Interview: Five Minutes Minutes with Dean Fuel
Newly established digital record label, SMAAK, is headed-up by none other than prominent and highly respected Cape Town based DJ and producer, Dean Fuel, who has seen many years of top tier success in his home turf of South Africa, as well as spread his sound internationally by capturing a global audience for his music on streaming platforms worldwide, and performing in cities as far afield as Amsterdam, Dubai, Macau, Maputo and beyond.
Fusing euphoric vocals and emotive atmospherics, ‘All In’ delivers an incredible blend of the sound that the label is behind, creating space for the vocals to emanate throughout the track’s energetic drums and searing synth work. ‘All In’ moves deftly between Progressive and Tech House, with a captivating vocal hook and magnetic voice that leads the way to the momentous finale.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
100% YES – my first rave years ago, I got to see Sasha & Digweed live – the music, the experience, the vibe, the people – it all came together to make me feel like I’d ‘come home’!
I fell in love with the music, and wanted to know everything about how the DJ’s were making it, playing it, controlling the energy of the room and everyone in it! I got myself turntables, studied basic music production and sound engineering courses, and never looked back!
What made you start a label?
To be honest, it’s been on my mind for a number of years, but the timing just never felt 100% right… I had set up a very basic label a few years back to self-release some music I had co-written with a talented young singer but had never really put any real effort or thought into what I was doing, so this time – I wanted to do it right!
The 2 main things that I usually would do is create, and perform … and with the world in lockdown, and my time shifting from touring and performing to being literally stuck at home, I decided to throw myself full-on into “create” mode. This has meant working on new music, as well as committing to starting this label – which is perhaps the ultimate form of self-expression and creation.
I want it to be a home for my new music, as well as a platform for the music I love. Getting to discover new talent, or work with artists I love will be an amazing adventure ahead!
Why is it called “SMAAK”?
You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find a label name that hasn’t already been used or taken in some form or another, and I definitely wanted something that was 100% original.
I also wanted something that might have people questioning, guessing, or intrigued … and I also loved the fact that it gave the label a bit of local flavour (as it is an Afrikaans word) …
SMAAK is what you make of it: original, local, and (personally) I love the translation of it “to like, love, or be keen on (someone or something)” which is how I feel about great music!
Tell us about the origins of your latest single ‘All In’
I started ‘All In’ in 2019, wrote most of it quickly, bouncing ideas around with a few producers mates, and shaping it into the ‘fusion’ that it became with the Tech House groove, and Progressive breakdown & drop. Adding the vocals took it to another level, but also added-on more time to the process, so only finished the track early 2020.
From there started making moves to self-release it on my new label SMAAK, but had to get the label up and running first. The final pieces have all come together now in the time of Covid-19 and lockdown, which has brought its own challenges – but we are not slowing down one bit! Literally ‘All In’!
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
Coffee, emails and admin to start – then some browsing the internet for news on plugins, new techniques, or any studio related stuff – often helps to stimulate new ideas. From there it really is a case of working smart, focusing on work that is due, and not being distracted by starting new projects. Sometimes I’ll find myself in a ‘groove’, and get a lot done, but some days it just won’t flow – guess that’s how it goes!
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
I’m mostly into software: I have Cubase, Ableton Live (my main DAW), and an extensive plugin collection. I’m a bit of a plugin junkie and own some of the best plugins available, from Native Instruments, to Plugin Alliance, Fabfilter, etc.
Gear wise I’ve got a Yamaha electronic piano, a NI Komplete Kontrol S61 and the Push 2. My ‘fancy’ items are my monitors (Focal SM9’s) my soundcard (RME Fireface) and my MOOG Subsequent 37.
Recently I added in a Roland TR-8S … which I’m loving it so far, and still getting used to it… but so much fun!
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
This is something I never stop working on! Always learning, always trying to be better! Whether it’s Djing, or writing music, or producing.
I evolved as a DJ using turntables, to using CDJ’s, to laptops and controllers, and then back to CDJ’s!
As a producer, I take courses, learn content online, and I even started piano lessons again.
There is also so much to learn from fellow producers – I love seeing how other people create tracks and their workflow, lots to learn!
Any emerging artists on your radar?
I suppose it depends on what the definition of an emerging artist is!
I get a lot of submissions from other South African ‘emerging’ artists, who are starting out – and all looking to get their break. Some are good, some – less so – but everyone has to start somewhere. I always try to respond as best as I can. I don’t want to miss out on someone, plus I know the feeling of wanting to get someone you respect to listen to your music!
What’s the plan with Dean Fuel moving forward?
With the current global situation – who really knows?!
For now, just to keep “moving forwards” feels like all I can do. As is the DJ trend, I’ve done 1 live stream so far (part of DreamStream which raised over R500,000 for charity).
I’m focused on the label for now, as well as finishing a few more tracks …
But to be honest, all I really want to do is get to play a live show again, and watch an actual dancefloor losing themselves to my music … that would be amazing!
01: Dean Fuel – ‘All In’ (Original Mix)
02: Dean Fuel – ‘All In’ (Dub Mix)
03: Dean Fuel – ‘All In’ (Radio Edit)
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By Alaric Hobbs