First thing Front club in Hamburg, what made the place magical and what made you follow Klaus Stockhausen, and his way of DJing?
There were different things falling into place then. I was always interested in club culture and music, but pre-internet you could mostly only read about legendary clubs and its resident DJs. When I first went to Front in 1987 I was 18 years old, and up to then I never heard a DJ who could really mix. Klaus Stockhausen played there since 1983, several times a week, and he had built up a very loyal crowd. The club itself was a raw basement, there was not much to distract from the music, apart from the hedonistic dancers. The place was very intense, and Stockhausen as well as his protegé and successor Boris Dlugosch were incredibly good. Of course you tend to be sentimental about times and places that intiated you into something, but I still have not experienced anything close, both in terms of clubs and DJing. Of course it also helped that those years saw very crucial developments in club music. When I started going there it was the end of that transitional period between Disco and House, which was extremely exciting. And in the following years I frequently went there that excitement persisted. Those were the blueprint years for everything we still dance to now, and I had the privilege to experience it right on the floor. And I learnt a lot of things that I still use.
How did you become part of Hard Wax, was it hard to get that job?
No. Seven years ago all my freelance activities and the according deadlines began to collide with being a father. My wife suggested some more steady work to complement and that I could ask for a job at the store, as I was a very regular customer anyway. Coincidentally Achim Brandenburg aka Prosumer quit working there at that time and they were thinking about asking me to replace him. So within a short time I sat down with the owner Mark Ernestus and the store manager Michael Hain and got the job.
I know you like to write about music, but why do you hate to write reviews?
I actually do not hate writing reviews at all. But after doing that for several years at de:bug magazine I felt I was increasingly running out of words to accurately describe the music I was given the task to review, and I think keeping a fresh perspective is mandatory in that aspect. But more importantly writing reviews does not work too well with running a label yourself, and working at Hard Wax. On the one hand I wanted to avoid allegations of being biased, on the other hand I had to keep potential implications of my writing commitments out of my other work. So I began to lay my focus on features and interviews, mostly from a historical perspective. I am not afraid of discourse and speaking my mind on certain topics if I feel it is necessary, but I am very cautious to remain objective.
Can you tell us what is Druffalo?
Druffalo is a semi-anonymous collective of six seasoned DJs and writers living in Berlin, Mannheim and Cologne, and was founded in 2007. It used to be a rather notorious web fanzine celebrating aspects of culture we felt were worth celebrating, and we were pretty merciless in pointing out aspects of culture we felt were not worth celebrating at all. The web magazine is defunct for a while now, as at some point the server we were running on mysteriously disconnected us and we thought it was a good statement to just disappear. The whole archive is backed up though, so nobody should feel too safe. Attached to it was a DJ collective called the Druffalo Hit Squad, consisting of the same six editors and likeminded guests. We did an influential mix series that is archived on Mixcloud, and we were constantly throwing parties that were pretty anarchic. Since the end of 2015 we took up a bi-monthly residency at the club Paloma Bar in Berlin, where we mostly define our idea of a modern Soul allnighter, using our vast archive of Disco, Soul and Garage House records. But there are also plans to return to the eclecticism of former years.
Do you think your Macro label is becoming a genre in itself, like RE-GRM, ECM, L.I.E.S., or Blackest Ever Black?
No, I do not think so, nor were Stefan Goldmann and me ever interested in establishing a certain trademark label sound that we have to fulfill with every release. We are more interested in working with producers that have developed their own signature sound, as long as it fits in with our own preferences. Our idea of running a label is very open, it is only determined by what we are interested in, and we are both very different individuals. We only release what we both agree on and that, combined with the consistent collaboration with our designer Hau, resulted in a certain coherence, although our back catalogue is rather diverse. We were also always aiming for the long run, and we both feel that you only can achieve that with a healthy amount of leeway and fresh ideas. Of course it is also important to have an identity, but we much prefer that to be based on reliable quality than sound aesthetics that create or reflect trends but are likely to end up as mere expectations. I do not think we are really comparable to the labels you mentioned, too. We had some archival releases, and we might have influenced some musical developments, but neither are essential to what we do.
You published your first book „Love Saves The Day“ in 2003, and although there had been plenty of literature on the topic of the classic Disco era of the 70s in New York City, it still stood out. What led you to write it?
I don’t know if that much had been written. Albert Goldman’s book „Disco“ had come out in 1979 and contains a small amount of information on David Mancuso’s private party, the Loft, and the Sanctuary, the discotheque where the pioneering Francis Grasso DJed, but it’s main focus is on the midtown discotheque Studio 54. In 1997 Anthony Haden-Guest published „The Last Party“, but that was mainly about Studio 54 and was largely concerned with celebrity culture. Both had a completely difficult reading of disco to the one I developed in “Love Saves the Day”, which focused on the influence of DJs on the rise of dance culture and what came to be known as Disco. I thought they missed the underlying dynamic of what made the culture so exciting.
Is it true that „Loves Saves The Day“ originally started out as an introductory chapter of a book about House Music?
Yes, that is true. The book about House Music was supposed to start in mid-1980s Chicago and then move on to New York City and the beginnings of UK Rave culture. I was born in 1967, so for me Disco was the music I liked when I was a kid, because the music reached its commercial peak in 1977/78. By the time I was in my 20s I was ready for something completely different and that came in the form of House Music, thus the original idea for the book. But I ended up interviewing David Mancuso early into my research, even though he was a relatively unknown figure at the time, and when he suggested that the history should begin with the Loft in 1970 I asked other interviewees, including house legends Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles and David Morales, if they’d heard of David and the Loft. They all replied that the Loft had been a transformational experience and so I quickly came to understand that the history of underground dance culture—a culture that ended up inspiring Disco—had yet to be narrated. Initially I thought I’d write a chapter about the 1970s but by the time I’d written 500 pages I’d only reached the end of 1979, so that turned out to be a book in itself. I just became fascinated by the way in which the communication between the person selecting the records and the dancing crowd introduced an entirely different form of musicianship to the world.
This marked the beginnings of contemporary DJ culture and it amounted to a form of democratic music-making that was firmly rooted in the counterculture, or the social forces that were unfolding in the US of that era. Before the beginning the 1970s DJs were required to “kill the dance floor” with a slow song every five or six records in order to persuade dancers to buy a drink. But when Mancuso and Grasso started playing at the beginning of 1970 they played to dancers who were rooted in the culture of gay liberation, civil rights, feminism, experimentation with LSD, and the anti-war movement. Grasso was already playing at the Sanctuary in the late 1960s and told me it was quite boring, but when the Sancutary became the first public discotheque to welcome gay men onto the dance floor at the beginning of 1970 the dancing became much more energetic and Grasso decided to try to maintain the intensity by inventing the technique of mixing two records together. Mancuso, meanwhile, started to hold dance parties in his downtown loft on Valentine’s Day 1970 and gave the party the name “Love Saves the Day”, which referenced universal love and the acid trip. Rather than mix records together, Mancuso took his dancers on a transformational journey through the juxtaposition of sound.
There is a direct lineage from the early days of The Loft through to New York dane venues such as the Paradise Garage, because the Garage owner Michael Brody and his resident DJ Larry Levan were Loft regular. The influence extends to the origins of House Music, because Robert Williams attended the Loft before he opened the Warehouse in Chicago, where he employed Frankie Knuckles to DJ, and the coinage House Music first referred to the music Knuckles would play at the Warehouse. Knuckles was also a Loft regular. So in many paths led back to the Loft. Everything seemed to be connected.
Were the interviewees in „Love Saves The Day“ waiting to tell their story?
Yes, because up to then it had not really been told, even if their cultural influence in the 70s turned out to be enormous. By the time I got home after that first interview with David Mancuso word there were five messages from people he knew and who were ready to talk on my answer machine—so it seems as though he trusted me and that there was a desire for this untold story to be told. One of the messages was from the DJ Steve D’Acquisto, who introduced me to Francis Grasso, and so things unfolded from there. This all took place in 1997, so a couple of years, I believe, before Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton started to track down David and Francis for their book „Last Night A DJ Saved My Life“.
Did you feel it was important to emphasize the political aspects of Disco?
I would say they emphasised themselves because Disco was so obviously political. The backlash against Disco peaked with the Disco Demolition night at a baseball game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 12th 1979, where a local radio DJ asked the audience to bring Disco records and then blew them up in the middle of the baseball double-header. It amounted to a Mid-Western backlash against the multicultural and polysexual coalition that underpinned disco culture and I’ve argued that in many respects we can track the rise of Donald Trump (and before him Ronald Reagan) to this moment. Disco became one of the first scapegoats for the decline of industrial culture in the United States and Trump appealed to the same disenfranchised and discontented demographic. I’m always interested in the correlation between music scenes and the wider culture in which they occur. So “Love Saves the Day” was about more than Disco, even if Disco was one of its central concerns. It’s important to remember that Disco music didn’t emerge as a genre until 1974, so the first for years of the book analyse a period when the culture was fermenting but didn’t have a name or a settled sound. It’s also important to note the version of disco depicted in „Saturday Night Fever“ had very little to do with the kind of culture that was still taking place in downtown New York, and by the end of 1978 downtown DJs were also becoming tired of commercial disco. The quality of the music had declined and it was time for something new. But the downtown expression of the culture survived the backlash. Read the rest of this entry »
There is a whole lot of claiming who did what when and where first as far as the origins of house music are concerned, and I do not intend to complicate the matter even further. But Colonel Abrams produced an 8-track tape with Boyd Jarvis and Timmy Regisford as early as 1982 which included this, and a lot of the legendary DJs in New York City and Chicago and beyond were rinsing it. Just saying!
Colonel Abrams – Music Is The Answer (1984, Streetwise)
There is a whole lot of claiming who did what when and where first as far as the origins of house music are concerned, and I do not intend to complicate the matter even further. But Colonel Abrams produced and released this track as early as 1984, and even more of the legendary DJs in New York City and Chicago and beyond were rinsing it. Just saying!
Colonel Abrams – Trapped (1985, MCA)
Still a house prototype, but now he paired his inimatibly determined vocal style with the shoulder pads and fierce dance moves of the day and stormed the charts. It was about time!
Colonel Abrams – Speculation (1985, MCA)
The second hit of his breakthrough and glory year. Handclaps galore and another bold funky groove, mixed by NYC club music protagonist Timmy Regisford.
Colonel Abrams – Over And Over (1985, MCA)
A mighty fine demonstration that Colonel Abrams could well navigate his way beyond punchier dancefloor imperatives. A slick and beautiful R&B ballad, both in tune with other productions of mid 80s post-disco reality, yet still very much him doing the own thing he created.
Colonel Abrams – I’m Not Gonna Let (1985, MCA)
This is basically a sequel to „Trapped“, but not a few people would say it is even more irresistible. I am most probably one of many going out to clubs in the mid 80s who observed this did not go away for a long time, and got them all dancing everytime it was played. And it still does.
Colonel Abrams – How Soon We Forget (1987, MCA)
Only adding a bit of the piano stylings introduced by the Chicago house producers he paved the way for, Colonel Abrams still rode his sound in 1987. Only by then he faced a lot more competiton in terms of club music, and his efforts to satisfy the pop market with slower R&B tracks suffered from the lack of distinctive hits. Sadly he seemed to get lost in the middle and his promising career slowed down considerably. Still, this is up with what led him there in the first place.
Funktion Feat. Colonel Abrams – As Quiet As It’s Kept (Soul Creation, 1993)
After a failed attempt to revive his career as a soul singer on a 1992 album on the Scotti Bros. Label, Colonel Abrams retreated to being a vocal feature for hire on house records throughout the 90s. Even if his voice still stood out as ever, many of said releases were lacking the potential to re-establish him on a level worthy of his beginnings though. Thankfully he found a fitting production counterpart on a string of records he made with the US Garage dons Smack Productions/Mental Instrum. And yes, this is the original template for DJ Dove’s holy grail „Organized“.
Mental Instrum Feat. C.A. – Should Be Dancin’ (Freetown Inc, 1994)
Another supreme example for the congenial drive and fierceness of the collaborations between Colonel Abrams (his real name actually) and the Smack camp. Eventually there was album compiling their finest moments together, but it also failed to get his career on track again. By this point he settled on guest spots on club music records, or had to, with mixed results. Sadly nobody had the idea to give him the opportunity, team and budget to reinvent himself as the soul singer he should have been, and he vanished from sight in the years to come.
Omar S Presents Colonel Abrams – Who Wrote The Rules Of Love (2011, FXHE Records)
It was one of the most memorable moments of my time working at Berlin’s Hard Wax record store to discover that Omar S had done this record together with Colonel Abrams after the latter’s several years of silence, and then listening to it, floored by how good it was. In a way his career had gone full circle, with beautiful music produced in way that made both the song and his breathtaking voice shine. I was really sure that this record would not be the last time I ever heard him on a new record, but then it was. I was shocked to learn about the troubles he had, and that they eventually led to him passing away, and I cannot separate this song from his incredibly sad story anymore. But what a song!
What was your first encounter with „The Call Is Strong“?
Alongside Daddy Gee, Carlton was featured on “Any Love”, the very first Massive Attack single which was a cover of one of my favourite songs from Rufus & Chaka Khan. I was a huge Chaka Khan fan by the way, I went to quite a few concerts. The very first time I saw her, I even waited for her at the backstage entrance because I wanted to have an autograph. Want some trivia? In the 90s, she had been living in my hometown Mannheim for a few years. Back to Carlton, I was really impressed by his crystal clear falsetto. I think “Any Love” came out roughly about the same time as the first Smith & Mighty singles, so this was the starting point of the Bristol sound. I first heard about the Bristol sound when I read about it in i-D magazine or The Face. So I already knew about Carlton when his first album dropped. I bought it at the local WOM store where I used to work back then.
1990 was a very exciting year for club music. Why did you choose this album over others? Why was and is it so important for you?
After you approached me for “Rewind”, I thought that I would have a hard time choosing “that” record. But then I stumbled across a 12” of his song “Cool With Nature” which contains killer remixes by Bobby Konders. So I remembered how much this album meant to me. When I listened to it for the first time, it blew me away. Smith & Mighty did a fantastic production job. At that time, it was very state of the art incorporating elements of Dub, contemporary US R&B, classic Soul, Reggae, electronic sounds as I knew them from House music and even some Swingbeat bits. I fell in love with the ethereal and often spliffed out vibe of the album and Carlton’s songwriting.
How do you rate Carlton as a singer? Why do you think they chose him, and could the album have been as good with another singer?
Carlton’s voice struck me instantly. I think he is a truly underrated singer and it’s a pity that the album wasn’t successful. His voice is really unique, that must be why Smith & Mighty chose him. It was his album, not a Smith & Mighty project in the first place. When you listen to him you can clearly tell that he’s coming from a Reggae background. On “The Call Is Strong” he sounds like a Reggae vocalist singing some kind of otherworldly UK version of R&B.
The album is taking quite some detours. For example „Love And Pain“ could have been a 2 Tone ballad from years earlier, while „Do You Dream“ is right on par with breakbeat pioneers like Shut Up And Dance or 4 Hero. How does „The Call Is Strong“ work as an album? How pioneering was what Smith & Mighty did?
It was very pioneering! The sparse beats, their very English way of bringing together the Jamaican sound system culture and US Hip Hop without sounding like eager copycats. And of course, as they grew up in England, they must have been in touch with 2 Tone stuff as well when they were teenagers. You’re right, you can also trace down elements that became integral with the Breakbeat scene which was already emerging at a very early stage.
I first became aware of Smith & Mighty when they appeared with their Bacharach reworks „Walk On“ and „Anyone“ two years earlier, to which „The Call Is Strong“ sounds like a continuation. I thought they sounded like nobody else at that time. Suddenly Bristol was on the map, making a difference. But could anyone predict how big that difference would be?
You could clearly hear that Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack were making a difference when their first 12”s came out. It all sounded so new and fresh. But I really had no idea how big this Bristol thing would become. Also I had no idea how misinterpreted the whole thing would get when the term Trip Hop emerged.
There were groups emerging in the late 80s that were deeply rooted in sound system culture, but why were Massive Attack and the London equivalent Soul II Soul so much more successful than Smith & Mighty? Were they less traditional and closer to pop music’s proceedings? And why do you think didn’t Carlton manage to establish himself as an ongoing fixture?
Massive Attack and Soul II Soul had the big hit singles. But not by accident, both had good labels with a staff that knew how to work their releases. Smith & Mighty signed a major deal as well – with FFRR, at that time a subsidiary of London Records/PolyGram. The first big project was Carlton’s album, which didn’t prove to be as successful as expected. Then Smith & Mighty were kind of locked in this deal. Under their own name, they only released a four track EP on FFRR. I would say they missed the right moment due to this deal. It took them years to get out of it.Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Lerosa on “Electric Café” by Kraftwerk (1986).
There was „Computer World“, then the „Tour de France“ single, then a silence of several years. I was impatiently waiting for their next move, and it kept getting renamed and postponed. Then the first thing I heard at last was „Boing Boom Tschak“. I thought that was pure genius. I suppose you were already a fan before, too. How did you experience that comeback and what did you think of it?
My first encounter with Kraftwerk was when I was 14, the video for „”Musique Non Stop”“ premiered on MTV Italy, with its groundbreaking CGI it was unique at the time. The only similar music I might have had come across then was probably Art Of Noise’s „Close To The Edit“ and Herbie Hancock’s „Rock It“. I didn’t have access to a lot of music as I had no older clued-in sibling nor were my parents into music, perhaps bar my mom who loves her Charles Aznavour and Lucio Dalla, so to be honest I had no idea who these guys were but I was blown away. To me this was new music from a new band! Sometime later I made friends with a guy from Bolzano who told me to check out the „Breakdance“ movie to see Turbo do a routine to „Tour De France“, a freaky song with electric pulses that sounded like a bike chain. After a few months of looking for it I watched the movie, and heard that, too. A year later on holiday in Rimini I shoplifted „Autobahn“ and „Radio Activity“ and I loved both but also not understood them very well as they packed a lot of references to more experimental music I wasn’t quite well versed as a 16 year old. It wasn’t until much, much later that I finally heard „Computer World“. I don’t think I have heard the first two albums yet. I think for a lot of kids back then “Musique Non Stop” was their first meeting with Kraftwerk. Like a lot of people I was a bit disappointed with „Electric Café“ at first. I thought the A-Side was a wonderful statement, but the B-Side lacked the same consequence. I liked the sounds, but I was not that impressed with the tunes. But it has grown on me immensely, starting only shortly after.
Is this album perfectly flawed, a good example for an album that does not lose its impact due to shortcomings?
I think after getting the 12“ for “Musique Non Stop” and eventually finding the LP I too might have been not very enamoured with B-side with its cringey songs (in English, that’s the version I had). It was too much like the music on Italian commercial day time radio and I was being drawn to these new sounds, Hip Hop and early House, that were starting to seep in through the late night radio stations and occasional afternoon clubs we had in Italy for 14 to 17 year olds. I wanted to hear this new Rap music and these new weird electronic House beats, I had no time for the „Telephone Call“ etc. Nevertheless I was charmed by them as the melodies and arrangement were very catchy.I am not sure if I ever thought of it as flawed; it felt like a cohesive whole, just one where I failed to connect the dots, which is how I normally felt whenever I heard something new that really alienated me, say Peter Gabriel „IV“. I just always thought I didn’t know enough to understand it rather than thinking, „oh this is a bit shit“. I think it is insecurity that made me look at it with respect rather than try to judge it as an album. I don’t think I owned many albums back then at all.Whichever way it is, the B-side songs eventually have become the ones I play most often, especially „Telephone Call“, which I love very much. And likewise I love a lot strange pop albums like Peter Gabriel’s „IV“, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album or indeed „Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise“.
Ralf Hütter had a severe cycling accident that slowed the work on „Electric Café“ down considerably. Do you think the flaws of the album are there because they rushed proceedings to not lose more momentum?
Who knows. I’d like to think that this was delivered the way it is quite intentionally to showcase the connection between the new sounds and beats of the A-side and the more traditional songs on the B-side, all held together by the electronic sounds. I think I always looked at this record like that; as a sort bridge between the old and the new.
The working title of the album was „Techno Pop“, and they even renamed the album later on. But isn’t the B-Side more Techno Pop than the A-Side? Could’t they have made one album that was pop, and one that was pure rhythm?
Well, I am sure that back then I probably wished the same, I would have loved more of the A-side but in hindsight maybe that would have really made it too niche and austere an album to their ears, coming as they were from a mixed background of musicality and experimentation, I suppose they were trying to find a balance on one record rather than being too pragmatic and split it into two separate entities.
I once imagined that „Sex Object“ was actually a first glimpse of a whole other concept album that was neglected, just for the lack of a better explanation why it was included. Especially the lyrics seemed to clash with their usual man machine infatuation, they are very human. As are the lyrics of „The Telephone Call“. How human are Kraftwerk?
I think they are very human and that’s why they are so popular to this day. Their appeal goes way beyond the mere “electronic music” tag, it doesn’t rest on the laurels of introducing a lot of complex machinery to music. They articulated the new relationship between humans and the technological world with sounds that managed to be extremely human and extremely non-human. Quite the trick. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Steve Fabus on “Let’s Start The Dance” by Hamilton Bohannon (1978).
How did you discover „Let’s Start The Dance“? Was it in a record store, or in a club?
I discovered “Let’s Start the Dance” in my slot at my record pool, BADDA (Bay Area Disco DJ Association) in San Francisco in 1978. It was the album „Summertime Groove“, where „Let’s Start the Dance“ is the first track on side A. When I first heard it I was blown away by it and couldn’t wait to play it at the club that night. When I played it the crowd went crazy and it was the peak record of the night, not surprisingly.
When the record came out, you had already started your career as a DJ in San Francisco. What makes this record so special for you? And was „Let’s Start The Dance“ a defining record for the sound you played back then?
I was playing loft parties and underground clubs and at two of the major clubs in San Francisco, the I-Beam and Trocadero Transfer. I know one of the reasons I was brought into the scene was because I incorporated a lot of the R&B, Groove, Funk and soulful sounds from Chicago and New York and mixed it with the NRG and Electronic sounds already being made in San Francisco, and coming in from Europe. „Let’s Start the Dance“ was and still is a defining record for me because it is such a fusion of so many of these sounds but most importantly — it’s a jam. Its many elements, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Funk, Electronic, Boogie, take you on a trip in a whole movement building up to a crescendo of orgasmic release. It relates to other fusion sounds like the Isley Brothers’ „Live It Up“, Crown Heights Affair’s „Dancin“ and many of James Brown’s tracks.
Hamilton Bohannon was a drummer originally, and he started releasing records that were very focussed on rhythm and very distinctive from the early 70s on. What was his role in the history books of Disco music?
I first heard Bohannon in Chicago in 1975 at Dugan’s Bistro, a major downtown gay club. The track I heard was „Bohannon’s Beat“ which is on one of the early albums on the Dakar label. It stood out to me because it didn’t follow any of the commercial rules of the day. It presented itself as a unique sound — experimental and minimal, a mantra to hook into. It inspired and encouraged DJs to take Disco underground. It was like a loop, a tool to use to improvise, phase or use as a bridge. Mantra is a major theme for Bohannon and he carries it forward with „Let’s Start the Dance“, which is just the opposite of minimal. He turns it up with the full on jam that puts dancers in an intense trance that they have no choice but to ride to its conclusion. It is very rich with a number of instruments played including guitar and keyboard with Carolyn Crawford’s couldn’t-get-any-better-voice. What this record represents to every generation is that this is the real deal musically.
Are there other Bohannon records you rate nearly as much?
My other all time favorite is „The Groove Machine“ – as intense as “Let’s Start the Dance” but trippier with its phased out psychedelic break and its total fusion hard funk rock electronic groove. When I hear this it makes sense that Bohannon early on drummed with Jimi Hendrix. Both “Groove Machine” and “Let’s Start the Dance” feature guitar riffs prominently.
1977 saw the peak of the classic Disco era. Was „Let’s Start The Dance“ an early sign that Disco could live well past the end of that boom? That the sound could move on and still matter?
“Let’s Start the Dance” is timeless because as I had mentioned before it’s a whole movement and jam where you’re hearing real instruments. It always ignites a dancefloor and from the first note you want to pay attention. The lyrics come fast with “Everybody get up and dance – Ain’t ya tired of sitting down?” This could be cheesy but it’s not, and you know it’s not and surrender completely to it right away. There is no way you couldn’t let yourself be seduced by it and every generation experiences this seduction. It still matters because it’s a prime example of the authenticity of Disco of that time period and that’s what lives on. Read the rest of this entry »
We should probably start at the very beginning. What were your baby steps as a DJ, what led you to being a DJ in the first place?
I think in the first place was the love for music. And I can remember when I was really, really young, with a babysitter, and we’re talking about the days of 45s. The first record that I actually remember and I was spinning was „Spinning Wheel“ by Blood, Sweat & Tears.
You know my family was from Puerto Rico and there was no American music in my house.
It was mostly Latin music?
Only Latin music. And we’re talking about Merengue, Salsa. Folk music from Puerto Rico. And I didn’t like it. And it’s funny because today I appreciate Latin music. Since I became a producer, now I appreciate Latin music for the production, the instrumentation, the musicians, because Latin music is not machine-made, not at all. So the first 45 that was in my house was “Jungle Fever” by Chakachas. My parents had this fucking 45 that was this erotic fucking record. And we’re talking about these stereos that were like these big fucking wooden consoles with the big tuner for the radio and the thing with the record where you put some records in the thing and it dropped one at a time and when it ended the thing drops. It must’ve been when I was about six or seven there was an illegal social club. You know I was living in the ghetto. So there were illegal social clubs that were like a black room, with day-glo spray paint, fluorescent lights to make the paint glow and they had a jukebox. And they’d play the music back then. „Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are“. It was all about the O’Jays and that kind of music. And I liked that. I used to sneak downstairs and such.
So when was that?
It was like the late sixties. Because I was born in ’62 so by ’70 that makes I was 8 years old. So it was before that because then I moved. Anyway, so fast forward the first 45 that I liked was the O’Jays. The first 45 I actually bought. And I remember playing that record I a hundred times a day. Putting the bullshit speaker we had in the house outside the window, we lived on the first floor. I played the record to death.
So you played it to the whole neighborhood?
The whole neighborhood. The only record I had really. So then when I graduated elementary school, I used to be into dancing, like the Jackson 5 they had “Dancing Machine”, there were The Temptations and Gladys Knight & The Pips and I liked that music. So then when we got into Junior High School – when I was like 13 years old, I had a girlfriend and we went out when the first DJs came on in the neighborhood, which was like the black DJs. I saw the first two Technics set up and a mixer in someone’s house. I was like “Wow! That’s interesting.” I saw somebody doing this non-stop disco mix and I never knew what that was all about. So, I used to hang out with all my friends. I was a dancer, we used to do all this what we now call breakdancing. We would do battles. So, I had one turntable and my friend would say “David, we hangin’ at my place” and I would play some music for us. So I just was a kid that sat by the stereo with the records and put on the tunes, one at a time. Because back then that’s what it was, you’d play one tune at a time. If it ended, the people clapped and you’d play the next tune. And it was all songs.
How did you proceed from there?
I was one of those kids that used to go to the record store even though I had no money. Just to look at the records. To walk by a store that sold turntables and a mixer and be like “one day, one day…” And I’m not working so I can’t afford to buy anything. My first mixer was a Mic mixer. 1977 there was a blackout in New York and there was a lot of stealing so I came across a radio shack little Mic mixer that I set up to make it work with two turntables. You had to turn two knobs at the same time and it was like mixing braille because there was no cueing. My one turntable had pitch control, the other one had none. I was too young to go to clubs, so I never saw a proper DJ mixing. I only saw people outside, we would have block parties and people would be mixing. And I was one of those kids that was just standing there, watching. The first time I went to a club I was 15 years old, it was Starship Discovery One. It was on 42nd street in Times Square, and we got in. We shouldn’t have got in, but you know it was the end of the club, I was 15 and I got in. The DJ had three Technics, the original 1200s, and a Bozak mixer. The booth was a bubble, and I had my nose at the fucking bubble and I was just mesmerized. The first time I actually played on a real mixer I went to a house party at my friend’s brothers apartment. And in those days, most of the DJs who were really playing were gay DJs. “San Francisco” by the Village People was the big record. But I was into The Trammps, I was into James Brown, I was into Eddie Kendricks, Jimmy Castor Bunch, “The Mexican”, Sam Records and of course Donna Summer and all this kind of stuff. So I went to this house party and he was the DJ, the first proper mixer I saw – this was before I went to that club. And it was a black mixer, it had two faders and it had cueing. So I see the DJ there, he’s using headphones to cue. So my friend says “D, you wanna play some music?” and I’m like “Yeah, sure.” I grabbed the headphones, put them on and I hit the cueing, because I was watching the guy, and I’m hearing some music and and I was like “Oh shit…” When I played at that party, I’d still play how I know how to play, which was braille. Intro, outro. And it wasn’t about mixing. All the new bars at that time were advertising nonstop disco mixes.
It was even mentioned on the record sleeves.
Yes. And all that meant was that the music never stopped. Because before the music used to stop before the next record came in. So now it was continuous. That worked, so here came the name nonstop disco mix. And then at that time all these records started coming out. The disco 45 record. At my junior high school prom “Doctor Love” by First Choice was big. And I remember the guy playing it about four times. So my first 12″ of course was “Ten Percent” by Double Exposure, on Salsoul. Another record that I played to death out the window.
You were still doing that?
I was still doing that. I used to live to just play music. I loved it. I would leave in the morning to go to school because my parents would go to work. I would buy a bag of weed, buy a quart of beer and I would go home. And you know in the old days we had all those buildings where you could really play loud music and I had these stupid double 18 boxes in my fucking bedroom. Before I’d take a piss, I turned my system up. My mother used to be like “turn that music down, turn that music down, turn that music down!”
Did you begin to play out around that time?
Yes, and playing at parties in those days meant you carried your records. Because you didn’t play for two hours, you played the whole party. And the thing is, if you owned 5000 records, you took 5000 records to the party. And in those days we carried milk crates. So here I am carrying eight to ten milk crates to a party. Getting in a car, getting a cab, you have all your friends who would help you going there, but when you’re leaving there is nobody to help. And you had to take the stereo system with you. So you carry the sound system and you carried your records. You took everything. It wasn’t like going somewhere and you just bring your records and they have everything. You had to take everything. I did parties for 15 dollars, for 25 dollars and you had to chase people down for your money.
What kind of events were you doing?
I played in clubs, I did Sweet Sixteens, I did weddings, I did corporate events. I did anything. I also did parties in high school. I would advertise a party, we would bring the sound system to some kid’s house, the parents left to go to work, we’d bring the sound system fast, and I would advertise free beer and free joints. Even 50 people is a lot of people in somebody’s apartment. Imagine we’d take over the apartment and it’s like 10 in the morning and we’d be fucking banging it, banging it, banging it — and we’d get out by 3 in the afternoon before the person’s parents come home. God knows the mess, whatever the case, baby. And in those days the sound system was in the living room, the DJ booth in the bedroom. No monitors, it was just bang bang bang. As I started doing parties at an apartment I used to charge a dollar to get in, decorate the apartment, put up balloons, and it just started with friends. Obviously still free beers, free joints, the whole thing. And like I said, I just loved the music, it was just everything for me. I wanted to play every single day. Even when I didn’t have the equipment, I knew friends that bought decks and a mixer and a small sound system for their house and they weren’t DJs and they used to say “David, come to my house and play music for me.” And I would just die to play, it was just everything for me. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with Anno Stamm on “Complexification” by T Power (1996)
I assume you were familiar with Drum & Bass artists before this record came out. How did you first encounter „Complexification“?
It was a vinyl that my older brother had bought. At that time I was not going to the record stores by myself, so my older brother was basically my record store. When I came home earlier from school, I would go through his record collection and then record the vinyls that I liked the most to a cassette with the Hi-Fi tower from my father. This was always very “James Bond” like, because touching my brothers vinyls and touching the Hi-Fi tower from my father were two major offenses, which would turn out really ugly if one of them would have caught me.
Why did you choose this particular track, the b-side to „Symbiosis“, and not another classic of that era, or even a different track by T Power, like his much better known „Mutant Jazz“ for example?
For me this song stands out in many ways and I think even for T Power this song is outstanding and unique. You are rather out of your mind when you produce such a song, or you are in an extremely clear state of mind. It is a song which breaks so many rules but still manages to be simply breathtakingly beautiful. That is a goal that I admire very much in making art.
Is Marc Royal aka T Power a producer you rate particularly high in Drum & Bass history?
I must admit that I reduce T Power pretty much to that one song. I like his general sense for sound and chords but I am not really an expert on his complete musical back catalogue.
„Complexification“ is not necessarily a typical Drum & Bass track. It is much slower, and it is working with Jazz leanings in the synth and bass sounds, while the beats and groove are hinting more to the sound West London’s Broken Beat scene. But does „Complexification“ transcend musical folder categorization, or does it even have to belong to a certain context?
I chose this track because for me it is a good example for “beyond genre”. This song is perfect in every way. It is idiosyncratic and lives in its own cosmos. There are no genres in that cosmos. Sometimes that is the problem with genres. You get into a routine because there are rules, schemes, patterns and templates you work in. You get lazy in terms of decision making. This song is not lazy at all. Every note is in its exact right place but it feels like it really started out with a tabula rasa thinking – everything can happen.
Do you like both, Drum & Bass and Broken Beats, and do you treat them differently, or do they come from the same origin?
In terms of “Drum & Bass” I started with the “Jungle” phase, because as you might know I am a big sucker for the drums, especially if there are played by the devil himself. That is why I really was into that fast, wild, raw and breaky material. Actually when it was called “Drum & Bass”, that whole thing was nearly over for me. Because all the wildness basically turned into one sterile
drum-loop… with saxophone samples. There was a big shift from the rhythmic energy to a generally more chilled background music approach. So, I think they may come from the same origin – but I would treat them very differently.
There are other fine examples where Jazz elements were integrated to the sound palette of Drum & Bass. Are you interested in Jazz, and how it can be worked into other music?
When there was the trend to just sample something smooth and jazzy over a fast drum loop, that was not very interesting for me. Sampling some “blue notes” doesn’t make you a “jazz cat”. For me and most of the people Jazz is about expressing yourself through playing an instrument, and also pushing the boundaries of that instrument. So, you have to have a plan if you want to achieve that purely with software. Squarepusher’s “Hard Normal Daddy” is a good example from that time, how an electronic version of Jazz may work. He brought the real instrument into the software world in a very smart and respectful way. But in terms of Jazz is about pushing boundaries of an instrument, then one must say that in that days there were a lot of other electronic composers who would
deserve it much more to be called “Jazz Cats”. Read the rest of this entry »