We caught up with Motor City Drum Ensemble after his set at Morocco's Oasis Fest for a quick one-on-one chat about disco, growing up in Germany, and Middle Eastern politics.
Danilo Plesow – AKA Motor City Drum Ensemble – is well known for his signature disco sets, and intricate productions. The German child prodigy has been playing music since he was six years old, recording his first piece at 11 and releasing his first track by the age of 15. Growing up in Stuttgart, Germany's motor city - hence the name - he was exposed to the sounds of the American DJs that forged electronic music at a very young age. Plesow's funky disco set at the Desert Oasis stage of the Oasis Fest in Marrakesh commanded full attendance, right in front of the stage and in the neighbouring pool. We caught up with the artist after his set, in the spa of the resort where the festival was held- which then doubled as a press centre.
So, disco is not dead?
No, it’s not dead; definitely not. Disco has never been dead because disco is the foundation of everything when it comes to four to the floor music. Disco has been around forever, you know the 70s had the same kind of groove. The first house records were an imitation – Marshall Jefferson tried to imitate First Choice, they tried to imitate disco records, and that's why we're here today in 2016 listening to the same shit over and over. You might find a record that you haven’t played out yet, but disco - the formula - makes people smile, makes people happy, endlessly dancing, and it’s not over, man; it’s never going to be over.
Is that one of your motivations? People maybe tired of hearing the same thing.
But the thing is, how is it different? How much truly different music do you see? The formula of having a straight beat has been there since the 70s, we can change little bits and bops, but it’s going to be falling back to a four to the floor beat. So you can either go over digital way, like going techno, but at the end of the day we’re all coming back to that universal four to the floor.
In your opinion, there has been a rise of disco music as of late?
Because disco has been coming and going forever and disco is the heart stone of modern house music, disco has never been gone. All sampled house is disco, but it's coming in waves and leaving again. But you know people love vocals, people love to sing along, they love to be happy. We love techno; I love Jeff Mills, I love dark music – don’t get me wrong or anything, but at the end of the day, people - especially girls - will love to fucking sing along to something beautiful that has a message.
When you go out to try and have some fun, what do you listen to?
There are a couple of DJs that I just love to hear, these are like my work horses so to say, and i follow them. I mean i play every weekend, so basically the chance that i get to dance is when we play the same festival.
So what kind of music do they play?
There is no fucking segregations dude, there is music, you know? So you can play any kind; you can play techno, you can play jazz, you can play house, you can play anything in the same set. That’s the kind of thing I want to hear, to be an interesting person. It’s like with girls, you don’t want to fuck a white chick every day. Diversity, you know what I mean?You released your first track when you were 15; tell us a bit about how that happened, and also maybe paint a picture of what the scene in Stuttgart was like when you were growing up there.
Stuttgart was actually a very vibrant place back in the day, but it’s gone to shit. It’s like it’s so gentrified, there’s too many malls and it’s super posh. But basically, back in the day, Stuttgart would be the first place to hear American DJs – before Berlin. Berlin was nothing, it was a dead area; Stuttgart and Munich were the first places to hear American DJs play. Even before that, in the 70s, we had the American soldiers - the G.I.s - bringing the funk, bringing soul music to Germany. So South Germany has always been influenced by American black music.
Do you remember the first big gig you played Where you thought 'I can do this for a living'?
Things for me just flowed naturally; when I was first starting to get money from DJing and producing, I was still in school. I was a paper boy.
How old were you then?
I was 14, maybe 15. The thing is, I was a Bourgeoisie paper boy – all my friends were also paper boys, but I was the one coming in on Monday going 'dude, I have 400 euros more'. I played on the weekend and I’d spend it on records, and it’s just how it was.If so many DJs play your music now, how come we feel you are focusing more on the DJing side of things as opposed to production?
I don’t know why, I guess it just happened naturally.
It stopped being fun?
No, it’s not about that. It just happened overnight that I got so many requests and so much interest from doing this thing I always did, you know? And it just blew up. I was like, are people really that interested in what I do? I play the same shit I always played, why now? Then again, I was moving a lot and didn’t really have time to make music. I have something like 100 tracks sitting on a hard disk, but you don’t need to share everything, you know? Prince recorded with Miles Davis and it’s somewhere in a fucking basement. I’m not comparing myself to Prince, but not everything you do needs to be out there. I always did music just for myself; I did it in my own basement and my mom would come down and say, ”What the fuck are you doing? It’s too loud” and “This is shit!”
What does she think now?
She’s proud man, she’s proud.
Did you take her to your parties?
Not yet, no, but it will happen.Can you name a couple of your favourite records at the moment?
I’m not the most up to date DJ with what’s going on. When I lived in Amsterdam, I had Rush Hour where I would go record shopping, so I would still get a little bit of what's going on. Now I’m in Paris and I spend my weekends only at the flea market, so I find records – I don’t look for old records, I just look for records. You don’t find any new shit there, and I’m fine with it. I still find good modern stuff, but my technique of finding records is more like yoga – I look through crates and crates and crates, and I find stuff, so I couldn’t tell you right now as to what is the hot shit. There are many DJs who are playing all the hot shit.
Any cool destinations coming up that you are excited about?
There is a lot of cool destinations... I’m just going put it out there. I don’t agree with the politics at all, but you don’t have to take it upon the nation, but it’s closest to you guys... it’s fucking Israel!
All right, stop the interview!
I agree, I’m just going to be frank about it. I was raised in a leftist communist childhood. Everything that’s happening there – I agree, it’s fucking racist, it’s horrible. But you can’t take it upon the people, the same way you are different from what’s happening in Egypt, the same here it’s different from what’s happening in Morocco. I just want to go there and have an opportunity for young people to discover the things that are truly great in life. That doesn’t mean it’s not specific to a certain country, people in Israel are the same as those in Europe, they’re the same here. It's caused a lot of controversy.
What did you think of the festival in Morocco? Tell us about your experience.
I’ve been here since Wednesday; I took four days in the historic city – the Medina – to be far away from the festival because I want to embrace the culture, I want to go see where I am. The same way I’m going to Russia, Japan, or Israel. I go there and I want to know the people. I mean here it’s a nice festival, I like this, but it could be somewhere else. For me it’s about getting to know the local culture, local food, how people live.
Since this is a positive note, I want to end by saying one thing: Europe has a very bad view on Egypt, on Morocco, on Algeria, on all these countries right now because fucking racist idiots are making us believe that the culture here is just hate. You come to a place like this and you will never in your entire life see more welcoming people, more open people, more nice people, than here. This is something that needs to be said, it needs to be out there. It’s just a fucking illusion. So come here as often as you can.