My older sister played a major role in influencing my musical taste. Not only did she show me records that I fell in love with—she also introduced me to Martin Schopf, also known as Dandy Jack, who eventually became my mentor when I started producing music. Martin was actually her husband. She lived in West Berlin from the mid-‘80s to the mid-‘90s, studied cinematography and loved German electronic bands like DAF and Liaisons Dangereuses. Every time they came for a family visit to Chile, they brought a ton of records with them that opened up a whole new musical world for me. When I was in my late teens in the winter of 1993 and 1994, she took me to my first big clubbing experience at E-Werk, where I saw former E-Werk resident and Heideglühen founder, Woody, and Stacey Pullen play for the first time. I was pretty overwhelmed but also unbelievably excited.
Chile had a really vibrant underground scene in the mid-‘90s. Ricardo Villalobos played a lot, and people like Ata or Atom Heart would frequently come from Frankfurt. Luciano and Pierre Bucci were both still living in Chile, and then you had Martin and his sister, Chica Paula, as well as many locals. I moved to New York in 1994, around which time I learned to beatmatch and DJ—and once I had started with that, it didn’t take long until I wanted to produce my own tracks. It was Martin who encouraged me and showed me the ropes. He urged me to buy a machine—an MPC 2000—and to start learning how to build tracks with it.
All my early stuff is done exclusively with my MPC. At that time I couldn’t afford to work with Logic or Pro Tools and soft synths. Working with an MPC is very intuitive. I basically learned how to use it by watching Martin work with it. I mostly remember him playing it live and really using it like someone would use a traditional instrument, not so much like a machine. It was like it was part of his body. It was like those orchestra musicians that have been playing their instruments for their whole life. You really can’t separate them from each other—the instrument was like an extension of himself. I always paid close attention to what he was doing with the MPC. I’d stand really close to him to watch and learn. I went to his studio whenever I could see him. But the thing is that he was living in Berlin while I was in New York. Whenever he went to Chile I was usually on vacation there. Every year he would visit us in New York, and he would take his MPC to perform. He always travelled with some kind of studio, and I would always try to meet him. He usually makes music on the road and brings his MPC, and now computer, with him.
But it was different when I switched to software around 2001. A visit to his studio in Berlin turned into a couple of long sessions, during which he taught me everything I needed to know about Logic. He showed me every instrument, every effect and soft synth, how to arrange sounds—everything. And the amazing thing was that I understood it all pretty much right away because he was so good at teaching. If somebody else had shown me all that, it probably would’ve completely gone over my head. I don’t know what the key to Martin’s way of teaching was; we just clicked, and it all made sense.
That trip to Berlin basically changed my life. Martin gave me software that was unaffordable for me with all the virtual instruments you could get at the time. The fact that you could do everything with just a computer really opened me up to all these new possibilities. Suddenly I was able to record vocals as well as more lines and layers, and I could focus more on sound design, too. It really changed the way I approached producing because my music wasn’t by default based on samples anymore.
One of the key things I took from Martin is his way of arranging tracks, which is pretty crazy in terms of structure. He’s more like a free jazz musician; his arrangements are very loose, spontaneous and unpredictable. It was very inspiring to see the liberties he took and the freedom with which he did everything, even though I’ve since gone back to a more formal way of arranging music after studying composition and music theory over the last couple of years. Basically, I’ve gone back to making simplicity the core of my arrangements. Before that, my tracks were very often all over the place. I didn’t care, and I also didn’t know it better. I didn’t care about functionality, either. Today I do. Martin always said that you have to stay true to yourself, that what you love or hate should show in your music, and that made sense to me. I didn’t have anything to lose at that time, anyway. I wasn’t trying to get gigs or anything. I was just experimenting. I never really thought that I could do an album, especially because I didn’t think anybody would be interested. So I figured: why not go with the flow of the music that comes out?
Martin was really happy for me when I got my first records signed. It happened really quickly. I sent out seven tracks to Kompakt, which then ended up on the desk of Riley Reinhold of Traum Schallplatten, who’s a longtime friend of the Kompakt crew. He heard them and got in contact with me right away. All the Traum releases were made only with my MPC. I didn’t even own a MIDI keyboard back then. I had a horrible Behringer mixer, and that was it. I didn’t know anything about EQing or frequencies at that time. That was the one thing I never really talked to Martin about. He was always more about the creative process of writing a track or a song.
Another thing he said that stuck with me to this day is that you need to stay behind the music instead of being in front of it. He was referring to the beat; it’s better to be a bit late than early. It’s the same in DJing. It totally kills the vibe if the record you mix in is faster than the previous one. But it’s okay if it is a bit slower, even if it’s not perfectly beatmatched. The same goes for singing. I don’t think Martin actually knows a whole lot about music theory, as I think he isn’t classically trained. There was a point in my career when I decided that I wanted to understand music better, and I have to say that it helped me a lot. I used to make mistakes, some of which might be considered cute, but I am happy that I don’t do them anymore. In the end, very often those mistakes were the reason that I wasn’t able to transform a great loop into a track or build on a great synth line. Learning about composition and harmony made me a better musician, but without Martin I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.
Dinky’s ‘Casa’ will be released on Crosstown Rebels in Fall 2016. Read past mentors columns with Peder Mannerfelt and Pär Grindvik, Stacey Pullen on Derrick May and The Martinez Brothers on Dennis Ferrer.
Published July 26, 2016.