Second-wave Detroit techno icon and Blackflag Recordings CEO Stacey Pullen had a banner year in 2012. The itinerant DJ and producer not only put up big gigs all around the world last year—including Detroit’s always-stellar Movement Festival, where we spoke with him—but kept his Blackflag release schedule running at full tilt, with offerings from Nathan Barato, Sergio Fernandez, Tony Dee, and his own “Circus Act.”
This week, however, things got even busier for the Detroit native when he released his track “Sweat” (originally recorded under his Black Odyssey guise) and made its parts available for a new Beatport Play remix contest.
“This track was done in 1997, and all I had was a DAT studio copy that went missing after moving house a couple of times since then,” Pullen explains. “I searched through DATs for years trying to find the parts and eventually I found the studio master copy, but again I couldn’t find the parts to do a remix or even a re-edit.
“I would get so many emails from fans asking if I was ever going to re-release ‘Sweat,’ but I wasn’t satisfied with releasing the single without a remix or a different version. When I got the call from Beatport saying that they were interested in organizing a remix contest, it gave ‘Sweat’ a whole new angle as to what the possibilities could be to do a proper relaunch of the first track that started Blackflag Recordings.”
Pullen then went and did us one better: “After years of buying and selling new and used gear, it was a challenge for me to basically reproduce and recreate the stems for ‘Sweat,’” he admits. “I knew the track inside and out, so I went into the studio and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. It took about a four days in total; the most challenging part was the arpeggiator bassline, but after I had accomplished that feat, it was pretty easy for the rest and I also slowed it down a couple of BPMs to make it more current in today’s music, but that’s only for the stems. The original that I just had remastered by my studio guru Justin Weiss is now available on Beatport.”
So that’s the story of how our current “Sweat” contest came to be. Check out the rest of our interview with Pullen from last year, and see what he has to say about more of Blackflag’s big releases, below.
When you travel around, in the US and in Europe, how has the perception of Detroit music changed over the last 20 years, specific to techno?
Well, you know, we had that “legendary” connotation, that kind of tag on us. We also have that history. It’s always been longevity for us, number one, and we’re in a new generation now where we have to still be able to stay on the scene to let people know—well, not to let people know but travel as ambassadors for our city, first and foremost. But it’s good to see the generation shift as well, because you get a chance to hear the new artists, understand what they’re doing, and also kind of teach them. And let them know what we’ve done in the past as well.
The thing about it is that we’ve built a long enough history to keep people informed and still keep people interested. Me being one of the few DJs that still travels, on a consistent basis, I think the question that I still get the most is, “How do you do it for so long and still have enjoyment for what you do?”
I was kind of interested about that as well.
Well for me, every gig feels like my first gig, because I have so much passion for what I’ve been doing for the last 14-plus years. When the younger generation, they hear that, it gets them a little bit more enthusiastic about continuing as well.
When you play a gig, no matter if it’s a small club or a big thing, do you still get nervous?
I get nervous all the time, because it’s the unexpected and the unknown that makes it exciting. Because what worked last night may not work tonight, and that’s the challenge of it all, but yeah, I still get nervous.
If there were some sort of lesson that you’ve learned over the years and you could tell yourself 20 years ago, what would it be?
Never go in expecting too much. Because if you go into a gig and it’s not what you expected, then that throws your perception off. Just like last night, I played a club in New York and I had no idea what was going on. When I first got there, I didn’t think the crowd was too much into the night. Maybe 10 people got a chance to understand the music, but then as the night progressed, the more I played, the more it was a challenge to me, that’s when it really took off.
Do you feel like you have the same sort of fears, such as nervousness, now as you did back when you started?
I think now that I’ve been doing it for a while that it’s more about the sensation as a DJ. Back then, you just showed up and did the gig, you had vinyl, and you had to worry about vinyl skipping. Now it’s like the computer could crash. Or if you’re playing after a DJ who really rocked it, you want a smooth transition in to show what you do, because now the market is so saturated with so many DJs, you want to be able to have your own distinctive edge over the previous DJ or the next DJ. It’s always good to have that honest competitiveness.
What are the things that have kept you in Detroit over the years?
The fact that I come home and I’m a normal person. If I lived in New York or Berlin or London, I’d just be trying to keep up with the Joneses. For me to come home and pay bills and be just like the next person. Even just to come home and wash my clothes, and feel the energy of the city. This is my environment, it’s where I still get my inspiration from. Nothing can compare to that.
What do you find inspiring for making music?
The fact that there’s so much music coming out—which is good—you listen to that person and you still want to stay one step ahead. That’s what we’ve always been about in Detroit—being innovative, the first to do something. It’s more challenging now, because everyone is doing music, everyone is a DJ.
Logistically, how do you keep up?
400 promos a week [laughs].
Do you have a method to the mayhem?
The thing about it is, you can’t keep up—it’s impossible. The more that it becomes impossible, the more challenging it gets as well, because the industry is so full of music, you don’t know what you’re going to hear the next day. You could hear a track one day, then not hear it again for two months, but when you do hear it again, it sounds fresh.
What other scenes around the world do you think are vital and inspiring to you now?
I guess I don’t really look at it in terms of cities. I just hear what’s going on, period. There are so many new guys that it’s hard to differentiate between scenes and cities. I can see the different things that are going on in each country, but I can’t say that it’s so much that I’ve had to keep an eye open to each scene or not.
Tell me about “Circus Act,” your latest record on Black Flag.
It’s funny because I never thought I would have made a track based on the track that I first mixed to—Martin Circus’ “Disco Circus.” The funny story is when Matt (Radio Slave) gave me this mix that he put out, and it had it on there, and that track, that particular track, Detroit guys, we played it from the middle to end, so hearing from the beginning to the middle gave me a whole new perspective on the track. I heard some elements in there and was like, “Okay, maybe I can work with this a little.” It’s paying homage to one of the tracks I started DJing with, and I asked my good friend Nic (Fanciulli) to see if he wanted to do a mix and it kind of just took off from there.
How much time have you spent producing these days?
Not enough. I am one of the guys now who takes my computer with me, and have my on-the-road studio now. Years ago, it was hard for me to do that, being from Detroit, you want to have the comfort of your own studio, like the instruments, or sit Indian-style or however you want to do it. Now I pack up a suitcase full of equipment, a suitcase full of clothes, and make use of the space I have, in the hotel rooms, when I get a chance to. It’s been an enjoyable experience as well, because I sat in the hotel room for a whole week in Australia a while back, and I did a track that’s going to be coming out pretty soon. It’s kind of good to get inspiration from different places, you know, and I listen to it now and I’m like, “Wow, I made this in a hotel room,” or the inspiration for that came when I was sitting on a plane for eight hours. It’s good that technology has enabled us to do that as well.
What’s the significance of the name Blackflag?
Well, the logo of Blackflag is the word “black” in Japanese. Mind you, I’d never heard of Black Flag the band, until I started the label. People were like, “Oh, you got that from Black Flag, Henry Rollins…” And I was like, “Um, no.” I saw the Japanese character and sort of fell in love with it from a branch standpoint, and just rolled with it. Actually, my ex-girlfriend at the time, she’s an artist, she kinda came up with the visual aspect of the brand of Blackflag. We had a team going on—I was the music and she was kind of the creative edge to it, and I kind of took it from there.
Do you feel that there is anything you would have done differently over the years?
Yeah, that’s a really interesting question because, dealing with majors, you learn from your mistakes, and it took a lot of years out of my enthusiasm to continue in the business because of being caught up and having your name taken away from you, and not being able to do anything with it until that term is up. Just typical major record company business. I mean, the money was good, but in the long run you kind of lose a little bit of that will to do something when it gets taken away from you or when you were kind of handcuffed behind your back. But you know, you live and learn. I think now it’s made me stronger to make me realize that being an individual, being my own artist and running my own company, it’s enabled me to have a different aspect for the company as well.
I feel like Blackflag and Planet E and every Detroit techno label from back in the day has had a really big impact on younger artists these days. So many of them are doing it themselves as well. I guess that’s not really a question; it’s more of a statement.
But see, now the thing about it is, now it’s about marketing, branding, the logo, and back then it was just a piece of music. I mean we sold 2000 vinyls, and now you sell 500 digital, 150 vinyl, and it’s a hit record—I mean, that’s a big record. But the shelf life of it is really short. Two weeks, that’s it.
What do you miss about starting out?
I miss going to record stores and being able to touch the music—now it’s just disposable. I mean me being in the digital world now, if I lose a track or I lose a file, all I have to do is go to my hard drive that’s up under my shelf and go re-grab it again. Or I can delete it, but still know that I have it somewhere, but the physical aspect of it is totally gone, which makes it a little bit more impersonal. That’s one thing that I really do miss about it. When I use to live in Amsterdam, we’d go straight to the distributors, you know, a brown paper bag waiting for us with our name on it waiting for those tracks before they got to the stores. I really miss the community of it.
**A quick primer on Stacey Pullen’s Blackflag Recordings
My track that I released in May had a sample of one of my favorite tunes that I learned how to mix with. The Nic Fanciulli remix has been a quite successful; not only has Pete Tong been supporting it since being on promo, but it peaked at #6 on the tech-house charts and #25 on the Top 100. My original track made its peak position at #26 on the tech-house charts also and they are both peak-time BOMBS!
This is from Sergio’s Tribehouse EP and has been a hit, peaking at #4 on the tech-house chart. I have been a fan of Sergio’s music even before we released this. But this by far is his best, in my opinion. Richie Hawtin and Luciano have been playing it nonstop. I played it during my set at Ushuaia this past summer and it went over very well. Then Sergio sent me Richie’s Twitter tracklisting and he played it at Enter. when I was there, and was surprised to hear him work the track.
“Tribehouse” has been the supporting track on the EP and that’s exactly what it is—tribal house with a 2012 flair. This has peaked at #50 on the tech-house chart. Marco Carola played it at Music On on the terrace and I played it on the same night in the main room at Amnesia and it’s really interesting to see how both crowds responded to it. Needless to say, both of these tracks rock the floor.
Tony is also one of my favorite producers and his EP came out late October on Blackflag. He pushes out tracks like a machine. The first track is called “Pomada” and it’s a sick groove. I heard the first four bars of this track when he sent it to me and I knew it was for Blackflag. For me, if a track can catch you in the first four bars, then it’s a keeper. It will for sure make waves on the dancefloor for all the techno lovers of Tony’s sound. It also features a Hollen remix that’s a bomb as well.
“Nesa” is the second track, which is the perfect compliment for this EP. Tony’s percussive techno grooves are perfect for the dancefloor, and me being a drummer, I can appreciate this. These are all peak-time bombs. My tracks for Blackflag have to be floor-fillers; there are enough slow 120-BPM tracks out there.
Finally we have Toronto’s own Nathan Barato’s EP. He’s one of Carlo Lio’s good friends who’s been on a tear lately. “Can You Hear Me” has some recognizable 909 hi-hats that carry it, and the “Yo yo, can you hear me?” vocals will have all the hands in the air for sure. I played it at the Movement Festival in Detroit and it was the first time I rocked this track in this capacity, and Nathan was there to witness it. It was very well received, to say the least. Just remember that it’s all about the bass!
“The Mitchell Rhythm” is the second track that will keep the party rocking. It’s dirty, it’s gritty, and it works. I’m really happy about this EP, and this new sound for Nathan will make heads remember the old-skool 909 beats that are nonstop. This is another one of my peak-time bombs.