VOLTAGE Podcast 39 - Holden Federico
- Nine Inch Nails - Letting Go While Holding On
- Sev Dah - Seven Brothers
- BRÄLLE - The Blessing, The Curse (Loop)
- Talismann - DUB ROLA
- Gaetano Parisio - Lumen
- Kaiser - Escaping Sceptiscm
- COS - Revolt (Dustin Zahn New School Mix)
- Border One - Stratus
- Cirkle & Altinbas - Bold
- Tim Baker - M-Gruv
- Creeper - Undulator 23
- A. Paul, DJ Dextro - Agnato
- Kashpitzky - Floater
- Kr!z - Havoc
- Amotik - Chiyas
- Holden Federico - Emergence
- Linus Wang - Untitled
- Audion - Noiser
- Octave One - Terraforming
- Jonas Kopp - Take Me Higher
Joining us for podcast 39 straight from New York is Holden Federico. Involving himself in music in various ways from a young age, the Philadelphia-native’s interest in production has led him to a single release on Setaoc Mass’s SK_Eleven that has made quite the impression.
With a sharp, distinctive style, Federico glues timeless 90s techno influences with effective sound design to make club music that’s often melodically guided. The balance in elements results in deep, driving cuts that have been hits on dancefloor virtually everywhere. A part of this sonic identity can be accredited to a longtime fascination with vintage club music, to the point where he started an instagram page called 90sTechnoRedux where he posts clips of futuristic digs from his favorite decade. The page has amassed quite the following since its inception and among the followers are regular top tier artists in the genre.
With his debut record out on SK and another one coming up very soon on the same imprint, Federico wasted no time with DJ gigs, throwing himself in the international scene alongside top-tier artists for a career that’s only getting started.
First of all, take a moment to introduce yourself. Who are you, where are you from, and how did you get into music?
My name is Holden Federico and I’m from New York. I make techno and have one release out on SK11, another one is in the works for early next year - I think it’s being pressed right now - so I’m really excited to get that one out.
I’m originally from outside Philadelphia and moved to New York like many people do from that area in pursuit of… I just wanted something more in New York, because it’s kind of the city of dreams everyone wants to move to (laughs). I started playing piano at a young age, so I had some background in classical music, but I don’t think I got hooked on music until middle school and high school when I started playing in bands. For me, I got hooked on the writing and production process of everything. I was thinking, you know, playing in a band is cool.. but wait, if you produce yourself you can play the drums and keyboard and the bass etc… so I just got hooked on producing myself a little bit. Also a huge early musical influence for me was Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails project. That was his thing, he sang and played all the instruments and he’s another guy from Pennsylvania. So as a kid who played piano growing up in Pennsylvania I always thought ‘damn that guy figured it out’. In high school, one of my friends showed me the first ‘true’ electronic music, which was more like electro. We wouldn’t even consider it techno today, because as a kid in Philadelphia at that time you wouldn’t really be exposed to ‘proper’ techno. So for me it was my first time discovering that you could make music on a computer and I ended up spending hours on Garageband just sampling things and running sounds through digital guitar amps. The early Garageband, I think there was one synth you could use. It wasn’t what it is today, but I was trying to get whatever I could out of it, so I had a lot of fun doing that. Then I went to college, where I DJ’d to make money and all that. It was a much more functional approach to DJing, it was a way to make cash and have a job outside of class. All along in the background, I kept caring about production. I just didn’t have the proper exposure to “techno” at that time; I was still just finding my footing.
Then I moved to New York and I discovered clubbing in a proper techno setting. For me, it was the Detroit stuff that pulled me in… the Detroit-Berlin crossover. As I was first getting into it, I was thinking: “holy shit what is this?” I think of those early Carl Craig records, Moritz von Oswald, and the Basic Channel stuff were all things that pulled me in. It was emotional music. I think that Basic Channel has a very yearning quality to it. It took me a while to find my voice, and it definitely took me a while to put my influences together in a way that felt true to me. I produced hip-hop, pop, film scores, ambient music, and I still do all of that, but at one point I shut everything down. I didn’t feel like I was making any music I felt excited about. All those early Detroit guys talked about jazz being a such an important influence so I decided to try and learn jazz piano. There’s this amazing Charles Mingus album where - and he was a bass player - he’s just playing the piano, alone. I remember trying to transcribe some of those songs - my ear is not very good, it was slow and tedious stuff learning to transcribe - and it was a total reset. I spent about a year and a half doing that and I remember coming back from that more hungry and more clear in my vision for techno than ever.
So I slowly got back into production and then 2020…the pandemic was a time for a lot of people to clarify their perspectives and for me it clarified my perspective in terms of what matters to me. Music was it. It had to be it. Out of that time came a lot of focus. It was a time of buckling down and writing a ton of music all day, every day.
It’s funny how you explain getting into the music because it seems like it was predominantly through the records and a bit less about going to club nights themselves. Is that the case and how did it shape your vision of club music?
It was definitely the records. You talked about your own experience discovering Dettmann and Klock in your room as a kid, you were definitely on Little White Earbuds back in the days weren’t you? I loved that website. Music blogs were an important part of finding tracks and all of that. I remember consuming every interview that I could of anyone that produced a record I liked, like ‘what sounds were they using? What were their influences?’.. So yeah, for me it was definitely the records. DJing is extremely important to me and performance in general, but for me, my way in was the people producing the records, for sure.
It makes sense that that’s where you come from. Digging old records is something that you are pretty known for, after all. Your instagram page @90stechnoredux, where you post snippets of 90s techno tracks that you find, has gained quite the following in a short period of time. Can you tell us about the story behind this page and what it means to you?
I’m glad you asked about that, I mentioned Little White Earbuds and all that because blogs were so important to me. Growing up in my area of Pennsylvania, there weren’t clubs to go to that played good techno. The internet was such a tool in terms of finding out what these DJs in Europe were playing that I’d only read about. To be honest, I just felt like [90s Techno Redux] was a way to start a dialogue between people who felt really passionate about 90s techno. 90s techno is one of those things that so many people talk about being so influential and important to them, but it can mean a lot of different things. Some 90s techno can be really ravey, some if it is way too minimal, and there’s a ton of records that sound like a blown out kick drum and a very wonky synth. You listen to sets by guys like Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann and they’ll just sprinkle in these perfect 90s techno textures that feel so timeless. So for me the project was also a way to seek out records that clearly represent a 90s techno ‘vision’ or aesthetic, but still work on the dancefloor today. Zooming all the way out I would just like (the instagram page) to be a place where techno heads and people who are just getting to know the genre a little bit can find records that they think are cool and use it as a jumping off point. Like if you liked a Damon Vallero track I posted but never heard of him, then cool - go binge his Discogs and everything he’s ever produced. There’s so much to discover.
One other thing I’d want to say about the page is that history - techno history - is so important to understanding our present moment in the genre. How it relates to where we’ve been and where we’re going. I'm a very strong believer that you need to know where we’ve been in order to make an interesting and compelling statement about the future. So for me, it’s a way to explore and find inspiration for new sounds and textures for tracks I’m making by looking to the past. So I guess for me, selfishly, the Instagram page is kind of like a constantly updated moodboard of things and ideas that I’m taking into my own productions.
Through this page you’ve been able to interact with a lot of great artists including Setaoc Mass for your debut release ‘Deliverance’ that he put out through the SK_X series within the larger SK_Eleven label. A fantastic record, you got a lot of great feedback out of it; how did it come together?
Yeah, I mean I had that one record come out and I’m very pleased with how it’s done and the reception that it has gotten. It’s certainly not something I take for granted, truly, it’s been in the works for years… I’ve made hundreds of tracks that no one’s ever heard and Sam was the first person I really showed my stuff to. One key part of the musical journey that I forgot to mention is that I had the opportunity to take a sit-in studio session with Phil Moffa who worked with a bunch of artists like Anthony Parasole and so on. I remember thinking ‘there’s a guy here in New York mixing techno records, I’ve got to go to see this’ and just by seeing how a professional sound engineer uses a Fabfilter EQ or a Pultec EQ - it really opened some things up for me.
In context, the musicality of a track is super important to me, but of course, so is the sound design and engineering. That’s what’s so amazing to me about techno: it’s literally the intersection of emotion and engineering.
I guess when I met Sam, we kind of agreed to chat, I played him some of my music. We were just messaging on Instagram and got on a Zoom call so I played him some tracks. I was kind of talking to Sam wondering if I should self-release to put out some stuff on my own label like a small vinyl label out of New York. He played one of the tracks I sent him in his HÖR set the next day and a number of people responded well to it. He said that actually we should put out the record and that I should make more tracks like that. It was good, because that period in 2020 was a time of reconsidering a lot of elements in my life, so meeting Sam was a big push in the right direction. From there I buckled down and made a batch of about ten or so demos over the next two months from which we selected the final record.
After contributing this first output of yours to the SK stamp you’re set to release your second for the same label for the beginning of 2023. Can you talk to us a bit about this upcoming record?
I think I wanted to maintain some of the same codes so to speak. Design principles and design codes are very important to me in thinking about establishing a consistent mood or atmosphere between different tracks. If the ‘codes’ are the bones, though, this new record has a completely different musculature and tissue hanging off them. For me it was taking those codes and exploring how far I could push them to sound not at all like the last record. I talked about Basic Channel - dub is a huge part of my music and how I arrange tracks. That is definitely one code. Another one I like to explore is to never to add an element until you’ve made the elements in the mix already do as much as they can for you–melodically, sonically, whatever. Less is more. Little principles like that, almost austere even.
For this record I was also really exploring reverb and space. I was just listening to a bunch of Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works… the space that he conjures on that album is insane. The song ‘Tha’ is just perfect to me in terms of the depth he gets out of it. It’s not overt on this new EP, but it was important for me. I was also going back to a bunch of old Surgeon records that I really like and Steve Rachmad - just because his work is so musical and that’s what I love about it. For me it was about trying to find a balance between the rawness of Surgeon, the musicality of Rachmad, and the haunting space of Aphex Twin. Those are some things I was trying to cue off of in a different way on this record that maybe weren’t present on the first.
Let’s switch things a bit over to the DJ side of things here - what did you prepare for us in the VOLTAGE mix? Can you talk a bit about your selection?
What I wanted to explore in this mix for you guys is the dialogue between my favorite modern dancefloor tracks and the role that 90s tracks specifically play alongside them. It was about investigating that contrast. To be real, when you’re on a large sound system in front of a big crowd, you don’t want to look at your 90s tracks as deficient modern tracks. Like ‘yeah the synth line is cool… only if the kick drum was better..’ you know? So for this mix, it was about investigating them as a totally different tool in the arsenal. More like moodsetters, texture changes, pace transitions… there’s a few 90s tracks in this one, like 4 or 5, and each plays an important role in terms of what it’s doing emotionally.
The scene in your home base of New York is redeveloping quite quickly in the post-pandemic world, it seems. How have things progressed recently and how’s the music been in the US’s biggest city?
Where to start… I think the pandemic was such a shakeup to creativity in New York. I think I would answer that question by saying that I really hope the arts hold up here right now… (pauses) rent prices are off the charts in New York right now. There is some worry here about the arts being squeezed out. It’s becoming such an expensive city to live in, I mean anyone who is an artist in New York holds down a day job, you’ve got to hustle in this city to make it. It’s too damn expensive with so much stuff going on. I work in a number of areas to make things come together and scoring films is another big passion of mine. The film scene in New York right now is in a similar spot. Everything is getting squeezed. To be someone making something in New York, you need the day job to pay your bills, and for many people now, not even that is enough anymore. If you look at fashion - all the good, up and coming fashion retail is getting squeezed out too–downtown New York is all just mega-brands now. I mean, there are a lot of contributing factors to what’s happening in the city right now, but things like Google setting up shop in the West Village certainly aren’t helping. Adding big tech to the mix isn’t great for the culture. There’s just been this diaspora of people who can pay whatever in rent and I think that is definitely a problem for the city long-term.
So, that’s kind of the socio-economic view on it, but with the music scene…I think the city is incredibly resilient. Many people are committed to really good music right now. They’re friends of mine, but the crew throwing the Locked Groove parties have been doing a really great job of having a really good curatorial sense for the music. They’ve been booking some really great names. They’re DIY in the sense where they bring in the really interesting up-and-coming artists while still supporting people in the local scene and delivering a really high production value. I think we’re starting to see more of that in New York right now, which is great. There’s a commitment to high production value with exciting music curation. I’m heartened and optimistic about it. I feel like I’m going to more and more shows and see people who know the artist, love the artist, which is great. For me, as a performer within that scene, I just try and take my role seriously. It’s my responsibility to put on a really good show. And I consider that an honor.
What a lovely way to bring things to a wrap. Last question : what can we be expecting from you in the future and what are you excited for?
Well, I’m getting married in a week so that’s definitely the most exciting part of my life right now. Of course I want the music to be good for the day (laughs).
In terms of my music I’m super excited about my release coming out on SK. Another thing I’m really excited for is that I recently launched the Instagram project I’m doing on Substack. I’m writing more about music and connecting more with people about it. I think we’re all a little skeptical about the role social media plays in our lives and I am excited to have launched this project in a more text-driven format. I would also say I’m super excited about some of the film score projects I’ve been working on. I mean, they’re not part of my techno work, but I’ve been posting ambient tracks to my page and stuff. I love music and I consider myself to be a musician, techno is just one way that I make music, and I’m really excited about the other disciplines I’m working on.
The last thing I’d say is I’m just excited to continue to hone and evolve my sound. That’s always the pursuit. It’s a day to day thing, I truly consider it a blessing to be able to make music. I dreamed of having people listen to my music for years, and now, to be at a point where people are paying attention to it, I feel truly blessed. I take it super seriously… I woke up this morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep because I was reflecting a lot on ways I wanted to evolve, things I want to try in the tracks I’m currently making. What I’m excited for is literally the daily pursuit of a new articulation of my sound through both production and DJing. I mean, it’s an everyday thing. I’m just so glad I get to wake up and make music every day.