It’s another coup for the Substance crew, as they join forces with Pulse once again to welcome Berlin native Boris Dolinski to our stage. He’s been resident at Berghain since Day One, having been involved with the original OstGut club & Panorama bar (from ’98 & ’00) before it opened.
But his heritage runs even deeper than that, as he also lived in New York in the mid-Eighties and was a regular at the legendary Paradise Garage and Loft parties when both were going strong, taking early DJ cues from Larry Levan and David Mancuso. How many DJs still active in the world today can lay claim to an involvement with such towering temples of dance music history?
This audio interview he gave to Resident Advisor, where he talks about his early clubbing experiences in Berlin and at the Garage and then becoming a DJ himself (‘all i want to do is create memorable experiences’), is worth a listen.
DJ Boris is kind of a charismatic, multifunctional weapon in the Berlin club life. His musical roots reach back to the mid 80s, when he lived in New York for four years where he absorbed the unique spirit of the seminal club Paradise Garage weekend after weekend. From the Club’s mentor Larry Levan Boris learned to believe in his musical intuition as well as a broad musical spectrum, which nowadays ranges from Disco, Hi-NRG, Post-Punk and (Kraut-) Rock to House and Neotrance, all of which Boris loves to throw into one set.
‘Music was most important for Levan. He was uncompromising and he knew how to convey it. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, too, when I’m djing.’ Many years later, Boris became a resident at Panorama Bar’s first incarnation in Berlin, where he was able to build a loyal following by playing long sets lasting until noon. ‘The crowd is always a lot more receptive for music at the end than at the beginning. That’s when I rather have the opportunity to present unusual stuff and that’s when I’m able to let my feelings run freely.’
After the old OstGut/Panorama Bar closed, Boris played in almost every club in Berlin, but when the follow up club Berghain opened its doors in 2004, he quickly focused on playing out here again. Since 2005 he has got another musical platform, as he is taking care of the label Careless Records as an A&R. Both as a dj and as an A&R, he is not exactly keen on refining a certain genre, but rather to push music with a certain twist.
We’re more than a little bit excited to be hosting the first Edinburgh show in some twenty years by ex-PiL bassist and all-round UK legend Jah Wobble, a unique character, a unique artist and a musician par excellence, who has worked with more inspiring artists on more records than just about anyone else who has played the Bongo in its 22 year history.
This 2014 interview by Robert Barry in the consistently excellent FACT Mag (copied below) goes some way to demonstrate why he and his amazing band are still considered in such high regard across the music scene, some 40 years after he first started out with ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon and co in post-punk innovators PiL, and also why his pioneering style is so perfectly suited to us at the Bongo.
Jah Wobble has been putting the old firm back together.
He speaks habitually of his players – in this case, longstanding group The Invaders of the Heart – as “the firm,” as if their business was bank robbery or football terrace violence instead of dubbed out pop fusion. At one point he refers to the band’s mid-’90s incarnation, when they were breaking into the Top 40 with hits like ‘Visions of You’ and ‘Becoming More Like God’, as “the Norwich City of the music scene.” Like the then-UEFA qualifying Anglian football club, he says, the group were “punching well above their weight.” But the current line-up of musicians, he insists, “are world class – and I am not saying that lightly.”
He’s a big fella, is Wobble, with a pronounced cockney accent, a face he claims has been compared to Vladimir Putin’s, and a very determined stare. When he looks at you and says he is not saying something lightly, you know not to take it so. But then he veers off into talk of karma and samadhi, quoting from Zen scholar Daisetsu Suzuki, and one is left with the curious impression of attending a yoga class with one of the Kray brothers.
In my head Jah Wobble looks much as he does on the cover of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Geezer. Suited and booted. Equal parts film noir detective and East End spiv. But today he could scarcely look more different. I’ve interrupted his morning run, so he’s wearing a sweat-blotched blue t-shirt and a baseball cap that says ‘bullshit’.
He talks incorrigibly, almost unstoppably. Even after I’ve told him we’re done and I’ve turned the tape off, he starts going on about his antipathy to art deco – something he puts down to the Highbury grounds of Arsenal FC, rivals to his beloved Tottenham. But I tentatively suggest it may have just as much to do with a more general resistance to grids and straight lines. For Wobble, everything moves in waves. and smooth curves. Nothing is ever clear cut.
“THE KARMA OF GOOD DEEDS IS RUNNING OUT,” HE TELLS ME. “IT’S ALL VERY UNSTABLE. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.”
He wasn’t always called Wobble. Once upon a time he was John Wardle, one of a group of friends at London’s Kingsway College that were all called John. It was thanks to one of those Johns – John Simon Ritchie, aka Sid Vicious – that he first picked up the bass. During the Sex Pistols years, Wardle would sometimes borrow Vicious’s bass while they sat up taking speed. “Bass chose me,” he says, “I don’t feel much separation between it and me.” Later, a friend stole him a guitar of his own. Without an amplifier for it, Wardle would lean the headstock against a piece of wooden furniture in order to amplify the vibrations.
In some ways this accounts for his famously negligent attitude towards his instrument. Former Can drummer, Jaki Liebezeit, with whom Wardle often collaborated in the early ’80s, would say, “it’s incredible, he just leaves his bass anywhere.” To which Wardle responds philosophically, “Where does bass dwell? It’s not in the bass. It’s in the interaction of things.” Learning to make drones by direct contact with a physical solid object “actually taught me more,” he reflects, “than having it powered into an amp. It’s natural vibration.”
But it was one of the other Johns – the one that at that time was still calling himself Johnny Rotten – that gave Wardle his first break into music. After his departure from the Sex Pistols, Rotten rang up his old pal from college, saying he wanted to start a band. Living at home at the time, on the dole, Wardle figured he didn’t have much to lose.
In Public Image Ltd., his heavy bass notes were the anchor, the solid physical object emanating heavy-duty vibrations, around which the increasingly deranged guitar and vocals would swirl and gyre like something conjured by the witches in Macbeth. “I was so lucky to have my bass to the fore, because I was a real amateur guy,” he reflects of PiL’s first two albums First Issue and Metal Box. “It was, like, three-quarters of the signal.”
Two years ago, Wardle returned to that second Public Image album for a series of gigs with the group’s original guitarist Keith Levene under the name Metal Box in Dub. This came as something of a shock to many observers, not only because Wardle had spent many of his interviews up to that point explaining that he and Levene had never got on, but also because both had eschewed the chance to appear in Lydon’s reformed Public Image in 2009 and now here they were onstage with the singer from a Sex Pistols tribute band. “It wasn’t a parody,” he insists. “I want somebody who sounds like him, as he did then. That’s the point. He’s sung these parts more than John probably has.”
“As much as anything,” Wardle tells me, the reunion came about due to a feeling that he “didn’t play enough with [Levene] back then.” With the benefit of maturity, he believed they could now make the old songs “sound better that it would have at the time.” His one regret concerning the reunion, he says, “was that we never recorded it.” Not for want of trying. They had even gone so far as to hire a mobile recording van for their London show at Shoreditch’s Village Underground, only to find that the distance from the stage to the car park was too long for the rig to stretch.
Wardle left the original PiL at the beginning of the 1980s. After a brief spell in a “power trio” with ex-Public Image drummer Jim Walker and a friend known as ‘Animal’, he put together The Invaders of the Heart. The original idea, he tells me, was “to try and present some of the feelings behind the music I’d heard from around the world.”
Since his teens, Wardle had been tuning into shortwave frequencies from around the globe, picking up bits of Egyptian chanteuse Om Khalsoum from Radio Cairo and Romani music on Radio Ankara. “It came with a natural phasing from the shortwave oscillations,” he explains, “which made it more exotic – as if it was coming from another universe.” The Invaders would bring this cosmically distorted oriental sound together with the “unpredictability” of jazz and the “spaciousness” of dub, all mixed together “in a very amateur, youthful way that probably annoyed a lot of more experienced musicians over the years.”
Around the same time, he started working with ex-Can members Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, first on Czukay’s solo album On the Way to the Peak of Normal, later receiving equal billing on Full Circle and Snakecharmer. This latter EP, Wardle calls “a mini-marriage made in heaven” for the way it brought together Czukay and Liebezeit with The Invaders of the Heart as a backing band and New York DJ François Kevorkian manning the controls.
In particular, the encounter between Liebezeit and Kevorkian’s Linn drum machine, Wardle describes as “like when Freud and Jung had a meeting, round the old oak table.” Things didn’t go so well for either party. The Can drummer “got freaked out” because it sounded like the drum machine was losing one and a half beats every minute. The Linn, for its part, ultimately threw in the towel. “A puff of smoke came out and it died.” Upon analysis, Liebezeit was vindicated. The drum machine was out of time. Czukay, delighted, exclaimed “He out-computered the computer!” Kevorkian, on the other hand, “was genuinely upset.”
Touring the record in ’83, Kevorkian showed them round the loft party scene, taking in the Garage as well as Disco Fever in the South Bronx amongst other spots. “Real exuberance,” is how he recalls the atmosphere of those clubs. “The whole idea of trance was very strong.” To Wardle, who had grown up listening to soul music, he recognised immediately a continuity with the all-nighters popular in ’70s Britain. It was, he says, all about that “special thing of people going into a room and actually worshipping the music. Real bass was respected.”
Bass, for Wardle, has always been about shapes and patterns. “I was self-taught,” he tells me, “so I made patterns – and I’m a ‘pattern mode’ guy when it comes to sequencers. It’s actually quite medieval in a way. Unlike the Bach view, of chordal progression which reads from left to right.” The statement makes me think of John Ruskin. In his mammoth work on the architecture of Venice, the Victorian art critic praised the inventive designs and ornate traceries of the gothic cathedral builders, in whom he saw the perfect marriage of craft and intellect; thought made healthy by labour and labour made happy by thought. If such a union is somewhat characteristic of post-punk as a whole, then it is particularly so of Jah Wobble, one of British music’s most articulate and philosophically-inclined spokesmen.
“WHEN I COME OUT OF PIL, I THOUGHT, GOD, I’VE GOT TO LAY OFF THESE POWDERS. BUT BY ’83, I’D GONE BACK ON THE POWDERS AGAIN.”
“It’s very theatrical in a way,” he says of post-punk (“that strange pot pourri”). And it’s this theatrical element that makes it a ripe vehicle for the expression of discontent. “There’s so many things involved in it, it’s somehow the perfect medium to say stuff and to suggest stuff.” But Wardle had little truck with the Red Wedge movement in support of the Labour Party that so many of his peers joined in the mid-’80s, detecting in it something “slightly juvenile”, though he will grant “that it was good that people resisted and were against Thatcher. For some reason it didn’t feel right for me at that time. But then again,” he shrugs, “I was an angry sort of bloke at that time so it was probably my problem.”
Wardle’s temper was once notorious, back in the days when his drunken stagger earned him the name Wobble. Histories of the punk scene tend to be littered with anecdotes detailing his various punch-ups. Even some years later, with Kevorkian in New York, he admits to being “very badly behaved. I was becoming a real nuisance at times out on the road so that started to fuck things up in every way.” He acknowledges that for much of his early career he was “drinking a lot” and taking drugs. “There was a little gap,” he says, “when I didn’t take drugs. When I come out of PiL, I thought, god, I’ve to lay off these powders. But by ’83, I’d gone back on the powders again.”
Around ’84–85, he says, “I just really broke down and had to stop drinking and drugging.” It was, he tells me, “like a bright star that suddenly imploded.” He spent several years working “part-time” in music whilst driving a mini-cab, and later, working on the London Underground. Finally, one day in 1986, his old percussionist Neville Murray came and knocked on his door. If it wasn’t for that call out of the blue, “I probably would have stayed on the Underground, to be honest. I said to him, do you really want to…? I was shocked.” That was the beginning of the group’s most successful phase, breaking into the charts and collaborating with Sinead O’Connor, Dolores O’Riordan, Natacha Atlas, Chaka Demus & Pliers – the Norwich City of the music scene.
He’s scarcely stopped releasing records since. Today, thanks in part to his own 30 Herz record label, he’s more prolific than ever. Over the last few years, new Jah Wobble projects – from Chinese dub to Moroccan chaabi to working with the Modern Jazz Ensemble or making electronic post-punk with Warp Records’ Julie Campbell – have become as regular as severe weather warnings. “I decided that I’d better hurry up and move,” he says, adding ominously, “events could take us over at any time.”
There’s always a note of apocalypse in the air with Jah Wobble. “The karma of good deeds is running out,” he tells me. “It’s all very unstable. Anything can happen.” When I point out that he’s expressed the same feeling about the period at the end of 1970s when he first joined PiL he retorts, “Yeah, and I think it was right to have it.” But Wardle takes “the long term view. What good I do now, when I die, the shadow of the good deed reverberates out and helps people in some way. The action will continue. Music’s a great emanator,” he continues. “It emanates out in a way other arts don’t.”
So the Wobble continues to send out wave upon wave, reverberating and emanating, innovating and inventing. “I’m always ready,” he says, “if a voice comes from above: Jah Wobble, you have had enough time, go away! I’ll go away. I’d be cool with that.” My suspicion is, that voice won’t be coming for a long while yet.
Back in the day, techno was such a boy’s club. You could count the ladies on the international stage on one hand. At one point, way back in the Nineties, there was just Eindhoven’s Miss Djaxx (owner of the mighty Djaxx-Up-Beats label). Then Grenoble’s Miss Kittin and Zywiec/Detroit’s Magda appeared in the late Nineties (plus doubtless one or two others, now forgotten). With pioneering auteurs such as Wendy Carlos (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Tron etc), Delia Derbyshire (BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and Cosey Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey) having done so much for electronic music in its early years, why should it just be the preserve of the men?
Attitudes have changed a fair bit of late and it’s more than a little bit refreshing to see so many women forging an international following as techno artists in 2018. Lena Willikens and Violet (aka Ines Countinho) are two such women and we’re proud to be hosting them, thanks to ace party-starters Lionoil. Each comes with no shortage of props and with good reason…
Willikens is a resident at Düsseldorf institution Salon des Amateurs, nearby her hometown, Cologne. She’s released on Cómeme, and as a firm member of the tribe she presents a monthly radio show ‘Sentimental Flashback’, which is class and very highly regarded. A packed diary with appearances at Panorama Bar, Berghain, Corsica, Concrete and Dekmantel alongside her long running residency tells you all you need to know about her prowess as a selector.
Violet is a relative newcomer to the international circuit, but with an equally expansive portfolio. Founder of Rádio Quântica in her hometown, Lisbon, she started the naive label last year and made a very strong impression at Berlin Atonal festival last year (recording below, so so dope). There is a strong political dimension to Ines’ work; organising a series of all-female techno releases for International Womens Day, which began with her 2014 cover of Detroit classic ‘Transition’ by Underground Resistance, which attracted much praise from the dance music community and UR themselves.
This interview Willikens gave to Alasdair King for The Ransom Note is fairly revealing:
The sky is an unpleasant shade of ominous grey as I walk amidst the hustle and bustle of Kingsland Road. It’s a moody Friday afternoon in East London and there is a stark chill in the air, summer seems far away. That evening Lena Willikens would play all night long alongside her old friend Valdimir Ivkovic at a warehouse space on the shadowy outskirts of town, the flickering lights of the city but a distant glimmer against the deep black of night.
I meet the pair at Gillet Square around rush hour and am greeted with polite smiles and handshakes, both Lena and Vladimir have been on the road for quite some time, there’s no exit route in sight. As disc jockeys and artists affiliated with electronic music they seem far removed from the stereotypical intricacies many whom spend their nights beneath the glow of lights often portray. There is a humble honesty to the way in which they speak and present themselves, this was not “the dream” but a reality based upon an array of spectacular circumstances and events which helped shape a career.
It is hard not to reference Düsseldorf at this point.
Salon des Amateurs remains a sparkling example of an institution which has helped define a narrative within a particular niche of music. It is more than simply a club but a state of mind and the perfect representation of in which music meets environment. There isn’t a stereotypical sound but a sense of understanding as to the history which exists behind each of the founders and to whom the environment is curated for. Both Lena and Vladimir have held long residencies at the club in recent years, honing their craft and expanding their breadth of knowledge along the way.
Lena talks about the early days of the club.
“In the beginning Salon was not supposed to be a club at all, it was just a place to meet, hang and listen to music. During the first few years it attracted a lot of people who couldn’t really name what it was, they didn’t understand what was happening there. There were huge queues on a Saturday night and we would run a really strict door. People played free jazz records at ‘peak time’ and there wasn’t even supposed to be a ‘peak time’. All of a sudden so many people started coming and were interested in dancing to weird shit and this led to the first regular party every weekend. I wasn’t djing back then but Vladimir was, for me it was just really welcoming and about sharing new music that we discovered. It wasn’t about DJ egos.”
The club acted as a gateway and helped form the basis of an ideology which many of those associated with Salon des Amateurs have since adopted. Just as the parties were free natured and unconfined so must be the belief system behind the people playing the records. In fact, even the notion of a “DJ” in a formal context remains up for debate when referencing the musical trajectory and style of Lena Willikens.
“For me it (the club) was super important. Without it I might never have started dj’ing and running my own nights. There wouldn’t be this belief in sharing music. It’s never been about ‘dj skills’, that was never the focus, just the music. Logically becoming a ‘dj’ was never something I intended and I still have a hard time identifying myself with the profession. However, sometimes it really amuses me. I enjoy reading the faces after telling people ‘i’m a ‘dj” and guessing the stereotypical images in their heads…”
Whilst the club acted as an entry point for Lena there have been several chance encounters which have helped her navigate through the collision course that is modern day electronic music. Cómeme, the imprint run by Matias Aguayo aided in the output of her first EP back in 2015 whilst her long standing radio show “Sentimental Flashback” was also hosted on the label’s illustrious radio station for a number of years. However, these opportunities were not sought but granted, an ethos which Lena has applied to the way in which she lives her life day by day. She smiles with genuine honesty as she reflects on her aspirations, or not, as they may be.
“All my life I’ve refused to think about ‘becoming something’. Having a profession has always felt weird and wrong. I try to stay an amateur and don’t let too much routine into the game. I try to avoid repeating myself too much, in order not to bore myself. I’m not someone who looks back much and I’ve never enjoyed picturing the future.”
There is very much a priority placed upon the present, throughout our conversation this becomes clear and apparent in regard to a variety of circumstances and life choices, not just musically but across the board… When asked about the nature of stereotypes and her somewhat abstract take on the world of dance music she laughs and relays the manifesto. It’s admirable to say the least.
“It’s neither a choice nor an accident. It´s a consequence of what I’ve done in my life so far, and which people I’ve met. I was lucky to meet a bunch of wonderful open minded people at Salon des Amateurs and in the Cómeme crew, all are dedicated to music and willing to share. Stereotypes are boring and for me it’s more of an instinct to avoid them in order to keep me going. Not only in music but in life in general.”
Little is certain and self reflection has the potential to bore and tire. Why look back? This brings us to the conclusion of our conversation, a refreshing insight into the nature of the mindful experience behind the booth which is often forgotten. Having reconciled the nature of musical discovery and the importance of a humble presentation Lena places emphasis on how best to proceed in an era in which analysis and saturated opinions far too often have the last word. If you weren’t there then what do you know?
“I really enjoy creating special moments together with people who are willing to go on a journey with me. It’s over when the lights turn on and these moments become something else in your memory – but cannot be reproduced. It’s not creative detachment, I think it’s actually the opposite. In order to create something in the moment, which I can identify with, I have to be emotionally connected with the music and the crowd. Listening back to a live recording is frustrating because too much information is missing and sometimes I just can´t recreate the feeling of the night in my head. It tries to capture something which cannot be captured. From the temperature of the room to the smell, the mood of the crowd, the atmosphere behind the bar, and so on… It’s not just the DJ and their music that’s involved in creating something that’s special, or something that’s not.”
And this interview with Violet (courtesy of laccroix.com) is equally enlightening:
Almost ten years ago, when Myspace was the best option to listen and discover new talent that was only at a distance of a mouse click, A.M.O.R., two female rappers from Lisbon (Violet and Honey), catch my attention with intelligent lyrics, really peculiar flow and beats that blended Hip Hop, Grime, Dubstep and blinking the eye to other musical hybrids. I never stop following them since then and what a better moment to ask Violet (Inês Coutinho) for an interview if not right now, following her recent collaboration with Versace for SS16 Haute Couture show?
Lacroixx: I will begin by saying that I still proudly keep your first mixtape, the CD-R “Cor-de-Rosa” from A.M.O.R., a captivating work since the beginning which let us with powerful tracks like “Game Over” or “Abecedário”. How did the group start to take form with your “partner in crime” Honey?
Violet: Aw, thank you – means a lot to know you got it at the time. It all began almost 10 years ago in Lisbon. It literally started on a specific day – 5th October 2006. It was a holiday and we had nothing to do – Maria (Honey) is my cousin and we would hang out a lot. We both loved hip hop, especially Portuguese hip hop, and we both had a vein for creating so we thought we’d write a lyric over a Sam The Kid beat off of his “Beats Vol.1 – Amor” album. We recorded it on my laptop, uploaded it to MySpace and from then on we just kept them coming.
A.M.O.R released in 2013 the excellent début album “∞” where Rap merges with instrumentals that go beyond Hip Hop. Can we expect the same irreverence in future works from A.M.O.R.?
Yes, I think that will always be inevitable for us. We relate to a vibe, not a genre – and it’s definitely a futuristic yet super emotional thing that we aim for. I feel like in the end, it is hip hop to be fair – just not a revival type of hip hop. We’ll definitely keep that edge in any music we put out in the future – we really can’t help it!
You were initially working with talented producers and beatmakers inside your group of friends like DJ Núcleo till you start producing your own music. How did Violet moniker and solo work start to take form?
Our first beat was by DJ Núcleo (Abecedário) and then we got some stuff from Photonz for “Game Over” and we fucking loved it. For the album we worked with Photonz, Shcuro, Niagaraand Chainless, some of our favourite Lisbon producers. I did produce ‘Reality Check’ for A.M.O.R. around 2007 but didn’t pursue production very seriously until 2010 when I started playing around with Ableton more often. By 2011 I had some interesting material but no finished tracks yet, and it wasn’t until early the next year that I wrapped my head around finishing tracks (it’s a right mission for me) – the first track I finished was ‘Palmas’. I put it up on Soundcloud and it got signed straight away by Nazar from Wicked Bass, and that was a real push for me to finish more tracks as I had to come up with an EP for the label – and so I did. By July my 1st solo release ‘Collective Data’ was out.
I bought that EP, “Collective Data”. “Palmas” never left my Dj sets, was such a blow of fresh air when I first heard it. These steps in music production lead you to being selected for RBMA Barcelona. Did you feel that experience was influential in your career after 2008?
My time at the RBMA was amazing and certainly helped me shape the way I look at my ‘career’ (really don’t like this word ahah). The lectures with idols like Gary Bartz, Front 242 or Goldie inspired me to do my best and work on my dreams, while my co-participants were amazing humans that inspired me to really dig deep in my soul to reach for that creative, original drive… My artistry really. They were all so talented, phew. I came back really energised (no pun intended) and bursting with ideas and plans.
One of the things I truly admire in your work is the chameleonic way how you express with the same intensity the creation of explicit music for the dancefloor, other times more chill or even song writing where you also sing or rap. Do you have a preference when creating or it can result in a surprise at any time.
I guess like all humans I experience quite a wide palette of emotions daily. I tend to listen quite closely to them but I’m not great at ritualising my emotions: I’m not the kind of romantic who will buy flowers and chocolates or call my friends just because, but I’m the go-to person to talk about anything for hours on end when my loved ones need me. I love big hugs and real human contact, and I often find myself having a very meaningful conversation with someone at a café, over the phone or even at a big rave. I feel like this kind of non-conventional emotional intensity really bleeds into my music, too. If I were to be honest about my experiences when expressing myself through sound, I would 100% have to reflect this, and that’s what I do. I also think that the intensity you mention comes from the fact that I love so many types of music with so much passion. I’m a sucker for a Chicago acid banger as much as atmospheric, melodic stuff or a great pop song, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable limiting myself artistically so I think anything could come out.
Your cover of Underground Resistance’s “Transition” inspired all the team of Donatella Versace and the fashion designer herself which created an “empowering” collection for women that helped introduce a new concept, the “Athletic Couture” Spring/Summer 2016. What was your idea when you first started to develop your version of Undergrond Resistance which has magnificent voices from different female collaborators.
For “Transition”, the idea was to celebrate International Women’s Day by re-working a classic I absolutely love. I felt like it would be great to get together with a group of girls and write that amazing piece of history again, from a female perspective. It’s a track that influenced us all so it really made sense. I did my version of the beat and Nancy Wang, 88, Nightwave, Mamacita and Coco Solid added their beautiful vocals. It wasn’t until 6 months later that Simon, the music consultant for Versace, got in touch to use the acapella for the Prêt-à-Porter SS16 show. It was a mind-blowing experience to watch the actual show streaming live – my boyfriend and I, eating toast in our kitchen in London, jaws dropped.
From the initial solicitation to use your cover of Underground Resistance till the invitation to create the entire 15 min of Donatella’s parade, it was a very small step that resulted in the soundtrack “Body/Soul 2.0”. How did all the process happen and how has been the feedback?
After the Prêt-à-Porter SS16, Versace got in touch to ask for an original piece for their SS16 Haute Couture show. That happened early this year. I locked myself in my bedroom-studio and came up with a set that merges some of my favourite tracks I’ve produced alongside an ace remix Ursa’s Reef (a.k.a. Photonz, my boyfriend) did for my track Miami. I wrote additional percussion and tweaked the tracks for hours on end, wrote lyrics with the Athletic couture in mind – Ms. Donatella Versace sent me a few pointers on the vibe of the collection and what emotions she wanted to convey. Such an amazing woman to work with. Simon, Versace’s music consultant and Photonz were both instrumental in the process, helping me through my nervous breakdowns and pointing me towards the best decisions be it length-wise or arrangement-wise (the show timings are very precise). My boyfriend mastered the track and we both got on the Eurostar to see the show live in Paris – it was an unforgettable experience. The people at Versace were super gracious and down-to-earth while very inspiring and professional, and they really adored the piece which was a great feeling. I got very nice feedback from lots of places, from instagram to facebook, media and real life. It was very humbling to get so much love from it.
Together with Photonz (Marco Rodrigues), your boyfriend, both have been collaborating in different fields of music such the creation of D55 label or the most recent Rádio Quântica, which delivers radio programming with focus on Portuguese artists. It seems to me it works also to stir people’s minds, not only the radio heads but the listeners themselves. Do you think there is a lot to do to provide a voice to Portuguese talent?
Marco (Photonz) and I work very well together. We really thrive on bouncing ideas and making things happen – trying to illustrate our common dreams in this reality is something we have a penchant for. We both felt, when we started Quântica last year, that Portugal’s most exciting talent had little to no representation in the radio medium. We felt the same about the political and philosophical ideas we believe in: they seemed to have no place in radio (or any conventional media). With the radio station we aim to make that music, that art, those ideas more accessible to everyone: kind of a cultural fast-forward, as Marco brilliantly puts it. There is still a lot that can be done to make the local artistic playground a fairer one, and we’ll be sure to keep contributing towards that goal.
You live for some years now in London, was the search for new musical challenges that made you leave Portugal?
We moved to London because we see living abroad as a very enriching experience on so many levels. The artistic level is one of them, and it’s a city that can really push you to be more assertive and productive with your passions. On the other hand, it’s a place where the possibility of being a freelance DJ is very real, as there are so many venues and opportunities, and flying to other European countries is so accessible from there.
Picking up the two main subjects of this interview, the women and the Portuguese music scene, can you leave us five names of Portuguese female artists to discover?
EDND, she is half on Roundhouse Kick, one of One Eyed Jacks’ (the label Photonz founded and my primary music home) mainstays. Her music is both beautiful and honest – I don’t think I can recall anyone who can convey their emotion so clearly in their music.
EMAUZ, she crafts a really interesting and vibey blend of acid and techno, but there’s also a very soft and soothing vibration to it.
mariavapordagua, is half of A.M.O.R. but she also makes her own beats. The first one will be released on the new Labareda compilation and features really fresh and original drum patterns and a super tight bass.
Caroline Lethô, a young producer who is really inventive and passionate. Her productions can be quite nocturnal yet energetic, great stuff.
Sonja is a DJ who plays regularly in Lisbon and blends a deep and vibey combination of genres in a variety of atmospheres with real style. She’s also putting out an all-girl compilation on her label Labareda, where you can finds lots more Portuguese girls who are making music.
We’ve lost count of the number of times Shy FX has played Edinburgh, not to mention the Bongo. One of the original ruffneck, Ragga Jungle pioneers from the Nineties, he bulldozed into the public eye with stone cold classic anthem Original Nuttah, scoring his first UK Top 40 hit in the process, alongside equally legendary MC and ruffneck vocalist UK Apache, back in 1994. [There have been a fair few more since, not least his massive collaboration with T Power and soul/r n b vocalist Di, Shake Ur Body, in 2001.]
His light speed riddims married with rude boy rhymes create a unique sound that Edinburgh, and especially the Bongo, loves and he’s somehow managed to maintain his edge throughout a career spanning more than 25 years. Oh yes, we’re set for a proper scorcher tonight!
Check out the great interview/feature (from last year) below, courtesy of Skiddle’s Marko Kutlesa, where Shy talks about his many productions, recording style and reggae soundsystem culture.
Though he often wears a cap, perhaps in part to hide the hair he’s lost, I still wouldn’t like to guess the age of Andre Williams, aka Shy FX. Though he’s been consistently releasing music since his 1993 debut, barely a sign of ageing registers on his face and his voice, quite softly spoken, gracious and impeccably polite, sounds like that of a man in his late teens or early twenties.
However this is not a man whose appearance alone defies his years. Throughout his two decade plus career he has managed to produce music that sounds so fresh that, while maintaining a consistent fan-base, has also managed to appeal directly to the youngest ravers amongst us.
Brought up around reggae soundsystem culture (his grandfather was famed 1970s London DJ, record label owner and soundsystem chief Count Shelly), Shy FX’s first forays into music production were in the reggae indebted spheres of jungle. He scored a huge hit right at the start of his career with 1994’s ‘Original Nuttah’.
He established a trend for collaboration thereafter and has most closely been linked with studio partner T Power with whom he released two albums, 2002’s Set It Off and 2005’s Diary Of A Digital Soundboy, the former containing top ten UK chart hit ‘Shake Ur Body’, the latter released on Shy FX’s own label Digital Soundboy (which has also released music by Breakage, Calibre, B Traits, Zed Bias, Skream, Benga and Caspa).
Shy FX has since collaborated with and produced music for the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Plan B, Yasmin, Naughty Boy, Wiley and Emeli Sandé plus Kano, Donae’o and Roses Gabor and re-emerges in 2017 with amazing new single ‘We Just Don’t Care’, which displays a wildly different music approach to previous offerings. You can’t, however, say that it’s a comeback, because Shy FX has never been away and you can’t call it a reinvention, because he’s made different musics throughout his career.
I really like the new single ‘We Just Don’t Care’. Where was the video filmed and what was the idea behind it?
Thanks! The video was shot in South Africa. I’m a fan of Craig (Moore), the director and I just wanted to get a high energy dance video that wasn’t, well… you know you can get some videos like that which can be kind of cheesy? I wanted something that was visually pleasing but still had a sense of urgency and was still pretty gritty, but polished at the same time. I know that sounds like a really mad description, but I definitely think it caught the vibe of the tune.
Is the other music you’re currently working on in a similar vein to ‘We Just Don’t Care’?
Yes and no. Everything’s completely different. Before playing ‘We Just Don’t Care’ to people I found it really difficult to describe. A tune at 128 bpm that sounds like me, quite tribal, that’s the closest I could get. Everything else, again, there’s a mixture of loads of different things thrown into the pot. Again, it sounds like me, but you just can’t quite put your finger on what it is or put it into a genre.
I suppose no is the easiest answer [laughs], because the next tune is at a different tempo and has a completely different vibe. It still doesn’t sound like anything else.
Is this single the precursor to an album?
Not so much. It’s just me getting loads of music out there. I think next year I’ll try and focus on putting an album out, but right now it’s about getting different styles and vibes out there.
I ask because, although you’ve been quite prolific as a producer, you’ve not really been that prolific in making albums (you had your debut and the two albums you did with T Power). Why is that?
I just think it’s important for you to have something to say when you do an album. I set up Digital Soundboy as well and along with all the touring and stuff… to sit down and think this is what I want to do and this is what I want to put out as a body of work, I take that seriously.
I think now is the time for me to do that. I had my head in the Digital Soundboy thing and in helping other people with production with their stuff and everything else that comes with being involved with running a label, other acts, but I’ve now put that aside and I’m fully focused on my own stuff.
What happened to the material you were putting together for the album that had the working title Cornerstone/Larger Than Life about 5 years ago? Did that material come out?
[Laughs] No, it didn’t, but it’s going to. With that project it was straight up reggae, but I always find that, when you do projects, people expect, for the rest of the year at least, for you to tour that and that kind of defines you for a period. And although I really love reggae I didn’t want to do a whole campaign around it, which is what would’ve been expected. But there’s over an album’s worth of music for that project which will come out as EPs. That way I can do it as an ongoing thing.
I didn’t want it to be like, “Here’s my reggae album and that’s that” because I’m always going to make it. I think ‘Cornerstone Vol 1’ and ‘Cornerstone Vol 2’ is going to work much better. That way I can keep it moving.
When the music you’re recording changes style should people expect the music you play as a DJ to also change?
Anyone that’s seen or heard me play knows that it’s very eclectic. It’s not so eclectic that it’s bordering on wedding DJ, the dots always join. And what I make is generally what I play in my set, but what I play in my set is also what I’m making, if that makes sense? It’s just what I’m feeling like at the time, what am I trying to say, let me make it, let me play it. I don’t really think any deeper than that. I’m fortunate enough to be able to make whatever’s in my head, whatever I’m vibing with, so that’s what I go with.
I just had this conversation with someone recently and I just think it’s nuts when you walk into a studio with a blank canvas, you don’t know what’s going to happen and a few hours later you’ve got something new in the universe. That’s so mad. For people to stick to one particular thing, I just don’t get it. There are so many different vibes you can put out into the world, I never know which one it’s going to be.
Which DJs that operate outside of drum ‘n’ bass music do you enjoy listening to?
Oh, wow. Right now, today, the answer would be someone like Benji B. Still Gilles Peterson, as well. They seem to catch my vibe, you never really know what you’re going to hear when you listen to those guys. It’s always a bit of an education, but you always hear grooves, music that touches your soul, when you listen to those guys. So, right now Benji and Gilles, but tomorrow that changes. There’s so many.
What do you see as being the similarities, if there are any, between ‘Original Nuttah’, ‘Shake Ur Body’ and ‘We Just Don’t Care’?
Woah! Erm… I think with all those three tracks I definitely went in the studio in I-don’t-give-a-shit mode. It literally was just sitting down making music until I was jumping up and down. I can’t say tempo, that’s for sure. It’s just touching on groove and mixing loads of elements together, which is what I generally do, I guess. With ‘We Just Don’t Care’ I think the closest thing I’ve done to that is ‘Bambaata’ in terms of it being tribal and the bass, the cinematic feel as well. But I don’t know if I can join those three. Can you?
I think you can join the dots between ‘Original Nuttah’ and ‘Shake Ur Body’. And I think you can join the dots between ‘Shake Ur Body’ and ‘We Just Don’t Care’, so yes. Not in the tempos maybe, not in the rhythms, but maybe in the vibe, maybe in the excitement of the music, yes. For me, they all sound like you.
Yeah, I think there’s a sense of urgency in there. Definitely the vocal, harmony wise, between ‘Shake Ur Body’ and ‘We Just Don’t Care’, you can join those dots. But generally I’d have to pass on that question, ha! I couldn’t tell you mate.
On the cover of the Simple Tings EP you’re pictured with your dog. Do you still keep a dog?
No, not anymore unfortunately. That was a Great Dane. Nobody’s ever asked me that question before, ha!
My mate, Shane Loughlin, used to work in a big secondhand record store in Manchester, Vinyl Exchange, and he was in charge of the drum ‘n’ bass. They had that record on display and he’d stuck a speech bubble above your head and wrote “I’m Shy FX and I love my dog” on the cover, so I never forget that sleeve.
Ahahahahahaha. Oh, wow. And that’s when I had hair as well. I had hair and I didn’t wear a cap.
T Power, your old production partner, is quoted as saying the reason he made his 1995 debut album in a more experimental drum ‘n’ bass style was he wanted to get away from a lot of the politics that were around jungle music at the time. Did you ever experience those politics and how did they affect you?
Yeah, every day, but just like now I don’t really care, I just get it done and keep it moving. I think that’s the only thing you can do. People come, people go, opinions are like arseholes etc.
At the time, when I was younger, there was loads of different camps and everyone was trying to fight for space, everyone was talking about what you should and shouldn’t do. Whenever that happens it just makes me fall into my own space and just make music, kind of like giving a middle finger up. I never really get involved in all of that. I just do what feel is right.
What, for you, are the parallels between reggae soundsystem culture and jungle/drum ‘n’ bass culture?
From basic stuff like rewinds to dubplate culture?
Whichever way you want to take the question…
[Laughs] OK, cool. Well a lot of us came from the reggae culture so I suppose we brought a lot of that vibe with; the way we played and selected music, the rewinds.
In fact, it’s pretty strange now where a lot of the younger guys who haven’t grown up on that culture and maybe not on the grime culture either, they just don’t understand the idea that when you get a tune that’s so sick, you rewind it and play it again from the beginning. They look at you like “What. Are. You. Doing?” I think they get it more now, but playing dubplates with your name on as well, they can sometimes be like “We know who you are. Why have you got your name on every track? What’s that about?”
The bass, the sense of community as well, particularly with the early jungle scene, not so much with drum ‘n’ bass. Yeah, I think because a lot of us came from there we just brought it into what we were doing.
In your own words, can you define what kind of unique voice the world of drum ‘n’ bass has lost with the sad passing of Marcus Intalex?
Oh, man… Can I think about that and maybe e-mail you an answer? I don’t just want to say something and not get it right, it just means too much.
[Unfortunately Shy FX’s incredibly busy schedule and perhaps the obvious sadness he displayed meant that no addition to this answer was sent]
Did your paths cross much? Did you see him regularly?
Not so much over the last couple of years. It was a couple of years ago I last saw him, at the Soul In Motion night. We were just vibing and, as always, talking about music and technical stuff, plug ins.
Which of his releases have you most frequently played when DJing out?
Probably ‘Lover’ by M.I.S.T. And the ‘I Like It’ remix which goes way back to 1995. When he did that I did ‘This Style’. It was the same kind of vibe. He definitely influenced me in making that. Obviously I play a lot of his stuff, but those are the two that stick in my set.
Riding high on the success of her remix of Octo Octa’s ‘Adrift’ (one of last year’s best releases for many DJs), a busy international DJ schedule (not least her much discussed B2B set with Copnehagen’s ace DJ Courtesy at the mighty Sonar festival in Barcelona) and a slew of fine releases prior to that, Avalon Emerson makes her Bongo debut for Substance on Friday 16th Feb. To say we’re looking forward to welcoming her to the Bongo is a bit of an understatement… TICKETS
Here’s a transcript of Will Lynch’s great Resident Advisor piece (from November 2016), plus video clips of some of her previous stand-out releases:
Last week, Avalon Emerson released a video for “Natural Impasse,” a track from her new record on Spectral Sound, Narcissus In Retrograde. She made the whole thing herself using emojis and clips from her phone, a process she explained on her YouTube channel.
“I trimmed each video, turned them into gifs, and processed them into various emojisaic gifs using a ruby script created by my friend Lucas Mathis (github: @lilkraftwerk), then edited them all together using Adobe Premiere, a process that took me about two months.”
Those three things—the gnarled club track, the homemade video, the scrappy method behind it—tell you a lot about Emerson as an artist and a person. For as long as she can remember, she’s found a creative outlet in music and technology, and has pursued both with relentless energy and resourcefulness, teaching herself to code, to make tracks and many other things besides. This self-efficacy helped propel her to where she is today—28, an ex-software developer, full-time DJ and producer. But there’s something else, also present in that clip, that makes her so compelling as an artist. For Emerson, this music is a rawer form of self-expression than it is for many of her peers. With all of her output, including her DJ sets and club tracks, she offers a window into herself, however oblique it may be.
Take Narcissus In Retrograde. For a bundle of club tracks, this record has an unusually deep personal dimension. The music is rooted in a period of change in Emerson’s life—the same stretch of time captured in the video. “It’s been a tumultuous year,” she told me. “A good year, but difficult. Quitting my job. Going through some intense relationship events with my family. Falling in love, and finally being in a relationship with a woman. On a micro level, it was fantastic. On a macro level, though, it’s seemed like the world was crumbling, especially with every piece of news from America. Another young black boy gunned down by police, a shooting at a Planned Parenthood, us electing this orange shit-mound for the highest possible office. There’s a strange tension there.”
We were sitting in the living room of her apartment in Neukölln, a bright attic space with wood floors and angled walls. She just moved in a few weeks ago—that’s her at 5:30 in the video, opening a box of sound treatment foam for her studio. When we first spoke, some three weeks earlier, she’d been warm but guarded, at times playfully sardonic (she raised an eyebrow at one of my questions and said, “So in other words, ‘What’s it like to be a woman DJ?'”). Things had changed since then. Trump had been elected president days earlier, an event so ominous it made it hard to talk about her music and her life as an artist.
Her recent set at Panorama Bar was a welcome diversion. She’d gone back-to-back with Courtesy for the final stretch of Leisure System, and was still glowing from the experience. Courtesy’s selections skewed dark and heady—I recognized only Karl Lukas Pettersson’s “Paradise Island” on Acido. Emerson was more flamboyant. “I’m like the colour commentator in the NBA—’Whoa! Boom! There it goes!‘”
By which she meant she played a lot of curveballs: The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Ringfinger,” Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Rain,” Joe Claussell’s remix of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place,” and my personal favorite, an acapella of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” layered over the opening bars of Gesloten Cirkel’s “Submit X.” In each of these selections, there was an element of autobiography. The Knife was one of Emerson’s early influences, and “Ringfinger” was on Pretty Hate Machine, an album her mother “played the shit out of” when she was growing up. Ryuichi Sakamoto is another old favorite—she’d made the edit of “Rain” minutes before leaving for the club.
“A lot of my favorite edits come to me right before I play Panorama Bar,” she said. “It’s like clockwork. I did ‘Rain’ literally 20 minutes before the cab came, and I exported it wrong somehow so it was only one break. I played the original and then mixed in my break, basically doing a live Cybernedit.” (Cybernedits being her ongoing series of free club edits.) “It’s so easy to understand what is and isn’t tasteful or cool in a certain genre and play it off your USB,” she said. “Surprise and re-contextualization of familiar morsels—that’s what I like most about playing places like Panorama Bar and De School.”
Gigs at leading clubs like those are a regular thing for Emerson these days. Something she hadn’t mentioned about 2016 was that, amidst all that upheaval, she’d had an incredible year as an artist. Her reputation as a DJ boomed, and for the first time she spent most weekends traveling for gigs. This breakthrough had been a long time coming, but there was a needle that broke the camel’s back: her EP on Whities.
“People loved that one,” she said. “That pushed things over the edge, I started getting a shit-ton more gigs and the decision to quit my job was kind of made for me.”
It’s not surprising that particular EP had such an impact. Whities 006 is an ecstatic techno record, at once rowdy and euphoric. The atmosphere is bright and windswept, the rhythms soar as if carried by gusts of wind. DJ-friendly as they are, its tracks—”2000 Species Of Cacti,” “The Frontier” and “The Frontier (High Desert Synthapella)”—brim with a heart-clenching emotion fitting to the topic that inspired them: Arizona, the place where Emerson grew up.
“Try as we might,” she recently told CRACK, “we can’t escape where we came from. You hold a fondness for the place you started out in, even if you wanted nothing more when you were 16 than to leave that fucking place.”
Emerson was born in San Francisco but spent most of her young life in Gilbert, Arizona, where she never felt like she belonged. Her household was an exception. Both parents were into music. Along with Nine Inch Nails, her mother played a lot of synth pop in the house—”Propaganda, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Depeche Mode”—and also got her into astrology, which, as her track titles suggest, still inspires her today (when I asked about the phrase “triple scorpio supernova” on her RA artist page, she replied with this screen-grab). Her dad was into guitar, and the two of them would record themselves playing together using a program called Cakewalk, which sparked her interest in music production software.
From a young age Emerson was creative and resourceful. “That was kind of out of necessity,” she said. “Building my own computers and figuring out how things work. Not being able to afford software and figuring out how to download and crack stuff. Computer-based music creation was always super fascinating for me. I mean, even when I was super young, maybe like 11 or 12, me and my little sister would record songs on Cakewalk.”
Beyond the bubble of her friends and family, though, was a conservative stretch of America that Emerson knew she’d leave one day. She graduated high school with a full scholarship to Arizona State, where she studied journalism, but her time there only made her more determined to get away. At 19, she took an internship in San Francisco. The idea was to come back and finish her degree at ASU, but when the time came, she couldn’t do it. “I was ready to be an adult instead of staying in this stunted state of maturity you get in college,” she said. “So I dropped out.”
Emerson landed on her feet in San Francisco. She found work easily, first interning at tech startups and, later, XLR8R. Having taught herself to write code, she managed a web-store for a family of San Francisco boutiques, then got various jobs developing software for Bay Area tech companies. Armed with a fake ID, she explored the city’s underground scene. “There was this whole world of music I hadn’t had any exposure to,” she said. “Going to my first Honey Soundsystem and other queer parties, I’d never seen anything like that. I was into Pitchfork-y things like Crystal Castles or whatever. Then hearing, like, Argentinian cumbia, it’s like, ‘Whoa, what the fuck is this? This is tight!'”
That last one was presumably at Tormenta Tropical, a party cofounded by Shawn Reynaldo (then known as Disco Shawn) with whom Emerson had worked at XLR8R. “The party was in the Elbo Room, in the middle of The Mission,” she said. “This little upstairs place with low ceilings, kind of dank, with carpet and coloured Christmas lights, and these technicolor kaleidoscope Virgin Mary things, lit from behind. You could get a Tecate for a few dollars with a little lime in it. There were a lot of small little parties like that. It was a lively scene when I was there.”
But as musical influences go, nothing could touch Emerson’s second Bay Area residence: a 12-room warehouse in the SoMa neighborhood she’d found on Craigslist. The place was massive, home to 14 young creative types from around the world. It was also, occasionally, an illegal party spot called Club 380, where Emerson became a de facto resident DJ.
“There was this guy there named Matt, he was a couple years older than me and a really good DJ technically. His taste was different from what was popular at the time—more of a ravey sound instead of the DFA, nu-disco thing you always heard back then. When we threw parties, Matt and I would DJ all night. That was the first taste of real DJing I had.”
It was because of those parties that Emerson started making edits. At first she’d use Ableton to make small changes—extending intros, cutting out parts she didn’t like. Over time she got more creative, and soon she was making original productions. Thanks to a rigorous, self-imposed work schedule, she quickly honed her skills.
“I liked it, and I wanted to be good at it, so I made up my mind that I would make one track every month. I also decided to be my own PR agency. I made this massive rolodex of blogs and music media outlets, everything from small WordPress blogger sites to things like XLR8R and Mixmag. I would collect the contact information, and every time I created a track, I would write 100 personal emails to all these people. Some people picked it up and put it on their blogs. It was pretty addictive. If you release something and five pretty decently-sized blogs cover it, and it gets 10,000 plays and all these comments of like, ‘This is great!!,’ you get energized to make the next song and develop your skills.”
The once a month thing was key. “I know a lot of producers and writers and people in a lot of creative passions, professions, that will just continually work on something to no end, in private. You see yourself as your only gatekeeper, and maybe you don’t progress as fast as you want. Or at least as fast as I would want.”
Music became a vital mode of self-expression for Emerson, something she had to do “in order to stay sane.” The same is true today. “I would make music if no one heard it. But I’m not sure I’d DJ if there was no one there to dance.”
By 2014, someone showed one of Emerson’s tracks to her old friend Shawn Reynaldo, who was by then running the party and record label ICEE HOT. He decided to put out her first record, Pressure / Quoi, at the beginning of 2014, with remixes from Tuff City Kids.
The next one came a couple months later: Church Of SoMa, an ode to Club 380, was the first 12-inch on Spring Theory, a label run by one of the warehouse’s other residents, Guillaume Galuz. That fall, Spring Theory released her third one, Let Me Love And Steal.
These records chart the rapid evolution of Emerson’s sound. With their sampled vocal hooks, “Pressure” and “Quoi” had more of a straight-up house vibe than what would come later, but the urgency of the rhythms and the weight of the drums already showed a keen sense of club impact.
By Let Me Love And Steal, those house tropes had given way to something bolder and heavier, especially on the lurching “Triple Scorpio Mix.” The singular sound she has today—smooth but raucous, bright but heavy—was beginning to take shape.
Meanwhile, change was afoot at the warehouse. Emerson had moved out after a year or so but kept returning to play the parties. Others began leaving. An era was ending. “It was a very special thing, and everybody was kind of very depressed when it was over. But these things naturally ebb and flow. People move away, the French exchange students have to go home, things just change.”
By then Emerson was getting deeper into the tech world, at one point working at what she called a “stereotypical Y Combinator startup”—referring to the elite seed accelerator. At a glance, she had it pretty good. She’d made it in a city she loved, plying a trade she’d taught herself. She made tracks, she played gigs, she rode around San Francisco on a Vespa (“a 1980 P200E—really nice”).
But it wasn’t going to last. Emerson was working 60 hours a week, and falling into a career path she didn’t like, while San Francisco—”small, delicate, beautiful San Francisco”—was succumbing to a “monoculture of moneymaking,” which she couldn’t see herself in. Meanwhile, the music thing was looking better and better—her records were getting attention and she’d joined a booking agency. Some friends from the warehouse had moved to Berlin. “I’d just gotten a really big tax return, so I said, ‘Fuck it, let’s try this new thing.'”
Emerson hit the ground running in Berlin much as she had in San Francisco. She turned up with no prospects but found freelance work writing code, and eventually landed a job as a software developer. She continued making strides as an artist. In 2015 she released an EP on Shtum, a techno sub-label of Uncanny Valley, and played Panorama Bar for the first time. By the end of that year she was playing a few gigs a month. The prospect of becoming a full-time artist hovered into view. In May of this year, she went for it.
“It was kind of an economically-driven decision,” she said. “The money I made as a musician was approaching what I made as a software engineer, and finally those two things converged. But also, it was getting hard to manage. Playing two, sometimes three shows a weekend then coming in on Monday… I was becoming a little bit of a crazy person at the end. And I knew I couldn’t fully devote my brain to production and DJing until I quit my job. You have to close one door to really propel as an artist, I think.”
Things are different now than when Emerson made Narcissus In Retrograde. How this will affect her music remains to be seen. “There are things that have been so powerful and intense for me lately, and I’ve just barely been able to put them into this abstract musical form,” she said. “I’ve been doing kind of, I don’t want to say ‘experimental pop,’ but more lyrics-driven stuff not really made for the club. I’d really like to make an album.”
You get the sense that what’s come so far is just the beginning for Emerson. From the moment she quit school to stay in San Francisco, she improvised a path toward self-realization that’s just now come to a kind of landing point. “I’m really hitting my return of Saturn,” she said. “Have you heard that term? It takes 27 years for Saturn to go around the sun. When you’re about 27 it comes back to where it was when you were born. I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been.”
Headset tickets have been flying out the door since the event was announced in November and there are only fifty remaining tickets to be had now (4.30pm, 29.12.17), so don’t hang around if you’re keen to come to the Bongo for NYE.
The event features headliner Hodge (from Bristol) plus local star Telfort, with a veritable smorgasbord of local DJ support.
In short, this will be another great Hogmanay party at the Bongo, with everyone welcome!
We’re very excited to be welcoming Move D to the Bongo. Alias David Moufang, he’s one of Germany’s most successful DJ/producers and a man who’s been around the block more times than most in the contemporary scene, having first got involved as a DJ in the late Eighties, releasing his debut productions in the early Nineties.
Making his Bongo debut, Moufang plays this special date for local label Lionoil, as they celebrate three years of throwing parties in the capital, inviting him to go back-to-back with their pal (and something of a local hero just now), Telfort, whose records Moufang has been championing from the start. It’s not often that you can catch a B2B set from Move D, as there are apparently only a few people in the scene with whom he’s happy to do this. When asked ‘do you enjoy [b2b] as much when you get the opportunity?’ Moufang replied, ‘No, I don’t, and it’s only a handful of people I’d enjoy doing that together with. So that would be Gerd Janson, Jus Ed, and Axel Boman, actually. So I have to really like the person as well as their taste in music… It’s quite an intimate, personal thing.’ So, high praise indeed for the man like Telfort!
If talent converted into record sales, David Moufang would be a very rich man. His records with partner Jonas Grossmann as Deep Space Network and his own solo releases as Move D are among the furthest outreaches of techno’s push towards the stars. Moufang grew up in Heidelberg listening to his parents’ collection of early Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk records but the most overwhelming influence on his childhood was outer space, the result of a trip to the cinema with his father to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. “I was space crazy as a child,” Moufang told journalist Tony Marcus in 1995, “when the other kids were riding around in their little cars I’d be building my own spacecraft. I’d put in a small engine, put rubber on the wheels so it made some noise and stand there with a walkie-talkie and my headphones on. It was very techno…”
Moufang’s grandmothers were both classical concert pianists. He can still remember favourite childhood moments, sitting under the piano as they played, surrounded and lost in sound. By the age of 12, he taken up drums (he eventually went on to study classical percussion) and took up the guitar a few years later, this time taking lessons from two separate jazz guitar teachers. He played guitar in a band called Rivers & Trains well into the ’90s. Occasionally he even plied his trade as a DJ, spinning electro, funk and jazz. It wasn’t until 1989 that he discovered techno when a friend of his, D-Man, invited him to a club he was running in the industrial suburb of Mannheim. When Moufang walked into the Milk! Club that night – like so many others before and after him – he discovered a scene that changed his life. Discovering Detroit, 808 State, Nexus 21 and the first stirrings of ambient techno, Moufang became a committed clubber. Through D-Man, he met Redagain P who converted Moufang’s nickname “Mufti” into the more kinetic Move D.
Moufang’s first records were made with Grossmann as Deep Space Network. Their first two albums, EARTH TO INFINITY (1992) and BIG ROOMS (1993) suggested a significant, unpredictable and innovative talent which was confirmed by the release of HOMEWORKS (1993), a Source Records compilation that included solo tracks such as “Pulsar” and “I’ve Been On Drugs” alongside collaborations with D-Man. Ranging from subtle, Detroit-inflected grooves to wired electronic jazz, Moufang’s music seemed to operate on ambience, slow motion and subdued rhythm, a sound that was rooted, as Tony Marcus later pointed out, “in the jazzy, laid-back but still hip-tugging tradition of Larry Heard, Carl Craig’s “Microlovr” or “The Wonders Of Wishing” and New York’s Burrell Brothers… listening to [Moufang’s records] is like a sweet and lazy adventure into sound, a space where time and stress are suspended.”
REAGENZ (1994), a collaboration with SpaceTime Continuum’s Jonah Sharp, was an astonishing fusion of beautiful, experimental electronics that reached out to a point that even Detroit’s most visionary producers hadn’t yet achieved. Recorded between Heidelberg and San Francisco, it sounded like pianist Bill Evans might have if he’d grown up surrounded by Star Trek instead of modal jazz.
Moufang’s debut album, KUNSTSTOFF (1995), was equally remarkable. Tracks such as “Soap Bubbles” and “In/Out” oscillated between soft, dreamlike textures and the spiked electronics that Detroit was beginning to explore. The glittering production surfaces were a legacy of Moufang’s days as a student at the School of Audio Engineering, but the music they encompassed was equally compelling. It was an album full of contrasts – between the jagged drugfloor grooves of, say, “Nimm 2” and the gentle, synthetic lullaby of “Beyond The Machine” or between the pristine sounds Moufang conjured with and the haloes of analogue noise which surrounded others. Amazingly pretty and wildly innovative, KUNSTSTOFF remains one of the most accomplished techno albums to emerge from Europe so far.
The collaborative ventures that followed – including EXPLORING THE PSYCHEDELIC LANDSCAPE (1996) and A DAY IN THE LIVE (1997) with Pete Namlook – preceded an experimental single for Sheffield’s Warp label. Moufang had been a big fan of the label’s “bleep techno” output in the early ’90s and “Cymbelin” was, in some ways, a homage to that sound, twisting beats and synths into a bass heavy groove. But the producer’s ability to soften almost any structure with aching prettiness transformed the record into a unique fusion.
Another unique fusion was suggested by the release of CONJOINT (1997). A collaboration between Moufang, jazz veteran Karl Berger, Jamie Hodge (of Born Under A Rhyming Planet) and Gunter “Ruit” Kraus, it was Moufang’s most overtly jazzed outing so far, but provided spectacular evidence of his growing abilities as a producer and composer. Currently working on a number of new projects – including a new Deep Space Network album and a second Conjoint album – Moufang continues to explore the boundaries of electronic music.
Jamaican dancehall star and MOBO winner Gyptian makes his Bongo live debut this coming Monday, playing a rare Scottish date as part of a UK tour to promote his new single and we’re stoked to welcome him to the Bongo, which has been supporting reggae music since the venue first opened (in 1996).
This will be a very intimate show for an artist with his profile. Not to be missed!
Here’s an interview with the man from 2013, courtesy of guestlist.net, who published it:
‘UK’s my n*1 family’
You’re rastafarian, your father was rastafarian and your mother was a Seventh-day Adventist, how did that play out for you as a child?
You know, Jamaican people really care about certain things, which aren’t really a priority to us. The father would stay at home and the mother would go at church. Sometimes she’d come home shaking. She used to attend a revival church, it was frightening and traumatising, *imitating intensive breathing*. You know, the Rastafarian, he does what he wants to do, all he has to do is show peace and love and shall unite people. For me, as Rastafarian, no disrespect to Christianity, but it’s hypocrisy, right there.
I heard you were forced to do music when you were young, what does that mean?
First, Gyptian is very shy. Singing professionally wasn’t my thing. The vibes at the studio weren’t great. Then I got exposure on the TV stations. So I just made use of those and I realised there was something really good happening, people liked my songs. So here I am.
So, what can we expect from your show?
The shows are packed and the people are screaming, as usual, they love this Gyptian wine. As usual. I make the ladies’ bodies feel nice, go home make love to their boyfriend, make love to your wife, whatever. Gyptian please you tonight with music, naturally so. You never know if it’s going to outbreak tonight because different crowd, different feel, different performance. Just freestyle as it goes.
You have a reputation of an incredible artist because of your mix of RNB and Reggae with 8 million views on YouTube. Some classify you as a crossover artist, how do you feel about that?
Crossover whatever, I make it in the market, so pretty much a crossover. It’s all about me, showing the world of reggae, as a reggae artist, it’s not dead. Because that’s what I hear everybody saying: How do you feel about reggae this and reggae that? Reggae will never die because when I die there will still be people listening to reggae. The only way it can die is if they get rid of it in Jamaica, music and politics, I’ve seen, I’ve been all over the world. A lot of people are trying to push reggae aside and just stick to what they have. Come on people! Move on!
A lot of mainstream reggae stations are getting rid of their reggae DJs/shows. People are talking about a conspiracy against reggae and dancehall. How do you view that yourself?
Reggae roots shall weigh more than this. Because the spread of reggae was a real all and all task for Bob then to complete. If you have a strong mind, like Bob, you can do it. This is the people’s heritage, this is part of the heritage, part of the love, part of the thing. I think they should all just let it be, because it’s music. All these people trying to criticise and degrade reggae music. Reggae probably does more for them than many with their music. Because what reggae does for people, really, puts you in touch with answers, you see yourself, you can get meditation vibes. We can’t stop man from being man. And I think that is one of our biggest problems in Jamaica. That’s one of the main things that drives the music, because people think we are degrading them which we are not, because we don’t really know what it would lead to if we said what we really have to say. They should leave us alone, give us a break. For me, as an artist, I just try my best to sing a song that has no politics in it. My songs are all about joy and real time, not serious time. Going for the fundamental spirit of the music, without fighting with the politics. I feel like the people that are picking on the reggae artists should just leave us alone. Music is music. No matter how much you try to stop reggae music, you’re only gonna make it bigger.
The mixtape, sex, love, reggae, is out in October (2013). You have real mixes of tunes, ‘Serious times’ and ‘Mama’, and some covers, Gregory Isaacs ‘Number One’ and Cindy Lauper’s ‘True Colours’. There’s a freestyle with Snoop Lion, big combination, what’s the history behind that?
It was big vibes, because, you know, it was Snoop Lion, originally Snoop Dogg. We grew up watching him on TV. I was singing at the radio station and I was told that Snoop was going to be there. I heard that I was suppose to freestyle with Snoop. I was in the corner, it was his moment, so I was just chilling there just thinking. And then I freestyled, and people loved it, you know.
You’ve got some old tunes, remix of riddims, everything is there, it’s nice. A nice mixtape. Your current single, Vixen, featuring Angela Hunte, tell me about the track.
For her to get the chance to work with me and me with her, was just like a magnificent aim from the beginning. So, pretty much, we went in the studio working from time to time. It was a new experience and a new environment around the music. Pretty much, because she came from Jamaica just for a visit, so there was a good vibe of love. Love and respect and everything else. I really appreciated it, big up to Angela Hunte.
You ride a horse in the music video
I’d ridden a donkey, not a horse. I had this big gigantic horse. I was like: ‘Is this really necessary?’. I thought that was the interesting part. After that shoot they had this snake in a cage. I went to the cage that was standing there until someone came up and told me it was a snake. The snake is in a box, it’s not like it’s coming out. ‘It’s not venomous’. They didn’t tell me I was going to put a snake around my neck. I was like ‘Rascassa, no’. ‘Gyptian’s snake is not venomous’, no snake, the horse-riding was enough. We did one extreme part let’s stick to that. It was nice and everybody enjoyed themselves.
The way you move is fantastic.
You move like, some girls like it in some way. We all know this. You have to read the mind, you have to read the eyes, the body language and all these things. Because first, you have to know a women can take one glimpse at a man if she wants to. While we men, think our face is pretty and at the same time we wanna have a back stare, a back look when she passes. You’ve got 10 men in a room and everyone want this one girl, do you know who she wants? The one that isn’t giving her attention. That’s the man she’ll really want. You wonder why? Is it that he is not paying attention to her? I’ll be the one like, she’s staring, I’ll be drinking or I’ll be doing something different until she comes over. This is why, then we come and ask me. Pretty much, it speaks for itself.
When is a full studio album coming out?
20th of this month. You’ll get the sound that you need. I don’t know what else to say.
It’s black history month this month, any special message, especially to the black community?
Pretty much, we black people have come from far far away. We haven’t been paid for all the work we put in. I guess we are not gonna get any consultation. But at the same time this is our month, so listen, black with power, power with the people. Mad love, mad life, mad respect and everything. When I say mad I mean good.
Australia’s finest musical export and ‘king of the edit’ Late Nite Tuff Guy takes a journey back to celebrate the life’s work of one of the greatest showmen, producers and songwriters to ever grace a stage. After the success of this tremendous show over in Oz the ‘Tuff Guy’ puts his heart and soul into an immersive all night tribute to The Purple One.
Here’s a good interview with LNTG, about the influence of the Purple one on him and the whole world of pop and dance music, courtesy of Pulse Radio:
Do you remember where you were when you heard your first Prince record? Or when you bought your first album? Can you recall the first time you saw Prince live?
How about the last time? Do you remember how you felt when you found out he was gone?
Cam Bianchetti remembers. Bianchetti is one of Australia’s most enduring dance music artists. An influencer during house and techno’s formative years of the early ‘90s in both Europe and Australia as DJ HMC, he now dominates the global house and disco edits scene as Late Nite Tuff Guy, responsible for two of the most ubiquitous tracks on contemporary dance floors, ‘I Get Deeper’ and the ‘Controversy’ edit, ‘Do I Believe In God’. He also happens to be a Prince fan, as true as they come.
I had heard that Bianchetti was on the shy and retiring side in interviews, but if there was truth to that, not so when talking about his long time musical idol, Prince. On this subject Bianchetti is animated, educated and above all, passionate.
A seventeen year old Bianchetti first heard Prince at a small club in his “sleepy” home town of Adelaide on an unassuming Wednesday night no less, “which is pretty happening for Adelaide let me tell you!” Loving the track, Bianchetti immediately resolved to source its creator and so, on a pre-internet Thursday in 1981, looked for answers at his local record store, where he discovered the artist behind the single to be Prince, and purchased his LP on the spot.
An epic seven-minute dance stomper which sings of a craving for emancipation from oppression and bias, the track which started it all for Cam was ‘Controversy’. “Who is this person?” was the question driving the young music fan. In the space of a year he’d purchased Prince’s three previous albums and “completely fallen in love” with his music.
So what was it that captured Bianchetti’s sensibilities so strongly? “Partly the fact that he crosses all genres of music,” he expains. “R’n’B, soul, disco in the early days, funk, rock’n’roll, jazz… he can do anything. But what I love most is the sparseness and simplicity of a lot of the music.”The less-is-more approach which so attracted him directly influenced the music Bianchetti would go on to make in the following decade. “When I started producing music it was techno, and the popular tracks were that ones that were really simple and straight to the point, there was nothing fancy about them whatsoever.”
Lyrically and conceptually, Prince’s understanding of the power of nuance is also a strong draw for Bianchetti. A cryptic character in real life, Prince’s lyrics are suggestive and layered. “He has an incredible way of writing words. A lot of his earlier stuff is about sex. I find lyrics today can be so blatant, so in your face, that there’s nothing to read behind, it’s just so – there. Whereas Prince’s early lyrics, about that subject in particular, were a little deeper. You had to think about what he was saying before you understood it.”
Finally, one of the most impressive aspects of Prince’s creativity was his autonomy. Diverse in skill and determined by nature, a teenage Prince wrote and produced his debut self-titled album on his own, as well as recording the vast majority of the album’s instrumentation himself. “When you think that he was seventeen at the time and he wrote just about everything on that album… fuck it’s impressive.” Still awed by this feat as an accomplished artist, one can imagine how it would have resonated with Bianchetti as a budding producer of the same age.
As we talk, it becomes clear that Bianchetti values Prince’s pursuit of creative autonomy as much as his creativity. The untameable, in many ways unknowable character that Prince presented throughout the course of his thirty year career proved to be a fascination and inspiration in itself. Having dedicated the best part of his life to the “jungle” that is the music industry, Bianchetti is familiar with the financial tug of war that plagues so many artists, and admires Prince’s tenacity in public battles with his record label Warner, which peaked in the late ‘90s with Prince’s defiant (if rather untenable) name change to a cryptic glyph, and the penning of ‘slave’ across his own cheek in protest.
“He definitely puts himself out there as someone quite strange, who really knows who he is. Someone who’s not afraid to do something different. After the success of Purple Rain, for example, which was massive, he released Around The World In A Day, which was completely different. I, along with a lot of other people, expected another Purple Rain. But I remember him saying in an interview it would have been so easy to do Purple Rain Pt 2, but he likes to push himself and do something original every time. I love that.”
No stranger to reinvention himself, slamming techno DJ HMC come disco-edit don Late Nite Tuff Guy has clearly taken the lesson of creative challenges to heart. “Throughout my youth, throughout DJing and producing, I wanted to do something different every time. It’s a lot harder now that I’m older though. I tend to revert back to doing what I know, because it’s easier… but you don’t challenge yourself that way, do you?”
So Prince as a person has inspired, as well as his music. But can any of us really lay claim to understanding such an eccentric and elusive character, having never even met him? “He’s definitely a weird character… we just don’t know him,” Banchietti acknowledges. Why is it, then, that he and so many others felt such a profound and personal sense of loss upon hearing of his death?
“When I found out about his passing, it was one of the saddest moments that I could ever remember. Obviously I had a cry. I couldn’t believe I would never get to see him play live again.”
Bianchetti was lucky enough to attend one of the final performances of Prince’s life in February of last year. “I’m so thankful I got to see him, but the awful thing about that day was that Vanity [an artistic protégé and one-time lover of Prince], had died that day. So he was really emotional, and you felt like a lot of the songs that he did were in honour of her. It was a really special show.”
The emotion of this performance explains at least part of the reason we can feel such a personal connection to someone we’ve never actually met. Most artists put some of the deepest parts of themselves into the work they create – so in some way, we do know them. “Well, we know a part of them,” Bianchetti qualifies. But it’s more than that; we are not merely observers to the emotions of our favourite musicians. In a fascinating and powerful phenomenon, our own emotions and personal development are inextricably woven into their music and persona, at least in our own consciousness.
“The only way to explain it for me is that it’s because I grew up on his music – especially Sign Of The Times, which is my favourite Prince album. I remember listening to that constantly and it was also around the time that I was smoking marijuana, so I heard the album differently. Growing up on that music, learning a lot about how he produces and how he writes… it influenced me. And now it is a part of me, right? It’s a part of my youth.”
“After [David] Bowie’s death and Prince’s death I saw people on Facebook saying things like, ‘you don’t know the person, why are you pretending to care?’ and so on … and it’s like, well, we really are connected to them! And when they go, a part of your youth is gone too.”
Throughout our interview, Bianchetti mostly talks about Prince in the present tense; less as an individual who has died than as a musical legacy that he hopes will live on for a long time to come. As Late Nite Tuff Guy, Bianchetti has played an important role on an international scale in keeping that legacy alive through his edits.
Though ‘Controversy’ is the only one he’s released, Bianchetti has a small but powerful arsenal of Prince edits which he saves for his own sets, “and yes, it’s going to stay that way” he assures me. It takes some balls to begin tinkering with the music of an artist you idolise so much, and when I ask if it makes him nervous the response is unequivocal. “Oh shit yeah. We’re talking about a genius here. If you want to take on his music, then you really have to bring it.”
Despite intimidation, inspiration comes from within the track. “I didn’t do that much to ‘Controversy’, just extended and accentuated parts of the track that were amazing. For example that loop in the beginning just really gets me, I could see myself on the dance floor going, ‘fuck yes!’”
That looped introduction is an important part of most LNTG disco edits – a new and more contemporary presentation of the dusty disco gems of the past. “A lot of young people ask me about the old music. They love the way I’ve interpreted it in a way that they understand…The first part of the edit is a looping, hypnotic groove that draws them in, and then I expose them to what the track was before.” Hearing old songs reinterpreted on modern terms can be the catalyst for many young music lovers to discover a whole new world of listening: Prince and beyond. “And they need to do it themselves,” Bianchetti adds paternally. “You can’t force feed it to them.”
Creating an edit not only allows him to share the music he loves with a new audience, but it also offers Bianchetti an opportunity to appreciate its components on a finer level – especially when it comes to Prince. “When I do an edit, obviously I quantise everything in Ableton. And then you go through the track slowly, many many times, so you hear everything clearly: all the words, all the music, all the intricate bits of the track. Hearing it slowly like that over the process of edits definitely makes me love it more.”
“I’ve never known a musician to do the things Prince does; a unique sound and a unique way of producing music. It’s beyond everybody.”
There could be none more fitting to curate a Prince Tribute Night on the first anniversary of his death than Late Nite Tuff Guy. A talented musician in his own right, Cam Bianchetti is also a true fan.
Late Nite Tuff Guy x Prince Tribute (3 hr set)
Tour support TBA
We’re immensely excited here at the Bongo to be welcoming a DJ from the Far East to our stage. This doesn’t happen very often (we can’t actually remember when it last happened) and we’re especially pleased for it to be an artist with such a long and rich history in terms of Japanese house and electronic music and since he will be bringing a live set of his own productions to our stage. More info on the event, including tickets, here.
Here’s an old favourite by Soichi Terada and Japanese pop star Nami Shimada, remixed by the late great Larry Levan, no less.
Here’s the transcript of Brian Durr’s incisive recent article on Soichi Terada and his original label colleague and partner Shinichiro Yokoto (first published by the excellent FACT Magazine), for a better idea of Terada’s influence on today’s global house scene.
Shinichiro Yokota and Soichi Terada have been offering a Japanese take on house music since Terada established his Far East Recording label in 1988. In 2015, the Sounds From the Far East compilation introduced the rest of the world to two of Japan’s greatest house producers, and now they’re finally getting the attention they’ve long deserved. Diskotopia boss Brian Durr meets them in Tokyo where they tell their shared story for the first time, shining a light on Tokyo’s under-documented house scene.
Meeting Shinichiro Yokota and Soichi Terada for the first time is like reuniting with long-lost friends you never knew you had. The camaraderie between the two is contagious, and it’s easy to see how these long-standing legends of Japan’s underground house scene have been collaborators for nearly three decades. Yokota has an unassuming yet effusive demeanor; someone who, once opened up, will talk for hours from the heart, reflecting his soulfully melodic compositions. Terada is more forthcoming, with a wide smile and a knack for inciting conversation that has helped him win the hearts of house music fans across continents.
When we meet in a bustling southeastern suburb of Tokyo and head to a relaxed cafe for curry, I learn that this is the first time both of them have sat down together to discuss their musical history. Several anecdotes during the conversation are met with surprise and bemusement by the near life-long friends, which adds to the already genial atmosphere they exude between them.
Terada launched Far East Recording in 1988, where he began developing a strand of Japanese house that up until recently was only championed within select circles. The sounds of the label – an outlet for Terada and Yokota’s own productions, largely – have a glossy sheen; light-hearted and fun but distinctly soulful, expertly produced and absolutely incendiary on the right kind of dancefloor. There’s a nuanced swing to the productions, as heard to full effect on Terada’s burning ‘Saturday Love Sunday’, for example.
Far East Recording evolved into a beacon of essential Japanese house music in the ‘90s, but it wasn’t until Rush Hour DJ and producer Hunee got in touch a few years ago with the idea of putting out a compilation that the world at large was finally exposed to the Far East catalog. The response to 2015’s Sounds from the Far East was a worldwide awakening to the label’s aesthetic, bringing Terada and Yokota droves of new converts from various corners of electronic music. Suddenly they were both being asked to perform the music they’d made some two decades ago.
“WE TRIED HARD TO MAKE MUSIC CLOSE TO THE U.S. OR EUROPEAN HOUSE SOUND, BUT WE COULDN’T DO IT”Soichi Terada
Their music wasn’t exactly intended to sound so singular when they started out. “In those days we tried hard to make music close to the US or European house sound, but we couldn’t do it,” say Terada. “But an accent may [have helped make our music] sound like something fresh – an Asian accent sound.” That accent isn’t as obvious as a koto synthesizer patch or taiko drum sample, however. Instead, tracks like Yokota’s ‘Do It Again’ evoke images of a night drive through neon-lit Shinjuku, with its glistening synth flourishes and neatly-tucked percussion; the tinny clang of Terada’s ‘Hohai Beats’ feels custom-built for the sweaty, smoke-filled basement clubs of Shibuya.
As a student at Chidori Elementary School in south Tokyo during the early ‘80s, Yokota credits hearing Yellow Magic Orchestra as a formative musical moment. “There were many fake Japanese Beatles bands that I was listening to, then YMO came out with cool synthesizers,” he remembers. “They were the first group that really impressed me musically – there wasn’t anything else like it before. They had the strongest influence on my musical taste.”
Soon after his synthesizer revelation, Yokota quit playing baseball and started taking classical piano lessons across the street from his house. He studied for two years before using his otoshidama, money that Japanese children receive as a New Year’s gift, to buy his first synthesizer in Akihabara, the Tokyo district famous for its electronics stores. “The first keyboard I bought was a Casio MT-40, which was polyphonic but I just couldn’t make it sound like a synthesizer,” Yokota recalls. “A lot of reggae producers were using it and it had a wide vintage feel to it. It was the only keyboard I could afford with the money I had at the time. After a year or two I was able to get a Korg Poly-800 and later a cassette recorder.”
Although originally from Tokyo, Terada grew up in the adjacent suburbs of Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures. As a child he enjoyed activities like football and swimming, but he also harnessed his creativity through his father’s electric organ, a fixture of his childhood home. He echoes Yokota’s claim about the importance of Yellow Magic Orchestra, but his own impressions of the ‘80s electronic revolution were especially furthered by his love of Tomita Isao’s Planets, a synthesized reimagining of composer Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite which made heavy use of Moog equipment and a Roland System 700 modular system.
“A LOT OF THE MUSIC WE MADE WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE [WITHOUT] WHAT HAPPENED WITH JAPAN’S BUBBLE ECONOMY”Shinichiro Yokota
As the decade progressed, hip-hop started seeping into their music collections and eventually helped bring the pair together. “After YMO broke up in 1984, hip-hop from America took over,” says Yokota. “I saw [classic 1983 hip-hop movie] Wild Style and stopped doing synthesizer music to focus more on turntablism. Japanese radio was really pushing hip-hop and my friends were into all of it – rapping, breaking, DJing, all aspects of the culture.” Both Yokota and Terada took part in the DJ battles that swept Tokyo as hip-hop entered its golden age; Yokota scratched over raw TR-606 drum tracks as MCs rapped over the beat, while Terada did live performances with an Akai S-900 sampler and computer. “I preferred using a sampler and computer than focusing on DJing with records,” adds Terada. “I was going to DJ competitions to perform and a mutual friend introduced me to Yokota and we got to know each other.”
Terada’s subsequent exposure to house music came through his friend and local promoter Connie E, who was running a weekly house party above a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo in 1988. After hearing the latest records from the US, Terada would try to distil what he was hearing into his own early productions. “I had no idea who was making these songs, but in those days I [was paying back a loan] to buy my sampler and computer so I couldn’t buy many records. I’d listen to what the DJs were playing and when I got an idea to make a song I would suddenly leave the party and go back to my house to start programming. And later on I’d play what I made to Yokota and other friends.”
Up and running in their respective home studios, Terada and Yokota began navigating the world of music production together. “We’d exchange floppy disks with sound files and sessions that we made,” says Terada. “In those days there was no internet so I remember making phone calls to listen to each others’ music or meeting up to share what we made.” While Terada paints a picture of an even exchange, Yokota adds playfully: “I was watching what Terada was doing and went home by motorbike to try it out before I forgot. I stole his techniques!”
“I WAS ADDICTED TO DRUM AND BASS”Soichi Terada
From 1986 to 1991, Japan was in a “bubble era” thanks to the inflation of the stock market and real estate prices. Much of the country enjoyed the lifestyle spoils of a prosperous economy, and the entertainment industry in particular was booming. Yokota thinks its eventual collapse in 1992 was a blessing in disguise. “After the bubble era, the price of equipment went down and we were able to get expensive gear that we couldn’t before,” he says. “Even the unusable equipment that came out was available in large quantities. These days we search for vintage equipment, but back then we never thought about buying old stuff. A lot of the music we made wouldn’t have been possible [without] what happened with the bubble economy and inexpensive digital technology.”
Though there were were other Tokyo producers in Yokota and Terada’s circle, such as Hiroshi Matsui, Manabu Nagayama and Takashi Sekiguchi, Far East Recording operated much as it does now, as a distinct and singular entity. During the ‘90s, even with a busy release schedule, live performances and DJ gigs were rare, with Terada preferring to hone his craft in the studio rather than go record-digging for DJ sets. “We just had one party that we did ourselves when released the first Far East Recording album,” he remembers. “Yokota did a DJ set as well as a live performance, and I also performed live. I sometimes played in clubs with my sampler and computer – but it was hard to get the same sound as in the studio, so there were very few opportunities.”
In the mid-90s, a massive influx of drum and bass caused house music to fall by the wayside in Tokyo. Terada was enamoured by the excitement and sub-bass pressure of jungle. “I was addicted to drum and bass [from] 1995,” he says. “It was so fun to experience the sub-bass sound in a club. I loved to go the drum and bass parties much more than the house events – in the late ‘90s I had a drum and bass disease, personally.” He went on to produce what he calls “sumo jungle”; sampling sumo fights from TV and utilizing the huffs, smacks, gongs and chants into his own strain of drum and bass, as heard on 1996’s Sumo Jungle LP.
“IT’S IMPORTANT TO KEEP A HOMEGROWN ELEMENT IN HOUSE MUSIC TO KEEP IT AUTHENTIC”Shinichiro Yokota
While Terada has been producing and releasing music since 1988 without pause, the cusp of the millennium found Yokota in a less invigorated state. He puts his subsequent absence from music down to the technological advances in home recording; paradoxically, the more options he had, the less creativity he could muster. “In the past, sampling time was limited so you had to be really creative when you had an idea. But with hard disk recording the possibilities were endless, and around 2000 I lost my motivation to make music.” During his musical downtime, he focused his energy into another of his passions, Night-Pager – a custom car parts company he had launched 1992.
Terada kept busy through to the mid-00s by taking on soundtrack work, composing music for video games such as the Ape Escape series, commercial jingles for the Japanese convenience store Circle K Sunkus, and TV themes for projects including Cartoon Network’s Samurai Jack. When he got the email from Hunee in the summer of 2014, the two-decade-old Far East Recording was ready to be introduced to a new generation. As Terada recalls, their exchange was simple: Hunee proposed to reissue the Far East Recording back catalog via Rush Hour’s international distribution, with Hunee selecting tracks for the Sounds from the Far East compilation. The rest is history.
Thinking about the strangely future-proofed sound of “ancient” Far East Recording tracks, as they refer to them, Terada and Yokota are intrigued by their newfound global recognition. “I found it curious in a good way,” Yokota says. “Terada and I spoke about it before and we don’t really know why [the reissued material] struck such a nerve. I was surprised and overwhelmed at all the support from around the world after the reissue release.”
“HOUSE IS A SIMPLE LANGUAGE: DRUM, BASS, CHORDS AND SOME EFFECTS COULD BE OK FOR A TRACK”Shinichiro Yokota
“At first I was just surprised,” adds Terada. “And then I felt so happy to play those songs that I couldn’t play much 25 years ago. [It] makes me a joyful old man.” Yokota concurs that the reissue has been a blessing. “I am very glad that [our] music has spread and it is an honour to be played in clubs and radio all over the world,” he says. “There have been many requests [to perform again], so my lifestyle has changed drastically.”
Both believe in the age-old mantra that less can be so much more. Yokota’s personal hopes for the future of house music come down to a simple sophistication in songwriting and production. “Technology made it possible for anyone to make music. House is a simple language: drum, bass, chords and some effects could be OK for a track. Adding too much can weigh it down. New software and equipment with unlimited tracks can be too complicated, but I think even with four tracks you can make sophisticated music. Simple but well-produced music I think will become more commonplace. I’m excited for music that sounds simple but make me wonder, ‘How did they do that?’ like Lil’ Louis’ music. House will be sophisticated like a three-piece jazz trio, not like big band music.”
Yokota’s latest release, Do It Again and Again, comprises unreleased tracks from the ‘90s as well as newly recorded material, with the liner notes declaring that the music is inspired by his “synthesizers, cars and ways to survive in South Tokyo.” Meanwhile, Terada is currently working on new solo material to be released by Rush Hour and he also has a separate house project to be unveiled later this year. He’s optimistic about future innovation in house music as producers become more mindful of their own surroundings and influences when contributing to the global dialogue of such a deep-rooted culture. “Making music with the least amount of elements is really interesting. To express something with a limited vocabulary is interesting. [Going forward] it would be nice to hear those different cultures’ domestic elements in the music,” he confirms. “It’s important to keep a homegrown element in house music to keep it authentic and push things forward.”