By Tom Murphy
Ctrl_Alt_Dlt is the musical alias of Chris Aldrich. Aldrich, who moved to Seattle around the turn of the century from his home in Detroit. He needed a change of scenery, he says, and knew the Emerald City as place where music was happening. Aldrich brought with him his experience with the rich legacy of Detroit techno, and when he become more involved in the welcoming electronic music scene in Seattle, he established his now long-running residency at Electric Tea Garden, SpaceRock Saturdays, where the deep and emotional form of electronic music is often showcased. We recently spoke with Aldrich about his passion for techno, the influence of Kraftwerk on his own tracks and the importance of knowing the history of one's chosen creative endeavors.
Westword: You're from one of the originating cities of techno in general in Detroit. How did you become exposed to that music at an early age?
Chris Aldrich: I went to my first party when I was seventeen, a month before I turned eighteen. I had a lot of friends who were going in high school, and I kept on hearing about these parties going on in Detroit. Eventually, it was Devil's Night in 1999, and me and bunch of my friends got together, and one our friends, who had been a couple of times before, took us down to this place off of Woodward called Better Days, and showed us the ropes. We went to this amazing all night party. I didn't really know what was going on like how the music was coming out of the speakers or the whole process of deejaying. Just the experience and the vibe of the party? My life has never been the same.
Devil's Night is October 30th, right? The night before Halloween?
Yeah and typically people go out and cause trouble and Detroit has a reputation for lighting a bunch of stuff on fire so it was an interesting night.
You went to other parties or clubs after that first experience? What was that like? Where were you able to go see music?
I was so young so the mainstream clubs didn't really hold a lot of appeal for me because it just didn't seem like my kind of scene. So I kind of jumped head first into the illegal spaces, the warehouses and the various other spots that would pop up around Detroit. Once the rave scene died down I got more into going to the clubs in Detroit because that's where it all moved. There were good clubs like The Works.
They'd always been doing stuff, but once the rave scene died down, that place really took off. I used to go there a lot. I remember one summer Kevin Saunderson ran this Friday night that was a weekly. That was a great experience because he brought in so many of his friends, old school DJs who kind of schooled you on an older, more traditional sense of techno. I used to go to Oslo too. That was a really cool space off of Woodward right downtown.
What was it about techno specifically, other than other kinds of electronic music you heard, that drew you in?
I think I just liked the authenticity and realness of techno. It's so stripped down, it's so bullshit free, it just seems to get into the essence of a kind of injection of energy. I tried out, especially when I first started DJ-ing, I tried out a lot of different genres like drum & bass, progressive stuff--just kind of feeling out the world of electronic music period.
Right from the beginning, techno was what was speaking to me just because it didn't have these layers of cheese or obvious, kind of big build-ups. It's not an obvious genre. You've got to want it. You've got to be patient and once you get on to that level of what techno is all about I think it's one of the most amazing branches of dance music period.
When you mention the obvious builds that seems to be the sort of thing many people expect out of electronic music these days and electronic music is much more than just that method of working up a crowd.
Exactly. I mean there's so much emotion in it to. Those genres aren't nearly as deep give you, I don't know, instant gratification and kind of an emotion of excitement or whatever. But techno works a range of emotions. You're feeling stuff through this music that you can't even really describe through words. It seems like a lot of people go to see techno and it takes you to places you wouldn't even think you could go to in a club or something like that.
What was the allure of Seattle to you and what prompted you to move there?
From a young age I kind of knew that Michigan wasn't really the place that I wanted to stay. And I didn't have any idea of where I wanted to do. But you play that game with yourself of, "Where would I move?" Seattle would just pop into my head. When I was really young, like in fifth grade I was listening to like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden and all of these sounds coming out of Seattle and it always held this allure to me. I had no idea what it was about. It's tucked away in this corner of the country and you don't hear too much about it. So once I got older and I met my now ex-girl, she was from Germany and we got together so we were both like, "Yeah, let's get out of our respective hometowns and try something new." We'd never been to Seattle and just rolled into town and fell in love with it. I love Seattle. It's really great.
Where did you roll into it first?
We came off of 90 into downtown, and we moved over to Inner Bay west of Queen Anne, kind of by Ballard. We only lived there for six months until we got our bearings then we moved up to Capitol Hill and I've been living there ever since.
How did you find Seattle to be in terms of music and your ability to be involved in music there?
When I first moved here there was a fair amount of stuff going on. I really didn't what to expect. Detroit is so techno heavy. I think if you spend all your time in Detroit and aren't familiar with these other scenes you get this idea in your head that every place plays decent house and techno. Then I moved into town and got exposed to all these different genres I'd never heard, for better or for worse.
I saw a kind of void for a Detroit style techno party. I wasn't feeling that vibe so heavy out here in terms of just being able to party long and late and hear techno. In terms of getting involved with it, it was great. People were super supportive of it. It all happened really organically. I just wanted to play some records and I met some people, some of my best friends now, and I was starting to play their house parties and got introduced to more people.
Then I started playing raves and clubs. Everybody was really receptive to the sound. I feel like there wasn't so much tradition in the quality of Detroit style techno and so a lot of people, when they were more exposed to the sound totally embraced it. So that's when it evolved to where we were like, "We've got to push this time. We've got to throw parties."
Seattle's a really good canvas to work with. If you have an idea and you're a friendly person you can build this network of people who are down to support you because there's a lot of passionate people out here and they're down to support you if they feel like what you're doing is righteous.
You interned at one of the great American alternative weekly papers, The Stranger, in Seattle. How did that come about and what did you do with The Stranger?
I got hooked up with that crew through Dave Segal who does the electronic music column, Data Breaker. I had mentioned to him that I wanted to intern there. I had just graduated from Seattle U, and I wanted to take what I had done a step further, and do some kind of internship. I loved that paper, and thought it was one of the greatest weeklies in the country. I didn't hear anything back from them, so I contacted Dave about that, and asked if he could grease the wheels. Sure enough, I was interning there, and I did a lot of intern stuff like opening mail, processing the event calendar -- menial stuff like that.
After a while, they started letting me write for the blog and cover whatever I wanted to, like electronic music shows and parties my friends had coming up. I still have a good relationship with all of those people and I can still write for the blog. Dave, every time I see him out, he's the coolest guy, and we have really good discussions. That paper is awesome, and they're really good to us, too, in terms of supporting us and supporting our events.
In what ways would you say that Kraftwerk impacted your own creative work?
Ooh, that's a good question. I love Kraftwerk. I had an opportunity to see Kraftwerk in Detroit years ago but I was broke and I slept on it and that's one of the things I don't want to think about because it just makes me sad. Early Kraftwerk stuff is really influential. I love the simplicity of it. I love the dryness of it. Yet it's so dry that it's funky. I like the fact that they use a lot of major chords. You don't hear that so much nowadays because when you do it can start to sound kind of cheesy. But for some reason those guys were able to string together these really beautiful melodies.
In terms of my own work I would say the simplicity of what they do inspires me most. The staying to the roots mentality--keeping it simple. That's what they're really able to do. Then they released this live album after they did that tour a few years ago and they kind of modernized all their tracks and made them a little bit more contemporary.
That was really inspirational too seeing how they could kind of spice up these old jams. It's a tough question but at the same time I hold Kraftwerk in my heart dearly. I'm going to have to fly somewhere next time they're on tour because I need to see them. I'm going to be so pissed if one of them dies or something and I can't go see them. They're at the top of my list for sure. I wish Movement would book them because I go to that thing every year in Detroit. I think I could die after that, it would be so amazing.
Do you still hustle fliers in Seattle for your gigs and why do you think that's still a helpful thing to do?
Yeah, we do. The thing with SpaceRock Saturdays we've built this kind of punk rock aesthetic to it. A lot of the flyers look just like you're almost promoting a rock band or something. We'll stay true to that mentality and put out a black and white flyer, sometimes color, on paper. We always do one because, I don't know, I go out a lot so you can tell people all day, "I've got this great party coming up," and if you don't have something tangible to give them that they can stick in their pocket and be reminded of it, so what's the point. For one it preserves the whole branding and art and it makes stuff easier to promote. We could probably just do it with Facebook but as a promoter, no stone unturned. We don't hustle them as hard as we used to but we still hustle any time we go out.
A lot of people don't know your party or your project exists so they don't necessarily know to look for it online and many people don't use Facebook.
In that recent interview with The Stranger you said a number of interesting things but to start, why do you think it's important to get as weird and as intense as possible?
What I love about techno is how weird a style of music it is, you know? And intensity is just the other key aspect to me in techno in that it can build tension. You can start from a neutral spot but build up the energy so intensely and that coupled with the weirdest noises you've ever heard and yet it still all works. It's not weird for weird's sake. Weird because it's the most powerful way to take your brain and reach it on this cerebral level so you become entranced by the music and it moves you in a different way than some other genres. I think that's precisely because of its intensity and weirdness that you can be taken there by the music.
Why do you feel it's important to learn the history of a genre you're exploring?
I mean it's like how can you push things further if you don't know where you're coming from. I also feel like you're paying homage, paying respect, to the genre. If you really take something seriously you've got to get educated in the people that have laid the groundwork for you to get where you're at today.
It's like any craft, you've got to learn the basics before you can start pushing the envelope further. It can be so inspiring. For a while there I was just blindly going through techno and just whatever I liked I played. The older I got and the more mature I got as a DJ I started digging deeper into tracks from the 90s.
You see this trend of people thinking that all these unreleased promos I have that is music that you've never heard before so it's going to be a better experience for you. I feel like the most comprehensive DJs are the ones that are celebrating as big a catalog as they can from different eras and decades in time. That's like building an arsenal from that entire history. If you don't know that you're missing on so much great music for one and you're not really celebrating the genre in the way that you could.
In your sets you have music that isn't purely your own that people may not know but even in terms of your own tracks, why do you feel it's essential to take risks with your selections?
I look at it more from a personal level in terms of pushing yourself as a DJ. If you play it safe all the time, that's going to come across and you're not going to really know the boundaries that you have and where you can take a crowd if you're playing it safe. You've got to throw out those tracks like, "Wow, this one is weird. I've tried it out in the bedroom; we'll see how it works on the dance floor."
Then you realize you'll get a response to that and it can push you in different directions. If you start taking risks people will know you as a DJ who is a risk taker and not know what to expect that night. The more you do it the better you get at taking those risks. I think it opens up a lot of freedom for you as a DJ to take people on whatever kind of journey you want.
And it keeps things fresh.
Yeah, for sure. There's just so fun in trying out crazy tracks or shit from a different genre that you don't normally play or play classic R&B tracks and breaking it down in really weird ways and then building it back up. It works best, I think, to get weird if you have a super long set. We had Derek Plaslaiko out here for our five year anniversary party and we let him play the whole night. He was just taking it to the weirdest places like playing Bach, then Boyz II Men and then firing it back up with some crazy techno banger and he was making it work. That's taking risks. He is a risk taker so he knows how to make that work.
Continue on for our interview with Brendon Moeller