Jonny Brashear is an old-school techno head in the purest sense. He's a connoisseur of the robot dance music and was owner of the now-defunct Sonic Convergence, a label that was based in Dallas but focused on European producers. Though not as active now as a DJ as in the past, he still travels to see his favorite music that rarely comes to this part of the country. For this week's mixtape, Brashear aka Dionysos delivers the kind of set that recalls big festival performances: pulsing, pounding, peaking and totally in your face. It's geared for the dance floor, but on a proper system you could easily get away with head banging like you're at a metal concert. Very tough stuff.
Dallas Observer: How did you get started DJing? How long have you been at it?
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Jonny Brashear: My first trip to a record shop was in January of 1997, when I spent half of my $100 credit card limit (#CollegeLife) at Alien Records buying a grab bag of terrible tunes and one good Uberzone single. Fast forward a few months and I’m sharing a late-night mix show with DJ Mad Wax on KVRX where we showcased every subgenre we could get our hands on. From there, I spent the next decade pushing my sound wherever I could, and I was lucky to land gigs from San Francisco to Buffalo. Over the last few years DJing started to take a backseat as my day job turned into a career, but I still like to buy tunes and make mixes from time to time.
How was this mix made? Is there a particular theme for the track selection?
Son, when two tunes love each other very much and feel like they’ll make great music together, sometimes they’ll load themselves into a Traktor S4 and mix with each other. Once in a while, they’ll bring a third tune in if they’re feeling frisky and they all match keys, but usually two is enough to make beautiful music. (The mix wasn’t really meant to have a theme so much as a collection of tracks I’ve enjoyed.)
How did you get involved with techno?
I wasn’t into techno for the first couple of years I DJed because the only real exposure I had was to the Unit Park/Plastic City minimal Detroit techno and that did nothing for me. It wasn’t until I heard Dylan Drazen DJ at a party in Austin one Halloween that the light went on for me, and that set was revelatory. I snagged his “I Am Focused” mixtape, bought every track I could find, and started expanding out from there. That dark, hard, atmospheric and unmistakably European techno from the late ‘90s-early ‘00s will always hold a place in my heart.
What is your take on the evolution of techno over the past few decades?
Everything was better back when artists made sheet music and recorded onto wax cylinders. It seems to me that techno has slowed down as the heavyweights have aged; Chris Liebing, Adam Beyer, Richie Hawtin, et cetera, are all 10-15 BPM slower than they were 20 years ago, and artists of their stature tend to set the tone for most of the producers further down the line. As much as there are producers in the tech-house genre I like, I kinda hate the idea of tech-house because all the related genres slid toward it like sleeping in an old queen bed with a 500-lb. person.
Is that true with all the tech-house you hear these days?
I went to Movement last year and I was surprised and saddened that I could go from stage to stage and hear nearly everybody playing interchangeable tunes all at the same BPM. There was little musicality, little atmosphere, just 128 BPM of snares and kicks. Even the Underground stage — a stage which should be my personal Candyland — had only a smattering of techno that really got me going.
So what have you been listening to?
Techno is in a rut, which is why I've been listening to more drum 'n' bass the past handful of years. Go listen to D 'n' B artists like Ulterior Motive, Bungle, Anile and Etherwood and tell me they're not trying to push the envelope more than most of their techno counterparts. I hope that this is a phase techno can break out of, because when techno is on its game it has a primal attraction few other genres can match.
What other kinds of music do you enjoy?
I’m not going to lie, I have my head shoved so far up the ass of electronic music that I’ve lost touch with most any other sound out there. I listen to some hip-hop here and there, but otherwise it’s some electronic genre like drum 'n' bass, techno or trance. When I’m traveling for work I load up the iPod with podcasts by the likes of Random Movement, Hospital, Anjunadeep, Simon Patterson and Naked Lunch, amongst others. I will delve into house once every blue moon, but it’s usually in the form of somebody who has booked at It’ll Do. I don’t pretend to know as much about house as some of the heads in this town, but I pretty much implicitly trust whoever Red Eye gets excited about bringing to town.
How did Sonic Convergence come about?
The first iteration in 2002 came about as an avenue to push out the tracks mentioned above, but the bottom dropped out around the time Napster and mp3s wrecked a lot of electronic labels and sat on the shelf for a number of years. The second iteration of the label was as a digital label focused on pushing releases by artists I liked. It started in 2012 and had 11 releases before going back on hiatus because apparently my taste in techno isn’t nearly as popular as I had hoped.
Do you foresee Sonic Convergence coming back after some time?
Never say never, I guess. I like pushing the music that moves me and it's important to me to support artists I believe in, so if I get back to the point where the finances make sense I'd love to restart the label. If I win the Powerball tonight, Sonic Convergence will be back online in a month, and there will be a drum 'n' bass sublabel shortly thereafter.
Who are some of the artists you have worked with?
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I’ve been fortunate to have a number of quality techno acts on the label, from Andrei Morant, Tim Xavier and Dustin Zahn to Peppelino, Steel Grooves and Adam Jay. In addition to producing for the label, Adam did the mastering for almost every release in the last three years and I can’t recommend him highly enough. The highlight of the label for me was having DJ Misjah of “Access” fame remix a Peppelino track called “Bad Girls;” I don’t turn into a fanboy often, but he’s a DJ/producer I’ve enjoyed for nearly 20 years and getting him to remix a tune on the label was a treat.
Do you have any gigs coming in the near future?
That depends. Are you hiring? No gigs in the near future; between work, travel and other priorities in life I’m more of a consumer than a purveyor these days. I am getting to fulfill a bucket list item by going to the Awakenings Festival in Amsterdam later this year where I’ll be able to gorge myself on a number of techno acts that rarely make it stateside. Fingers crossed I’ll finally be able to get my face melted by DJ Rush, Speedy J and/or the Advent.
1) Stephan Bodzin - Powers of Ten (Maceo Plex & Shall Ocin Remix) - Herzblut Recordings
2) Steve Ward - Splash of Green (Alexander Kowalski Remix) - Gem Records?
3) Krischmann, Klingenberg - Blue Valey (Original Mix) - Arcussinus Records
4) Rob Hes - Ctrl - Tronic?
5) Danny Tenaglia - Dibiza (Joseph Capriati Remix) - Stereo Productions?
6) Rene Amesz - Clan Nancy - Toolroom?7) Adrian Hour - I Can't Wait - Suara
8) Enrico Sangiuliano - Capernoited (Jewel Kid Rework) - Alleanza?
9) Steel Grooves - Poser Planet - Urban Kickz Recordings?
10) The Advent, Jason Fernandes - Get Up (Industrialyzer Remix) - H-Productions?
11) The Reactivitz - Techno Is Of The Essence (Alex Di Stefano Remix) - Funk'n Deep Records?
12) DJ Misjah - No More Mr. Nice Guy (Sergy Casttle vs Cristian Mhuler Remix) - Phunkation?
13) Speedy - Risiko - Patterns?
14) Jel Ford - Backyard - Drumcode?
15) Stephen J. Kroos - Cgull - Scrambled Recordings?
16) Shlømo - Avadon (Part 1) - Wolfskuil Records?
17) Vegim - Prishtina - Promo?
18) DJ Boris - Can You Hear Me (Enrico Sangiuliano Remix) - Alleanza