For as long as mainstream music has existed, there also lies the underground. Their relationship is one that is akin to the philosophies of balance: one can’t exist without the other, much like yin and yang. But even more intriguing is their relationship - how they feed off of each other and continue to grow together despite their superficial disparities.
Electronic music is no exception to the rule; as we see the continued growth of mainstream EDM, we also see a healthy underground as a response to it, giving rise to what could one day be the hottest and hippest sound that might break into the mainstream, creating an unbroken, everlasting cycle.
Edgar Montiel, also known as DECODING JESUS, is a veteran of the underground LA electronic and DJ scene for more than 20 years, having worked with the likes of RABBIT IN THE MOON, Superstar DJ KEOKI, and much more. Since we last spoke with him, he has been working with LA-based act The DUKE AND THE KAISER, whose sounds lately have been causing some stir in the electronic underground scene - much so that they garnered the attention of world-renowned label Cleopatra Records, who has signed a record deal with them.
We spoke to Decoding Jesus recently about what has been going in his career since our last interview and what does the future hold for The Duke & the Kaiser, the electronic music scene, and much more.
TDL: I know it’s been a while since we last talked to each other, almost a year. What’s been new with you since the last interview?
DJ: As Decoding Jesus, I’ve been doing remixes for other artists outside and within my labels, Let’s Beat Milo Records and Keoki Records. Lately, I’ve been focused on helping the Duke and the Kaiser, producing their album for the past 2 years, which eventually led to a record deal with Cleopatra to put out their second album called Blueprint.
TDL: Cleopatra is a the major independent label that includes a catalog of various artists and genres of music, most notably in industrial and techno. What are your thoughts on the Duke and the Kaiser to be on such a storied label?
DJ: The Duke and the Kaiser are very excited to be are part of the Cleopatra family. Going into its history, the label started around 1992 and was considered to be an underground techno and electronica label at that time, signing FSOL, MINISTRY, and other artists. I wanted to be a part of it so I submitted a demo. They already knew who I was from previous projects, so they gave me an opportunity to do a remix of MISSING PERSONS. To me, they are considered one of the most recognized independent record labels in the world, with an enormous music catalog and artist list under their banner. I respect Cleopatra, and they’ve been doing this for a long time, staying on top of their game by cornering their market through vinyl sales, which has made a major comeback.
TDL: It’s amazing that the kids nowadays are buying vinyl. A good number of them are younger than my mp3s from the late 90s.
DJ: I recently visited the Cleopatra warehouse and i thought there would be a few boxes of 12-inch singles. Instead it’s what I call “wax heaven”, with just an enormous quantity of vinyl records, including 7-inch singles. It’s just weird to see wax being sold again. Maybe in the next 10 years something new will show up and take over. I know as CDs became obsolete, people have been using USB thumb drives to store their music.
TDL: As technology gets more sophisticated, the size gets smaller and everything becomes more portable. But then you have this return to vinyl, and people like the feel and sound of it.
DJ: You can say it’s warmer. But when it comes to getting something that’s imperfect, it feels more organic, versus a perfect digital recording on CD. I’d rather play a 12-inch single versus a CD. Getting that vinyl in your hand feels like you have a piece of art that people have put time into it. And given the new generation appreciating vinyl, I can see it being everywhere within the next 2-3 years.
TDL: So going to the Duke and the Kaiser, I noticed that they have a mysterious Daft Punk-like vibe to them with their helmets. So how did they come about?
DJ: It started out in London a couple of years ago. They were DJs doing production and gave demos to Superstar DJ Keoki. He ended up getting booked at a festival in UK and in Germany, and they hooked him up with a new track that Keoki played. He then gave me the demo and I signed the Duke and the Kaiser to our label, convincing them to move to LA where they are now based. They have done a ton of work, recording and mastering for other clients. We eventually landed them a deal with Cleopatra, and I’m blessed to be involved with their production.
TDL: How would you describe their sound?
DJ: It’s more of an industrial and techno sound, which is a far cry from today’s mainstream EDM. Their music is more inspired by the European-Germanic sounds of the early industrial movement during the 80s and 90s, like NITZER EBB, FRONT 242, and other acts in that era. Yet, the Duke and the Kaiser have also integrated more modern sounds, especially akin to the likes of DUBFIRE.
TDL: The tracks do remind me of that 90s techno, which was way before the term EDM was invented.
DJ: Some people have said that it has that 90s industrial techno sound but I really think they are trying to do something more for electronic underground music, such as bringing back the festivals to what they were back then. I remember going to them and seeing live electronic bands like The PRODIGY and THE CRYSTAL METHOD, who have used live drum machines and synths. That is most definitely a stark difference between today’s shows, where you have multiple DJs playing the same track over and over.
TDL: You’ve been a veteran in the electronic music industry for over twenty years and have witnessed it move from being an underground movement to a pop culture phenomenon. What do you see for the future in the scene?
DJ: I want to see a return to the live aspect of electronic music, which is 3 or 4 people on stage jamming, integrating old and new technologies, having something there that’s tangible and you can see and feel it. I remember seeing the Crystal Method play at the LA Palladium, and I swear you can feel the vibration of the bass when they hit the pad. You can’t replicate that from the CDJ. I guess I’m excited to see these newer artists take electronic music into a live conduit.
TDL: What do you hope to see come out of the Duke & the Kaiser’s new release?
DJ: I see them taking the lead in bringing back that live aspect in the electronica festivals. I do feel that change coming, and my colleagues and I may not be the only ones feeling that way; the next generation of EDM fans is going to experience that new wave like a breath of fresh air. I’m even seeing it in LA, with techno starting to gain a foothold in the scene and coming in strong.
TDL: It does feel like the scene could use something new to change the it up.
DJ: I’ve talked to people in my network and they feel the scene has become stagnant; originally the scene was about using electronics to hone in on your craft, something that was novel at the time. All the major festivals years ago hosted these live acts - talent that was so raw, you felt it. Nowadays, it’s all about selling water and glowsticks to these kids at a premium.
TDL: So going back to the album, how long was the process and what were some of the challenges?
DJ: At first, it was about getting the duo into the studio at least twice a week. The album, “Blueprint”, took about a year and then when we heard it, we didn’t like how it sounded. So, we took another year to perfect it. And we’re happy with the 12 tracks to it, as it showed an eclectic and very electronic side to them. We already released one of the tracks, “The August Treatment” on the Let’s Beat Milo imprint as a single, and it charted in Germany. Overall though, it took 2 years to complete the album but it will take another 5 months before it could be released on Cleopatra Records. But we’re excited because we will be putting out vinyl and CD copies. The label has been very supportive of the Duke and the Kaiser, trying to push the act as hard as they did for BLACKBURNER.
TDL:When is the release date of the album?
DJ: The lead singles, “The August Treatment” and “Chariots of the Gods”, came out about a month ago. As for “The Blueprint” album, Cleopatra will be releasing it sometime soon by summer’s end.
TDL: Are there any collaborations in the works?
DJ: In the future, we’re hoping to be working on a few projects with KRAFTWERK, who are also under the Cleopatra label, as well as more collaborations with Superstar DJ Keoki.
And on a final note, do you have shows coming up for the Duke & the Kaiser?
I had two bookings for them; we got Purple 33, which is the only LA underground club that is not promoted on a flier nor an event page. You go there if you know who to talk to, which is essentially akin to the traditional way of promoting an underground show. Those that go are people that are in the know. And then we are promoting another show in LA.