Gabriel & Dresden: From Trance Titans to Techno Heads
Oct 30, 2023
B. I. Empey
9 min read
Dance music duo Gabriel & Dresden are turning towards techno, although the pair’s initial claim to fame arose from their massively popular, trance-centered, alternative-adjacent work of the '2000s.
Remember their 2004 single "As The Rush Comes," which reached #11 on the UK singles charts? Or their remix of Above & Beyond’s "No One On Earth," which was voted the #1 track of the year in 2004 on Armin Van Buuren’s seminal podcast A State of Trance? Those are just two of the iconoclastic tracks that spring to mind from Gabriel & Dresden’s wide-spanning careers as globetrotting producers and DJs.
In the nearly two decades since breaking into the mainstream dance music zeitgeist with those early hits and their self-titled album, Gabriel & Dresden have also become a central act on Above & Beyond’s label Anjunabeats, having released a slew of singles and two full-length albums on the influential imprint.
“Our remix of Above & Beyond’s 'No One On Earth' was one of the first really big Anjunabeats records, and it was technically one of the first Above & Beyond hits,” Dresden remembers. “So we have a long history with these guys. We put out two albums with them, and we continue the relationship.”
“We’re doing either an album or an EP” for release on Anjunabeats, Dresden casually announces to Gray Area.
Nowadays, Gabriel & Dresden are launching the CQ / Techno tour, a new ten-stop American affair featuring local artists and extended techno-centered sets. The tour’s branding is in part a spinoff of their popular Twitch show Club Quarantine, which first took off during COVID and was recently retooled as a touring concept. It’s also in part due to the tour’s sonic focus “running the gamut of techno music from the pretty and beautiful to the hard and banging,” according to press releases.
And the first stop on the tour?
November 4th in New York City, at Musica with Gray Area.
It’s somewhat of a full-circle moment for Gabriel & Dresden: back in the ‘2000s, one of their first gigs together under their moniker was at Arc in New York City.
Yet, many questions remain about Gabriel & Dresden’s ongoing musical evolution. Gray Area asked Dresden to fill in some of the blanks during a mid-hike conversation as he rested atop the peak of Mount Tamalpais, just about an hour’s drive north of his regular San Francisco stomping grounds.
“We're sort of an act that has never had a total musical identity,” Dresden tells Gray Area. “Like if you listen to our first album — there's some trance on it. There's some indie rock-feeling stuff on it, there's some house-sounding music on it. We’ve always just made music that we wanted to make, and never really thought about the genre of the music that we're making.”
“Recently though, we've been thinking a little more about [genres],” Dresden notes, “because at this point in the game, you sort of have to pick a side, so to speak.”
Dresden explains that the upcoming CQ / Techno tour follows the August release of their latest single "Other Eye," a collaboration on Anjunabeats with Andrew Bayer and Sub Teal that’s been years in the making.
“Andrew Bayer is like one of the figureheads of Anjunabeats,” Dresden says. “He’s helped Above & Beyond make most of their music for over a decade. We've shared a kinship with him and Above & Beyond for a long time.”
With such history, a collaboration between Bayer and Gabriel & Dresden was seemingly inevitable.
Yet, it was a life-threatening health scare that finally got that long-brewing collaboration off the ground while setting the stage for the duo’s upcoming CQ / Techno tour.
“Last year, my music partner Josh Gabriel had a heart attack,” Dresden says. “So [we were] trying to find a way for Josh to be productive but not have a lot of stress, because making a song from scratch is stressful.”
During Gabriel’s recovery, Bayer reached out to the pair asking how he could help. “That's really where we began talking, and figured out that it was the perfect time to make a record,” Dresden says.
“[Bayer] was like, ‘I want to make a modern Gabriel & Dresden record’ with the ideas of G & D — the song, the lyrics, guitars, electric basses, like rock basses. And then he would add modern touches,” Dresden says. “But his modern touches were definitely more in the G & D vein than in the Andrew Bayer vein. So it was a really interesting sound clash between two acts that have helped define Anjunabeats in some ways.”
For an act that’s well known for pushing the Anjunabeats sound forward with their trance-laced singles and genre-blending albums, it’s a seemingly incongruous choice to follow such a quintessentially Anjunabeats release with a techno-focused tour.
“There's the confusion as we're putting out a track that’s pretty trance-y, and then going and doing a techno tour,” Dresden says. “And this CQ / Techno tour that we're about to embark on is basically us going out and playing underground sets.”
But when viewing that decision in the context of their entire career rather than in a cultural vacuum, the underlying reason for highlighting their underground-leaning techno predilections with the CQ / Techno tour makes a whole lot of sense.
“Being G & D for all these years, it's kind of like being Rüfüs Du Sol — people want to hear your songs. We’ve been doing that for years,” Dresden explains. “Normally when we go out, we play our music, and music that sounds like our music, and a few other things.”
“But this [tour] is going to be specifically about techno — so this is a way to get away from relying on our songs, to get people to dance,” he says.
“That’s exciting, because we’ve never really done that before.”
Here, Gabriel & Dresden’s choice to showcase underground techno as a style of electronic music they aren’t mainly associated with as producers (but are nonetheless passionate about) is a career maneuver that’s proven to be in vogue for other major dance music artists lately. Look no further than Deadmau5 and his techno-driven alias Testpilot, Jauz and his house-oriented Off The Deep End shows, or Diplo and his house-centered sublabel Higher Ground.
It’s no surprise that prolific producers such as these continue to put their own spins on genres outside of their regular fare. But what is curious is how fan bases across electronic music have fairly wide-open ears for when one of their favorite producers makes something new by stepping off the beaten musical path. That quirk of contemporary electronic music culture seems to stand in stark contrast to past crossover attempts by artists from other mainstream genres, including folk, rock, rap, and country music alike.
For example: recall just how furious many folk music fans were back in 1965 when Bob Dylan performed his first electric show at the Newport Folk Festival. When Dylan played his new single "Like a Rolling Stone" with backing from an electric band, whole sections of the festival crowd reportedly booed the so-called ‘spokesman of a generation’ for embracing that sonic evolution.
A notable example from more recent decades: Garth Brooks’ ill-fated, short-lived project as alt-rock alter-ego Chris Gaines, which culminated in the incomprehensible 1999 album "Garth Brooks… In the Life of Chris Gaines."
Perhaps it helps for dance music producers like Gabriel & Dresden to have bedrock sounds from house and techno traditions as they weave new sonic threads throughout the tapestry of contemporary dance music. “House and techno are the foundations of most of this music,” Dresden says. “Disco, new wave, all that stuff is also foundational. But for all intents and purposes of modern electronic music, house and techno are the foundations. They’re in everything we do.”
“If you’re using a 909, an 808, a 707, a 606, and a 303, you're generally making house and techno,” Dresden says with a dry chuckle. “I've been DJing since 1987, and Josh has been making music since the early 80s. We still in our DJ sets play lots and lots of house and techno.”
“But at the end of the day, Josh and I — we like to break the rules a little bit.”
BODY OF WORK
As for what’s coming out of Gabriel & Dresden’s latest studio efforts?
“We’re currently working on a body of work that I'm not sure what it is,” Dresden muses candidly. “Is it an album? Is it ‘anything goes’, where we release it by ourselves? Does it come out on Anjuna? Are we gonna go some other route?”
“We’re definitely making music that would be aimed more squarely in the techno genre,” Dresden says when pressed on sonic specifics. “But we'll still put arpeggios in songs, chords in songs, and have full verses and choruses in songs, which isn’t necessarily techno music.”
In regards to their staying power in the global dance music scene, Dresden tells Gray Area that there isn’t some grand master plan that’s allowed them to stay relevant in the decades following their initial success.
“I think that we're just always going to be these guys that make a wide variety of music and hope for the best,” Dresden says.
“If we had to make the same kind of music every day, we'd get really bored quickly.”
In light of their upcoming CQ / Techno tour as well as their yet-to-be-announced releases, it doesn’t appear as if Gabriel & Dresden are going to get bored anytime soon.