Late last year, I took my first tour of Los Angeles’ underground scene after moving from Chicago, and proceeded to proclaim that LA’s techno scene is alive and well. Earlier in 2016, Resident Advisor cemented that statement with a brilliant Real Scenes feature that dug deep into the city’s warehouse scene and some of the various key players that keep the party going.
One such figure is the Invert Music Group, a label and pop-up party series founded by Danny Astle, Adrian Adonis and Sans Nom. Later this month on July 29th, the collective is hosting a Diversion labeled techno night featuring Dustin Zahn (Drumcode, Enemy Records) and the US debut of Chris Colburn (Roh Material, H-productions) with support from residents Template (Astle), Adrian Adonis and Kglndo. The party follows on the footstep of a series of successful Diversion nights that hosted international techno talents the likes of Inland, Black Asteroid and Paula Temple.
We had the chance to sit down with Danny Astle, a.k.a. Template, to talk about his beginnings in techno, the future of Invert as a label and collective as well as the goals for the Diversion party series.
Was techno your first love in electronic music?
Not exactly, I was introduced to electronic music like most of the other people in Southern California, through the rave culture at such events as Coachella, EDC, etc. Of course, diving into it I was dazzled by all the colors and the spectacle of everything, and different sounds and styles of music I became a fan of. I of course don’t regret any of that, and like a lot of us I just grew out of it a little bit by little. Your love and admiration for the rave doesn’t really die – you still have that drive to go out and dance, to listen to electronic music.
How did the shift to techno happen?
As an early raver, one tends to only be aware of what the huge promoters / festivals are booking. If I didn’t see someone’s name on a lineup I was attending, I didn’t even bother to pay attention. But after listening to them enough and getting more familiar with their record labels and other promoters it brings you as a raver to do a lot more of your own research and start looking up different labels, producers, remix artists, promoters that are throwing things overseas and their lineups, and comparing and contrasting. When I did that, it was like woah, there’s so much more going on that I didn’t realize existed. And I loved it. That’s how I got to techno. Doing my own research, discovering more and more names and sub-genres, & all these different kinds of electronic music. Once I actually had a proper techno experience (which was Plastikman’s set at Coachella 2010), I was hooked. Obviously before that I had an idea of what I thought was techno, but once I saw that Plastikman set I said wait a second, this is what I have been trying to find this whole time. It clicked and then I realized that I wanted to try and make that music and play it out, put parties together with all this inspiration and influence behind it.
So you were not a DJ up to this point?
No, once that 2010 point hit, I had already been growing very tired of all the kandi and light shows, I was over it. It was a natural transition for me at that point in time. To be honest even after that it took me a while to get it and understand it fully, it was a lot of trial and error. A lot of my understanding was still developing until I went to Detroit for Movement in 2012 – that was the next and final step on the ladder that took me to techno.
And then came the parties.
Exactly. In 2012, after going to Detroit for the first time, me and a couple of friends started throwing our own bi-weekly techno nights in our hometown in Whittier, and since all the Droid crew live towards that area of LA they caught wind of the party and started showing up to check it out. They liked what they saw and heard, and wanted to see the potential of where we could go and how fast we could progress and what not. I think they held us in that regard as the next generation, since they and other promoters had been around for years and we were the fresh blood in the city’s techno scene. They started giving us that extra time, that extra love, played our parties and just had that mutual friend arrangement. It started getting us a lot more recognized in general, getting more bookings and more respect.
Were these Invert/Diversion nights already or was it something else?
No, before I teamed up to do Invert with Adrian in early 2015, I had been doing smaller parties with some buddies in 2012, the party series we started was called In:volve. We had a good little run, at first it was all these local parties with LA fixtures and we were then able to get some Droid names in there. Then in 2013 we had an opportunity to host an underground party, to book a venue and had Black Asteroid play with our residents, and it was actually a really good party. It was a small capacity room but we filled it with 150 people – it was ram-packed and everyone had a really good time. It was like woah, we need to do more of these! Also did a party with Hyperactive with some of our friends downtown at this loft called The Rhythm Center, Kyle Galindo’s loft at the time. Also played host to Kris Wadsworth, and Luis Flores, and Paul Birken.
Was the sound primarily techno at the time?
In:volve was definitely a lot more eclectic, not just primarily focused on techno. We had some house and deep house here and there on the lineups. Now with Invert we primarily do techno – not that I do not take other bookings as an artist such as for Outspoken for example where I can play a little bit more groovy. But yeah, the problem with In:volve being so eclectic was having too many hands in the pot, which eventually lead to too many disputes and disagreements and opinions on which resident should play what party, a house or techno headliner, etc etc. At a certain point in late 2014 we weren’t seeing the same kind of support because there wasn’t the right kind of consistency, and all of us were starting to grow in our own different directions musically. In the midst of all that, TXTRL was born, which is run by previous members of In:volve.
Shortly after they launched and developed a really high status in the techno scene, I met Adrian. He approached me with really great ideas, the type of techno he was into and a lot of artists he was interested in. Even though our styles and production vary, we share a lot of interests and we met each other at a time where he had the drive and ambition and the right determination to do make great things happen. But, being based in Santa Barbara, lacked the connections and know-how of hosting underground parties in LA parties, various LA promoters, locals and what-not. That’s where I came in.
Tell us a bit about the focus and vision with Invert’s Diversion parties.
The whole point of Diversion is to divert your attention away from what’s expected, and towards the unexpected. Us teaming up made it possible to do these Invert parties. We aren’t doing them as often as with In:volve, but rather focusing on quality over quantity instead. Although I would like to do more small local shows, so much time and effort goes into throwing these Diversion parties that it doesn’t give us time to do these smaller nights. I wish we could, because those things are really fun too. As of now we’re just trying to keep it to two, maybe three major parties a year so we can focus on the right kind of bookings and prioritize these LA debuts that we’re trying to do. That’s actually our main prerogative, is introducing our city to fresh and upcoming names in the scene, or artists that have a significant history of music but still never played here. And that was kind of the real intention with this upcoming Diversion in July. Chris Coulburn will be making his LA debut during the show, and that has been my main goal ever since I saw him DJ in Berlin. I’ve been good friends with him for a few years now, since my first time in Berlin. I have been playing his tracks since 2011 or 2012, something like that. Once I saw him play i knew I had to get him to play in LA. That’s how it goes sometimes – I will see someone perform and I get so into their music that it becomes a priority for me.
Why the focus on LA debuts in particular?
There are so many artists and DJs being recycled over and over by a lot of the same promoters. And I understand that a lot of people want to see their favorites come back and see the people play that they know they already like, I get it, not everyone is always willing to take the chance to go see someone play they haven’t heard before now. But this is the only way we will stand out at all or make anything significant happen that will turn heads. We need to develop our own reputation. It will be easier and easier to do these types of bookings the more we get people used to expecting debut acts. We want to surprise the scene, and that was my determination to bring Chris out here, as it would be his US debut in general. But let’s face it, the amount of time and effort to bring him here as a headliner wouldn’t be worth it unfortunately as not a lot of people here know what’s up and there’s too many big relevant names to compete with. As soon as the opportunity to book Dustin (Zahn) came up, we really laid it on thick and put a strong effort to get him, and I am so happy we made it happen, cuz everyone is going to love him and the lineup works perfectly for the night, giving Chris the opportunity to play for a good crowd on his debut.
Can you tell us of any other artists set to play Diversion in the coming months?
Well, I can’t give away the secret just yet… We do have a New Year’s party in the works though that will blow everyone away. Anyone that went to last year’s Diversion New Year knows it was a really wild party and we’re trying to keep it equally as wild – we’ve upped the lineup that much more to try to outdo ourselves and it’s probably going to be a double headliner show.
Is there one particular artist that you want to feature on a Diversion night in the future?
I have a massive wish list. There’s definitely been people that I have seen play and thought, damn I really want to book this person for my parties. On the top of my list is probably Par Grindvik, he is the label owner of Stockholm Limited and has releases on Drumcode, Enemy Records and is pretty wide across the map. He frequently plays at Berghain as he is based in Berlin now although he is originally from Stockholm. The first year I went to Berlin I stayed for a whole month and psychotically enough I went to Berghain four weeks in a row. The fourth time I hadn’t even planned on it, and I coincidentally got there in time right when Par Grindvik was starting his set (completely unaware he would be starting at that time). Hands down was the best set I had ever witnessed in that building. I had been playing his tracks for a while but didn’t realize he could get down like that. Once I heard him play I was like, this is the best DJ I have seen in my life, damn. Damn. He can do everything, he plays this really huge, hypnotic big room style of techno but he also has this spacey electro he can break into, this old-school 90s Detroit synthy-ness and amazing acidic break-beats. He will blow your mind, honestly.
How about live acts. Anyone particular on your radar?
There is one live act I would like to get here in particular, it’s Jeroen Search. He is unbelievable, one of the more talented live performers I have come across in recent years and would be an amazing booking. Again it would be a risky booking as I don’t think a lot of people in LA have heard him at all. But if it was the right lineup or the right collaboration between promoters, it’s doable and it would be great. There’s so many good artists out there that need to get booked over here! Answer Code Request would be great, Markus Suckut would be great, Dasha Rush would be awesome, Boddika would be really awesome even though it’s not the same sound we are going for.
Where do you see Diversion and LA’s techno scene going in the coming years?
I feel that right now our parties still haven’t gained the stance that Incognito, Dirty Epic or Droid have as they have been doing them for a lot longer than us as they have been bringing relevant acts to LA consistently and promoting really well. Invert and Diversion are still finding consistency and there is still a lot of trial and error, different things we are still trying to get a hold on. The momentum was only started a year ago but as I have been doing these In:volve parties for a while now my status as a DJ is at the moment perhaps bigger than the party itself, and that is something I am trying to shift as the curator of Diversion. I think given how strongly we have progressed since our conception, we will be doing some really huge things in the years to come. It’s exciting that our first three events in LA were really huge and with artists that I personally love and admire. It’s a dream come true to say that we’re responsible for Paula Temple’s US debut, Inland’s LA debut, & Neil Landstrumm’s first time back here in over ten years. The goal is to keep climbing the ladder. We are still trying to gain that status with the parties that everyone else kind of has. The purpose is to have this continuous name and party that we are doing so that it’s not just an Invert night. We want to do Invert nights if we have the opportunity to do something at Outspoken, Exchange LA, or things like that at legit legal venues which can be Invert-stamped and branded parties. With our own event though, we want to have a certain name and a certain theme. We stuck with Diversion from the beginning and sticking with it till the end.
How is Invert as a label doing?
The reputation as a label is doing really well. We don’t have a ton of sales per se, and we are not pressing records yet unfortunately, although we will start that at some point. We wanted to start this year but these events are tying up a lot of funds. Eventually we’re going to start a limited vinyl press of one record per year, and keep the digital releases going at the same pace they have been. The digital releases are actually getting a lot of great feedback and support from artists who I respect and would love to have on the label one day. The fact that they are listening to the tracks, downloading and rating the music, leaving feedback and are actually out playing it with stuff popping up on different podcasts is amazing.
I actually heard Raiz’s remix of my track played at Awakenings. There’s this dude Stranger over there who is killing it in Amsterdam and Europe in general. His music and his label have been blowing me away. He actually followed me on SoundCloud a while back and I checked him out when he had a couple of thousand followers, playing his stuff out and he has now blown up in the last year. Him and I keep in touch online and I told him I would be checking out his set at Awakenings. And yeah, he played Raiz’s remix of my track and it sounded pretty fat in a big tent. It was pretty exciting.
Can Invert and Diversion followers expect any special collaborations from you in the coming future?
Nothing is set in stone as of now, though I would love to get back to doing something with Droid. There’s a possibility of collaborating on something for the fall, but as it’s not confirmed I would rather not mention the specifics yet. Just keep your eyes and ears peeled, because we definitely have big things on the horizon.
Friday, July 29th: Invert presents Diversion with Dustin Zahn + Chris Colburn.