Ever since the late '80s, a strong force within the Miami Bass scene began to emerge as a new sound was being forged out of the booming 808 beats, high-energy rhythms and controversial concepts found in the music of 2 Live Crew and the like; what would eventually become known to many as Techno Bass, or Car Audio Bass Music if you were in the region and witnessed this fascinating time period. Bringing many timeless classics like Tricky D's "Take It To The Max", Breezy Beat MC's "Shake The Joint", and Dynamix II's hit 12" "Bass Generator/Ignition", Debonaire Records and its mastermind Claudio Barrella aka DJ Debonaire, have been on a non-stop quest to bring innovative, yet classic and soulful Electro Bass music to the masses, helping not just to evolve what had been a huge sound in the area long ago, but also giving the dying Electro Funk style new life as it faced worldwide decline in the late 1980's; which via Miami and Detroit and the Techno Bass phenomenon, saw the birth of a whole new generation of "Electro" music that for nearly 30 years now continues to evolve into something most of us couldn't have expected. At the forefront of it all, is still one of the pioneers of this sound, a man who knows no limits, and bows to no one. The bass generator himself, who here sits down for a brief interview, discussing his new project "Electro Novocaine", as well as production tips, and what he sees for the future and his imprint. Without further ado, let's get into it!
Santino Fernandez: Welcome Claudio! Huge honor to have you do this interview with me. I wanted to briefly catch up with you as you have a new project out on your imprint Debonaire Records, perhaps even get into some other things that have been going since the label’s re-launch back in 2007. But let's talk about your new project first though, "Electro Novocaine". What are you up to this time around? You come up with these very eccentric, slightly comedic, but always musically fascinating concepts; and this one seems to be up there with the very best. I have really enjoyed the tunes so far. What’s the idea behind it?
Claudio Barrella: Inspiration strikes unexpectedly. I’ve been a victim of a herniated disc for over a decade (probably from too many windmills as a kid). For those who are not familiar, it is a condition where soft tissue between vertebra bulges and causes pressure on sciatic and spinal nerves. Mind altering pain! One morning due to intense pain, I wound up in the emergency room and was consequently juiced up with Morphine while awaiting results from X-rays and MRI scans. During this euphoric high from the meds, I expressed the numbness sensation on my spine to that of Novocaine. During my wait an older but attractive nurse (yes, female) was making her rounds half humming and babbling through lyrics to Information Society’s “Running”. I was bedazzled! As you can imagine my mind was on creative hyperdrive and so lyrics quickly developed and the chorus to Electro Novocaine was written on a hospital bed (see pic below). I reached for my iPhone and recorded myself as i normally do when inspiration hijacks my brain. Most of the time lyrics and song concepts find their way into my brain unexpectedly without effort. The rest of the songs from the album were random concepts I had been tweaking on and off over the past year alongside my top comrades: DJ Coral, CeeOnic and Maggotron. Eccentric I might be but I’d prefer Rogue instead. The Electro Novocaine video storyboard and direction was also influenced by this event at the hospital.
I am always fascinated by the way you randomly come up with these things! I should take notes. I am so sorry to hear about the terrible pain as well, I had no idea. I can kind of relate actually, as I deal with something very similar; very debilitating indeed!
So let’s go back to the “re-beginning” of things for you for a moment, for those of our readers who may not know. While it is true that early on in the '90s the label had closed doors, you maintained very busy over the years as a staple establishment in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area with your ongoing commercial studio space Debonaire Studios. What inspired you after so long to get back into releasing music for yourself and with your original imprint? Was any of the material in the early days of the label’s comeback, stuff you had from over the years since you had stopped? Talk a little about the inspiration for the Debonaire Records rebirth.
Back in 2006, I was unfamiliar with social networks. Apparently fans searching for me discovered my wife’s then MySpace page. As one might expect my wife’s last name triggered many friend requests from inquisitive people all over the world! My fans flooded her inbox with questions about me. Wifey’s page became the gateway to me and I was flattered to say the least. I quickly realized that after many years there were people out there still praising my records, still collecting my CD’s and still enthusiastic for my music. This was my golden calling. This was a no brainer to sign up, jump on the social bandwagon and make my presence known. MySpace was truly a magical platform confirming that I had no perception of how many people enjoyed my work. It was then that Debonaire Records was re-inspired, re-born. The first half-dozen collectable color vinyl releases that followed were all new music productions intended to spike awareness and visibility surrounding a well respected and recognized brand. Event and club promoters reached out to me with lucrative offers for live performances. I found myself pulled back into a subculture I was all too familiar with but now in the new millennium. A reboot. It was like an Awakening…you know, like…
That's an awesome story, it all really seemed to come back for you full circle. How have you personally found the scene to be since you returned full force then? Has it gone downhill for you in some ways, perhaps better in many others? Both?
The Electronic Music scene like any other has its inherent imperfections, though I find it alive and thriving. Fortunately, there are fan pockets scattered throughout the planet that enjoy the vintage Electro sound that I am fond of having been a part of. These are the pockets that fuel the genre and keep the flames burning. Electro, Breaks and Miami Bass have undoubtedly evolved over time, as they naturally should, however, there are times where I choose to keep my productions classic and then there are times where I showcase experimental concoctions and conjure more “fusion” type productions as I like to call them (look out for intense fusion material on my next episode due out top of 2017). Like the former MTV, you heard it here first!
Can't wait to hear the material, I really enjoy that side of your music a lot. So let's talk about Streetsounds. In some ways looking back as a fan, it seemed to be an important part of your comeback several years ago. How do you feel about it all? It was an exciting time for sure, held much promise, but it didnt seem to pan out to much unfortunately, and many rumors abound about different experiences with Morgan Khan; most not very good. Can you talk about your personal experience a little?
Correction! "StreetScams" was not part of my comeback. Not responsible for putting me on any map, I did that solo and successfully in 1987, and then again in 2007. "More Gain Con" (Morgan Khan) caught wind of my presence and buzz in 2009. He approached me with countless promises all on paper to boot, but I’ve since wiped my ass with that contract. When I voiced my concern with not being paid over the Egyptian Lover track I produced, he pointed the finger at Greg. "Con man" stunned me by revealing that half my compensation was to be paid by Greg. I called Greg and Greg knew nothing of it and nonchalantly pointed the finger at Con man. I realized they both teamed up to bend me over but as it turns out I have means to generate my own revenue from that dreaded project. Never fuck with a Vigilante!
Sadly that seems to have been everyone's experience, including my own. I don't know a single person who didn't get burned from that other than Cozmo D from Newcleus, and probably only due to his fame and shrewdness with Morgan.
Alright, let’s talk about vinyl for a second, do you see it getting to a point where it is justifiable to go back to this medium? What are your plans for it with your imprint?
Vinyl will forever be dear to me. I grew up on polymers. It is my primary (if not only) source of fuel for anything I produce. Nothing surpasses the experience of dropping a stylus tip onto a wax platter to lift vibrations. This is my technique, my secret formula. Now that I've put this out in the open, there's no reason why any aspiring DJ/Producer can't have a go at it. In fact, I frequently reply to emails with production questions so I am always here to help and guide young bucks with their production aspirations. Now, regarding future Debonaire Records releases on vinyl, yes this is a possibility as there has been a recent influx of DJs and fans, particularly in Brazil, who insist on this medium. We at Debonaire Records are doing the best we can to fulfill this demand but as you may know, securing a quality record manufacturing plant in this era is complex, time-consuming and quite expensive plus any profit margin is minute therefore the cost to benefit ratio is a significant factor. My heart is in the right place though. We shall see.
It's very true, I see it inching back myself, but it is not quite there yet for most it seems. There is a very obvious rise in interest for this medium, and even in our music period though, so it's very exciting I think! We shall see.
What about today’s EDM mainstream culture then, how do you feel about it? Does it frustrate you to see people like Aoki and Skrillex enjoying so much fame, while so many incredibly talented underground producers struggle like they do? Is this a big part of your clientele in the studio, these more commercial EDM acts?
Props to Aoki and Skrillex they deserve their shine time. EDM is simply a re-branding of U.S. Rave culture and an extension of House Music popularized in the 90’s. For the most part I appreciate EDM songs, though there are some that I can only bare in small doses; particularly the type with aggravated wobbling bases and industrial machinery noises doubling as instruments. This can get irritable after a few tracks (like hemorrhoids). Maybe with age I’m becoming less tolerant but I’d be perfectly fine with wiping this style straight out of existence. I don't produce EDM myself although I do have a handful of clients that track and mix their recordings with me at my studio. Hope they don’t read this.
I agree, I personally find most commercial Electronic Music to be absolutely intolerable, it has sprouted into so many sub-genres that all sound very watered down to me, and it's just disappointing.
So let's talk about an intriguing subject for us here: many people over the years have shown me that there is this sort of amnesia over the ‘90s period of what people like to call “Electro”; lots of views and differing terms. Having been in Florida during the evolution of the Electro Funk and Miami Bass sounds into the Car Audio scene, what many people seemed to refer to as "Techno Bass", how did you see it all unfold? Were you aware of Detroit also beginning to mutate into their version of the sound as well about the same time and with huge influence from Miami? You were part of Dynamix II briefly, so this is history you are literally part of, I'd be interested to hear this.
To be straightforward, in the 90's I didn't follow much of what was going on outside of my immediate circle and region. I was fresh to the internet and mostly unaware of any Detroit movement. I was primarily focused on building up my local business as a commercial recording studio. I know that many sub-genres began to evolve and of course mid 90's car audio music was one of them and exploding. Since Bass was my specialty, I swiftly spearheaded over a dozen CDs spread out over many labels, essentially bridging the gap between the time I ceased operations as a label in 1990, and the Rebirth of Debonaire Records in 2007. My Dynamix II involvement was merely a blip in the system as Noller thereafter found his groove with then partner Weiser.
Do you remember anyone calling the music back then Techno Bass? It seemed to be such a prevalent term not just in Detroit, but in the Car Audio scene back then. Even still you can bring up so many classics from back in the day on Youtube with a simple search of the term.
I believe that most car audio producers chose to use the then popular and trendy adjectives "digital" or "techno" to help describe their creative approaches. I don't believe their musical contributions were inspired in anyway by anything that was brewing regionally from Detroit. It's simply a coincidence. Beat Dominator/Bass Mekanik and Techmaster PEB both capitalized on European and ravy digital synths and sound sets. While others, including myself, ran in a lane alongside DJ Magic Mike and the Power Supply Bass CD's brought forth by Afro Rican. Nobody that I knew in Miami described car audio bass as Techno Bass. Miami and Detroit are unrelated in their description of "Techno".
Interesting to hear that. It's curious because even Dave Noller from Dynamix openly admits to having been influenced by Detroit Techno like Model 500, and having come up with the idea of the song "Techno Bass", and what he considers the beginning of its own style of Miami Bass and Electro as making the Detroit sound much harder and bassier. You also have Beat Dominator's first two albums called "Techno Bass 1 & 2", the group Techno Bass Crew, and a plethora of Bass CDs from Florida artists that in some shape, way or form referred to this music as Techno Bass in their releases. Perhaps its a phenomenon in some ways, I don't know. To me personally, it is easy looking back, to see this evolution for Electro Funk music in the Florida region after its decline in the late '80s worldwide, plus Detroiters also don't deny Miami's influence over their sound at all, they find Miami Bass to have been crucial to the 2nd wave of Techno. Its evident in their production that Miami Bass was a big deal. What do you think of all this?
It's possible that Miami Bass was put on the map in a significant way (even for Detroit) due to the impact of 2 Live Crew's global success.
I would say...definately! Controversial in its early stages for sure, but highly influential, no doubt about that. Anyway, let's move along. What about production tips, any for the aspiring producers out there? Should we embrace conventional techniques more and more in the midst of so much “easy does it” software technology, or do you believe this trend is the way to go for further productivity?
Over the years I've slowly migrated to more simplistic approaches toward music production. Hardware is my staple but becoming obsolete with each passing day as we can now do anything and everything through software and most of the time better. As you may know, my “Execute: Self Extraction” album was mostly an experiment, as over 80% of it was programmed on my iPhone/iPad. Regardless of what technology peeps use its more important to find a productive workflow to stay creative. Hardware or software matters not. Groove is in the heart. Now, in regards to the actual musical content, Electro is saturated with producers who make shallow tracks, minimal melodies, no vocal hooks or anything significant to latch onto and mostly using unprocessed sound sets (instruments). They should consider quality over quantity. Music that fails to get attention is likely because it has not left an impact with any feeling, message or emotion. NOT casting shadows, its a loud call to action. Strength in numbers!
What’s in store for the future for you? Any new things coming with your music, label and studio space we should know about?
Yes a new album is already in development, along with a video storyboard to boot. I’ve taken the plunge into video directing and editing. I find this to be a natural progression from music. It’s been a longtime hobby, but now I’m getting paid gigs in this arena. So I keep it movin’. Anyone local to me who would like to be an extra on camera, reach out. Shooting begins December.
Thank you for your time Claudio, really appreciate your efforts with this interview. Long live the legacy of Debonaire Records and that of your music! Can't wait to hear more of it.
Interviewed by: Santino Fernandez