Dean Dennis

Visit Dean's website


Interview by Michael Foster
and  Ben Wilkinson

Ambient Visions Talks with....Dean Dennis ©2007 Ambient Visions

Dean Dennis... With over two decades of recording and performing, Dean Dennis’ musical journey has now arrived at the Nohno project. Dennis has traversed the musical spectrum, immersing himself in everything from his jazz-funk stomping grounds to the genre-bending electro-jazz & industrial outpourings of the seminal Clock DVA, the early electronic experimental work of The Anti Group Collective right on through to the darker aspects of techno with the Sector project. 

Nohno is the bastard progeny. A hybrid that mutates and evolves through techno jazz, tech-house to ambient industrial sound-scapes. Nohno is metamorphic. Nohno is liberated. 

The  “Metropolis” album, released in 2006, is Nohno’s first offspring. A deeper affair, “Metropolis” is a sofa rocker.  If music were in 3-D, “Metropolis” would be a flood of images, downloaded directly from your psyche.  Images of howLondon was last time you were there and images of how you dream ofTokyo being if you ever get to go there. 

“Metropolis” also signals a new & fruitful collaboration for Dennis as he is joined by Jose M. Jose brings additional elements of improvisation, sound and vocal sampling to the Nohno project and the potential for new visual dimensions. 

The musical adventures of Dean Dennis started at a very early age when the rumpus resonating from the family home began to disturb the neighbours. His anxious parents decided to guide Dean’s talent towards the work of God. Dean was given a guitar and sent for some strict instruction to prepare him for a weekly appearance at his parent’s church.  His version of He’s Coming Down proved to be the first of many successful improvisations. 

Driven by the need to push boundaries, one fateful Sabbath Dean cast away his Sunday suit, clad himself in jeans and sent a wave of panic through his father’s flock as he started pounding out ska riffs. Dean freed himself from his father’s accusing frowns and the penance of playing Greensleeves with the ritualistic burning of his guitar. 

Bootsy Collins supplied inspiration and the electric bass became Dean’s favoured instrument of musicality. Dean formed his first band in 1980. After tiring of performing Jazz Funk to confused groups of steel workers he auditioned for Clock DVA. Though still a teenager he was welcomed by Paul Browse, Nick Sanderson, John Valentine Carruthers and Adi Newton. 

After  Man Amplified” Dean had become weary of three card tricks. Packing his bags he said goodbye to the circus. He sought a new type of act bringing together a collective ofSheffield magician’s including Robert Gordon, Kenric Clarke & DJ Mink. With Dean at the helm they created Industrial Cosmetics and Macula Orange released as Sector projects. 






















AV: What is Nohno, and where did you get the name?

DD:  We wanted a name that was fairly abstract and would not give a definite impression of what to expect and would reflect certain openness. Our aims with the music are to try to capture the imagination perhaps provoke thought through movement & atmosphere

The name Nohno comes from the two spellings of Noh as in Noh Theatre sometimes spelt “no”.  Noh is structured around dance and music, is symbolic rather than representative. The main message given through Noh is that you should not become to attached to the world because it is a word of illusion- which in the times we are living in seems only to true. 

AV:  You've played in a lot of groups in your time, what are the pros and cons of working by your self?

DD:  I don’t work alone now – I found it to be too insular and lonely!  I’ve had good experiences of working in groups and bad experiences. The most important thing was to have a common passion and understanding and to share the same drive. As a group Clock DVA worked because we were all interested in extending ourselves and developing new music, we developed together & in a way shared a common sensibility. After Clock DVA it was hard to pull people together who understood what I wanted to do and where I wanted the music to go. If you can imagine everyone walking on different paths and trying to find a way to the centre. Sector become a very solo project because of these frustrations. 

AV:  You've had several incarnations before Nohno including Clock DVA and Sector. What was Clock DVA all about and what kind of music were you releasing back then? 

DD:  Clock DVA was about experimenting with new forms of electronic music, exploring technology and the "fusion" of man & machine. The Music was Industrial EBM.  There were 2 distinct periods, initially we were acoustic electro rock/jazz after we split up and reformed in 1987. Paul, Adi and I started to use electronic music technology. During this period we had underground success with the albums Buried Dreams & Man Amplified.  

AV:  What is song writing process for Nohno?

DD:  There isn’t one particular process that I can pin down. A lot depends upon the particular inspiration of the time, for example I may have a melody that has been on my mind or it may be a rhythm inspired by something I’ve seen or heard, or a memory I’ve had. Depending I’ll then lay down the rhythm sequence first and build melodies & chord sequences upon this or I’ll add the rhythm over the melody if I’ve started from that direction. Once I’ve got the basics down then Jose will start to work – perhaps adding melodies or chords. We’ll then leave the song for a while and listen to it with a more critical edge. If we still think the song has potential then we’ll carry out further work adding further sequences chords, sound effects Jose’ll start to collect samples and edit these then do more editing on the sequences, perhaps add some sound effects. We’ll do a mix down and then minor tweaks. 

AV:  From playing in a church band as a kid, to performing, Ska, Jazz and funk, have all these experiences with these other forms of music, helped you with this new project?

DD:  You are talking very much about my early days – and forgetting that most of my musical life has been spent producing industrial, techno and left field electronica.  You could say that my early days did have a long-term impact since Jazz & Funk are quite technically demanding music and required that I worked hard mastering techniques. The fluidity of technique and also the improvisational nature of both Jazz & Jazz Funk also gave me the ability & confidence to compose. 

AV:  In music history, what are the most important groups/artists to you, and why?

DD:  This is a difficult question to pin down in a few words – I could reel off a long list and tip my hat at a huge number of bands and artists, then regret not mentioning one name or another. It’s probably best just to say that the artists who are the most important to me & most influential are those who were innovators, who broke new grounds, were not afraid to be misunderstood or to make waves. This includes those from a wide range of genres from classical, Jazz, Funk, Rock & electronic music.  

AV:  When you moved on to creating music as Sector what were the differences between what you did as Clock DVA and what you wanted to do as Sector? 

DD:  At the time I decided to leave I felt that Clock DVA seemed to becoming too formulaic and following a format take into account the vocals, there were a lot of tracks that had great potential but never made it or were developed to their full potential because of this.  I think with Sector I wanted to do something that was more diverse and also more club orientated, but of course on my own terms. I wanted to work with a range of different people, work in a different way, and explore different avenues influenced by what was happening at that time. Sector was a much more spontaneous project, the first 2 albums evolved though jamming and improvisation, there was a certain new energy since we were all coming from slightly different directions. It felt pretty exciting at that time.  

AV:  I was reading on your CD Baby site about the influences that Kraftwerk had on your music. In what ways has Kraftwerk influenced your music personally and as a whole where has Kraftwerk's music led electronic music scene in general?   

DD:  Kraftwerk had an influence upon Clock DVA; hence Buried Dreams & Man Amplified this influence has carried on. What they have created over the years is timeless- they were true innovators.  Their greatest influence upon me is their approach to melodies and their purity.  I think it is probably impossible to say how much they have influenced electronic music, it¹ could be described as a benign virus or a mutant gene that¹s always there in the population without us even realising it. 

AV:  I keep seeing the word Jazzy crop up when describing your music. Do you listen to a lot of jazz and do you see the music that you create incorporating some of these influences into the fabric of your creations in some way?  

DD:  I¹ve always listened to Jazz & Jazz ~Funk particularly Miles Davis & Weather Report.  In my youth I played Jazz Funk, the other members of DVA were all into jazz so it¹s been a major influence particularly in the way I construct chords & melodies.  Some of my tracks are obviously more influenced by Jazz than others, but jazz certainly underlies most of them in one way or another.  

AV:  When you started to work on Metropolis did you have any framework in mind that you wanted to create within?  

DD:  I knew that I wanted to create an album that was more diverse in approach than the later Sector material. I got myself into a bit of a rut with that. At the time we started working on Metropolis we had moved from a big city to a village, we wanted to create something that reflected this transition. Metropolis tells the romanticised story of our thoughts & memories, our real and imagined experiences of the city. We saw the album as a set of soundtracks for short films.  

AV:  How does your work as Nohno differ from the music that you created as Clock DVA and Sector? Was this a deliberate move or were your creative instincts leading you in this direction all along?  

DD:  I see my work on a trajectory rather than as following a number of different routes. There are still the echo¹s of DVA  & Sector in my current project, but these are overlaid by what I hope is a fresher approach  

AV:  Are you a hands on kind of guy when it comes to the work that needs to be done in the studio (mixing, producing etc) or do you have other folks that you work with to tweak your performances?  

DD:  I¹m totally hands on but it¹s very much a joint effort in terms of production and mixing, final mastering is the only thing I leave in the hands of others.  

AV:   Does Nohno have any other members? If so who are they and how do they contribute to the music that is released under the Nohno name?  

DD:  Nohno has one other member Jose; she adds colour & texture to the tracks with additional melodies, chords, sound design and sample design. She¹s also working on putting together visuals for live performance.  

AV:  Is there one style of music that could describe what you have created with Metropolis? If not how would you characterize the music that makes up this release?   

DD:  Apart from the electronic tag there is not really one way I could describe Metropolis. There¹s a whole host of influences, we tip our hats to industrial ambient, ambient jazz, tech house, and ebm. Each track reflects a particular experience so the moods change across the album.  

AV:  Are you happy with what you have been able to accomplish with Nohno and will you be continuing by doing a second release as Nohno in the near future?   

DD:  I¹m happy so far but I¹m not resting on my laurels. There is always the quest for that perfect track. We are currently working on a second release that should be out this year.  

AV:  How is it that you take the sound of machines and infuse them with an organic feel or soul if you'd like? Do you feel that electronics can create the same kind of emotional/spiritual music that can be created on physical instruments? Why?   

DD:  Of course I think that electronics can create the same kind of emotional and spiritual music as physical instruments, I think perhaps the only thing that can¹t be replaced is the human voice. The power of a piece music lies in the way it has been composed and arranged and importantly the spirit behind it. I don¹t think it depends upon whether someone is plucking a string here or there.  

Live performance maybe that¹s a different matter and is something that you have to work on and take a more complex approach.  

AV:  How has Metropolis been received by your fans and were you happy with what you were able to accomplish with this first release as Nohno?  

DD:  Overall the response has been great, I think people have appreciated the spirit and the thought behind it as well as the variety of the music.  Yes we are really happy, perhaps there are a couple of tracks that didn¹t make an appearance that should have been developed and included to make the album full time.  

AV:  What's the live Nohno Experience like?

DD:  This is something that is still in the development stage. The thought of a couple of people on stage stood behind keyboards struck us as being a pretty drab & soulless event.  We’re playing around with a lot of ideas taking an alternative view of what a live experience could be – for example interactive installation or putting together some generative visuals that will be formed as we play.

AV:  Do you see the internet as a big ally in reaching new fans who may never have heard of you before? 

DD:  The jury is out on this one; I think the internet is great for artists like myself who are wanting to reach out and make connections and collaborations, We¹ve hooked up with some interesting projects due to this.  

I¹m hoping it¹ll provide a vehicle to reach new audiences through e-zines such as Ambient Visions ;) 

AV:  Is Out to Lunch Records something that you created to distribute your music? If so do you enjoy doing the business end of your music as much as you do the creative/performing aspects of Nohno?  

DD:  Yes Out to Lunch has been created to distribute my music and hopefully in the future collaborations with other artists, no I definitely don¹t enjoy the business side as much and this needs far more attention than I want to give it.  

AV:  Do you see Nohno as a long term project or is it a temporary identity that will stick around only as long as it is needed to house the current creative phase that you are in? Any final words for your fans who have been with you through all of your identities and groups?  

DD:  My hope is that Nohno will be a long-term project. I don¹t see Nohno as fixed its going to evolve as the partnership evolves. 

I¹m also exploring different roads through side projects and collaborations.

AV:  What's next for Nohno?

DD:  At the moment we are working on a new album, and starting to explore how we could make Nohno a live experience.  I’ve also contributed to a CD that is being released in aid of Action Against Hunger – so I’d like to plug this (.) 

AV:  If you could have anything on your rider, no matter how absurd, what would it be?

DD:  A ticket for the mothership.