When Josh Gabriel first met Dave Dresden, Gabriel thought Dresden was full of shit.
It was March of 2001, and the Winter Music Conference was in full glittering swing. Gabriel was staying at the Royal Hotel in South Beach, where Leon Alexander of Hope Recordings was spinning records at a sunset rooftop party.
"Leon was playing 'Days Go By,' by Dirty Vegas, back when Dirty Vegas was still called something else," Gabriel says from his studio in San Francisco. "I remember it was the first time I'd ever heard that song."
The creator of Mixman music software, Gabriel had labored for the previous eight years as cofounder of Mixman Technologies, and he was looking to focus on his own music. Like a lot of aspiring producers, he had pressed a batch of white labels of what he hoped would prove his debut hit track, which in this case was "Wave 3," and brought them to the WMC, hoping to get them into the right hands. "I was just getting started that night," he says. "Light was still changing to dark. But I was really liking what Leon was playing, so I figured, 'What the hell,' and I went up and gave him a record."
Meanwhile, Dresden watched the handoff from across the room. Then he stepped up to Gabriel and said, "Hey man, what's that?"
"He told me he was in Miami scouting music for Pete Tong, and I was like, 'Yeah. Of course you are,'" Gabriel remembers. "Because you know how it is at WMC: Everybody's saying they're somebody's something, and here he was saying he was Pete Tong's talent scout."
Despite his doubts, Gabriel gave a record to Dresden, who rushed down to his own hotel room in the Royal to check it out. "He came back up, like, 30 minutes later and said, 'This sounds great. I'm going to give it to Pete Tong, and he's going to play it,'" Gabriel says. "I was thinking, 'This guy's definitely a poser. '"
Two weeks later, Tong started playing the record.
He and Dresden, who was then a dance-music critic, DJ, and music director for GrooveRadio as well as a scout for Tong, began trading e-mails. Then Gabriel started sending Dresden tracks in progress. He liked the critiques Dresden sent back. "Dave's a DJ," Gabriel says. "I would never say he's 'just a DJ,' but he's not really a studio person at all. But he has a good sense of pop, and he's able to articulate what works or doesn't work in a track and why."
The two began working together later in 2001 when Tong asked Dresden to oversee a remix of the New Order song "Someone Like You," and Dresden enlisted Gabriel. Since then, the two have remixed tracks by Annie Lennox, Jewel, and Sarah McLachlan. More impressively, they've produced a dozen floor fillers of original music, most famously the 2003 crossover trance hit by Motorcycle, "As the Rush Comes."
Of the two, Gabriel is the only pedigreed producer. He studied composition at the California Institute of the Arts and engineering at the Institute of Sonology in Den Hague, the Netherlands. When he and Dresden work together, they conceptualize together, and then he executes.
"I have to admit, it took me a while to accept that Dave was my collaborator, even though I was the only one working the gear," Gabriel says. "But then I came to realize I need him just as much as he needs me, because I need his ear, and I just sort of need him around me. You could say I'm the serious one and he's the joker. He's been getting me outside of my shell. He's more daring in all things."
Gabriel and Dresden are currently on the road in support of their debut album, Bloom, which was released September 14. Though marketed as a mix CD, Bloom is truly a hybrid: Fourteen of the 22 tracks on the double disc came out of the duo's studio, and eight of those 14 cuts are pure originals, including the gem "Lament," which matches pulsing syncopated rhythms with hashish-flavored Middle Eastern hooks.
"We have one disc's worth of original material on Bloom, but since it has other people's songs and a few remixes on there, it's getting called a, quote unquote, 'DJ mix,' but it's definitely not," Gabriel says. "We're not DJs who produce; we're producers who love to DJ. But in my opinion, you can't be truly different as a DJ now just doing mixes of other people's music. You have to play your own originals."
Gabriel and Dresden tour as DJs. In a typical set, they start out with a few vibe-y house tracks, then gradually ratchet up the tempo and compress the cycles of tension and release. But it's always Dresden who pushes for them to bust out with "As the Rush Comes" early in their sets, a risky move that's like bringing out your queen early in a game of chess. "He's always going 'Let's play it now, let's play it now, come on, come on, let's do it,'" Gabriel says. "He's the one that always says yes when I say no. But he's usually right. Whether we're in Cyprus or Turkey or Lebanon, the people in the club know all the words, and it really gets the party going. That's the power of the Internet."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.