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Feature: Dance Spirit [Interview]

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The production duo of Christopher Mohn and Reagan Denius revolutionized themselves into Dance Spirit, a philosophy based on attaining subconscious harmony through rhythm, timbre, melody, and movement. They combine Reagan’s formal music and computer programming training with Chris’s burning passion for dance music and DJing to create a duo of true synergy. Releases on Bedrock, Get Physical, Manjumasi, Supernature and Watergate Records highlight their discography while their fresh approach to DJing has found them programming music for some of the worlds most highly touted events, such as Coachella, Desert Hearts, Piknik Electronic, City Fox and Lightning in a Bottle. Now on the cusp of a new single for Dreaming Awake, we catch up with Dance Spirit in this exclusive interview. Enjoy!

Hi Guys, thanks for sitting with us today! Tell us where in the world you are and what your plans for the week are?

Well right now we are in LA taking a break after a grueling 5 month tour schedule, tons of studio sessions, and creating  the 8th edition of Space Cadet so a rest is well in order! I (Chris) am going to be focusing on my own art and illustration over the next couple of months and lining up a body of work for a show. We are also preparing for our Space Camp party next week that is going to include a lot of talented installation and visual artists, as well as our favorite international/local talent.

Tell us more about your story. How did you discover electronic music and what led you down the path of wanting to be a producer and Dj?

C: I have always been a music lover. My father schooled me on classic rock of the 70’s and I listened to soul and oldies with my mother in the car driving around with her as a child. I discovered rave culture in 1995. I had been dressing weird and keeping the spirit of my child hood alive through my fashion, wearing crazy vintage clothing, dying my hair weird colors, and basically finding my identity through the musical counter cultures of the time. In my home town of Escondido,  CA there was a shop called Bohemian Rhapsody that this older hippie lady named Sue owned. On most nights it was a haven for the freaky teens who had no place to go, she understood that and let us party there and hang out. She was a vendor for rave tickets in the early days and so I got sucked into attending one at our local roller rink one Friday night. When I got there a lot of the kids were just as freaky as me and I felt like I had found my place and my people. I didn’t really start attending raves heavily until a few years later and haven’t really had a break since then. Of course over the years the purpose and motivation to participate has changed but I try to maintain this perspective as a professional so my purpose as an artist is never over ridden by the subtle nuance of hedonism and drive to succeed that can take you for some crazy ups and downs.

As far as becoming a producer is concerned it really didn’t manifest its self until I met Reagan in 2006. John Digweed was and still is to this day my musical beacon for Dance Music. When I met Reagan he was already producing some quality sounding progressive house, so I went over to his place one day and started collaborating and learning, the rest is our own unique history.

At which club or event did you experience electronic music for the first time and what memories have stuck with you from that moment?

C:  As I previously mentioned how I fell into it, it really wasn’t until about 1999 when I found my first raver family, had my first raver girlfriend, and was just on it nonstop. It is all really one big long memory of beautiful people, crazy nights, near escapes, some fatalities, and serendipitous adventures with some of the most unique people on the planet right now.

Can you name five tracks that were influential in your musical development?

C: Tough question to answer and this is by no means my final say but these have all had a profound influence on me and came into my head first.

  1. Bedrock – Heaven Scent
  2. Solomun- Jungle River Cruise
  3. Rhythm is Rhythm (Carl Craig) – Strings of Life
  4. Maceo Plex/Maetrik – The entire discography
  5. Audiofly – Speak B4 U Think

How did you meet and eventually start collaborating?

C: In 2006 I was living in San Diego. Dave Dean had started bringing his LA bookings to to SD under his “Giant” promotion company. In those days the hot European flavors that were rocking the globe were acts like John Digweed, Dave Seaman, Nick Warren, Deep Dish, Nic Fanciulli and they were finally stopping in my town. I went to one of the parties and met the local promotion crew that was helping with the events, they were called Realivze Tribe. I got my self involved as a flyer boy and was partnered up with Reagan to hand out flyers for our parties outside of clubs and bars. We developed a friendship over those experiences.  He was a bedroom producer and I was a bedroom DJ. I went over to his place one day and he showed me how he wrote music. I watched him make loops and a sequence and since I bought a lot of dance records I had an idea for the compositions. Well that was an area that he didn’t feel confident in so the collaboration was a success as far as making a track in a day. That was the spawn of our artistic collaboration and from there we made an album in 3 weeks. We have always had and maintained this kind of creative chemistry.

A successful partnership is generally based around balance and compromise; how do you manage these things within the Dance Spirit dynamic?

C: Well we have never really had any disagreements over direction of musical tastes. We have somehow managed to synchronize our taste in music and that has led to a small amount of arguments in the studio and in our direction with our project.

Do you have different roles in the production process? And if so, elaborate please.

C: 90% of the time the Dance Spirit magic currently happens like this: I will start up the groove in NI Maschine and our Elektron Rhythm. I try to set the mood with my drum works, bass line, and a bit of sound design. Reagan will then come in with our new modular set up and layer in some good chord changes, arpeggiations, and top it off with some pads and sometimes vocals. There are random occurrences where we might write a song individually and recruit the other to help tighten it up or complete it. I define the Dance Spirit sound as Romanian and Detroit style grooves with a lot of swing, progressive house styled synthesis, and finally layered with Pink Floyd influenced pads/strings. A successful fusion of the things we love.

Many of your fans may not be aware that you recorded under the Android Cartel alias before Dance Spirit. It’s been quite a successful transition but what brought on the moniker change?

C: Android Cartel was our first professional foray into the culture as artists. It was a project that helped us cut our teeth in the studio but honestly we had so much still to learn about the music and the business that we were tossed about like boats on the ocean as far as having a consistent direction. We started Dance Spirit as a side project and kept it anonymous and low key for a while. The point of the project was to have Reagan focus on his talented abilities as a classical pianist and song writer into the project, because at the time acts like Maceo Plex and Tale of Us were ending the minimal trend and all of a sudden here was a new wave of amazingly intelligent music with melodies that were not contrived or cheesy.  By the end of 2012 we had Dubfire and Richie Hawtin playing Android Cartel Tracks, and underground heroes like Mr C and Audiofly playing Dance Spirit tracks, and 2013 we went to Barcelona for Sonar and summertime and were really turned on by what was going on musically. When we got back that August we would sit down to make Android Cartel music and just realized that we didn’t know what it was supposed to be anymore and just wanted to really focus on Dance Spirit, and that is what we did.

AS far as we know you guys have spent most or all of your career in the Los Angeles area, tell us about the scene there and how it has influenced the music you make.

C: Los Angeles as a city is popping off right now. There is a huge influx of exciting urban culture taking root in the new Arts District and Downtown. With all the gentrification coupled with the entertainment industry, the legalization of weed, and good weather the city is already a great place to be even with out going to a rave. It hasn’t always been this way but no joke right now LA is where it’s at in America. Our scene is pretty good and I think offers a consistent variety of party flavors. We have the Clinic crew doing their Wednesday nights in Hollywood and Sound night club doing their Framework events on Fridays, both of these clubs bring in a fair amount of international talent and stay consistent with the bookings. But the real culture is and always will be in the warehouses. There is a huge warehouse district in LA and it does a great job facilitating a healthy amount of hosting international talents in an underground setting, for instance there is a warehouse party with Mind Against this coming weekend. In the summer time we get to be outside and there have been amazing park parties with Desert Hearts and Mayan Warrior just to name a couple. I really wish promoters would do some parties on the beach but I am not too sure on how difficult this is to do these days.

The industry and how fans discover new music has changed dramatically in the last 10 years or so. How do you discover new music nowadays?

C: Spotify, Instagram, and DJ sets that we are present for or listen to online. Spotify’s suggestions do a pretty good job of matching my playlists with what they suggest.

You have a new single out this week on Dreaming Awake. Tell us a bit about how you approached the track and the production process behind.

C: Pretty much the same way I addressed before of how we make a track. We were writing a lot of music for Burning Man and this was one of the ones that rose to the top of the output.

Dreaming Awake is a new label, this is their first release in fact. Why did it feel like a comfortable home for an original track of yours to launch the label?

C: Mostly due impart to the founder Treavor Moontribe.  Treavor has been there since the beginning. Not only at the near start of dance culture in LA but also in my history as a music artist. Reagan and I used to DJ under a project called “Proper Villains” when were weeeee baby artists, our first proper set was a NYE party in Venice Beach the year of 2007—>2008. We had an early morning set, and as I remember it we were playing outside and somehow nabbed Treavor’s dance floor. Since that day he has been a huge motivating factor that has helped Reagan and I segue  into the culture starting with helping us secure gigs at the historical Monday Night Socials, and Moontribe parties. Since then he has been a huge supporter and patron of our art and a great mentor as well.

When working on music is the dance floor always something that’s taken into consideration? Or does a certain vibe or flow sometimes transcend that?

C: When it comes to music I like to quote my friend Alex Herman “The dance floor doesn’t lie”,  groove and feeling is so important and we have learned to consider this over the years. The medium is the art of tension and release, so how ever you can accomplish that stylistically and relevantly the dance floor should be into it.

Is there a movie you would have loved to have produced the soundtrack for? And if so why?

C: What a great question! Off the top of my head I would say Interstellar. I think it would be great to set themes to sci fi movie, and there is enough plot twists and characters to assign music too, the project would be a lot of fun, not to mention the movie is long so we could do a hefty amount of scoring!

Is there a side of yourself which you wish to explore more in your upcoming projects?

C: As I mentioned earlier I am going to spend the next couple of months pursuing my illustration and visual art. I was in a show last night and managed to sell some pieces so with the downtime right now I am looking forward to a lot of creating. I am also a major Dead Head and am going to work on launching a small march line to sell in the lots to the upcoming shows that the Dead & CO is putting on in LA and SF at the end of the year.

I also have a clothing line that I have designed on paper that I will be following up into production and will have some pieces ready to sell for Spring 2020.

There are a lot of factors which affect the perception of an artist other than his music these days, social media for one, how much emphasis do you put on stuff like this? and what are your thoughts on the current state of the industry?

C: I think it is an exciting time to be an artist. The ability to reach  and connect with people and the opportunity to be discovered and find new fans is an amazing development for the artists career no matter the medium. Keeping up on social media is another job in and of its self and it can become mundane to stay creative with the process, but at the end of the day promotion is the name of the game no matter how you play it. I think that relying solely on social media as your merit as an artist can also be consuming, and to a point unhealthy, but it’s common phenomenon in the relationship that we develop with the technology. Social media has def changed the way that we all share and perceive reality, and with that the way our brains work and the way we think.

Right now I think the industry is great. I do feel like there is a stalemate stylistically with all the new flavors and genres and there isn’t really one genre that has collectively brought the culture together for a while, but that also offers a lot of different party experiences and music experiences for the average party goer. In America we have also reached a point where the newer generations coming into the scene grew up on acts like Tiesto and Deadmau5 so they are very open and eager to explore the music and that has trickled down to the underground and given acts like us to be discovered and have a chance to live our dreams.

The alternate side is how the accessibility to make ready made tracks has led to a plethora of over saturation and disposable music, and party going, but in the end time filters out the wanna be’s and the lifers join the party for good.

Looking back over your discography, which one of your very first tracks still puts a smile on your face when you listen to it now, and why?

C: I would have to say our “You’re Not There” on Supernature. This tracks was a noticeable shift in our production and song writing skills and was a really exciting moment when we completed it. Also being picked up by our heroes Audiofly was a major accomplishment for us. This song came about after a lengthy engineering session with Mr. C. Watching him direct a production and get down in the studio was an enlightening moment for us. We immediately created this after those sessions and realized we had reached a new plateau.

Current five favorite tracks?

C: Grateful Dead – Row Jimmy (Cornell 77)

Verdi – Rigolletto – Act II Gualtier Malde…Caro Nome

Handel – Water Music Suite No 1 in F Adagio e Stocatto

Underworld – Altitude Dub (Both Versions)

Pink Floyd – Love Scene (Take 1) Zabriskie Point

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

C: I practice meditation, exercise, and reading daily and that has led to a profound amount of happiness. Giving love and being there for my friends and strangers if need be. Our studio is in Skid Row so I have been bringing in bottles of water and granola bars to give to the addicts and bums on the street. I love creating, so I guess being in my studio and letting it flow is the best kind of contentment. I also enjoy nature, it’s how you see God at work, technology is eliminating that connection unfortunately and a lot fo people are losing touch with them selves and the earth. I am also an advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and try to promote mindfulness and positive well being to a culture that can give people escapist tendencies, we unfortunately lost a lot of people to suicide and drug abuse this year so I think its an important discussion to keep going in the culture.

What can we expect from you to begin 2020? Any releases or special dates we should be looking out for?

C: Well we just finished a pretty good run of gigs over the last five months so just waiting for the next wave to roll in. We do have some releases coming up! An EP on the Desert Hearts Black, a remix for Robbie Akbal and Rowee that is coming on Rowee’s new label, and a collaboration EP that we did with Oona Dahl due up on Watergate. Other than that we are making the moves and the plans to launch our on label that we are going to call “Communion”. We created a huge multi media package including art and music videos that we will be using to release our next album and we are using that as our first release. Once we have the first release dialed in we are going to be A&Ring a release schedule with all of our favorite artists and friends! The rest of the unknown is up to the universe.

‘Gateways’ is out now on Dreaming Awake, you can purchase the release here: https://bit.ly/34nuUYh

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