Playing Favourites: Quarion

Posted: January 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

> Sound Dimension – Granny Scratch Scratch (Soul Jazz)

This is a 70’s reggae track by Jackie Mittoo. It’s almost Minimal, very basic.

True. It’s got some Techno appeal, it’s just rhythm. That’s what I like about this Dub stuff, there are so many things you can recognize that were used later on in electronic music like House and Techno. Dub was so important for that.

So these ancient production techniques are still valid? There seems to be a direct line from Jamaica to today’s productions.

Yeah, I listen to Dub. I don’t listen to a lot, but I like some of it. But I like to use the state of mind of Dub in my music. It’s more a musician thing. I like to use the techniques of it. I’m getting more into the music, too. It’s amazing, the way they were mixing the bass and the drums in the 70’s. Really crazy.

They also put some emphasis on just doing tracks, not songs.

It really is the basis of what came afterwards, from Hip Hop to House to Techno. Drum and Bass also, of course. They all took elements from Dub, that’s really interesting.

> Yukihiro Takahashi – Walking To The Beat (Pick Up Records)

The next one is by Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Yukihiro Takahashi. A Synthpop track.

It is interesting. It has this kind of proto-House feeling. What I really liked was this crazy soprano sax solo at the end. It is almost like Free Jazz, for 30 or 40 seconds, and then it stops. That was quite bold.

I think he actually wanted to do some kind of pop hit though. The singer on this record is the one from the 80’s pop group Icehouse for example. But for a pop hit it is probably too weird.

I think the harmonies are built up quite traditionally, but this solo part really surprised me. It is almost like New York ‘s Post Punk era. Trying some new crazy stuff.

Maybe you should use some sax solo in a House track.

Well, I used to play sax in the past.


Yeah, for a long time. But I kind of really got tired of the sound and I don’t think I’m going to use it. But you never know. I started playing Alto Saxophone when I was 13 years old. I had tried piano a few years ago, but I wasn’t so much into it. I don’t remember why I chose saxophone, but I remember I wanted to do a wind instrument. With the saxophone, I learned to play jazz and I absolutely loved it! I began rehearsing with a few bands, mostly Jazz or Funk groups. When I discovered DJing, I was instantly hooked and I started playing less and less saxophone, until I quit around 2001. DJing, collecting and discovering music became more important for me. I dabbled into production around 1996, but got a home studio setup two years later. I remember that my main reason for producing was that I found that certain records were lacking something or were arranged in a way that I thought was not so effective. I was thinking “Hmm, the producer should have put this part first” or “the chord there doesn’t sound nice although the beat is dope”. After a while I just thought I should make my own tracks.

I remember that a lot of the early Deep House tracks used the same sax sound. Really flat and synthetic. They seldom used a real saxophone, always this cheap sound effect.

Yeah, terrible.

> Fern Kinney – Love Me Tonite (WEA)

The next one is a Disco track. It is close to current Disco productions, with a spacey vibe. It is a song though, which most current producers in that field don’t touch.

That’s true. I like some of what they call Nu Disco, and I play some of it. It does sound like Disco, but more pumped up. The way they build tracks is more like House and Techno. Although Disco was already DJ based with long intros and stuff it still had strange breaks and the melodies were not that sequenced. Nu Disco is more DJ friendly. I like Prins Thomas, Lindstrom and Todd Terje.

So you’re a fan of all the Norwegians?

Yeah, and I like Force of Nature from Japan , what they’re doing is really good.

So you think their sound is the most valid update of the Disco sound? It certainly would be too expensive to produce with 10-piece bands nowadays.

Yeah. But it is funny, I met Prins Thomas recently and now he is playing everything by himself. No sequencers. He uses a metronome, drums, bass, keyboards, no plug-ins. That’s all the way back to playing instruments.

There was this phase with Deep House a few years back, where all the producers like Kerri Chandler, Ron Trent and the people of the Body & Soul scene were using live instrumentation, and discovered musicianship. But now they are doing tracks again.

If you take somebody like Joe Claussell, you still hear a lot of live percussion. It is still around. It might be not like in the mid 90’s, House with full bands and live bass and live keyboards, but some people will always do it. I like working with musicians, and I know some people who do. Even if it is just some live rhythm guitar. Back in Geneva , when I was still DJing and producing under the “Ianeq” moniker, I was collaborating with many Jazz and Funk musicians for my productions or performances. I was also part of a proper electronic jazz trio called “Today’s Special” that featured a saxophonist and a keyboardist while I was playing loops and samples. But one of my favourite, and still ongoing, projects is a duo I have with Jazz pianist Leo Tardin aka Grand Pianoramax. Our performances are based on each other’s compositions but we approach them from a new perspective, mainly because improvisation is the most important factor during our performances as I will sample Leo’s Rhodes or Moog on the fly and build up a new track from scratch. I love playing with him and I think we come up with some crazy stuff together! The last time we played, I had all these new Quarion tracks and remixes to try out and he picked them up instantly. I’ll always remember that because when we performed my remix for Jamie Lloyd’s “May I?”, he was playing keys like a proper piano house tune, as if he’d been working as Inner City’s keyboardist his whole life! It was magical. On the production aspect, I enjoy working with musicians, although I might act too much like a tyrant sometime: “play it like this”, “I want more soloing in this direction!” (laughs). In 2008, I’ve been more focused on making proper “solo” music, just me and my keyboards/drum machines/gear but I plan to start collaborating with more musicians in the future.

But isn’t the sound of today more or less very detached from a live feeling?

Yeah, that’s true. But what is “live” is often how tracks are sequenced. You can tell some producers are really jamming when they make their tracks. Ableton Live has really changed the way people produce. With Luciano for example, you can really hear that he works on a live basis, he improvises a lot, introducing and altering elements in the mix. I like that, really doing something on the fly. Like a session.

> I Level – 3 A.M. (Epic)

The next one is a Disco dub, by an 80’s UK band. For me, this has a Deep House feeling. The way they use the keyboard sounds. It is still Disco, but already heading somewhere else.

I like this one. The original song is called “Give Me”, right? It is Disco Boogie, but in this version you can hear it is influenced by Jamaican Dub, and they turn it around. Again, it is like the basis for what was to come later with House.

As you are mostly known for your Deep House productions, is this something you specifically look for in music? A certain element of deepness?

Somehow, yes. Maybe I have my own perception of deepness, but I have to say that I listen to a lot of different stuff and I always like the deeper stuff. I come from a Hip Hop background, and I think the best Hip Hop was produced by Jay Dee. For me, that was deep Hip Hop. Lots of Rhodes sounds, mellow laid back tracks. With Jazz, I like the 70’s Fusion stuff like Bob James. Also a lot of Rhodes , but it is deep and hypnotic. I actually discovered Hip Hop via the commercial dance scene in 1989. I was into Snap, Technotronic or MC Hammer! For me, it was all about these powerful beats that got me hooked on the dancefloor. But a few months later, I got into the “real” Hip Hop: LL Cool J, Run DMC, Ice Cube, De La Soul and of course Public Enemy were my first Hip Hop passions. Hip Hop was also the perfect companion to Jazz, which I was also discovering at the time. I would find samples or influences from the Jazz pieces I was rehearsing in some of the Hip Hop tracks, it was so fascinating. But, my true love for Hip Hop really blossomed a few years later, when I started DJing. It was during the golden era of 1993-1995 which had so many crucial artists: DJ Premier, Wu Tang Clan, Nas, Dr. Dre, Jay Dee/J Dilla, The Notorious BIG, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock. I was totally immersed into the culture, buying two copies of a record, cutting it up, scratching, and not leaving my basement for days! (laughs) Hip Hop is still very important in the way I approach music, because I love this sample-based approach, where you stumble upon a segment on a record and it inspires you to compose something entirely different. That’s also why I enjoy making remixes so much. You have to make use of what they give you to make your own mark on track. I found the whole process fascinating. I started buying House records around 1995, mainly because Hip Hop was becoming gradually more commercial and boring. I got into House via Masters At Work, they were always collaborating with Jazz musicians plus Kenny Dope had this Hip Hop edge on the beats so their music instantly appealed to me. I was pretty much into Garage and Deep House, my favourite artists were MAW of course, Mood 2 Swing, Kerri Chandler, and Deep Dish. I got into Techno much later, again via a Jazz track: Galaxy to Galaxy’s “Hi Tech Jazz”. I can honestly say this track traumatised me! Now I’m actually not sure if what I like in Techno is actually Techno, because I’m more into the musical, moody and deep aspect of it rather then the energy. I do have some bangers from Jeff Mills or The Advent in my collection but I’m more into Derrick May, Kirk de Giorgio, UR or Basic Channel. I’ve also been checking out music from West Africa , from Mali . I also find this deepness there, the way they play their instruments, the chords, the repetitive patterns. I see a direct connection to Detroit Techno there. I got into African Music about four years ago. I was working on a Hip Hop album for Jonas, a rapper from Geneva , and he wanted to incorporate elements of Western African Music in his album. He went to Mali and Burkina Faso to record with musicians and he kept giving me CDs for inspiration. It was a wonderful discovery for me. Listening to these albums from Ali Farka Touré, Boubacar Traoré or Cheikh Tidiane Seck gave me an even larger picture of the music I love, which is fundamentally Afro-American music. In the hypnotic rhythms and moody chords of Malian music, I could find the same elements as in a John Coltrane performance, a Jay Dee beat or a Mad Mike track. So yes, I look for deepness in music, and also some melancholy.

> Black Rebels – Black Target (Echo USA)

The next one is a really weird New York Hip Hop track.

Yeah, that one is really weird indeed

But the keyboard sounds and strings in the background are totally Deep House.

Absolutely, I also thought that was really interesting. The pad sounds are very much like Deep House.

There was this phase of Hip House, where House producers took up Hip Hop elements. These ones do it the other way round.

Yeah, and people are still doing that. Jay Dee for example, you could tell that he listened to Detroit Techno. He used those Juno basslines which are typical for a lot of the Detroit stuff. And more commercial producers like Timbaland, you can tell that they listen to a lot of electronic music.

Strangely they never admit that they do.

True, it is still a taboo for Hip Hop producers to listen to House and stuff. But it is changing. Like you have Kanye West sampling Daft Punk. I think it is evolving now. You always have producers that are narrow-minded, and producers who use many influences to make a good track.

And it also works the other way round, working with Hip Hop production techniques in a dance context.

Yes. A lot of people I know who produce come from a Hip Hop background. They all use those techniques to make House and Techno. I also think that when listening to a track, you can tell if the producer comes from a Hip Hop background. In my opinion, most of the people who have started producing Hip Hop but then moved to House or Techno are somehow more open musically. If you produce Hip Hop with samples, you’ll need records to sample from, so you’ll start listening to different kinds of music in order to collect sound sources. Whether it’s Jazz, Rock, Soul, Dub, Heavy Metal, Disco or Balinese traditional music, you’ll always go through a lot of various records to produce Hip Hop. So when you start applying this knowledge to House or Techno tracks, I think you can come up with some pretty interesting things. Now, it’s not possible for me to hear in every House track if the producer was a Hip Hop head or not, but there are some obvious signs, mainly in the use of drum sounds and samples. Most of early House & Techno tracks are based on the sole use of drum machines for beats but after a while, you could hear more sampled drum sounds, mostly snares, hi-hats and fills, which gave a more organic vibe then just the drum machine sounds. Maybe Hip Hop is responsible for bringing back the snare sound in House Music: “it’s ok, we don’t need to use the 808 clap sound for the millionth time, maybe we can sample The Meters instead.” (laughs)

As for producers who come from a Hip Hop background, a lot are coming to mind: Pal Joey, who was making superb house as Earth People as well as hardcore Hip Hop With Boogie Down Productions, Kenny Dope of course, Mood 2 Swing, who started as an R&B production team. I read in countless interviews that Autechre were totally into it), UR/Mad Mike are also referred to as the Public Enemy of Techno, and then of course a vast majority of Drum n’ Bass, Broken Beat, Nu Jazz and Dubstep producers have roots in Hip Hop too. Closer to home, all my Zürich mates at Drumpoet have a Hip Hop background, Lexx used to be a very successful rapper and producer back in the days. As for me, I’m still producing Hip Hop. I just finished a digital EP with a New York rapper named Roger Kahlon. It was interesting because we did absolutely everything over the internet, I only met Roger when the EP was mastered. The project is called “Side Hustle” and you can download it for free at .

> Lewis Taylor – Bittersweet ( Island Records)

This is a UK Club Soul classic from the mid 90’s.

I like that he starts with samples and then in the end he brings in real instruments like drums and guitars. Very nice. Really good singing, and the chords and harmonies are very good.

I think he really tried a different approach, with all the distortion in the background for example, and the structure which leads to this astonishing climax. Maybe today R&B sounds more advanced, but the songs are often too simple.

It’s true. R&B today is often lacking musicality. It’s more about production and not about songwriting. Of course there are some amazing things being done, but you don’t find nice chord progressions very often.

Would you like to work on songs yourself?

Yeah, I’m really getting into that. I’m a traditional musician somehow. I learnt how to play sax, I took piano lessons. With House it’s more basic, but now I find myself getting back to finding chords, doing song structures. Seeing how it works, chorus and bridges and so on. It’s something I want to do more. I don’t know if it’s something you could really use in a proper dance context, but I’ll try.

So we can expect some Garage House from your side?

Yeah, maybe. I think I want to bring back Garage actually (laughs).

Garage House has kind of vanished, but with all the other House sounds resurfacing it might be about time to write some songs again. Frankie Knuckles’ mix of “Blind” seemed like a step in that direction to me.

Yes. But in Berlin for example people are so afraid of vocals. When I was out last weekend I heard some really great Deep House but I was longing for a vocal track. Come on, please play just one vocal track. But it didn’t happen. So when I came home I listened to some Jasper St. Company. I like to play vocal stuff, but you have to be cautious because for some people it’s a terrible thing. It’s a bit of a shame. Maybe all these years of Minimal suffocated the voices, I don’t know.

> Watt Noize – It’s My Life (Warriors Dance)

This is early 90’s UK breakbeat music, but a bit more soulful. I thought that was an interesting phase. Are you into that?

I like this one, because it’s some kind of proto-Jungle. It reminded me of old tracks by 4 Hero and LTJ Bukem. At one point I was totally into Drum and Bass. For a couple of years that was the best music in the world for me.

You mean the classic mid 90’s years?

Yeah. Metalheadz, Photek, 4 Hero, Good Looking. For me it was amazing mixture of everything I loved, like Hip Hop, Dub influences, Detroit influences, some House and all this amazing drum programming. It really reminded me of Jazz as well. For a while I was buying everything but then it got too dark and too minimal and the beats got very simple. You heard that all night long and I got tired of that.

It suffered from everybody using the same formula. You always knew when the break was coming in, and you even knew how long the break would last. The genre has not really recovered from that.

It is quite crazy. It is still going on and there must be some good stuff out there, but I don’t find the time to look for it. When I first got bored of it I followed guys like 4 Hero going to Broken Beats and got totally into that, but it also went into a formula. Dubstep for example has this kind of old Drum and Bass vibe of trying different things and taking things to another level. What I liked about Drum and Bass was that you got an amazing record the one week, and the next weekend somebody would top that with something different. Finding some new effects or whatever. Every week the bar was raised higher and higher. With Dubstep it’s the same thing, people are challenging each other. Sometimes it’s too nerdy and boyish. I got bigger drums than you! But it’s good.

Would you return to Breakbeat or Broken Beats yourself?

Yeah. I want to bring a bit more swing into the music, bring some more Broken Beats stuff. It has to be good though. It is not always easy to play for some people now. I like what Karizma does, it is House but still with a Broken Beats-feeling. And I’m quite inspired by the Dubstep people leaving 4/4 behind.

> Ce-Lo Sound – Every Day Every Nite (Philip Morris GmbH)

There is a lot of Deep House coming out of Germany right now. This is actually a German Deep House record from 1993, when Germany was pretty much dominated by Techno and only a few people produced House.

This reminded me very much of the Kerri Chandler’s “Atmosphere” EP. It is almost the same chords.

Nowadays you often have the impression that everybody is using the same sounds and you tend to forget that in the past it was pretty much the same.

That’s true. I’ve been listening to a lot of music from different scenes and everybody’s complaining that it all sounds the same. And it was always like that. Always somebody was coming up with something fresh, then the copycats come, and then everybody gets tired and it moves on. The phenomenon is nothing new really. It’s just how it is. The thing is to try something innovative.

Is that something you try to avoid, sounding similar to others?

Yeah, I’m trying as best as I can. Of course sometimes I get inspired by some tracks. But I’m most happy when I try to do something new. Innovative is a big word, but I’m trying to at least not copy other stuff.

There is definitely a difference between being inspired and just copying things.

Oh yes, there is.

> Fresh And Low – No Going Back (Westside)

This is a mid 90’s UK Deep House track.

It is really good.

I think this track is still very up to date. It sounds like it was released just recently. It even has some Dub Techno influences.

Yeah, it is quite techy. It is timeless. I really like this Dub Techno sound. I will always prefer the original Basic Channel stuff, which was really innovative. And again you have a lot of people copying that. It is a bit weird, they are doing exactly the same thing. I like people who are influenced by it but take it to another level. With this track for example you could tell it was influenced by Basic Channel but they are still doing their own thing.

It is certainly not a bad idea to put these Basic Channel sounds to a House groove.

And it works really well. I remember that Mood II Swing were also achieving that with some of their dub versions.

> Sneak Essentials Vol 2 – Manos Que Tocan (Strictly Rhythm)

This sounds very current, although it came out in 1995. A good example for a very basic use of Deep House ingredients, it kind of precedes the way Deep House is produced these days.

Yes. What you mostly hear now are exactly the same elements that this track has. One or two Rhodes chords, strings, vocal samples, and an upfront beat. Today’s productions are maybe arranged differently, and they sound cleaner. But all the elements are indeed already here, just maybe in a different order.

Would you say that there is some kind of traditional basis for Deep House, which cannot really be improved?

Well, there is music that is Deep House because it uses the stereotypes of Deep House. This track uses all the elements considered to be Deep House and you label it that way. And today people use exactly the same sounds. But for me, Deep House is more than that. I’m more into Mood II Swing, Masters at Work, Deep House which is closer to Garage. Or Global Communication and Secret Ingredients, and Larry Heard and early Deep Dish. They were really trying different things with using Techno sounds, but still it was deep in the way they built it. I think that Deep House can evolve. I hope so! I’m a bit bored when I go out and I hear the same elements just arranged in a different order.

So you think that people will soon tire of it?

I don’t know how long the current formulas will last, but the music will still be there. House with a feeling or Deep House will always be there. With different sounds maybe, but the feeling will be there. You can only do so much with the formulas you hear now, so people could get bored. I like a lot of the new Deep House, there is a lot of amazing stuff. As always you have some really good producers, and a lot of people copying their sound. For me a lot sounds like Minimal now. It’s just the new version of Minimal, but now they use Rhodes samples and vocal snippets. It’s like bad Minimal used to be years before.

So it’s just Minimal with strings?

Yeah, or Minimal with a bit more groove. I like Minimal, there are a lot of brilliant tracks, but what really bothers me is this formula thing, when you hear the same stuff all night long. There is so much good different stuff out there, everything could come together.

> Soundwaves – I Wanna Feel The Music (Strictly Rhythm)

There is this certain Deep House style often mockingly tagged Flute House. This is a good example for that. There are not a lot records released anymore that enter this terrain.

Yeah, true. But then again you have somebody like Guillaume & The Coutu-Dumonts, and it’s very good. It’s not exactly mellow, like this track, but it’s not hard either. But yeah, you don’t hear this mellow, noodley style so much these days, with solos and stuff.

Could this be a House tradition that will be rediscovered or reinvented, too?

I think it could be reinvented. Again, people like Joe Claussell are still doing such atmospheric tracks with a lot of instruments like organ and percussion. But I think it has not really evolved since the mid 90’s. But everything is possible, maybe somebody will come up with a new approach to it. Like the Etienne Jaumet record with the sax solo on Versatile with the remix by Âme. I thought that was an interesting way to bring back instruments.

Yes, but that wasn’t exactly mellow either. It seems that right now there is not much space left for these early morning vibes of the past. Early morning vibes have changed considerably.

I would love to hear more DJs cutting it down like that. But I think you could still play something like this at 7 in the morning and then continue from there.

> Mr. Fingers – On My Way (MCA)

Actually this track is very mellow, too. It’s a remix by Tony Humphries for Larry Heard.

I love this track. I didn’t have it and it is really beautiful. I would play that in the morning and I’m sure it would work. I love these early morning tracks. If DJs can bring people to this state of mind, it’s the best. You go to the peak, then you drop and then in the end you play this beautiful Deep House, and you get people locked into it.

This song has very reflective lyrics. Would you say that people locked into this vibe could also react to what is sung?

I love melancholic and sad stuff. If I would hear this in a club I would have a smile on my face even though it is sad. It is so beautiful, the chorus and everything. I would be totally into it. I don’t think it is too depressing, and it is still dance music. And you should not totally disconnect dance music from reality. You can always put something of what’s going on in your personal life into the music.

Yes, it would be disappointing to just hear the same dance floor imperatives since the Disco era whenever vocals are used. There needs to be a place for other lyrics, too.

Yeah, and some people do write good lyrics for dance music. You do not find it too often, but a beautifully crafted Garage song can surely supply that.

Well, let’s wait for what the Garage revival will bring.

Yeah (laughs). I think I’m going to play more Garage now. I have this vision (laughs).

resident 01/09

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