Dan the Automator aka Dr. Octagon aka Lovage
Raised on a steady diet of classical violin, Kraftwerk, old school break beats, R&B and rock and roll, the Automator is the ultimate musical connoisseur. Growing up in multi-cultural San Francisco, Automator says that mixing it up just comes naturally.
"A lot of times I go to a Mexican taqueria and the jukebox is playing something terrible, but I hear instruments that I might not think of otherwise," he explains. "I compose music, but it's more like being a collage artist, taking ideas from anything around me."
A classically trained violinist who can read, write, sample and play music, the Automator started his career as a club DJ in the '80's. By the end of the '90's, he was producing, mixing and remixing tracks for artists diverse as the Beastie Boys, Herbie Hancock, Depeche Mode, Cibo Matto, Primal Scream, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Stereolab, among others.
The Automator jump-started his production career in 1996 with the highly acclaimed Dr. Octagon record, Dr. Octagonecologyst (DreamWorks, 1997), a collaboration with Kool Keith and DJ Q-Bert. In 1998, he worked the board on the Bollywood sonic extravaganza, Bombay the Hard Way (Motel).
1999 saw the release of So....How's Your Girl? By Handsome Boy Modeling School, a collaborative effort between Automator and producer Prince Paul. Automator also comprises one third of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Prince Paul and producer Mike Simpson are the other two thirds), a composing and production consortium readying their long awaited release.
Among the artists with whom the trio has collaborated are DeLaSoul and Cornershop. The Automator also just executive produced Self Preservation (75ARK) the debut by Encore.
"I like all kinds of music, but more importantly, hip-hop is not a very experimental medium right now so I just want to be where the new stuff is. If you put me in the studio, you won't end up with 'my sound,' because my sound is based on what's going on around the artist-it's a true collaboration as opposed to, 'Here's your track.'"
That brand of artistic integrity has remained the one steady element in the Automator's massive repertoire. In 1988, Automator cut Music to be Murdered By; it was the first record to incorporate break beats with noises to scratch with for DJs doing battle on the wheels of steel.
Today, turntablism would hardly be the same had the Automator not made his early, experimental contribution. "I made one battle-break record. I thought it was enough," he jokes.
But because the Automator is constantly looking forward rather than following trends, "a lot of the records I made didn't get discovered till two years after I made them; people thought they were too futuristic! For better or worse, I'm already on to the next thing."
Even as a child, the Automator believes he had an interest in how records were made. "When I was in fifth or sixth grade, Howard Johnson had this record, "So Fine," and he had these big old reverbs and garbage can snares on it and I was kinda curious about the whole thing."
From Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire to Arthur Baker's remixes, the Automator absorbed it all. "I have a certain reverence for the early hip-hop, Afrika Bambaata and Grandmaster Flash, but I'm more a fan of the mid-school, "The Show," "Needle to the Groove," "Fresh is the Word," and Boogie Down Productions. I grew up in a time of programmed beats, bands and sampling. Guys used James Brown and jazz records and Mantronix made futuristic records. Public enemy was making sonic messes. That's where I come from-the idea that you can do anything."
So just as everyone thought they had him pegged as another quirky Bay Area mixmaster, the Automator stepped up with Dr. Octagon and blew all expectations with his industrial-strength beats and hectic string parts.
"Playing the violin from ages three to fifteen taught me all about structure and reading music. Pop music has its verse/bridge/chorus, three chord, and circular progression. Classical music has flats and sharps in every other measure and it creates different moods; it's more linear, heading some place. I like to think of music as heading some place."