Happy Birthday Audio Tonic - Lee Curtiss jets in for special 360 party
What’s On teams up with Hype for this feature on Dubai nightlife, an interview with Visionquest’s Lee Curtiss ahead of his Audio Tonic appearance at 360.
Lee Curtiss has always been painted as the quiet, sensitive soul amongst the outgoing and fun loving Visionquest crew. The collective of him, Ryan Crosson, Shaun Reeves and notorious joker Seth Troxler have all been close friends for years, coming up through the Detroit scene together, putting on parties and DJing whenever possible.
“I always think my music speaks for itself,” says Lee from his wife’s home in Andover, England, on a warm spring day. “I spend more time in the studio than on Facebook. I’ve been refining my skills and don’t care about making my personal life any more accessible than it is; I already give a lot of myself to my fans and the public. If I come off quiet it’s not because I don’t have an opinion, I just don’t feel I have to be the court jester all the time. You’re not gonna catch me naked!”
Around five or so years ago these big kids began to gain prominence in Europe and were hailed as the third wave of Detroit techno artists following the first wave of Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson and the second of sumptuously soulful craftsmen like Carl Craig. As they became ever more in demand, the friends launched their Visionquest project, a label and DJ collective that sees the foursome play back-to-back shows mixing up laptop sets, live session in Ableton and good old vinyl DJing at places like London’s Fabric, Watergate in Berlin and Miami’s Winter Music Conference.
The label itself has released music from each of the members of the band, but so too plenty of spectacular, occult and magical delights from both new and established artist alike. Dinky, Matthew Styles, Footprintz, Laura Jones and plenty of others have all become closely associated with the label and its underground pop vibe, where melody and musicality are often prized over anything else. Of course, a strong vein of mysticism, ancient cosmic cults and dream-like imagery also defines what the label is about both visually and sonically.
“We worked our butts off trying to make it, so at first it was hard to say no to DJ gigs at places like Timewarp, DC-10 and Glastonbury,” says Lee. “Now though, we’ve hit a lot of those shows and we can say, ‘OK, can they work with us and move this date and work with our schedule. You can’t do that when it’s your first shot at it all.”
The purpose of this manoeuvring is so the Visionquesters can focus on their own music, as it’s been a while since they released anything bar the occasional EP. “If you wanna ask why we didn’t make any music last year, it’s because of the endless touring,” reflects Lee. “This year is about redirecting time better, devoting a few weeks here and there to making music. I have an EP ready that is being mastered right now, ready for a June release, and if all things go well my debut album should be ready in November. It’s been nice to play with some of the gear I’ve been able to buy.”
Much like his personality, Lee Curtiss’ music has always been sensitive and emotional, with expertly sculpted melodies and widescreen synths combining with pop leaning structures and his own vocals to craft tender techno that makes you feel something in both your head and heel. The forthcoming album, he reports, will be a collaborative effort under the title Lee Curtiss & Friends but will still be concerned with the dancefloor.
“I think it’s because I’ve been working on music solo for many years,” he says. “But at a certain point I realised how much more fun I had working with someone else in the studio. It becomes less like work and a more enjoyable process. Plus, no matter how good you get, you can never bring another person’s perspective when you’re on your own. It will still sound like me though, I couldn’t get rid of that even if I wanted to.”
As a DJ Curtiss is just as considered, joining the dots between essential old classics and forward facing sounds with ease, as you’ll hear for yourself when he plays in Dubai for Audio Tonic’s eighth birthday party. “I’ve never been to Dubai,” says Lee. “I’m really looking forward to it because it’s unchartered territory. I will probably take my computer and hard drives with me so I have literally everything, even most of the vinyl I have I’ve ripped to the computer, it’s just so much easier.”
Reporting that such a vast choice of music can sometimes get overwhelming, Curtiss, who is built like a college football player with boyish good looks and a gentle American lilt, explains that tracks often choose themselves as soon as he gets into a club and picks up the vibe and mood. “Also, with classics like Frankie Knuckles – God rest his soul – you can never go wrong: if you don’t like those sort of records, I don’t know why you have booked me.”
Much is made of the heritage of those from Detroit, but Curtiss only moved to the famed musical city after a prompt from Ghostly International artist and multi-faceted producer, Matthew Dear, in the year 2000. So, looking back now, and given that he spends his time between Chicago, Andover and London, what does he make of the Motor City?
“Living in Detroit gave me a rich background of electronic music,” muses Lee. “Carl Craig, Zip, Ricardo Villalobos, Moodymann and Magda were playing regularly but those days are over… most of the clubs and parties in Detroit have shut down, changed their programming to commercial music
or just plain vanished.”
Certainly the city lost something when Curtiss and his buddies left, but Detroit’s loss is the rest of the music world’s gain.
360°, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai. Friday, 4pm to 3am. Sign yourself up for free guestlist at platinumlist.ae/360. Taxi: Jumeirah Beach Hotel. audiotonic.net