Meet Daniel Barassi: King of All Depeche Media
Daniel Barassi is man of many media talents with two primary public identities.
The Brat is known by a globe of Depeche Mode fans as the band’s webmaster, creating a constantly evolving site that pleases even the most finicky superfan. He’s also a music producer, giving birth to mashups that've been consumed on the Internet by hundreds of thousands, and heard locally on KCRW. (The above mashup was recently featured on Gary Calamar’s program.)
Both Rolling Stone and Wired praised his mix of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven and The Commodores’ “Easy” as one of the finest mashups ever. “Definitely not a combination one would normally think of, but it went together beautifully,” said Barassi of the music-marriage. He DJs too, and will be doing so twice this weekend, alongside former Depeche Mode member Alan Wilder’s band Recoil.
Tonight, Recoil play the El Rey Theatre with Barassi DJing after the show. On Sunday, it's to the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana for Barassi's birthday and another gig with Recoil. Barassi won't be DJing solo on Sunday, he'll be playing along with Depeche Mode's Martin Gore. That's huge. The shows feature additional support by Conjure One, and Architect.
A few of Barassi's fine videos have featured on LAist, but now LAist gets a chance to talk to the man himself.
LAist: As Depeche Mode’s long-time webmaster, do you have every superfan's dream job?
Daniel Barassi: The short answer, to quote Dudley Moore in Arthur: "It doesn't suck".
The slightly more serious answer: “It is a great gig.” I've had the job now for over twelve years. Over the years, I have been allowed to give my input on releases, I have been able to do remixes (music production is my true love,) and I have been able to shape their web site into one of the best information sources on the net for the band.
How did you get that gig?
In early 1998, thanks to doing production work at Groove Radio 103.1 FM, I had a gig doing freelance production for Warner Brothers Records (radio edits, et cetera). One day, I was at Warners, pitching the idea for a special bonus CD for the upcoming Depeche Mode "Singles 86>98" hits compilation that was due to come out later that year. After the meeting, I took a walk to the end of the hall, and spoke to Jimmy Dickson, who at the time was working in New Media at Warners. We discussed Depeche Mode for a bit, and I expressed interest in working on their site. Initially, their manager was not interested in having a fan run the web site. After I faxed the manager a letter, however, I got the job, and I've been their web guy every since. As an extra bonus, the "Singles 86>98" compilation did come out with my bonus disc, albeit in a slightly edited form.
How many Depeche Mode shows have you seen?
Before working for the band, I had gone to about a dozen shows, varying from nosebleed seats to the second row. Since working for the band, it has been insane. I had never bothered to count before, but since 1998, I have been to nearly 50 shows, including both Depeche Mode as well as solo shows by both Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. That is not counting the sound checks, tour rehearsals or TV appearances. It is great to essentially have a free pass. The only flaw is that I am usually taking pictures or video recording the shows for the band's web site, so I never really get to "see" the shows until I watch the tapes afterwards. On this last tour, due to rules at the Hollywood Bowl, I wasn't able to film or photograph the band. It was actually a blessing, because I got to see again why they are one of my favorite bands.
Depeche Mode has gigged all over Los Angeles. What’s your favorite local venue to see them?
Oooh...that is a difficult one. While it was great to see the band play the historic Hollywood Bowl on this last tour, and in small places like the Roxy (a gig they did for the Exciter Tour,) my favorite venue wasn't a real venue. Last year, the band played to thousands on Hollywood Boulevard for a performance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. Seeing all the fans gathered (literally) on the streets of Hollywood, cheering and singing, was more exciting for me than any "proper" L.A. venue.
What was Alan Wilder's contribution to the band?
Speaking unofficially, as a fan, I always felt he brought their sound to a warmer area. When people speak of "synth-pop", it is usually with words like "clean", "cold", and "not human". Alan brought a human feel to the computers and synths. The amount of layers that his production techniques brought to the music of Depeche Mode created a sound that was rich, warm, and more developed than most of their musical peers. I defy anyone to go listen to "Violator", "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" or "Music For The Masses", and tell me the music sounds like anything that came from bands of the same era, let alone early Depeche Mode. The progression from "Just Can't Get Enough" to songs like "Clean", "In Your Room" and "Higher Love" is tremendous, and while Martin is the songwriter (and a damn fine one), Alan helped breathe life into those songs. Fans recently got to hear just how much life, when the "Sounds Of The Universe" album was released. On the Deluxe Box Set edition, there was an exclusive disc filled with demo recordings. Play one of the demos, then play the released version. You can hear Alan at work.
Who is Recoil for? -- Depeche Mode fans? Non-Depeche Mode fans?
Both. It goes without saying DM fans love Alan. Hell, there are fans that have yet to get over him leaving the band, and that was over 15 years ago now. I do believe "other" people would love his music as well. Anyone who likes the electro blues feel of Moby (who was on the 1992 Recoil album "Bloodline), Nitzer Ebb (who had some tracks produced by Alan, and whose lead singer Douglas McCarthy has appeared on a number of Recoil tracks), Massive Attack, Portishead, or is a fan of most of the music played on KCRW, would be wise to check out Alan's "Recoil" work.
You’ll be DJing quite a bit this weekend. What are your sets like?
Eclectic. I grew up with a mom who had a music collection that ranged from Sinatra to Suicidal Tendencies, and that comes through in what I play and mix. I never thought of it as wrong to throw a Public Enemy beat over Morrissey, or put the Beastie Boys rapping over the Super Mario Brothers theme song. I don't like to separate music by genres. If it is good, I will play it. With the public acceptance of things like DJ Hero, and of DJs like DJ AM (R.I.P.) and Z-Trip, my style isn't as odd as it once was considered.
Flash back to when I used to do mix sets occasionally for the Groove Radio "5 O'Clock Disc Drive" back in 1996. It was not exactly the same open musical climate as now. The listeners and jocks would love it when I'd mash up David Cassidy over The Chemical Brothers, or Soft Cell over Underworld. The music director at the time, not so much...
Any thoughts on what'll it be like to DJ alongside Martin Gore this weekend?
Surreal. I'm still trying to get it through my head that I will be spinning on the same stage as Alan Wilder and Martin Gore. Talk about pressure. I mean, the guys in the band know my mixes and mashups, but none of them have actually heard me spin live. It's going to be a bit odd doing my usual DJ thing with Martin and Alan there. Seriously, how do you mash something like the acapella of “Strangelove” over another DM track, while the man who wrote the songs is basically in the same room? Hmmm... maybe I should rethink my set.
Martin Gore is known for what he's known for, but how is he as a DJ?
I've heard Martin spin up in Santa Barbara a few times. Any musician can say they are a DJ, but it takes real skills to properly beat-match (mix) the music, and keep a crowd going. Martin does that, and does that very well. Every time I have seen him spin, I was impressed. Even if you don't recognize the tracks he is playing (essentially the best of the Beatport "Techno" and "Tech-House" sections), you will still dance your ass off. Martin makes sure of that.
What got you into making audio/visual mashups?
When I got my first double cassette deck (Fisher, Christmas 1982), I immediately started discovering the joys of pause-control editing. I used to spend hours on that tape deck, wearing out the pause control, splicing together all sorts of music. Later on, when I was able to get a proper DJ mixer (well...a Realistic mixer from Radio Shack), I started blending multiple records, and it just escalated my passion even more. Even at a young age, back in the 80s, I was always fascinated how some records just sounded perfect when mixed together, as if they were meant to be that way. What really got me going full steam was a clip I saw once on Yo! MTV Raps. Ed and Dre were in a record store, and the DJ in the store had a hip hop beat going, and then started scratching a Michael Jackson acapella over the beat. That messed with my head. From that moment, I always searched for rare acapellas and instrumental tracks, from thrift shops, to connections at record labels. Even now, you will find me digging through Amoeba for obscure records.
The video aspect of my mashups is a fairly recent addition. Simply put, I was tired of people making poor videos to my mashups, and throwing them on YouTube. If there is going to be a video to my mashup, I should be the one to do it. I am actually in the process of going back through the mashups I have online, and making videos for the older ones as well.