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Interview: Motor City Drum Ensemble

Patrick Hinton talks with MCDE about Raw Cuts, thrift shops and coping with anxiety

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Motor City Drum Ensemble – not a bunch of percussionists from Detroit. Rather, it’s the moniker of Danilo Plessow, a singular and masterful house DJ from Germany’s own motor city of Stuttgart who has a penchant for Roland drum machines. Plessow rose to prominence in 2008 with his popular Raw Cuts series, and has since established himself as one of the foremost names in the European house circuit with his euphoric DJ sets and a further string of impressive releases.

The idea behind Raw Cuts was simple: each track was made in under two hours and entirely comprised of samples. Conceived as a bit of fun by Plessow, the fervent reaction must have come as a shock. “Absolutely. Even in my wildest dreams I would have never imagined to be able to reach so many people with those really raw and particular tracks. Also no label wanted to release the first one so I had to start my own one for it. I’m happy I did so in retrospect.”

Elaborating on forthcoming plans for his label, Plessow reveals: “We have two strong twelve inches planned for this year. One from an up and coming talent from Australia, and one from a seasoned producer out of Detroit. And there will be some new material from myself coming out too. Stay tuned!” As well as producing solo material, Plessow has in the past worked with Marcus Worgull on the collaborative project Vermont. “The Vermont thing was a lot of fun. Marcus is a good friend and a really nice guy, so the whole ‘work’ on this project didn’t feel like it at all. It was more like doing yoga: very inspiring and very relaxing for a change. With my own stuff I’m always very critical, so it felt really good just to do something completely different with no expectations. There might be more stuff in the future, but for this year I’m trying to finish some MCDE material.”

MCDE will be appearing at the DGTL Festival in Amsterdam over the Easter weekend. Currently residing in Dutch capital and having held a residency at recently closed club Trouw, Plessow is no stranger to the city. “I already lived in Utrecht for 2 years before I made the move to Amsterdam this summer. Originally I came to Holland because of my ex-girlfriend, but I liked it so much that I decided to stay. Amsterdam is pretty inspiring!”

“Amsterdam is a very nice city and the nightlife is pretty buzzing. At the right parties, people seem really open minded towards all kinds of good music, so a place like Trouw was perfect for testing records. I haven’t played too many festivals in Holland so far, but stuff like Dekmantel and Lente Kabinet have been amazing. So I’m definitely looking forward to DGTL.”

MCDE has quite the crate, gaining popularity for his sets involving fine selections of tracks old and new. As a predominantly vinyl DJ, he’s always on the lookout for new records. “I shop all over. From little known thrift stores here in Amsterdam to more expensive record stores all over the world. I also still do a lot of flea markets, car boot sales etc… I like the thrill of hunting!”

Djing vinyl involves difficult decisions on what records make the cut for limited bag space. I question whether MCDE carefully selects records for individual gigs or rotates in and out of his bag over time: “Both. I usually prepare a rough 20-something record set before shows and then deviate from it depending on the crowd’s reaction. I tend to play certain records for a couple of months and then replace them with others. And then I take, depending on where the gig is, another 40-100 records with me, plus cds. So I can go to all sorts of places musically.” Is there one particular track that won’t be leaving his bag anytime soon? “There’s tons. One thing I’ve been playing a lot lately and haven’t yet got tired of has been ‘Back Door’ by Mystic Pleasure.”

MCDE is clearly incredible at spinning other people’s music, but his own production skills are equally as good. With rumours of an albums worth of material due out in the near future, I question if Plessow ever plans to branch out into performing live sets. “I absolutely love djing… and I’m always very shy to play my own tracks. So right now I don’t really see it coming any time soon, but hey – never say never.”

Finally, talk turns to Plessow’s honest and emotive Between the Beats interview with Resident Advisor in which he revealed the downsides to the life of a career DJ such as the loneliness of travelling and the anxiety he experienced. After taking an extensive touring break, MCDE is thankfully now feeling “much better” having “learned how to cope better with the anxiety” in the past two years. This involves: “Lots of sports, less stress and a new surrounding with two really good friends who have helped me a lot. And of course, all the people who continue to show love every weekend have a major effect too!”

Catch Motor Drum Ensemble at the DGTL Festival in Amsterdam on 4th April.