The man who calls himself Black Asteroid wants your attention. The underground techno DJ born Bryan Black is far less interested in dancefloor hypnosis and 10-minute loops to nowhere. When he arrives July 4 at the Complex in Glendale, he will do so with music of genuine songs with surprising shifts in sound and texture to keep his audience alert into the late-night hours of Independence Day.
Black is also one-half of the techno/electro duo Motor, but began his career in his hometown of Minneapolis working for Prince at his Paisley Park Studios. More recently, he's been recruited by Depeche Mode to remix "Soothe My Soul" and other tracks following previous collaborations with the likes of Steve Aoki, Gary Numan and Douglas J. McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb. Depeche Mode is currently playing Black Asteroid music during the pre-show on the band's current world tour.
Black Asteroid is one example of the kind of new music suddenly available in Glendale as a result of Complex opening on Colorado Street. (The DJ also performs July 5 at Das Bunker in Los Angeles, which is run by Complex co-owner John Giovanazzi.) On the phone from a gig this week in the Bahamas, Black talked about his career with Black Asteroid and his mission to bring serious techno to the city.
Have you brought Black Asteroid out to our area much in the past?
I've done two warehouse parties — to go around the 2 a.m. curfew. I played some longer sets in the middle of the night. Those have been really fun. Complex will be with the Function One sound system, which is always a bonus, especially for the kind of music I play.
How is it different to play an established club versus a warehouse party?
You don't have the stress of closing at 1:30 or 2 [a.m.], and the darker kind of music I play just feels better at the later hours of the night. It's not something you do at 11 p.m., get on, get off, get home before the bar closes. It's nice to do the after-hours things. But they're not always legal so you have to worry. The other side of the coin is the Complex, which sounds amazing and is completely legal; you can advertise it. You don't have that fear of being shut down.
What are you going to bring to Glendale?
It's a live DJ set and I have four decks of music playing, and I have drums and all sorts of sounds and programming that I can add to it. I can get really into a track and tear it apart and remix live, or I can just play one song into another and play around with effects. It's open. The one thing I like about digital DJ-ing is having the flexibility to do anything you want. It doesn't sound as good as vinyl, but I can justify it by all the other things I can bring to the table.
What role has the L.A.-area audience played in supporting this music?
It's always been really good in L.A. There's always been this faithful underground audience in L.A., more than any other city in America. Now, of course, everywhere it's becoming popular.
Has the crossover success of commercial electronic dance music had an impact on what you do?
There's definitely a trickle-down effect. I can feel it. Normally, I would play in Europe and Asia and that's it, with the odd gig in North America. Now all these people are everywhere asking me to play gigs. All these new markets are opening. I think people get more drawn to underground sounds because the stuff that is EDM right now has a very short shelf-life. It's very cheesy and very catchy. If you go more underground, you find the roots of all this stuff. Some people have made that journey.
There seems to be two very different audiences for electronic music — the crowds that are attracted to the spectacle of the big events and others who dig deep into the more serious music being made.
Yes, that's why I try to differentiate myself from the DJs who just play music by numbers and play all the top tracks, one into the other. I come from more of a song-based background. I've been in bands. I started my career working with Prince. I didn't come into techno from dance music. I was more into rock. All my songs have a song structure. Even when I'm DJ-ing, I want peoples' attention. I don't want them to get lost in a 10-minute loop.
Do you see anything to be interested in from the bigger names of electronic music, such as Daft Punk?
A lot of the big names in EDM, I'm not too interested. But the first Daft Punk record was one of the best techno records and still is. I want to see some more interesting dance music to come through in the next couple of years.
Do you think it will?
I hope so. Either that or it will collapse and go away like it did in the mid-'90s. Now I think it has more of a chance to stick. Hopefully the quality of the music will get better and more interesting.
What was your job with Prince?
I was a keyboard technician and then I started doing sound design. He hired me initially to resample his whole library on two-inch tape — to sample them on keyboards so he can perform all his songs live. I took all the old sounds from the classic albums and layed them out on the keyboard so he could trigger them live. I pretty much learned everything at Paisley Park. It was always ahead of its time technically. When I was a kid, the "Purple Rain" movie really moved me. I really discovered my love of music through that film.
What other formative music influences were there for you?
I really was into the industrial rock scene — the Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and stuff like that. I came at it from the more aggressive electronic thing. There were songs, but there was so much more expression because it wasn't just four instruments. There's only so much you can do with guitar, bass, drums, vocals. When you add synthesizers and sampling, you open a new level of possibilities. A band like Nine Inch Nails would take a pop song and add all these crazy sounds and textures and that was more interesting to me.
Where: Complex, 806 E Colorado St, Glendale
When: July 4
More info: (323) 642-7519, complexla.com
Follow Steve Appleford on Twitter: @TCNArts.