AUSTIN, Texas — When it comes to dance music and DJing, Moby is a reluctant headliner at best. “One of the things I really liked about when I started DJing is people not paying that much attention to me,” he explains while sipping tea in an armchair on the lower level of the plush Four Seasons hotel after DJing at parties the previous couple of nights.
“DJing in a nightclub where the DJ booth is off to the side, that’s what I love ‘cause the idea is to put the focus on the people who are dancing and drinking and hopefully meeting people.
“But being put up on a stage makes me uncomfortable. If you’re actually doing something, like running around on stage playing guitar, then I understand people paying attention. But if it’s just a bald, middle-aged guy playing records, there’s no show.”
Despite that reticence and a selfdescription as “a recovering narcissist,” Moby tends to spend plenty of time DJing on stages and has spent nearly 25 years in the dance and electronic music spotlight.
The Connecticut native, born Richard Melville Hall -— and, yes, a distant nephew of “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville — has been one of the leading figures in the club world since he put aside his punk bands and began releasing dance records in 1989.
His 1991 hit “Go” put him on the commercial map, while 1993’s “Move” topped the U.S. dance charts. He’s released rock albums as well, along with scoring movies
and remixing other artists’ singles, and he even scored a Top 20 pop hit with the Gwen Stefanisung “South Side” in 2001.
But dance music continues to be a home base for Moby, who performs a DJ set at 10 p.m. Saturday on the vitaminwater Main Stage at Movement: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival.
“When I first started to get into dance music,” he explains, “I found it emancipating to focus more on the effectiveness of music, that implied sort of visceral, non-literal meaning, as opposed to the quantifiable elements of a song, like melody and lyrics.
“I grew up obsessed with words and obsessed with Leonard Cohen and (Joy Division’s) Ian Curtis, really lyric-driven music. But then you could listen to a disco record or a dance record and the lyrics, if you were to read them, are utterly inane. But somehow when they’re being delivered by a disco diva with a beautiful voice, somehow a simple line like ‘I love you’ can become the most profound thing you’ve ever heard at two o’clock in the morning.”
Moby sought to convent that feeling again on his most recent album, “Last Night,” which came out earlier this year.
Mixing uptempo grooves and chill, ambient tracks, along with vocals by several guest vocalists (including “Rapper’s Delight” cowriter Grandmaster Caz), he crafted “the feeling of a night out” that focused more on feeling than intellect.
“I wanted to make a record that was not me taking myself too seriously,” Moby explains, “and then also reflected what my life was actually in New York. For better or worse, I go out all the time. I’m 42 years old and I go out four or five nights a week and drink too much and stay out too late. “So it’s not a terribly introspective record. I guess it’s a more gregarious, social record.” “Last Night” has certainly re-ingratiated Moby to the dance community, which still considers him an icon. But not surprisingly, the guy who prefers to hide in the DJ booth rejects that status.
“I think the music I’ve made is too eclectic and too all over the place to be something like (an icon) or an influence,” maintains Moby, who also plays bass in a “loud, blues-inspired rock band” called The Little Death, NYC. “The only way I might have influenced some people is because I’ve been making electronic music for a long time.
“In some ways I’m like a gateway drug. I think in the early ’90s especially, people might have been introduced to electronic music and dance music through me — but then they went on to listen to better music.”
Movement: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival, featuring nearly 100 acts on five stages, takes place noon-midnight Saturday through Monday (May 24-26) at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit. Tickets are $25 daily, $50 for a weekend pass and $175 for a weekend VIP pass. Schedules and other information, including after parties, can be found at www.myspace.com/detroitmusicfest.
Send your thoughts and comments to