There is an undeniable passion that drives Derek Plaslaiko, a Detroit native who calls Berlin home base. With more than 20 years of touring internationally, playing extended sets, and producing tracks – in addition to balancing family life – he continues to grow as a beloved head in the scene.
Growing up just 20 minutes outside of Detroit proper, Plaslaiko’s youth was spent exploring and becoming heavily involved in the city’s circuit. He got his start around 1994 when Detroit’s house and techno scene was on a heavy up and he became crucial to both the Analog and Poorboy Parties, along with comrade Mike Servito.
An experience that really brought him into the realm was picking up a job at Record Time. Opened in 1983 by Mike Hime, the acclaimed music shop was a staple for local music lovers. With a couple different locations it became a place where many would converge to explore and discover the multitude of local sounds and music from abroad.
Plaslaiko started working at Record Time around Christmas 1996, he vaguely recalls. Hired by Mike Huckaby he says “I was only supposed to come on for the holidays, but then was kept on until summer 1998, I think? Somewhere around there.”
Other former employees include familiar names Claude Young, Rick Wilhite, Magda, Dan Bell and Rick Wade. The Dance Room at the Roseville location became known as a hub for collecting and selling records from numerous local house and techno producers. Plaslaiko says “the space was was usually pretty hilarious, too. Guys like Gary Chandler & DJ Dangerous would come in and crack jokes with Huck. Have you rolling on the floor laughing.”
Eventually, “I got let go for the same reason 99 percent of the people working there did: being late. They were super strict on it. Even if you were one minute late, then that would be strike one. I then went back to work at the Ferndale location around the spring of 2000 until spring of 2002,” he says. During his time there he was ordering for the dance catalog and remembers it being fun, seeing a range of characters walk through its doors. He commended the staff of Record Time saying it “was nice to see the hard work build into something special.”
The shop was influential in many facets for young Plaslaiko as his passion for music began to transform. “Working there was incredible! Both locations were phenomenal. This music was a lot harder to come by back then. So, working at the source really helped shape my musical tastes. Not to mention working around Mike Huckaby,” he says.
His employment at Record Time helped him earn his weekly residency at Family. Held at the pivotal Motor club tucked away in Hamtramck, this venue played an important role for the scene’s growth and was one of the longest running clubs in Detroit. Jason Kendig and Jeremy Christian were original Family residents. One night at a party in 1998 Plaslaiko found out Christian was leaving his spot and the event’s promoter Adriel Thornton had an opening to fill. Plaslaiko took to the helm and was a regular there for the next four years or so.
It was this residency that convinced Carl Craig to ask him to play the inaugural Detroit Electronic Movement Festival [DEMF], which eventually transitioned to be known today as Movement.
Throughout the years he has found himself playing the annual festival, other parties throughout Memorial Day Weekend and as a resident he can always be found at the otherworldly after-party No Way Back. That is of course with the exception of 2014 when he basically took the year off from DJing altogether with his son’s birth just four months prior. Regardless, experiencing basically every year since the millennium he has seen the festival’s evolution, which is now a pilgrimage for music lovers from around the globe.
“The festival has changed in so many different ways. I mean, the obvious one is that it used to be free. But that was never going to be able to sustain itself. Even still, you can’t beat that first year. The thing about it being free that made it so special was that people from absolutely every walk of life came down to check it out. Every race, every age – you name it and they were down there. But, you start putting a price tag on that, and it’s obviously going to change.”
Prices began increasing, but he says the biggest benefit to Paxahau taking over in 2006 and the higher price tag means a larger scale of production. “Doing something that big down there is a feat unlike any other. I’m super proud of all those guys for doing what they have done with it. And they really do strive to make it better and better every year. I often think they are going to plateau even with the sound systems, but they just keep getting bigger and better … It’s always going to be a super special weekend for me, and I don’t even plan to skip it again unless something major prevents me from going.”
In the summer of 2004 he needed a change of scenery and moved from Detroit to New York City. Eventually he met Bryan Kasenic and went on to become a now 10-year resident of The Bunker parties. During time spent in the city he started producing; his debut output xoxo, NYC was a 12″ released in 2010 through Perc Trax. During that same year, he packed up again to move to Berlin and has since remained. In 2011 he spent a summer residency at Club der Visionaere and frequents the notable and legendary Tresor and Berghain/Panorama Bar among many others in Germany.
Although Berlin remains home he continues to travel extensively playing festivals such as Dimensions in Croatia, Communikey in Boulder, Harvest Festival in Toronto and Decibel in Seattle. He’s shared his music at beloved venues such as Smart Bar, Hot Mass, Good Room for The Bunker, Marble Bar – the list goes on and on.
Still, he maintains his traveling lifestyle as a DJ and balances life at home with his wife Heidi and his son Elliot. Such dedication is no easy feat and I find incredible appreciation for people who are so passionate about their music and are still growing a family. Someone else whom I admire for exactly that is Chicago’s Sam Kern, otherwise known as Sassmouth, who is also good friend of his. I couldn’t help but wonder what sentiments parent DJs must share with one another.
“God, I love Sam Kern. She was actually just in Berlin with Ryan [her husband] and Amelia [her daughter] and we got some great hang time in. I really try my hardest to not let my ‘career’ affect my family life in Berlin. I’ve definitely been more selective of my gigs these days and also very cautious about spending too much time away from home. DJing might be considered a job that I’m doing, but there is no denying that there is quite a bit of fun being had. I tend to feel a bit guilty about it, and feel it’s maybe a bit unfair to Heidi if she’s left to all of the parental duties while I’m out partying in multiple cities for 2-3 weekends in a row. Despite all of that, she is incredibly supportive and is even encouraging me to go out on the road more this next year.”
Elliott will be three in January and since he spends time in daycare and preschool (Kita in Germany) Plaslaiko says things are becoming a bit easier to manage. His wife is able to work consistently at her day job, “so me being gone doesn’t affect her like it would have a year ago,” he says. “Though, I’m sure the early mornings every single day probably wear on her a bit. But, all in all, I’m just trying to weigh everything out so that I’m still doing my part, so to speak. Elliott is at an age where he’s constantly doing new things that are super impressive, so it hurts to be away and missing a lot of these first time moments. I also miss them terribly within two days of being gone. Even writing this, I’ve been gone four full days and it feels like weeks. And I have eight more days to go. So, in short, yeah it’s quite hard to be away from them. Luckily with Skype I can stay a bit connected to them while I’m touring. I have no idea how people would’ve done this 15 years ago!”
For the last stop on his tour he will hit Rochester, NY for the first time at Signal > Noise, which has seen the likes of The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Norm Talley, Mike Servito and more. For a man with more than 20 years of dance floors under his belt he has seen a variety of spaces and crowds. I inquired about his reflections on small city scenes.
“I have never been one to shy away from playing someplace just because it’s scene is ‘small’. In fact, I’m always looking for more cities that fit that description. For years, I have had the approach of hoping to help build something somewhere. It’s important for a scene’s growth to have people come in from outside of the local community and (hopefully) provide a different experience, and possibly inspire those in that community.” – DEREK PLASLAIKO
For almost every DJ that has spoken with Sequencer regarding their insight on intimate crowds and concentrated music scenes the consensus seems to continue. “And smaller scenes usually have some of (like you said) the most passionate crowds. The first two that come to mind are Pittsburgh and Philly! Small scenes for the most part, but I can come in and do seven hours at Hot Mass, or thirteen hours at Inciting HQ and have some of the most engaged dancers I have seen anywhere else in my life! I’ve heard nothing but great things about what has been going on in Rochester, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months now.”
What can we look forward to seeing from Plaslaiko in the future? “I have The Bunker 14 Year Anniversary coming up in January! Definitely looking forward to that. Also, I did a remix for TB Arthur that will be out in late January. I’m also going into the studio with BMG right after I finish this interview, so that’s exciting too!”