Q&A: Adam X On Being Known As A Producer Instead Of A DJ, The Importance Of Mixing It Up, And Berlin's Energy
Born Adam Mitchell in Coney Island, Brooklyn, techno and industrial producer Adam X was one of the key architects of the early '90s New York rave scene. With his older brother, Frankie Boneswho famously brought the British rave template to Brooklyn, throwing parties in old warehouses and other out-of-the-way venuesAdam X was part of the Storm Rave crew, and the day-to-day manager of Groove Records in Brooklyn, the first all-techno record store in the U.S. (It was later renamed Sonic Groove after moving to Manhattan.) By the end of the '90s, Adam was an established rave headliner and, thanks to his hard acid and furious techno track making (see 1992's "Lost in Hell") and DJing (the 1999 mix Wax Trax MasterMix Volume 2).
By the early 2000s, though, Adam grew disenchanted with the scenejust as party crackdowns began around the U.S. in earnest. Creatively, he made a lateral drift over to industrial, or EBM (electronic body music), where his rough style fit right in. But he began to get the techno itch again a few years ago, not long after leaving Brooklyn (where he still owns, and rents out, an apartment) for Berlin, like so many other dance-music pros. There, Adam began a sneak return to techno's front lines by issuing a series of acclaimed 12-inches under the pseudonym Traversable Wormhole, telling almost no one for a year. Once the dots were connected, it was only somewhat of a surpriseno-nonsense techno was always Adam X's highest calling.
This weekend, Adam and Frankie play together for the first time in two years at National Underground. Adam spoke with SOTC at a diner in Kensington, Brooklyn, where he enjoyed a strawberry milkshake.
You were never big into drugs, right?
So was the "X" in your name a science-fiction kind of alias?
More like in Malcolm X. "X" is just that unknown letter, a letter that's not really used a lot in the English vocabulary. Of course, if you go to somewhere like Malta in the Mediterranean, every letter's an X, and if you look at Roman numerals it's all X, V and L. I also got it from a Fred Flintstone cartoon, believe it or not: In one episode he winds up on some island. Fred and Barney are trapped and there's this woman, Madame X. It always stuck with me because people used to say "Madam Adam" when I was a kid at school, just kids teasing. But it was never related to drugs, because in the early days of the rave scene we never called Ecstasy "X," we called it "E."
That was the English thing.
Yeah. On the West Coast they were calling it "X," but in New York we always called it "E."
Do you think of yourself more as a DJ or a producer?
If you'd asked me that question 20 years ago I probably would've said a DJ, but now it's a producer. I love DJing, but when I'm dead and buried I want to be known as a musician and producer, more than the DJ aspect. Of course, I want to be known as a DJ as well.
Is it safe to say that DJing pays the bills and producing is more artistically fulfilling?
I think in this day and age you have to make music to get the gigs. You can't really just come out and start spinning: not many people can pull that off. Very few people have done that in the last few years in the techno scene, just making their name from DJing and getting gigs from it. When I first came up you could do that, and that's how I did do it, but I also was making records. But now if I don't have any records out I watch my gigs decline, because you have to constantly be producing and getting your name out there and getting records out.
How long did you use the alias Traversable Wormhole before you said who it was?
Probably about a year.
You "outed" yourself in a Resident Advisor interview in January 2010.
Yes, and the first [Traversable Wormhole 12-inches] came out in March 2009. Let me saythere were five records that came out during that period. I put out a rapid succession of them.
Does that tie into what you just said about DJ gigs? Did you have an easier time once your name came out as the guy behind Traversable?
Yeah. I think in the beginning people didn't really know how to book it. I had the MySpace page set up, and I wasn't really pushing for the gigs. It was really the first person that actually contacted for a gig on there was [xx], and they didn't know that it was me when they booked it I wound up telling him after he confirmed it with my booking agent. It was "By the way, did you know that was me?" [laughs]
Wow. So you kept it from nearly everyone.
Yeah, there were only ever a couple of people who knew. Some people from [Berlin dance-record shop] Hardwax knew...
Was Finn Johannsen [the Hardwax employee who conducted the RA interview] one of them?
No, Finn knew a little later. Actually the first guy who knew about it was Torsten, who works at Hardwaxhe [records as] T++, and he worked with Monolake for a whilebecause he's the buyer there, so he was giving me the support I needed.