SWU - Defending the Underground

Denard Henry and Jana Clemen are dj/producers from opposite sides of the Atlantic who have joined forces to develop a fusion of techno, ebm, electro and industrial dance music. Their Sonic Warriors United (SWU) Project is a group of producers and djs who are actively exploring and deploying this fusion, and features artists such as Marita Schreck, C-Dex, Floppy and Reade Truth. Their recent tour of Germany and the US included shows at Tresor, Berlin, and the Sommerstart Festival.

Originally from New York, but now based in Germany, Denard Henry aka Sonic Architect is a dj/producer of vivid, textural electronica and techno. The broad and heady range of influences he pours into his music blend into evocative dancefloor slices of alternative electronic worlds and he has released music on labels such as Broque, Monoid and Feis, as well as his own Cipher Records. His DJ and live acts have taken him to many many clubs around Europe and the US, including Ultraschall and SO36 in Germany, plus Limelight and Save the Robots in New York.

Jana Clemen aka Abstract Soul is dj/producer from Germany and has released music on labels such as Hybrid, Planet Rhythm and Phont, as well as her own label Convex Productions. Jana’s music follows many lines, taking minimal techno to an industrial scale and shaking irresistible grooves out of warped electro and house. She has djed extensively around Europe, with appearances at Tresor, Neue Heimat and Ultraschall in Germany, the Loft in Lausanne, and many other clubs around France, Poland, Sweden and elsewhere.

The interview below was originally published on the Fresh Static website back in Sept 2009. While moving the interview over to Virtual Advisor, Olaf Quintessa got in touch with Denard and Jana to see what's been going on since then.

What have you guys been up to since the interview in September?

Jana Clemen: Since September last year we have been permanently planning, creating, and putting ideas into motion for our Sonic Warriors United project.

We are proud to include five new artists / projects in the collective: 1979, DJ Scanner, Stev Dive, Galaxy a.k.a. Electric Coffee, Frequen-C and Dean Freud. We've reconnected with an old friend, Lars Kung, who was in China for some time and now has settled down in Berlin. It was good timing that this all happened, because we knew he shares the same mind set that Sonic Warriors United is based on. He is overseeing the SWU online Web presence, promotion and is our SWU spokesperson in Berlin.

Denard Henry: We started planning our Sonic Seekers Tour for 2010 last year. We needed to break it down into 2 Stages in order to accommodate a well balanced representation of our crew. Sonic Seekers Tour Stage 1 is near completion. Now we're moving into Stage 2: we are filling Fall, Winter and New Years Open Dates, and our flyer design is in the works. Not all dates are filled yet, so alert your favorite local club or promoter for the opportunity of a truly unique event.

How are things going with the monthly sessions at The Drome?

Denard Henry: After being invited to do a few Dj sets at The Drome in Second Life and really enjoying the social atmosphere there, the Drome crew allowed us to set up a monthly event called D R I F T on the first Friday of every month. We really enjoy working with Eliza and Gary, and also the behind the scene crew at The Drome in SL that make these events possible. We've become friends with some of the regulars there as well.

To connect with people that are interested in Second Life and mixed reality events, we've found a home over at Virtual Advisor and setup a group for D R I F T.

Jana Clemen: For us the show is always an exciting adventure, including the technical setting up and making sure everything is working properly. Since we are two DJ's, taking care of our avatars on two computers and having our music studio three floors down means a lot of running up and down.

A funny thing happened during one of my sets with my avatar. I had to deal with my right shoe, which decided to have its own mind and suddenly detached from my avatar during my set. It found its way to the dancefloor and started flirting with the crowd! The Drome is starting to feel like a nice residency, and we recognize the people who always support us when we are playing. At times we go into overtime/afterhour, and during these times we get know some of the new faces and names better.

During the show sometimes it's not possible to have a good talk with people, but if there is a moment we enjoy to try and follow the conversations. We like the positive feedback on the music and the visitor's knowledge about the sounds. Sometimes I totally forget it's a club in Second Life and wish to meet some of the people in real life and hang out with them - who knows, one day this may come true.

Denard Henry: The transformation of the studio is always interesting for the show, the big switch from music gear to online dj gear setup. Pulling records from the shelves instead of out of a box or bag is a nice feeling for these events. Spontaneity is high and enjoyable. We like to make the studio as comfortable as possible, building the right atmosphere for the event.

We like having two-way radios for communication as it helps when something needs to be quickly addressed, also having them properly recharged when going into overtime/afterhour is always good [wink]. I really like playing for the crowd that shows up inworld, it's a really nice bond. I like how the club atmosphere changes as time passes inworld giving the feeling we're all in the same time zone. Also in the back of my mind is that it's not just for the avatars that show up inworld, but this event is also for people that tune in at home or work, so the balance of music styles play a huge part, hence the name, D R I F T.

What's coming up for Sonic Warriors United?

Jana Clemen: The 30th of July we will start our Video Live Stream "Live from the SWU Bunker". The 21st of August we stream the Sonic Seekers Tour from the IS:SIX club in Erfurt, Germany, barring no technical snafus. We'll make it more exciting for people who would like to see and hear us in action and we are able to present guest Dj's and live acts from different locations. This might become a special little extra during our future SWU Tours.

Denard Henry: Eliza and Gary introduced us to the mixed reality function on the Second Live viewer 2.0. I really like this and how it gives a new dimension to the whole SL experience. They made photos of us testing out the mixed reality setup using the new Second Live viewer 2.0 and streamed/projected it all on the wall at the Drome in SL. Pretty cool.

Jana Clemen: Would be great to experiment with this more as the software gets better. Putting reality and second life on a new level of media experience.

Denard Henry: For our music project Sprawl, we're working with VJ Retina Error at the moment on a video for our track: Destroy The Balance. This will be our first visual representation for anything Sprawl related.

New gear has been brought in and integrated in preparation for a live setup - there maybe a surprise performance during Stage 2 of the Sonic Seekers Tour, maybe related to a "special little extra" as mentioned. Being that this is indeed something special it's best if readers connect with us here so your not left out of the loop.

What follows is the original interview from the Fresh Static website (published in Sept 2009), when Olaf Quintessa met up with Denard and Jana in Second Life to talk about their roots in electronic music, the SWU project, djing in the virtual world, and parties in the year 2109. Thanks to Denard Henry and Jana Clemen for answering my questions and providing us with an update!

How did you guys get started DJing and making electronic music?

Denard Henry: I started djing in 1986 in New Brunswick N.J and bounced around between two clubs: Club 375 & the Roxy. Success at the Roxy led to a radio show on 103.3 fm WPRB at Princeton University. The "Metal Machine Music Show" was a mix of industrial, electronic dance music with interviews from local artists and other artists that were on tour in our area. I also worked at Princeton Record Exchange, and all this launched me towards working at Vinyl Mania in N.Y.C, as a record buyer for the store. Vinyl Mania was basically the heartbeat of the city for good house, alternative and techno music. Working there I met many producers that worked or lived in the city. Tetsu Inoue, one of the founders of minimalist ambient techno, and Uwe Schmidt (a.k.a Atom Heart / Senor Coconut / Lassigue Bendthaus) were a great inspiration and motivation for me. Their production technique impressed me and they were a big personal help with gear selection for my studio setup. They also helped me focus my direction in the dance music arena.

Jana Clemen: I started djing in 1992 and was one of the first djanes from East Germany. At the time Marusha, who was member of the Low Spirit Records Crew, had a radio show called "Dancehall" on DT 64 every Saturday evening, so I was able to listen to the best electronic music from all over the world. Music from Detroit, Chicago, and New York made a big impression on me: The legendary Underground Resistance, also Joey Beltram, DJ Sneak, Armando, and Steve Poindexter still influence my sets. After the downfall of the wall a lot of doors opened for doing what I liked to do. I belonged to a crew called R.A.N.D. Muzik and we organized underground basement parties. I discovered so much interesting music and spent a lot of money on records. I started making music in 1995, and my first release came out on Essence Records, Roland Casper’s Label.

What was it like playing at Limelight in NYC, Denard? How did that influence you musically?

Denard Henry: Playing at Limelight was a blast - I got my first start with guest dj spots at parties called Communion and Disco 2000, then later at a club called the Building. During this time you just had a lot of good music that was being fused: techno, industrial, acid and so forth. It influenced me to dig deeper for more challenging sounds. We had a lot of european dj/producers visiting Vinyl Mania and these events I spun at, and hearing them describe parties just fed my mind as to how different things could be in New Jersey and N.Y.C if I applied eclectic music to my sets. For example, in Europe during this time, there was more acceptance of music without vocals, with ethereal atmospheres and driving beats. I felt a challenge to experiment with this as a dj and producer.

Do you think electronic music is too tightly categorised today?

Jana Clemen: For a fact, I hate categories! What’s house to one person is techno to another. What’s minimal anyway? Minimal is not a new style from the last 3 years, it was already laid out by Robert Hood or Sähko Records for example, and this was at least 15 years ago. And “Electro” in the dark wave scene means something different again. All this can lead you into funny situations as a dj.

Where does your link with industrial music come from?

Denard Henry: The link for me was artists on Wax Trax Records and Nettwork Records, Front 242, Frontline Assembly, Skinny Puppy, Revolting Cocks. Their shows were a big influence. Then there was this jump when Aphex Twin hit the scene. This opened me up to lots of other artists like Mike Dred, Luke Slater, Unit Mobius and labels like Peacefrog, R&S, MusicMan and Tresor Records.

Jana Clemen: For me the introduction was Aphex Twin. Einstürzende Neubauten was another band I heard quite often on DT64 Radio, also PCP and The Mover from Frankfurt. Denard introduced me to Esplendor Geometrico, an industrial band from Spain with a huge archive of work back to when they formed in 1980, and I must say it’s amazing music.

Tell us a bit about your Sonic Warriors United project. What are the reactions you get to the fusion of styles you present?

Jana Clemen: Our mission is to give people different views on music. If new generations don’t know about the deep rooted music history and rich culture, they will be led to a dead end road musically. Reactions to this fusion of styles are mostly positive and welcoming. A lot of people are just tired of the same cookie cutter trendy music all the time. Of course the fusion of styles can also be a risk, because people are so much influenced by what the media dictates to them, but we want to break down this wall.

Denard Henry: Our motivation is to help the True Sonic Seekers to find, in our SWU events, what it means to take the risk of breaking out of the trendy loop. We supply substance for thought bonded with musical knowledge and the talents that our collective have. We are currently adding more artists that feel a connection with this idea, to meet this change that needs to happen. We are continuously pushing this passion to present old school and new school electronic music tactics. By doing this, we can meet the demand of the True Sonic Seekers.

How was your recent tour in the US with SWU?

Denard Henry: This was our first tour in the US with SWU. We went over with C-Dex, who performed Live, and dj Read Truth, both of SWU. We had local support from dj's Daniel Triana, Darryl Hell, Adriana, and Zero Times Infinity as a live act. It was a very good start with the view and feel for what the project is all about.

Can you tell us a bit about your Sprawl project together? What’s your approach to music making?

Denard Henry: Sprawl is a dj/live act we work on together, and was established in 2003. This project probes a plethora of musical styles - expect the unexpected. We work with hardware and software. When making music we don't go in with a mind set to come out on the other end with this or that. Experimentation for us is the best approach.

Jana Clemen: We always have surprising studio sessions, we start with something and at the end of the day we look at each other and are baffled at the amazing ideas and creativity that sleeps in us.

Back in May we were very pleased to have you play at The Drome in Second Life, Denard. What did you think of DJing in a virtual club?

Denard Henry: I found it very interesting and I liked the whole idea of seeing and experiencing Second Life (SL) in a dj/music environment. Beforehand I was a little put off from what I’d read, how people and the media talked negative about Second Life, but then I experienced it and liked it. I really enjoy this format best when it comes to streaming a dj set over the internet, as there’s a visual presence and it feels more personal. People have no idea about the level of music that's represented Second Life.

Have you spent much time in Second Life since the show in May?

Denard Henry: A few days before my set at the Drome, I ventured out and discovered a lot of interesting locations. I've made contact with some people on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter about SL. The SWU Nocturnal Rhythm Tour took over most of our time after my set in May, and since returning we've been busy restructuring SWU. But I'm making more time to learn more about SL and the possiblities it presents. Jana and I have also been discussing some mixed reality ideas.

How did you find getting started in Second Life? A lot is talked about the first hour experience - a lot of people give up.

Denard Henry: Well we always wanted an internet connection in our studio, which is separate from our living space, so accepting the SL invitation helped motivate us to get that done! When we were setting up for our sound check at the Drome I found this one situation very funny - I had the default avatar, wearing a business suit, and someone teleported in and asked if I was giving some kind of symposium later. I realized then the outfit had to be changed and I needed to edit my avatar! This was not easy, it was a bit much, but I accomplished it in time for the gig. Navigation was a little strange - walking through walls and sitting on people for instance! Now I'm in the process of editing my gestures, which should be fun. I like the SL challenge.

Jana, what are your impressions of Second Life so far?

Jana Clemen: I was overwhelmed when I saw SL for the first time. It’s hard to imagine that people spend a lot of money for things that don’t really exist. But it’s a dream come true to participate in a cyber world that plays on the theme of teleporting and flying, and is mixed with a social flair. I love the old Star Trek series. The most impressive thing for me is that I can fly - I have a lot of dreams of me flying. I think that’s something we all want, coming from different places. Being able to meet people in a short time without borders and travel chaos is very nice.

Do you find things like science or science fiction an inspiration for your musical projects?

Jana Clemen: Science and science fiction are very important things in our life. Science fiction is the science of tomorrow. It leads me to some interesting ideas at sometimes. We are collecting sounds for our Sprawl project and a week ago I was allowed to record the sounds of an electromyogram from a patient during complicated brain surgery.

Denard Henry: One of my favorite Sci-Fi books is Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash". At times I think of how some of my/our productions would fit in futurist settings. I see our whole SWU concept as that kind of futuristic Warrior feel - a music style and fusion that transports the listener and gives them a glimpse of how the future may be once the mind’s eye has been opened.

So what is coming up next for you? Any new releases on the way?

Denard Henry: We are publishing our tour recordings as podcasts in iTunes and the Podomatic website, and planning the next SWU tour. We've started some new music for Sprawl and we’re working on the next concept for the second Sonic Warriors United music compilation.

Ok last question. It's the year 2109 and you're going out dancing. What music are you going to hear?

Denard Henry: I think music will be more of a physical experience than we have now, tuned for a more personal desired effect. In a way we already have this, but in the future it will have a whole other meaning. I think in some instances when we use words like hardcore, easy listening and so on, it will really mean something. So if you think you're hardcore or super experimental, I hope you are prepared to survive that experience!


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