By Movement Correspondent Ashley Zlatopolsky (@ashley_detroit)
Detroit natives Mike Servito and Derek Plaslaiko grew alongside the Motor City’s storied ‘90s rave culture. Both fully immersed in the burgeoning sounds of Detroit Techno, they followed their passion for the homegrown style and turned the art of music into a full-time endeavor. Servito, now a resident of New York City, and Plaslaiko, a current Berliner, are known for their mastery of vinyl and highly eclectic sets, which span decades of disco, funk, house and of course, Techno.
Ahead of their performances at Movement’s Interdimensional Transmissions showcase, the Bunker label residents picked each other’s brains to get to the heart of what DJing is all about. Below, Servito and Plaslaiko take turns asking each other questions about production, inspiration and their favorite memories of one another.
Mike Servito: “Your new release on The Bunker New York has one of the best titles ever.
It’s obvious where that inspiration comes from. I’m curious what inspired you at the time you made the tracks for Exile On Sesame-Straße EP.”
Derek Plaslaiko: “Heh, glad you feel that way about the title! The four tracks were created at a few different periods over 2015, so there are a few different inspiration points. ‘Unhinged’ and ‘In The Clouds’ were made in the week or so leading up to The Bunker party at Berghain in February 2015, so I suppose that was the primary source of inspiration.
Next to come was ‘Cat Call.’ That was early June last year. I was slumping in the studio… hard. My wife, Heidi, basically told me to go upstairs and work on something and not give up on it. I’m glad she did, as I was really happy with this one at the beginning—I‘d be completely lost without her. Bryan [Kasenic] heard this one for the first time when we were sound-checking for our nine-hour set at The Bunker Limited last July. He came up to ask me what it was and then said something like, ‘Yeah, that one’s a keeper.’ I asked him a few minutes later if he wanted it for The Bunker NY, and instantly said ‘Yes.’ So, that’s when we decided to do an EP for the label.
‘Dark Times’ was something I started working on in June as well. It was mostly just me messing around with my newly acquired Doepfer Dark Time sequencer. I worked on it for a half a day or so, then shelved it. When Bryan [Kasenic] visited Berlin later that summer, we started going through a bunch of project files to see if there was anything else he was interested in. It surprised me when he latched onto this one since it was never intended to be anything to release. But he wanted it, so I finished it! The whole process was fun, and I’m really happy with the end result.”
Mike Servito: “You are one of the most proactive people I know, who digs for new music constantly. And yes, it is part of your job. But I always try not to get too caught up in what’s new or old, despite spending hundreds of dollars a month on new vinyl. What is your take on new versus old?”
Derek Plaslaiko: “I think times are a lot different [now] than when and how you and I came up. In the ‘90s, we only had records. And there wasn’t nearly as much coming out as there is now. It was easier to stay relatively on top of the game simply by hitting Record Time every week, especially with Mike Huckaby at the helm of the ordering duties. Sure—things might get missed—but overall, we had it pretty damn good.
Now, it’s a whole different ballgame. There is simply no way anyone can hear everything. Like, not even 20 percent of it. And fact of the matter is that the vast majority of it is . . . well, let’s just say it’s not what we are looking for. I think it’s important to try to listen to as much as you can, but I think it’s equally important to embrace the old stuff, too. I’d say my sets are probably about 50-50 on any given night. I like presenting old stuff, whether it’s playing a ‘hit’ for nostalgia, or playing something that just still sounds fresh and maybe relatively unknown. I also feel like DJs (and partygoers) now get too caught up in either thing. Like, there are people who only want to hear old stuff, and vice versa. I’d say those types of people probably should avoid my sets. When I play, I try to celebrate this music, where it comes from and where it’s going.”
Mike Servito: “What is your favorite DJ memory of me?”
Derek Plaslaiko: “I have two favorites that come to mind! The first one was the first time I heard you play at a Poorboy party in ’94 or ‘95. I don’t recall what you played, but I’m pretty sure I remember you backspinning a couple times. I was relatively new to going out to parties, but I remember Keith Kemp and I freaking out pretty much the whole time you played.
The second favorite would be the 2010 No Way Back set. Again, can’t remember much specifically, but you just crushed the place! I remember being off to the side freaking out with Dean Major and thinking, ‘How in the hell am I going to even try to match-up with Mike tonight?’ I’m not good with specific memories at parties, especially if I’ve been dancing the whole time. But I’ve never even come close to having a ‘least favorite Mike Servito’ set.”
Derek Plaslaiko: “You just released a remix of Justin Cudmore’s ‘Crystal’ for the Honey Soundsystem record label. To my knowledge, it’s your first dabble in production. As someone who’s been on the box for over 20 years now, how does it feel to be playing something you created? Also, how was the process for you, and is there more coming?”
Mike Servito: “It is indeed the first. It’s been fun playing something that you know
you had a part in, but also a very strange feeling. I immediately fell in love with Justin’s track when I heard it, so much that I sent it to Leisure Muffin to do a quick master so I could test drive the thing. Justin and I had been dabbling with the idea of working on something together for the past year or so, and I think I just kind of put it out there. I said something like, ‘Can we do a reshape? I wanna reduce it a bit, make a DJ tool,’ and it just turned into this bigger, bolder thing. We sat down and laid it out; I chose parts and we pieced it together—the process is exciting and frustrating all in the same. I’m sure something else will happen. I really like the collaborative aspects of it. I know I have a good ear and I like very specific sounds, but the technical aspects of it all can be extremely intimidating. I’m really interested in the edit process and stripping things down. I have many ideas floating around in my head, so we will see what is to come of it.”
Derek Plaslaiko: “You recently left a long-time, full-time job to put it all into being a working-class DJ. When I see your schedule these days, it makes me so proud, but it also makes me exhausted just looking at it! How are you adjusting to it all?”
Mike Servito: “I definitely have a lot on my plate, more than I ever have in my entire life. You make your bed, as they say, so I have to embrace all of it and be optimistic about it because I put myself in this position, really. I find the traveling before and after is a lot to deal with, mentally. But when I’m in it, and I’m in and out of cities and when I’m in that DJ booth, it’s an exciting and fun experience for me. It’s an exhausting process, but I feel up for it all. I feel really good about how I am playing and what I am playing. But also, I am a person with a lot of nervous energy so I am constantly having to find that peaceful state of mind before I play.
There are a lot of distractions and extras that you don’t necessarily want to deal with, and I am figuring it all out. It’s definitely not always fun and games. You are your own business, so you have to be on top of everything, but that also means calling the shots. I am seeing how the rest of the year goes, but I think I’ve adjusted pretty well so far.”
Derek Plaslaiko: “What is your favorite DJ memory of me?”
Mike Servito: “Pretty much every single time we play together! I am really enjoying that aspect of you. Also, the time Matt Dear dumped a full pint over both of your heads while you guys were tagging. It’s definitely documented somewhere via Will Calcutt—it was Matt’s birthday at Foran’s. It’s always hard to recall what moments were best; I certainly can’t recall the 90’s so vividly. I feel like your run with The Bunker during its Public Assembly era is blurred in one big favorite moment—you were always in top form. But I think we have plenty more memories to go still!”