It's not that hard to figure out how Moby got to be the best-known name in techno. Unlike the other acts he's touring with in the See The Light festival -- a lineup including Orbital, Aphex Twin and Vapour Space -- Moby hasn't cultivated anonymity. He may not have been born Moby (his birth certificate shows him to be Richard Melville Hall), but he doesn't hide behind the name, either.
"I like that aspect of Aphex Twin and Orbital, that there's a little confusion about them, and there aren't pictures distributed," he says over the phone from his Manhattan apartment. "But the guy whose picture is on the cover of the Moby album is, in fact, Moby."
"And I do a lot of interviews and make myself readily available," he adds. "As a fan, I like to know about the people behind the music, so it just made sense to me that if I was making music I would continue the tradition."
Yet for all his eagerness to play his music and chat with the press, there's something downright demure about his attitude.
Take his recorded work, for example. He's made some great singles, including "Go," a Top-10 pop hit in Britain. He's also done some legendary remix work, taking tracks by mainstream acts like Michael Jackson or the B-52's and filtering them through the lean, visceral aesthetic of techno.
But he's mercilessly critical of his own output. "I have no objectivity," he admits. "When I first recorded the song 'Go,' which was my biggest single so far, I thought it was terrible. And I honestly thought that people were playing it just to be nice to me."
Of course, some of that insecurity may be the product of having worked as a DJ before he started making dance music himself. "When you're playing a record in a nightclub, what matters is not how I feel about it, it's how other people feel about it," he says. "So you have to learn how to be a good second-guesser."
Particularly if, like Moby, your musical roots were more in punk (he played guitar in a hardcore band through most of his teens) than in disco. In fact, Moby didn't pay much attention to dance music before he dropped out of college and started working as a DJ.
But he does see a strong connection between techno and hardcore. "One is made with synthesizers, the other's made with guitars and drums," he says. "But the function of them is fairly similar. It's music that affects you on a gestalt level. To me, some music is intellectual and some music is physical. But what I like is music that just affects the whole of me -- my body, mind and soul. Hardcore did that, and good techno and good dance music do that."
That's something Moby tries to emphasize with his stage show. For one thing, he doesn't take a DJ approach to performance; even though the drum tracks and some vocals are on prerecorded DAT tapes, he and his band perform the rest live, on keyboard, percussion and (lately) guitar. Moreover, Moby takes a very aggressive approach to working in front of an audience.
"My feeling is, if you put something on stage, it should be entertaining and effective for both the audience and the zTC performer," he says. "And the best way to do that is to try to be as sincere and emotional and cathartic as possible. So I scream a lot and knock things over and jump into the audience and hurt myself.
"Going to my show is like watching someone go through primal scream therapy," he laughs. "Except they're getting paid for it."
When: Tonight 10 p.m.-5 a.m.
Where: Buzz, 1824 Hals St. S.W., Washington
Call: (202) 828-1944