Do we judge DJs and producers on their name alone, before we even hear their music? How important are those first impressions? We canvassed opinions from the likes of Kevin Saunderson, UNER, Bicep, Terry Farley and more to find out.
Whether they’re on a poster, a flyer or a record sleeve behind the counter, artist and DJ names often form our first impression of new music. What kind of sound do you expect when you hear names like Soul Clap or Hercules & Love Affair? How about Borgore or Thugfucker? Names might not always reflect the music on offer, but it’s hard to deny that they immediately set certain expectations.
What’s also clear is that different genres seem to prefer different practices, be it drum and bass with its penchant for hazardous-sounding materials, funky house with its naff puns or witchy electronica with its mish-mash of ungoogleable characters. Get it wrong, and you could turn off a whole world of potential fans without them ever hearing your music. But get it right, and you could immediately stand out from the ever-growing tide of competition before you even release an EP.
What kind of sound do you expect when you hear Soul Clap's name? How about Thugfucker?
Techno has never been more enamoured than it is right now with untitled tracks and anonymous producers. Why is that the case? Is it, as is often lazily argued, a marketing technique, or is it more about dodging preconceptions? Maybe it’s an artist who has switched genres, or maybe it’s an artist who doesn’t want their mum googling their moniker and reading all about her daughter’s latest drug taking exploits. In order to get to the heart of the matter, we quizzed a range of established DJs and producers about how they chose their name and how important they think it is to choose wisely.
Classically inclined house and techno producer who has assumed a glut of aliases over his long and fruitful career.
I think a name is important, yes. If it’s quite an enigmatic handle – like Burial, for instance – I’d certainly check it out.
My first solo venture was as Protein Boy. A friend was waiting for me one day whilst I was taking a little too long to make a protein shake and just said, “Come on, Protein Boy”. I liked it and decided to use it. Quite often I’ll come up with a name before I start writing a track and that will inform the whole process. After a while, though, I got fairly disillusioned and decided no one really gave a shit; it certainly wasn’t helping me gig-wise. So, around the mid 2000s, I decided to just start using my own name and focus on that. Rush Hour wanted me and KiNK to come up with another name but I wasn’t up for it. I got bored soon after that, though, and started another project under another name.
There are certain things I’ve avoided, like the recent phase of people swapping the first letters of a famous person’s name. And I’m not a fan of using the name of a city that you’re not actually from.
I’ve always liked the idea of anonymity and keeping things quite clandestine, and in a way you can hide behind that. As a record buyer, I love it when a favourite producer releases stuff under other names. Take Legowelt, for instance: he’ll come up with a pseudonym and have a whole concept behind it. I dig that, it fires the imagination. I find it fun and it’s a handy way of keeping certain projects separate. If you’re highly prolific, like Mr Wolfers, then I guess it can be a good way to get a lot of material out there without overusing your name. I also think when a lot of people start out making music they’re not necessarily that confident and don’t want to use their name, plus most people are so used to their own name they think it sounds a bit dull.
He’s released definitive records as part of Inner City, ground-breaking techno as E-Dancer and plenty more besides.
I think when I’m recruiting talent for the label or buying records for my set, I don’t really recognise names. I kinda go past it. Sometimes the design and the art can capture my attention, but if I’ve heard a record from an artist over and over and over again and I play a lot of their records, then the name might play a role.
When I first started out, the name I used was Kreem. It was just me but I always really wanted to be in the background. To be truthful, I’ve never really used my own name – only once as an artist project on a couple of different records, that’s about it. But I really used aliases to make people think there was more going on in Detroit. And then I had a vision – I had a feeling that the music direction was kinda different for some of the sounds I was being inspired by or coming up with.
Inner City obviously was with Paris Grey from Chicago – all very vocally, very hooky – it was big uplifting music. Each project was a little more soulful. E-Dancer was another alias that was just me but a dark side of me: a moody, funky, in myself side of me. Reese was similar, but I had vocals included. ‘Just Want Another Chance’ was very deep, very dark – when I created that record I imagined I could hear Larry Levan playing it at the Paradise Garage. That was kinda my inspiration and my vision as I was creating it. So, y’know, there’s many aliases I have but all of them had a different meaning.
I really used aliases to make people think there was more going on in Detroit.
When I did that back in the day, it had a specific reason and in some ways I think it was a little bit of overkill – I probably could have created it all under my name.
I think it’s important when you have all this different music coming from so many different angles, different artists, different styles, that people can connect the person who’s creating it. Sometimes by creating a different alias you don’t want anybody to know who you really are, then that’s OK, but otherwise I think its better to have maybe one or two aliases and go with your main name.