Contributed some thoughts on edits for Will Lynch’s feature at Resident Advisor.
Doctor Mix And The Remix – Out of the Question (1979)
A lot of the music we’ve picked out to discuss comes from a similar background in terms of time period, style and sound, but I think this one is pretty obscure. How did you find it?
Through a friend of mine. There’s a label in New York called Acute Records maybe eight years ago or so. A few of my friends in California are really obsessed with The Jesus and Mary Chain, and one of the members of the band mentioned once that this was one of their favourite records of all time. The thing I like about it is the extremity of the music. It’s super high-pitched, with distortion and tinny drum machines but then it’s covers of, like, Stooges songs.
This track in particular has this really insane, rhythmic track that’s super metronomic but super heavy at the same time. It’s very aggressive, but not because of the levels of distortion. The first time I heard it I thought I was listening to [The Jesus and Mary Chain’s] Psycho Candy. The more I looked into it, the more I realized how much of an influence it had on them.
It’s funny. The Jesus and Mary Chain were always compared to The Velvet Underground, but apparently there’s much more to it than that.
Sure. There’s not a lot of stuff like this. The guy was in one of the first French punk bands. And, with this, they kind of combined the attitude of the Velvets with these misinterpretations from a different country. I love that because, for me, techno in California was always a misinterpretation of what was happening in Berlin and Detroit and Chicago just because we didn’t really have a big scene. We had a club scene, but not a techno scene. I just really love the weird interpretations of The Stooges and stuff like that.
Are you interested in bands that deconstruct rock tradition in some way?
At the end of the day it’s all about attitude. Willing to push things a lot and not really care. It was the same when I first heard Cabaret Voltaire’s “Messages Received.” I just didn’t know what to say, I was blown away. I thought, “It doesn’t get any more honest than that.” I think that’s the whole thing. There’s an honesty in the music that you can’t remove. There’s a visceral element to it. That’s how myself, Karl [O’Connor], Dave [Sumner] and even Pete [Sutton] interpret music in some way I think.
Cabaret Voltaire – Messages Received (1980)
There was a very heavy art slant on what Cabaret Voltaire did. I think it’s very, very art driven. They’d also have the influence of The Velvet Underground and all that ’60s psych rock, but they’d do all these awesome records and what came through the most was the attitude. “This is what I wanna do, this is how I’m gonna do it.” And they just went for it.
Is that a quality you try to pursue? Not thinking about what you can or can’t do?
Yeah, I talk to Karl every other day on the telephone, we’re in very heavy contact on a weekly basis, same thing with Dave. But it’s funny because when I make music it’s purely to see what he thinks, just for us to discuss… “Oh, I really like this. What do you think?” It’s more a conversation from an art base. I try to work in a very automatic response way. I work in art direction, so I work quite a bit on TV commercials and magazines and stuff like that. So when I work on music it’s usually very late at night and I have to work in headphones, so it’s usually like a weird mantra type state, kinda conscious and unconscious, while I’m working.
It’s nice because there’s a sense that I’m not really thinking about anything particularly. I’m able to work on music in that mindframe where I’m doing it purely just because I want to see what I can come up with. In a more artistic sense, sometimes I will make a visual and we will work to the visual. Like with the artwork for the album. That was made first. Then we made a record that matched that.
For labels like Factory, design labels were incredibly important. They were, in many cases, as important as the music.
When you get that double impact of visual and audio, you’re like, “Wow, this is really intense.” Cabaret Voltaire for me has always done that. All the artwork on their covers. The early ones especially had that handmade element, which I’m sure was some of the guys in the band literally cutting things out by hand and assembling collages. Read the rest of this entry »
Weather Report – River People ( CBS, 1978)
You once told me that you were raised on jazz fusion.
I was. That was the kind of music of my early and mid-teenage years. In those days that was grown people’s music, it was very sophisticated. If you wanted to feel cool and grown up and everything, you were into Weather Report and Chick Corea. Lenny White, who drummed for Chick Corea’s band Return to Forever, was one of my all-time favorites. This song, “River People,” was from Mr. Gone and Mojo used to play it every night. He really made a hit out of a track.
Would you say that Mojo kind of planted a seed in some techno heads with this music?
I would say so. Mojo, for the black community, was it. And this was in the pre hip-hop days where black people listened to everything in Detroit when I was growing up. It was that open atmosphere that allowed Detroit techno to form I think. And Mojo was definitely ground zero for the black community. I mean this guy would play The Isley Brothers, Prince, Alice Cooper, Weather Report. He was the first DJ to play B-52s in Detroit. He broke a lot of music to the black community that we would have never heard.
What was the main inspiration of the things that Mojo played for the first wave of techno producers in Detroit?
I would say the real ground zero for this music was Kraftwerk. Which Mojo also used to play. I was in high school—I’m really dating myself [laughs]—and they released “Man Machine” and “Numbers” back-to-back in America. In Europe, there was a gap, but in America they released those two records almost at the same time. That made a really big impact.
I played this because I wondered if there is some kind of connection between a lot of Detroit techno records and jazz. Juan, of course, said “Jazz is the teacher” at one point, and there are a lot of harmonies in Detroit techno that are pretty jazzy, really complex. I was wondering if Weather Report was the source for this connection.
I think it’s a source, but not the source. I think that Detroit techno came from a lot of different influences. You have to remember that, at the same time, Parliament/Funkadelic were big. So you had a lot of futuristic connections with those guys; Mothership Connection was a big thing. Detroit was a huge melting pot. If you look back, it’s pretty incredible. Everything now is just so market-tested.
Nitzer Ebb – Join In The Chant (Mute, 1987)
That was a classic. There used to be a club named Todd’s in Detroit. It was the big new wave punk rock bar in the ’80s. The main DJ was Charles English, and he had the new stuff all the time. When I was in college we used to go every Thursday. He broke that out, and that was it. I was like, “Wow, who are these cats?”
Later, I was hanging out with Derrick May over at his place. Derrick had just gotten back from London, and he was a pop star. I was doing a radio show at the time and he gave me the double pack, saying “Hey man, take this and play it tonight.” He was in with Mute, and they were giving him everything. I still play it out today, the original version.
I don’t know how much influence it had on Detroit techno, but back in those days we were listening to everything. So when Nitzer Ebb came down the pike, it was like, “Oh, that’s really good.” There was a radio show called Brave New Waves out of Canada on the CBC and we used to hear them play Nitzer Ebb.
This track is from 1987, when you began your own radio show, Fast Forward on WDET. That was a really important year for you.
Yes. I had done the artwork for Derrick [May]’s “Nude Photo,” got my radio show. The night of my first broadcast, I went over to Derrick’s place, and he gave me all these records. He said, “Play these.” All of these records are what turned out to be the first techno records, a bunch of white labels. I was playing Detroit techno, what was then industrial and EBM, jazz fusion, a little hip-hop. WBLS, Brave New Waves, Mojo; those guys were my influences. I would go to see Charles play on a Thursday night at Todd’s and buy those records and play them on Friday night on my show.
How did you get the show?
Well, I was an intern at the station the summer before. I was putting the records in order. I started talking to the program director, and told her how much I was into Lenny White. She was like, “You know who Lenny White is?” I was super young compared to her at the time. So I said, “Yeah, one of the greatest fusion drummers to walk the Earth. Lenny White, Tony Williams.” She was impressed, and she asked if I had a demo tape. Fusion jazz got me the job, so that’s why I kept playing it. It was a whole mish-mash of genres, though.
Were the listeners appreciating that, or did you get criticism for being so eclectic?
I was on super late. It was from 3 AM to 6 AM. The graveyard shift. People dug it, they dug it right away. I’ll never forget playing “Acid Tracks” from Phuture, and some guy called me on the phone and was going insane. “What is this called? What kind of music is this?” It was the early days of electronic music, so nobody knew anything.
In those pre-internet days, doing research wasn’t easy.
Luckily, I worked at radio stations. So they had all of these libraries where you could go in and listen to whatever you wanted. Read the rest of this entry »
Rinder & Lewis – Lust (Pye Records, 1977)
The first one is by Rinder and Lewis – “Lust”, which is kind of a space disco prototype so to say. For 1977 it was kind of a landmark record I guess.
For 1977, yes. I suppose Rinder and Lewis were a very prolific production team in the 70s and 80s. They made an awful lot of records, a lot of albums. That’s probably one of their most moody tracks. A lot of their stuff has got a 1920s, big band, Charleston influence to it. But I like a lot of their stuff. But some of it is unusual in its arrangement. That one’s got a slightly more mystical vibe to it.
Would you say they tried to explore their field a bit further with this record? You mentioned that a few of the other productions had certain influences, like the latin stuff for example. But this one is really something different, almost science fiction.
Yes, but that’s quite different from the rest of the “Seven Deadly Sins” album. I reckon it wasn’t a track that was made to be a hit. It was probably considered an album track. But with that weird bit in the middle with the glockenspiel, it goes into a sort of devil bit about two thirds of the way through. Which is very out of character with the rest of the record. But what I think is interesting about that is that you don’t get those sort of unexpected bits in records now. I guess when musicians are making records, it’s very different to when DJs are making records. Now, when DJs make records they just tend to have the same stuff going throughout the track, it just loops round and round. Maybe there might be some changes, but there’s nothing drastic coming in really loud. A bad DJ produced record might just be a bit boring, whereas a bad record from the 70s might have a great verse and a really terrible chorus. Or you might have something really cheesy. A lot of records now are just rhythm tracks made by DJs for mixing and whatever, whereas then you might have records that have got loads in them, maybe too much. But the reason that they’re not great is maybe because they’ve got too much in them. They might have some great musical parts, but the vocals are crap. I think I’m digressing a little bit. A lot of Rinder and Lewis stuff – have you got that album “Discognosis”?
No, I know the THP Orchestra stuff which I found really good.
Yeah, and there’s El Coco and Le Pamplemousse. I like that track. It’s always very well orchestrated, they always had a bit of money to make the records. It wasn’t done on a shoestring budget, they must have sold pretty well. I think El Coco’s “Cocomotion” is one of my favourites by them as well. Obviously a lot of the stuff on AVI was produced by them, they were putting out a lot of music. They must have lived in the studio in 76, 77, 78, 79.
This is also a really good example for what you can do if you’re a good arranger – the arrangements they did are really complex and beautiful. Is that something you miss? You talked of modern rhythm tracks and functionality – I think it’s hard to pull off these days because you don’t have budgets for studio work…
Yeah of course. I suppose you have to think, this is now and that was then. Record sales were much higher, I suppose disco was like r’n’b was 5 years ago in terms of its worldwide popularity. So there was a lot more money, obviously there weren’t downloads or people copying CDs. I don’t know what the sales figures were like of something like Rinder and Lewis, but it probably sold half a million or something like that. It’s a completely different time, in terms of being able to get a string section in for your record. I’ve paid for string sections before, but to be honest with you what I’ve found is a string section with 30-40 people is so different to a string section with 7 or 8 people. I’ve only been able to afford 6 or 7 people. It isn’t really a string section! Nowadays, with CD-ROMs and whatever you can make something that sounds pretty good – not the same – but pretty good with just samples. To really make it sound a lot better, you need a 30-40 piece, big room orchestra. People at Salsoul and a lot of them classic disco records had that big proper string arrangement. Also, paying someone to do the arrangement isn’t cheap if you get someone good. Very difficult to do that now. So yeah, I do miss it. But there’s no point missing something, it’s like saying “Oh, I wish they were still making Starsky and Hutch”.
As long as a glimpse of an orchestra won’t do, it doesn’t make sense?
I think the only it could make sense is if George Michael decides to make a disco album, or someone like that. He could afford it. Or Beyonce. Some big star. But your average dance record – I suppose Jamiroquai had some live strings on some of his stuff. But then again, he was selling a lot of records.
Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes (Warner Bros. Inc., 1979)
“What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers, which is a merger of rock and disco.
There’s other tracks, like the Alessi Brothers “Ghostdancer”… I suppose that just shows how popular disco music must have been at the time when people like The Doobie Brothers and Carly Simon were actually making disco records. I suppose it’s the same as nowadays people making a record with a more r’n’b type beat. Or at the beginning of house music, there were lots of pop acts making house records. I was listening to a best of ABBA a few years ago. It started off sort of glam-rock, sort of sweet, like Gary Glitter, that sort of production. And by the late seventies their stuff had got pretty disco-ey. And by 82 it was folky. So I think the disco beat was just featuring on a lot of productions by acts who just wanted to make a contemporary sounding record. That’s probably why a lot of the American rock establishment hated disco so much. It wasn’t just that it was there: their favourite acts were making disco records! They hated the fact the Rolling Stones made disco records, it just wasn’t allowed.
But the thing is, that when the disco boom ended, a lot of the rock acts who made disco records acted like they never did! They deserted it pretty quickly.
Yeah, once it became uncool they pretended they never liked it, it wasn’t their idea and all that. I tried to once do a compilation album of that sort of stuff. But it’s too difficult to license it all. They’re all on major labels, they’re all big acts, and it’s very hard to license that stuff. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s impossible: just too difficult and expensive.
Was it just because of budget reasons, or because the acts didn’t want to be reminded of what they did in that area?
I think often those big acts have to approve every compilation album license. A lot of the time, for the people who work in the compilation album license department, it’s easier for them to say no than to write to the management of Supertramp or Queen. And often, if they do see a title that has disco in it, they will say no. And a lot of them won’t license the Rolling Stones to a comp that’s got a projected sales figure of less than half a million. There’s so many reasons why it’s problematic. You could do it, but you’d have to leave off so many tracks, there would hardly be any point doing it. I did have a chat with a major label about doing it and that was one that owned quite a lot of them. But it’s just so difficult. They want to see a big marketing budget, they want to see you spend a hundred grand on television adverts. Otherwise they just go, why are we on this compilation album?
I think it’s a shame really, there were so many good disco records done by major artists…
Yeah. I like a lot of those things. I’m doing this compilation for BBE which is maybe a similar thing, just it’s not all well known acts. People like Fleetwood Mac, they did that track “Keep On Going”, those sort of things. I guess it’s blue-eyed rocky soul. Quite danceable… it’s not all disco, but it’s not really rock either. More black music based. I always think, if you look at the back of a rock album and it’s got someone playing bongos on it, it’s worth checking out. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »