Tomáš Moravec is a drum & bass DJ studying on our BA (Hons) Digital Music course. He’s an extremely interesting person passionate about music, DJ’ing, books, philosophy, and travelling. After hearing Tomáš’ set at our DJ showcase at Mettricks Guildhall, we couldn’t help but want to know more about his drive, ideas, and what he thinks about the issues around being a modern DJ.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello, pleasure to be doing this interview! My name is Tomas Moravec, just turned 21 and I come from the Czech Republic from a small town called Litomerice, which is about 35 miles north of Prague. When I’m not producing drum and bass (which is not very often!), I read a lot, mostly, but not limited to, philosophy. Personally, I think there’s nothing like a book that makes your brain grind. At the moment I’m reading short stories by Kafka, his writing is incredible. Other than that, I enjoy acting in theatre and skating, even though I’m quite bad at it. The most impressive skill of mine is probably my ability to do flying kung fu kicks and last but not least, I love to DJ!
What is it about DJ’ing you enjoy most and where does your passion come from?
Without any doubt, it’s the energy, the vibes that people bring to the dance floor. What would a DJ be without a crowd? When I “perform” in front of a crowd, my biggest drive at that moment is to make people listen. Truly listen. I use the word perform loosely here because I do not see DJ’ing as a performance, but rather as, and I’m trying not to sound too pretentious here, an act of channeling the energy of the crowd, of the people that came to listen and dance to music! When I step behind the decks, I feel as if I become a conduit, a selector, a mediator. Almost like a shaman in tribal cultures. The people do not listen because of me, but because of the music. They are there not for me, I am there for them! At the end of the day, if you came for the music, then that is all that matters and all differences can wait for another day.
“When I step behind the decks, I feel as if I become a conduit, a selector, a mediator. Almost like a shaman in tribal cultures.”
I remember a time not too long ago when I was doing a gig in a small venue in my hometown, where the DJ booth was placed in a very intimate position with the crowd and I could see the faces of each and every person quite clearly and vice versa. When I started playing, I single-handedly cleared the dance floor, but as I kept playing, people started listening, drawn in by the music. I felt as if I was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I will never forget the strange feeling I had when I made eye contact with them, it was as if they were surrendering their energy to me and I was free to do anything with it. My decision is to give this energy back in the form of music. My dream is to be able to do this with music that I created.
Also, it’s a lot of fun to do.
What’s your journey into music been so far?
Subtle is a good word for it. A year ago I thought of producing music only as a dear hobby of mine, and now I’m here in Southampton studying something I want to do for the rest of my life! In a way it’s bizarre when I think about it. I’m still in the process of discovering my sound and settling down on a creative workflow that I could be happy with, but I suppose that is something that can take a lot of time to realise, if ever.
Imitating others is not the way, and I find it difficult to stay consistent. Almost every track I make is different, which is interesting in a sense, but from an artistic standpoint I feel it gives a certain shallowness to my music. Almost like the words of the village idiot. How do you know when he is saying something meaningful amongst all the unpredictability? I believe this consistency is what divides a good artist from a great one.
Who are some of the DJ’s you look up to?
In the realm of drum’n’bass, dBridge and Skeptical are amongst my favourites simply because of their amazing selection and silky smooth technique. Big shout out for the Exit Records crew who consistently do an incredible job at pushing the boundaries of drum’n’bass which is a genre that has been fighting with staleness in the past few years I feel. Skeptical’s sets are both magical and relentless and they always put me into a trance, the way he chains tracks is inspiring. Do not even get me started on his production! A true master of his craft. Also, I love what dBridge has been doing with his autonomic movement and I cannot wait to see an autonomic set live. Check out his Heartdrive mixes that he did with Kid Drama, they are still floating around on SoundCloud somewhere. Phenomenal music.
Another DJ I look up to is Current Value for the sole reason that he mixes exclusively his own music (and there’s a lot of it), giving his mixes a certain unique atmosphere. His set at Let it Roll 2016 was unforgettable. It felt as if I was listening to a one hour track that just progressively kept changing into something else and I think that set had two breakdowns at most! A great DJ and an even better producer.
There’s more, but just a mention will have to suffice in this case; Alix Perez, Bop, Doc Scott, Goldie, Jubei, Mark System, Icicle, Lynx and DJ Marky are all amazing DJ’s I greatly enjoy and I’m sure I left out somebody.
Last but not least, Noisia. No comment needed here. Big choons and vibezz everytime I go to see them. With them, it’s always about the selction.
From other genres I enjoy listening to Ricardo Villalobos. When he mixes it feels as if it’s the last thing he’s ever going to do. There isn’t even a trace of ego in his performances, and the people can feel it too. I have never seen him live, but it’s definitely up there on the bucket list. Technique wise, Jeff Mills is one of the most advanced DJ’s out there, up there with legends like Andy C, Carl Cox, you name it. Always a pleasure to hear his mixing.
Aside from DJ’s, who are some of your favourite artists/bands?
Apart from all the producers I already mentioned, Ivy Lab (Stray, Sabre and Halogenix) remains one of my favourite groups in d’n’b. Everything they had made ranging from the soulful two steppers to the hip-hop “future beats”, as they call it, is spectacular. I don’t think there’s a single tune they made I didn’t like, and I wish I was exaggerating! Another producer I deeply respect is Calibre, who is in a league of his own. He has never been remixed. No need to. A true artist whose craft transcends just drum’n’bass. Then there’s the funkiness of DLR and Break, moodiness of Signal, mellowness of LSB, rawness of Enei, Makoto, Deft, Subwave, Xanadu, Fixate, State of Mind… the list goes on. I think I listen to way too much d’n’b. From the ye olde times when the jungle/drum’n’bass debate was in full charge I enjoy old Dom & Roland records, Goldie, Bad Company, Konflict and old London Elektricity albums. I hold the Pull the Plug LP very close to my heart, as it’s what made me get into d’n’b in the first place. Rewiiiiind…
Stepping out of d’n’b, I love Bonobo and there is so many things I would love to say about him that I’ll stop myself here, but long story short the way he combines his production prowess and tribal influences leaves me in awe. Another personal favourite of mine is The War On Drugs with their album Lost In The Dream. Listen to it now. Underappreciated diamond in the rough that is going to become a classic in the future. I also enjoy jazz and while I feel clichéd as I’m writing this, I can’t get enough of Frank Sinatra. Other artists and groups I enjoy are, in no particular order, Prince, Tyler The Creator, Prago Union, Aphex Twin, King Crimson, The Pixies, Nas, among others.
If you could have someone teach you everything they know who would it be?
Rodney Mullen. If only I knew how to do those ridiculous tricks… seriously though, music-wise it would probably be Alexander Brandon. He’s a music composer and he wrote the soundtracks for games like Deus-Ex, Unreal (Tournament) and Jazz Jackrabbit 2. Anyone who played those games knows what I’m talking about when I say that those soundtracks are one of the very best there are, and I may be wearing nostalgia goggles here, as I grew up on those games, but all of his work has this certain quality of timelessness and even when I listen to the soundtracks after all these years, I still wonder how he managed to capture the atmospheres of said video games while still maintaining individual quality of each track, rather than just making “Generic Battle Theme #1” and so on. Each track holds up on its own! Jazz Jackrabbit 2 soundtrack especially stands out for me, and I don’t think it’s too far from the truth to say that it’s where I initially obtained my love for electronic music. Check those soundtracks out, or better yet, find a spare evening and just play the games. It won’t be wasted time, I guarantee it!
“Jazz Jackrabbit 2 soundtrack…it’s where I initially obtained my love for electronic music.”
To answer the question though, I wouldn’t mind picking his brain for everything he knows about achieving this balance between originality and thematic content. I sometimes struggle to keep a specific idea in my head when composing and I have to concentrate a lot to see it to the end. I’m easily impressed by novelty and can get frustrated quickly if I don’t give my ears something new to listen to, and while I’m never short of ideas, it impedes my creative process at the very end because it’s hard for me to settle on one specific idea or theme and I get sidetracked often. It’s both a gift and a curse. I once spent 7 months on one track, moving individual drum hits slightly, concerning myself with minuscule detail in the mixdown stage while completely forgetting the vibe that got the track going in the first place. The track turned out ok, but it was quite boring. It’s a deep pit to fall into. I learnt a lot during those 7 months about mixing down, which is great! But in terms of creativity, not so much.
What is it about drum & bass that you love?
The energy in the genre is just astonishing. But what really resonates with me when it comes to d’n’b is the scale of the sound of it. The “instrumentation” so to speak. With d’n’b, pretty much anything can work if placed at the right place in the right time. Some subgenres are so different from each other that the only thing that connects them is more or less the BPM range. When I play out, I always make sure to have a versatile bank of tracks to play, because you never know how the crowd will react, as each track carries a different or at the very most similar vibe that alters the mix in some way, and it’s up to the DJ to diverge the “flow” in a specific direction. I think it is important that the DJ is aware that he is not completely in control of that flowing stream. It has a life of its own. Once you press the play button, you can’t go back. And with drum’n’bass, that stream is really strong, you never really know where it can get you! Also, the production value is intense and it just furthers the versatility of the genre. Just a few days ago I heard a d’n’b track that had percussion that sounded exactly like pebbles falling onto a massive pile of other pebbles, and it simply worked!
“…the DJ is not completely in control of that flowing stream. It has a life of its own. Once you press the play button, you can’t go back.”
What is your opinion on the difference between old school DJing where everything was restricted to vinyl and modern DJing?
Let me start off this answer by stating the fact that I can’t mix vinyl at all. It’s something I definitely want to learn, but so far I’ve only tried it a few times and boy was it difficult. Just getting the tempos of the two tracks to the same value was an ordeal. But that’s exactly what I love about it. It’s only you, your ears, some decks and a pair of headphones. That’s it. It’s all about you and your technique, your art. You were limited in that space and then it was up to you what you come up with. I do not feel this with a pair of CDJ’s or a console. When I tried mixing vinyl and then went to mix with CDJs, I felt like I was just a supervisor of the whole thing, somewhere outside it, stepping in only to “keep it in order”. To me it is like telling a machine to draw something for you and it does. The result may be the same, but what about the “soul”, the art of it? But don’t get me wrong, I’m not against modern DJing, I mean, I do it myself! It’s just that both are explorations of different things. One is an exploration of oneself, of what one can do, whereas the other is an exploration of something external, or in other words, of what the machine can do and how can the artist utilise it. Personally I do not understand the vinyl vs. CDJ “war”. There is no conflict, just different directions! Whether this divergence is for the better or worse though is an another question.
“One is an exploration of oneself, whereas the other is an exploration of something external, or in other words, of what the machine can do and how can the artist utilise it.”
Do you think this has hurt the exclusivity of having a certain sound and a DJ’s ability to have a “unique” style?
Absolutely, it did! I still remember a friend telling me how he went to a d’n’b festival in the Czech Republic and that every DJ sounded the same. As if, quote, “the DJ lost any of his personal handwriting.” The reason why I appreciated his viewpoint so much is because he doesn’t even follow d’n’b, but he still noticed that something was wrong. I agree with him. But in this case, it isn’t really a direct result of technology on modern DJing, but rather the fact that the position of a DJ has changed so much over the past few decades. Ever since DJ’s started producing their own music, it didn’t matter who had the best vinyl collection as much – it was about who actually created the best record. I feel DJ’ing has taken the back seat to producing – most DJ’s getting booked to big events are also producers, as, well, anyone with a laptop and a controller can be a DJ nowadays. With that in mind, that “unique” style then depends on your (and your peers) production. If the “style” has grown stale, it is not because of modern DJ techniques, but rather because the music in itself has grown stale, which is unfortunately happening to most d’n’b subgenres at the moment, but I digress.
A DJ can still have his unique sound, even with CDJs. It just takes a lot more effort, and if a DJ wants to “break through”, so to speak, then that unique style and his music collection is all he has.
“…it isn’t really a direct result of technology on modern DJing, but rather the fact that the position of a DJ has changed so much over the past few decades.”
What is your dream goal as a DJ?
To put a crowd into a trance with a set consisting of my own music only. I have a long way to go still though, I need way more quality material for that first…
What’s the best show you’ve been to?
The best d’n’b DJ set I have ever seen and heart in my life is the Mefjus b2b Emperor at Imagination Festival 2013. Funny thing is, I never heard neurofunk before hearing that set. My only reaction was “What’s that? I need more of this.” You can find it on Youtube, it really is an amazing set. It was this set that really got me deep into d’n’b. But truly the best set I have ever experienced was a garage set by some London guy called Z-Kat who often comes by my hometown and spins amazing records. It was in summer 2016 on a boat party on a small ship called Cargo Gallery, which took port in my hometown and usually had events going on on a weekly basis, and a few friends of mine decided to throw a party there, inviting Z-Kat in the process. I still remember him mixing for 5-6 hours and me going absolutely bonkers because the music was just so bouncy and the sound system incredibly clean. I’ll never get the image of him mixing with one hand and propping his back with the other one, and then having to push an annoying punter who stepped behind the DJ desk off the stage and then moving a fader to drop in the most amazing garage record I have ever heard. That was a long night.
Interestingly enough though, not once did he look at the crowd.
“I’ll never get the image of him mixing with one hand and propping his back with the other one, and then having to push an annoying punter who stepped behind the DJ desk off the stage and then moving a fader to drop in the most amazing garage record I have ever heard.”
What would you be if you couldn’t be a DJ/musician?
If I wanted to play it safe, probably an accountant or banker in a big bad bank somewhere. That would completely kill my inspiration though. I think I would stop doing music completely if that had happened. I’ve never given it much thought to be honest. If music didn’t exist I would probably decide to start writing. Or just go to New Zealand and become a professional fruit picker!
“If music didn’t exist I would probably decide to start writing. Or just go to New Zealand and become a professional fruit picker!”
What is one track that got popular that you can’t stand?
Uptown Funk. I remember when I was working in London, the office ladies had this blasting on the radio 24/7. Nothing else was being played, I kid you not! It’s a pretty good track, no question about it, but simply by the sheer volume of the times I have heard it I’ve grown to get an allergic reaction whenever I hear “whooo”.
If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
After much thought, it would be The War On Drugs – Disappearing. It is the perfect blend of ambience, vocals and drums. The song is a festival of consonance… Every single element is delayed and reverbated but it never gets clouded or muddy. Truly a masterpiece.