The beginning of the decade saw some rather interesting names appear in the scene, among which, one stood out to me. Starting from a more Trance-oriented beginning and then exploring other areas of Electronic Music, this person has gone on to release his debut album, co-found a label, and generally develop his DJing skills in the intervening seven years. The person I’m talking about is, of course, John Dopping, the one I had the pleasure of throwing some questions at during this interview. But enough intro, let’s get on with it.
TranceMag: I suppose we should start with a bit of a short background for folks who aren’t as familiar with your work. Specifically, why was music the right choice and not something else?
John Dopping: Though I’m sure my involvement in music has been shaped by a sequence of small decisions over time, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels as though I’ve just fallen into it, and that there is nothing else I would be doing. At some point when I was very young my attention was captured by a violinist in the street. Apparently I wouldn’t stop talking about it until one day, defeated and supportive as ever, my parents brought me home a violin.
I didn’t know anything about electronic music until I was 18, by which time I’d spent my life so far studying music and sound engineering, and ignoring all else outside Unreal Tournament. I started going out to trance parties and discovered an entirely new medium to play with. To put it like a pretentious twat, it was as though an artist who had only worked with oil paints on a canvas suddenly discovered Banksy, and a new aspect of creativity became clear.
TM: Since you mentioned creativity, it’s perhaps interesting to note that the sound you put forth in your releases is as far from the mainstream structure as one could imagine. You started out with tracks of a trancier nature, having then experimented with DnB in your collab with Des McMahon, and even psybreaks for the remix of War is Coming. Are there particular aspects of these last two genres you enjoy but can’t perhaps take advantage of within Trance as a whole?
JD: It’s very kind of you to find a euphemism to explain that my music has no commercial value. Hahaha. I’ve always skirted the perimeter of what can really be called ‘trance’ or ‘psytrance’ or ‘breaks;’ Trance was the first to capture my imagination; its focus on hypnotic, melody centric dance music still motivates me, 10 years later. Almost all of my releases have a melodic kernel even though the foundation of them is increasingly somewhere between breaks and psytrance, which makes them quite difficult to categorise, much to the chagrin of labels and A&R people.
The kind of ‘trance’ that I’m talking about is split amongst several other genre labels now; most recently ‘melodic techno’ and ‘melodic psytrance.’ We try to extend this philosophy of crossover music that dances over genre fences with the label I co-operate with Alan Ruddick, Research & Development. A great example on the label is Opku, who has a release due at the end of July under his alias ‘Hopeku,’ in collaboration with co-Canadian Seven Ways. I can only ever imagine them as South Park characters, which I consider a compliment.
I love breakbeat music too, especially where it collides with cinema, and I always cite Hybrid as an act that have been a huge influence. Breakbeat, psy and trance are genres that mix together wonderfully, though incorporating drum & bass into that mix is something I’ve only ever done experimentally, and it never quite comes out how I want it to. One day I’ll get it right. On that day there will be cake and magic mushrooms for everyone.
TM: To be fair, in regards to commercial value, there will always be a small subset of people more interested in a less template-heavy approach to music, which both you and Alan, as well as folks you have featured on R&D represent quite well. On the subject of R&D, what on earth possessed you to start a label, seeing as it’s arguably one of the most difficult jobs in the industry? Moreover, is there anything else we can look forward from the imprint besides the already mentioned release from Hopeku and Seven Ways?
JD: One of the things I love about true psytrance, and something I try to include in my own musical values, is that it takes a rogue approach to arrangement, unhinged to ‘static’ norms or structural standards. So often in dance music we hear a tedious repetition of formulas. It seems that comes from the producers’ desperation to get their music played by famous people by making it as easy as possible for them to play it without listening to it first. Either that or incompetence. Both, probably. Did I mention I can be a cynic?
I like to say that we started the label out of an authentic creative vision; to seek out new styles and artists that other labels refuse to take commercial risks with, to treat artists with fairness and respect, and to set a benchmark for quality.
In reality, I think we started it out of frustration. Those are the principles of its operation, but its conception came from a realisation that the industry is fucked, and we were arrogant enough to hope that we could help to change that. It’s a lot of work and it doesn’t make any money, but we’re very well blessed to have the calibre of artistry that we do on our roster. Thank you, R&D family, for helping us endure this idiotic venture. You’re all awesome.
After the Hopeku & Seven Ways EP, we have our landmark 15th release for the label, which will be Volume 2 of the ‘Words In Colour Rephrased’ series. It’s the second set of three remixes of tracks from my debut artist album, by some of my favourite underground artists. There are some absolutely wicked remixes in it from Facade, Thomas Datt and Peter Steele. That will be RD015 in the catalogue. I can’t wait to share that release, they’ve worked really hard and humbled me greatly.
TM: You mentioned Words In Colour which is set to receive its full extended treatment on the 26th of June, under Discover. What was the impetus behind its initial release and the particular choice of artists to collab with?
JD: Thank you for mentioning it! I’ll just act like I didn’t know you were going to; if we keep that illusion up for long enough maybe someone will be convinced by it. Buy my music you fucks! Or just steal it, I don’t really give a shit. Or steal it and make an anonymous donation to my PayPal account. Or steal it and write about me favourably on Facebook. Does that work better for everyone? Honestly at this point, the point itself is moot, and possibly even lost. When and where was ‘the point’ last spotted?
Words In Colour was originally released on Activa’s label, Borderline Music. Activa is someone else that I cannot speak highly enough of, both as a musician and as a person; sadly for us no longer a part of the industry, but I take every opportunity to show my gratitude to him. When he left the scene, the label folded, so I made a new agreement with Discover Records to release the ‘extended’ (aka club mix) versions of the tracks.
That album really is my child. It was my first (and probably only) opportunity to fully express myself in that format, with a CD that ended up in high street stores. I’m still extremely proud of that. The people I collaborated with on it (Magnus, Activa and Davey Asprey) are all good friends who I greatly respect, and who I felt would help me do something special for the album, in each respective case. They did exactly that.
TM: As a follow-up question, for us collectors of shiny things, will there be a physical release of this extended mixes edition?
JD: The extended release will be digital only; it would be extremely foolish to incur the cost of releasing a physical version of something that most people who care about my music already have, and this release is mostly for DJs and people that wish to have the club-friendly versions at their disposal.
TM: Fair enough, plus, much like the original version, you’ll be able to grab the extended mixes from all good stores, which is nice. There is one more aspect about the album which some might be curious about, and that’s The Delusion. Did it not make it in due to space constraints or something else entirely?
JD: Yes! It will be available from ALL GOOD STORES once again. 26th June. Twenty-Six. June. June of the Gregorian calendar. 2017 in the year of our fictional Lord AD. All good stores.
‘The Delusion’ was separate from the album because the album was a ‘product’ from start to finish, whereas The Delusion was just a piece of music that I wrote at around the same time. It was never meant to be part of the flow. It was also an experiment using some of the new techniques I’d learnt from the album, and I’ve since made it available on BandCamp for a mere 50p, along with some of my older Borderline tracks that are no longer available from all good stores.
TM: Staying on the subject of music, is there anything else you’d want to share maybe in terms of collabs or other solo work we’d need to keep an eye out for?
JD: There’s quite a lot of tomfoolery happening recently, which has changed how I’m using my attention a little. I joined a few bands, the main creative project being ‘Gather At Dusk,’ in my alter-ego role as a drummer. We’re recording a progressive rock album at the moment and the music (written by the virtuoso guitarist Guy Pople and our wonderful bassist Ceri) is, in my view, outstanding.
I just finished a new collaboration with Facade for JOOF Recordings called ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ after Lawrence Krauss’s new book about the origins of the universe, which is somewhere in the ether (christ knows where, but it sounds like they’ve got some brilliant remixers on the case), and I’ve done a remix for John 00 Fleming of his new single, which I can’t say anything more about just now.
In a moment of extreme madness I also decided to create a 4 track EP for Beatman & Ludmilla’s ‘Ayra Recordings,’ following on from ‘Shady & Hitch’ and collaborating with some of the breaks & psybreaks producers that I most admire from across the DAMN PLANET. So that’s nice. And also terrifying. You never stop being terrified. If you’re not a little bit terrified, you’re not challenging yourself enough. I think that’s in the bible somewhere, but that would mean it isn’t true, so now I’ve ruined it.
TM: By the looks of it, you engage in the appreciation of music in several of its different forms. Music of course, is an integral part of emphasizing a certain atmosphere in other forms of art. You mentioned Unreal Tournament at the beginning, which leads me to believe that gaming had a noticeable presence in your daily life at some point. Does it still do so, and if that’s the case, what are your favourite titles?
JD: Damn straight! I love multiplayer PC gaming, usually competitive FPS like Counter-Strike, Unreal, Quake, Battlefield and more recently Titanfall 2. When I was younger I briefly (and only half-seriously) considered pursuing a career in professional gaming. If you’re not a gamer, yes that’s really an industry and it’s huge. These were the halcyon days when Fatal1ty was a super-star sponsored by nVidia (remember the ‘Fatal1ty’ branded 8800GT? Anyone? No?) I stopped playing because I became too competitive and it started to send me slightly more mental than I am already, but picked it up again. I’ve been playing the open-world space simulator Elite: Dangerous recently too which is an incredible game with fantastic sound design. My Steam handle is ‘Doppinator,’ if anyone wants a game. I’m not very good anymore though, you’ll probably beat me.
Incidentally, the thing I’d most like to do with music is write & produce for game studios. It’s an extremely difficult industry to break into, requiring an incredibly improbable combination of skill, luck and contacts, but after getting into the sound design world with my ‘Psy+Trance’ sound pack for Zenhiser, I remain optimistic.
TM: I do share your interest in gaming, though I must admit, that particular graphics card edition is a mystery to me. What may be a mystery to some folks that haven’t been following you for too long is that you are, I think it’s fair to say, a bit of a jester. In this pursuit to find the funny side of day to day life, have you been influenced by any comedic personality?
JD: If we weren’t already there in the beginning, we’re straying very dangerously into areas about which I can’t imagine anyone gives a flying christ what I think, but I’m also secretly immensely egotistical so fuck it, let’s do this. I like the description of ‘jester.’ Like many others, I’ve always harboured a delusion that I could put together a stand-up act that would be funny. I couldn’t, it would be a mess and the audience would throw things at me. I’ve never tried, because to do so would damage my fragile but substantial ego (see above).
I’ve long held a deep love and appreciation of the art of comedy, especially stand-up but not exclusively. Probably the people that have given me the greatest joy are Ricky Gervais (including his work with Merchant & K-man Pilkoid) Stewart Lee, Doug Stanhope, Bill Burr, Louis C.K, Jon Richardson, Tim Minchin, Dave Attell, Russell Brand… All phenomenal performers and writers I think. That’s the condensed answer, the full one would take all week.
If I’m to be Freudian (or perhaps more Jungian) for a moment, though, I guess the constant search for the folly of life comes from somewhere more philosophical… I carry around an inescapable sense of nihilism and, in a world where most of us face great suffering and in facing the inevitability of death, creativity & comedy are two important methods to craft meaning and purpose into a universe that, ultimately, doesn’t care about us. That answer escalated quickly didn’t it?
TM: Not necessarily a quick escalation. so much as a pretty well placed hint of a predictable end, which was ultimately J-turned into non-existence.
JD: Staring into the existential void at our mutual acceleration towards certain death – nice light hearted way to tidy up the conversation, as I always say. I think I’ve mentioned most things (I mean literally most things, not just musical projects) by now; there’s not much left to my personality.
TM: I suppose this conversation could also benefit from a J-turn, as such maybe we should bring it back to what other projects you have floating around in the artistic sphere. Naturally, I am impossibly curious as to when you and your fellow partners in audio mischief will engage in the ancient art of conversation once again, via a new episode of the R&D Talk Show.
JD: Ah yes, the R&D Talk Show! We really love doing that, but it takes a lot more organisation to make it happen than it seems like it should, so we don’t do it often enough. We’re going to start doing video-casts whenever possible in future, so that we can all get into the same room and talk bollocks, which is much better than Skyping. Adam (Facade) & I are also going to launch a series of videos where we take questions from people about absolutely anything and answer them with an arbitrary and capricious amount of sincerity. That’s probably what I’m most looking forward to of all of it!
TM: Since you mentioned questions about absolutely anything, how about one that I will say is “inspired™“ by an R&D Talk Show episode: What is your favourite type of sandwich, just so we have it in writing?
JD: Hahaha. That’s my question you traitor! I suppose I should be held to account. I am an advocate of the ‘super awesome mega sandwich,’ which before I became an intolerable vegetarian included bacon, egg, brie or goats’ cheese, coleslaw or cream cheese spread, lettuce, fried salami, fried onion, usually topped off with peppers and a splash of hot sauce. Now that I’ve denied myself the pleasurable consequences of animal genocide, I have to survive entirely on a diet of rye bread and gluten-free crackers. Jokes, I’m a really shit vegetarian, but I convince myself I’m doing my best.
TM: I believe there has been enough flinging of questions your way, so for those who like what you do, for those who don’t yet know they like what you do, and everybody else inbetween, any last words?
JD: Fuck, I’m not dying, and I ain’t running out of words. But I guess just follow me on something, come to my shows, or don’t, whatever. Love each other, be mindful and allow kindness to prevail. Peace, yo.
A great big thank you to John for taking the time to answer these questions, and best of luck in his future endeavors!
Be sure to grab the extended mixes of Words In Colour from a Beatport near you. No seriously, do it.
Gather at Dusk: Facebook
Press images and brand logos courtesy of John Dopping