I’ve been a music lover all my life. My tastes run very eclectic and very polarizing. One minute I’ll be listening to dub techno. The next, classical guitar. The next, metalcore and deathcore. I’ve never been able to sit still in one genre because almost *all* genres of music have meant something to me at one time or another in my life, save for what I call “nu-skool pop country.” I do love Patsy Cline.
I’m not from New York, Los Angeles, or Miami or London. I was born in a tiny town in Pennsylvania and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, a longtime suburban bedroom community which has always tried way too hard to be the “big city.” I’m about as far removed from being “streetwise” as you can get. I think if I were to live in New York or Los Angeles I’d be eaten alive, either by the pace or the personalities. For me growing up, a DJ was a “radio personality” – not a party rocker, turntablist, or music collector. Just some guy on the radio that announced the next song to be played – which gave me just enough time to put in a cassette and record my favorite song. That was as close to Napster as my generation (X) got.
I’m old enough to remember listening to AM radio on long trips to see my grandparents in the 1970s and hearing music like this. I’m old enough to remember owning my first walkman (a Sanyo). I’m old enough to remember when MTV happened and actually played music videos. The first video I saw on MTV was Howard Jones “What Is Love?” and from that point forward the DJ and the VJ were constant companions. Back then it was all so new and so exciting to watch. I heard music there I couldn’t hear anywhere else, certainly music that wasn’t played on any major radio station in North Carolina.
My first experience of a club/party DJ was at my 8th grade end-of-year dance. Until that point, I had never really seen a DJ perform. I’d seen a video on MTV for a song called “Pump Up The Volume” by MARRS, went up to the DJ and requested it. He looked at me as if to say “how in the hell did you know about that song?” He showed me the record and played the “bonus beats” remix (one with an extended intro/outro for a DJ to mix), then pulled out another copy of the same record and segued the bonus beats version into the “radio” edit. I really didn’t understand what I was watching, it all looked like magic to me.
Aside: I later found the “stems” for “Pump Up The Volume” on a bit torrent site and did my own remix:
In any case, I was not going to embrace DJ-ing at that time. Loud rock music was to consume the next 5 years of my life. My mother bought me a guitar for my 16th birthday, Nirvana released “Nevermind” when I was a rising senior in high school, and I was off to the races.
I grew up on 80s synth pop… Howard Jones as I already mentioned, Depeche Mode, Human League, Thompson Twins, Information Society. I always appreciated the sound of keyboards in music. As a kid in the 1970s, I heard disco on the radio but never enjoyed it. The electronic beat had more punch. Then after my parents divorced, I underwent a musical sea-change. I was angry, and depressed. I began to gravitate towards the loudest, darkest metal music I could find: Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Prong, Pantera, etc. That was my therapy. They were the soundtrack for my family falling apart. And if you wanted to be an angry young man, the early 90s was a perfect time for it.
(DJ FM on bass, with long hair, circa 1994)
I played in several bands during this time. The first was a doom metal band called Static Character, with my friend Jason on drums. The first time I jammed in a room with him, I began playing the main riff of “To Live Is To Die” by Metallica, and he immediately began playing drums. He would go on to become the drummer in my second and most long-lived band up to that point, SGO (Silence Grows Old) or, as it was first called, “Iscream.” My college band. In 2005 I put up a tribute page to our music on myspace, 10 years after it was relevant (now, 20 years):
It wasn’t until college that I really discovered electronic dance music. It was 1993 and I was still knee deep in grunge and metal. I was in school for graphic design and was starting to hear house, trance, and techno emanating from boomboxes all over our studio (though I had no clue about what genre was what). I enjoyed it but it still wasn’t angry enough for me…and then I heard industrial music, NIN, KMFDM, Front 242. That was the next step.
About this same time I started hearing about “raves” and “rolling.” I was working in the stock room at a Toys R Us and one of my female co-workers told me about ecstasy. At the time, I hadn’t even been drunk yet – or really taken a proper drink, really. I was scared of drugs and alcohol because I saw what they had done to my family. It’s a fear I should’ve held on to longer, but it was not to be.
I went to what would be my first rave at a club called The Depot in Greensboro in 1994. I heard a DJ that night by the name of Ed LeBrun, one of the first rave promoters in NC (who sadly was murdered 5 years later). Though I *loved* the music, I wasn’t drinking or taking drugs, and I felt like a fish out of water. I was still in my grunge phase and still way too angry for rave culture, if not rave music. I would not go to another party like that for almost 3 years.
My best friend from high school and her older sister were both Grateful Dead fans who became ravers after Jerry Garcia’s passing in 1995. I guess they needed something new to “tour with” and follow. I knew many people like that. While I experienced rave culture peripherally through them, I continued to focus more on rock music and producing my own “dance” music, usually a combination of rock and electronic sounds. By the time The Prodigy released “Fat of the Land” and Crystal Method “Vegas,” I was already paying for studio time to record my first album “breakup.”
My producer had spent his formative years in Chicago, and was working in a parking garage, teaching himself to program MIDI while sitting in a tiny booth. He knew about Steve Silk Hurley, about the Muzic Box, about the origins of house music as well as the EBM and industrial scene which also had a foothold in the city. My college band recorded out first and only album with him, but when I saw his music collection, I thought he might be someone who could help realize my vision.
(Studio B, where “Breakup” was recorded between 1996-1997)
Home computers were still not as powerful as they needed to be to record digital audio, so I recorded my first album “breakup” using Mark of the Unicorn’s Performer software (just a MIDI sequencer, no hard disk editing yet) in Osceola Studios, room B. I would sequence MIDI on the fly while my producer sat at the mixing board adjusting levels. Very much an in-studio performance, all recorded to Alesis ADAT tape (I still have all the masters). We got pretty good at it. If I’d had the money to simply go to the studio day after day, I would have. Instead, I traded studio time for graphic design work, and actual payments where I could afford it.
(DJ FM’s ADAT Tapes)
I had the album mastered at The Kitchen in Carrboro, NC. Seriously one of the most mind-blowing experiences I’d ever had, to hear my music in that context. The picture does it some justice:
This was all happening in the first two months of 1998. There was no Napster, no iPod, no iTunes. MP3s were still very much “underground.” So I had to have a run of CDs pressed, 1000 of them to be exact. I remember the day in April when I came back home to my apartment and found 9 boxes of CDs in my living room. My roommate Yancy gave me a high-five, took a swig of his beer and said, “Okay, what the fuck do we do with these??”
Part Two: What FM did with the CDs…dun dun dun…
But before that…read this…