In this day and age of technology playing the role of popular music’s “Almighty Savior” in almost every step of the creative process from the recording studio to the living room, none are more susceptible to it’s time-saving, beat-matching ease of use than the DJ. Now imagine a DJ whose taste in music is more futuristic than Roy Batty’s dreams, and you almost certainly expect him to be punishing the keys of Steve Jobs’ latest creation, or at the very least DJing with “Hal” from 2001: A Space Odyssey in order to manufacture the groundbreaking sounds emanating from the speakers. But that’s the beauty of Luciano Duran aka “DJ Automatic Romantic”. That’s what sets him apart, and makes him special. It’s one man and his turntables, no robots and all vinyl. If the BPM’s don’t match, he knows the record and it’s tracks from memory, and he’ll switch it. If he wants to hear a certain tune, he won’t scroll down to it, he’ll pack it in his carrying case, and bring the record to the gig. If the stylus is dull, he’ll drop a quarter on it to give it a little more weight. He’s old school, but always pushing the envelope. He’s what has been, what’s now and what’s next…simultaneously.
A graphic designer by trade, the well-traveled and always mysterious Duran was born in Kansas, raised in Mexico, and spent time living in Japan before landing at the California College of Arts in San Francisco in 1995, but if you ask him where he’s from, he won’t hesitate to tell you, “Planet Dyatron” (we’ll come back to that one in a bit). In 1983, he got his start spinning records for teenagers at his uncle’s club in Mexico, and has now been on the scene in California for over a decade blowing people’s minds with his massive, rare collection of electronic vinyl, and his equally extensive and arguably outrageous, eclectic cache of vintage eyewear. He spins with Miami bass champions Soundchasers, has played with Tokyo’s AE35 and Dutch electro’s Legowelt & TLR, and this summer, he will be opening for minimal wave heroes Xeno & Oaklander in Los Angeles before heading back to perform in Japan later this year.
Speaking to EG15M from San Francisco, “The Man From Dyatron” shares a little bit more about his home planet, his interest in parapsychology, his favorite records and why he prefers to leave the laptop behind when he spins.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Future.
How would you describe your style?
My style is dynamic, honest, authentic, and straight up futuristic. I collect, DJ and listen to music that matters to me, not what is hip. But it’s not an issue of going against the trends for the sake of it. What’s good is good, no matter what trends are, but stylistically I have always been about the sci-fi aesthetic.
You spin a lot of rare Italo disco and obscure ambient records. What is it about this music that appeals to you?
Italo disco was huge in Mexico in the 80’s, so I started collecting Italo disco, minimal wave and electro. The overarching genre could be called “electro”, but when I spin you might witness me go into many different styles…house, hip house, goth, acid, hyphy or whatever…I love all of them.
You are known for wearing random eyewear (sunglasses) when you spin. Where did that start? What determines which shades you go with for a given gig?
Since my teens I’ve been collecting robotic sunglasses. I have so many that I wear them like t-shirts! They do express the music I spin because they are from those eras. Wearing funky shades comes from the 80’s Paninari style, like Chris Lowe of the PSB, and of course also from the B-Boy culture. These days, hyphy cats who wear stunner shades and new pop icons have gone full circle picking up on this street wear tradition, but some of us have always kept it going.
If you weren’t DJing, what else would you be doing?
I draw and paint a lot. I love to make illustrations, and I work on them off and on. I also like doing graphic design work, I have some synths that I play with (someday I’ll put out a record!), and of course I get my exercise from poppin’ practice at home. I’m sure my neighbor thinks it’s freaky to see a shadow moving mechanically through the window all the time!
Unlike many DJs today, you DON’T use Serato. Why?
The computer is amazing, yet I personally don’t want it to do everything for me, not the fun stuff. I like to paint with my hands, and I like vinyl DJing with my hands, because its fun. I’m from the old school, and I want to represent that ‘til the end. Vinyl DJing is a set system. You don’t need to upgrade. It makes sense to me already. All of my collection is vinyl. We’re talking decades I’ve spent building it. But for cats that like Serato that’s fine cause that works for them, and they can do amazing things with it. I think DJing has expanded into a wider area, and more technologies will emerge beyond Serato, so yeah, I just chose not to be leap froggin’ for new technologies.
So, do you think it has helped or hindered the DJ profession?
Serato is amazing. The whole digital revolution has had tremendous effects, and I think its not all positive or negative. I think it has created a new type of DJ, but I don’t think it replaces the living vinyl DJs. It’s just added a new type, which is a good thing. There is the whole experience of finding records, diggin’ for records in weird places, seeing and touching records, and mixing with your hands that is different than having the whole process happen virtually on a screen, yet I know Serato is terribly convenient for those that support it. I think vinyl, CD, Serato, etc., can all lead to artistry in DJing. The DJ has to make the choice of which tools to utilize. For me vinyl DJing has always been interesting because it’s an odd man/machine interface. I like being the ‘man’ part of the equation. I don’t want the machine to do my role.
You’ve spent some time in Japan. How is the DJ scene in SF different from Japan? Mexico?
Very interesting. Each country and region has subcultures that are parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Being outside of the US is fascinating because the people don’t understand the lyrics often, so they vibe off the music more abstractly I think. The music industry is quite different in Mexico, Japan and the US. I think too much pop can kill the DJ anywhere. If you play only pop, then you’re a jukebox…no need for a DJ. In a way, America produces the most powerful pop icons, yet it has also brought the world the strongest subcultures challenging that same pop iconism. In that sense, I am proud of American DJs and artists that have not sold out completely to the machine of the music industry, but bear in mind I understand that pop has its place as well. It’s about balance.
You mentioned before about your extensive record collection. What genre comprises most of that collection?
My collection is made up of styles as they emerged. I love to see how new styles mutate. Electronic music itself is a form of mutation. My collection is all vinyl with every tune on the same format to connect like legos. Italo disco, minimal wave and electro are the bulk of my collection, but I also have hip hop, cosmic, LA electro, Miami bass, Detroit technobass, NYC electro, Den Haag electro, Chi-Town house, acid, braindance, industrial, abstract, hyphy, crunk, hip house…you name it, and its true I have all the rare sought-after records (heh-heh)!
What are your top three favorite records?
Off the top of my head, Kraftwerk’s “Computer World”, bear in mind I got it in 1981. That record is mind-blowing now. Picture hearing it in 1981!
Let’s throw in a minimal wave, “H.S.T.A”. by Das Ding, and something hip-hop, hmm OK…Divine Styler “Directrix”!
What has been your favorite professional moment so far in your DJ career?
DJing with the Egyptian Lover and Jamie Jupitor in Tokyo, with Japanese B-Boy crews, that was awesome!
What do you listen to when you’re not spinning records?
Ha! That’s funny ‘cause I listen only to my records…kinda like homework. But I actually like to listen to 70’s rock music if I’m not near a turntable.
What do you say to people who say that DJs aren’t “real musicians?”
DJing is kinda like being a critic, a commentator and a collage artist all in one, but yeah, the person has to be present. That’s what is getting squeezed out more and more by technology. If the DJ is just a jukebox or an iPod, then yeah, I agree with them.
Some people call you “The Future.” How do you feel about that nickname?
I am flattered! I’m called “Automatic Romantic”, and “The Man From Dyatron” as well, but “The Future” is perfect! The music I spin makes me dream about the future. I share this fascination and induce dreams of future worlds in others ‘cause that’s what the records want.
So, what or where is Dyatron?
Dyatron is a whole environment. When I DJ with different people in different places, that kind of event is called “Dyatron”. We do paintings, illustrations and we also create some music…its not just DJing. Dyatron means “DYnamic Activities through elecTRONics.”
Who or what are some of your influences?
Science fiction in general, but the I love the OG hip hop culture, OG Italo disco, OG minimal wave, etc…because they took what they found interesting and incorporated into their life, their fashion, music, even their dance! That’s dope!
You have a deep interest in the inexplicable (i.e. outer space, aliens, mathematical unseen symmetry in space and time) How does it affect your style as an artist and DJ?
It’s all connected. The art I make, the graphic design, the music I’m making, and the DJing I do are linked to some fundamental form of shamanism in some way that I don’t understand. The things I entertain in my imagination are shared through art and sound. I am a type of unadorned parapsychologist. The paranormal is so fun because its always finding ways to tickle the imagination, and something we all need is to keep things fun! The normal is just a small part of the paranormal…not the other way around.
While his home planet of Dyatron awaits his return, Earthlings can catch a glimpse of The Future at Avenue Lounge in San Francisco.