Playing Favourites: Soundstream

Posted: May 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

> Love Unlimited Orchestra – Welcome Aboard (1981)

I found it interesting that this record sounded already a bit like what Metro Area were doing later on.

It is a very unusual track, especially for the time it was produced. There was not a lot then sounding like this. It almost has a housey touch, and a very beautiful atmosphere.

The track title is very telling, it is the perfect way to start a set.

Exactly, we did a show for once with Smith N Hack and used this as the first track.

The sound is very romantically space-like. Is this something you look for in disco? Some kind of futuristic touch?

Well, here it is a feature that definitely attracts me. I also like that it is so reduced. I like tracks that are special and unusual, like this. It is very straight, there is not too much happening in it.

Barry White kind of transformed his symphonic kitsch into something completely different with this production.

The beat almost sounds like it was sampled, very strange. I think it is a warm up bomb.

Your productions are normally not associated with sounds this mellow.

Yes, but this has this certain straightness to it, and I always like that. They hold this sequence for the whole track and just add strings and vocals, and the beat just goes on.

> El Coco – Cocomotion (1977)

This goes right back to your first Sound Stream 12”. I found it interesting that you just used a tiny weird loop, instead of its catchy bassline.

Yes, I often just get hooked on single parts and sample them. “Motion” was more like an edit. It is just a loop which then gets chopped up a bit. I like the loop because it holds the tension for so long, it’s very trippy.

But it is a very special approach to editing. You certainly were not aiming for authenticity or better DJ use.

It is kind of how it started. The first re-edits in Chicago for example. They looped bits and extended them until they developed a hypnotic quality. I think Ron Hardy initiated that. He rode a loop for several minutes and after a while it just sucked you in. This repetition also goes back to James Brown. His band played a riff for a while, then a break came on, and then it started all over again.

So you decidedly edit music to achieve a track-like quality?

Yes, definitely. With nearly all my productions I try to last long with little, and it is the same with other music I like. Simple tracks that don’t need much to hold attention for quite some time, instead of losing that after half a minute.

I remember hearing a Ron Hardy set a while ago, where he extended just the break part of Isaac Hayes “I Can’t Turn Around” for ages.

Yes, they reissued that tape edit recently. It sparked early house, like “Love Can’t Turn Around”. It is basically the same, they took the tape loop and replayed it with synthesizers, and some additional bassline and piano.

What do you think of edits that keep the arrangement of the original and just tweak the beats?

No. Something new has to be created in the process of editing. And as a DJ, I’d rather take a real drummer and fight my way through the timing. It’s funkier than a streamlined edit. That makes no sense to me. It’s okay if you have track with a wonderful part in it and then a break follows with guitars or something else you just don’t want to have. But an edit ultimately has to lead to something new.

Do you make edits for your sets?

I did a few. But they are secret.

> Hamilton Bohannon – Zulu (1976)

Bohannon is another significant influence on your work apparently.

Yes, again because his sound was so unusual at the time, very blunt and monotonous. There is not much happening, but they do it all live and just go on and on. I think especially the drum arrangements were really way ahead. There was not much music then were the snare was on the 1 all the time. Dance Mania had a phase were all the claps and snares of the tracks were placed like this.

In the mid 70’s it was certainly adventurous to structure music like tracks.

He was a drummer after all. There are so many instruments nearly expected to go all the way in music, to break out in solos and such. I love it that he decided to just stay straight, and not to show off anything you can play on a certain instrument to display your skills as a musician. It goes back to James Brown: “Funk is what you NOT play.”

It seems to me that Bohannon got some ideas from Brown and then took them further.

Yeah, it is different. It is already heading towards disco. It is still very funky, but it already has that disco tempo.

He obviously had no interest in exposing himself that much as a performer. On a lot of his music he is not singing much, if at all.

Yes, a lot of his stuff has these track characteristics. He also mostly has some cheesy tunes on his albums, where he has a go at ballads for example. Those are funny, too. But the bulk of his work is just tracks like these, in which he doesn’t care about refrains. He just raps a bit occasionally and that’s it. In any case it’s very unusual.

So those characteristics were exactly what interested you for the according work with Smith N Hack?

Yes, we wanted to make a tribute and as we both love his music we were sure very soon that he should be our first candidate.

At the time it was peculiar, because most other producers with similar projects concentrated on music on the electronic end of disco, where the gap was not so wide apart. It was a very different approach to funk.

Yes, we messed around with so many different things on that album. Some elements are recognizable, but most aren’t.

So who are your other candidates for a tribute?

Well, we are already working on an Italo Disco/Moroder-type project. “Space Warrior” was kind of a taster for that.

> Cloud One – Charleston Hopscotch (1977)

Even by the standards of Patrick Adams the Cloud One album is very extraordinary.

Yes. The whole album is great but this is the absolute highlight for me. This moog synth solo in it is incredible, these squeaking sounds. It must be the sickest and greatest solo of all the tracks I ever knew.

This weird moog sound is pretty dominant in most of his productions around that time.

Yeah, but I think this is really the best track featuring it. It is really on point, extremely good.

I also find this flirtation with broadway and revue influences remarkable. You can also find that in other disco acts, like Dr. Buzzards’s Original Savannah Band or Carrie Lucas.

Yeah. This was also a very big influence on the Chicago sound. There was a time when this was on heavy rotation. I’m a big fan of Patrick Adams anyway. Tracks like “In The Bush” and “Keep On Jumpin’” were such hits for me. I don’t know exactly how many things he produced but it was a whole lot. He started writing songs at 15 or 16 and I read that he produced and played this whole album in one or two weeks. He recorded every single track in the studio and arranged it. He did everything on his own. Incredible.

He really developed his own trademark sound, and he was really exceptional.

Yeah, you can always recognize his music. His harmonies, the way he structures his stuff. I think this is really great. There are some hooklines, pianos, certain melodies or weird breaks that keep reappearing in his music, but I always love it. He also had this huge amount of labels, and the releases were among the first 12”s to be done. Commercially the Salsoul 12”s had more impact and were earlier on, but he also did that around that time.

He certainly was very versatile. “In The Bush“ is very straight four to the floor for example, while this is very groovy and bouncy.

Yes, but all his tracks have a theme and all the instruments support it. I do not like his 80’s productions as much but his 70’s ones are brilliant, and he produced a huge amount of music then.

> Roni Griffith – Spys (1982)

This is a prime example for the Bobby Orlando sound.

By all means. His sequencer basslines are totally outstanding and still absolutely modern. You can still find this sound in a lot of productions, it never ages.

It did not only pave the way for Hi-NRG, it stayed on far beyond that.

Definitely. This track is incredibly beautiful, it has the perfectly right combination of elements. This special bass drum, and a little kitsch above.

I think Bobby Orlando originally wanted to be a regular flashy rock star, and you still hear traces of that in his sound, however outlandish it appeared. Roni Griffith for instance is pretty much the rock lady type.

Oh yeah. He also did a lot of terrible tracks. But here it all fits together somehow. Patrick Cowley’s productions were similar, but more queer in comparison, and also a bit more kitschy. But especially these Orlando synth and bass lines really showed the way and they are still so important today.

It is astonishing that he only required such a small array of trademark elements during his peak period. He always has the same bassline, the same synth pad and the same bass drum, with this triangle sound on top. His performers were diverse though, especially Divine.

I can’t help being amazed by his basslines. They sound so outstanding and yet they are so simple and efficient. It is an integral part of house and techno to produce a significant bassline, it will always be. And these Orlando basslines are a cornerstone for the whole thing that will always be valid.

> Taana Gardner – When You Touch Me (1978)

A landmark Larry Levan mix. It’s structured like “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross. A long downtempo intro and then it goes off.

Yes, there are a lot of tracks at that time which use this intro pattern. But I usually skip that and go right into the quicker part of the track (laughs). I like Taana Gardner’s voice very much. She sounds so twisted but she really gets into your head. And this is an incredibly beautiful track. The bassline is just brilliant.

Do you draw a line between the disco heritage of Chicago and New York ? In a lot of historical accounts of the era the styles of Larry Levan and Ron Hardy are told apart, but I think a track like this blurs this distinction completely.

Yes, definitely. This track got a lot of play by both to begin with. It was one of Ron Hardy’s favourites. And it is a track that unites anyway. I think you can not really determine if this is the typical New York sound or something else, it fits any place.

It already leads to house, in the way that there is hardly any traditional song structure. It’s pounding four to the floor, with some verses but no real refrain.

Definitely, she just recites some lines over and over, with this dominant bass pounding underneath.

Are there any other Levan mixes that are important to you?

I prefer the mixes he made that have a faster pace. He did some boogie stuff I really like but in the end I always come back to his four to the floor ones. My heart is just beating more for that. I guess it appeals to my general idea of how house should be made and how music should sound during peak time. Taana Gardner also did “Work That Body” with Levan, which is as great. I also like Karen Young’s “Hot Shot” which is similar, but a lot cheesier. But I love to play that (laughs).

> Magnifique – Magnifique (1980)

This is sort of a Moroder record not done by Moroder.

Yes, but is has this dynamic traditional off-beat bass and some real synth terror on top. And then there are these electrifying vocals on top that really push it forward. It sounds incredible, very massive. It’s like a wall coming in on you, and the vocals emphasize that even more. A true hands in the air track.

Anthony Monn, who was responsible for this, also produced Amanda Lear and O.R.S.

Yeah, I love that, too. But like Taana Gardner, “Magnifique” is kitschy, but also very in your face. It’s very aggressive.

Do you look for such a contrast in music?

No, not really. It’s more a certain combination of different elements that attracts me. It can be something that does sound not too serious for example, but is really rocking. I like kitsch, but it should not be too much of it. There must be a balance. My music is not necessarily kitschy, but it has some element of humour in it. I think my music is usually rather bright than dark. There is music that sounds like it was just produced for a male crowd, very earnest. But I like it a bit happier. It just fits better into my concept of how a club should be that I would like to go to for dancing and having a party. I think you can particularly notice with the Sound Stream releases that it is not meant to be overly intellectual. It’s basically party music that I would like to play. That was the main reason for me to start making music.

So you had some kind of tradition in your head that you wanted to transform into your own music?

Yes. As a DJ you have your preferences, and when you start to produce you tend to do tools that fit those preferences and its aesthetics.

How do you develop your own style from that?

You cannot really force that, it kind of just happens. What you are is what it will sound like in the end, and that’s different for anybody.

> First Choice – Dr. Love (1977)

This one is a very classic disco tune.

Yes, and one of the most sampled tunes, too. But I always play the original. It has an incredibly long part in the middle which is nearly all break, with sparse instrumentation and no singing, and then follows another peak at the end. As a DJ, I had the most incredible experiences with this.

This is one of the first tracks where they experimented with extending certain parts of a traditional song structure.

Yes, this part in the middle is very reduced and almost tracky. A very beautiful tune, and a party smasher, too.

So this is something you also acknowledge, a very detailed and opulent production and arrangement?

Oh yes, by all means, especially with Salsoul. What always strikes me first is the drummer. This cool shuffle beat. I think there is not a drummer in the whole disco era better than him, and he got sampled a million times for drum loops. Salsoul is kind of the commercial end of disco but the arrangements are always fantastic and I love so many of their releases very much, especially from this period. But this record is the one for me that nails it all down.

The sound of Salsoul was only a small step further from the Philly sound, but a crucial one at that.

Yes, definitely. This is the kind of sound that makes me sad that I was not born at the right time to experience it first hand. It must have been crazy when Levan played this and the whole crowd was singing along to it.

As disco is so important to you, how did you get into it?

That goes back to my childhood. My mother had a relationship with an Afro-American guy who was stationed here with the Air Force, and he had a big record collection. It was not that specialized, he had a lot of stuff like Stevie Wonder or George Benson which was already commercial at that time. But the aesthetics of what I like were all over it, and it influenced me very much. What first got me into house was stuff like Technotronic, I must have been 14 or 15 years old then. I noticed that it really attracted me. Then I had a phase where I was into harder stuff, which was very dominant in early 90’s Berlin , but I soon went back and ended up with labels like Strictly Rhythm. That was the time when house got settled in Berlin and the factions of house and techno emerged and separated. A lot of people stayed with the hard stuff but house attracted me more. In clubs like Tresor techno was the main sound but they also had the Globus club, which was predominantly house.

Was that the time when you decided to bring all your influences together?

Well, as a DJ you are crazy about music and you are interested in a lot of different sounds. Then you get to know that a track sampled something and you start to connect the dots. It was like time travelling to my childhood, and I became infatuated with finding out where sounds where originally coming from. And the deeper I got into it, the more I got to know. Sometimes I wondered how someone could possibly produce something and then I found the original and understood how.

So you are interested in timelines, as to who did what first?

Yes, but it was not so much about who did it, it was more about the music. I just got deeper and deeper into the music and travelled back, and then I ended up at the roots. I can’t really draw a line between disco and house. For what it does to me it is the same.

A lot of American DJs and producers still refuse to draw a line between disco and house, especially those who were already active before the term house was coined.

I can’t understand all these distinctions here. Even in techno, if it’s hard, from Detroit , or whatever, I can’t separate that. I’m unable to distinguish one from the other in my head. For me it’s all disco or house. I might call house what was basically machine music later on. But in my head it’s all the same feeling. And what it does to me is the same, regardless of distinctions that are made.

> Glenn Underground – Remember The Good Times (1995)

This is from the heyday of Chicago ‘s cut-up disco sound.

Exactly. It’s so rough. This was an incredibly important phase in my development. It is the time when I started out to produce. And it was the time when I ran into the record store every week, and I had to think hard about what to buy with the money I had, because I could have bought everything. It was also the most euphoric time for me as a DJ. There was so much great music I didn’t know, which sounded totally fresh. It was a very formative period.

In what way did this production style in Chicago at that time influence you?

It was very influential for me. As a producer you can try to invent something new but in the end you are influenced by what you like. Your taste shapes what you do when you start to produce. There are so many who claim to never have been much involved with music before, and that they just went ahead all on their own. I never believe such statements. Music itself is a state of flux where one thing builds on another, and making music is a state of flux, too. I don’t think that you can really direct that. You get influenced and you automatically do the things you like.

The approach of the Chicago house producers to sampling disco was often very harsh. The energy level seemed to be very important.

Yes, but they also managed to pin down the essential elements of the tracks they sampled. If you take DJ Sneak for example, by locking certain parts of a disco original in a loop he really tried to boil down a track to the basic essentials of what you need to make people dance. And you can achieve so much with one single loop. You can create something new and hypnotic which goes off on in a club. That’s what interested me most at that time, to find out for myself what I need to make a track work. Especially with a lot of current productions I noticed that I don’t like these epic arrangements. I like to keep it simple. I like it when a track is of good use for a DJ, and he does the rest. I see myself as that DJ and I produce music that fits my purposes, and my productions basically end up sounding the way they do because of that. Of course I try to refine and develop the way I produce, and I don’t want get stuck with something that already has been there for some time, but ultimately this is what it comes up to. I can’t really explain it any other way.

And your own signature then is sort of the byproduct of a continuous process?

I think so, yes. Sneak had a lot of great tracks but he was not my personal favourite. What Sneak did with loops and filters then also led to a total overkill of the sound later on. I found the cut-up tracks Glenn Underground did were really tricky. The sound was really dirty but that was due to the production style. I think that is missing in current music. A lot of it just sounds too clean.

What do you think of minimal then? On principle, its approach to build a track is not too far off from what you think is necessary, isn’t it?

I certainly like a lot of minimal tracks. I would get in a fit just playing disco loops all the time. I like a combination of different things. A minimal track can be as good as something else, there are no limits. I try to bring different things together. By tendency there is too much minimal being played in the clubs, it is too dominating. The flood of according releases is too much. And I come from a time where clubs still had peak hours, so I have my problems with that. Minimal is designed to play you on. It’s more the soundtrack to a party than the party itself. You used to go to the club for the music, and today the music is often just the soundtrack for a social event. You don’t get grabbed by the music and dance. You go out and have a little fun, you do not go out to get locked on the floor. Sometimes you don’t want to go home and the music fits, but in the end I need some variety, and some ups and downs. I want a night to go off without having to wait for it for three days (laughs), the chance to have a good party and still go home after two or three hours. Then again it is interesting that in the past you got booked to play one or two hours, and now you play three hours or more and you play differently, because you can’t play a peak time set for several hours. I think all is valid, but I do miss the variety. There is always too much of one sound.

Is that the same with productions at the moment, too much of the same thing?

Yes. Some people zero in on something and then a big rest follows. You could tag a lot of minimal records with any name, and nobody could tell the difference. It doesn’t help that a lot of producers use exactly the same sounds. But I can only speak for myself. Music is all I do for a living, and I think it is important to have some variety.

>Emanuel – Move (1994)

This is from a time when Trax Records actually had lost most of its original impact.

That’s true. In the mid 90’s you could not describe it as a big label anymore, compared to the time when Trax was one of the first house labels ever. With this track, they apparently took some clues from the sound of Cajual and other Chicago labels and did the same.

Can you explain your fascination with house from Chicago?

I can’t really explain that. I have a lot of records from Detroit or other cities but this is the sound I loved the most back then. It is what really moved me when I was playing or going out to clubs for dancing.

This record samples “Keep On Jumpin’” by Patrick Adams, and it does not much more than to take the main parts of the original and put it on pumping beats.

Yes, that’s it. And then there is one break after another. That’s enough really. It’s another prototype for how to make a track out of just a few basic essential elements. Very energetic, a real party bomb, but it’s very simple.

The whole track is just samples, apart from the beats there are no other sounds in it.

Yes, but again it is the hypnotic quality of the loop that makes it work so well. Ron Hardy pioneered that and his edits influenced so many of these Chicago house producers. He really started something. People later did the same because it was a tradition they grew up with and respected, not because they did not know how to do it differently. And then around that time a lot of people got into producing because the equipment became affordable. Roland offered machines that were cheaper, for instance. So people bought the equipment and explored the possibilities.

> DJ Rush – We Play Again (1991)

This track goes incredibly well together with disco records. You can play it with any disco record actually.

This is another Chicago tradition, all these tracks that consist of nothing else than rhythmic elements and some weird sounds.

Yeah. It’s also based on endless loops that generate a real mind fuck. I absolutely love this record. It really does strange things in my head. All these repetitions and this trickiness, and also its stoicism amaze me. The grooves are totally tenacious, but that’s what makes it very interesting.

I think this tradition probably also goes back to Ron Hardy, because he often played some basic rhythm patterns and bonus beats in his sets.

Yes, definitely. But especially DJ Rush made it real punky. I once heard him play a disco set and it was really fantastic. I think he was once seen as the legitimate successor to Ron Hardy, because he played with even more energy. And you can hear it here, it’s the same aesthetics. Rush is faster and freakier, but it is a similar feeling.

You also did tracks which you stripped down to some kind of matrix of rhythmic elements, and then you played around with it.

Yes, especially the Soundhack releases are often just tracks. Me plugging away with just a small array of elements, and then break after break (laughs). Sound Stream sounds different. It’s not that it does different things to me. I always wished that you could judge your own music in a neutral way. It is not possible, but I would like to experience that. I can always decide on other music, but I have no objectivity for mine. That is the most difficult thing about making music, you can’t look at your work in a normal way.

Was it a conscious decision to develop Soundhack and Sound Stream apart from each other soundwise?

It just came out that way eventually. I had done music for quite some time and then I thought the material which became the first Soundhack release did sound different to what I knew, and so it was the first time I thought some of my music was worth releasing. The Sound Stream tracks were just good party tracks that I enjoyed to play out, and I just made a dubplate at first. But the one project really does not go without the other.

> Steve Poindexter – Whiplash (1991)

Poindexter was much harder and rougher than most of the other Chicago stuff but he does the same with me.

He often uses these very nervous and weird sounds.

Yes. I can only call this great. It is so pure. I don’t demand music to be pure in general, but I prefer it to be that way. I like it to be simple and direct. I like so many different things but this is what I always come back to. Everything is where it should be, there is no embellishment. I don’t need it to sound incredibly well produced, it should only work in a club context. The same goes with my music. I’m not enough of a sound nerd to work differently. But I noticed that there are tracks I love very much, and they all sound totally trashy. All this Dance Mania stuff sounds terrible for example, but it was always a very important label for me.

I also like the attitude of those producers, they are very uncompromising.

Yeah, definitely.

> Lil’ Louis And The World – Club Lonely (1992)

Yet another musical side of Chicago , although this sounds as if it could also be from New York.

Yes, a bit. These organ chords are so great. Lil’ Louis was somebody who started so much in Chicago , and not only with “French Kiss”. His work got cited on countless other releases, even from the same scene. They tried to nail down the essence of his tracks. He really was groundbreaking.

The musical heritage of certain scenes is so often told apart, but he certainly was somebody who overcame that.

I don’t see any sense in these local categorizations. You can hear in a lot of records from either Detroit or Chicago that they influenced each other. I think there is no need to separate that. This track has such a warm feeling to it, like his record “How I Feel” on Dance Mania. His sequences are so outstanding, as in “Blackout” for example. He is not the typical DJ/Producer, his music reveals some real musicality. He’s from a different world.

Do you also play such deeper sounds in your sets?

Yes, definitely. I’m also interested in that, as you can hear with “Live Goes On”. I like a lot of the deeper stuff by Moodymann for example. Or Theo Parrish’s “When The Morning Comes”. I don’t like the deep house tracks so much that use the same pads and string patterns, or that sound too clean. I like deep house to be a bit rough, too. And I don’t like it to be too mellow and noodley. The latest by Pépé Bradock is incredibly great. It is the perfect combination of the deep house sounds I like, and it is a bit insane. It really wreaks havoc on the floor but it is also very beautiful.

It is interesting that you name Lil’ Louis, Moodymann, Theo Parrish and Pépé Bradock, who are all more or less considered to be eccentric mavericks and who all have a distinctive signature.

Yeah! I think you can always hear if somebody makes music the way he is, and not just tries to imitate something else he likes. Music has got to have honesty. I think you can hear that. I tend to like music that is coherent with its producers. Then I have the feeling that everything they do is true, and that they reveal something about themselves instead of just doing something. 05/09

Leave a Reply