When two musicians intensively work together for a period of time, at some point the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. If Paul Boex and Dave Miller hadn’t already reached that status under their Abstract Division moniker, they certainly have now, with the release of ‘Midnight Ensemble’, their first full length album.
Those who have followed the duo since their early days of playing DJ-sets together know that it’s hard to define their style (anywhere beyond techno or even electronic music), as it is ever-evolving and always dependent on the time of day or night. When listening to this album, the resemblance between their unpredictable selection behind the decks and the eclectic range of subgenres on this album is more obvious than ever before.
We caught up with the Dutch duo to discuss the origins of ‘Abstract Division’, the varying sounds across their first album and what’s on the horizon for the two of them…
You’ve got over 25 years of collective experience as a duo, but let’s start from the beginning of your journey.
How did Abstract Division come to be? How do you both compare the experience of performing as a duo and as a solo artist?
We met each other for the first time in 2009 at a techno party. Dave played a lot with Damian Keane as Miller & Keane back then. Paul was throwing parties and booked them once and Dave solo afterward. That’s how our friendship started and we decided to have a studio session together to see what would happen. In that first session, the track ‘Relevance’ was born and almost directly signed by the Portuguese label Labrynth. Since that release had a delay of two years, we were just in time to change the artist name Abstract Division.
We started producing more often together and in 2012, we had our first gig at Soenda Festival in Utrecht. In the beginning, when we played together, there was a big difference between us both soundwise. You really could hear who was playing which track. We decided to record every set from that time on and evaluate how transitions could be better done, just to become step by step a bit better. Now we are at a point where it feels like we have become one as a duo with the same musical and artistic vision.
We never discuss or prepare in advance what we’re going to do, it just grew organically. We are at our best if we don’t talk and just go with the flow until we reach a certain state of perfect harmony. The advantage of playing together is that the other person simply has more time to decide which way to go, so we’re always one step ahead. Since we both like the challenging storytelling part in a DJ set, it’s a real blessing for us to play together.
The Netherlands is of course renowned for its bustling electronic music scene, which has produced countless venues and esteemed artists that make it a destination for fans of the scene from all corners of the globe.
Could you please give us some additional insight into your experience of the Dutch music scene? What was it that spurred the two of you on towards combining your musical talents when you met in 2009 in Utrecht?
We have always loved the Dutch music scene since it was open to many new styles like New Beat, House and Techno. Dave, who is from a generation before, grew up with underground styles like New Wave, High Energy and Italo Disco, while Paul started in his early days with Old School Hip Hop and Hardcore. Maybe the fact that the Netherlands had a prominent position in the hippie scene back then could have resulted in a more open-minded view toward more experimental genres later on. Also, the origin of the house scene with Club Roxy, IT, Parkzicht back in the 90s has played an important role of the foundation and development of the entire electronic music scene in the Netherlands.
When we met in 2009, the minimal techno scene was still at its peak, and it was quite rare to attend to good techno parties with a BPM above 130 or there were Hardtechno/Schranz parties above 155 BPM (like nowadays again). That’s one of the reasons we started the label Dynamic Reflection, to fill a certain emptiness and need in providing techno music how we liked it. Because we both deeply love the 90’s and the darker & deeper side of techno, we decided that we had to meet in the studio, which immediately turned out into a productive session, as mentioned before.
Past tracks of yours, such as ‘Compound Statement’ and ‘Transmutation’, embody the deep, brooding stylings of Techno suitable for big sound systems – but the former track was additionally used as part of the soundtrack for Netflix’s ‘Sense 8’ series.
Do you often encounter opportunities for your music to be distributed via such means? Are the two of you focused primarily on producing music for both sharing and playing during sets, or do you have other avenues that inspire you to create?
We’ve heard from Netflix that one of the producers from ‘Sense8′ heard the track’ Compound Statement’ in a Berghain mix from Ben Klock. That set went all over the world and Ben literally started his mix with our track. We never had this opportunity, so we think we were just very lucky. Maybe a once in a lifetime experience, but we would love to do it more often. We’re both really into soundscape and ambient drone music and love sound design, so we would definitely be up doing these kind of projects more often.
When we’re in the studio, we usually don’t really have a plan. Same as our DJ sets, we just go with the flow and see where it takes us, which creates endless possibilities. Next to that, we heard our own tracks so many times in the studio that we’re not really eager to play them a lot in ourselves. By the time our music gets released, we’re already busy with other projects which get full attention.
Last month, you had the landmark release of your debut full-length album: ‘Midnight Ensemble’. Though I enjoyed it entirely, the deep chords of ‘Mind Over Matter’ made it my favourite – though the driving force of ‘Perception Is Reality’ was also a great listen!
Can you talk us through the process that went into creating this album and what the release represents for you both? How have you found the reception up to this point?
We are glad to hear that you enjoy the album! The main concept refers to how we would build up an allnighter set. We always feel free to play what we want at such events since there is enough time to build towards something else. Since we both like a wide range of music in general, we love to play different subgenres on such a night. Every track on the album reflects a different mood/hour if we play an allnighter set. This conceptual album was the first possibility for us to represent other styles that feel close to our hearts.
We received a long list of exciting feedback from quite a few known DJs who inspire us from all over the world, which overwhelmed us a bit to be honest. We are really happy with the result and the feedback we’re getting. Since it took us almost two years to put out the final copies, you get a bit insecure the closer you get to the release date. It almost felt like we gave birth to a newborn child 🙂 Though, the biggest compliment that you can get for us is that many listeners understood what we tried to accomplish here. We wanted to take people on a loooong musical journey during the night until solar returns 😉 Somehow people understand this by listening to the album from start to finish, which is more than we could ever wish for.
The album also contains a nice amount of more experimental tracks, which serve as interludes between the more danceable 4×4 tracks. The opening ‘Empty Floor’ as well as ‘Dissolute’ represent this nicely.
How do you treat these productions in the context of the whole album? Are you putting as much focus on these tracks as the more club-oriented ones?
As mentioned before, we both love ambient music and soundscapes very much. When we start an all-nighter, we play multiple tracks of that kind which blends it into a long piece of beatless music. In the album’s setting, we used it as an intro, outro and interlude. It helped us to tell the story of how we see an all-nighter set. The ‘Empty Floor’ track was already an older track, which fitted surprisingly as the perfect opening track. The other tracks we specifically created for this album. Next, we put a lot of effort into the sequence and tonality of the tracks so that they feel connected to each other in a specific order.
Lastly, with your debut full-length album now shared with the world, I’m sure you’re already onto the next project!
Could you please share with us where your focus has shifted to now? Is there anything big on the horizon for the two of you, or for your respective labels?
Oh yes, two big things are coming. First, there will be a double package of remixes from our album next year, which we look forward to presenting to the world. Second, our label Dynamic Reflection will celebrate its 15-year anniversary in 2023. So… expect something special is coming up, but we can’t say anything about it yet 🙂 Stay tuned!
Thanks for speaking to Bunker – look forward to seeing you in Australia at some point!
Thanks for having us and for the engaging questions. We would love to play in Australia once. Fingers crossed for the future!
Interview by Jeremy McCarthy