Abe Duque talks about his new musical plans, New York’s nightlife in the ‘90s, the oppression of the politically correct narratives, martial arts as a meditating process and other interesting stuff
Abe Duque has been around in techno music and New York’s nightlife scene for more than a quarter of a century. His powerful and always recognizable sound has provided a few generations of nightclubbers with trippy and unforgettable moments on the dance floors, as Abe Duque’s nights in the legendary Limelight club became the cradle to shape New York’s techno scene during the ‘90s.
However, despite all these impressive credentials, Abe Duque can be described as one of the most underrated artists in the techno world. And this low profile is due to his own informed choice which is the logical continuance of underground roots and once chosen path. In the era of superstar DJs, when an artist became a product of marketing which is pushed by the managers whose main goal is to maximize profits, Abe Duque still keeps the spirit of the 90’s in his music production whose main characteristic is an always moving forward experimental sound with a sense of humor and mostly focusing on the music itself than on the artists ego.
Staying away from deserved blazes of glory, nowadays, Abe Duque has swapped the life of a demanded and actively touring all around the world artist to a happy and harmonic family life in his hometown city New York. He became very picky about the gigs that he performs and does them currently only when he is sure that it is the right place and right moment. But according to Abe’s words soon he will be back on track with a bunch of powerful releases and maybe good techno music lovers will be lucky to catch him again somewhere in the world with his fantastic live shows or DJ sets.
We were lucky to have a chance to talk with Abe about his current lifestyle, his passion for analogue equipment, New York’s nightlife in the 90s, the oppression of the politically correct narratives in modern society and other curious things.
Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov
Hi Abe! It seems that you have had a long break from touring and producing music. Will there be any chances to hear some of your new music or to see your gigs soon?
Hi! For the last few years, I’ve been dedicating myself to something else. Basically, my wife got pregnant with twins and I’ve been raising two girls. For me, it is the biggest thing in my life and I decided to drop everything else and dedicate myself to the family 100%. It is very hard to have a family life when you are a DJ because you are traveling all the time, especially the way I was traveling around the world 24/7.
But during the last few years, I started to slowly start up some new projects and I’m about to come back with many new things and in full force (which I think is the best way of coming back). I’ve been working with a few people, one of them is a German guy who lives in Arizona, his name is Marco Diprima and the project that we are doing together is calles DuqueDiprima. It will pretty much be a straight techno project. We are finishing an album now and are planning to release it in January on my label ADR that I am bringing back. First we will release an EP and then the whole album will follow.
Also, I’m doing two releases with my longtime collaborator Blake Baxter that will come out on Kevin Sanderson’s label KMS in January as well. And I’m working with an artist who I had already been developing with for a couple of years, a guitarist and singer called Neon Jesus. I am producing his album and writing some music with him. So there is quite a lot of new music coming out very soon.
So what takes up your time now besides your family and the slow shaping of new music, do you have any other interests?
I’m teaching in a music production academy that is called 343 Labs. I started with this academy around a year ago. I teach mixing, mastering and music production there. It is a lot of fun to pass on the information that I have learned over the years, to talk to people and to show to them how to do it.
I’m also really into martial arts, so I’m practicing tuamotu dotado. This is a tradition that comes from a Japanese school that trains officers; basically, it is a modern samurai sword style practice.
Do you think that some basic skills that you have developed during your martial arts practices like patience, concentration and good mobility, can also be used in your studio production and in the process of creating tracks?
Of course, more than anything else martial arts is a very meditative process. During these kinds of practices, you are put in a position where you are forced to clear your mind. And this is the best condition that you can achieve for yourself; you can get to it if you are meditating in a more traditional way or with the help of any martial art as well. I’m not doing it to have the skills to try and kill anybody with a sword; the reason why I’m doing it is because it is a very focused and meditative practice that clears your mind, which can help you not only in music production but in many things in life. In a way, I can say that this practice saved my life and gave me another dimension and helped me to grow further.
If we go back to your music production that you are still doing (but not so intensively as used to do), we know that you are known as being a fan of an old school approach and using equipment like the Roland 303. Do you still mostly use this analogue equipment?
I am very agnostic about the equipment that I use. I was known as an analogue freak, I used analogue for a long time before there was no digital equipment. And I continue to be an analogue freak and don’t think I will ever stop. However, I notice and use the beautiful things that the digital world brings us. I have always embraced everything that is interesting and can give you new inspiration for making music. I don’t have any preference in particular towards any equipment that I use. However, I really love my analogue equipment. If there was ever a fire in my house, first of all I would try to save it but not my computer.
This passion for analogue, (besides the fact that you are a very open-minded person who uses different kind of equipment) must be in line with your passion for the old school true techno that we can hear in your music, especially in your famous tracks like “What Happened?” and “Let’s take it back” ?
It’s hard not to have this passion because these were my glory days and it’s hard not to feel that. But I’m open to the future too. I am not only about nostalgia but I am also living and I enjoy everything that I can. There is a lot to enjoy in nostalgia, especially where something is forgotten I like to take it back like it is said in my song title. But I like to reach to the future and to apply it to new things too. It’s the only way to stay young.
This New York club scene of the 90s, especially Peter Gatien’s venues like Limelight and Tunnel in which you were heavily involved, must have been a really colorful time. Can you share some special, crazy memories about this period?
It is hard; I tend to forget some particular crazy stories, in my mind they all seem to merge together. I sometimes meet people from that period and barely remember them, they remind me about some crazy stories and often I don’t recall them at all. Sometimes I recall some memories and can say that there was a lot of nihilism, craziness and debauchery at that time. There was even a murder which ended the whole Limelight story as you know when promoter Michael Alig killed drug-dealer Angel Mendoza.
And you knew, of course, the Limelight and Tunnel owner Peter Gatien? There are a lot of different controversial opinions about him… How can you describe him as a person?
Yes, I knew him well. He was a very wise man. I learned a lot of things from him. After all the stories around his clubs, the authorities found a way to deport him back to Canada. But I heard that he found a way to get back to New York with the help of a lawyer not so long ago. He held a party dedicated to his club Tunnel in October. I don’t really know if he is meaning to get back into the club game, the situation in this industry is really different now. But it will be interesting to see what happens.
Do you think that there are still some parties in the world that could be compared to the level of the excitement there was in the great New York clubs of the 90s in which you took an active role like Limelight or Tunnel?
I can’t say for now as I have not been touring for 7 years and I’m afraid not to mention something interesting that is going on at the moment that I just don’t know about. I am not in the game now, going actively around and observing all these things. But when I was touring, I really enjoyed going to Russia, it was one of my favorite locations, the club Krisha Mira in Moscow has a very special place in my heart. It was real fun going to Munich too, a lot of great parties happened there, but I don’t know if it’s the case anymore. The cliché answer is Berlin, but this is really a city that has a developed nightclub culture and tradition. If we go back further to the early 90s there was many interesting things happening in Vienna. And it was always great to perform in Japan, it is really something else. A lot of very interesting small underground parties are happening at the moment in New York.
If you try to answer this question “What Happened?” that you are asking in this track by listing the names of famous but gone clubs and different electronic music styles – what happened and is happening in your opinion to electronic music and the club scene at the moment?
If I’m 100% honest but running the risk of being a bit controversial, I am not really excited by the things that are happening at the moment. The focus has shifted completely from the way it could be. The situation in the scene is very political. People are getting more and more in making points and proving their political stances and are using music as a way to champion it.
This is fine and ok, but it’s not what I am into. This is not what I ever wanted to do with my music. It was never a political thing for me. Because of these political issues, I find that artists are really afraid now to say and do what they really mean and things are becoming very predictable, more than ever. Let’s see what we can do about changing that.
What do you mean when you say that there is too much politics in techno music now?
The industry started to control every narrative with a cancel culture. The things that artists do or say in their private lives become a reason to cancel their gigs. For example, this thing that just happened with Nina Kraviz when she changed her hairstyle and people started to criticize her for cultural appropriation. It gives some people a right to claim that her gigs must be canceled. This cancel culture environment is ridiculous. For me, it’s impossible to imagine that it is really happening right now.
Do you think that this ‘political correctness’ which controls all the narratives becomes in some ways a new form of totalitarian ideology in the modern world?
It is completely. And it is very sad because this whole movement claims to be about tolerance, but it has no tolerance at all for any discussion and for any other point of view.
There is no move for comedy, comedians are afraid to make controversial jokes in this cancel culture environment and that’s a very bad sign. I don’t know how the things are now in the rest of the world but in the USA comedians are afraid now to go to perform in colleges because they can be misunderstood and immediately claim to be canceled.
And I always considered that in music you can stay away from politics. But it’s not the case anymore.
It seems that in the 90s there was much more space for irony and controversial jokes in techno too and in artists nowadays have become too pathetic and serious. Would you agree?
I totally agree with it. But these are the conditions of our modern environment. I don’t blame it on the artists. I blame artists that do not have enough the courage to do something else, but basically, they are not doing it because of the masses which are putting them in such a situation.
For example, some people hate EDM artists who are very commercial, but they exist because the masses want them. And I can’t blame people who are playing this kind of music and collecting a lot of money for it, they are just a result of the environment.
The artists are afraid to do or say something else because they are afraid to lose their livelihood. I know some artists that have something going on in their private life that was unveiled in public and without any trial and exploring the details of what happened it was enough to make them lose all their gigs. Suddenly they had no way of making money. And what do they have to do at this point when they have invested all their lives to become an artist, become a plumber? This is why artists are really afraid to cross the line of what this politically correct environment is all about. And I am very happy that I am not dependent on it anymore. If I would be dependent on this politically correct environment, I would be immediately canceled. At this point I feel that I have the power that most of the artists don’t have, I pulled myself out of the game before it all happened.
Are you totally out of the game or are you expecting to get back into it someday in full force?
I don’t think anybody should have any expectations about anything. If you want to be an artist you must know that it doesn’t come with guaranteed financial success. Of course, you are lucky if you are an artist that is making money. But as soon as you start to make money everything changes. That’s ok if you can pay for your life in that way and have fun and stay true to your values as much as you can. But as soon as too much money gets injected your values at least are going to change for sure. If you want to stay true to the whole situation, you must do it for fun, and I am very lucky to be a part of something like this. I only do things now that I enjoy, like only small parties for under 100 people and having real fun from them.
I don’t have any expectations, no desire to promote myself. I stay away from social media hype. I have an Instagram profile, but I don’t post something on a daily basis and don’t have a goal to have a million followers. I just really enjoy being an artist just for fun and I think for me it is a really good time for that.
Besides living a happy family life, releasing new music and doing gigs mostly for fun, what are your plans for the near future?
I think in the future I will start to travel a lot again, but this time with a different perspective, I will be bringing my kids with me on a kind of an educational tour to show them the world. Before now, I didn’t want to travel with them because I didn’t want to be this guy on the plane with loud kids. But now I think a tour around the world is the right moment for these little and vibrant personalities. I think an understanding of what is the world like is a very important thing that I can give to my children.
Not knowing about the rest of the world is a big problem, especially for American kids. I think fewer Americans have international passports than the population of any other country. They don’t leave the USA and don’t understand what the world is all about. I think traveling is one of the best ways of education and having knowledge about the world. If you will tell me how much you traveled and where you have been I will be able to tell how much you know about everything.
Do you have any plans to stop in Andorra or somewhere nearby in the Pyrenees during your travels?
Andorra was always a curious place for me as it is a really small country with only 70 000 people. I was just thinking about it yesterday when I knew about this interview. I was in Times Square and just thought that the entire population of the country is the population of Times Square at the moment. So it really could be an option.
We would be happy to see and to host you in Andorra. Thank you Abe for this interesting interview and we wish you good luck for all your projects.