Talk about the great musical families that have come out of the Midwest, and the Burden Brothers (aka Octave One) are finally getting their proper acclaim. Lenny, Lawrence (and sometimes Lorne, Lynell and Lance Burden) dropped a bomb on the scene in 1990 with the release of “I Believe”, upgraded to atomic weaponry in 2000 with “Blackwater” … and yet it wasn’t until the showcase Revisited: Here There & Beyond album released in early 2012 that one had to step back to take in the brilliance the brothers have created.
Revisited put into focus Octave One’s distinctive sound, an equally fierce independence and their unique vision for how Techno and House should be experienced in the club: not just live but ALIVE, subject to improvisation, chance, and banged out on the same instruments they use to create it.
A lot of folks felt that you had a distinct sound compared your peers in Detroit of the same generation. After 22 years, do you feel a kind of “vindication” now that you’re regarded as one of the true progenitors of the “Detroit sound”?
Yea, we heard a lot of folks in the beginning of our careers say that our sound was distinctly different from our peers in the D. Even some of our peers said the same thing to us, but it is, as it was then, cool with us. We even recognize that our style and sound was a bit obscure in comparison to the norm.
And as far as seeing ourselves in the realm of being progenitors of the “Detroit Sound”, we just view ourselves as one of the many who contributed to the whole of the scene – we only view ourselves as progenitors to the “Octave One sound”.
In the ’90s, I almost never saw you guys playing on the road. And now you’ve become a kind of band of road warriors. What kept you from stepping out (and what made you step into the live tour experience in the last decade)?
In the ’90s we were quite absent from the performing scene except Lawrence in the mid- to late-’90s DJing. At that time we really just wanted to keep our focus on running our two labels (430 West & Direct Beat), shaping the stable of artists that we had on both labels. Our initial goal was just to have a few of our close friends on our newly formed 430 West imprint but that soon blossomed to so many releases that we started another label (Direct Beat) just to accommodate all the inquiries and submissions of music. We were working with artists so much and pushing papers in the office doing deals that it all hit a brick wall for us and we just didn’t want to see any of the four walls unless it was our recording studio… which we had been driven from to become record executives. And we say “record executives” with a bitter taste in our mouths because that was far from what we had set out to do.
The time had come in early 2001 that we decided we wanted to see what we could do on stage live with the gear, since to us there had not been a lot of groups that touched on doing shows with hardware. It was almost as if it had been totally overlooked for performing with and since we loved hardware so much we knew it could be our niche (or at least make fools of ourselves having a good time doing what we loved!)
The live show: what made you guys step out from behind the turntables to begin with?
After doing the 3 turntable stuff at that time, I just didn’t see anything else for me to do that was fun and I definitely didn’t want to become that DJ who just started pointing his finger to the crowd at the breaks of records as if I was doing something magical. I wanted to create that magic and I just wasn’t feeling that. And I don’t believe in cheating the fans. It was time for something new.
Is it hard bringing the whole show on the road?
People really don’t have the slightest clue just how insanely hard it is to haul cases of gear and equipment around from city to city, country to country. Every single piece of equipment you see before us is what traveled with us to from home to the venue. We just started to request a keyboard now because we have gone through so many keyboards being broke that we were just repairing (and eventually replacing) them so frequently that it just wasn’t cost effective anymore. We spend almost as much time in our hotel rooms repairing gear as we do on stage jammin’. And when we say all the gear is ours (except the keyboards now) we mean everything. Even the mixer – that too is hauled from venue to venue with oh so many repairs between shows. But it’s all love. 🙂
Would you encourage it for someone looking to step beyond the “DJ set” and elementary PAs?
Sure, why not! The thing is to always challenge yourself to do something completely out of the norm, or at least out of your own personal norm. And you’ll be surprised at what you might come up with that is inspirational to others as well as yourself.
And a lot of people are shocked to find out that your live show uses entirely analog instruments – no laptops. Does your set-up in the club approximate what you do in the studio (or I suppose, vice-versa?)
It does surprise quite a few people – even some promoters that book us (and should know) – that our show is completely and entirely hardware-based and analog-driven.
Actually, what we do on stage is a lot more unchained, if you will, because we take so many more chances doing things “off of the cuff” and spontaneously than we ever do in the studio. Having a live crowd in front of you that you feed to and they feed back to you cranks your adrenaline up to unattainable levels that you just can’t duplicate in controlled environments. And believe us when we tell you that we’ve tried at times to duplicate certain things from particular shows in the studio and even in other venues in front of other crowds but it just doesn’t work the same. We guess lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice! But playing live is excellent for knowing the boundaries of what you can push things to.
I am going to step back into prehistory for just one question here because it’s one I’ve always wanted to talk with you about. “Journey” (under the alias “Never On Sunday”) was one of the most mindblowing records I heard when I was kid, and it was on a record (Decay) which many think is one of the highlights of MK’s storied career. How did that record come about?
Wow, we haven’t heard about that track in awhile… cool! Well, it was a vibe primarily composed by Lynell and Lenny that we loved and wanted to see it come out but we just had so many releases for our 430 West label. When we were approached by Damon Booker and Carl Craig to do a track for their imprint, we knew just what track it would be! And really it was the vibe of our first studio (at 430 West Eight Mile) which just gave us such a vibe that that record was just hand-formed from pure clay.
I was too young at the time to know – was “Journey” regarded as a classic back then?
We knew we loved the track and that Damon and Carl liked it too, but it was one of our local radio jocks (Stacey “Hotmix” Hale) in Detroit who really brought it to our attention that it was going to become a classic. She kept playing the cut all the time in her mix shows on the radio and we were blown away hearing it so much. We knew at that point she just wasn’t being respectful and playing it, but that she truly loved the track and so did others.
Let’s jump to the Revisited Series. I loved it, and especially the way you had some younger guys take a spin at the classic O1 catalog. What criteria did you use when picking who would be involved with Revisted?
We really just used the fact that we’ve loved their productions for years as our main criteria. Their music spoke to us and we wanted to see what it would be like have them create on an already painted canvas the way they saw fit. We tried not to tie anyone’s hands and let them choose whatever track they wanted to even if it was already selected and we gave no guidelines or expectations. We just wanted them to be free to create without any boundaries and whatever they came up with was beautiful to us and would be released.
You’ve done some of the best work of any Detroit electronic music artists with vocalists – and I think the worlds of what we used to go on about as “Techno” and “House” are drawing closer again than they have in the last decade. Do you have any plans to work on the human voice again?
Thank you for that great compliment, we appreciate it sincerely! And yes the merger of Techno and House is coming around again – we see it too. We do have plans on releasing a new song with the merging of those genres (which is a style that we’ve always just loved from day one) sometime in the late summer or fall. New Life is on the horizon, enough said for now. 🙂
Your schedule keeps you in Europe a lot, but I notice a few American dates creeping in – San Francisco and then Seattle’s Decibel Festival. How do you compare American & European audiences? And can we get a treat back here in the Midwest with a live show?
Traditionally, American and European audiences have been like apples and oranges with the States lagging behind in what was currently happening in the scene globally. But fortunately, because of a handful of few brave and sincere promoters who truly care and are conscious, those gaps in the scene are closing and the playing field is becoming a lot more even and connected. And for us in particular the internet chatter (YouTube, Twitter, etc.) has helped with our growth to those who have their ears to the ground.
And yes, we definitely want to do something in the Midwest again and soon for sure! We’re just waiting on the one promoter that has the same vision of what we want to bring to our peepz!!! • • •