A Conversation With London DJ DVNT, the man behind the excellent MANTIS Radio Show

Continuing on with the city of bass 'Conversations With...' series, this time I travel virtually to South London to have a chat with Mike Samaras, the man behind the excellent MANTIS radio show. Mike is a consummate music lover, and he really does the worldwide electronic music community a favor by constantly searching out new musical treats and sharing them with listeners. He also does his fair share of giving shine to electro producers and labels. With that short introduction, here we go!

First things first mate, tell the readers a bit about yourself, and what drives you to do the MANTIS show?

My name is Mike Samaras, and I host the MANTIS Radio show as DVNT. I occasionally get the privilege of performing DJ sets as DVNT in clubs and warehouses. I live in south London and have done for a few years with my partner and 2 cats.

What drives me to do MANTIS Radio? Well... it's simply that I like sharing the amazing music I'm fortunate to come across. Most of the main networks for music seem to largely push similar stuff. Some of it is good, but most of it in my opinion, seems to be nothing special except through hyperbole, as a result fairly average stuff can be seen as the new big thing. Take for example BBC Radio 1. Most of that station is utter drivel as far as my musical tastes goes. But that said, one of the great things about music is it's completely subjective and whilst I don't want to listen to most of what Radio 1 pushes a large majority of people do like it. So fair play to those folk.

I've always been a fan of Mary Anne Hobbs experimental show and her previous legendary Breezeblock shows for years, and it's a shame that she has now stepped down from the show. She did a good job of flying the torch for alternative electronica since the days of John Peel, getting that music to a mainstream audience.

What's the main focus of your show, and how long have you been doing it?

Primarily it's to share the wealth of sound that I come across. I guess my listening tastes dictate that whilst I seek out and find all this new/old/awesome sounds, a lot of people haven't or won't come across it for one reason or another. So in a way I'm trying to redress the balance. It's not that I only try and play obscure sounds, far from it, and I don't think there is any pretentiousness in it, although some people probably think there is.

I've been doing the show since May 2007. and just reached the milestone of having just broadcast the 70th show. I'd been wanting to do a radio show for a while since I started DJing back in 2003. My obsession with music got to the point that I needed to share it with others very loudly and directly.

You seem obsessed with music much in the same way that I am. I love hunting down electro music world wide, and it's why I've kept on with Vocode Project and now City of Bass. It's always a pleasure to meet fellow music lovers, and I have to ask, what's your story in terms of music and your life?

I was a late bloomer with music I think. I grew up and listened to bits and piece but not much. My parents weren't that concerned with music, although they did do me the favour of introducing me to Jean Michel-Jarre and Mike Oldfield. My Uncle's turned me on to Blur and Annie Lennox, but on the whole music wasn't a particularly massive thing as I was growing up. It wasn't until I started buying CDs when I was 16/17 maybe and even then it was a slow start and somewhat sporadic. Part of me is a bit sad when I hear about friends' upbringing and their submersion in their musically-obsessed family, but largely it's a good thing as it has allowed me to discover all this old stuff, it's never-ending.

You know the great thing is, there's so much music out there, not only the newest in electronic joints but a tremendous back catalogue from the 20th century, you could spend the rest of you life listening every day and you'd never get through it all. Going back to electronic music specifically, how do you go about discovering and selecting new music for the program?

I seem to have an insatiable hunger for new sounds. I will happily follow recommendations made to me or even generally from reviews, forums, tweets etc... and from there make a decision as to whether I like it. I have had many many late nights over the years sitting on the internet hunting down albums or tracks that artists I liked were influenced by or referenced in an interview or sleeve notes or something.

Completely virally almost. Along the way I would come across some truly amazing stuff that would stick. I still do this, but with being older and needing to be in bed at a reasonable hour during the week not as much.

I hear that. So you get to hear tons of music, how do you go about sorting and sifting what goes on the show, determining what makes the cut so to speak?

Currently I am sent promo material from a range of music labels, most of which I'm happy to say fits into the "darkfloor" remit. I also get a couple of music download store newsletters which I check out. Listening to audio previews and purchasing accordingly.

I am subscribed to loads of sites via the excellent web app Google Reader and every few days I'll plough through the music ones seeing what comes up. The list of sites just keeps growing and with the netaudio stuff, there is just so much good stuff I keep discovering. I put everything into my iTunes under a "new music" playlist and then prior to a show go through all the new bits that have popped into it and highlight what I want to play in the show by putting it into another playlist. I also leave myself notes via email or with www.rememberthemilk.com about tracks I really like when I'm out jamming the ear buds on a train or something. When it comes to the show I have all the shortlisted music for the show in front of me and I wing it. I normally decide on an opening track but the rest is pretty organic.

When it comes to selecting artists for the showcase it's simply that I ask people whose music blows me away. And over the years I've yet to be disappointed. Often most of these artists, particularly those who release their music for free via net labels don't get that much exposure, or not as much as I think they deserve. And whilst I have no Radio 1 listener base I do have a solid base of folks tuned into the MANTIS vibe,  and really I just want to push great sounds. There's a lot of stuff that slips under the radar, and I hope that my show helps with letting a little less slip through.

Respect for that. One of the things I particularly like about your show is that it traverses across genres but manages to maintain a common theme - can you describe the "darkfloor" sound that you're passionate about?

I started DJing with vinyl, and I guess I would sometimes get bored with playing a single style of sound for an extended period of time. Particularly this would be the case at house parties where the crowd is much more forgiving if you deviate somewhere. So I would play any set I could and throw in some oddball tracks. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. Gradually I focused it a bit and realized that I could do a cohesive set like that.

I like a wide range of music, seemingly larger than most, and so why can't I play more than one style of music in a set? Back in 2007 I was beginning to introduce bits of techno into my sets, having been a breakbeat DJ for a few years. Breakbeat used to be a very good genre for mixing in different styles and genres. I was also getting more into electro and again dropping bits here and there.

When I started the show I really wanted the freedom to be able to play whatever I wanted to. Some of the stations I was looking at playing on where very genre specific, and that wasn't somewhere I wanted to do my show. I wanted the freedom to be able to play downtempo warmth like early Ninja Tune to hardcore essex abuse from the likes of Hellfish.

Gradually this has evolved into the "darkfloor" thing. I think it started about 2 years ago. I was getting annoyed at answering the question that people ask when they found out you were a DJ. "What do you play?" I'd reel off a list of genres and eventually got tired of doing this, so I thought up the name "darkfloor", sort of a play on the largely dark themed tracks I play together with "dancefloor".

No one seemed to be using it and I felt it described what I was playing then and now pretty well. It was also a pretty good tag line for the radio. Essentially it's a collective term for a large range of electronic genres to describe what I play. Techno, electro, dubstep, glitch, IDM, ambient, downtempo, jungle, breaks, dub, ghetto, techhouse, etc... Looking back over the early shows all the artists showcased can be considered darkfloor. So it worked out quite well I think.

From your perspective, what's the common thread that ties these different genres together, to make that "darkfloor" sound to your ears?

I guess the common thread through the range of sounds is that they are generally dark, bassy, deep, and well produced. Thinking about it, I've always been into the less happy, more darker sort of tracks. When I was 17 I managed to blag an interview at the sadly now defunkt 'Our Price'. Those in the UK will remember that store. Anyways there I was introduced to Industrial and Grunge properly, in particular Nine Inch Nails. There's something about tracks which are darker having more to say, they have more of a story. To me, largely, happier music seems very disposable. It can be great for the moment party music but I find it quite disposable. The melancholy darker sounds seem to resonate with me more.

Aside from the cheeky old skool hardcore track I slip in, the tracks aren't hands in the air happy, they can be quite intricate, foreboding or just balls out heavy. There is a certain amount of feeling involved in what I select and the way that the sounds can be programmed can determine how darkfloor they are. How successful this is I leave up to the listeners but I always enjoying dropping some deep rolling techno track for a few minutes before shaking it apart with some jacking electro or slamming in a hard-edged amen break. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

You're pretty organized from a presentation perspective, not only in the radio format itself but in your interactive presence - I know from experience how much time all of this can take - can you give us an inside look as to how much goes into preparing each show, and then following that the promotion of it?

Well it started simply as a generic flyer image that I put on a few music forums. Over the years it's been refined and I think around the 5th show I stared producing custom graphics for each show. These have kept elements as the show has trundled along. Through my career in digital design, I like to think of myself as a dab hand with digital graphics so it's nice to be able to create something visual for the shows each time.

About a week before broadcast I've hopefully got a few promo images from the upcoming guest as well as a bit of promotional blurb to help give some background around artists people might not be familiar with. I always find it interesting how artists have approached their sound or what influences them and such. That info is then blogged a few days before on the darkfloor site as well as hitting Twitter, Facebook, and about 30 to 40 music forums. The archives are done in a similar fashion, as well as writing the code for the podcast, transcoding the MP3 down to between 112kbps and 96kbps to be upped to the Mixcloud site for streaming.

I first came across your show in some of the electro forums. Tell me about your first experiences with electro music proper back in the day, and how you see the scene today in 2010. The well felt really dry to me for a couple of years there, and from my perspective, there's this renewed energy and feel going on currently. What are your thoughts on this?

I guess I really started taking notice after I was finding nuskool breaks records that sounded a bit more sci-fi or more technoid in nature. Stuff like Lawgiverz and Si Begg, as well as Radioactive Man and Son of the Electric Ghost. Producers who straddle the electro and breaks genres.

I'm a bit of a whore when it comes to hearing new music and I download a lot of mixsets often only containing a few artists I've heard before, and from some amazing unsung heroes who have put together mixes with breaks and electro. I still consider myself very much a newcomer when it comes to electro. I got on the wagon late and I'm playing catch up. I guess my love with breakbeats and my first clubbing experiences at jungle and drum and bass gigs led me to electro. It takes all the rhythms and percussion that I like from breaks, but mixes it in with a lot of the darkness of the techno that I like to form technobreaks. Does that make sense?

Absolutely - it's funny you mention that, because aside from electro, I'm a huge huge drum n bass fan, and some of the electro that gets me most amped falls into the camp of producers who deviate from the standard beat patterns and start getting intricate with rhythms and drum sounds. Let's get technical: tell me about your studio set up and how you're making the show

As I broadcast the show with Ableton I need to spend a load of time going through and warping the music I might want to play for that weeks show. This is after I've downloaded it, converted it if it's from CD, tagged it, added artwork etc... The average show I guess is anywhere between 60-100 tracks that I warp prior to broadcast.

It's a headache at the best of times, staring into the abyss that is magnified soundwaves, but it allows me a wide range of sounds to drop during my set in the first hour of the show.  The first 12/13 shows were vinyl shows with a shitty Sony laptop acting as a CD deck to play the odder stuff I didn't have on vinyl. As my tastes have evolved, less of what I wanted was coming out on vinyl, it was getting expensive and I didn't have a surplus of cash to get all this stuff I wanted. So it was via a slight detour via some rather clunky Numark CDX's to where I am now with Ableton.

Specifically I'm now running Ableton 8 with an Audio 8 soundcard with 4 stereo channels going into an Ecler NUO 4. I use an M-Audio Trigger Finger for filters, and fx's. The signal is spilt between my trusty amp and 4ft tower speakers and into the back of my iMac where it is streamed to the world via the Nicecast software. I use a Mac Book Pro for running Ableton.

Do you still dig in the crates, so to speak?

Most of my music is bought online. Generally through digital download stores like Boomkat and Junodownload, and increasingly direct from artists with the Bandcamp service. I do pop into my local charity shops a lot (local being Crystal Palace). There is one, the Cancer Research UK one, which from time to time gets some quality CDs in.

There are the music and video exchanges dotted about London that can be a goldmine for the older sounds. The one in Camden is just racks of vinyl and CDs, with two huge sections that are unmarked and unordered. It's crate digging, old skool style. I always enjoy that, although my partner gives up and leaves after about 5 minutes. Haha, who's to blame her really.

Ha, no doubt! I remember when my girlfriend, now my wife, used to come to every gig I played out, eventually she got bored with the superstar DJ poses ;) Heh... For the City of Bass readers, where can they find you on the web?

You can find me, the radio show and a load of quality mixes from a whole heap of amazing producers and mixologists at darkfloor.co.uk. I also can be found in a design/visual capacity at makemassair.co.uk. Those on Twitter can grab me (@DVNT) or the site (@darkfloor). I think that's enough. I'm on other things which are linked to from the darkfloor site.

Thanks for taking the time to let heads know a little more about you. To wrap up, what's next for yourself and for Mantis Radio?
Thank you, and you're very welcome. What's next? Well I'm still toying with the idea of setting up a netlabel or even a digital label, I'm umming and arring about doing a club night or some sort of live real life version of the show. Hopefully some more DJ gigs.

You can check out the MANTIS radio archives here, and be sure to check out each new show - if you love electronic music, MANTIS radio is the place to be.

Related: Check out the previous 'conversations with' series of interviews here

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