Playing Favourites: DJ Sprinkles

Posted: February 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Nina Simone – See-Line Woman (Philips) 1965

I picked this because of the extraordinary lyrics, which reappeared eventually in the house scene. Kerri Chandler did a version of it. And there are some rhythm patterns that you use as well. It was also a hit in the gay house scene. There are many house tracks based on this tune.

Personally, I really like Nina Simone a lot. I think there have been a lot of really bad remixes done of this track. For example, the Masters of Work remake added a really cheesy synth pad over her, so it’s really been bastardized a lot. But I think that’s part of the whole schmaltz of the gay house scene as well. That it has this way of reducing things to a cheap standard.

I think there’s a way in which it’s complicated to play music that verges more on gospel than soul in the club environment. And I think that’s something that Nina herself would like in a weird way. She identified herself less as a jazz musician, and more as a folk musician. And felt that she was channeled in the jazz corner by the industry. In her biography, she talks about being—if anything—a folk musician. That kind of cross-categorization is really interesting to me. And there’s also this idea of “How could her music get worked into a DJ set?”

Especially with this contrast between the euphoria of her live performances that is associated with her work, and her audience’s reactions to her work. She’ll play something like “Mississippi Goddamn,” this sad, tragic song. And the audience is like, “I love this song!” They’re cheering like idiots.

I think the same goes for this song. The way that she sings this song is not cheerful at all. That contrast struck me in that gay house context as well. It’s not the same sort of material that you ordinarily associate with it.

For sure, that’s something that I identify with in my own music. I often produce it from a perspective that people don’t sympathize with particularly. Or they approach it from an angle that is different from where I produce it from. They want to turn it into something, despite the complaints, that is energizing for a party. For me, I’m totally not concerned with this type of energy.

I really have a respect for her. I can empathize with this idea of immigration, of leaving the United States. It was under different circumstances, of course, but as an American who emigrated to Japan I feel a kind of simpatico with her.

Would you basically say that this streak in your work, where you reference things like this, is that you try to remain faithful to the original vibe of the material?

No. I don’t believe there is an original, or that there is something to be faithful to. I don’t believe in faith at all, in any form. I think this is important to clarify. That doesn’t mean just being kind of aloof or naïve about the connotations either. It’s about thinking about them in a way that allows for complications or recontextualizations as opposed to simply doing an homage or a tribute. Nina Simone has had enough tributes, you know? It’s OK if we don’t tribute always.

Gary Numan – Cry, The Clock Said (Beggars Banquet) 1981

Your Rubato series where you do piano renditions of Kraftwerk, Devo and Gary Numan. It struck me that all three of these acts have this weird relationship between technology and humanity. Was that your purpose with it?

Yes, of course. The purpose of the series was to investigate the techno pop icons that were the seminal acts of my childhood. And to think about how it polluted or influenced or channeled my own productions, as well as my own politics. And, of course, techno pop is very phallo-centric, Mensch Machine, so I wanted to also complicate the homo eroticism of this musical world that almost exclusively prevents the entry of women. Which makes it either a misogynistic or gay space. Or both. Or neither.

So all of the piano was composed on the computer, which I felt kept the technological association with these original artists and what I feel their vision was for using technology, but also to have the result be this neo-romantic piano solo that wasn’t a Muzak version, but going towards an avant-garde piano that—unless you were a big fan—you might not be able to pick out the melodies.

Sexuality this genre seems really warped in a way. As you said, like with Kraftwerk. The only time that they explicitly dealt with sexuality was on Electric Café on “Sex Object,” which is a really weird track.

Yeah. They had it in Computer World , they also had “Computer Love,” though. But it’s always about either the machine or the woman is the object. Always objectified. “Sex Object” has a very weird elementary school approach to gender.

Everybody likes to think of Kraftwerk as being very much in control of their image, but if you look at their catalogue, it’s a total mess. You have this Krautrock stuff. The Ralf und Florian album, that was cut from the catalogue for a long time because it didn’t fit in. They are much more eclectic than they want people to think.

I think their concept is also much more open than many people think. They left some leeway.

I think a lot of it is due to the record company. I’m coming at Kraftwerk as an American, and which records were distributed to us there may have been different than what was sold in Europe. So things like the first ones with the pylons were never seen until I was in New York. And they were, like, a million dollars. It was Autobahn , Trans Europe Express , Radioactivity , Computer World , Mensch Machine and that was it. If you could track down the Tour de France EP, it was a miracle.

How would you place Gary Numan in this? He also played with these ideas, but it always had a bit of a tragic note to it.

I think that the Dance album… Remember when you interviewed me about the Dazzle Ships album, and I talked about it being a kind of crisis moment when an artist is trying to figure out their own artistic direction, and they’re faced with the pressures of the major labels that they’re signed in and locked into. Dance was right around the same time, and I think it was Gary Numan’s crisis with the industry. When you look at it in relation to the kind of progress of the sound of his work—and at that time he did have a very linear channeling of what he was doing—this was the album that was the peak of this weird electronic Latin percussion thing. He had people from Japan working with him. His next album, Bezerker, was this more industrial thing. It was samplers and all this sort of stuff. For me, though, Dance was the height of this certain kind of sound that he had control over, but also dealing at the same time with pressure from the label.

Image-wise, what he did up to Dance certainly served him better than what he did after. I remember this sleeve of Warriors … Maybe the image that he portrayed earlier wasn’t exactly original, but it served his voice quite well. And his persona.

For me, the conflict of something like the Warriors cover, where he’s standing in this S&M gear, all leathered up with a baseball bat as though he’s some kind of bad ass road warrior guy, is that he has this posture that is totally faggy and limp. And the bleached hair. And then he’s not queer-identified. He’s straight-identified. He plays with gender in his lyrics, but he makes it clear in his interviews that he’s not. For me, it’s this contradiction between the kind of costume play that you could find in a gay club, but for me it was also a mismatch…like the leather bottom.

It also has to do with being a nerd that is really into science fiction. He also has this nerd component. His lyrics are all about Philip K. Dick and Blade Runner . He was totally into that stuff. And I think that’s also what drew me to him. And it also made me repress the impact that he had on me. By the time you reach 18 or so, it’s too tragic to say that you’re a Gary Numan fan. People react in this horrible way. But he, more than Devo or Kraftwerk, was really influencing me.

I used to plagiarize his lyrics and enter them into the school district contest and get ribbons for it. And when my father was upset with me about music and things, it was my Gary Numan records that he would lock away in the closet so that I couldn’t get at them. There was a lot of battle around Gary Numan in my adolescent life.

I think that’s why the “Cry, The Clock Said” has such a special connection for Comatonse. Because the first EP was basically a dub remix of this song.

Joe Jackson – A Slow Song (A&M) 1982

It was a pleasant surprise when I heard this as the last song of the set on one of your Deeperama CDs. I was wondering if you have some sort of penchant for Joe Jackson’s stuff? Or did you just pick that one for the message?

I like some Joe Jackson songs a lot. But then there are a lot that I’m not particularly fond of stylistically. It’s a bit too frenetic for me. “A Slow Song,” though, makes me miss my youth when, at roller discos, there would be the slow skate. In the midst of all this disco dancing, you’d have the chance for the slow dance.

I miss something about the slow dance in the club environment, especially these days, when people don’t touch at all when dancing to house music, unless you’re really at some high energy club where it’s totally a trashy kind of thing. People have become very detached in this way in deep house clubs. One of the reasons that I don’t go to clubs anymore, aside from when I’m working, is that maybe I have this romantic image of the slow dance.

I like this song, yeah, and I would play it at the end of every Deeperama until the club owner ordered me not to play it anymore. Because he said it was too depressing to send people home on this note every time. And, of course, it’s Japan. So people didn’t understand the lyrics so well. For them, it’s just ending this dance night with some wailing vocal thing. But for me, yeah, this was just giving this chance for the final slow dance. I never saw anyone do this. A couple of people would sway, but I never saw a couple or a threesome or foursome huddle dance. There was still this detachment. But I like this kind of winding down.

It also draws on this tradition of New York disco clubs—or any disco clubs—where they would have what they would call morning or sleaze music, where they put the tempo down and played ballads. I always thought that this was the most beautiful part of the night, the part where the DJ were really expressing these emotions the way they wanted to. Do you feel like that quality is lacking today?

There’s also an underhanded joke, also, in this song. Because the singer is talking about going to this noisy club and asking the DJ to play a slow song. But in reality, when people come up to me when I’m DJing, they are always asking for something harder. For me, I have this fantasy of people asking me for a slow dance. So it’s kind of an underhanded joke. I want people to ask me for something slow! Something softer, and being open to this kind of music.

Do you have some records in reserve for this moment in case it should happen?

I do. But I don’t think I should reveal those. [ laughs ]

It’s a great song.

It is a great song, but I don’t know if I always agree with the lyrics. Because in a way it has this message against noise. And I know the kind of music he is probably imagining. It’s not the kind of electroacoustic music that I made for Mille Plateaux, but in a way it could very well be. So there’s this tension in this song for me to hear the complaint that somehow goes against a large part of my own catalogue.

I think the Night and Day album it was lifted from is very interesting.

It’s really the only one I can listen to of his from beginning to end.

It kind of almost delves into your territory from the lyrical content. Quite an interesting song. At that point, I think he was unsure about what to do with his sexuality.

For me, some of the songs are more interesting in that framework. If you mention someone totally out like Elton John, and then you mention, “Oh yeah, Olivia Newton-John is his daughter…” It’s been so long that people don’t know this anymore. In a way, these kinds of gay musical icons, when they become so crystallized in our desire to associate them with a particular sexual category… when sexuality is about deviance and malleability, even if we’re betraying somebody, ourselves, our partner, we’re tricking…There’s always some trick going on. I’m always more interested in this kind of vague area before people become so…their image…becomes so consolidated.

So you also draw a line between public image and what they might…

Sure. Think about someone like Michael Jackson. He has totally complicated his understanding of his sexuality, gay or straight. We end up going in all other directions, pedophilia, the wives, Priscilla Presley, and all this femme iconography and becoming a white woman and whether that was about racial politics or whether it was him being a jehovah’s witness. And how his jehovah’s witness religion says that dark skin is a curse, but if you are a virtue, you will become lighter. You know, there’s all these sorts of weird things that go on behind this mentally disturbed person.

But, you know, this kind of indecisiveness. And the fact that we don’t know… Even if when we’re told, “Oh yeah, I have this document proving this…” That proves a moment. And then we also know that there were other moments that contradict it. I think this is part of all of our lives. This hypocrisy. And that’s a big theme of my work. Um, the connection to all of this is…Jackson. [ laughs ]

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Kimi Ni Mune Kyun (Alpha) 1983

I was interested in how you had assimilated into Japanese pop culture, since you have lived there for quite some time now. And does it have any impact on how you work, this Japanese electronic music, because I think it’s really a different style to European or American electronic music.

It comes from a very different ideological perspective on certain aesthetics that might be similar. And that means the connotations and where it leads to are totally different. I actually haven’t assimilated into the pop sphere within Japan at all. The events that I do are notoriously empty. And organized by people who are doing one-off, random events. For me, the connection with YMO is that they were one of these groups that found their way into the one dollar record bin in the US, as music that should have never reached Springfield, Missouri, to begin with. That’s how I built my record collection. By just going to the one dollar bin and taking anything that didn’t have a guitar listed on the back of the record. This song is the sign of the downfall of techno pop.

Within Japan, this sort of album and its sound would be the total pop stardom of YMO, instead of starting out as this weird side project of Haruomi Hosono. Instead it became this real, it was the standard of Japanese pop at the time. And I think that also it was the same dynamic that was happening with techno pop bands in Europe and the US at the time as well. There was this pressure… For example, someone like the Eurythmics followed this same path as YMO. They basically destroyed themselves by pursuing this kind of pop angle, and this rock stage stuff. And I also think that another aspect of this shift is technological. I think this song was really done with digital synthesizers and digital equipment, as opposed to the analogue.

Around that time period – from 1982 to 1985 – we had this massive shift of all of the electronic musicians moving into digital equipment and, of course, the percussion sounds and keyboard sounds that were developed by the engineers at Roland were, in a way, kind of accepted as sounds to work with. In the same way that people today accept the certain effects of VSP plug-ins, or seeing Max/MSP as this limitless sort of software, when in fact within the first 30 seconds or so of anyone’s performance you can tell that they’re using it. So this song is very symptomatic of the time when the sound was commodified, the sound was merging itself with a kind of corporate development of synthesizers and electronic musicians, the band themselves were forced to function as rock bands when, in fact, they were a rejection of rock originally.

These all synthetic whiny robotic voices were a total contrast to the Rolling Stones, and in Japan as well. Japan had its folk and its rock, and this was definitely a commentary on it. So, yeah, this was definitely the death of techno pop. And the same kind of shift from YMO and the Eurythmics that was devastating for me as a fan.

But at the same time, this is a very light accessible pop song for them. But, on the other hand, they were not really trying to reach an international audience, because I think the harmonies are very Japanese.

Yeah. But why should they? They were Japanese artists living and working in Japan. I think that’s kind of an unfair way to view the song.

But I think at that point they were very successful internationally, so they might have also opted for some more international approach.

Yeah, maybe that’s a bit more of a Kraftwerk style way to think though, where Kraftwerk would release all the different albums in different countries, with the different languages. I mean, this was a Japanese album. With Japanese lyrics. They know this is not going to function in a Western marketplace in the way that an English language song would. And I would also say that part of the message of YMO was that there was this nationalist contingent to it. Which is conservative. Especially when you talk about Technodelic and these kinds of albums. Takahashi was designing these kinds of Maoist uniforms for them to wear, and it was totally ridiculing the Western concept of the Oriental band. They were technology, had this Chinese/Asian look that was totally ridiculous from a Japanese perspective—and that was the point. It was totally camp. So they definitely have this approach with how they engage with the Western audience. But at the same time they were major superstars operating within the Japanese music economy in the same way that a French musician might never make it out of France. But within that country, they are the Gods. You know, before French house, French music rarely left France. So I think we have to think of our relationship to the music as listeners from where we’re coming from, and not subject them to the same expectations of what globalized success means. Because I think that they weren’t so concerned with that really.

I think what you just said, that they were really interested in making fun of influences from out of Japan… I remember that on Multiplies, where they made this cover version of this Archie Bell & The Drells track…

Or starting their first album with “Firecracker.” Of course Hosono has this really deep interest in music to begin with, but this was totally about a joke, a critique. It was about as open a critique as you can get out of Japan, because they don’t have this critical culture like we do in the West. Or this kind of revolutionary tendency that is there in the West.

So there is no pop discourse?

There is, but it’s very rudimentary. And if you try to analyze it from a Western perspective, it’s totally superficial and empty. Most Japanese artists, if you speak with them and they’re really interested in thematic work, if you get them in an open moment, they’ll tell you that it’s really career suicide to out themselves as feminists or out themselves as dealing with queer issues. This is really a death wish. And, of course, Japan is very much like the US in that there is no history of the government subsidizing the arts, so for me this is also why Japan makes more sense. I really always question this European way of people expecting government funding for projects that are anti-government. Although this is a kind of an ideal that I think is nice that Europeans can pursue, and the impossibility of that sort of thing in the US and Japan in that way is kind of sad. But in a way it strikes me as completely ridiculous on some level. And, in a way, crippling, if you are positioning yourself against it ostensibly.

In a way, it’s kind of hypocritical.

It’s hypocritical if it’s not addressed. If it’s addressed openly, I think it’s totally different. Which is what I try to do. I try to talk in my work about living off my work from state or private subsidy. And trying to complicate those relations. But I think it’s totally a different thing when people are making these gestures, and not disclosing their relationships to power. And, for me, this is kind of scary in a different way than being an American, or in Japan when you talk about political or social themes and have that instantly mean that you can’t work in certain events. That’s something for me to be enraged at socially. But it’s not something for me to say that “I deserve this money.” We have to struggle to find the ways to do things despite money. Or really force money out of people. It has to be aggressive I think, not something that is a right. I don’t believe a lifestyle is a right. I think that’s a fiction of a particular type of economy that wants us to believe that this status quo lifestyle under capitalism is something that we deserve rather than something that imprisons us. Because once we think we deserve it, then we lose sight of how it violates us.

So do you think if you work as an artist with a strong position, you can just work with it if you are totally independent from the funding system?

Well, it’s just important when we operate in relation to funding that it’s important when we do those projects that we’re honest in the project itself. That’s what makes it contextual. To go in and perform your piece without thinking about it…well, sometimes this happens because you’re invited to DJ or whatever, but I think it’s important to speak and really address these things. But of course that means risking losing funding, that means you won’t work for the same people twice. This is a big problem for me.

In Japan or everywhere?


Baby Ford – Fordtrax (Rhythm Beat) 1988

Baby Ford is a genius. Not only this track, but the whole album. It’s funny now that you say that you noticed it in a lot of the Sprinkles albums, this bassline sound. For me, it’s totally wrong. It’s a totally different bass. I’ve tried. But I’ve never figured it out. It must come from something really cheap and simple. At first, I thought that it was something really specifically programmed —at least the Mr. Fingers one—but now I think that Baby Ford tried to program something like it then, but it has a bit more volume and a bit more square wave or something in it too. For DJ Sprinkles Midtown 120 Blues I found a solution, but I won’t say what it was because it took me 20 years to figure it out. But I will say it’s a totally stupid solution. Totally dumb. Totally simple. Totally by accident, and it’s incredibly easy. [ laughs ]

Baby Ford, though. It’s really important that this was an English release. Because for American house culture, I don’t think that American house culture would exist as it does today, if it wasn’t for the English regurgitating it and selling it back to us. Especially like Chicago house. And acid and all this early stuff. Almost any American who owns this stuff owns the UK releases. There was this incredible flood of compilations of Chicago acid house that were amazing documents. The music on them was kind of crap, but just to have these archives was something that, at least in New York, was the way to connect to this music. It was very difficult to find originals.

So yeah, Baby Ford coming out with this really brilliant Chicago album out of the UK was kind of a sign of the importance of the UK in American house.

But I thought that the sound difference between the acid records in Chicago and what they made of it in England was really different. The English records had a lot more pop appeal, they weren’t that gritty, maybe even a little less funky.

But yeah, but this is the old Human League influence. It’s locking in on it from a different base. I’m not saying it as a parody, I’m saying that I think it was really important as a way that Americans became aware of what was going on. Because I think it was on the international field that these things were being picked up. But no American label would touch this kind of music. So to have FFRR and all these labels put these kinds of things back to us was important.

The English were very reliable with the hype press, the labels to support it, it always kind of worked, and it worked with Detroit techno later. I found it interesting that Baby Ford tried to do a pop thing.

Yeah, the “Ooo” The World Of Baby Ford thing. And it totally lacked something important. And then he went with the I-Fach Collective stuff. He really resurrected himself. The Sacred Machine is one of my favorite house albums of all time. Again, going back to Gary Numan and this kind of moment of crisis. I was really glad to see Baby Ford go through that and come out the other side of it in a direction that I could find alliance with, rather than totally destroying himself to do vocal house.

There was certainly a risk that could’ve happened. Even on that Fordtrax album, there are a couple of songs that are very cheeky, flashy and still the music is very sparse, and highly original.

Yeah, you could tell the drugs that were popular at the time. But I still DJ a lot of those tracks in my sets.

So it has aged well?

Totally. But really, I don’t concern myself with age. For me, it’s just really good music.

Fingers Inc. feat. Chuck Roberts – Can You Feel It (Desire) 1988

I will probably never tire of listening to this. It’s very simple, but it’s pure perfection.

It’s a great track, I don’t know what to say other than it’s amazing. He produced a lot of things that set the standard really high for himself. And I think he had to try to get away from this sound a little bit. But when he would use that sound, like on “Washing Machine,” it always sounds fucking amazing. Sometimes I feel his sounds are too patch. Too stock, when he tries to get away from this, and it becomes a little too cheesy for me. He has a kind of Muzak component to his sound at times. What was his major label album?


Yeah, really corporate stink on that. There are some good songs on it like “Closer,” but also it’s reflecting this pressure to make “music.” To make something proper for a major label A&R guy to say, “Yeah, that’s cool.” And I think that—this is kind of a recurring theme in all of these— it is something that Fingers also had to deal with. There’s a difference between his small label releases and his major label releases. The version that I first listened to was the one with the Martin Luther King overdubs. I was named after Martin Luther King, my middle name is Martin. He was assassinated a couple of months before I was born, and my parents were having this connection with things going on politically at that time. When I was a kid, my parents would give me these Martin Luther King newsreel albums, so I had these speeches kind of memorized. So to hear these over electronic music was kind of cool, but then it became so played out. To the point where you couldn’t stand to hear it anymore. I like the instrumental version the best.

You also referenced the speech version with the Chuck Roberts monologue.

Yeah, well, the Chuck Roberts monologue is such a pivotal diatribe in the history of house, and that’s something I’ve chopped up for him to say whatever I wanted him to say on my Sprinkles album. He said something like, “No one man can own house,” and I changed it so that he was saying “house music is consumable desire you can own.”

It’s funny to talk about this because it’s so common knowledge, this speech of Chuck Roberts, but would you say that the meaning when it was originally recorded, that this is still totally valid? Or has it been lost?

I would say from the beginning that this made an alignment with nationalism, which is instantly uninteresting for me. I mean, yeah, it sounds good. In the same way that a lot of this preacher style delivery sounds good, but the content is totally about nationalism, ownership and has things like, “I’m the originator,” and then “No one man can own house.” It’s totally in this liberal moment of a rant, and in this way it’s OK if you just take it as just one guy going off. But as a political statement or a unifying theory, it’s totally fucked.

The Todd Terry Project – It’s Just In House (Fresh) 1989

Todd Terry was the odd one out for me. I thought what he was doing was radically different to what was happening at the time.

Todd Terry for me was the way into a lot of this. Because I was living in the East Village, and, of course, you had this whole hip-hop thing going on around 1988. And there was this major hip-hop revival going on that was kind of interesting actually. ’78 and ’88 were like the two phases of hip-hop that I found interesting.

And then you had the Todd Terry project and it was all sample-based, and there was this triggering of the samples on the keyboard over and over. It had this kind of Grandmaster Flash feel to it, this sound system in the park feel. It was really nice. I liked this. And, at the time, this was when a lot of house music in New York hadn’t really consolidated its sound, so sometimes you had these Chicago artists or people like Farley Jackmaster Funk having a hit in New York, but the New York sound itself wasn’t quite consolidated yet, so you had hip-hop going on and you had the hip-house with Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, followed in the UK by The Beatmasters and Richie Rich. A lot of it was really crap, but sometimes you had a nice thing here or there.

My favorite example was the Cookie Crew, because there was this totally amazing music, but a totally ridiculous formula. Todd Terry was really the connection between hip-hop and hip-house and the bridge over. At that time, I was getting to know some guys that were into the breaking scene, like Kid Freeze, who was in Breakin’ 3, who introduced me to this other guy who got me into MIDI synths and that sort of stuff. That gave this stuff a social resonance for me, too.

I liked the idea that he was doing these sample based things that were a departure from this tragic ’80s digital synth sound that I was complaining about earlier. It was a moment when music escaped it, and I think Todd Terry was one of the guys that did that. He had this whole cocaine / ecstasy overkill thing with the quick sample stabs, but I think that at the same time there were some very nice things.

He was really deconstructing all of his influences. He used a lot of disco samples, a lot of Kraftwerk. His sound was really unique.

Yeah. And it’s all mono, which is one thing that you don’t really notice at first. That had a real impact on the dance floor, where left and right stereo don’t matter so much. Either that or he had really poor mixing conditions. You can tell that he’s really working deep with only a few instruments, but that he’s getting the maximum out of those instruments. They’re doing what he wants them to do. Rather than making music that showcases the technology. It’s electronic music, but it’s not technological music.

This is the B-side to “Weekend,” which was kind of a sucky track for me. I didn’t like it very much, because it was, in a way, Todd Terry trying to make a hit. But this B-side was totally weird. The thing about his music, that makes it hard to DJ, is that it’s quite aggressive. In a way, it’s industrial hip-hop. It has that same quality as early industrial music, making it difficult to mix sometimes unless you really take the set in that way and do a Todd Terry hour. The only thing harder to DJ is something like Pal Joey. That sound is such a unique sound that you have to go with it.

Was it in New York that hip-house had an impact? Because in Europe it almost seemed as though it was the successor of the acid house boom.

It was massive. From ’88 to ’90, it was totally massive in New York. My image wasn’t even sitting at a nightclub listening to this. It was at a Laundromat between 6th and 7th Street on Avenue A, waiting for my clothes to finish and listening to all this music on the radio. It was everywhere.

And now it’s the least hip house style ever.

Yeah, un-hip-house. I remember you saying in an e-mail to me that it’s almost this taboo to play it now.

There are some cheeky attempts to revive it, but I don’t think it would be possible to see a full-blown revival.

Yeah. Which is OK. But there are some really nice things to come out of it.

The Orb – A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld (Loving You) (Big Life) 1989

This particular track didn’t have a direct influence. But The Orb certainly had this crossover with hip-hop. In a way, they were the Todd Terry of European avant-garde music. They had this hip-hop connection, and dub and stuff like that. This and the Irresistible Force album were the two pivotal ambient albums. They were both British.

You also like them music-wise?

Yeah. I fell out with The Orb after U.F.Orb —even though my collection continued for many albums after that. The first Orb song that I heard was their Satellite Serenade remix of Keiichi Suzuki. A Japanese friend had given it to me. It has this five minute ambient intro, which uses a lot of Suzuki’s track, and then it goes into this nine minute house thing, which I found really interesting. Then when I got Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld I really liked this too. “Little Fluffy Clouds” I didn’t like so much, because I didn’t like this breakbeat stuff that was coming out of England at the time. It was a very English sound, to me, that I just didn’t like. I can’t connect with this as an American. Maybe it was too close to an industrial break for me. But it had this Psychic TV flavor to it that, for me, was a little bit too hard. Maybe I’m just too much of this romantic coming-from-the-soul American. This kind of industrial side or shuffly thing was nothing funky for me, nothing soulful, nothing to get into.

I really enjoyed the early stuff that The Orb made. When it came out, I thought it was really something different. But I think in retrospect the problem with these releases is that they planted some images with the music that have stuck ever since. Clouds, space, The KLF with their sheep on the cover. It was a weird image that is still spoiling the fun of ambient music.

Yeah, well KLF had an agenda. A political agenda and one that was a specific project that was attempting to create a #1 record. They had that book, and that was their whole situation. But I think something like that is quite different from The Orb. They just wanted to get stoned and be tripped out, which for me is the weak part of it. I always have difficulty with the marketing of dub and reggae, with groups like UB40, the white reggae group. In a way, the Orb has this component to it as well, which for me is just left to the level of “Oh, that shouldn’t matter,” but then in terms of marketplace and culture, it should matter. It does matter. Issues of race have very real repercussions. For white producers to produce a dub sound and then just leave it with “Hey, can’t we all just get along,” this is a real naiveté that I think in the end is problematic at some point. This isn’t a specific complaint about the Orb, but something that I think is a dynamic in dub music in particular. I really think that the romanticization of Jamaica is totally brutal. This is really disrespectful in a way to the political realities of the people living there.

A lot of the ambient music from these years was connected to psychedelia. I think that is kind of difficult, too.

And the spiritual. Yeah, that was kind of what I was trying to react to. On my first album for Instinct Records I wasn’t allowed to be very explicit in how I did react to it. For instance, they didn’t want text to be included on my albums. The best gesture that I could get was this photograph of a used condom in the woods as the inner sleeve to the Soil album. This gesture around safer sex, it had to be abstract or it had to be artsy, and this was because everyone just wanted to chill out. So when I wanted to come out with Couture Cosmetique, or my Mille Plateaux releases where they had text, this was really the way that I wanted to have my projects be released from the beginning. I got so much hate mail, especially from America. “Why are you being such a fucking Nazi, telling me how to listen to your music. I just want to chill out.” And I was just thinking, “Well, don’t read it, you know?” People totally don’t want their consumption around music to be disturbed. And spirituality, soul, all of these universal abstractions that take music out of any social contextual framework, that makes it easy marketing, easy consumption, where you don’t have to think about anything other than some sort of masturbatory connection to style or something. That’s totally boring to me.

But the chill out rooms have disappeared anyway. So it’s not really necessary to make music from that angle anymore.

Yeah, I never really went to techno clubs. I was in the house clubs where there were no chill out rooms. This was also a point of tension for me—that the relationship of dance music to ambient music was from this super-white hetereosexual guy. When there were women in the room, they were always the girlfriends of somebody doing something there. It was totally disturbing to me. And totally uninteresting to me. I was interested in house that had a connection with queer culture and less with white audiences. When I was first DJing ambient music in New York, it was at this event called The Electric Lounge Machine. I forget the guy’s name, but it was run by the graphic designer of Eightball Records at the time. It was the first regular ambient event in New York and for me it was all ambient. Our objective was to see how quickly we could make people fall asleep. A year or two later, it was totally different. I would be invited to DJ in The Limelight, a big techno club there, and it was totally uninteresting to me. And very strange, I didn’t like it.

I think one of the interesting issues that The Orb (and Todd Terry) brings up is that we’re so limited by sampling. The fact that he still continued to use so many Kraftwerk samples, even after the whole Afrika Bambaata lawsuit thing. But we aren’t really able to talk freely about these samples. Which for me are like footnotes, ways of connecting and constructing a deep and rich history around the music that we’re making. And the legalities of the system totally prohibit this kind of discourse. It’s all reduced to profit-making. It’s as though the only possible reason that you could want to sample someone else’s music is to ride the coattails of someone else’s success. This is, in terms of media and in terms of discourse, totally handicapping us. I think this is also why you have people falling back into this idea of wanting to trip out and thinking about space and stuff like this. Because the entire infrastructure of music is against our thinking of it as anything else. It’s either money or some universal thing floating in the ether. There is never a point where it becomes discourse. That’s a problem.

Madonna – Vogue (Sire) 1990


Subway Ground Master – Marble Arch (Calypso) 1992

Italian house. I was really surprised that, for your own house productions, this was a major influence on you. This basically came out of New York, this particular sound.

Yeah. I think it was the fact that it came back in this soft way. Irma and Calypso Records were related, yeah? And they also did these very strange things like the Key Tronics Ensemble where you’d have these totally ambient hip-hop break tracks and then this calypso/bossa nova thing and then a house track.

These records were sold a lot in Dance Tracks Records, the Lower East Side dance shop at the time. They had massive amounts of Irma releases.

Why do you think this was so successful near to the place that it originated from?

It’s softer. It’s romantic in a way. But also, there’s a lot of Italian-American producers in New York house. But, you know, sometimes when things are circulated and sold back in a form, the original DJs and producers see that reflection as a little bit more clarified than what they were doing. It’s kind of like as if someone is doing a critical analysis of what you did, and it comes back and something is clarified for you. In that way, it makes sense. A lot of it didn’t, though. It was way too sweet or something. For me, though, one of the greatest Italian tracks of that time was “Flying High” by Rosario, which had this ambient intro and this guy doing a vocal thing over it. His voice was as weak as mine, but then this really funky deep bass comes in. What we might call a quality problem gives it this sweetness, and then you forgive it. I think the best of Italian house has this quality.

It’s interesting that you say that. That goes back to Italo disco where they did these cheap but charming versions of something that production-wise was superior. And I think that same thing applies to these Italian house records.

In the New York disco scene, if we’re not talking so much about house music but about clubs that play all kinds of music, the New York house scene also has a great debt to Italian disco. People like Moroder. That connection and desire to have a New York sound, but also to have connection back to Europe. Especially for the white DJs and the Italian American DJs. There is probably a different connection to these singles. There’s something about this, where something was really cool because it came from Europe.

I remember hearing 12-inches in the early ’90s with these really mellow deep house tracks that were so mellow that I couldn’t even think of someone playing them in a club. Were they being played?

I was playing them, but of course getting fired for it. [ laughs ] It was very hard to get people to dance to it. Especially if it was instrumental stuff. It was hard to get people to be patient enough to allow themselves to dance to something that was around 118 BPM. But everyone was so hopped up on coke and ecstasy at the time. I guess I was one of the few that wasn’t, so it created a kind of tension in a way.

There was a big renaissance of deep house music lately, and there were a lot of tracks that were mellow again. Pretty traditional. Would you say, after all these years, that there is space to play that kind of mellow music? Or is it still difficult?

I certainly think that, as it became more commodified and established as a genre, the space to play it became larger. Then you end up with social spaces, club spaces, consumer spaces where it becomes more acceptable. This is a Catch-22. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to play a type of music that people will listen to. On the other, it’s totally raped of the original context for me. In that way, it’s really uninteresting. For me, music isn’t simply about listening to it. It’s how you listen to it, where you listen to it. And if the reason that we’re able to listen to it together now is because of some corporate distribution network, then for me this is totally boring, problematic and has nothing to do with anything that I find interesting.

Wouldn’t you say that this is the price you have to pay all too often when you’re DJing music? That it’s kind of connected to something?

I don’t think that we have to pay it. I think we can decide to do other things. And I think that many of us do. And the fact that once in a while the larger trends pass over what many of us having been doing for decades. I get people interviewing me now as if I had suddenly made some artistic shift to deep house for example. I’ve been releasing house stuff since my first release in 1993, and I’ve been DJing it since before then. This is totally a problem about distribution. And people’s vision and desire to identify an artist with a particular genre and chart this artistic growth. It’s as though you can’t be multi-tasking genres. Your soul must be full of this one particular sound. That’s really a problem that a lot of musicians have. They go along with this stuff. “Oh yeah, my heart is just filled with house… or rock… or punk.” It’s filled with a consumer relationship. And I think this needs to be problematized.

There is a kind of pressure when someone drives up to their house with a truck full of money, and they’re given a lot of attention in the press. We’re told since we were kids that we need to be successful, to follow these things if you have the chance, that it may be our one shot. This sort of bullshit. That’s a real trap that people fall into. In electronic music, this doesn’t mean you turn into a superstar. It means that you take some corporate gigs, some DJ things for major companies like Marlboro, Coca Cola, or Red Bull. And then you have to sign these contracts that then sign away all your rights. People think that they have to do this because they need to get this PR, this promotion. I’m going to be on the website and in the end they’ll just throw you away. In the end, we really need to read our contracts, we really need to say no to things and this is important. This is not a price we have to pay. It’s a price we pay without thinking often times. But we don’t need to pay it. 02/10

2 Comments on “Playing Favourites: DJ Sprinkles”

  1. 1 Christopher said at 6:24 pm on December 6th, 2014:

    Hi there,

    what’s that Rosario track Terre is talking about? Can’t find anything about it. Is it Ralphie Rosario?

    All the best,

  2. 2 Finn said at 5:54 pm on December 8th, 2014:

    Sorry, I do not know it either.

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