Sunil Sharpe: ‘Techno really demands loyalty’

The Dublin DJ on making the jump from local hero to the international scene

When Sunil Sharpe starts talking, it's hard to get him to stop. From the ideal design for a DJ booth to techno's resurgence, the Dublin DJ and producer has much to say on many subjects.

Right now, plenty of people want to know more about Sharpe. Long a fixture at techno haunts here, his diary now features regular dates at clubs such as Berghain in Berlin and Fabric in London.

“I’ve never had a masterplan to be a really famous DJ,” he says. “My early ambition – and it’s still my goal – is to have my own style of DJing. I never got obsessed with any particular DJ, but I always connected with their music.”

There was a vibrant techno scene in Dublin when Sharpe, after acquiring turntables as a teenager, started to DJ in 2000.

“My first gigs were for Derek F at D:fuse and Joe McGrath at Switch, which was a very important night back then. I played the JDP nights at the Kitchen with people like Surgeon who I really admired. There were also the Creation raves and U:mack were doing some really important events. Timo and Alan O’Boyle were bringing over people like Neil Landstrumm and Cristian Vogel at that stage.

“But it was ultra-primitive, because there was no one releasing records. There was D1, and they were far more advanced than anyone else because they had the shop, the label, the distribution set-up and later the festival [Deaf]. Eamonn Doyle definitely had his eye on the bigger picture with that kind of sophisticated approach to running a network.”

By his own admission, Sharpe’s early productions were rough. “How I made music was completely ridiculous. In fairness, I was learning and I didn’t have anyone to show me what to do. I was using Propellerhead Rebirth and rendering patterns or acid lines I made with Rebirth and dropping them into Cubase or Sound Forge and processing them over and over again.

“It was very DIY, and the tracks didn’t sound very good – but it pushed me to make original sounds and experiment a lot. I’ve got folders of old CDs with these sounds, and I did go back to that bank and made some of them into full tracks in the mid to late 2000s.”

Hyper analysing

“I realised I had to learn more when my first tracks came out,” he continues. “It’s funny when you hear your tracks on vinyl for the first time. There’s a thrill when you put the needle to the record, but straight afterwards you’re hyper-analysing it. It set me back a little bit because I didn’t want to have the tracks sound so rough and I had to clean them up. I had to start taking things more seriously and stop hampering myself.”

While Sharpe had already played non-Irish dates such as Tresor in Berlin and various Slovakian clubs, it’s only in the last couple of years that he has found himself visiting Dublin Airport more and more. He attributes it to timing: suddenly, his particular sound is in demand.

“About 2011, a friend of mine was running Black Sun Records, and he asked me to put together a record for him. I didn’t expect a lot from that record, but that’s the one which changed things. I noticed that DJs I really respected were playing my stuff, and it was around then that I crossed paths with Blawan and that was great. The record I did for Blawan and Pariah’s Works the Long Nights label alerted a lot of people to what I was doing.

“A lot of the tracks I was releasing then were older tracks, stuff I’d made between 2005 and 2010. I was surprised that people liked them. It was just the timing. The more abrasive and harder and weirder and warped sounds of techno was coming back, and my timing was good. If you hang for long enough, it will all work out.”

Serious relationship

The DJing is just one aspect of Sharpe’s working week. There are also releases for his label Earwiggle and the Tinfoil project with Matt “Defekt” Flanagan, as well as the course on DJ techniques and music production he has been teaching at the Bray Institute of Further Education for the past 10 years.

It remains, above all else, about techno. “When you get into techno, it really demands loyalty,” says Sharpe.

“You can never go back. It might sound a bit strong but techno is like my flesh and blood. It feels like a very close relation or a serious relationship. There are times when you get pissed off with it or bored with it, but something still draws you to it which you can’t really explain.”

Sunil Sharpe on his favourite European club destinations

“Berghain is the best techno club in the world without a doubt, and I’ve played there four or five times. It’s completely spot-on, sound and light and everything.

“Sometimes, though, it’s the crews behind the night who make it rather than the location. There are clubs in Holland especially and France where they’re not just using one space, so it’s about the job the promoter is doing as much as the space.

“I really liked the Sub Club in Glasgow. I was quite impressed with Fabric [in London]. I like Factory 10 in Rotterdam and how it looks. It’s a real cathedral-like room with a high ceiling.”

Sunil Sharpe plays District 8 in Dublin on September 10th

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