DJ Bliss and Brian Stillwater of Activated Records

DJ Bliss and Brian Stillwater of Activated Records

DJ Bliss (AKA Jamie Brady) and Brian Stillwater are a pair of talented DJs hailing from the city of Baltimore, Maryland, where they have been affecting the hemisphere with their unique techno trance mixes and the publication of their record label, management group and their magazine Activated, which is now only available on-line. They’re gonna be here and spinning the wax at the Millennium Z party in Brno. We recently hooked up with them across the big pond and had a few questions to bounce around.

DJ Bliss and Brian Stillwater of Activated Records

THINK: I’ve been out of the states for over three years now, and was mostly listening to trip-hop in the San Francisco style before I left, at that time “raves” and techno’s following had wound down in SF, how has the genre evolved over the past 5 years?

BLISS: Well first off there is no one genre that kind of covers all music that was considered “techno” back then. There are labels for almost any sound that you can think of these days. Some of the labeling gets a little overboard. Everything seems to hit lulls where things don’t get very original, but then something else will bust out and be the new thing. I don’t think the US is any different from any other country in that respect. But the US is really varied by areas because cities and scenes are stretched out over the country.

BRIAN: I definitely agree with the fact that labeling has gotten a bit out of hand over the years. It seems everytime someone strays a little bit left of center there’s a new name or prefix added to an already existing genre or style. As for evolution of the “rave scene” over the past few years, the US has pretty much picked up on all the past trends from Europe, making the US a bit behind.

BLISS: Yeah it seems sometimes that we’ll never get over this rock ‘n roll mentality.

BRIAN: But at least we got Beck!

THINK: Are massives still taking place? I used to hang with Mark from Amoeba records, early house promoters in the Haight district, back in 89-90, and he used to preach that house music is the one movement that’ll never be taken over by corporate America. But here in the Czech Republic, promoters make more money from the sponsorship than the gig. Has that happened in the states yet?

BLISS: You do know that Amoeba closed right? Anyway, corporate sponsorship hasn’t really become a factor here yet, at least regularly. Like I said, it seems “the man” is only interested in rock ‘n roll here, so electronic music still isn’t a proven money-maker.

BRIAN: Corporate America is only interested in one thing. And that’s making money. So most corporate support is usually given more to concerts/festivals because the US is not a society that is built upon dance culture. Although things are picking up more and more as you hear techno in the latest Levi’s and Gap commercials, which shows that the scene is definitely starting to make its impact in our society.

BLISS: Corporate America will never “take over” the music (house or otherwise) completely, there will always be an underground outlet for the music.

BRIAN: Personally I don’t wanna start wearing a suit and tie to my DJ gigs.

THINK: What was it about techno that made you want to be a DJ?

BRIAN: I was introduced to techno in the middle of my teenage years where I was living the American Dream of becoming a rock ‘n roll star until I realized the limitations that working in a band brought. I then found myself at one of the early US raves.

That opened up a whole new world in which music can be done on your own without boundaries and without limitations. It was something new and virtually unheard of at the time, but on the same note seemed to have a promising future as being the sound of the new millennium. And I definitely think that will prove to be true after New Year’s.

BLISS: Actually I sort of came into this whole thing as a breach-birth baby; I was already “DJing” on college radio and was playing anything from 80’s electronic music to industrial, and without even realizing it — early techno. I wasn’t even really aware at that time about raves, but was going to clubs that were playing the stuff I was getting more into.

When I went to my first rave I was blown away — probably even more so than most people because I was experiencing this greater level of DJing that I didn’t even knew existed. My path sort of was laid out in front of me that night.

THINK: Here in Prague, promoters talk and whine about supporting the scene, but support usually just means free advertising. When you ran Activated, just how supportive was the scene there?

BLISS: Heh. How can I say this politically? Actually being political was hard for me to do back then, so I never had a hard time saying what was on my mind.

BRIAN: Yeah I don’t know how many times Jamie (Bliss) got the both of us in trouble with his big mouth.

BLISS: *evil laugh* People don’t seem to want to hear the truth (haha). As far as support, Activated got virtually no support locally, unless people wanted something out of it (i. e. free ads disguised as party/scene reviews). With Activated (as with DJing), we both never gave a f*ck what was going on around here and set our sights much higher.

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Brian Stillwater
Brian Stillwater

BRIAN: As with almost anywhere, the hardest place to “make it” is your hometown. Neither of us has played a quality event in Baltimore in at least a year. Instead we spent that time travelling throughout the country and beyond because we’ve always wanted more and weren’t interested in playing the games involved in local politics.

BLISS: Yeah Brian was always trying to keep me from stirring up trouble, he was always the one who tried staying on everyone’s good side…

BRIAN: … without kissing ass I might add…

BLISS: … but I learned early on that you have to do your own thing – that’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere.

BRIAN: A few years back I took advice from a friend, and that was “why worry about playing someone else’s game when you can start your own?”

THINK: I noticed you play hard trance, and techno trance. What is the secret to getting the trance into the techno?

BLISS: A lot of the records I select have qualities of techno AND trance to them already, which allows you to go anywhere you want — you could go more technoey, or get more trancy, whatever you want. I like having that variety — which is why I like longer sets so I can let the whole thing evolve. Here in the US it seems the art of the DJ taking people on a journey has been lost to a lot of people.

Throughout the years a lot of the stuff I have been into has revolved around Germany: Harthouse, Sven Vath, OLIVER LIEB (who is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves), Der Dritte Raum, Timo Maas, Terry Lee Brown Jr. , the Kanzleramt guys, Pascal F. E. O. S. ; I could go on and on. Techno is more rhythm based – and trance more melody based – so for me when you put them together it’s like putting the white on rice.

BRIAN: Over the past year, the influence of various styles has caused merging and overlapping within genres. Artists that were once categorized as say “techno” such as Pascal F. E. O. S. and Oliver Lieb have gained more and more support from the trance scene and beyond. It’s hard to categorize a DJ nowadays because of the wide range of styles he or she may spin. I think this sort of thing is great and will definitely improve the growth of the music as a whole.

THINK: Do girls throw themselves at you? Have you been stalked by groupies?

BLISS: Not enough! Haha. Actually we’re both Virgos, so speaking for both of us- we aren’t the types of guys who respect girls who like someone just because they happen to be a DJ. But, nevertheless, you feel like you’re doing something wrong if they aren’t throwing themselves at you anyway.

BRIAN: Note to all Czech women: we are both VERY single! ! ! 😉

BLISS: We’re going to be experimenting for the first time with Absinthe while we’re over there, so who knows what will happen. Ha-ha.

THINK: MP3s, will they break the stranglehold the major labels have on new music releases? Is this a good thing, or bad?

BRIAN: Actually the topic of MP3 has been a concern of mine for quite awhile. It’s quite frightening, although it may break the stranglehold of the majors; it can also hurt the Indies as well. For instance, I know someone that just downloaded songs from the new Cure album (at CD quality) that won’t even be released until February. With all the advancements in technology and more and more people connected on-line, why will there ever be a need to buy anything other than blank CDs? And in that situation, how will the artists afford to make music if there’s no one to buy it?

BLISS: I’m torn on the subject… I haven’t released any CDs yet so I haven’t had to worry about MP3s. Running a record label that (at the moment) only releases vinyl, it’s not a concern. Personally, I think the music industry would be way better off out of the hands of the major labels, and love when bands such as the Beastie Boys embrace this new MP3 medium and release some tracks on-line that won’t be on their official CD releases.

THINK: What is the best party you ever attended, and why?

BOTH: FURTHER! ! !

BRIAN: For reasons you would never understand.

BLISS: Those guys in the Midwestern USA are truly mad as a fish. Drop Bass Network knows how to throw a party.

BRIAN: Burn baby burn! THINK: Now that techno has really matured, established itself in society, where do you think the future of techno lies?

BLISS: As we mentioned before, it still has plenty of room to grow over here. It’s still not established enough yet.

BRIAN: The greatest thing about techno is the fact that it’s always been unpredictable through its evolution.

BLISS: It’s all about me bangin’ my balls on a bongo.

THINK: Do you believe in plur (peace, love, unity, and respect), and how do you live it in everyday life?

BOTH: Ha-ha-ha-ha. PLUR is the last thing we expected to hear outside the US.

BRIAN: We believe in respecting others, but the term PLUR gets a bit hoaky at times.

BLISS: I have a long-standing joke that PLUR is the sound of bullets whizzing past your head. “Peeoooowng” “Pluuuuuurrrr” “Bazzzink”.

THINK: What are your plans after the millennium? Are you y2k compliant?

BRIAN: Well we will be ringing in the new year by performing at Mersey Productions’ “Millennium Z” event in Brno, and if the airlines are not y2k compliant we may be your new neighbour! ! !

BLISS: We’re finishing up the European leg of the Inertia World Tour on new year’s, and then going back to the US to continue it. After we wind that up, we’re going to concentrate on our labels (Activated, Progress USA and Built) for a bit. We’re going to alternate our focus between DJing and Production work. There are still lots of places in the world that we want to see.

THINK: Do you program your own beats?

BRIAN: Yes. I have been producing my own music for about 4 years now and have about 10 releases under my belt, ranging from breakbeats to trip-hop to my current sound, which is deep moody trance.

BLISS: I kicked off my production career about a year ago with Brian as our project “Innercourse”. The debut release (“Waypoint 1”) did well, and got support from the likes of John Digweed, Nick Warren, Andy Jarrod, and Chris Fortier from the Balance Promote Group (they are a major force for pushing new music in the US).

THINK: DJ Bliss, in this Internet age, how important of a role does the printed page have in spreading information? Still, most people don’t have computers, actually I read that 80% of the planet doesn’t even have fone access. Comments, please.

BLISS: I think the printed page will always be necessary, at least until we all have cyberdeck implants installed in our heads where we can upload and download information directly (read any and all William Gibson novels for this idea).

I am also interested in media virii, memes, poetic terrorism, propaganda – all of those things rely on hitting you when you aren’t expecting it – whereas anyone sitting down in front of a computer is usually looking for something specific and disregarding anything not relating to what they are looking for.

The same goes for advertising – whether we like it or not, it’s effective. All of that aside- you can’t take a computer into the bathroom with you- and that’s where I get most of my reading done. Maybe someone should invent a bathroom PC.

BRIAN: I wonder how many people who are currently reading this interview are actually in the bathroom.

THINK: And on a final note, what do you guys know of the Czech Republic, what have you heard and what do you expect when you get here? Are you ready fer the famously beautiful Czech girlz?

BRIAN: Absinthe, beautiful girls, what else is there??

BLISS: Let’s just say that I don’t think I would mind getting stranded there because of Y2k, if all the girls there look anything like DJ La-di-da.