INTERVIEW | Hobo
Canadian-born, Berlin-based Joel Boychuk has been involved with music in some fashion or another for the better part of his life. With classical training and a knack for percussion, it wasn’t until the century turned in 2000 that a New Years Eve party left Boychuk inspired to pursue his passion, first as Tractile with partner Adam Young and later as current solo project Hobo. The latter proved a fruitful change of pace, resulting in releases on prominent labels such as Tronic, Hot Creations, and Anja Schneider’s mobilee.
With the launch of his label in late 2013 and gigs spanning from Texas to Ibiza on the books, Boychuk is keeping plenty busy and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. We were able to catch up with the self-proclaimed wanderer before his gig at Bang Bang to find out about his beginnings with Minus, warehouse parties in Detroit, and the transformation of electronic music.
Which came first for you, DJing or production?
DJing and producing both came about around the same time. After about a year of producing using really ancient software that was sort of text-based, I saved up to buy CD decks. The old ones, from when they were rack mounted double decks. After another year I bought turntables and music software had developed quite a bit as well so it was then around 1999/2000 that my DJing and producing both took a little bit more of a serious turn.
How did you first link up with Richie Hawtin to release on Minus as Tractile?
It was at a party in Detroit that I demo’d Clark Warner who at the time was running Minus and Plus 8. After a year or two of hanging around parties in Detroit and even gigging along side him, he brought early Tractile music over to Rich to listen to. It wasn’t much later that we heard from Rich and began a couple years of sending music just to him for minus. I was still in high school when this all began.
You took a break from music in 2008. What were you up to during this time? Did you know you’d return?
I’d describe it as taking a break from Berlin.. or maybe just Tractile… In truth I wrote more music that year in 2008 than any year previous. And writing all that music was my developing the Hobo sound. But Hobo connected with Minus only 9 weeks after I left Berlin, so in the end it was hardly a break! More like a work retreat! I wrote a plan down the week that the year off began and all 6 of my two month spaced plans were met within about a day or two of the goal. So when I left I gave myself exactly 365 days to get back to Berlin as Hobo. In the end it took 375 days. Talk about disappointment!
How long have you been living in Berlin now? Do you see yourself staying there for the long haul?
I’ve been living in Berlin for almost 8 years now.. Which is a long time for a restless person. I love it there in the summer and the vibe in the city is still kind of cool, but I think I am ready for a change. A big change. I’m thinking about the US.. But I’d probably just do the endless summer for a year or two first to test things out, but it’s on my mind daily. How it’ll all turn out, who knows!
Your first overseas gig was at Watergate in Berlin. What was it like for you when you began to tour internationally?
Let’s say it was.. interesting. I was only 20 for that first gig and my decision to move over a few months later was probably a bit premature. Definitely very spontaneous and fuelled by a fear of missing out! Missing out on what was happening in Berlin at the time. But it was difficult, trying and an amazing learning experience. Luckily Marc Houle let me squat in his living room for a few months, but it was a difficult. I was making just enough money to scrape by and sleeping on cushions. Not so glamourous. And it didn’t help that my partner in Tractile completely stopped working as soon as we got to Berlin, so there wasn’t any music coming out to speed our progress along. That happens to be the reason I quit Tractile and reinvented in 2008, so while it was tough touring internationally at that time, I don’t regret any part of it because it led to everything unfolding the way it has.
How would you compare your experience as a teenager going to warehouse parties in Detroit to what fans experience now going to clubs?
It’s kind of sad when you think about it. Development isn’t sad, I’m fine with the way things have gone in the scene, but there is an era that is locked away in the memories of a different generation and this new generation will never know anything like it. It’s important in any culture to know your roots, and those roots are getting lost in the glitz of an ever so commercializing industry. What it will mean in the end, I don’t know, but I fear that a generation of DJs are going to emerge who throw fits if their favourite Champagne isn’t on ice when they show up to the booth. I guess what I’m saying is that those early days for me in Detroit were about hearing good music and now it seems things are often more about spectacle or feeling status. And thats what is sad.. when the music industry is only marginally about music anymore.
When you return to Detroit now as an artist, is it reminiscent of your time there? Or is it a completely different atmosphere?
It occasionally feels reminiscent, but thats usually just when all the old heads get together in the same place. The Need I Say More parties during festival weekend usually do that for me. But as the year round club scene in Detroit goes, it’s a whole different vibe than it was 10-15 years ago. It was tight-knit and everyone knew everyone. And when we were all back in our daily lives on weekdays we were all talking on a web forum all day long. While I am quite removed from Detroit these days, I don’t think it’s even close to the same as it once was.
You were “Assistant Executive Audio Producer” for Rich’s Plastikman Live tour in 2010. What did this entail?
Since Plastikman live uses the ABL2 303 clone plugin, all the old 303 lines had to get transcribed into the plugin. And since the source was just the recordings, someone had the daunting task of listening and transcribing. That was largely me.
Having spent several years doing live performances as well as DJing, what’s your current perspective of the two?
Playing live is great if you’re going to take the time to write tons of new music and constantly refresh your set. To me, there’s nothing worse than hearing a live act still playing tracks that came out years ago! Sure, drop the odd one here or there maybe at a big festival, but I think that like a DJ set it should be renewed often. If you can do that, then great. Gaiser does a great job at that and it’s partly why he has such a killer of a set. As for DJing.. I don’t know what I think about it anymore. In fact it has become a little second nature to me, which to fully disclose, I’m not happy about! I wish it was a little more challenging and that’s partly why I’m about to change up everything about how I perform. What it will entail I’m not settled on yet, but I know that it will retain something in it that no one else does the same way, probably my homemade live sequencing set up that I currently use, but I don’t want to be bringing a computer to gigs anymore.
You launched your label, Soundz, at the end of last year with the release of your EP Mind Games. Do you have plans to release other artists on your label alongside your own music?
That’s a million dollar question. It was originally meant to cover only me and my various different sounds that I produce daily, but after a strong first release, I kind of want to keep the releases uniform so as not to alienate my listeners. So to answer the question… I really have no idea. But at the moment, it is more likely to remain strictly me.
You’ve played clubs and festivals everywhere from Brazil to Israel. What makes a good party for you?
Easy, having an interested crowd. And by interested, I mean having people who just want to have a good time in a club. That’s what clubs are for right? I’ve played some places.. and north american cities are often guilty of this.. where the crowd seems almost dead. Those aren’t very enjoyable. You can even have people come up to you after and say they loved it, but you’d have never known while playing and it takes feedback to get into what you’re doing.
You’ve been involved in electronic music as a fan and then artist for well over a decade now. How has the scene transformed since you began? Where do you see it headed?
The scene was much smaller and more personal back when I got into it. And a bunch of fame and flash and ego has seeped into it too. As someone who got into it before that really happened, I don’t really welcome the changes so much, but it’s inevitable and comes with growth and to not adapt would be suicide. It’s just unfortunate for the kids who are really getting interested in earnest and just want to see and hear their favourite djs. They’ve got the fervour to follow and support their favourites and vote for them in these year end polls, but because of how the industry is becoming so money focussed, poll positions increase the DJ fees which in turn increase the entrance prices or sponsor presence at clubs and festivals. It’s a cycle that can’t continue forever. So I don’t know where it’s headed but it’s looking like a bubble is growing and what’ll happen to that bubble is a mystery to me. But I can expect with confidence that fans, festival goers and clubbers better learn to save up.
What does your calendar look like for the rest of 2014? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
The rest of 2014 looks quite busy. But I enjoy that and still write tons of music when I’m at home. I’m hoping to do a push into video again now that certain video technology has really ramped up in the last year or so, and I’m already deep into the R&D phase of that. I’ve also finished some music for some side projects earlier this year and plan on broadening my sound quite significantly since I’ve left the constraints that came with working with one record label. So a few new projects shaping up which you’ll just have to follow me to find out about!