We should probably start at the very beginning. What were your baby steps as a DJ, what led you to being a DJ in the first place?
I think in the first place was the love for music. And I can remember when I was really, really young, with a babysitter, and we’re talking about the days of 45s. The first record that I actually remember and I was spinning was „Spinning Wheel“ by Blood, Sweat & Tears.
You know my family was from Puerto Rico and there was no American music in my house.
It was mostly Latin music?
Only Latin music. And we’re talking about Merengue, Salsa. Folk music from Puerto Rico. And I didn’t like it. And it’s funny because today I appreciate Latin music. Since I became a producer, now I appreciate Latin music for the production, the instrumentation, the musicians, because Latin music is not machine-made, not at all. So the first 45 that was in my house was “Jungle Fever” by Chakachas. My parents had this fucking 45 that was this erotic fucking record. And we’re talking about these stereos that were like these big fucking wooden consoles with the big tuner for the radio and the thing with the record where you put some records in the thing and it dropped one at a time and when it ended the thing drops. It must’ve been when I was about six or seven there was an illegal social club. You know I was living in the ghetto. So there were illegal social clubs that were like a black room, with day-glo spray paint, fluorescent lights to make the paint glow and they had a jukebox. And they’d play the music back then. „Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are“. It was all about the O’Jays and that kind of music. And I liked that. I used to sneak downstairs and such.
So when was that?
It was like the late sixties. Because I was born in ’62 so by ’70 that makes I was 8 years old. So it was before that because then I moved. Anyway, so fast forward the first 45 that I liked was the O’Jays. The first 45 I actually bought. And I remember playing that record I a hundred times a day. Putting the bullshit speaker we had in the house outside the window, we lived on the first floor. I played the record to death.
So you played it to the whole neighborhood?
The whole neighborhood. The only record I had really. So then when I graduated elementary school, I used to be into dancing, like the Jackson 5 they had “Dancing Machine”, there were The Temptations and Gladys Knight & The Pips and I liked that music. So then when we got into Junior High School – when I was like 13 years old, I had a girlfriend and we went out when the first DJs came on in the neighborhood, which was like the black DJs. I saw the first two Technics set up and a mixer in someone’s house. I was like “Wow! That’s interesting.” I saw somebody doing this non-stop disco mix and I never knew what that was all about. So, I used to hang out with all my friends. I was a dancer, we used to do all this what we now call breakdancing. We would do battles. So, I had one turntable and my friend would say “David, we hangin’ at my place” and I would play some music for us. So I just was a kid that sat by the stereo with the records and put on the tunes, one at a time. Because back then that’s what it was, you’d play one tune at a time. If it ended, the people clapped and you’d play the next tune. And it was all songs.
How did you proceed from there?
I was one of those kids that used to go to the record store even though I had no money. Just to look at the records. To walk by a store that sold turntables and a mixer and be like “one day, one day…” And I’m not working so I can’t afford to buy anything. My first mixer was a Mic mixer. 1977 there was a blackout in New York and there was a lot of stealing so I came across a radio shack little Mic mixer that I set up to make it work with two turntables. You had to turn two knobs at the same time and it was like mixing braille because there was no cueing. My one turntable had pitch control, the other one had none. I was too young to go to clubs, so I never saw a proper DJ mixing. I only saw people outside, we would have block parties and people would be mixing. And I was one of those kids that was just standing there, watching. The first time I went to a club I was 15 years old, it was Starship Discovery One. It was on 42nd street in Times Square, and we got in. We shouldn’t have got in, but you know it was the end of the club, I was 15 and I got in. The DJ had three Technics, the original 1200s, and a Bozak mixer. The booth was a bubble, and I had my nose at the fucking bubble and I was just mesmerized. The first time I actually played on a real mixer I went to a house party at my friend’s brothers apartment. And in those days, most of the DJs who were really playing were gay DJs. “San Francisco” by the Village People was the big record. But I was into The Trammps, I was into James Brown, I was into Eddie Kendricks, Jimmy Castor Bunch, “The Mexican”, Sam Records and of course Donna Summer and all this kind of stuff. So I went to this house party and he was the DJ, the first proper mixer I saw – this was before I went to that club. And it was a black mixer, it had two faders and it had cueing. So I see the DJ there, he’s using headphones to cue. So my friend says “D, you wanna play some music?” and I’m like “Yeah, sure.” I grabbed the headphones, put them on and I hit the cueing, because I was watching the guy, and I’m hearing some music and and I was like “Oh shit…” When I played at that party, I’d still play how I know how to play, which was braille. Intro, outro. And it wasn’t about mixing. All the new bars at that time were advertising nonstop disco mixes.
It was even mentioned on the record sleeves.
Yes. And all that meant was that the music never stopped. Because before the music used to stop before the next record came in. So now it was continuous. That worked, so here came the name nonstop disco mix. And then at that time all these records started coming out. The disco 45 record. At my junior high school prom “Doctor Love” by First Choice was big. And I remember the guy playing it about four times. So my first 12″ of course was “Ten Percent” by Double Exposure, on Salsoul. Another record that I played to death out the window.
You were still doing that?
I was still doing that. I used to live to just play music. I loved it. I would leave in the morning to go to school because my parents would go to work. I would buy a bag of weed, buy a quart of beer and I would go home. And you know in the old days we had all those buildings where you could really play loud music and I had these stupid double 18 boxes in my fucking bedroom. Before I’d take a piss, I turned my system up. My mother used to be like “turn that music down, turn that music down, turn that music down!”
Did you begin to play out around that time?
Yes, and playing at parties in those days meant you carried your records. Because you didn’t play for two hours, you played the whole party. And the thing is, if you owned 5000 records, you took 5000 records to the party. And in those days we carried milk crates. So here I am carrying eight to ten milk crates to a party. Getting in a car, getting a cab, you have all your friends who would help you going there, but when you’re leaving there is nobody to help. And you had to take the stereo system with you. So you carry the sound system and you carried your records. You took everything. It wasn’t like going somewhere and you just bring your records and they have everything. You had to take everything. I did parties for 15 dollars, for 25 dollars and you had to chase people down for your money.
What kind of events were you doing?
I played in clubs, I did Sweet Sixteens, I did weddings, I did corporate events. I did anything. I also did parties in high school. I would advertise a party, we would bring the sound system to some kid’s house, the parents left to go to work, we’d bring the sound system fast, and I would advertise free beer and free joints. Even 50 people is a lot of people in somebody’s apartment. Imagine we’d take over the apartment and it’s like 10 in the morning and we’d be fucking banging it, banging it, banging it — and we’d get out by 3 in the afternoon before the person’s parents come home. God knows the mess, whatever the case, baby. And in those days the sound system was in the living room, the DJ booth in the bedroom. No monitors, it was just bang bang bang. As I started doing parties at an apartment I used to charge a dollar to get in, decorate the apartment, put up balloons, and it just started with friends. Obviously still free beers, free joints, the whole thing. And like I said, I just loved the music, it was just everything for me. I wanted to play every single day. Even when I didn’t have the equipment, I knew friends that bought decks and a mixer and a small sound system for their house and they weren’t DJs and they used to say “David, come to my house and play music for me.” And I would just die to play, it was just everything for me. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Anno Stamm on “Complexification” by T Power (1996)
I assume you were familiar with Drum & Bass artists before this record came out. How did you first encounter „Complexification“?
It was a vinyl that my older brother had bought. At that time I was not going to the record stores by myself, so my older brother was basically my record store. When I came home earlier from school, I would go through his record collection and then record the vinyls that I liked the most to a cassette with the Hi-Fi tower from my father. This was always very “James Bond” like, because touching my brothers vinyls and touching the Hi-Fi tower from my father were two major offenses, which would turn out really ugly if one of them would have caught me.
Why did you choose this particular track, the b-side to „Symbiosis“, and not another classic of that era, or even a different track by T Power, like his much better known „Mutant Jazz“ for example?
For me this song stands out in many ways and I think even for T Power this song is outstanding and unique. You are rather out of your mind when you produce such a song, or you are in an extremely clear state of mind. It is a song which breaks so many rules but still manages to be simply breathtakingly beautiful. That is a goal that I admire very much in making art.
Is Marc Royal aka T Power a producer you rate particularly high in Drum & Bass history?
I must admit that I reduce T Power pretty much to that one song. I like his general sense for sound and chords but I am not really an expert on his complete musical back catalogue.
„Complexification“ is not necessarily a typical Drum & Bass track. It is much slower, and it is working with Jazz leanings in the synth and bass sounds, while the beats and groove are hinting more to the sound West London’s Broken Beat scene. But does „Complexification“ transcend musical folder categorization, or does it even have to belong to a certain context?
I chose this track because for me it is a good example for “beyond genre”. This song is perfect in every way. It is idiosyncratic and lives in its own cosmos. There are no genres in that cosmos. Sometimes that is the problem with genres. You get into a routine because there are rules, schemes, patterns and templates you work in. You get lazy in terms of decision making. This song is not lazy at all. Every note is in its exact right place but it feels like it really started out with a tabula rasa thinking – everything can happen.
Do you like both, Drum & Bass and Broken Beats, and do you treat them differently, or do they come from the same origin?
In terms of “Drum & Bass” I started with the “Jungle” phase, because as you might know I am a big sucker for the drums, especially if there are played by the devil himself. That is why I really was into that fast, wild, raw and breaky material. Actually when it was called “Drum & Bass”, that whole thing was nearly over for me. Because all the wildness basically turned into one sterile
drum-loop… with saxophone samples. There was a big shift from the rhythmic energy to a generally more chilled background music approach. So, I think they may come from the same origin – but I would treat them very differently.
There are other fine examples where Jazz elements were integrated to the sound palette of Drum & Bass. Are you interested in Jazz, and how it can be worked into other music?
When there was the trend to just sample something smooth and jazzy over a fast drum loop, that was not very interesting for me. Sampling some “blue notes” doesn’t make you a “jazz cat”. For me and most of the people Jazz is about expressing yourself through playing an instrument, and also pushing the boundaries of that instrument. So, you have to have a plan if you want to achieve that purely with software. Squarepusher’s “Hard Normal Daddy” is a good example from that time, how an electronic version of Jazz may work. He brought the real instrument into the software world in a very smart and respectful way. But in terms of Jazz is about pushing boundaries of an instrument, then one must say that in that days there were a lot of other electronic composers who would
deserve it much more to be called “Jazz Cats”. Read the rest of this entry »
As soon as the House sound left the local underground and went to the international charts, the Major record labels began scouting its most prominent artists for remix duties. The main motivation was to lend some credibility to mainstream and commercial club music, the same as it was in the Disco era that led up to House music’s pioneering days. A lot of the prolific remixers, particularly those already active throughout the early to mid 80s, could extend their career well into the following era. But there were a lot of additions too, DJs that began in the Disco era and did not give up on dance music when the classic Disco era ended at the end of the 70s, and of course new talent that just found their into the business by supplying the platters that mattered on the floor. And as it happened with Disco, House formed the basis for reworks of Pop originals that managed to surpass the original versions, either in truthful versions that just updated the beats and grooves, or more adventurous flipside dubs that stamped the self-confidence of the studio newcomers all over their source material. Here are some outstanding examples for the interaction of overground and underground.
Jimmy Somerville – Comment Te Dire Adieu (Kevin Saunderson Remix) (London, 1989)
Kevin Saunderson was hot property after the chart success of his project Inner City, but the A&R department at London probably did not enlist him to show off his underground signature of granite beats and excavating basslines, turning Somerville’s charming rendition of the Serge Gainsbourg classic into a Detroit Techno banger of the variety of Saunderson’s aliases such as E-Dancer and Reese. It’s a stunning soundclash of both original version and remix though, and both sides remain in character, and both benefit from each other. As it should be.
De La Soul – A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays” (6:00 AM Mix) (Tommy Boy, 1991)
Not long after Frankie Knuckles and David Morales formed Def Productions they became to 90s New York House what Gamble & Huff were to 70s Philadelphia Soul, and turned in remixes in a sleepless studio schedule, week in week out. What distinguished them from most of their peers was that they managed to maintain a supreme quality standard while at it, for years. Here David Morales reworks De La Soul coming back from the Daisy Age with their feelgood hit for the weekend, offering three superior deep jams that are all equally brilliant. Buy double copies and just zip on by (spinnin’ and winnin’).
The Sugarcubes – Hit (Sweet’N Low Mix) (One Little Indian, 1991)
Björk the icon of clubland was not inaugurated with „Debut“, but with the remix compilation „It’s-It“ by her former band The Sugarcubes. The remixes compiled were a diverse set from which the Tony Humphries versions of „Hit“ and „Leash Called Love“ stood out (well wait, Tommy D’s remix of „Birthday“ is mighty fine as well). The record company even called them „those absurd large Tony Humphries mixes“, and deservedly so. While „Leash Called Love“ is pumping and rolling towards David Morales territory, a spectacular anthem in its own right, „Hit“ has the more typical sound associated with the New Jersey don, with all the unashamedly artificial string pads and tinny beats he so loved to use around that time, and everything about it is completely irresistible. „This wasn’t supposed to happen“, she sang. But it was.
Debbie Gibson – One Step Ahead (Masters At Work Mix) (Atlantic, 1991)
Debbie Gibson preceded the all-american stardom of Britney Spears by a decade, but when she surfaced in the late 80s the only thing that she could stick in my mind was the rather remarkable song title „Electric Youth“. I suspect Masters At Work felt similarly, as they kept literally no elements of the original song in what became one of their most beloved remixes (although there are admittedly quite a few other contenders in their vast discography). This is one for the true school Deep House fraternity, keeping you locked with a simple but unmatched hypnotic chord, while all the other sounds and rhythms come and go, creating a perfect trip that seems to last much longer than its 5 minutes plus.
David Bowie – Real Cool World (Cool Dub Overture) (Warner Bros., 1992)
Credible dance remixes for the original Star Man are surprisingly scarce, and this is arguably the finest. Def Mix’s Satoshi Tomiie at the controls, thankfully not repeating the cardinal error of most rock stars trying to connect with nightlife: mounting generic guitars on a limp dance groundwork. Instead he opts for a rather skippy groove, but his trademark keyboards are arranged immersed enough to keep up the tension for sublime 13 minutes. And don’t you dare touch that intro!
Jamie J. Morgan – Why (Extended Club Mix) (Tabu, 1992)
The contributions of the Buffalo collective to late 80s and early 90s club culture are not to be underestimated (associate Neneh Cherry did not reinvent herself with „Buffalo Stance“ for nothing). Photographer and director Morgan was another core member, and also had a few ventures into pop music. Eric Kupper, the studio wizard responsible for countless New York club classics, turns the original into a silky floating groove, with just about the right amount of floor pressure to not disturb the beauty and sentiment. As always when Eric Kupper works with this very mood, it is untouchable. And again, don’t you dare to touch that intro.
Pet Shop Boys – Can You Forgive Her? (MK Remix) (EMI USA, 1993)
There are many great remixes of Pet Shop Boys songs, but if there is one grudge to hold against them it is that it could have been so many more. Few successful remixers employed for pop artists had a contrasting signature sound such as Detroit’s MK, who turned source material into something completely his own with perplexing regularity. And as expected he turns the boisterous original into a mean and dark swinging groover. There are a lot of speculations on how Marc Kinchen chooses the lyrical content for his trademark vocal loops, but lesser minds would probably have gone for the „she made you some kind of laughing stock, because dance to Disco and you don’t like Rock“ bit. Instead he opted to accompany the breakdown with „Pain. She demands my pain. She demands meet your pain. She demands my bicycle“. This cannot be random, this is pure genius.
Daniela Mercury – O Canto Da Cidade (Murk Boys Miami Mix) (Sony Latin, 1993)
I do not know what led the A&R department at Sony to choose the Murk Boys to remix one of the most popular songs in the oeuvre of one of Brazil’s most popular female singers, maybe somebody thought at least it has something to do with Latin music?! However intended, it was a bold move. As per usual, Miami’s finest ignore whatever anthemic qualities they could have used with the original parts they were given (apart from a puzzling vocal loop worthy of MK), and strip everything down to their tried and tested booming grooves and monolithic basslines. Compare the original to this mix to get a glimpse of how radical and nonchalant you could treat your employers and get away with it. The intro? Do not dare to touch it!
Deee-Lite – Try Me On (Plaid Remix) (Elektra, 1996)
Deee-Lite assembled a diverse array of remixers for their compilation „Sampladelic Relics & Dancefloor Oddities“, but it was Plaid’s mix that seemed to kick them off their holographic hoopty just before they actually disbanded. This is not playfully psychedelic, it is REALLY tripping. Try to imagine the three of them throwing their wonderful stage moves to this eerie low riding sub bass adventure, it is just not happening. But times had changed, and times were not day-glo anymore. But Deee-Lite went out with as much style as they entered.
Mama Cass – Make Your Own Kind Of Music (Yum Club Mix) (MCA Soundtracks, 1997)
Hot on the heels of the soundtrack to „Beautiful Thing“, which consisted almost entirely of songs sung by The Mamas & Papas’ Mama Cass, came this 12“. Louie „Balo“ Guzman was more renowned for the harder variety of the New York House sound of the 90s, but then again a lot of his own productions and remixes already displayed the healthy amount of eccentricity required for the task of transforming a 60s Pop standard into a 90s club anthem. The way he molded the song into a working club track structure is beyond virtuoso, and the added instrumentation even adds to the song’s beauty. You may think this is really tacky (and flutey), but think again. If played at the perfect moment, this record can change lives. I have seen it happen.
In discussion with Trusme on “Forevernevermore” by Moodymann (2000).
I doubt that „Forevernevermore“ was your first encounter with Moodymann. Did you eagerly await his third album, and how did it grab you?
100% I didn’t know who Kenny was till I found a copy of “Forevernevermore” in my friend’s record bag. He had left his records at my house and I was doing the usual noseying though the records when I found this CD. I was completely into Slum Village, MadLib and Jaydee collecting the samples from Jazz to Disco. When I first played this CD, everything just became clear in my mind. This is the sound I was looking for, from Hip Hop, House, Jazz, Soul and Disco all rolled into one. I became obsessed, wanting to understand the production techniques and went on to discover the whole world of Detroit right after this. Three years on, Moodymann was playing my first LP launch in a pub on Oldham street, home to where I had been buying his records for the past few years. KDJ and Theo were just No.1 at that time in Manchester and I couldn’t help but be influenced by the whole sound.
It seems that Moodymann matured up to the release „Forevernevermore“ in terms of the album format. „Silent Introduction“ felt like an anthology of 12“ material, even though it worked as an album. But with „Mahogany Brown“ he already aimed at a listening experience more true to the format. Would you say he topped this with „Forevernevermore“?
Yes, for sure. The whole LP worked as a cohesive hour of music yet there was something at every turn that was unique and compelling to me as a listener. I related to this LP in more ways than one, due to it’s almost Hip Hop nature with intros and outros connecting the tracks and glueing the whole piece together. There are so many seminal tracks on the LP that are still played out in the clubs today, yet they are tracks that remain LP cuts and for home listening only. This ideology is what I have embraced in all four LPs that I have produced over the last 8-9 years, with something for the dancefloor, something for the car and wherever else that one listens to LPs these days.
You told me that you wanted to talk about the CD version of „Forevernevermore“, which has lots of interludes and skits, and hidden tracks. Do they form an alliance with the music that almost works like a radio play? What is the special appeal of it?
When I think of an LP, I think of A Tribe Called Quest, Marvin Gaye or The Verve even. All these LPs are constructed to be a continuous piece of music, in which the listener is taken on a journey from the beginning to the end. With the CD format, there is extra playtime in which intros and outros can give a context to the background and making of the LP. On the “Forevernevermore” CD you are taken into the home of KDJ, as he sits playing with ideas on the piano with his child, to the studio discussions and even to listening to his local radio for inspiration. Hidden right at the end of the CD is a live recording of three hard-to-find cuts from the KDJ label, mixed together after 2 mins of silence. In many ways the CD provides the platform for further expression as an artist in the format of an LP.
I think the sound of „Forevernevermore“ was a step forward in terms of his distinctive sound. It was still dense and immersive, but also more refined. Do you think Moodymann’s sound evolved on „Forevernevermore“ in comparison to earlier works? And was it for the better?
This was for sure in an LP sense his best work. It is what most people say as their favourite work, when talking about Moodymann. He carved a sound out all for himself and also derived a unique long player format that until then was not seen in the dance scene. Most underground dance LPs were merely a collection of 12” tracks but this felt more like a well thought-out process, something like Daft Punk would execute. I believe Peacefrog Records also helped in this process and pushed KDJ, as they did all their artists to reach even further. In many ways, earlier LPs were a collection of his previous works but “Forevernevermore” was an LP made from beginning to end with a single LP idea and it feels very much that way.
Tracks like the Disco led „Don’t You Want My Love“ display a confidence to transcend mere club credentials for traditional songwriting, a path he followed ever since. Is there a side to Moodymann the producer you prefer to others, or is it not necessary to differentiate his persona as an artist?
The marriage between your typical MPC studio production and live instrumentation was what set out Kenny on his own. Working with local artists like the percussionist Andres, bass with Paul Randolph and keyboards by Amp Fiddler, on top of that raw production sound was just so unique. The juxtaposition of quantised groove and loose musicianship created a genre of its own and is still being replicated today. This LP was the beginning of that sound and Kenny is still using this formula very much in his productions today.
How do you rate the albums Moodymann released since „Forevernevermore“? Were they up to par with your expectations?
“Black Mahogani” is on par for me if not more refined than “Forevernevermore” but maybe it’s the rawness of the LP that better relates to me. With the following LPs I have enjoyed the productions but felt slightly less connection to the music I listen to and make today. Not that it’s not great music, but I started to feel that the tracks in the EP releases didn’t have that Peacefrog touch of which I’m such an admirer. The LP process began to evolve towards the creation of a new sound where he begins to sing and perform more as an artist and less in the background as a producer. Read the rest of this entry »