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Deantoni Parks in flux

The seasoned drummer scales back and expands with 'Technoself'

Deantoni Parks spent much of his career leading from the shadows. Everyone from John Cale to Flying Lotus have tapped him for his breakneck drum strokes and abstract rhythms. With his latest album, Technoself, Parks flaunts his percussive skills by stripping down to one sampler, a drum kit, and no overdubs. The result is a minimal, beat-driven album that hinges on the immediacy of improvisation and the emotional depth of sampling. Parks took a few minutes to talk about his love of electronic music, communicating with audiences, and the natural flux of life.

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Why scale back with Technoself?

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I'm still looking for an identity. I wanted to find the space and I couldn't do it until I took a stick away and added a sampler, which gave me the format and set up that I needed. Everything I write from that position is simpler and more revealing from my compositional side.

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How does adding the sampler help form your own voice?

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I've been influenced by so much electronic music in my career, from Kraftwerk to Aphex Twin. I've always wanted to figure out how to play those electronic sounds. I've kind of exhausted that hybrid of adapting electronic drum sounds into a live kit situation. I love that I'm layering real drums with electronics sounds. It feels new.

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How did you choose your samples?

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I didn't have any particular songs in mind. One big song in the initial stage of Technoself was a James Taylor song that spoke to me, I think it was "Fire and Rain." I found parts of it that hit me in a very post-J Dilla way. It spoke to me, and that started this journey. I also have an art blog and writing company called We Are Dark Angels. I do that from a production standpoint. I just take my favorite songs, from Billy Idol to Blondie, and reimagine them. That was kind of the blueprint for what I was doing with Technoself, but in a real-time scenario. I share that company with Nick Kasper from KUDU as well. That's kind of my main inspiration for this record.

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Has it been difficult keeping your personal voice working as a sideman?

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I've been fortunate in the that when people call me they want my sound. When John Cale hired me, he didn't want me to play like David Bowie's drummer at the time, or like Brain Eno would program a beat. Same with the Mars Volta, usually that band gives the drummer their identity, but they let me do what I felt was right. It led to me stepping out and doing Technoself. I'm hearing a lot of things, and this is the only way I can communicate those ideas. This format is more palpable.

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It's more minimal. You can see every element. I'm not hiding behind cymbals or a band or toms. I'm out front, there's my hand in front of the midi controller. I'm playing the sample in time with the left hand stick playing. It's visually easy to digest.

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How long have you been performing with the sampler?

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I started with my band Bosnian Rainbows in 2013. We did two world tours back to back, and that was the first time I toured with the set up. Touring helped me with leading with my left hand and all of the awkwardness started to settle after two years. It's still strange, but I'm obsessed with it because it gives me so much of what I'm looking for all at once. I was playing in that style a year before, just in clubs in Atlanta. I worked out material on unsuspecting crowds, there was never any particular songs. Technoself is just a format, like a stream of music. Whatever sample is up, it's gonna be different every time. I'm trying to create a Grateful Dead situation where you have to come and see every show.

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Do the songs have a definite structure when you perform live?

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The songs are like jazz forms to me. They're structured, they have motifs. I'll deviate from the form and come back to it. I have themes that you will recognize. What happens after that initial point may be totally different. It's something where I show up and I don't have a clue as to what I will perform. I just have broad strokes of where I want to go. The crowd informs me on what to do.

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How do you respond to an audience?

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If I feel it's time to move on, I'm looking at the audience, their movements, there's so much you can read by looking at people. I'm trying to communicate deeply with people. People have no clue what I'm doing, and I'm not playing their favorite songs. I receive responses and ad-libs from the audience. I want to do that in every room, communicate on a deep level, which is usually beyond words anyway.

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How did you transition from playing jazz to electronic music?

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Hanging out in New York and Boston, listening to DJs spin like Autechre and Squarepusher. It was just a cool period in electronic music, jungle was happening. I was already into programming in high school and early college and I just started putting all my focus into replicating drum machines on a live kit. That's when I crossed paths with Jojo Mayer and a few other drummers that were doing the same. That was the convergence. That's when I chose to imitate engineers instead of drummers.

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Why imitate programmed drums?

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It was a challenge. I didn't know where I else I could go in drumming. I was taught the best you can be is Billy Cobham or Neil Peart. That's a narrow vision for a percussionist.

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You mentioned J Dilla. Was he in your mind for this album?

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He's more in my psyche, my subconscious. The last one I listened to was Donuts. I have a feeling he paralyzed the beat world with that record. It was Beatles-esque, it was a George Martin level of production. Technoself is one of those records that can exist after Donuts, and live beyond it. It's coming out on his label. I was thinking more Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis then J Dilla, though his influence is certainly there.

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How did Herbie and Miles inspire you?

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It was that jazz odyssey, that feeling of creating a record that's like a trip, where it's not about one song. It's about the experience of that stream of consciousness style, like in Bitches Brew or "Butterfly." It comes with an air of arrogance and confidence and I need that for a journey. When I hear Technoself, that's what it feels like to me somehow, like I'm part of that lineage.

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What comes next?

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I plan on releasing more material. What I have released is just testing the pool. There are hundreds of these pieces. I want to make this an art exhibit. I want to play the Technoself method with huge speakers in these huge spaces where people walk through and I'm playing for six hours. I want people to have the record, but it's really about coming and feeling it and coming to see it. I plan on doing massive exhibitions, Kraftwerk-style, I'll be in one place and stream it to different cities. Technoself is an experience, it's not a set of music.