Ataxia, a loss of muscle coordination, especially in the extremities, is exactly what you are likely to experience when exposed to the music of Ted Krisko and Eric Hanna, the Detroit duo who DJ and produce under the name. Having met while playing in a punk band together, the two joined forces and switched gears five years ago, pulling the “classic move of selling our guitars and such for turntable, mixers, and synths.”
Drawing inspiration from such diverse musicians as Richie Hawtin, Pink Floyd and DJ Koze, trying to pin them down to any one genre is certain to prove futile. Chameleons in their own right, Ataxia’s ability to read a crowd and keep it moving is evidenced by both the quantity and the quality of gigs that 2013 has seen them book. To name only a few: the newly established Output in Brooklyn, Smart Bar in Chicago, Electric Pickle in Miami, multiple appearances at Burning Man, Winter Music Conference and SXSW, and their debut at the inimitable Standard Rooftop in Downtown L.A. Represented by Air London, they are resident DJs at Detroit’s TV Lounge, and host Movement’s Proton Radio Show.
We sat down with Ted to chat about the past, present, and future of Detroit Techno, the over classification of electronic music, Movement Detroit, and what it’s like to be on Seth Troxler’s radar.
This mix is really beautiful! Can you tell us a little about it?
This mix was recorded in cold, wintry Detroit, with the mystery and excitement of BPM followed by an extended stay in Mexico in mind.
Under location on the Ataxia facebook page, it very cheekily says “Detroit – do you actually want to know what goes on here?” Yes, since you asked! We want to hear, in your words, what goes on in Detroit.
There are so many challenges in Detroit, and there always have been, but art and music culture always seem to prevail and shine through. To an outsider, Detroit seems like a busy party town because there are international DJs coming through here constantly. But it’s almost exclusively at a handful of night clubs that fit somewhere around two to five hundred people. So the events are more intimate, and the crowd is certainly not the easiest to please. But if you can get the crowd moving in Detroit, then you must be doing something very special, because it really takes a lot to entertain the audience here. When the parties are busy, they’re excellent, and there’s nothing like the feeling of dancing to house and techno after hours in this city.
Something people may not realize is that everything is very spread out in Detroit, so it takes a lot to get people to come out for a party. That means that if Detroit is going to be busy, there is an expectation of extraordinary talent and a great vibe. Generally speaking though, if all those things are influx, the parties will be really amazing, and offer an irreplaceable home for quality electronic music.
From Motown to Jazz to Techno, Detroit is consistently at the helm of the musical landscape. What is it about the city that makes it such a hotbed for creativity?
People who are artists in Detroit tend to try to live off of their art, and truly make it their life’s work and personal display of passion. And on the weekends, although it depends on the kind of lifestyle you’re looking for, people that specifically have the bug for music, be it electronic, jazz, classical, rock, hip-hop, it really becomes the epicenter of their lives and livelihood.
Much of the rest of the region, while it may be nice or quaint, lacks the same authenticity of cultural relevancy as the city, and leaves much to be desired in terms of places to go and things to do. People that seek out a music experience, and find it in Detroit, generally become immersed in the nightlife culture here because it is a place to escape. There are so many other stoic representations of society around us that aren’t as refreshing. And so for people that find their niche in Detroit, it can easily start to seem like the only thing there is.
In what ways does living and producing music in Detroit set you apart from big cities like London, Berlin, New York or L.A., and are there any downsides to living here?
Living and producing music here is a constant love/hate relationship. Because of the nature of it not really being a destination city for tourism or extended stay, it can be a bit frustrating when you have friends that are clustered in other places that you’d like to be working on musical projects and collaborating with. At those times it feels like maybe you’re missing out. On the other hand it’s really nice, because it’s not so hustle and bustle like any of those cities you mentioned. Here I don’t feel a constant obligation to go out. Instead, I’m able to take it easy and spend a lot of time writing music, recording, making podcasts…I’ve been spending a lot of time playing keyboard and piano lately, and I often wonder if I was living in another city, whether I would really be affording myself this much time to work on music. It’s allowed me to realize that, for the time being, I’m not missing anything that I can’t be getting done myself at home here in Detroit.
What does it mean to you when you hear people say things like “Ataxia is leading the next generation of electronic music artists in Detroit”?
I’ve read that a couple times over the past year. At first I laughed to myself about it. And then it started sinking in that there are other people out there reading it as well, so it’s either hype, or something we are going to live up to. And that’s intimidating, challenging, and a kick in the ass, because the previous generations of Detroit Techno have had such incredibly prolific people bringing music to the world.
One of the main things that we are bringing to the table is that we’ve been here in Michigan this whole time. We didn’t leave, so we are continuously contributing to, and being influenced by, Detroit’s culture. We’ve been partying at raves and clubs here since the 90′s. We have an opportunity to take the Detroit party experience to other cities when we play. But at the end of the day, we’re still here in Detroit, with our friends, in the scene that we’ve helped build and be a part of.
When I look at the incredible accomplishments of some of the other talent our city has given birth to, it’s kind of daunting. You think of names like the Belleville Three, Eddie Fowlkes, Richie Hawtin, Carl Craig, Moodymann, Visionquest, Interdimensional Transmissions, and they have all made such enormous contributions. It’s humbling. But in seeing such remarkable, long lasting careers, it is a reminder that nothing happens overnight, and Ataxia will continue to be a work in progress as we grow as DJs and producers.
There seems to be a lot of discourse right now surrounding the classification of electronic music, and I’m curious where you stand on the issue. Are genres a necessary evil, or do they only serve to be divisive?
(Laughs) It’s a rabbit hole that goes as far as you’ll let it take you. I really think of music more from a standpoint of attitude and mood. Then, if you really had to start labeling things, I guess the main two divisions are arguably going to be house and techno, at least in our spoke of the culture.
My judgment, though, is really just whether or not a song is good production, whether or not it’s something I’m going to play, and whether or not it’s something I’m going to listen to. And that’s about the extent of the categorization that I want to do with music. A friend of mine said it’s like a game of sub-genre lemmings. One person calls out what micro-genre something is, and then everyone else hops on board saying they like it or they don’t like it, and then it either becomes all the rage, or it ends up in the firing line. I think ultimately all that does is pigeonhole the music, and inevitably make it somewhat irrelevant and less accessible to people that might otherwise have enjoyed it.
You have said in other interviews that your hands-down highlight of the year was playing the Made in Detroit stage at Movement back in May. For those that have never had the pleasure of attending, what is it about Movement that sets it apart from other electronic music festivals and makes it so special?
Compared to other festival experiences to be had, Movement is a very well-oiled machine operationally, with an incredible production value, and a talent package that consistently rivals or trumps other global festival rosters. People’s excitement surrounding Detroit over Memorial Day weekend is always sky-high, and it is a weekend where no one, not even the people that are “VIP,” are too cool. That’s just not what is going on at the festival, or even at the after parties. It’s a really beautiful time because it is an ego-leveler, and everyone that is under the umbrella of our music scene gets to come together for one reason, and that is to have a giant dance party with amazing music.
Also, while the festival does make a remarkable financial contribution to the city, it never seems like you’re being gouged monetarily. From food to hotels to after parties, everything is really very modestly priced, which makes it an accessible experience for people that can’t afford some of the other really great festivals around the country.
You had a pretty dope shoutout from Seth Troxler in an interview he gave earlier this year. Can you tell us the context and what he said?
Seth was talking about how important it is to be part of the scene, and that the best way to advance your career, while you’re a young producer and DJ, is to travel and meet people around the world. It’s not about any one trip that should make or break any of it, it’s consistently making yourself present at festivals, at parties, and on the dance floor. It’s about telling jokes and having fun and making it about a good time. He mentioned me as the example of being the person that is on his radar in that regard, and then went on to say that he considers himself to be that guy, as well. It was a very nice compliment, and Seth is definitely someone that I look up to. He always puts people in great spirits, and brings a really fun energy to the dancefloor, both when he is playing, as well as partying. He is the champion of not taking one’s self too seriously.
It’s amazing to have someone that has influenced me take note of the same qualities in me as they see in themselves. It means that their own example is making an impact. If there’s any advice that I could pass on it would be the same thing: be part of the scene and do something to motivate, encourage, and inspire people to find themselves deeper in dance music.
They’re writing a movie about your lives as Ataxia. What’s it called and what genre is it?
(Via text message from Eric) A romantic comedy called “A Bearded Dude & A Baby.” Obviously Ted is the baby.
You mentioned in your interview with mybeatfix.com that you will be returning to your live PA roots next year. I’m sure your fans are looking forward to that! Can you give us any more details on what the set-up entails and when we might expect to see it in action?
We’ve been writing a lot of material that is particularly devised for a live PA. It will consist of analog drum machines, a couple of really great analog keyboards, guitar, bass, vocals, and live percussion. We will likely still use the computer as a sequencer and for stems, but we have considered possibly routing things through an MPC and explore that angle for sample launching. We are going to be putting all of our energy after January into finalizing the live show, and hopefully giving it a trial run in early Spring.
You guys are about to wrap up a pretty incredible year! You had a really big release in The No.6 on Culprit, a track on Matt Tolfrey’s Left’d/Leftroom imprint, your first appearance at Burning Man, a highly regarded set at Movement, and countless other notable performances. You’ll be kicking off the New Year playing BPM very soon. What else does 2014 have in store for you (and you for 2014)?
We have an upcoming release on Stranjjur, a lovely label out of New York! It is a collaboration with our friend Spleece that was recorded a while back when we had a party house in Detroit. The tune is a fast, acid-inspired techno single called ‘Loves to Party’ and will have remixes from INXEC and S.K.A.M. That should be a really great piece of wax, and will also be out on digital formats in January. Also, we are finishing a remix for our friends Stone Owl for Thoughtless Records. Past that, we have some EPs that we’ve been working on finishing up. Hopefully we’ll make a follow-up for Culprit, as well as something for Tolfrey’s label.
Finally, we’ve started working on material that is more album-oriented, and less dancefloor, lots of piano-driven cuts, as we’re looking to materialize our first LP, hopefully by the end of next year. Outside of all that, we will be continuing in the spirit of 2013 and gig constantly throughout the Americas and hopefully head abroad this summer!