In the late ’90s, Subclub (then called U.Club) became one of the most vibrant and important nightspots in the heart of Europe, which had just recently emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. The former underground nuclear bunker was built by the Communists to prepare Western Slovakia for Cold War armageddon. Before reaching the concrete gut deep inside Castle Rock, you must go through an impressive fireproof door and tunnels of bare concrete. The chilling atmospherics of the space isn’t the right place for warm house music, the local resident DJs soon found out, and Subclub became the headquarters of furiously throbbing, hard-edged minimal techno. Regis first came to Bratislava on the Danube River fourteen years ago, and Subclub was his first stop. It’s also his most recent.
According to Regis, he has more friends in Bratislava than in Birmingham. Speaking to him, it’s easy to see how he made them all; you can hear the exclamation points at the ends of some of his sentences, and there’s still a faint, charming drawl left over from his previous long night in Subclub.
Electronic Beats: Can you still remember your first visit to Bratislava?
Regis: Well, I could never forget it. On my first visit I stayed in a hotel, which seemed more like a prison cell of the Communist Secret Police. My room actually had no bed in it! Just some strange sort of couch and a view over dark concrete blocks. My memory of the era is actually very vivid. It was acompletely different city from what it is now. Bratislava became very much a Western European capital metropolis. I’m glad that in 1998 I still saw most of the scars of the Communist regime. It was a mournful place. On the other hand, many places reminded me strongly of Birmingham, where I come from. It soon became the second city after New York I had a strong connection to.
How was it to play in a former socialist nuclear bunker?
The location is simply fantastic. It’s every techno cliché! It’s cold, dark, sterile and brutal. There are no soft couches in there, it’s all very hard surfaces. And it all went hand-in-hand with the music. Thankfully it hasn’t changed at all since I first went there, but the city changed so rapidly and lots of people I used to know there don’t go clubbing anymore, as many of them have families. I definitely have more friends in Bratislava then I have in Birmingham. Lately when I play in my hometown, which is so huge and massive, I feel like a complete stranger. In Bratislava I have my social network, though some people are way younger than I am.
Some years ago you suddenly changed from DJing, not to 300 fans in Subclub, but to thousands in stadium raves.
Our brand of techno became mainstream, which is absolutely, wonderfully bizarre. Downwards Records had the rough affection among many fans all over the globe, in Spain, in Berlin, in London….mostly similar types of people. But the scene in Bratislava was completely different than the one in, for example, Madrid. Hopefully we inspire the same level of intensity everywhere.
A regular DJ gig is mostly just a one-day trip. Did you ever stay longer in Bratislava?
Actually, I spent extended periods of time in the city and in the region. I became friends with the people who brought me initially. That is pretty unique in the scene. I also performed in the town of Poprad close to the High Tatras Mountains, and in Humenné in the east of Slovakia. It’s pretty close to the border, so people from the Ukraine drove across to see me. That was fantastic. It was completely alien! I think a lot of the Slovak sensibility is similar to absurd British humor.
You and other British producers also inspired the boom of the Slovak techno production with labels such as Olga+Jozef.
Well,on my first visit I met Dalo, Toky, people with names like some Soviet space rocket. And it was amazing, because they produced music that sounded exactly like their names – chiseled and galvanized, very brutal, fabulous music. It was influenced by our production, but also very unique, formed within the region.
Let’s switch to your current work. How did you get to the remixing of the first Vince Clarke’s and Martin Gore’s VCMG release?
I was asked by Mute Records to do it. Clarke and Gore liked my version of the track, so I was happy and truly honored to be part of that. I know Mute founder Daniel Miller; I’m his fan as well. He had a massive influence on my work and life. Daniel deejayed on our Sandwell District collective nights and it was incredible. You know, Vince Clarke and Martin Gore don’t have to prove anything to anybody working within the techno and dance music scene. Whatever they do, they do for the right reason: because they enjoy it! They aren’t producing a techno album to build a DJ career, obviously. I saw Depeche Mode in Birmingham in 1981, when I was twelve. There was nothing else to do in England in those days. Today, everything is available for the kids, but back then there was nothing. Imagine, Top of the Pops was everything for us!
Did your attitude towards your own techno production change over the years?
In the ’90s I was a lot more certain of what I was doing. The longer I work, the more uncertain I am. But I hold to my initial goal – I really enjoy producing music, I love creating. I’m still massively angry as well, haha. In 1997 I sold most of my recording stuff because I thought I would never make it as a musician. I produced my first tracks on borrowed equipment, I couldn’t even afford my own. I don’t know…if this all stops tomorrow somehow, well, that’s it.
I don’t believe you will stop so soon, but you know you can always come back to Bratislava. Did you have a shot of borovi?ka (strong liquor made from juniper berries) when you played in Subclub?
Not just there, I enjoy it at home too! I also like the Slovak homemade hruškovica, that brandy made of pears. That’s the ultimate techno drink. If they want me, I’ll do a commercial for them!