Turn your radio on. In an age saturated with a tyrannical quantity of choice, tuning into something consistently inspiring matters more than ever. Our resident sound seeker Matt Earp looks into one channel that’s providing just that. Dewtone is a fantastic place to go for a range of music, so much so that it’s worth investigating the person behind it. Matt talks to Dewtone’s Dustin Morris about how he’s making this work. -Ed.
Dewtone has been a complete joy to my ears ever since I found it – and the more I explore it the more I love it. I first came across it as a Bandcamp label that focused on deep music – sometimes more ambient, sometimes slightly glitchy, often on the slow hypnotic end of dubby techno. I’ve been exposed to countless new artists through it, and in turn to many new labels by further exploring those artists works. Nikosf. and Sven Laux have seen me through hard times. Because I write to them, it’s totally possible I’ve listened to the two Dewtone albums by Purl and Deflektion (2012’s Growing and 2013’s Rest In You) a greater number of times than any other albums in the last year.
Turns out my explorations, and the connections I’ve drawn, were just what label owner Dustin Morris had in mind when he launched the project as a streaming radio station. Dewtone.fm is a carefully curated channel (or actually now twin channel) of beautiful music. Many of the world’s best labels operating in the ambient, downtempo and dub techno worlds have their music on the station, and while it does have a fairly specific sound in some ways, it’s defined broadly enough to never be boring. Listening to it has actually been quiet humbling really – the more I explore the family of labels on Dewtone.fm, the more I realize what a small percentage of this world’s artists I know. Fortunately, if I ever get overwhelmed, I know I can just return to the Dewtone catalog itself, which has curatorial standards at unparalleled levels.
Dustin took time to answer some of my questions about the history of the Dewtone project and what’s coming up for it in 2014. It’s below, and if there was ever an article made to be read while listening to music, this is it. In order to hear Dewtone.fm, you’ll have to sign up for their mailing list to get an access key, but barring that, 29 staggeringly great releases are available on Dewtone’s Bandcamp page for streaming right now.
What’s your own musical background and what lead you to the universe of Dewtone sounds?
I’ve been involved in digital production since back when tracking was all the rage. Micro communities kept popping up around the software, laying the foundation for what ultimately became netlabel culture. For a time it seemed like there were an endless amount of sounds and presentation styles to uncover. I was completely enthralled by the movement. Dewtone had a short history as a netlabel from 03 to 05, then transitioned into a net-audio focused broadcast in 2006. It wasn’t until 2011 that the project re-launched a digital label.
Where are you yourself based?
I’m from Vancouver, British Columbia, but currently residing in Toronto. I’m hoping to swing through the UK, Germany and Greece this Summer to meet some of our guys before I head home. This time last year I was traveling through South East Asia and Australia. I’ve been a bit of a nomad! Our artists are scattered everywhere too, so it hasn’t affected label operations much.
For those that haven’t heard of it, what exactly is Dewtone, both in spirit and in component parts?
When you strip it all away, Dewtone is essentially a transient collection of soft sounds. The focus is on production technique, rather than genre, but there are reoccurring ambient and dub-centric themes throughout the programming. The core of the project is a 24-hour broadcast, supported by a monthly podcast and label. Some see it as a resource, or a service, others know it as an imprint, home to a few household names.
Can you give us a brief overview of how the radio station works, both from a content point of view and a technical point of view? What was behind some of the decisions you made and how has it evolved over time?
The station is split into two playlists. One is focused on lighter frequencies, the other deeper. Prior to this year, it was all on one channel tuned to whatever my current location’s day and night schedule was. This was always an issue, as Dewtone has such a far-reaching audience that timezones were preventing them from accessing all the content. This year we’ve finally raised enough to introduce a second channel and now users can flip between the two playlists at their leisure.
The web-player has built-in functionality to allow anyone to click the current track to bring up an artist’s catalog on Beatport. Legal downloads and artist support are principles the project backs at every opportunity. I encourage people to follow Dewtone’s Bandcamp collection too as that’s a platform many of us are hoping will continue to grow.
In December, we upgraded playback to 256kps, which is roughly double the average bitrate of your typical online station. In order to keep tabs on bandwidth consumption, a key was introduced for our web-player in order to access it. A key is automatically distributed to anyone who signs to our mailing list. It’s a quick little filter that ensures we’re getting the right people listening. We’re still 100% listener-funded, so those who donate to the project get external player access, priority connectivity (via IP registration) and a few bonuses from the label.
There seemed like a possibility that the radio would be taken down last year, but now it’s back. Tell us about that, and about its future.
I think as far as a lot of people are concerned, the radio has been taken down. Dewtone was readily available on just about every public directory service out there (Radio Tuna, TuneIn, iTunes Radio etc.) until last November. In September, Dewtone breached 25,000 monthly listens for the first time in its history and back-end costs were stalling the project’s growth. Public directories also discouraged users from visiting the site, which made it difficult to relay some of our values and introduce people to the artists. I had to either accept the project was going to stay stagnant, or figure out a way to raise funds to accomplish our goals. Taking the radio private brought forward so many people out of the woodwork. Donations poured in and here we are. I was blown away. I’m sure some CDM readers were in there too, so thank you!
Looks like you’re working on a mobile version of the Dewtone radio site – tell us more. When can we expect it?
We’ll be keeping it simple. If you visit the site on your phone right now, you are forced to zoom right in on the player in an attempt to connect and, even then, the display is a bit cumbersome. The idea will be to strip away some of the pages, lay it out similar to an app and have the sole focus on the radio. It should appear sometime next month.
What’s the release schedule for the label look like for the upcoming year?
We pushed a lot of music out over the last two years, so I’m not on a mission to release at the same pace, but it could still happen. We’re starting the year with a sophomore EP from Cordoba-based artist Nadia Popoff. We’ll be featuring a vocal performance for the first time on that release from Montreal’s Lily Jordy. Bjorn Rohde returns with a conceptual EP under his “Exif” guise, but reminiscent of his Forgotten Hearts EP. A full length solo effort from Purl is due out in the first half of this year and we also just confirmed that Sven Laux will be releasing another album with us too – so keep an ear out!
You’ve mentioned wanting to be involved in more live shows – what does that look like if Dewtone is, at its heart, an online radio station and label?
Well, with any show, a lot of that comes down to the artist(s) performing, the venue hosting and less about your digital footprint. You’re right to ask though, because finding the right context has been a challenge. Dewtone presents a lot of intimate music, not quite fit for the club and not intended to be background ambiance either. I was fortunate to host Loscil and Ali Khan to an engaged sitting audience last Summer, but I’m not sure we’ll see any Canadian shows until well late in the year. The goal right now is to get enough of us under one roof for a show in Berlin by July.
You’ve got a lot of assets to juggle – the label, the website, a podcast series, maybe upcoming shows, now mobile – it definitely seems like a multi-armed project. Where are you focusing energy for 2014, or if it’s still on everything, how do you balance it all and keep it in harmony?
When you lay it all out like that it sure seems like a lot! In all honesty, it feels much easier to manage now than a couple of years ago. I’ve been chipping away to simplify the process on my end in order to take on more. I think it really comes down to not putting too much pressure on yourself and to take your time. My focus this year continues to be on my relationships with the people involved, making sure we’re growing and getting what we both seek out of a collaboration.
Any other upcoming plans for you yourself or the Dewtone project?
I continue to write for Exclaim! (Canada) and I’ll start making regular contributions to A Strangely Isolated Place. Founder Ryan Griffin has been a big supporter of the label and many like-minded projects so we’re both looking forward to presenting more written perspective around that content. As for Dewtone, we’ll continue to maintain, build our audience and keep the door open for new collaborations.