“When did I fall in love?” Danilo Plessow, known to the world of dance music as Motor City Drum Ensemble, echoes the question.
Wearing the kind of smile that indicates true love, first love, the kind of love that will never leave you, he gazes upon a city park.
A bunch of kids are playing catch. He was their age when he fell in love for the first time: with the beat.
So he started playing the drums. That beat is his companion to this day. Having morphed through all kinds of forms its recent incarnation is delivered to the public on his amazing, genre blending DJ-Kicks mix; a mix more than worthy of the series’ history of ruthless experimentation with, and re-definition of, the Mix CD medium.
Danilo was always incredibly young with things.
He started producing at the age of eleven—“way too early” as he jokes—having his first release out just five years later: Inverse Cinematics’ “Slow Swing”, released in Pulver Records in 2002, found its way into Ricardo Villalobos’ record bag as well as onto one of the first Fabric mix CDs.
An album under the same name and a string of EPs followed.
“It was really important how young I was, not just how and where I was raised. That naivety when it comes to things, like, ‘does it sound good?’ or ‘are you even allowed to do it like this?’ Those things never concerned me and in large part that was due to my age. It was good having that kind of light heartedness! Also, in those years, you are like a sponge and just so enthusiastic! That can absolutely lead the way.”
Hip Hop led the way and around the same age he started producing he kept crawling into the back of his hometown record shop. Specialised in heavy metal, it was in the farthest corners where the owner had stashed away the kinds of records Danilo’s idols Native Tongues, Pete Rock, Premier and Dilla were sampling: Jazz, Funk and Soul records.
His formative years as listener and record collector took place in that handful of crates.
“It was really healthy being in my own cosmos. I mean, the internet is great of course but if you grow up in circumstances like me, where there’s not an infinite amount of unheard music available at all times and you’re forced to work with what’s available, that’s a whole different kind of inspiration than when you’re browsing sites on the web, you know.”
Those years of deep listening and self-schooling certainly paid off and it’s not surprising that, after moving to Germany’s de facto “Motor City” Stuttgart, he should become famous for a string of sample-based records: Motor City Drum Ensemble’s Raw Cuts series.
The house music world responded strongly to these charmingly fresh and dirty sounding tracks, all mixed down in spontaneous two-hour sessions. #Danilo has also released on top labels ranging from 20:20 Vision to Rush Hour as well as his own MCDE and Four Roses imprints, produced for Ben Westbeech and Rainer Trüby and never ceased to amaze with his challenging remix work for artists like Caribou, Jazzanova, DJ Sprinkles and Zero 7.
His understanding of how the parts of a track can work has never been more apparent than on his DJ-Kicks mix. In 10 years, playing 80+ gigs a year, including such temples as Berghain, Fabric London, Rex and MOS, he’s absorbed dance history through hard and disciplined work behind the decks.
Look at the opening selections of his DJ-Kicks mix to get a glimpse of his amazing ability to fuse totally disparate sound aesthetics into a coherent whole. He sets the scene and opens the party with the uplifting and inviting chants of Sun Ra’s “Door To The Cosmos”, then drops a groove of contempo Soul via NZ youngsters Scratch 22’s Remix of Electric Wire Hustle’s “Again”, which then just melts perfectly with Rhythm & Sounds’ machine dub of “Mango Drive”.
Be prepared because this is just the beginning! Before you know it the guitars of Tony Allen’s “Ariya” tickle their way into the mix, its combination of collective chant and afro beat leading the listener into a joyful bliss. As you tap your foot the set dives into a tribute to one of the most influential urban centres of club culture: the Windy City.
Between the driving soul of Peven Everett’s ode to love “Stuck” and the joined forces of Tevo and “Poppa” Rick Howard’s “Can Your Love Find Its Way” you find the master of Chicago house music: Mr. Fingers. It’s a beautiful homage to one of the main chapters in dance music history with the only “foreign” track ironically being an edit of Germany’s Bad Jazz Troupe.
Assembling the mix was a true journey for Danilo, painstakingly going through his collection, combining tracks, making edits—a quest in search of those “magic moments”, as he puts it. In this mix one prime example of these “magic moments” surely lies in that split second when the pads of Fred P.’s “On this Vibe” drop into the gorgeous Stone’s “Girl I Like The Way That You Move”.
Moving on, Pablo Valentino, Danilo’s label colleague at MCDE with an equal disregard for genre boundaries, and his Creative Swing Alliance leads the listener into the proto-Afrobeat of Geraldo Pino’s “Black Woman Experience” followed by an absolutely mind-blowing edit of Philip Sarde’s “Le Cortège et Course”, a track that in the hands of Motor City Drum Ensemble sounds more like a techno classic than what it is: a piece from a 1972 movie soundtrack, César et Rosalie, starring Romy Schneider and Yves Montand. You want another “magic moment”? There it is beaming you right into the Minimal Nation of Robert Hood’s “The Pace”!
Hood’s track, besides being another great selection, is part one of a subdivision in this mix that, like the Chicago homage before it, works as a bow before the fathers. One after the other, the names making up the chapter this time are: Hood, Arthur Russell, Walter Gibbons and Aphex Twin, with Motor City Drum Ensemble’s aptly titled “L.O.V.E.”—Danilo’s beautifully seductive version of nocturnal soul music—sitting right there in company.
In the hands of less talented compilers such lining-up of total heroes could result in a superficial “favourites mixtape” fiasco but thanks to Danilo’s impeccable intuition and architectural sensibility every choice he makes creates a natural link, no matter how huge the genre, era and geography gap he is crossing.
So, after the Selected Ambient Work “Actium” gives way to the wonderland that is Isolées remix of Recloose’s “Cardiology” we are slowly approaching the end of Motor City Drum Ensemble’s DJ-Kicks. Latecomer, a Moscow based multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer that was discovered by MCDE last year, induces a last moment of tranced concentration before the “African Chant” by contemporary Scando Jazzer Timo Lassy provides the listener with another plateau of musical high.
This personal and spiritual journey is then bookended by one of the high points in cosmic disco history: John Mason’s “Sweet Power, Your Embrace”—a track oh-so wonderfully representative of Danilo’s intentions and inspirations. It’s always a good sign when your hero gives you a call to express his enthusiasm about your choice—as Mr. Mason did in this case. It’s that moment when both sides are feeling honoured: father and son, joined through the love of the music.
And so Motor City Drum Ensemble’s DJ-Kicks ends. The listener has gained yet another glimpse into the cosmos of Danilo Plessow’s inner world and the DJ-Kicks series has been the stage for yet another beautiful dance. With the next months holding an extensive tour schedule for Danilo, dancers around the world will be able to experience his gift as a selector first hand.
That is, before he gets back into the studio to start working on his first album as Motor City Drum Ensemble as well as a live act. All this will prove, just as his DJ-Kicks is doing now, that there is no such thing as stagnation in the ever-evolving cosmos of Danilo Plessow!
MOTOR CITY DRUM ENSEMBLE
CD & DIGITAL / 04 JULY 2011
1. Sun Ra – Door To The Cosmos
2. Electric Wire Hustle – Again (Scratch 22 Remix)
3. Rhythm & Sound – Mango Drive
4. Tony Allen – Ariya
5. Peven Everett – Stuck (Original)
6. Bad Jazz Troupe – Breakdown Treat – Dusty Rework (MCDE Edit)
7. Mr. Fingers – The Juice
8. Rick “Poppa” Howard – Can Your Love Find It’s Way (Club Vocal)
9. Stone – Girl I Like The Way That You Move (Dub)
10. Fred P – On This Vibe
11. Creative Swing Alliance – Don’t Forget Your Keyz
12. Geraldo Pino & The Heartbeats – Black Woman Experience
13. Philippe Sarde – Le Cortège Et Course
14. Robert Hood – The Pace
15. Loose Joints – Pop Your Funk (Vocal Version)
16. Arts & Crafts – I’ve Been Searching (Walter Gibbons 12” Mix)
17. Motor City Drum Ensemble – L.O.V.E. (DJ-Kicks)
18. Aphex Twin – Actium
19. Recloose – Cardiology (Isolée Mix)
20. Latecomer – Cosmic Cart
21. Timo Lassy – African Rumble
22. James Mason – Sweet Power, Your Embrace