Interview with 69db : Between POV, Tips and rants, he spills it all!

We had the chance to ask 69db a few questions, and he quickly drew us into his world with his informative answers. That’s why we’ve chosen to leave the interview as raw as possible, so as not to distort what he has shared with us. 69db is an important figure in the free party scene and an influential member of Spiral Tribe. In this exclusive interview, he reveals his rich and atypical career path, from his beginnings with percussion to his immersion in techno and acid house. 69db also shares his views on Teknivals and free parties today, his love of live improvisation and his musical evolution towards DAWs. A captivating exploration of the history of the European party and underground movements, told by one of its most passionate and authentic players.

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Our interview with 69db

A raver who can’t donate 5 euros to the family deserves no respect at all. They are just an UNDERGROUND CON-SUMER!

69db

Tell us about yourself, your musical career and your adventure with SP23.

I began playing drums at the age of 8 and up until Chicago Acid house (that blew up in 1988 in the UK) I was more interested in music that had human drums rather than drum machines. Acid house was a music completely born out of machines so it gave it a validity because it was electronic percussion music for me. So immediately I became a raver.

At that time I was squatting in the same area as Mark who was one of the founders of Spiral Tribe. We went to the same parties and experimented with psychedelics. I went to the very first Spiral Tribe party in September 1990 North East London. It was very familial and people were really on the same level. At this time I started Music Collage in Leeds so I would be in classes the weekdays and at the weekends I would travel to London go Busking on the Piccadilly line to make some money. Then I would go to Spiral Tribe.

I discovered in the basement of the collage they had a sampler and some basic equipment to make electronic music. So I began making techno and breakbeat. A year and a half later I suggested to Spiral Tribe we do a record label and they were up for it. So with the money from the donations of the Spiral Tribe / Circus Normal party in the Round house New Year 1992 we created the very first Spiral Tribe record.

The next step was for me to leave collage and get involved 100% in Spiral Tribe. Around this time we signed a deal with Butterfly records that was run by Youth. We made 3 EP’s and an Album. With the money we set up the Spiral Tribe mobile recording studio.

By this time it had become very difficult for Spiral Tribe to function in the UK so the crew decided to go to France. I came out with our mobile studio once I had finished the last tracks for the album. With Simon (Crystal Distortion) we began creating the origins of the Hard Techno/Tribe Genre that would become the dominant studio (And Liveset) sound of Spiral Tribe. This sound eventually became the main music of the 1990’s European Free Party scene. We also helped people in the Tribe who wanted to make tracks or learn how to use the equipment.

While we were doing this Simon and I had begun developing our version of Liveset Improvisation. We would put the studio in the middle of the dance floor and start jamming. This became the dominant feature of my music. Improvisation was everything for me and even started to become the way I made my tracks. While all this music was going on we as a crew created the Teknival scene and travelled through, France, Holland, Berlin, Czech Republic, Austria and Italy kicking off movements for free parties in all of these countries.

By 1996 Spiral Tribe was splintering and with Simon and Jeff 23 we released a series of around 35 ep’s on our label Network 23 Recordings. The ep’s also included artists such as Prangsta, Unit Möbius, Curly, Somatic responses. These became very influential in defining the sound of the European Free Party scene. In 1995 I started to invest myself in the French scene as I was blown away by how much it had grown from our first Teknival in Beauvais 1993 to Fontanebleu in 1995. I could see the French had really understood the whole thing and together we kicked it underground stylee for about 6 years. I would play for different crews such as Nomads, PsychiatriK, Furious, Technocrate/Impact, Heretic, 9mm…

I had been also developing an experimental dub sound from 1994 by improvising and dubbing slower, experimental beats with bass. When Reno from Expressillon proposed that we release an album, I had just jammed the tunes for the album Dub-Technic. I also met up with MC Tablloyd around this time and began ten years improvising with him. This also launched an 11-year relationship with Reno from Technocrates on his label Expressillon.

Around 2010 the artist/music side of Spiral Tribe began reconnecting and we decided to start playing at events. After over ten years pursuing our respective projects we realized we could put on events where over the night there is a real musical and visual progression. We are out of style as we all have our own styles. It is great to have this freedom. We decided to call it SP23 as we would never use the name Spiral Tribe for a commercial or personal project!! It would not be fair to confuse the two projects there is a difference. Also, we wanted a collective where everyone gets equally paid and all of our different sounds and images get equal space. Being a family this has been our way since the beginning so it is nice to have our own space on our own terms to do what we do. So, since then we have been playing out together and doing an exhibition of our history. The next one will be in Barcelona starting 31st May. It’s called the Spiral Tribe Exhibition.

Do you use a DAW or live machines?

The greatest move I made in liveset improvisation was switching from machines to DAW. In the 1990’s the only way was machines if you wanted to do what I do. The problem though is that with Analogue you are only as good as your weakest link. Unless you are very rich you will never be able to afford a mixing desk with the kind of pre-amps that I can use in a computer. The Mackie 1402 was fine for playing gigs but when it was your main studio mixer you would just get a cheap sound that could not compete with expensive studio equipment.

I also wound up on the street for a moment in 2010. I realised I had collected a lot of equipment but my life was never going to give me a place where I could set it up! I realised the most important factor in choosing your equipment is: Who am I and what does my life demand of me? We are incredibly lucky to be in a time where everyone can get great studio sound using DAW. My studio fits in my backpack. If life changes you just pick it up and go with the flow.

For me to go back to machines you would have to pay me ten times what I earn as a performer 🙂

I have recorded around 90% of my live performances. Listening back over the years there is absolutely no doubt that for me my sound is 100 times better on a DAW. I can actually release stuff from my live performance in a way I could never do when I was using a Mackie 1402. Nuff said.

Oh yeh next time (you) feel you want to come up to me and say “where are the machines?” I would hope you have enough confidence in me to know I would never have switched, if I had thought for a second, that it would either compromise my sound or compromise my ability to be spontaneous and to improvise 🙂

So don’t bother commenting it is not worth it. (That is for the people who still feel machines are in some way superior to DAW)

What equipment do you use for your live sets? How do you manage your live presets?

At this time and since 2010 I have passed over to Ableton Live and machine Mk3. I use Plug in Alliance, UAD, SSL for my treatment of sound, Ableton is for sampling and sequencing, Waldorf, ABL, NI are for synthesizers. Machine 3 is like another brain and it is great to have two independent sequencers as you can play with how they meet each other.

For the presets I create libraries that I can jump around on and pull things out when I play live. Liveset Improvisation from my perspective is not about improvising with placing notes in time. The improvisational focus is about playing with loops and FX. There are normally several hundred presets for each synth or drum machine and I have around 1500 sampled loops on 6 channels in Ableton. This way I have created a library of possible meetings. I think it really helps to tune as many of them to the same Key but then a little atonality never hurt anyone.

In your studio, I imagine you have machines… Which ones do you use to produce, and which ones would you recommend or prefer?

I haven’t had a studio since 2013, so I work on a table in my living space. My circumstances oblige me to use only my computer and controllers. (I’m not complaining, I love the sound I get).

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in production or in the world of techno music?

Be yourself there are so many people who just seem to copy. No personality. Well-constructed music but no soul. The only soul you really know is your own so trust it.

Get good management and respect them for what they do. As a musician you can only ever bring 50% of what is needed to the table. Without good people around you to do the rest you go nowhere so respect them. That said bad management can kill you as an artist so only respect if the respect comes back!!!

Don’t listen to people who criticise you! You know why you do what you do. If you are wrong life will let you know. So people who think they know you, don’t!!! What they say is always out of context and unhelpful.

Never give up when things get hard. You might get 5 years of success but you will come down. Life is about ups and downs nobody wins them all. So respect people around you as long as they respect you.

Don’t be scared to ask for the right money for what you do!! Also, fuck people who call you a sell-out then go and buy a gram of cocaine or something like that. Fucking bunch of hypocrites!!! The moment there is money in the area then there is commerce so we are all sell-outs. The free party scene would do well to understand this and start being more understanding of each other.

Are there any artists you find interesting that you’d like us to discover?

Loya, Labelle, Rapoon, Jaco Marron, Mistikri, Sault, Speki Webu, Woody 92, Azu Tiwaline, Marco Shuttle, Beatum, Droppin Caravan, Trackers, Kernal Panik, collectif des Insoumis, FSJS, Freeform…

Subscriber question: Do you think it’s still possible to create teknivals like Occitek, which took place in France in 2004, with so much material brought in?

Let’s be clear here, in 2004 Teknival was not Teknival it was Sarkoval!!! Of course, you could bring in lots of equipment but you brought it to a controlled space where we exchanged big sound systems for our freedom and self-determination!!!

The moment Teknival became government-sponsored Spiral Tribe had to step back there was no way we could go to a government-sponsored event!! The only time we did go was in 2013 when we were asked by Noise Control Audio (sound system created by Spiral Tribe member Tim) that we went so they could sound clash against all the other big sound system companies who by that point were using Teknival as a way to demonstrate their equipment. I am happy we did go because it gave me an opportunity to see and experience what government-sponsored Teknival would be like. We spent most of the event jumping off the stage to stop fights and the general feeling was edgy. There was no solidarity between the people and there was a massive fence all around the event with Police looking in. It was a bit like the film District 9.

When we heard that in 2016 Teknival would be once again people organized I went to check it out. The difference was unbelievable. People were looking out for each other, there was a sense of community and no barriers around it. No fights either! It was the absolute proof that the authorities have lost all credibility with their health and safety point. There have been deaths in both commercial and illegal gatherings, there have been drugs in both commercial and illegal gatherings, they have lost the argument.

Teknival is way safer when it is people-run than when it is government-run! Point barre. The experiment has been made and the result is obvious to everyone concerned. This needs to be brought before the authorities and talked about with clarity and honesty. Enough is enough! People are suffering because of an irrational governmental control that has proven itself to be defunct and void of reason. Time for them to trust us as the proof points to the fact that we run it better and safer!! Teknival has become yet another example of how the state mistrusts the people. We work all week, pay taxes all the time and still we don’t get any respect!! Smells like a mafia not a government.

The sound systems are smaller but the vibe is stronger. So what do you want? I know where I stand. It is a no-brainer. Fuck Sarkoval 🙂

Rave parties was better before?

To answer that you would have to have experienced every party ever made which is impossible, so don’t bother going there. Just get on with making it as good as you can.

Do you have any advice or message to pass on to sound systems still active in France and elsewhere?

First off you really need to ask yourself what kind of respect you want to generate as the focus point for your community. Is it all about you giving and asking nothing in return? Is that a good idea? Is giving all the time with no return healthy for both you and the people you give to? Ask yourself is it a level playing field or are some getting more of the pie than others? If this is about Free party, is everything in the party free and if not why not? Ask yourself are you okay with that?

Giving is a delicate balance. Too much giving leads to people that don’t appreciate you in the end, not enough is selfishness. I personally believe in one rule for all, no exceptions! At least on the big issues. So if it’s no money for the music then it should be no money for anything! A real free space with no money just sharing. Keep your money at home (Know what I mean?) Or, if some things are for money then everything is for money music included! Pay the DJs and artists as well as the people who sell stuff. We have tried the other way for over thirty years and the result is that all the good artists leave to go and get paid whilst everyone else takes care of business. This is the wrong direction in my opinion. But then hey it’s just my opinion. You need to decide for yourself.

Above all inspire people to be generous with donations. This is not the 1990s anymore, as a sound system you need to only focus on looking after the people and dealing with the cops when they come. The risks are high for just posing a sound system so you need financial support from the public that comes through donations so you can focus on what is important. Then you can leave the business to the others.

IF EVERYBODY DONATED 5 EUROS TO THE FSJS AT THE SAME TIME WE COULD FIGHT THE INJUSTICE TOGETHER AND IN SOLIDARITY! THERE IS NO EXCUSE GET YOUR PEOPLE TO DONATE, GIVE TO THE SOUND SYSTEM. FREE PARTY IS OVER. VIVRE LA SOIRÉE SOLIDAIRE!!!

69db

If you are so naive that you think there is no business then just ask yourself how much people would pay over a free party for everything that they need and then see what you think! Really, With the amount of money exchanging hands over an event from carburant, packs of beer, etc., a raver who can’t donate 5 euros to the family deserves no respect at all. They are just an UNDERGROUND CON-SUMER!

What are your future projects?


Wave Arising
is a project that fuses movement and music in improvisation in order to look deeper. To be honest, when 99% of the scene is about getting fucked up and having a party it is good to try and create alternative spaces where we can try out other things. My experience in silent retreats has led me to understand that music and dance can be forms of meditation in themselves. So my main focus for now and the future is to develop that.

I also want to create a bigger dynamic in my music and play all styles.


Check out Wave Arising on Bandcamp
; There is a new album to be heard and bought.

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Also, Simon and I have restarted Network 23 Recordings and are currently making a series of records entitled “23 Records or Bust! After the success of our records on PRSPCT and Sound Metaphors, we have decided to release all of our 1990’s output on Network 23 recordings. One side will be Crystal Distortion, the other 69db. In the upcoming series, I will be releasing unreleased tracks from my 1990’s live sets. This music has never been on vinyl before so it is worth getting it while you can.

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Conclusion

In summary, 69db’s journey is a source of inspiration for many people within the techno culture. From his beginnings to the co-founding of Spiral Tribe, he has consistently innovated and influenced the European Free Party scene. His advice on the importance of authenticity, good management, and improvisation is valuable for any artist or collective.

Today, with projects like Wave Arising and the revival of Network 23 Recordings, 69db continues to push the boundaries of music and live performance. His commitment to the community and the evolution of electronic music remains an inspiration to all.

Thank you, 69db, for sharing your story and perspectives with us. Your passion and dedication continue to shape and enrich the underground scene.

I also wish to remind party enthusiasts that free parties are not free events. It is essential to support the sound systems and collectives that invest heavily to give you a great experience and who risk seizure at every outing. Sometimes, the people who provide these moments sacrifice everything for it (a sound system is very expensive). The least you can do is start contributing a bit more to the collectives and sound systems if you want the party movement to endure in the long term.

Yes, because not many of you contribute during donations, often only giving a few cigarettes or coins. However, when it comes to buying alcohol, fuel to get there, and other expenses, there’s always a crowd…

So, if you feel concerned, you can make a small donation to the Legal Support Fund for Sound Systems (FSJS) to clear your conscience and help the organisers recover their sound system when seized. =)

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