In discussion with Call Super on “My Answer” by Charley’s Vault (2000).
How did you come across „My Answer“? Was it in a record store, or in a club?
A club. The End in London.
Why does this record mean so much to you? Is this a time capsule of a certain kind? What is its appeal?
It very much is. Although it is of its time in certain ways I don’t really feel it has dated. It was a record that I heard quite a few times before I had any idea who it was. I was usually too shy to ask DJs back then and there were lots of tracks that you would hear and just know because you’d heard them before and maybe one day you’d actually turn it up in a store, or meet someone in the club who could tell you, or it got used on a mix. Which is how I found out what this one was.
The thing I love so much about it is it creates a mood that is perfect at any time of the night or morning. It has the exact balance of menace, tension, joy and release that the perfect DJ tool needs. The mixdown is really nicely done, the way it ebbs, flows and kicks at certain points. I have a distinction between what often gets called ‘tools’ which to my ear are usually just drum tracks with a stab or a pad or something and the really useful stuff which usually has a fair bit more going on and can always take you up, down, reset, roll out, maintain… anything that you ask of it. This is one of those tracks.
I guess most people stay true to their formative years in the clubs of their youth. What made The End so special?
It was a club that was very well designed. Loosely based upon The Tunnel in New York but with a crucial difference of placing the booth in the middle of the floor so the DJ was cocooned by the crowd, who were in turn were cocooned by the sound system. The fact that this set up existed in a tunnel created two opportunities. The first was that it was very easy to lose yourself at the back by the system without feeling any disconnection from the place. The second was that this architecture created a particular atmosphere that I think must have meant certain DJs would have fun in a way that more disconnected settings don’t encourage. Its obviously a truism to say that good DJs play to the setting they are in, whilst bad DJs do the same thing no matter where they are. Well, this was a space that I feel coaxed the best from people.
I went maybe twice a month on average for about two years, then less frequently for the next few years because I had relocated to Glasgow, but in that time almost every night held surprises at what had been played, or how it had been played. The video of Mills covers a little of that ground. You cannot understate the importance of having these experiences to draw on when you end up doing this for a living, your own constellation of places and people that inspired you. That’s what gives you your distinct voice and I feel massively grateful to have had that club incubating me.
Nigel Hayes was a productive artist during the heyday of The End, but at the time of „My Answer“ his career was still at the beginning. Is he an exemplary producer for the club’s distinct sound? Or was that sound not so distinct anyway?
No, not at all I’m sorry to say. I really know very little of anything else he has done. The few things I’ve heard haven’t been to my taste.
His collaborator in Charley’s Vault was Austin Bascom from Chicago, who already had a lot of credentials for his releases on seminal labels like Prescription and Guidance. „My Answer“ has the breezy swing of a lot of his productions, but it is probably not what you usually would associate with the sound of that city. Does local context even matter when artists travel, and collaborate elsewhere? Was this even produced with a local target audience in mind?
For me the best artists from Chicago were never obsessed with a ‘Chicago’ sound, for the most part that was left for European kids to mimic. Abacus is an archetype of that second wave who just kept pushing forward and doing their own thing – Green Velvet, Hieroglyphic Being, Paul Johnson, Glenn Underground – it seems to me that they all shared a simple engagement with doing things their own way with the technology they had access to instead of just remaking the Trax catalogue. That versatility means sometimes you get very distinct sounds, and sometimes sounds that are really hard to pin down. I don’t know if this was made with a local audience in mind, I really have no idea what was going in Chicago club-wise around the early 00s.
There was another London-Chicago axis with Derrick Carter’s and Luke Solomon’s label Classic, which also released a lot of artists from both cities. Was there more exchange between those cities in contrast to others, and for a reason?
Classic had a residency at the club and those two would often share much of the night. To be honest I never found those nights to be quite as special, but that was solely down to my own taste and maybe the fact they didn’t play so many different styles of music as say Mills or Garnier did. One of the favourites at the club was Green Velvet, who was seen to embody the spirit of the place. I remember him playing the nights that Layo Paskin and Bushwacka put on. Beyond that I don’t really know if you can draw anything particularly special between the two cities, but maybe I’m missing something.
Who were the DJs who transported this sound most perfectly? Were they also from both Chicago and London by any chance, or did this not matter?
I don’t think it mattered. The person who hammered this track was Garnier, and he was one of the masters of that club. He had his sets down to an absolute point. They covered an awful lot of ground and followed a certain kind of formula which he could rearrange depending on every factor. It was never really about a particular sound for me.
These bouncing Techno/House hybrid tracks are a bit frowned upon these days. Is this the usual longevity of club sounds, or did it decrease in reputation otherwise, however justified?
If you’re frowning on this kind of stuff then for me you’re doing something wrong. The fact that the rhythms bounce in a particular way misses the point, it’s just a great track. I’m not interested in music that exists solely as a reaction against other music. I want to be always able to fold anything I like into what I do and I like things that recognize this as a positive attribute. Narrow fashions are to do with a level of self-consciousness that I don’t recall being such an issue then unless you were into something like rock or whatever. Its a quality that arises when defining oneself against something and, like I said, that has never interested me. I like fashion which is totally expansive. In the electronic scene, at least the people I was friends with just wanted really good tracks in whatever style. I first became aware of the self-conscious thing in dance music with minimal and certain elements of the dubstep scene I guess, and then in recent years increasingly within the factions of techno and house that have become hung up on striving for authenticity and/or slaves to very particular aesthetics.
Are there current producers who manage to carry on with the qualities of „My Answer“, or is this more set in a certain period of time?
For me the qualities of the track come from the people who made it just doing their own thing within a framework. There are lots of fantastic producers doing that now.
Maybe some people find your choice of Charley’s Vault surprising in comparison to your own productions. But are there traces of what you like about it in your music?
If you listen to some of my incidentals, certainly on something like „Coup d’Etat“, you may or may not discern a certain influence. I’m not sure but I certainly hope so!