April 10, 2019Feature

Eric Davidson had an in-depth conversation with one of Ireland's brightest stars in electronic music about nearly being consumed by the pitfalls of acclaim, with photography by Joshua Gordon.

“I was hanging out with some of the best DJs in the world, drink, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll… And I definitely developed a huge ego which I wasn’t entitled to.”

 

Ok, I’ll admit it right off the mark, it doesn’t get much more cliché than ‘coming of age’ when it comes to interviewing an artist. Especially one like Krystal Klear, aka Dec Lennon, who while celebrating his 30th birthday last year by playing a set with Jackmaster and Skream was also toasting a decade as a career musician. Your early 20’s are a minefield of existential dread, imposter syndrome and bad decisions, but couple those issues with a burgeoning career as an international DJ and producer and you’ve got a neutron (sorry) bomb of emotions.

“I regret a lot of the moments I had in my early career, because I overshadowed them with thoughts about needing to this or that, or needing to get better at this or that… But when Benji B broke me on BBC Radio One and I was sitting in my apartment in Manchester listening to it, I just remember the feeling of unbelievable excitement.”

In his hometown of Dublin he was gaining quite a bit of traction, but when Benji played Dec’s 2010 single ‘Tried For Your Love’ on his radio show for 13 weeks straight suddenly the UK took notice too. He signed to All City Records in 2011 and would go on to release on Running Back, UTTU, Madtech and Eglo. He was even inducted into the 2012 Red Bull Music Academy where he’d further sharpen his tools. It was a lot to take in, even for a “dramatically ambitious” artist like Dec, and things began to unravel ever so slightly.

“I became a professional music producer very young, and it’s tough financially for anyone in this game when things aren’t going right. There was a good two or three year period when I was releasing music because I was pressured to by my manager, to make money, to get gigs, to stay relevant. I wish I had either refined the work I had released, or not allowed it to get contaminated by the people who released it. I released a record called ‘Addiction’ and when it was written I was super proud of it, then the label I released it with just fucked it. They destroyed it. They did a shite video, the artwork and everything else was all horrendous. Especially with disco music, if you make it ironic it’s going to come off cheesy.

“I wish things like that were handled better. If records back then had of been released on DFA, or Running Back, or Permanent Vacation, or any labels like that they would have been much better records, even though the music was the same. Also, my management was poor at the time. I was under pressure and you just want to stay in the mix by doing shows. I remember back then it was a case of, ‘Every four months you should be releasing a record’. If I think about that concept now it’s fucking mental. ‘Neutron Dance’ was a record that spawned out of me being sick and tired of having to comply with some ideology of having to get music out there. Once I got rid of that, it allowed me to create music that was more directly from my soul. Music that describes me best as an artist, as a human being.”

Dec wasn’t happy with the roll-out of ‘Addiction’, but it certainly did keep him “in the mix”. Krystal Klear was booked to play major festivals on the back of that track, and he toured the world playing in top clubs from Berlin to Ibiza, as well as having residencies at Hoya Hoya, Manchester and Fabric, London.

Eventually he landed in his now second home of New York City, where he wrote his most lauded piece of work to-date, ‘Neutron Dance’. Released on Running Back Records, a label belonging to close friend Gerd Janson, the track will likely be considered a dance classic in years to come. When you hear the synth line it feels like you’ve known it forever, and it was described by Resident Advisor as possibly being 2018’s answer to Todd Terje’s ‘Inspector Norse’. He was acutely aware that the catchy track had bags of potential, but more importantly for Dec, it’s a benchmark of the artist he’s strived to become.

“I’ve always been quite confident, at least in my ability, either in the studio or behind a set of turntables. I think what that track did was solidify what I am about as an artist and gave me that confidence. It’s using music to describe what I’m about. I think artists struggle for the longest time to find that platform to say, ‘This is who I am’. That’s one of the biggest internal struggles, and that’s especially prevalent at the minute with the swamp that is the internet. Everyone has an opinion, which they’re entitled to, but everyone is subject to information at an inhuman rate.

“[‘Neutron Dance’] has given people a plat- form where they can now define what I do once and for all. There was the disco thing, then there was the house thing, it’s always been difficult for people to understand the variety of what I’m about.”

“My life experiences over the last two years have been so dense in comparison to anything else I’ve experienced in my life. It’s opened my mind to things and places I was ignorant to for the longest time."

This is also the reason why we’re still wait- ing on a full-length debut album. While his patience is admirable, he must have felt the pressure to create an LP.

“When I started making music, labels, management, all that, were all regarding me as an album artist. I suppose it’s because I’m quite prolific in the studio, I get a lot done. Their perspective was that I would make an album of all sorts of genres. But I’ve always said that I’d never write an album until I knew I was 100 per cent ready. Until there’s a defined idea behind what I want to do, musically. I don’t think I ever reached that point.

“I’ve seen so many artists, and maybe it’s down to poor management, or a little bit of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, but they just release an album because they think, ‘Oh, I’ve done three EPs, now it’s time for an album’. I just don’t believe in that. I believe an album should be an extremely defined and personal exposé of the artist you are.”

The poster for Dec’s 30th birthday knees-up in the recently demolished District 8 read, ‘The 20’s are a memory, the 30’s are a revelry’, but it seems he’s revelling in his own maturity more than anything right now.

“My life experiences over the last two years have been so dense in comparison to anything else I’ve experienced in my life. It’s opened my mind to things and places I was ignorant to for the longest time. Those things definitely play a part in what I’m doing. But anyone who knows me knows I’m a silly bastard and I spend 90 per cent of the time taking the piss out of everything around me. But when it does come down to the things that I have a real passion for I’m quite a deep guy. It can become quite overwhelming, but it’s great to harness that maturity, as opposed to when you’re younger and your emotions get the better of you and you can’t really harness those emotions in the right way.”

Dec has found a way to counterbalance this newfound creative maturity with being a total piss-taker on social media. It’s quite clear that electronic music can be stuffy and serious, especially in an age when big room DJs are treated like rock stars. While Dec’s videos of fizzing Berocca and annoyed friends might seem like a subversion of how a DJ should act on social media, he admits it’s actually a little deeper than that.

“If I was to be brutally honest, it’s a bit more of an insecurity, really. I’m not secure enough to do ‘cool guy’ on Instagram. I tried it for a while, being one of these Gesaffelstein-type characters where you just post a black square and the internet is supposed to drop their underwear. I just don’t have that level of security. I have a personality, whether you like it or dislike it that’s obviously up to you, but you respect the people you meet if they get the most genuine version  of yourself. I’m not lying to you, I’m not going to give you some dramatically altered version. And don’t get me wrong, I like posting a fucking moody picture more than anyone… I’m a single man in a world full of beautiful people! We all live in a dopamine-fuelled world! I’m not here acting the martyr. But at the same time if you pay attention to my social media I don’t give a shit, because once you start doing that, you’re fucked. You’re in the matrix of overthinking the whole thing.”

It’s difficult to rein in an inflated ego when everything is going your way, especially when you walk out in front of hundreds of people every week clapping, screaming and smiling at you. Dec says he hasn’t been immune to overconfidence becoming an issue.

“In my industry you can hit that point where you start to think your shit doesn’t stink. You become ‘Captain Fuckin’ Cool Guy’ and your ego goes through the roof. It happened to me, it has happened to many of my peers, it’s happening to some of my peers who are on the road right now. They were gentlemen a year ago and now all of a sudden they’re arseholes, but people in our industry know, ‘Oh, they’re just going through their dickhead phase and hopefully they come out alive’. I burned a lot of bridges at a point in my career because I was suddenly getting paid a lot of money to be a travelling DJ. I was hanging out with some of the best DJs in the world, drink, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll… And I definitely developed a huge ego which I wasn’t entitled to. You have to hit rock bottom to realise that stuff is prevalent and dangerous. Ego is worse than any drug. It can destroy everything you built in the space of one comment or incident.

“Where I stand now is that I’m a guy who’s a lot more mature and I’ve shook off any ego I had. At the end of the day, I make music and if you like it that’s great. I DJ, if you like it that’s great. I want people to listen to what I do, but I’m not a brain surgeon, I wasn’t picking up bins this morning and I’m not wearing a nurse’s uniform. I’m not doing dramatically noble work that deserves unbelievable credit. I’m in a very privileged position doing something that I love, but there are people doing proper work in this world, sacrificing time with their family to help others and make a difference and I’m not doing that. So that’s what I constantly remind myself when my ego bounces a little out of check.”

Maturity, losing the ego, being humble, all while creating the best music of his life. Admit it, everyone loves a coming of age story.

Krystal Klear plays Wigwam with Alex Olson on April 12, Special Request on April 19 and Job Jobse on April 26 as part of his Labour of Love series. He also plays Red Bull Free Gaff on April 19.

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