DJ Debbie D - How One Woman Helped Shape A New Generation
For nearly three decades, DJ Debbie D has been at the forefront of the Breaks scene, expanding her influence across many genres; including the Electro Bass (Techno Bass) sub-genre, of which a whole new generation would come out of the Florida Rave scene bringing us the likes of James Wolfe, Jackal & Hyde, InHuman Designed and many others. An avid DJ and vinyl collector since childhood, and later a pioneer in her own right who helped carry the Florida Rave scene into its glory days, Debbie D has since been a pillar of influence showing that for many of us, this dream will never die. If anything, it is just something beginning to get realized! With such an illustrious career behind her, having played alongside The Chemical Brothers, Carl Cox, Josh Wink, and Altern 8 to name but a few, the future, just like her past, continues to look very bright as we continue to see her now infamous Genuine Debbie D Records imprint explode into becoming a mighty machine for the EDM world in general. With numerous releases, including her own holding top spots in the charts, and a publishing company now part of her media empire, the reach of her music and her artists is something that cannot be denied. We are, some would say, in the middle of a revolution of sorts, as we try to rebuild something that was once lost, through strength, passion and dedication, something our next guest has oodles of...and so without further ado, let's get going!
Santino Fernandez: Hi Debbie, welcome, thank you for taking the time to do this interview! I must say this is a huge honor for me, you have influenced me on so many levels as I have grown up in the scene, I cannot thank you enough for all you do! I am sure so many others feel the same way. Let’s talk a little bit about your early life, how did you get steered in the direction of music?
Debbie D: Thank you so much for having me, and thank you for all of your kind words. It makes me happy to think that my music could be making people dance and smile.
I would say, that my music roots go way back to early childhood. My Mum is British, and she exposed me to just about every genre. I think she may be responsible for my live performance drive in a way. She took me to my first concert in the '70s, which was “Kool And the Gang”, and “Earth ,Wind and Fire”. I remember thinking back then, that I wanted to be on that stage one day. I developed a deep passion for almost all genres of music.
Listening to Bach and Beethoven, lead me to attend a Professional Ballerina school, at the age of 7. I did that for many years. This is where I developed the skill for counting beats and began understanding music composition and theory.
In the early '80s, I found a new hobby involving the music I ended producing later on in life. It was also where my vinyl collecting and my DJ interest began as well. It was Roller Skating!
I had no idea you had a British parent! Very interesting background. I also have to say, at least for those of us who grew up in Florida and also people in New York, Roller Skating was the beginning for many of us indeed! Great times.
Yes, I love roller skating. I Still do it to this day. I have Reidel two stripes with red zinger wheels!
Nice! So then who were your main influences in general would you say?
If I had to name just a few that influenced me to become a DJ and Producer, they would be: Depeche Mode, NIN, Nitzerebb, Planet Patrol, The Cure, Eurythimics, Front 242, New Order!
Good list! Depeche Mode and New Order alone are such influential artists, but I find it interesting that Front 242 were big for you. So would it be fair to assume you were fairly involved in the Electro Funk and Miami Bass scene in the 80’s before Raves started? I hear you did some work with Dave Noller of Dynamix II at some point, can you talk about that a little?
Yes, I was buying Miami Bass on cassettes from Flea Markets back in the 80’s. Jam Pony Express tapes were my favorite! I still have some too!
I was also spinning Miami Bass and Electro on vinyl in the early 80’s as well. I had my first turntable in 1977. My first 3 records were Planet Patrol “Play At Your Own Risk”, Al Nahayfish “It’s time”, and Freestyle “It’s Automatic”.
My Brother Justin actually owned Planet Patrol, and to this day, tells everyone that it is his. I will admit that it is, and thank him in this interview for letting me spin it for so many years……Love you Justin!
Yes, I worked with Dave Noller in “The Lab” (his studio) in the early 90’s. We did a track together, but it never got released. “Give The DJ A Break” was one of my all time favorites, and was my 4th vinyl purchase. In fact, I have a video of me in high school poppin' and lockin' to it in a talent show, where I won 1st place with my girl Simone!
So when did you get into music production, who took you under their wing?
When I started producing, I can honestly say, my strong point was always with music composition. I have never really had a problem banging out my own synth parts, drum beats, or even with choosing the right vocals.
It was all analog back then, so outboard gear like the Juno 106 that I had, had a nice bender on it, so that is how I would rock the synth parts.
If I had to give a name of someone I feel helped me a lot, I would admit that I owe my biggest thanks to Phatty P when I began. He was a fantastic help with teaching me how to hook gear up, engineer, master, and mix down. I also have to give props to all the promoters and clubs that supported me with gigs during that time. I cannot forget to thank my fans too. I owe a big thanks to each and every one of them.
Very cool, I had no idea it was Phatty P who helped guide you along early on. So let’s talk a little about Super Tweak, your infamous and highly influential debut on Stratus with Speed Freeks. This release alone in so many ways influenced the new generation of Electro Bass producers that would come from the Florida region, including myself. It originally came out in 1991 before being re-pressed on Juice Recordings, which makes that record quite forward thinking for the times. What was the inspiration behind it?
Super Tweak is a great story. I was in college attending Georgia State University, obtaining my degree in Music Industry Management. I met this guy in my Music Industry Law class named Jason Clay (very cool dude) ! He invited me over to his house to work on some music one day. He had this really primitive Macintosh computer with two horrible speakers, and I think some generic Radio Shack keyboard hooked up. It may have been a Casio, not sure. Lol
I always start with my hook , which is usually a vocal idea I have. So, because I had no actual vocalist, I had to create one. This is the secret everyone asks me regarding Super Tweak, so I am letting the cat out of the bag for the first time here on this interview! The actual vocal part “SUPER, TWEAK, BOOM, POW” was a computer generated sound I made his computer make by simply typing it in.
As far as the synths, riffs, etc., as I mentioned earlier, I loved recording things live by cutting up the bender on the keyboard; it has always been my signature way of producing. If you notice, in all of my tracks, not every measure sounds the same. It is because I usually play just the drums, hit record, and rock the synth parts live. It is the DJ in me I guess. I still do this to this day, you will see it in my newest track coming out on March 7 , called “Like Dat”.
I can see why recording that way is best, I also start everything by hand on the keyboard, I feel it gives everything a much more personal sound to begin with. So moving on, I am intrigued to ask this, since I am personally from the city of Washington D.C., and was very surprised when I left Florida and realized you were partners with Wes Smith; who is also from D.C. Great guy by the way, helped me a lot up there! Breaks around that time were not very popular in the city, so it was interesting to me that there was this fairly important alliance between DC and Florida for Breaks, you guys were pretty underground there. What led to that partnership if you can talk about that? Did you ever go to DC to perform?
I met Wes in Gainesville years ago when he was attending college there. He threw a party called the “Day One Rave” way back in the early 90’s. I spun for him there, and we instantly hit it off. Wes always had the Juice Logo for his party events, so we decided to take it a step further, and start up a Label called "Juice Recordings" together. I signed all my friends to it, Mike B, DJ Moon, Sharaz, Lil Rob, Chris Gallagher, Speed Freeks, DJ Perm, Sunrise Society, DJ X, and Phatty P. Good times!
I did play in Washington, yes. Wes flew me in, and I headlined at his night in Washington called “The Funk-tion” with Jen Lasher (very cool chic). It was a lot of fun.
Interesting to hear all that. I had actually met Wes originally in Pompano Beach while throwing a weekly event at "The Nest", and had no idea he was from my hometown 'til I got there. I remember him giving me some Juice promos that night that I still have, Mike B was one of them actually; great stuff!
Thinking back on the 90's Rave years in general remind me of a lot of great things. So much that was accomplished on so many levels in regards to all of us evolving away from the darkness of the times, and becoming more “real”; even understanding the nature of society and life itself on deeper levels. What did the Rave scene mean to you personally?
The Rave Scene was important in the movement of this music genre. The gathering of a ton of people all under one roof, dancing their booty’s off was so amazing to me.
I had the pleasure of experiencing some phenomenal Raves in the UK when I was attending Cambridge University. I saw Dream Frequency, Altern8, and The Prodigy live with attendance of over 50,000 people! They were called the "Rain Dance Raves". I met Carl Cox and Grooverider at Black Market Records, and they let me play for 30 minutes at the Brain in Manchester that Friday night. This was a huge inspiration for me, and major influence. I immediately came back to Simons Club where I was opening for Chris Gallagher at the time, and threw down some hard core Techno Breaks that I bought overseas. And of course I was wearing my Joe Blogg jeans and sipping on Strawberry Ribena!
That story reminds me a little of the one Frankie Bones told me of his first time in the UK before he came back to start the Rave scene, seems they had a really amazing thing going there for a while. So then tell me, having been such an integral part of the scene for so long, what do you think led to its unraveling over the years?
I think it could be a combination of many things. It could be that people grow out of certain scenes, clubs, and genres. Perhaps some favorite producers and DJ’s retire. Inadequate funding, poor event promotions also could have an effect on It’s demise.
Those are all good arguments, and it would be safe to say it was probably all of them combined. But have you heard that Frankie Bones, Heather Heart, and the rest of the Sonic Groove crew are actually bringing back the famous STORM raves in New York? I have been very excited about this, as it has been rather disappointing watching these so-called "Raves" that have become so mainstream and rather superficial over the years. Are you seeing any other efforts aside from all of your hard work musically to bring the true scene back in your region? Do you think it can happen again?
I am aware of what the Sonic Groove Crew is doing, and I think it’s great! I see a lot of effort happening towards making the scene flourish again.
Musically, I also see some great things happening. Both older and newer producers are making tunes to make you dance and have a good time. Promoters are working hard to bring you the talent, and the fans are coming out to support it, so we are headed in the right direction.
Seems that way, I really hope it continues. I for one miss the scene dearly, and feel something big was truly lost when it went away. Anyway, so moving forward, something that I really feel is important to talk about is the role of women in a male dominated scene. I have always respected your approach, in that you put your talent to the forefront. Many women, especially these days unfortunately seem to make it big not always for talent, but for their looks, which at least in my opinion, further disempowers women in general; reinforcing the notion that they are somehow merely sex objects. Something that is not true of course, or at least shouldn’t be. How do you feel about this? What would you say to an aspiring woman trying to make it in this scene to truly be able to make it for what they really have to offer in regards to their talent?
Woman have come a long way in this Industry over the years. When I began, there were only 3 female DJs/Producers in existence, myself included; so it was both awesome, and intimidating at the same time. I have no clue exactly how many female DJ and Producers are out there now, but it must be an astronomical number.
I personally think it’s very sexy to see a female DJ , but they have to be able to rock the decks too!
My best advice and tips to women in this industry would be to find your niche, develop your own style, have good stage presence, remain humble, practice, work hard, network, be respectful, smile, promote yourself, get bookings, make tunes, mixes , throw down , do your thing, and most of all, have a good time!
Good advice, and I agree! Let’s talk about your music now. What’s a studio session like for you? What gets a song going?
I always have fun in my sessions, because I love what I do. I get up and dance, jam out, and laugh a lot in the time I am there. A session is usually a long time for me, it could be hours, or sometimes even days. I get going and I can’t stop!
When I begin a track, I basically start with a hook. It is usually a vocal, and I run it with just a basic drum kick. From there, I create my synths by simply jamming along with it until I have something hot! This is basically how I find all of my sounds for my track.
I feel blessed that writing and arranging music comes naturally for me. I am a fast producer and writer, and admittedly, a much slower engineer.
I am not embarrassed to say, that I have spent hours on Youtube watching tutorials on Ableton Live, as well as the hours I spent bugging my producer friends for advice. (Thank you Evan Gamble Lewis, I leaned an incredible amount from your amazing production and engineering skills….respect).
Do you still own a lot of old school analog gear, or have you become mostly computer based over the years?
I held onto my Novation Bass Station, and my Juno 106, but sold my Groovebox , which I dearly miss.
Switching from Analog to Digital was a hard transition for me, mostly because I am a born knob twiddler, and gear junkie. In my Analog days, I remember playing a sound or a synth part on my keyboard, hooking up guitar pedals to it, and running all of that through my Novation Bass Station rack module, just to get the sound I was looking for. Now, I choose whatever sick VST I want to create the sound with. The technology we have at our fingertips is incredible. Not complaining a bit!
Indeed. We stand in the middle of an amazing musical revolution in terms of the technology available. So what about all this new hardware coming out, anything that has been catching your attention?
Yes, I see a lot of things come out that I want. I love Synthesizers, so I look at those the most.
Me too, its actually the reason I started writing about them here, I think synths are just the coolest thing ever! Let's get into a little recording engineering now though. Let me start by asking you this: have you noticed music getting really loud over time? What’s your opinion on this so called Loudness War? Any production tips for the aspiring producers out there?
Music is definitely louder. Producers are mastering this skill by making very clean, loud, room filling tracks.
My advice would be car test it, to make sure it is not distorted, or to see if you need to adjust any levels before releasing it . I would also club test it, either yourself, or a DJ friend. Party dropping is always a way to tell if it sounds good in the club, and if you are moving a crowd.
Testing is critical for sure. Funny how we spend so much money on monitors, when it really comes down to the cheap systems that tell us what it really sounds like. So where do you see the music going as it stands? Breaks are huge right now, but EDM in general is finally at its height it seems; though most if it, the mainstream stuff at least, very watered down and lacking that beautiful, soulful, edgy vibe we had going back in the day. Are you feeling positive about the direction its all going?
I honestly just love any music that makes me want to dance. I appreciate and respect anyone who can make music, no matter what genre. I actually used to play Hard House, Progressive House, and Jump up Jungle, and had a ton of fun with those styles. If anyone is interested, you can hear some of the mixes I did with some of those genres on my Soundcloud page.
I love that we have diversity, and I love that we can progress with new sounds, and still bring back memories with remixes of those tracks from back in the day that you are talking about.
Diversity is important, definitely not anything I would argue against. What’s in store for the future with Genuine Debbie D Records then? I know you are also now running a publishing company as well. Any big developments you wanna talk about?
The Future for Genuine Debbie D Records is looking very bright! I thank my lucky stars everyday that I have some of the most talented, hard working and kind –hearted artists on my Label. I love them all!
Genuine Debbie D Records has been a publishing Company for 2 years now. I also provide all of my Artists with the opportunity of receiving Music Placement deals as well. Anyone signed with the label, automatically gets included in this contract. GDDR has a contract with over 414,00 clients and reputable businesses for Music Placement, such as MGM Studios, Sega, Apple, ABC, Bravo, BBC, HBO, NBC, Sony, Warner Bros Television, Turner, and Universal Studios, to name a few.
I always have something up my sleeve for the label, I wanted to do lots of cool things for everyone to enjoy this year! I like to keep things fresh and exciting, so I can’t really give away any secrets, but I usually try to put a release out every Monday on Beatport, so it won’t be a very long wait. I have some amazing new talent coming on the label in 2016, so hang tight!
Thank you ahead of time for anyone who took the time to read my interview. I love every one of you for your support.
Peace to all the DJ’s, Producers and fans,
Love DJ Debbie D
Right back at you! Thanks for all you have done over the years, you have influenced so many of us to go out and make so many different styles, and I think its safe to say it has spread like a wildfire!
Interviewed by: Santino Fernandez - TechnoBass