This week we caught up with Occultists label-boss James Demon to discuss his latest release, Alessa, his first full EP. The dance floor friendly EP whisks the listener off into a world that is dark but still pleasant and tries to suck you into a techno version of a horror movie soundtrack.
Pairing pulsating kicks and otherworldly percussion with eerie pads and taking samples from different films to set the mood of each particular track, it’s clear that James Demon has a specific vision that he has translated into club music.
Growing up in the rave scene in the late 90s, James was exposed to a diverse range of music from techno to happy hardcore. Shortly after embarking on his musical voyage through the soundscapes of electronic music he began to buy his first techno records. Heavily influenced by female artists from Germany he began to spend every penny he had on vinyl. Once he graduated high school he finally got his first pair of turntables and so his journey continued. Spending the next few years jumping from different styles James eventually fell back into his first love for techno.
So let’s talk about Alessa – what was the inspiration behind this EP?
My inspiration for my music comes from horror films and most of the tracks contain samples from horror films except for Pentagram, which has samples from a famous occultist from the past. The title track “Alessa” is actually inspired from the video game and movie Silent Hill. Anyone familiar with the mythos from that story will know who Alessa is and what that track is named after.
Tell me about how it was made (studio setup, location etc., process)
Currently I’m using Ableton 9 and all software for now. In the future I would love to incorporate more analog gear into my studio but I haven’t won the lotto yet to buy that gear.
If you had to put it into words, how would you best describe the sound the label aims to cultivate?
The label is actually still a baby! We will be one year old in December. However Occultists has a very specific vision. The concept is to curate a sort of high quality witchy goth techno and electronic music. I’ve always personally been a fan of goth music but I find a lot of it can easily lose its rawness and authenticity so I had this vision in my head that is also true to myself and that is how Occultists was born. I felt if I can envision this music in my head it must exist and then I started finding artists I felt that fit the bill. It was a very organic process actually and I’m so happy with all the artists so far.
Do you think the vision for the label will remain the same over time, or will it evolve over time?
Of course as a label we will evolve but the concept will stay the same. I believe that we will evolve in the many types of media and art that we will present. I never really pictured Occultists as just a label. I’d love to eventually do a horror film under the Occultists umbrella, one of my many ambitious ideas to keep things fresh. Film is also big passion of mine and music videos will also be a huge part of the label. I want to create an audio and visual experience for people. Even for the Occultists parties I have a VJ who provides amazing visuals that go perfect with the vibe of the label and the music that we play there.
What’s planned in terms of releases?
We have one last release this year at the end of the year that are remixes of F600’s Subsoil EP that came out in August. In 2018 we will start the year with Book Of Shadows: Various Spells Vol. 2 our various compilation that will feature some new artists on the label and some from artists who have already released with us. Then an EP from my friend Amber Cox that I’m remixing and I’m also in talks to sign a dark wave act that isn’t exactly techno. Occultists is very diverse in its sound.
Even though we are mostly techno focused we are really open to all electronic music. That is actually my only rule is that the music must be electronic and if the music fits the vibe I’m looking for I’ll sign it and have it remixed for the dance floor. Our first artist Dugong is a perfect example of this her music isn’t really techno. We will also have two vinyl releases next year. So there are a lot of exciting things happening for the label in the next year.
And what about you, will you be releasing on any other labels?
Right now I’m only releasing on Occultists but in the future I will branch out.
You’ve obviously got a predilection towards the darker end of the spectrum of electronic music. Tell me how that started, what got you into it?
I’ve always been attracted to dark things. I’ve always lived by the motto of finding the light within the darkness. Our life is a balancing act of polarities if you want true balance you have to embrace to darkness to find the light. It was just natural I guess that I found joy in dark music. When I first got into electronic music I loved Eurodance and Happy Hardcore then I discovered techno when I was 15 at my first rave and I quickly went to the darkside haha.
When did you first start DJing?
I started buying records in 1999 and got my first gigs in 2000 playing desert raves and anywhere I could convince people to book me in Las Vegas where I grew up.
I’ve heard you’re something of a vinyl connoisseur, what was the first record you ever bought?
The first record I ever bought was Ben Sims – Magnetic EP on Primate Recordings a very well known techno label from the late 90s and early 00s. I still have the record and I played it at a gig not too long ago.
Do you have any records in your bag you are particularly proud of?
I love the Secret Initiative series! I always have many different ones from that series in my bag at all times. It’s funny as their concept is very occult because the artist that produces them is unknown.
What have you got planned in terms of playing out over the next few months?
Well currently I’m in my hometown of Las Vegas for a month, so I’m playing some gigs here but other than that I have an open schedule when I get back to Berlin in December. I’m currently looking for a new home for the Occultists party in Berlin as we lost our old venue. I’m planning to re-launch the party next March.
So specifically talking about DJing, are there any artists you particularly respect behind the decks?
I love female DJs! I’ve always been attracted to female energy behind the decks. I have huge love and respect for Anthea, Julie Marghilano, Dana Ruh, Femanyst, Öona Dahl, Electric Indigo, Ellen Allien, Helena Hauff, Jamaica Suk, Dr. Rubenstein and many more! As far as the guys go though I really love Kobosil, Hector Oaks, Frankie Bones, Daniel Bell, Zip, and of course Ricardo Villalobos.
And what about producers?
As far as techno is concerned I am really in love with Evigt Mörker right now! He makes the most beautiful techno I ever heard with lots and lots of melancholy and this beautiful chanting sometimes. It’s really epic and his sound design is on point! I usually have all his records with me when I play out. For non-techno I’m totally obsessed with TR/ST right now! I keep listening to the first album on repeat! It's just some very lovely dark industrial pop and it makes my imagination run wild.
Did production come on the back of DJing for you, or was it always part of the plan?
Funny you ask! I started producing first in 2005 but I got out of it and I almost completely wrote it off. I decided it wasn’t for me and I wasn’t getting the sounds I wanted so I decided I’d just be a DJ. Then after moving to Berlin I became so inspired there it just kind of naturally happened. I thought okay I need to sit down and learn this. Then I really got into it and next thing I knew I had finished tons of music. I had a lot of encouragement from friends who were already established artists. I’m so thankful I had that support from people pushing me in a positive way.
Who were/are your biggest influences?
First and for most my biggest influence is Ellen Allien! I wouldn’t do what I do today if it wasn’t for her. I gave up DJing early on and I started to pursue film studies because I felt bored with techno. Then in 2003, she released an album called Berlinette that re-sparked my passion for techno and then I never turned back. Bpitch Control in the early days was my go to label for out of the box music. I don’t like being in a box and I love all concepts that are different and in the beginning Bpitch Control was releasing something that was fresh. I highly respect Ellen and all the work she has done for techno. She is also one of the brightest energies I’ve seen behind the booth