A Motor City, Berlin, London hybrid, Ryan Crosson is a complex artistic creature. Equal parts energetic, down to earth Detroit native and ultra-refined, musical aesthete, Ryan has one ear to the club and one ear far, far beyond. Known the world over for shape shifting, shoulder shaking tracks on groundbreaking labels including Wagon Repair, M_nus, Spectral Sound, and his own Visionquest, Ryan’s production and sampling practices depart from the worlds of house or techno by referencing musique concrète, Downtown New York funk, and East African jazz. Born and raised on a steady diet of post-apocalyptic landscapes, dark warehouses, and the sounds of Plastikman, Matthew Dear, Magda, and Villalobos, Ryan’s DJ sets expand the horizon of possibility without sacrificing dance music’s core element of sweaty, hedonistic fun. His unique musical vocabulary and tireless dedication ensure him a place in the dynasty of forward-thinking techno transplants. Alongside Lee Curtiss and Shaun Reeves, Ryan is responsible for running Visionquest Records, one of dance music’s most cherished and eclectic imprints. Ryan and his partners in Visionquest have honed a whole new landscape of lush, organic techno and esoteric leftfield electronica. In 2014, Ryan helped oversee the construction of Visionquest’s newest ventures —their digital arm and sub-label Brachtune, as well as Visionquest Special Editions, a vinyl only imprint that leans towards the kind of after-hours, dubby tracks that will remind long-time friends and fans of Ryan’s early morning sets in the notorious “Tesh Club” basement. An enthusiastic and hardworking DJ, Ryan crisscrosses the World both as a solo act and as part of the Visionquest trio. In past years he’s been a regular at such clubs as Fabric, DC10, Cityfox and his personal favorite Club der Visionaere in Berlin. A recent move back to the States finds him settling in Brooklyn, New York with a mind to head back into the studio for multiple long term projects. In addition to EPs on Hallucienda, Visionquest and Roche Madame a second album with long time friend and partner Cesar Merveille is in the works. The new album will see the pair continuing to mesh live classical and jazz musicians with modular and analog based electronics to create a unique twist on contemporary electronic music.
How hard was it now you look back to transition from a young man in Detroit to a globally recognised star who is hugely in demand?
The transition from being in my hometown to living abroad and being able to live from my passion has definitely had it’s up and down moments. What helped the most was being a part of a tight-knit group of friends who really cared about each other and had a common goal in mind. We just kept at it and kept at it. I don’t think too many people in Detroit were crazy about us but we kept going and made the right move at the right time to get to Berlin. Shaun was already there, way ahead of the curve, and more friends were also living in Berlin when we decided to move. We were also fortunate enough to link up with the people from CDV and Watergate, both of which sort of became our homebases when it came to clubs. Having that support group was such a huge factor in being comfortable in a new city and new country, especially when gigs were slow to get going.
You seem like one of the more introvert members of Visionquest – is that fair? How do you like interacting with fans and crowds? Is it forced or do you enjoy it?
I wouldn’t say I’m introverted at all. I like meeting people under most circumstances. But when I’m DJing I’m there to play music, not to perform theatrics to entertain people and make a spectacle. I think DJing on a stage is one of the most awkward feelings I’ve ever had. There’s much less interaction with a stage. I prefer to be on the ground with the people or maybe 4 inches off the ground so you can see on the floor bit. When you’re on the ground or just a bit above, you’re dancing with people. You’re seeing them eye to eye and you’re in the moment with them and they are in the moment with you and the connection exists. That’s fun. That’s what it’s about.
Some people wish they could be a DJ OR a producer, one or the other, would you agree? Do you have a preference for one over the other, does DJing get in the way of making music?
Mmm. I wouldn’t agree. You can do both OR you can be one or the other. In the end it’s up to you. I know this is a common thought throughout the dance music community or at least I’ve heard it a few times. I’m sure most people don’t care about such a label. Most times someone says something like that, they’re trying to put someone down or take away from their performance or something to make themselves feel better for whatever reason. Who cares really? You can’t control how people label you, so you shouldn’t worry about it. Just go do what you do. As for the second part of the question: I love them both equally. The travel can get in the way of making music for sure and so can going over new music and searching for vinyl. Obsessing over kick drum tuning and arrangements can get in the way of finding new tracks or listening at the record store. If you manage your time properly, it’s normally not a problem to do both. It also depends on a person’s moods, habits and health. If you go out and get wrecked on the weekend and stay up til Monday morning. You won’t be making music until Wednesday most likely. If you do, you probably won’t be at your best.
How much has your personal life suffered because of being a DJ? Are you able to put down roots, have relationships etc? Do you even want to?
Yes. Happily married!!!! It used to be harder when the relationship was long distance. Now we work as best as we can with each other’s schedules.
Cesar’s involved [Merveille]
He stuck one in there damn it! But ah, yeah it’s good – I’m happy about it, it’s faster. One track’s at 131bpm, though it doesn’t sound like it, another tracks at 129, and then ones at 124 – so it’s a cool change up. There’s a little bit of chopped up minimal weirdness, then there’s another one that’s a little bit proggy and theres another that’s more like loopy hypnotic techno. I’m pretty happy with it. Happy to get it done and have original music out because been doing a lot of remixes again which I tried to get myself away from but then I got sucked back into it again so it’s good to get some original stuff done.
How come its taken you such a long time to get a bunch of your own stuff together and put it out?
One, I’m hyper critical of the original stuff I tend to put out. Two, I tend to take on too much work and then it will work out with my travel that I’m a bit behind – it’s always been like that – I keep telling myself stop taking on so many remix requests or stop doing favors for friends when you know you don’t really have time but I always end up doing that and continue to put my original music on the backburner. Maybe I should stop doing that. It puts a dampener on stuff but in a way it’s still fun; you are always working with friends, you’re taking tracks you like and trying to rework them a bit – if that’s a hindrance on putting out original music, at least I’m doing for people I like and with tracks I like.
How do you manage your time? Are you strict with yourself and getting yourself in the studio?
I try to be. Only so much strict is possible. I never try to (I did it a little this week) get into the mode of dawdling around with a track and if it’s not happen I try not to tell myself, ‘Oh well you’re not feeling creative today’. I feel like making music is… If you really want to do it it’s going to take… I mean some people really shit out tracks, I don’t. It’s about sitting there and really working out if something’s not a good idea – work out the idea more – or if there’s something sitting in there that you don’t like don’t be afraid to delete or start a new project without that element in there to help keep you going along. Some people like to start with the groove, or fuck with the bassline to start. If you are focusing on one part try focusing on a different part. Or go out for a coffee. Coffee normally works pretty good. OK you’re at home, you’ve been away for the weekend, you are going to be lazy on Sunday hang out or whatever, when Monday kicks around get on top of your emails in the morning and then focus a little bit – don’t dick around on the internet, be on Skype or do the twitter thing. If that really takes you off track, try and curb that. At least make an attempt and an effort to keep pushing forward. Some people say “its not happening today” or “I’m not feeling creative today” but I’m not like that. I like to sit up there and tinker around and see what I can get done.
So besides the EP do you have any other original stuff that’s ready to put out there?
Yeah you know how we started the Brachune label the digital label right? I’ve got one of those set and ready to go we’ve just got to master it. Although you don’t really want to release a vinyl plus a digital around Christmas time or mid December I think with Brachtune. It’s a digital thing so we will plan that for the Monday before Christmas and maybe do a free track or special giveaway with it. That’s set and ready to go. That will kinda cap the year with everything giveaway track too. After that happens, its get your head down and go right back into it. I want to do another EP.
Me and Cesar have already started the second album. That will be the focus for the first couple of months. November to February that will be the heavy focus
How do you guys work together? Do you work remotely or send as much time physically together?
We do both. Last album we would just do long sessions – we would really kinda go balls out and do long sessions. But those sessions were so few and far between that’s why it took so long. While we worked away from each other we’d dink around. When we worked together we switch it all around and get a lot done. With the new album we’re going to do more of the same. Even though we’re getting ideas remotely – this album’s going to be based more around gear and about jamming. Doing a long jam and editing that long jam. We’ve got a couple done already working with that process and it’s working well for us.
We also want to get the live musicians back into this album. So that will take us being together. We’re going to put a proposal together for Red Bull Music here in London and also a proposal for Red Bull Music in New York as well as I’m going over there November and December. I’ve got a chelloist in NY already. Paulus is there already obviously and then I want a couple of vocalists. Start with that – get those recordings. That will give us a lot to work with. A lot to play with especially if we have some backing beats already there. I’d want him there for that. The ideas are like, ‘What do you think of this noise or this sound?’, then we really have a nice 10-hour session and chunk it out that way.
What does next year hold for Visionquest as a crew, collective and label?
I want to set up a couple of key events and bring production back into the fold. Not massive production but work with some promoters that we have an understanding with and really good relationship. We don’t want to set a number on it but talk to to these people and say we want to x y z amount this year. We don’t always have to be the biggest and the baddest and have multiple thousands of people. Maybe just we want to do a special afters, little things that we like to do best.
Maybe we do a whole party where it’s just the emerging artist. We’re there but we’re not even playing. Maybe we’re working the lights. I’d like to do a couple of joint label events at fun spots like Club De Visionaire – maybe with the Apollonia guys or with the Wolf + Lamb guys. Just have the diversity to decide we’ve made it this far. The good thing is we’ve got a good handle on.. we’ve got three or four places in the UK who are always up for it. Maybe Visionquest could take on the after party role attached to a big festival. Germany, France, Belgium… we’ve got a nice foothold on both sides of the pond.