Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2001

The Mag: Trancing in the dark

July 12, 2001


By Geoff Harkness

Deepsky is one band that never thought it would get played on MTV. Thus, no one was more shocked than Scott Giaquinta, who was channel surfing late one evening when "Tempest," a song he co-authored with musical partner Jason Blum, came blasting out of the television set.

"We called our record label and said, 'Hey, are we gonna get anything for this?'" explains Blum. "They said, 'Oh, we don't know anything about it. They probably just used you. Don't bother them. It's good exposure.'"

"I called MTV," Giaquinta says, "and they said, 'We can't pay you, but we can give you credit at the end of the show.' So we just took the credit."

"Either we don't use it, or we just give you credit," Blum says. "They're MTV. What are you gonna do? If you call 'em and complain, they'll just use somebody else."

Decks appeal

Deepsky currently is one of America's more successful electronic dance acts, its music showing up in places like the recent trailer for "Tomb Raider" and on myriad compilation releases. Though Giaquinta and Blum aren't highly recognizable faces in the music industry, their music has probably been heard by most Americans at some point. Not bad for a group that started out as Albuquerque, N.M., teen-agers, listening to Michael Jackson, Falco and Debbie Gibson.

"A friend of mind came back from San Diego and he brought all this stuff I'd never heard -- Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure," Blum recalls. "Up to that point, I didn't know what I wanted to listen to, I was so confused. I went from Michael Jackson to Men At Work to Devo to Mtley Crüe. When he came back with this music, I knew that was what I wanted to listen to. I just kept going from there. I found the scene and listened to the music more and more and it became a bigger part of my life. Finally, I decided that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to make this kind of music."

Giaquinta's slow stumble upon the emerging art of electronic music was similar to Blum's, though he began with even poppier forms.

"I heard Falco's 'Amadeus' on the radio when I was 10 years old," he recalls. "Ever since that song, that was what I wanted to listen to. I didn't really know how to get my hands on any of it, so I would listen to stuff like Debbie Gibson just because it had electronic beats to it. I finally discovered Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and New Order and it just went on from there. I remember hearing my first techno song -- (L.A. Style's) 'James Brown is Dead.' That was a milestone for me because it was at that point that I stopped listening to synth pop and start writing techno. I think it's the same for everybody: There's that one song or a certain time or this one band.

"You either love or hate electronic music right away," Giaquinta says laughing. "But good music is good music no matter what style you're doing."

By the early '90s, Giaquinta and Blum were making music as Deepsky, cutting their teeth on the burgeoning rave scene that is now virtually synonymous with electronica. These were the early days, though, when the genre was truly an underground phenomenon and pioneering acts like Deepsky spent as much time dodging the authorities as they did making music.

"When we first started throwing parties ourselves and going, you didn't just go to parties, Blum remembers. "Basically, you knew someone or you saw a flyer that was hand-drawn in a lot of cases. You'd call the number and get a map point and you'd go there and be taken to the party or given a map to the party. Those were the underground days, where people were breaking into warehouses and setting up whatever they could get their hands on."

In 1995, Deepsky debuted with "In My Mind," an EP for Rampant Records that helped put the duo on the national music map. "Tempest," the song used for AMP followed soon after and Deepsky began to look beyond Albuquerque for greener (or in this case, smoggier) musical pastures.

L.A. times

In 1997, Deepsky relocated to California, taking up residence in Los Angeles, home to many a struggling young act. Though the duo was able to secure gigs with relative ease, it wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms by L.A.'s tightly knit music scene.

"You come here to make it, obviously, because the music industry is centered around L.A. and New York," Giaquinta says. "But, as far as friendly goes, there's not a lot of helping hands who are just gonna offer it to you."

Fortunately, Deepsky wasn't another garage band trying to make it on the Sunset Strip, which allowed Giaquinta and Blum to concentrate on the business of making music rather than the music-making business.

"If you're a rock band, sometimes you pay to play places like The Whiskey -- you buy tickets to your own show and then you have to go sell them," Blum says. "It's a little different with us. If you get booked to play a show, then you go, you get paid and you play. It's a big struggle for a lot of jazz and rock musicians who want to come out here and make it because it's so competitive. We're in a smaller market so it's a little easier to get started."

Almost as soon as Deepsky hit L.A., it began to make a name for itself as remixers -- taking the music of others and running it through the sonic blender, reshaping the grooves into something fresh and original. By reconfiguring tracks for Sandra Collins, Funkopath, Spark and dozens of others, Deepsky soon gained a reputation for its hard trance sound, becoming highly sought after in the process.

"We're trying to bring our sound to theirs," Blum says of Deepsky's remix projects. "That's kind of the point. If someone wants a Deepsky remix, then they've heard what we've done and they think our sound is going to fit with their track, or we're going to fill a void that their track doesn't and that'll round out the whole thing. That's what we do when we look for remixes for our stuff: We say, 'OK, we wrote this track in this style. Let's get (a remix) that's similar to our style but a little different take on it, then let's get something that's a deeper house mix or a break mix' -- just something to round out the experience."

Trance later

In 1998, Deepsky released its seminal "Stargazer" EP, which transformed the duo from underground heroes into one of electronica's premier acts. The worldwide success of "Stargazer" led to a series of high-profile remixing projects, creating a groundswell buzz that has stuck with the group ever since. "Stargazer" was also remixed by the cream of the electronica crop, including interpretations from Meat Beat Manifesto and Andy Ling. With electronic music catching on like wildfire across the states, Deepsky's success ran parallel to that of the genre itself, transforming the once subterranean art form into a ubiquitous aspect of the modern music landscape.

"I don't think it's an underground thing at all anymore," Giaquinta says. "I think it's definitely becoming ... I wouldn't use the word pop but I certainly think everybody knows about it. At least they know about it from '60 Minutes' or '20/20' from the specials they do on raves. It's really not an underground thing anymore."

"It's become very commercial," Blum adds. "I don't know what it's like in Kansas, but all over L.A. there are posters of 'Swordfish' by Paul Oakenfold.' When you start seeing DJ's names plastered around on posters, that's no longer an underground phenomenon. There's 100,000 watt systems with stadium lighting. Once you start putting that kind of production behind it, you gotta pull so many people, so there's no way you could consider it underground anymore."

Studio street stage

Currently, the members of Deepsky are holed up in their respective home studios, crafting tracks for a full-length album to be released later this year. Though traces of trance are still a large part of the Deepsky sound, the pair have begun to branch out into other forms of music, ever looking to expand its sonic horizons.

"We've definitely gone from trance, or what trance has become, to more progressive halves," Giaquinta says. "It's sort of like almost electronica. There's just a whole lot of stuff all over the album, a lot of different things. I think it's good for us because we don't want to be labeled solely as a trance act anymore. The album is not just all slamming stuff like people are used to hearing from us. It's a little more eclectic. I really want to be able to have the freedom to do everything."

Part of Deepsky's newfound freedom is the ability to create different sounds without getting pigeonholed into a particular style, something that is essential to the future of the band.

"We're an electronic dance act," Giaquinta says. "That's as much as we want to be pegged. Trance is still cool but it's become such a dirty word with some of the cheesier stuff that's come out. It's not that I don't want to be associated with trance, I don't want to be associated with it solely."

"We try to avoid it," Blum adds. "As soon as you label yourself, it becomes obsolete within a year to two years. So what's the point? If we're going to be labeled, let other people do it. We're not about to do it ourselves. We want to maintain a consistent feel to our music, but we don't necessarily want to lock into one style."

When Giaquinta and Blum aren't in the studio working on tracks, they're on the road playing before enthusiastic audiences coast to coast. Though many electronic acts prefer the comfort of studio life to one-nighters in foreign cities, Deepsky remains one of the genre's hardest-touring acts. Despite pressures to complete its new record, the band has played a show almost every weekend for the past five years.

"We've always done that," Blum says. "That's how we build our fan base and keep things fresh. We want to make sure that our music is getting out there. I think that's one of the reasons the new record's taking so long. Between switching record labels and playing shows every weekend, sometimes two, it's kind of hard to develop a consistent vibe on a track when you gotta pick up and move yourself out to a whole new place and play your show and then come back and pick up where you left off."

-- Mag assistant editor Geoff Harkness can be reached at 832-7178.

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