Name: Yanneck Salvo
Nationality: Swiss
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Quarion's remix of John Tejada's "Asanebo", originally released back in 2006, has been re-released as part of Poker Flat's ongoing 20th anniversary remix series.
1) “The Inheritors” by William Golding (Book)
An intense novel set at the beginning of time where a group of Neanderthals confront the more evolved Homo Sapiens. The events are described from one of the Neanderthal’s point of view and this gives a very eerie, dream-like mood to the whole novel. My friend Ripperton recommended me this book and I’m more than happy to recommend it further!
2) “Good Time” by the Safdie Brothers (Movie)
One of my biggest movie “shocks” of the last decade! A dizzily fast NYC thriller about a heist gone wrong that makes “After Hours” seem like a walk in the park. Beyond the incredible camera work, trippy music from Oneohtrix Point Never and stellar performance from Robert Pattinson, the film is also a very strong criticism of the Trump era. Pure gold!

If you enjoyed this interview with Quarion and would like to find out more about him, check out his Facebook account and Soundcloud profile.

Poker Flat Recordings · John Tejada - Asanebo (Quarion Remix)

When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

Technically, I started DJing in 1995. I had already been buying vinyl for a few years but it took me a while to get a proper DJ setup. At that time, it had to be a pair of Technics turntables and they weren’t cheap!

I loved hip-hop since I was 12 years old and I was fascinated by what the DJ was doing. Listening to certain shows on the radio or watching “Yo! MTV Raps” definitely motivated me to become a hip-hop DJ.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

By the end of the nineties, I got hold of an MPC 2000 and the first music that I produced was hip-hop. Of course I was heavily influenced by my heroes of the time (DJ Premier, ATCQ, Jay Dee AKA J Dilla and Pete Rock) but it was clear to me that I didn’t want to be a copycat so I was already trying to spice up my beats with certain elements that felt personal.

Emulating others is an excellent way to learn the “language” of a genre of music and to attain knowledge on how to use studio equipment. It’s your choice afterwards to decide if the world needs to hear these “emulations” or not.

Personally, if I create a piece of music which reminds me too much of another track or of another producer, I prefer to leave the track on my hard drive.

What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?

After all these years, I still believe that my main challenge as a DJ remains to find the perfect balance between playing for the crowd and playing for myself. I’d love to share my favourite music to the people in the club but I also have to take into account that they’re here to have a good time and might not necessarily want to listen to Jazz for 30 minutes ;-)

The most interesting aspect of DJing is that it’s still a stretched-out form of improvisation. You might re-do certain blends that you’ve practiced at home or the week before in another club but no 2 DJ sets will be the same and the crowd will always give you instant feedback.

How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?

The DJs were always there to showcase music to the listeners, whether via the airwaves, the clubs or nowadays, the streaming platforms. Music history reminds us that it is by modifying existing music (for example repeating a breakbeat or editing a Disco record) that certain genres were born. So in these cases, the DJ was also paramount in the evolution of music.

What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

I started with two Technics turntables and a Gemini mixer … I still use the Technics to this day! My set-up has evolved naturally over the years and at the moment, I DJ at home with 2 Technics turntables, a Pioneer CDJ-350 and a Vestax PMC-25 mixer.

The Vestax mixer is still my favourite piece of gear for my DJ setup but I’d love to get a DJR-400 from E&S. It’s my favourite mixer when I play out in the club!

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

I absolutely love technology and try stay up to date with current developments, whether it be in the music, computer, transport or ecology fields. My only criticism, especially in the music field is that there is too much emphasis on the presence of screens when “new technology” is showcased. I’m personally going through so much screen time in my normal day that I can’t stare at another computer screen when I make music!

Beyond that, I believe that machines excel at making things easier for us and they can of course provide a spark of creativity, particularly if we operate these machines in a way that they were not supposed to be used.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

Since the birth of my son and the outbreak of Covid-19, my days have never been so well scheduled and could appear pretty boring from the outside haha! It’s a very particular situation in every aspect and to be perfectly honest between a four-day-a-week job, helping out in the house and just spending time watching my amazing kid grow, I haven’t spent much time in the studio these last months.

What I do realize is that the way I approach making music has changed: I used to separate music from the rest of my day and would usually “reserve” full days or at least a half day to work on tracks. Nowadays, I try to grab an hour here or an evening there to make music so in some ways. It kind of blends more naturally with my life.

Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?

The first thing that I need to know is the time slot of my performance as I would prepare it very differently depending on whether it’s a warm-up, peak-time or closing set. This will already steer my music choices for the night in a certain direction and gives me a good frame to “limit” choices.

I usually first go through some parts of my record selections: do I feel like playing some disco tonight? Would it be OK to drop a full-on vocal garage classic from MAW and India? I haven’t heard this weird Jeff Mills track in a while, can I try to play it out?

I then check my various Rekordbox playlists and make a new one for the gig by doing a bit of cut and paste from other playlists. My personal aim is to have a playlist of under 200 Tracks, otherwise I feel like I get lost … I usually sort my playlists with the “softer” tracks at the top and the “tougher” tracks at the bottom so that I can easily bring more energy or cool it down when needed.

I have a rough idea of how I’d like to build a set but I never make a playlist that is set in stone, with Track 1 going to Track 2, etc …

Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

DJing can be such a rollercoaster of emotions haha. But there is indeed a certain mindset that I usually try to achieve, which I guess is similar to a captain sailing a ship.

I usually need 2 to 3 records to get into that groove and to be honest, I don’t have any tips on how to achieve this relaxed yet focused state of mind!

What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?

I will try out some blends at home but never go too far in planning a whole set before going to the club. I usually find good fits while in the booth and I might re-do them at other gigs 2-3 times. But I don’t keep a list of “good mixes” from which I pick from time to time.   

Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?

Yes, DJing for me is what comes the closest to jazz improvisation.

I’ve played Jazz saxophone for many years and before improvising, you had to acquire the technical knowledge of your instrument, know your way through scales and train certain musical phrases until these can be played naturally at the drop of a dime.

DJing is in my opinion exactly the same but in a much longer timeframe: you’re familiar with the technicalities of the gear inside the DJ booth and you know the tracks that are on your USB-stick or on wax so that you feel secure enough to improvise within the “boundaries” set by your playlist.

How do playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?

This is such a tricky question because how many times have I found a track to sound boring at home but then absolutely mental in the club? A loud sound system and a room full of people having a good time can make such a difference to the perception of a piece of music.

If I prepare for a set, I try as best as I can to select music in a club context and it can be quite difficult to do that from your (usually) quiet and peaceful home.

How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?

This might be indeed one of the most tricky “relationships” to master and I believe that one of most exciting aspects of the craft is to find that balance between playing what you want and playing what the crowd wants.

Again, I’m afraid I don’t have any tips on how to attain that perfect balance but I would say that it’s important to “read” the crowd and stay alert to the signs or the vibe that it sends. What I like to do is make bets with myself: at some point I’ll think something along the lines of “let’s see if I can drop a Dego remix in 3-4 records” and I try to work my selection up until that record all the while having the dancers following me.

Sometimes it works but of course I’m no stranger to clearing the dancefloor haha.

Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?

It’s a very difficult question because I’m actually used to performing within a specific timeframe so the end of the performance is most of the time connected with the end of the slot. But because time never feels linear, I’ve performed sets where I felt that my “story” came to conclusion after 2 hours although I still had an hour left to play.

The other way around can be even more frustrating: you’re deep into crafting an amazing set but you only have 10 minutes left although you could go on for at least an hour more!

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

I’m trying as best as I can to catalyse my memories, my thoughts and my feelings in a musical form. Because I’m not the most “social” person out there, I’d rather express myself through music than through words.

It might sound corny but I do not take the status of being an artist lightly: I’m very aware that it’s a huge privilege for me to be able to create music and maintain a career for so long and I feel that I have a sort of “duty” to continue for other people who would love to make art but are restrained in one form or another.