Ben Sims, Santiago Salazar, Gerald Mitchell, Fabrice Lig, Robert Hood – these are just a few of the best and brightest techno producers in the world that have left a trace of their art in the back catalog of Motech. Inspired by the sounds of his native Detroit, DJ 3000 launched Motech in 2002 with Shawn Snell with an aesthetic of techno tracks that had a street-lethal edge to them. In the subsequent years, Motech is one of Detroit’s vinyl legacy labels that successfully transitioned to digital, and far from resting on the laurels of a superior back catalog has continuously searched for new sounds from new talent across the globe.

Motech has a really long and intense history. What can you remember about making the first record? And was that the “Black Phuture” release?

I started Motech with my best friend, Shawn Snell, back in 2001-02, while I was working at Submerge. We wanted to start a label whose purpose was to not only release our own music, but to release the music that a lot of our friends were working on. We were heavily influenced by both the techno and electro records coming out of Detroit and we wanted to blur the lines between the two genres, which is why a lot of the earliest Motech releases had both techno and electro tracks on them. The first release from Black Phuture captured that element perfectly and it was a huge statement, and it also had a big impact on a worldwide level for us as a label.

What labels were your inspiration, if not your models?

We were heavily influenced by a ton of Detroit labels, because they all had their own individual styles. I would say the biggest inspirations/influences were labels like Underground Resistance, 430West, Direct Beat and Teknotika. UR told intricate social and cultural stories via their production, the label artwork and track titles. The Burden brothers at 430West are some of the funkiest techno producers out there and their DirectBeat imprint released some of the biggest Detroit electronic hit records. Gary Martin and his Teknotika label really stood out to us and played an important role in influencing our sound and output because Gary had his own exotic style among all the heavy hitters in and around Detroit at that time.

Mike Banks at UR told me that anyone can make techno tracks, but being able to show people who you are, and reflect your culture and roots via that music is what will separate you from the rest.

The artwork for those records was fucking great. It had a gritty street feel, and most of my techno records from that era had some trippy pattern or clip art of a Buddha or bad graphics or no graphic design at all to them. You still clearly spend a lot of time on the artwork for Motech releases. How important is the visual presentation for a record label?

The art for each Motech release is a key piece to the puzzle. Like I mentioned before regarding UR, the music, the track title and the record artwork are like a story. We always try to capture that and convey that as best we can via the record’s art. Keeping the art focused, simple and related to the content helps it stay timeless, and not as easily dated as some of the stuff you mentioned with bad graphics and outdated symbolism.

I’ve noticed you’ve slipped Albanian iconography into the artwork and given records and tracks Albanian language titles from day one. Why was it important to have these symbols in the mix?

I’m Albanian, so it’s important to me to reflect my culture and roots via the titles of the tracks and in the record art, but most importantly, reflect that culture and roots via the music itself, when I can. From day one, when I started producing my own tracks and started my own label, Mike Banks at UR told me that anyone can make techno tracks, but being able to show people who you are, and reflect your culture and roots via that music is what will separate you from the rest. I have never really been one to follow or had the desire to try to sound like anyone else via my production, and adding in Albanian cultural, musical and visual influences across the entire Motech label has allowed me to stay true to that principle.

There is a great quote out there by Kenny Dixon, Jr, which paraphrased says, “You have got a lot of talent out there, and I have to honestly say some of the best musicians on this planet, we probably will never hear. They’re in the basements, they ain’t got no money, they’re going to have to get jobs elsewhere, and they’re probably some of the baddest motherfuckers in the world.”

Do you remember the first digital-only release you did? Was it a big, momentous decision?

The first digital release Motech did was back in 2007. It was a release from label co-founder Shawn Snell, called “Karmatar Station.” We decided at the time to start releasing digitally because we had this crazy backlog of releases ready in the pipeline, and we really couldn’t afford to sit around and wait to press them all on vinyl. Going the route of the digital EP helped us release more quality music in a more timely fashion.

It was a battle at first because Motech had been, traditionally, a label that depended on a heavy vinyl output for its releases. But with the cost and delays in vinyl manufacturing, it became such a burden which forced our hand. No one knew what to think of digital only releases at that time, but as time went on, obviously, digital only releases and platforms became the norm.

How many distributors for vinyl have you been through in the last two decades? How has the wax business changed?

In the early days, Motech was primarily distributed via Submerge, until they stopped distributing other labels back in the late-2000s. After that, we exported the releases ourselves via distributors in Europe like Rubadub in Glasgow, Clone in Rotterdam, and Underground Gallery & Disc Union in Japan. We had used just about every distributor worldwide that you could imagine, almost to the point where we had to temporarily hold off on vinyl pressing and distribution. However, this (vinyl pressing & distribution) is something we plan on revisiting again in the near future.

Originally published in 5 Mag issue 174 featuring Robert Hood, Rasmus Faber, Remute, Natasha Kitty Kat, DJ 3000 and Motech & more. Help support 5 Mag by becoming a member for just $1 per issue.

What’s a “secret weapon” or at least an underrated track from Motech’s back catalog?

Hmmm this is a tough one, since the Motech catalog goes back 20 years now! I think two stand outs for me, because they both directly reflect the influences I touched on earlier are “Bellydancer” by Gerald Mitchell, which as a release shows an iconic, funky Detroit producer molding his production style to reflect the style and vision that Motech had at the time, and at the same time tapping into the rich Middle Eastern culture that abounds in the Detroit metro area. The other would be “Dais” by Subotika, who are a duo of producers from Serbia that, at that time, no one had ever taken a chance on. They were making records that sounded like Detroit, but had never even set foot in Detroit. That release exhibited the fact that Detroit was influencing the world via electronic music, and then the world started to influence Detroit to put those records out.

Do you accept demos? How critical are you of demos that are sent in?

Absolutely, we always welcome demos! We get demos almost every day, and it’s how we find most of our artists to be honest. If you look at most of the releases we have put out in the last three to four years, they are all by relatively new and unknown artists/producers. It’s relatively easy for an established label to churn out and sell releases by established, big name artists/producers, and that’s totally fine. Motech also does that on occasion, but we tend to try to be on the lookout for newer artists because without new artists how is the genre going to evolve?

There is a great quote out there by Kenny Dixon, Jr, which paraphrased says, “You have got a lot of talent out there, and I have to honestly say some of the best musicians on this planet, we probably will never hear. They’re in the basements, they ain’t got no money, they’re going to have to get jobs elsewhere, and they’re probably some of the baddest motherfuckers in the world.”

As it stands today, the genre of techno has gotten very stale and boring, in my opinion. Very few producers are taking any risks and everyone sounds the same. Motech has always prided itself on pushing the boundaries of this music, which includes providing a forum for artists that may otherwise have never been heard or had their production released. I think the Motech catalog speaks for itself in that respect.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started Motech?

That digital would become the way to go. Back in the beginning, there was so much overhead from having to secure tracks, to preparing a master for a white label, to paying to have records cut, and then getting them out and shipped and taking the risk of the EP or LP not selling. Now, it’s just a file. I know that there is a lot loaded into that file with a producer’s time and effort, but there is much less physical overhead and risk associated with owning a label now. The actual, physical deliverable of any musical outlet is now almost a novelty when you have vinyl to sell.

In our part of the industry, we both know people around the world that throw around “Chicago” and “Detroit” like buzzwords. What does it mean – to you – to be an authentically Detroit artist and run a Detroit label?

To be honest, I hate when people throw around the “Chicago” and “Detroit” labels. If you asked 10 people to describe what Chicago or Detroit sound like, you’re going to get 10 different subjective answers. Who can define what Chicago or Detroit sounds like? Mostly it’s people in those cities, in that scene at that particular moment, who really know what the city “sounds” like. The thing about tracks today that are “influenced” by Chicago or Detroit, are that the producers, whether they are US-based or overseas, tend to be emulating a sound that was popular in Chicago or Detroit 25+ years ago. And I get that, nostalgia sells, but the problem is that the tracks sound like every track I’ve heard out of Chicago or Detroit for the last 25+ years, or what the producers think tracks out of those cities should sound like.

The reality is that Chicago and Detroit today continue to push forward, the producers making music in those cities know all about the history and what it sounded like, but they are aiming to push forward and create the next sound.

I can’t speak for Chicago but in Detroit today you are going to find that most of the producers and labels sound radically different, not only from the city’s historical “sound” but also from each other. It’s a drive to create a unique sound that is unique to that label or producer, not to the city that they feel closest to. If you listen to the current state of house and techno in Chicago and in the D, we have moved light years ahead of that old sound. Chicago and Detroit tend to operate in their own bubbles, and we’re all out to try to just make the hottest shit we can, and if it’s hot to us and our friends then we release it. I think in other parts of the world the approach is the exact opposite: they go into the studio and their aim is to sound like this producer or that producer and mimic the current state/sound of techno or house, and try to get it charted on popular DJ’s monthly charts. To me, this is exactly what is wrong with the current state of house/techno, regardless of city.