INTERVIEW: EXCERPT FROM SIGIL, 2019
Dustin Zahn is an internationally performing DJ and producer who is well suited for playing both hypnotic, marathon sets at Berlin’s most infamous club, and joyous house music at Minneapolis’ beloved daytime party, Communion. I caught up with the Minneapolis expat to dig deeper into his record label and find out how groundbreaking Intellephunk parties like Goodnight, Daylight came to be.
Like many others in the contemporary techno scene, Dustin Zahn has punk rock roots. Steeped in youthful rebellion and feelings of strife, Zahn says that at the time he created his label, Enemy, he often "felt like an enemy, and that word rolled off the tongue easily." Although his attitude has changed over the years, Enemy playfully remains rebellious and intentionally unique. With his most recent releases, Zahn has paid homage to this punk rock attitude primarily through the artwork featured on album covers and promotional materials. He worked with fine artist Eric Timothy Carlson to bring this aesthetic to life for his Juvenoia EP as well as the posters and flyers for Goodnight, Daylight. Carlson’s assemblage-like graphics for this event play with themes like space travel, debauch, destruction, waste, and of course dancing. True to his punk rock ethos, Zahn told me he chose to work with Carlson for the artwork because he breaks the conventional rules of design and doesn’t shy away from making a statement.
Zahn describes the music he releases on Enemy as "different interpretations of ‘late-night techno’." He puts out energetic tracks that keep you going into the night, as well as deeper, more introspective tracks that break up four-on-the-floor monotony. "I love it when headliners play our records, but the music is usually made for the DJs who go on after the headliner,” Zahn told me. In keeping with his rebellious streak, Enemy is Zahn’s outlet for supporting the people in the industry who he values. Whether they are blossoming artists or accomplished producers, Zahn calls the shots with Enemy. "[When] I’m not pouring those resources into myself I want to focus on people who are important to me [...] They also need to be as passionate, dedicated, and as excited as I am. Otherwise what’s the point?"
Events like Goodnight, Daylight exist partly because of Zahn’s longstanding friendship with Steve Seuling, head of the Minneapolis production company Intellephunk. Zahn has been Seuling’s right-hand man for the past fifteen years and the pair founded Communion together. Although Zahn lives in Berlin now, Seuling still consults with him when making decisions about Communion. He says that when Zahn moved to Minneapolis and began collaborating with him, both of their perspectives on techno seemed to evolve. Their perspective on events and music became oriented toward showcasing a fresh sound that was more colorful and fringe than the increasingly homogenous and simple-minded sounds dominating the industry at the time. Seuling describes this sonic aesthetic as an amalgamation of what they both appreciated in techno, house, and minimal. While Zahn’s earlier label, Abiotic Recordings, represented a harder-hitting, more straightforward take on techno, Enemy has come to represent a deeper, and more psychedelic vibe.
Goodnight, Daylight’s roster features many international artists affiliated with Enemy, which is currently based in Berlin. Given his global perspective on techno, I asked him what imprint he thinks Minneapolis has left on the worldwide techno scene. "There is definitely a legacy," he says. Each aspect of this legacy has contributed something unique to the genre. Woody McBride, a.k.a. DJ ESP, catapulted Minneapolis into notoriety in the 1990s. Minneapolis also has affiliations with the notorious, Wisconsin-based record label Drop Bass Network. Zahn also cites DJ Slip and Missile Records as icons from the area. "Silent Servant resurrected Sandwell District during his time [in Minneapolis]. Now it’s DVS1’s time to shine, and someone new will pick up the baton after him," he notes. "Minneapolis has always been influential to techno, but unfortunately only diehard techno nerds will be able to make the connection.”
Dustin Zahn also hosted Trainwrecks, an interview-style podcast where he spoke with other techno DJs and producers who are currently in the limelight. From listening to these conversations, it is clear that Zahn and many others in the scene are underwhelmed by the current state of techno. He told me, though, that he believes better things are on the horizon for the genre. "There will be a new wave of mind-blowing [music]. It’s already happening elsewhere, just not in techno at the moment." While Zahn says there are many good records coming out, he doesn’t think any are great. But he remains optimistic. “Techno’s most exciting days are still ahead,” Zahn predicts.