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 »