DJ Hyperactive

Posted on October 1st, by Oliver Way in 18, Techno. 2 comments


Chicago- recognized globally as the birthplace of House music, but making it’s mark within the Techno scene with the likes of DJ Skull, Robert Armani, Mike Dearborn, and the man behind some of the freshest, most diverse sounding Techno, the native Samoan DJ Hyperactive.
We hooked up during his first visit to the UK to talk about his story.  This is the first interview he has ever given so we took things from the beginning to shed light to all readers on his past, present, and future involvement within the music scene.

Like most people, Hyperactive was bought up listening to the music his parents played.  His father, a Polynesian (which describes a person originally from the islands of Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, and Tahiti) whose heritage played a major role influencing the young Hyperactive.

“Polynesian people are naturally very musically inclined, as dancing plays a significant part in Polynesian culture, especially in the Samoans.  They are very rhythm oriented.  The tribal drumming.  Polynesians have the most syncopated, non 4/4 type rhythms I’ve ever heard.  Very complex percussion.”

Hyperactive’s roots in percussion have been inherited down through the Polynesian culture, and yes, he does play the drums.  I guess you could say born with an ear for music.   This tradition commingled with the music from urban city sounds produced these roots for a unique individual.

As so many of the US DJ/Producers talk about, Hyperactive was another descendant of the Disco roller skating rinks, but at this adolescent age he really didn’t pay much attention to the DJ.  It wasn’t until Hip Hop swept through Chicago (as it did in every other city) and Breakin’ became the underground movement, that he took note.  It was this early Breakin’ era in 1983 that habituated him into buying records, even though he didn’t own a set of turntables: “just a broke ass record player and tape deck that I used to do pause edits on” (the infamous beginner pause edits).

“I think the whole ‘Beat Street’ movie single-handedly hypnotized me into the B-Boy culture.  But I never really got into the whole ‘tagging’ and ‘bombing’ thing.  We used to set up the cardboard in my garage.  I had the boombox with the etched out Playboy bunnies on the speakers, the fat laces, baggy pants.  The whole nine yards.  The whole DJing bug came about through the Breakin’.  I used to do a lot of tricks.  But as that scene fazed out I kind of lost interest in the music.  I feel it began to change.  It wasn’t so Electro edged.”
Around 1982 / ’83 the Chicago House sound started to evolve with legendary mix shows: the Hot Mix 5 with Farley, WBMX, Mickey Oliver, Kenny Jason… to name a few.  These influenced so many of today’s most revered DJ/Producers, including Hyperactive.  The mix shows exploded and had a major effect in the Chicago House movement.  They occupied the Friday and Saturday nights from 10pm onto sometimes as late as 5am.  Then the radio stations starting shuffling the DJ mix shows between each other and finally fazed out the whole thing.  After that WBBM, a commercial station, took up a mix show with a later, non-original House format.  At this time Hyperactive was at College and DJed Hip Hop/Hip House/House at College Fraternity parties.

“My friends and I used to all go out and buy records together and practice.  There was quite a competitive edge.  We used to hunt down hard to find records, test pressings,  etc.  I didn’t really take much notice of where the music was coming from.  I would just go into the store, see what was hanging in the racks on the wall and make the grand assumption it would be slamming.  I’d check out some of the inscription on the label (producer/label) and take a gamble.  You couldn’t even play the record in the store before you bought it.  One of the old stores I used to go into have stood the test of time and is still around today:  ‘Gramophone’ on the north side .  But when House first came out, we just called it ‘Jack’.  It was minimal, just drums and samples, like Farley’s, Mr. Fingers, Hurley’s, and Adonis’s early production.   This sort of sound was very prevalent in the records I used to play.  I was very into the ‘tracky’ Chicago style which was coming out predominantly at that time.  When people talk about minimal they should reference Chicago first.  It’s the birthplace of House.  Anybody who was into the early Chicago sound would have to agree.”

For 5 years Hyperactive used his friends turntables- until 1988 when he bought his first set of Technics.  A huge leap from a battered record player.

“I still have the original pair of Technics that we all used to use back from 1983.”

In 1989 he started to lose interest in the Chicago House scene.  As mentioned before, the mix shows on the radio either disappeared, or became very poor.  Hyperactive began looking for the next sound.
The Acid House scene was just blowing up in England, and this new style called ‘Techno’ was becoming huge throughout Europe.  It was during this year that Hyperactive started to become involved with producing.  He dropped out of College and hooked up with some friends from High School who had an interest in studio equipment.

“I knew next to nothing about the equipment.  I used to just give ideas for samples and kind of point my finger and say, ‘do this’.  I was never content with that and wanted to do my own production.  My friends would let me borrow their equipment, but wouldn’t show me how to use it.  I had to go away and read the manual.  From there I really started getting into writing my own material.”

His first releases, some Hip Hop and Hip House, came out in 1990.  It was released on a friends label called ‘Livin Large’- which was based out of Indiana.  He also started a label with a friend, which they called ‘Z-Teck’.  They only put out one release under the pseudonym ‘Hyperpercussion’ which was to exemplify the manic beats and loops they were using.

“But I was a little confused with which direction I wanted to go.”

For a short time that year he was also helping produce tracks with a group.  The main guy was looking towards the commercial market for the record sales and radio play.  “I was more artistic than that, and wanted to produce material non commercial.  Something with more of a cutting edge sound like the stuff I was hearing from Europe.”   He took up the DJ name ‘Hyperactive’, stemming from his previous duo group Hyperpercussion.

When, in 1991, the first raves started happening in Chicago Hyperactive was having a problem breaking into the scene as a DJ due to his association with a more commercial sound.  “It kind of hindered me.  The promoters had me black-balled because of the music I had been involved with.  They saw me as a commercial DJ/producer, who was really down to the radio.  It may be a slamming tune, but it was getting played on air too much.  I can’t control what they play.  But I haven’t anything to hide, everybody comes from somewhere.  When you are young the music you listen to is on the radio.  It may be ideal for people to say ‘no, I was never commercial’ but that’s rubbish.   So the promoters weren’t booking me.  But as the music began to grow so did the number of people getting involved with putting together parties and events and they started to book me.  I played my first rave party on July 4th, 1991; Independence Day, at a bungee park not far from where I live.  As things evolved that year I eventually became a mainstay in the Chicago rave scene and decided to become involved with this music as a career.”

The first parties were what are now called ‘Outlaw’ parties throughout the US (this is the name given to illegal events similar to the illegal parties that have taken place all over England since 1987).
“The promoters would pretend that their parties weren’t illegal by getting some kind of permit or license,  but they knew damn well they were illegal.  One thing you could never combat was the curfew.  You could get a dance permit and business license, but you would never be able to get a permit to stay open late past the curfew, unless it was a club or special large scale event.  But the raves were being held in warehouses and all manner of crazy locations, so of course you wouldn’t be able to get that permit and inevitably they got shut down.”

By 1992 promoters had taken House into the Clubs.  The European rave, Belgium, UK sound was sweeping through and Hyperactive was a main part of that within the Chicago scene.    It wasn’t long before he was DJing all over the Midwest.  Then in 1993 he started buying his own studio equipment.  “I didn’t really know anything before, I just knew I had an ear for music and I play the drums so I understood percussion.”

The first piece of equipment he bought was the Roland 606, then an SPX-10 Sync Box.  Later DJ Sneak sold him a Roland 909 for $350.00!  “People had become a little complacent with the 909 due to its overuse.  Everybody had used it, so they just started sampling drums instead.  Also, so many people were worrying about what they had rather than what they did with what they had.  Many producers starting out feel they should get the equipment somebody else has got because they like the sound they have.  Then they find they are stuck in a wallow and cannot seem to produce anything because they are stopping the use of their own creativity.  You shouldn’t buy equipment unless you feel you need it and can afford it.  You may find that you buy something because somebody else was using it and discover that it was their ideas and creativity that produced that sound, and you cannot re-create that.”

“Same applies with DJing.  You could go out and buy all the same records you heard another DJ play out, but when you get them find you cannot play a set as well as the other DJ.  It was his style and creativity that made those records work at that time… It’s the ability to portray your thoughts with whatever you have.”

By 1993 Hyperactive was playing all over Chicago, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis so it was inevitable that he would eventually meet up with ‘DJ ESP’ Woody McBride.  They had played at a couple of raves together prior to formally meeting at an event called ‘Pollination’ in Wisconsin.  They exchanged numbers and kept in touch.  At this time Woody was a very influential guidance for the legendary Midwest label Drop Bass Network.

“Woody produced the first 3 releases for Drop Bass and I did the 4th.  I had also recently produced a track for Freddie Fresh’s label Analog.  Then Woody and I produced a track for a DBN compilation, and finally I did a release which came out as DBN 17”.

It was not long after that Woody stopped being so heavily involved with his affiliation to Drop Bass Network and started his own labels: initially Communiqué, Sounds, and Head In The Clouds.   Hyperactive started producing material for Woody and around the same time started his own label: ‘Contact’, but only put out one release that year (’93) due to work on coordinating the direction for the label and ironing out start up problems that arose.

“I always had an ambition to start up my own label.  Contact was actually a P&D (Publishing & Distribution) deal with Underground Construction / Strictly Hype Recordings, whom I had dealt with before when working on production as Sync with Woody.  I wanted a label that could represent me and my style of music.  Tracks that were dancefloor effective and depicted what was going on in Chicago.  That was the main motivation behind Contact.  Non-disposable records.  Tracks that are timeless.  Records you could still play years later and still sound fresh.  I want to produce music that will leave my mark in the music scene.  A long standing contribution.”

The Hyperactive and Midwest Techno sound (inc. the likes of Woody McBride, DJ Apollo, DJ Slip, Greg Stevens, Chris Sattinger, et al) has a very original, unique, distinctive sound: hard drums, but very clear, fresh, crisp production.  A morphing of the tracky minimal Chicago House, with the faster more radical, hard Acid sound of Drop Bass Network and the old European Rave.  “The transition from the harder Drop Bass style evolved when I had a sound I liked and projected longevity as a producer.  I don’t believe my style has changed, just become more consistent.  I’m a diverse listener as well as producer.  I’m always being affected by other forms of music, such as Jazz.  But there are other factors constantly influencing me that may not even be music related.”

Everything plays a role in the evolution of Hyperactive’s music.

By 1994 he was reaching both Coasts of the US and various parts of Canada.  That same year he took his first trip across waters to Austria with Woody, where they played at two parties organized by one of the Memory Foundation guys.

So what sparked this international recognition?
“The releases on Contact did a lot of footwork for me.  They initiated a lot of interest in Europe.  In particular, a promoter in France who got hold of me through Steve Stoll, who had played for him.  This promoter wanted to book me sometime during the spring of 1996.  Ever since then, I’ve played in France once or twice a month.  Things just snowballed.  The same situation occurred in Germany.  I played a few gigs and it blew up from there.  Now Morpheus Productions brought me out for the first time in the UK last month.  I hope the same thing happens there.  It’s not a pride issue, it’s a matter of paying your dues and getting over.  If people don’t know your music you’ve got to come out and represent.”  Now Hyperactive is pretty much a globe trotter DJing in different countries all over the world spreading his Chicago ‘Jackin’ sound as far as Asia (including a recent visit to Japan where he played at the infamous Liquid Room).

“As far as Chicago goes, I still play there, but not as much as I used to.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the promoters have no concept behind their events when it comes to the DJ’s they are booking.  A lot of the promoters are just booking the same DJ’s and are not taking a more intimate interest in the music or the DJ/Producer:  For example, why are these DJ’s are being booked for this party?  DJ ESP once told me ‘you stand to gain, you stand to loose’.  You have to be just as willing to loose money and take it on the chin as you are anxious to make money.  Too many promoters take a gamble with the DJ’s- relying on taking money off the door with the hope they can pay the DJ.  I’m tired of that.  Hearing the same old song and dance when the night hasn’t gone as well as the promoter had hoped.”

I couldn’t agree with Hyperactive more.  If you haven’t got the money upfront to pay for an entire party/event then you shouldn’t be doing it.  “DJ’s and producers put a lot on the line to cultivate their careers.  I think they need to be honored a little more.  We make the music and we present the music.  Basically what needs to happen is that the scene needs to get more professional, more organized”

The same goes the world over.  But lets look forward with hope.  What do we see happening for Hyperactive in the future?  He no longer owns or A&R’s for Contact, if anything is to come out on the label it will be by himself.  He is currently working on two new labels totally owned by himself, under his control- financed, A&R, design, everything.  Creating his own American based entity.  The labels are called ‘Four Track’, which will be straight up dancefloor Techno, and ‘Record Player’, which will focus on the more Techno/House side of things.  “Producing records helps with the legwork regarding recognition, but playing out gets to show the people what you are all about, and what other music you are into.  As we go into 1998 I want to concentrate more on the labels and production.  Once that gets up and running I’ll consider doing more live performances.”  Which we have yet to see in Europe.  “But there is no point playing live when it doesn’t represent anything.  I’d rather play live with a concept behind doing it- such as a label release.”

So now Hyperactive has fulfilled another of his ambitions and played in the UK.  I hope it was all he had hoped.  “Prior to my visit I was very anxious and excited to DJ in England.  I had been hearing a lot of positive things about the UK scene, and had very high expectations.  Playing in England has been one of my most anticipated desires as a DJ, based on its good reputation.  (While here) I played 3 gigs.  The first was at Eurobeat 2000, which was a bit of a smaller crowd than I had anticipated.  But overall, for the amount of people that were there, they were all in tune to what was going on.  Everybody was dancing and I received a good response.  Next was Growth- run by the SubHead guys.  From what I had heard from people in London these parties were supposed to be good.  It was a real underground vibe.  The people were there and again into what I was doing.  My expectations were met and I believe I had a successful night behind the turntables.  Finally was The Orbit in Leeds.  I knew however the previous days had gone, that this would be good.  It was all I had anticipated and more.  It was incredible to see how much the people were up for it, and with so much energy.  At times during my set I didn’t know what to do except shake my head, smile, and think this is amazing.  Playing at The Orbit is what a DJ hopes for.  The crowd created an electric, exciting atmosphere.  It’s a perfect chemistry.  People have high expectations of the DJ and vice versa.  It’s an incredible production up there and I will give it all the support it needs.  I respect it and can’t wait to go back and do it again.  It keeps the fire burning for me, and makes everything I do seem worthwhile.  I’m just fortunate enough to be able to show my skills as a DJ there.”

He certainly rocked every crowd he played in front of that weekend.  His mastery behind the Technics is equally as impressive as his production.  Let’s hope we can see DJ Hyperactive in the UK more often.

DJ Hyperactive currently has two releases out both on two of the UK’s finest Techno labels.  Firstly- Missile, #24: a double pack featuring two new tracks; the classic ‘Venus’ (from Missile #15);  and a remix.  He will also be part of the Missile Tour taking place around the World wide from November.  The other release is on Planet Of Drums, #8, which is an excellent minimal tribal percussion workout.  All worthy of your immediate attention and are selling out fast.  Hyperactive will be featured on the forthcoming Morpheus compilation due for release on Nu Futura this summer.

Special thanks to Tim Taylor and John Carnell.  Finally, the one and only Joseph Gustav, whom without none of this would ever have been possible.