Damon Bell – Tradition & Experimentation (DeepBlak recordings)

We had the oppurtunity to connect with Damon Bell, a man who’s been at it unconventionally for years. His music and his Djing show a great talent for synthesizing a lot of influences to craft his own sound. He is also a very nice and approachable person with a great vision, all for the music.

For some time now, you have been associated with the DeepBlak crew. Can you tell us a little about your involvement as “chief connoisseur” of the label since you and Afrikan Sciences joined Aybee in the management of the platform?

Well yea man, we are like three that form one in a way, Aybee being the head and Afrikan Sciences and myself being right/ left arm. Our titles tell more of who we are under the Deepblak monikor as well as our person. Myself being “Chief Connoisseur” of variety, including but not limited to music, art, food, vibrations. I met Aybee around 2008 and Afrikan Sciences soon after…we’ve been rocking ever since.

When listening to some of your mixes and in-store sessions available online, the music you play ranges very wide from up-tempo dance-music to more laidback vibes, all played together with ease. How long have you been collecting and playing records? Can you talk about your musical background, and how you got into the dance music “scene”?

I been collecting music since i was 16 man…i have always had a relationship with rhythm in all its forms. I grew up playing instruments since i was a  youth…Drums, Saxophone, Trumpet, various percussion also did some poetry stuff, which I still write today. But you know, growing up with an older brother, I had a lot of early influence in what was popular and underground back in he day, hip-hop, soul, reggae, rock, my parents were gospel and blues heads. So I was fortunate to be brought up amongst these vast musical genres. You know  i started djin back in the Rare Groove , Acid Jazz days…my first club nights i played straight ahead jazz and jazz funk. This would have been around 95′ or so at Ole’ Madrid…old school spot in San Diego. I was already collecting reggae, brazilian music and playing hip-hop then as well, so my ear was used to polyrhythms and different time signatures. I had always been into « dance music » scene, Disco, Boogie etc… following the changes and new genres from the 80’s on.

You’ve recently launched the Take Root residency in Oakland at room389, with free entrance and all-vinyl selection. Could take us through this concept? Have the audience and venue owners been generally receptive to this kind of gatherings? We are asking this because we read in an interview with Aybee that electronic music is quite marginalized in the city.

Yea well the night is no longer now, lol. But I had been playing at Room389 for around 3 years before I decided to revamp the night from « Music From Our World For You », to « Take Root ». Yes there is an audience, but the city has been changing for the past 6 years or longer driving out the vibe and culture that originated here. Aybee grew up in the town, I’m a transplant from southern Cal, so he got to experience the beginnings of said scene in Oakland. So yes to answer your question, the people were receptive, as well as the club owners…until a new energy started to move in and change the environment….this is a global thing happening.

You’ve taken a long trip to Berlin lately, can you tell us about that? What about your gig at Trésor?  Are you planning on coming more frequently to play?

Yea this past trip was my second time playing in the city of Berlin. I was there for 2 months man, basicly working on projects and had a few gigs while I was there. Tresor was an amazing night man, had been in town for a month already before I played, so had a chance to test a bunch of tunes I had made the first weeks of my arrival. My time there was spent productively and I am looking forward to heading back and getting over to more EU cities and countries as well as Africa.

Your first releases on DeepBlak (Kush Musik) came out in 2009 and 2010, but you had a brief collaboration project Kaleidoscope long before that, with JT Donaldson. Has production been something you’ve been working on for a long time, or did you begin to really focus on it during the last 5 years?

Pretty much stepped out on my own doing solo productions in 2006 when i moved to the bay area. Before that, I was just working on collab projects, the Kaleidoscope project myself and Jt did as well as The Hue stuff, a lot of which was never released. But focusing on my own productions was something I had been feeling long before i started…a great feeling to get your music ideas out.

There are obviously a lot of influences fused in your music, ranging from African vocals (on Ezuku or Hue-Man Made for example) and percussion play to jazz and more abstract elements. Also, the mood varies from dance-floor friendly grooves to more introspective and calming music. Can you talk a little about the creative process behind your music? How challenging is it for you to synthesize all these elements and find the sound you’re looking for?

The secret to the madness huh, lol. I really approach each song differently; having so much music in my head and surroundings allows my approach to vary. That meaning how I might begin an idea, whether it is starting from a sample, drums or playing a key part etc… Once I hear where I want to go, I’m off. Putting it all together is the magic for me, opening up and allowing the flow to happen.

Can you tell us about the kind of gear you use on your music? Do you sometimes incorporate live instruments?

I use whatever is available and or imitate what I want and don’t have. Currently I use Logic and Ableton as main platforms; with extensive amounts of plugins… incorporating vocals, percussion and whatever gear may come my way. I am moving forward to using more live instrumentation in production and for live performing. Using it all I find to be useful moving from different programs to live instruments and so forth…keeps the mind moving.

Do you have plans for a live performance sometime?

Yes.

Your latest release on DeepBlak is a double-vinyl LP entitled Blues for the Libyan. Can you explain the title of the album? How long have you been working on it? Were the songs on it purposely produced for an album project or is it a compilation of some of your latest work?

Blues For The Libyan, the title, is more of a poem than a statement…Think of the writings of Khalil Gibran and use of verse. It is also commentary; Blues for the Libyan people as well as blues for indigenous peoples…meanings within the title. The Album is social commentary of our world through the titles; Chromosome Replacement for example is about altering DNA without the hosts’ knowledge. Libyan Ether is a spiritual to all peoples. The album was about two years in the works changing, adding and removing different songs. There are actually about 8 other songs that i produced the same time as the ones on Blues that did not make it…may release later.

Also, can you talk about the collaborations with Khalil Anthony and Afrikan Sciences?

Me and Afrikan Sciences always work when we link, so I just chose the joints I wanted him to add on too and we knock them out. Work ethic is the same with Khalil, he lives in Oakland so we link frequently to work on different projects. Look out for a project by the two of us soon.

What is next for you musically?

Music music and more music man…it’s part of what I’m here to do.

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