Brett Johnson's discography begins in '99 with his Vibrations EP for Esoteric Records. Since then, he's had 50 more releases, including singles and remixes, for top labels such as Visionquest, Classic, Frankie Rec and Dallas' Audiophile Deep. He's currently working on a new album.
Johnson has played gigs all over the world and worked in Germany for a time. Now he's back in Texas, and while he travels to gigs most weekends, Austin is his home during the week.
This weekend, Johnson takes over It'll Do for an open-to-close DJ set. It's a rare chance to hear one of Dallas' top DJ exports play an unfiltered, extended set in his hometown.
Dallas Observer: What are your plans for It’ll Do this weekend and how did the gig come about?
Brett Johnson: We are going to do some special decorating and a few other surprises. As soon as Scottie asked me, I knew I did not want it to be just another night at the club. I've been preparing the music and decorations for a couple weeks now. We are all in for a treat.
Scottie is playing in Ibiza, so he asked me to cover for him. He knows that I'm comfortable and capable in that room. I've played there several times already and have proven myself, I suppose.
What drove you to tackle the album format again?
The LP format allows an artist to focus on more creative endeavors instead of making hits. I like songwriting. I'm not good at it, but I try my best, and like they say, "Aim for the stars and maybe you'll end up in the clouds."
How different is working on an album from singles?
You have more creative freedom and space to tell a story. Singles need strong tracks to drive. As producers, a lot of times we are not painting Mona Lisas; we are often painting bowls of fruit by way of the singles format that dominates club music. Albums allow space for different ideas, creative excursions and experimentation that may be relegated to B-sides otherwise. The time to work on albums is hard to find with a busy booking schedule.
What are the most inspiring pieces of gear in your studio?
I love my Roland SH-101, Korg Poly-61, Ramsa mixer and Genelec monitors; each of them are timeless and always useful and inspiring.
How often do you travel to gigs nowadays?
I'm on the road a couple weekends every month. I also recently started a Thursday night in Austin at a bar my good friend Mickie Spencer owns called Ah Sing Den. We have some exciting plans and vision for the night that will include special guests both locally and from abroad.
How has deejaying in Dallas changed over the years?
I think as long as I don't live in Dallas, people love to come hear me play — it's the same anywhere else I have lived. People don't consider their local DJs to be as exciting as someone from out of town when the opposite is usually true.
My DJ friends in Texas kill it, and I'd put them against anybody I play with in the world. I love playing in Dallas; it's one of my favorite places to play. The support system I have there is stronger than anywhere else. When I play, and that love and support is given to me, a whole new level of inspiration and skill sets in.
Most of my sets at It'll Do have been magical moments in my life where many of my favorite people shared with me the brilliance of our music, message and culture.
What brought you back to Texas?
Kids, family and the future. The plan was never to stay in Berlin, just to check it out. We told ourselves five years — it turns out three years is enough. For very practical reasons, it became clear if we were to try and raise our family in Germany, we would be at a real disadvantage, and the close proximity to my work and peers couldn't make up for that.
Both my wife and I's parents live in Texas, and it's important to us that we all be able to spend time together, especially while our kids are still ... kids. I spent most of my life in Dallas and was ready for a change — anyone who knows me understands Austin and I are a good fit. I'm happy to say that after our monster move back, we are all doing well and happier than ever.
How was this mix made? Is there a particular theme for the track selection?
I made this mix on three CDJs and an Allen & Heath mixer. There's no theme, only a pursuit of good flow.
Where do you like to dig for tracks?
I get music from all over the place. I buy music both online and in record stores; I digitize the vinyl. Some of the promos are decent, and [I get music from] friends and fellow artists.
When shopping online, I mainly shop on Traxsource, Beatport, Juno, Whatpeopleplay and Bandcamp. When I dig, I use the same strategy I used when buying vinyl. Listen to everything.
I like how easy it is to flip through a playlist of songs, but the amount of music you have to go through to find something special is insane and can cause you to miss something quality. After listening to music for hours, it all starts to sound the same.
What was your most significant musical experience of the past year?
I've had a lot of fun sets this year, but my last gig in Vancouver was really special. Great crowd. I had a flight cancellation and got to Vancouver tired and kind of a mess right before my gig. The place was called Open Studios. They had a solid crowd that brought a great vibe to the night.
There are those nights when you are not completely there, and instinct kicks in sync with the crowd and it all comes together. A lot of the time the focus gets put on the DJ, but it’s the crowd that really makes the party. On those nights I've actually come out of the booth and thanked audience members for a great night.
Is there a track that you always come back to as a DJ?
Not one track in particular, but there are probably 100 records or so that are always floating around me.
Dubtribe Sound System – "Do It Now + Against The Tide (Marquis Hawkes Remix)"
John Dimas – "Unknown"
KDA – "Just Say ft. Tinashe" (Joshua James Remix)
X_1 – "Happy Hippie Hifi"
KiNK – "Valentine's Groove + BT - Remember (Mood II Swing Remix)"
Milton Jackson – "Ghosts In My Computer"
Serge Devant – "This Moment (Dinky Dub Remix)"
Alec Wizz – "Drummin_Louis Benedetti Drumminpel"
Joss Moog – "Etincelles"
Kerri Chandler – "Turn Off The Light (Satoshi_Tomiie_remix)"
Mark Ambrose – "B 6 - Original_Mix"
Malesh – "Stay Low (Marko Nastic Remix)"
Oscar G – "(Heart Beats)"
Tiger vs. Audion – "Fever (Tom Trago Remix)"
Inner City – "BIG Fun (Full Intention 88 Remix)"