came in. And at the moment there is so much copycat electro around that they are actually killing electro. You've got all these people dancing like robots and all these records that are no more than a good hard beat. And that makes the music less popular again. The way I look at it music has to have focus. It has to be more than just music you can dance to, it has to grab you. Some of these guys in Detroit know how to get a good beat, but forget about the stuff that makes the music what it is. And there are many more people all around the world who do understand about things like that. People like Ferenc. He knows about the focus of the music. His music has got soul, he's got soul! You can feel his passion for the music, it is right in there. There's so much empty music around that his kind of music can make a big difference. But music in Detroit is very important, because of the state the city is in. People are very pragmatic about their music. It has to have a kicking bass drum or snare or a keyboard line that grabs you. Detroit parties are important to the people. There are young kids out there who have just learned to deejay that will do better than the names, because they feel so strongly about the music. It's all they got.
Joep: Do you think it can be like that outside of Detroit?
Brendan: I have no idea. I know about the situation in the inner city of Detroit and how important music is there. I guess it must be different for a kid in Rotterdam or in Frankfurt. It's a different kind of war here.
Joep: But you don't actually live in Detroit, do you?
Brendan: No, I was born in Detroit, but I have always lived in the suburbs with my parents. Then I went to University, the University of Michigan in Ann Harbor. And I have stayed there ever since, because I really like the atmosphere. People are very open minded there, it is a very liberal city. Michigan is a very conservative state, very Republican, my parents were Liberal, so it's very comfortable. It's got trees, you can walk around at night. I have worked in Detroit, for years, but now I choose to stay in Ann Harbor. I like to go to Detroit, Iíve got lots of business there, I am there all the time. When I still lived in Detroit everyone I knew would come to my house all the time. From the moment I woke up, people would be hanging around my place. Now I live in Ann Harbor I get stuff done, because all my music friends have to drive first to get to me. When I want solitude I have solitude. When I want people, I have people. Every Thursday I have my radio show in Ann Harbor and a lot of people will come down and there will be a very open atmosphere. So some nights this is like a big social event. So I've got that once a week and the parties that I go out to.
Joep: Aren't you going crazy with all that stuff to do?
Brendan: Yeah, I guess I am kind of crazy. I made it through some fucked up situations, that were my fault, but I am doing okay now. I am a functioning unit.
Joep: You've got your own record label.
Brendan: I have my own record label. I do about three musical projects right now. I am trying to learn new intense computer software in my studio at the moment. I am doing remixes now, now I can. I have got my own distribution company called 'Star67' distribution, with which I distribute about five labels: my label Interdimensional Transmissions, Ersatz Audio, Viewlexx, Puzzlebox and Miami Schematic. That keeps me pretty busy. And then I still have to work for the radio station, for which I not only do the radio show but also do the music direction. But I have got help with that. The radio show is no hassle, thatís fun. So I don't see that as work really. It's more like a party and gives a really good feeling. Work should be like that, if it's like that I could work 24 hours a day. As long as you get a drive from your work.
Joep: It sounds like you do work 24 hours a day.
Brendan: And I still don't get all the things done that I should. The website should be updated. I want it to be up and running in about a month. That's the goal. But all this work is very fulfilling, because it's so close on a personal level. It makes me a living and it fulfills all my personal and artistic desires. I am living my fantasy, my dream. If all the girls were topless at my shows it would be perfect. Or maybe more rubber outfits. I'd like the girls that come to an Ectomorph show to wear more rubber. That would be nice. Rubber catsuits.
Joep: You see a lot of rubber in Detroit?
Brendan: No, sadly not. Detroit is into Goth and industrial. People think it's rebel looking, but it is not really. It's like one big Zodiac Mindwarp scene.
Joep: Ferenc would like to play at a San Francisco disco club.
Brendan: I don't know about that. But I guess they would be more open minded and it would be an interesting experiment. But he could try a gay club in Detroit. Gay clubs in Detroit are fucking amazing, or Chicago. They always have the best sound system. The crowd is always on drugs, so it's really important how the sounds influence you when you're on drugs. I was really in to it.
Joep: Ferenc is making disco tracks that would be ideal for the situation.
Brendan: Yes, I guess so. It is exciting that he's making music which is so inspired by disco. For me I was really inspired by this era of techno in LA from the eighties and mid-eighties, techno and techno hop, unknown deejay acts using really dry 808 beats and keyboards. Amazing funk and all that. That used to be so weird. Now I'm really inspired by the '79 till '83 disco when it became more dubby and strange. It's so exciting. Itís the feeling you get from dub reggae, really good dub reggae but then with this solid disco beat. I'm really inspired by that and I call it space disco.
Right on Brendan, space is the place!