20 Questions With Adam Beyer: The Techno Legend on Working With Kevin Saunderson & Loving Billie Eilish
For Beyer, the project is another milestone moment in a three-decade career, during which he’s become a leading tastemaker of the global techno scene, maintaining underground credibility while also playing some of the biggest dance festivals on the planet — including Tomorrowland, Ultra and EDC Las Vegas. Beyer is based in Ibiza, where he’s a mainstay of the island’s club scene during typical seasons, and where he lives with his wife, techno producer Ida Engberg, and the couple’s three daughters.
Here, Beyer shares how Saunderson influenced him, the perks of being married to a fellow techno star and how his daughters have inspired his appreciation for Billie Eilish.
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?
I’m at home in Ibiza. The weather is good here. It’s like being on holiday, except I’m going about my daily business which is training, working and taking the kids to school.
2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
It was a KISS album, because I was a massive fan of them when I was five years old. It was called Double Platinum; it was a double pack. In my head it was a good deal, and it was slightly cheaper than the single one — and I didn’t know that much because I was five — but then it turned out it was the disco and glam rock stuff from the ‘70s. I’d seen all the cool stuff that was on MTV, and the videos from 1981 and ’82 with “Heaven’s on Fire.” So I was hugely disappointed and cried for days, because I had spent all my savings on it. And I f–king hated that album and never listened to it, because it wasn’t what I thought KISS was.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?
[Editor’s note: Beyer’s father passed away when he was 13, and his mother was able to circumvent a law that says a child isn’t able to access their deceased parent’s estate till they turned 18 to get money to buy him his first pair of turntables.]
She’s proud, and I think my father would have been as well. He aspired to be a musician and stopped school and was a drummer for awhile, but I think my grandmother forced him to go back to school. He worked in insurance and also for IBM, one of the early computer companies in the ‘80s, so he became serious and did that. But I think his secret dream was to be a drummer in a band. I think he would have loved it. My mum was working in kindergartens. She’s obviously very proud. They saw the whole thing from when I was young, and it just transformed into what it is today.
4. What was the first song you ever made?
I started to play the recorder in school at around seven or eight, and I used to write little lyrics and melodies on it. But I don’t remember what it was called or what it was about — I just have a vague memory of trying to write my own tunes.
5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?
I’d have to go with Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Most of the tracks still get dropped today, and you can reference a lot of U.K. techno from it. It had a massive influence on me throughout the ‘90s, and I still go back to it now as I really enjoy it. It is a timeless album.
6. What’s the first non-gear thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?
I remember buying a CD player from money I made playing a New Year’s Eve gig when I was 14. I made about 150 quid and was blown away by that, as it was a lot of money back then. It was exactly how much the CD player cost. Apart from that, I bought vinyl with all the money I made.
7. What’s the first electronic music show that really blew your mind?
I remember going to one in Denmark called Love Core, and the line-up was probably the most insane line-up I experienced back then. It was 1993 or 1994 when I was fully eating techno. I remember Jeff Mills was playing, Basic Channel live, DJ ESP from the Midwest — who is Woodie McBride, who made amazing acid at that time — Acid Scout from Disco B, Electric Indigo from Austria and Vapour Space on Plus 8. We were a group of friends, going down and staying up for two days, and doing the whole experience. It was just amazing.
8. I know Kevin Saunderson has been a big influence on you. Were you nervous to work with him on this E-Dancer project?
I wasn’t nervous actually, as Kevin is really easy to get along with. Although he is one of the founders of techno, he’s very polite and a gentleman, so he never made me feel nervous. Whenever I saw him or met him in the past, I always had a really good vibe with him. It was quite an obvious collaboration to do for me. He actually originally asked me to work on a track with him and that’s how the whole project started.
9. You’ve mentioned how influential this “Reese Bassline” that Kevin invented has been on your own work. What is it, how is it used and why has it been important to your music?
Basically, it’s a bass note like a hoover bass sound, which is a drawn out bass note with a little bit of LFO on it. The LFO makes the tone go [makes the sound “wub wub wub”] — and because everyone was sampling back then mostly, they would sample that note, then when they would play it on a higher note the LFO would go faster and then slower when it was played on a lower note. That’s basically what it is.
He then probably did that on a synthesizer and it wasn’t always with an LFO, but that’s normally what’s called a Reese Bassline. It’s the hoover sound that’s also been used in jungle and still in drum’n’bass to this day. Kevin was the artist that fused it into house and techno as far as I know. He was the first one using it in our scene with his Reese project.
I’ve always been quite influenced by Detroit obviously — but also drum’n’bass and the U.K. sound, those sounds always touched something with my musical ears. So early on you could hear it, around ’97 or ’96, in the first Drumcode releases. I actually sampled Kevin Saunderson in the Rippin’ And Dippin’ EP I did back in 2001. I’ve always loved drum’n’bass and those kinds of sound and hoovers. On a loud volume it just sounds amazing. There have been genres created from this sound, like dubstep. The whole breaks scene are using variants of that sounds and I’ve always had a soft spot for it.
10. Obviously your wife is also a major force in techno. What’s the best part about being with a partner who’s in the same line of work as you?
I think it’s just down to the understanding of the industry. If you’re with someone who is sitting at home when you’re away all the time and don’t know the people you’re meeting, who you’re seeing and what the whole process is — it’s a lot more difficult. But with someone who does, they’re like, “Oh, you’re going to see him tonight, or that crew.” it kind of makes things easier on many levels. And also, you can discuss music around the kitchen table.
11. What do techno fans get via your Drumcode label that they can’t get anywhere else?
I won’t speak to what people can get anywhere else, but with Drumcode I’ve always prided us on integrity and consistency. I never compromise on any aspect, whether it be A&R, the line-up or production at our shows, music production and the mastering of our releases.
12. What are the biggest misperceptions about techno?
I don’t think there are any pre-conceptions of techno any more. There used to be. It used to be that people who didn’t understand techno would label it as Scooter and 2 Unlimited. Or more recently, it would be labelled as EDM, so that was a misconception. But today, I think most people know what it is. Techno’s huge in the U.K. these days — but it wasn’t always that way, and actually used to be a dirty word in many circles. Mention techno and many people used to think you were playing 190 BPM gabber!
13. You’ve played many of the biggest dance festivals in the world, from EDC Vegas to Tomorrowland and beyond, and you’re still considered underground. Do you think you’re underground? What does that word “underground” mean to you?
I don’t think I’m considered underground by my own scene. I think the scene is considering me not “overground,” but certainly not underground. I’m probably considered underground in the bigger scheme of electronic dance music, because I don’t play commercial music. The word “underground” means to me — music that is not created for the purpose of selling a lot; for example, people who create music on a very small scale, or with an artistic view or a certain narrative that’s doesn’t reach more than a few people’s ears.
I don’t think the label or I fit into that anymore. We did, but as dance music does, it changes. We didn’t change dramatically; I think Drumcode sounds more or less the same. Of course, it has changed and it sounds a little bit more streamlined; some releases might be considered a bit more commercial than they did in the past. It’s a Swedish expression, but I still think there is a red line going through all the releases that connect them to the whole brand. And the sound that’s always been there, and the original idea of how to structure tracks and drops, are still the same — although maybe it’s 100 times more advanced, it still has the distinct Drumcode sound to it.
14. In the American market, do you think techno still has space to grow in terms of popularity?
I definitely think it has space to grow, as I obviously believe in the music. The way I see it now, and the way the sort of more commercial side of techno is going, it has a lot of ingredients that make it appealing to large-scale audiences. Also, the production levels and the people taking interest and producing techno now, are setting very high standards in terms of commercial appeal, so I think it can grow a lot.
15. Do you aspire for it to become a “mainstream” genre over here in the U.S.?
No, I don’t. I don’t set out to make genres mainstream; I just do what I do. It’s just happened that people have liked it and it’s gotten bigger and bigger. But maybe then the people who have liked it will go on and like something else. However, that doesn’t mean that I will go on and make something else to satisfy them. I will continue running Drumcode the same way, with the same kind of music.
16. Do you have guilty pleasure music and if so, what is it? Would we ever catch Adam Beyer listening to pop, or country or disco?
I get to listen to a lot of pop, because I have three daughters who are absolutely pop-obsessed, so I know more about it than I’ve ever have. I hear it in the car every day. I do like some of it.
My eldest daughter is very into Billie Eilish, which I quite enjoy. I think it’s quality, and I’m happy to see artists like that in today’s music landscape because it feels like there is real integrity and artistry. It’s very captivating — and I also watched a documentary about her and find it very fascinating. I don’t know if that’s a guilty pleasure though as I admit it in the open that I enjoy listening to Billie Eilish.
Apart from that, no not really. I listen to dub and I listen to other things apart from techno. I don’t listen to country or disco so much — certainly, country is not my thing. [Laughs.]
17. Finish this sentence: the most exciting thing happening in dance music right now is ____ ?
18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?
Starting Drumcode. Which ironically wasn’t a business decision at all. I didn’t have any business aspiration when I started it. I saved up $2,500, and I pressed the records myself. I had no aspirations of starting a life-long business. There was no social media or business plan. Only hunger to have my own label and to start releasing my own tracks. I was only 20.
19. Who was your greatest mentor, and what was the best advice they gave you?
I have to say [Swedish producer] Cari Lekebusch, who was my first mentor. It was just the whole way of conducting yourself in the industry, and to always remember who has helped you in the first place, and also [to not] stress success. That’s probably a good one. Be patient and take the long route with integrity, rather than trying to jump a lot of steps to get to success. It’s better to build a strong foundation and then have things to fall back on if things don’t go as planned, rather than skipping a few steps and then reaching the top — but then when you fall, you fall fast and hard.
20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
I think it would be not to forget my younger self. It’s easy to lose your younger self and why you started this whole thing and your motivations and the passion you have when you’re young. There are so many things coming along the way that kind of blurs that.
I think the pandemic was a really valuable point of reset. A lot of memories came back, and I looked through a lot of vinyl and photos and really had time to dig through a lot of bags from Sweden I hadn’t opened for years. I just found a lot of stuff that brings back feelings of the guy that started this whole thing, and why I did it and what it was about. Trying to maintain that feeling throughout your career is the best thing you can do, I think.