Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Ahmed Fakroun "Yo Son" (Prince Language edit)
A continuation of part one of my interview with Prince Language...
Tell me about the edit that got you written up on the BBC website?
So I did an edit of Ahmed Fakroun's “Soleil Soleil.” I found it in a world music store on seven inch. I had never heard of it and it really blew me away. It was this weird electro-sounding record with a Talking Heads sound, but with Arabic singing. I found two copies, with a dub on the other side, so I would extend it again. I did an edit and it did well. And there was an article on the BBC financial website did an article, implying that my edit had helped bring him to people’s attention again after living in Libya for 15 years off the radar. He was a minor hit in France in the 80s. So he contacted me on MySpace saying: “Thank you for the edit. I really appreciated you helping me expose my music to people.” And he has a bunch of other amazing material, so now I’m working to put together a compilation of it.
That to me is a nice story of how edits work. You’re not just re-hashing old songs, you’re also helping to bring attention to things that have been overlooked. You get to play that role. That’s really gratifying. He’s an amazing musician and I would love to help people hear more of his stuff. I feel I got too much credit, but it’s just a cool thing to help you reconnect with the past and perpetuate that continuum. That a guy who lives in Tripoli, Libya is in contact with me and now we email is an amazing story. I knew nothing about him when I did the edit. I found out down the road that there’s a video for it. In Libya, he’s still revered. It becomes this nice bit to offset the scholarly aspect of it.
What was something you edited early on?
Roy Ayers or Gino Soccio (both of which appear on the Editions Disco label).
Do you perceive the edit as a tool or an end in and of itself?
It started as the former. But now, both what I’ve done --it’s turned into and end itself. Sometimes you do them more under the consideration of turning these into songs, listening to arrangements. The Soccio for instance (see part one of this interview). The original is a 2 ½ minute LP cut and when I would DJ it out, I would take two copies and do doubles of it, which logically came from hip-hop. It’s a cool break so I’ll do doubles and extend it. it took me three years to go “Hey, I could do this on Sound Edit 16,” literally a two-channel cutting and pasting editing track with no grid, no nothing. It’s like doing a tape edit on computer. That’s how it starts. But then you learn about using multi-tracks and effects and layers. The one I did of “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with Teddy Pendergrass, that’s an 8/12 minute song made out of the last 2 minutes of that particular record. There’s a lot of complicated effects and programming and arrangements. I worked on and off on it 3-4 months. That became entirely different.
Do songs need to have a flaw?
One is either to go “this song is two minutes, but I’d like to play it.” You want it to go on, the wish you always have when you hear something great, you want it to continue. You don’t want it to stop. Or there are songs where you’re listening to it and the first two minutes are amazing, and then “OH MY GAWD!" This guy starts singing. What the fuck? His voice sucks or there’s some heinous part in it. Or there’s a break in it. Learning about breaks, that trained me so well to look for those little golden moments. There’s that aspect of it. There’s a problem now where a lot of times with edits, people will take out too much of the bad parts. The parts that are “bad” or “cheesy” are actually what make the other parts so much better.
It’s the same thing in language. Meaning comes from difference. If you don’t have any difference, if you just have the “great, cool” part of the song, it would be kinda bland. You can’t differentiate. Meaning comes from differentiation. When you’re working on something, you’ll fall in love with the parts you wanted to originally take out. They get endearing. That’s a real challenge, too.
When I talked to Harvey about it, he re-iterated that idea often, leaving in the bad parts.
He always repeats this anecdote, but it’s so worth it. He made an edit of “Apache,” the all-time, holy grail break of hip-hop. He always talks about doing the edit where it never goes into the break. It’s just stroking and stroking, you don’t get off. That’s brilliant to me. that’s the logical step for me now.
So is that why you use the name “Language” as a DJ name?
The nerdy aspect of it came from being interested in how language is constructed, through repetition and difference. That’s how meaning comes out of language and how linguistic structure works. And I like how that also applies to music, dance music especially. It’s based on repetition. Take minimal techno, where all of a sudden, one little hi-hat crash comes in and the whole landscape shifts. Or in reggae, the music is based on the same 30-40 riddims, but those riddims form a shared communal language.
The difference comes from the individual deejays that are on the track. It dispenses with the traditional western, European notion of everything has to be completely original. Which is bullshit. Classical composers ripped off other composers, Debussy would use folk melodies.
But if you’re making music it’s always "No! we all have this. This is all us. We’re all sharing these things. But I’m going to enact my subjectivity over this shared thing." That’s the nerdy academic origin of my name. But now I’m stuck with it and somewhat ashamed of it. It is what it is.
Do edits become a calling card for other productions?
There’s a number of trends with both good and bad aspects to them. The first one is that edits are relatively easy to do. They’re a gateway production drug. You try editing and it’s an easy way to learn about how things are arranged, how songs are made, what works and what doesn’t. That comes from DJing too. It’s the punk rock thing, it allows a lot of people access into it.
But the downside is that most of it is going to be shit. If you only need three or four chords to play, it’s great because all of a sudden someone who thought they had no chance of ever being in a band before will start a band. But most people aren’t going to be the Ramones or Wire. A lot of people are doing them just to have their name on a record. And they’re doing edits of songs that don’t need to be edited to begin with. Or taking out a perfectly good vocal out. a lot of that is the European aesthetic of vocal is bad.
People will also do edits of songs that are already edited, that has an extended, perfectly DJ-friendly mix, but you can tell they only got into disco a couple of years ago cuz it’s kinda cool now and they don’t realize the song they’re editing is classic, it’s not as rare as you think. You’ve never played it to like…to be blunt about it, you’ve never played to a black crowd and you don’t realize these records are classic dance records to a large group of people. Just listen to WBLS on a Sunday afternoon and you’d realize that. But people don’t get that.
I don’t mean to sound too cranky, it is great that people are discovering a lot of amazing music. but this is where it comes down to doing your fucking homework. The first thing you need to do is learn about the canon of dance music. and learn what all those records are. Records that you will get sick of. You’ve heard “Runaway” or “Doctor Love” three-thousand times, but the fact remains that these are amazing, brilliant records that form that shared common language that led to these other things. You have to use that as your springboard. That’s what people don’t realize.
Harvey is an example of that. Harvey is known as the guy who has taken it so far left-field and does whatever he wants. He’s the paragon of the DJ’s DJ, or being self-indulgent. Yet Harvey knows his Garage classics, Ron Hardy, he knows the cannon. I’ve seen him play sets with “White Horse” and “Erotic City,” and all them. He knows his shit. You can’t know what to deviate from until you know those core classic records. You can’t go left until you know the center...whatever bad metaphor you want.
That’s the downside of the disco revival stuff. It’s great on one hand that people are getting into it and learning about it. But people are not putting much homework into it.
But it’s hard to do the homework. If you’re into rock, you can buy the Rolling Stone book, you can buy the albums, the tomes exalting Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Hendrix. Disco is much more de-centralized.
It is. It’s word-of-mouth. You hear it going to parties and dancing to these fucking records. And ask the DJ, who might be a dick about it. You do have to put in the work. That is part of the beauty about it. It’s an oral and social history and tradition. It’s a living thing. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life remains a good starting point, but you can’t do it off the playlists either. You might not personally like all those records.
You have to find your own aesthetic and what you bring to it. I feel lucky that I come from a black music background. I was blessed to be around that, to learn that history, to have feedback and learn that way. 3-4 years ago, my friends who never came to the parties all of a sudden were more interested in it. Eric and Thomas were responsible for a lot of that, helping to make downtown kids more open to dance music. And not just be at a rock show, not remotely ironic about it. Eric and Thomas know their shit. You know those wedding records and you know their place. Rub-N-Tug are head and shoulders above the others. They realize they’re part of the continuum of the Loft and the Garage. Sure, they’ve deviated a lot from that, they’re not canonical about stuff...
They fuck with those expectations.
Yeah, but they’re still in that tradition. They operate from the assumption they wouldn’t exist without that. That’s the important thing to keep in mind.
People doing newer edits that’s obvious to edit, you have to ask yourself, ‘does this need to be put out? Does it need to be disseminated? Or are you doing an edit record because it’s easy? Some edits just aren’t that good. They don’t go anywhere. People will put stuff into Ableton and quantize the fuck out of everything.
The beauty of a lot of disco records is like the drummer was paid in cocaine before the session and he did it all and he’s vacillating 6 BPMs over the course of the track! House would lock it all in, it just sucks the soul out of it. Those are the disadvantages. But overall, it’s a good thing. As much as I complain about it, it is a good thing that more people are receptive to it and open to it. It’s the same thing that happens anytime anything grows into a bigger thing. More money, more problems. It’s an inherent truism to any social thing.
To participate in what little is left of the continuum of New York, downtown culture and dance music culture and all those things. There is a specificity. I think a lot of us really couldn’t have come out of any other place. Growing up in Chicago and learning my chops there was one thing, but it didn’t really come together and make sense to me until I got to New York. NY codified everything for me. Hercules couldn’t happen anywhere else. The DFA couldn’t have happened anywhere else. There’s something about living here and paying too much rent, the desperation and the ecstasy that can come out of that. a combination of those factors. New York means more outside of New York than it does in New York. There is still an aura about it, the sense that that brings and gives you. I don’t see anywhere else picking up the mantle. It’s still the cultural mix. The culture has gotten so much more, the scale has more mass and lowest common denominator.
Back in the day, Larry Levan was playing at the Garage and Frankie Crocker was hanging out with him. And he would hear a record Larry was playing and it would end up on WBLS the next day, the biggest black radio station.
Stores had to start stocking whatever it was Larry was playing because the next morning people would line up to buy it.
There’s those stories, just how he would crossover weird rock records like “The Magnificent Dance” or Liquid Liquid.
On my iPod, “Once in a Lifetime” came up on the walk over here!
Classic example! The fact that “Genius of Love” was at that point, the Talking Heads had never had a chart hit, and it was a source of tension. They had the biggest club record in New York. That records like that could happen. That kind of crossover –or certain records that are classics for hip-hop, The Loft, or The Garage—this mingling and diversity of scenes is an important kind of thing that NY has engendered.
Do you think NYC has an aesthetic?
Just from the backgrounds we come from, the way parties are, the fact that we can go to 4am or even later, that’s just an aesthetic that...there are certain records that only work in those contexts and seep into you. The smoke machine, 5 in the morning records. There’s certain things you don’t understand until you’ve heard them in that context.
A certain level of toxicity.
Any number of factors. Also too, being in New York is being in the context of this rich living history of people here. I remember going to Dance Trax and some old dude would talk for twenty minutes about going to the Garage for the first time. Just to hear that and to be exposed to that link, or to be able to go to the Loft and realize that this is something that has existed since 1969, the very beginning! That you can still drink at the mouth of that river… it’s like “Oh, I can still go to the whorehouse where Jelly Roll Morton rolled.” That’s what it's like, going to the absolute beginning of a music, like the beginning of jazz.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Gino Soccio: "Love is..." Edit de Prince Language
Prince Language is a busy guy. His edits of folks like Gino Soccio, Roy Ayers, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and others have been generating buzz for a few years now. And his remixes of The Rapture, MGMT, and Sons and Daughters are just a few noteworthy entries in that field, with his reworkings of LCD Soundsystem and Lindstrøm loom on the horizon. I met up with him in his Mercer Street studio where we talked about everything from free Nikes to the origins of crack cocaine, partaking in neither. (Part 2 to follow)
Are disco edits like “Fight Club” in that you have to keep it close to the vest?
I think they should be. That’s what’s unfortunate with the amount that’ve come out. When my first edit on Editions Disco came out, it wasn’t at this crazy saturation point that they are now. Back in the day, you did them and they came out, but there was a modesty about them, which appealed to me. People outside of DJs didn’t know what they were or understand the concept about them.
So I guess if I’m going around and asking about them now…
Yeah. It’s unprecedented. The fact that people now know about Todd Terje and Pilooski is an odd thing. It’s definitely unprecedented. It’s in this gray area, with legal stuff. It’s always been implicit (in making edits). Harvey’s talked about this gray area.
What were you like in high school?
I was all over the place. I was always interested in all sorts of stuff. I grew up on classic rock but also folk. My mom was into music, which was lucky, on the canon of classic rock, folk, classical music like Glenn Gould, jazz and Horace Silver. I was into hip-hop early on. The first hip-hop I hardcore got into was Public Enemy. Realistically before that, the only other hip-hop that had grabbed me was “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” I remember breakdancing as a kid, going through the alleys looking for refrigerator cardboard boxes. It was in the air, zeitgeist, so you glom onto it. PE was the first time I got a sense of the culture. As a kid, I was very into history and radical sixties politics. My mom went to Fred Hampton’s funeral at the time, the minister of information for the Black Panther party, assassinated by Chicago Police Department.
So it had to be weird to hear radical politics leap over into popular music like that.
Oh yeah! For me, I responded to it immediately and loved it. After that, I bought 12”s of “Express Yourself” and “Prophets of Rage.” I started getting into funk and rare grooves and breaks and that’s what I first started playing out. I got into hip-hop backwards from there.
And how did you trace your way back to disco?
I got into disco as part of the funk/ soul/ rare groove thing. When I first started DJing, I got exposed to what we used to call “deep disco.” It just meant what Ron Hardy would play. A typical record of that is Candido’s “Thousand Fingers Man” a huge Chicago record or Funkadoba. I listened to WBMX as a kid and hearing the Hot Mix Five. And when I started DJing, people were giving me Ron Hardy tapes and Hot Mix Five tapes. That stuff is just in the air in Chicago, that whole thing of mixing back and forth between house, new wave records, industrial and goth.
House music in Chicago is what hip-hop used to mean in New York: it meant Kraftwerk and the Monkees and James Brown and Salsoul and all that shit. In Chicago, “house” was this spectrum of Candido and First Choice and Dr. Love, Wax Trax, Ron Hardy used to play Einsterzende Neubauten. That’s the difference aesthetically between NY and Chicago dance music. In Chicago, people went for druggy, harsher stuff. You’ll hear acid on old school R&B mixes. The definition of soulful is different in Chicago. There’s a dichotomy yet there’s also a continuum. Frankie Knuckles brought that Paradise stuff over though. It wasn’t mutually exclusive.
And when I started DJing, friends of mine knew about the Ron Hardy style and I learned about those records and how they were played, the way people DJed to make them sound like house records, throwing drum tracks under things, blending records and making new things out of them. That was a big thing back then in mid-to-late 90s.
Did it mix with the indie rock side of Chicago?
Vaguely. Tortoise had Derrick Carter do a remix for them, their perfunctory nod to whatever. There was still a condescension from indie rock. A really big reason I stopped messing with indie rock for awhile was I noticed a --not even a latent but rather blatant—racism in the cultural whiteness of the scene. You’d be at a party and they’d put on The Chronic and people would be dancing but they’d be laughing at it too, which bugged the fuck out of me. This shit is not funny. It is what it is and it’s as significant and difficult and interesting as any math rock bullshit. The inherent condescension in that, same as in the art world. When I made art that dealt with hip-hop and dance music, its serious critical discourses, people didn’t get that. It was still this thing to laugh at and exoticize.
Or you’re slumming.
It’s turned into this exotic other and I was involved in it. You can just regard something as being on the equivalent level and not treat it as this totally foreign thing that you’re half-laughing at it. The ironic aspect, irony in music, is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. I have a sense of humor but when that’s the overriding aesthetic of something, there’s just too much good shit.
Once you’ve had that spiritual, church-y experience on a dancefloor, you just realize that you don’t want to be trivial about shit. It’s a real, legit thing. And I’m pretty agnostic. I’ve had close to religious, ecstatic experiences dancing to music. Once you’ve experienced that, you can’t…you can’t make it color everything to where you're just so serious.
But you don’t want to be Todd Edwards about it.
Or Joe Claussel. But you need to have that in mind. That was a big issue for me when the hipster dancey stuff appeared. A lot of those kids still didn’t get that aspect of it. Disco music is implicitly political. That’s the important thing about it. Implicit in the best sense of the word. It does have the weight of politics and social situations and groups and communities and cultures, but it’s not banging you over the head with it. But it does come out of this very real need and purpose. It came out of discos, one of the few places where people could be gay in a social, larger context.
And be black and Latino…
And just be outward and expressive. And the music reflected that. and the records reflected that. Like South Shore Commission’s “Free Man” on the surface is about a relationship. You don’t have to read too deep to get “I’m a free man.” Sylvester made the most beautifully political records ever, but they’re political in the best sense of the word. Not in a didactic sense. That’s always been an important thing for me.
As I do more of this, I wonder about how disco came out of the province of gay, black, Latino culture. and the renaissance now is…white guys.
Now it’s the province of nerdy, mostly straight white guys, which is kinda ironic in the real sense of the word. My girlfriend would say: “You and all your friends are the straight white guys who play the gayest dance music.” Part of that too is that gay culture in general has changed so radically. It’s not that society is free of homophobia, but a lot of aspects of gay culture have become mainstreamed and also caricatured. Every show has a make-over guy, a funny gay neighbor. But at the same time, gay culture, without the need for specific places and spaces, discos and gay bars, the culture changes. There’s not as much of a specifically gay culture as there was before. There still is in a lot of aspects.
That’s what trance is for.
No. Trance is really straight.
For dudes from Jersey.
They’re gayer than most actual gays. There’s still big room, Junior, banging tracks for when you’re methed up. Gay culture has evolved in that way. It is weird that it has become the province of this sort of subset of white culture. I feel lucky, in Chicago, the clubs I played at, and had a residency at, I was one of the few white people. I was mostly playing for a mostly middle and upper-middle class black crowd. I learned so much about classics.
There’s a real culture, a rich black musical culture which I was lucky to participate in and learn from. That crowd, people coming up to me asking for specific records. One of the first times I played out Sylvester “Over and Over” a dude came up and said “You must know about the Music Box and Ron Hardy. Yo, I used to go there.” And I would hear shit that way, unintentionally participating in that history yet not knowing about it. As soon as I did find out about it…to me it’s important to know about the history and context of the tracks you’re playing. I learned that when DJing reggae.
I did a reggae night at Joe’s Pub. You learn –with reggae especially—that you need to know what your records are about. You can’t just use the excuse of patois and riddim. One night I was playing Shabba Ranks “Browning.” It’s about women bleaching their skin with battery acid to look whiter. You really need to be aware. Shabba had to make a response record to that.
It’s important to know what your records mean, how they related to the other records you’re playing, where they come from, these are all things you have to take into account. You can't be overly didactic either. You’re there for a party at the end of the day. But party’s can have functions and reasons.
Party for your right to fight.
Yeah, and you can’t just overlook that and be completely hedonistic about it. If you did that, it becomes the bad aspect of what post-modernism is, this meaningless pastiche. If you want to get down to it, yeah, everything is meaningless, in the sense that it doesn’t have inherent meaning. But you need to encourage people to participate in the meaning of it and tease it out. or create new meaning. They are fluid things, but you need to encourage it and guide that river. It’s an important thing and that’s part of your role as a DJ. And with editing too, you’re trying to bring attention to certain records.
Did you learn about edits through Ron Hardy?
I knew about it and realized that he was editing. I didn’t grasp that. The way he’s repeating stuff is the same kind of aesthetic of repetition and extending things out. The Chicago idea of minimalism, house came out of basically this culture of people digging fro deeper records, but also, they stopped making disco records. People realized they had to make them longer, put an 808 under it, which morphed into house culture. There was house culture before there was house music, just like hip-hop.
Or like disco, with the culture.
Disco in that there was uptempo soul music. Disco didn’t have this revolutionary formal aspect based on pastiche and collaging and combining and re-contextualizing things. Disco turned into an aesthetic. You had MFSB, uptempo Philly Soul stuff, faster rock records. Early NY underground disco, what Mancuso was playing, “Woman” by Barrabas, records like that as a template.
Then there’s commercial disco, after SNF, record companies thinking it was a gold mine and just pumping out all this shit. 95% of which is utterly horrible. But there will be this random 5%. They didn’t give a fuck, here’s money, make records. Oh, Debussy over a disco beat. Some of those things, by law of averages, came out amazing.
Then it got bloated, imploded, turned into boogie. There was still a need for club records, but they got leaner. You had keyboards instead of string sections. But with house music and hip-hop, it was people making something new using these radical formal techniques out of those raw materials. That’s the distinction. Those were aesthetic lenses that you viewed things through. You can hear aspects of disco in Steve Miller and “Miss You,” but the 4/4 was in the air. But it wasn’t as radical as the breaks of house. Edits are a continuum through all of that. Walter Gibbons making eight-minute mixes out of multi-tracks of a three-minute soul record. Tom Moulton and Walter Gibbons are the origins of it. You have it going into Danny Krivit and then you have Francois K. the way he did 12 mixes were edits with effects on them. He’s a real template for how you do that kind of stuff. His approach is still the best approach. The Rapture remix is my version of a Francois K. mix.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Lee Douglas - "Fuego"
Lee Douglas is a busy guy. A graphic designer by day, he not only juggles his own productions and remixes (see his "Happy House" remix for starters), but makes some fine edits to boot. His edits of Eddie Kendricks and Teddy Pendergrass are top-notch, and it's without fail that whenever I drop his edit of Fuego's "Misa Criolia (We Are The Children)" someone rushes the decks.
What kind of stuff did you get into first?
I was into punk, big time. hardcore punk. I graduated ’94.
What were you checking out?
I went to Jabberjaw every week. That whole first wave of emo, Gravity stuff. Universal of Armageddon. It was pretty cool. For that stuff, there’s a lot of backyard shows and seven inches.
Did you play in a hardcore band?
I had a band for a minute. I was the singer (both of us laugh). I just played 3-4 shows then started college. I got more into DJing and electronic stuff then.
What got you into it?
Raves and shit like that.
Were they an extension of the feeling of punk rock shows for you?
I guess it was communal in that way but I didn’t make any connections. I never bought the records, I just went to desert parties. It was more like “Let’s go to a rave in the desert.” Warehouse parties in LA were too overblown, those big raves, stupid big productions. I got into records. I got into digging for records. That time it was big to play jazz and funk. More people were digging for that shit. It was definitely a hip-hop thing. We were trying to get Moog, weirdo synth records. I liked psych rock. jazz records got really expensive around the mid-90s. I just started picking up disco records. People would just give away 50 cent disco records.
I feel that most renaissances these days come from, as certain titles get pricey, people gravitate towards whatever’s cheap and find something to gleam from them.
It’s basically what I did. I just got into disco just because the other shit was too expensive. There were a lot of crossover records. Dexter Wansel, Lonnie Liston Smith, big jazz breaks that David Mancuso would play.
How did you find out about Mancuso and that sort of stuff?
There was a resurgence then. This was probably 2000 something, when those Strut/ Nuphonic comps came back out. I think a big thing for me was that first Keep on Jumping compilation. It has every classic New York jam.
Digging for cheap records, were you just looking for breaks?
I was DJing and there were some disco records that fit into that category, like Sylvia Striplin and shit like that. you start grabbing more of that. I started DJing breaks and stuff, rare grooves. When I was playing disco records, I didn’t know anyone else that was playing them.
What was the response in LA?
It was always just a small group of friends. It wasn’t like I had a night in a big room.
Does LA have much of a disco history to it?
I have no idea. There’s a big gay community in West Hollywood, but I have no idea.
Were you excited about the history of NYC's disco culture when you moved out here?
Definitely. That was what I was into. Body and Soul was still going on. There was a lot of, it just seemed more a viable thing. I didn’t really move out here specifically for that, but it was a perk.
What do you like about disco?
I don’t know. I just like the feel of it. it’s not just disco either, it’s just dance music that’s a little bit more emotionally-driven. Not just pounding tracks. Disco has more dimensionality.
I like the utopic vibe of it.
At what point did you cop to edits and how that stuff was made?
There wasn’t pre-meditation. The edits thing has been going on since the beginning. Fuck, if you want to go back, the whole reason why disco was invented was because of edits. Edits created disco rather than the other way around. Let’s edit this and make it longer. I have records from ’76 that are edits. You can hear the chops in them. Tom Moulton edited the record after the record was made. In essence, disco was created from an edit.
Whats an early edit you did?
Lamont Dozier “Going Back to My Roots.” I liked that end bit and wanted to make it longer. It would go into that part and I would keep that going. That was the first thing I did. That was just an exercise. Around that Nuphonic time, those could be thought of as edits. It’s really disco. That time disco and that form of house…Idjut Boys were doing bootlegs then. But I wasn’t hip to (DJ Harvey's) Black Cock series of edits then.
Do you perceive edits as tool or an end of itself?
It's both. It just depends what you’re editing a record for. I’ve done edits to make it more dancefloor-friendly. You just want to chop up and shit.
Is it weird that edits are its own genre and fetish thing?
I don’t really care. If there’s a good edit, I buy it. What’s annoying is how much people hype them. I don’t get it… If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. In a way, when people edit obscure expensive records but barely do any edits or treatments, that’s as annoying as editing...Michael Jackson. The problem is what I consider silly about it, people do edits for the sake of copping a name for themselves. There’s no fucking rules.
Are edits just to get peoples’ attentions, your own productions, what?
I just…my reason is my DJ set. I’ll play whatever I decide to play. If it fits in, that’s what I’m going to do. If I hear a song that needs to be changed, that’s why I do it.
Is there ever a copyright issue for you?
It never becomes a copyright thing because you don’t sell enough for it be a thing. No one’s making money on it. There’s not that much money.
How long do you spend making an edit?
That depends on what I decide to do. Sometimes they take an hour, sometimes a year. It’s good and it’s bad. Nobody can really say anything. There’s a lot of wack edits out there and wack people doing edits for wack reasons. And that’s going to just keep on happening. I like those edits by Mark E., Eric Duncan’s edits, Thomas Bullock’s edits are awesome, too.
I’ve done a lot of edits that I want to put out, but... it’s more because I’m not on top of it, or thinking about it that much. I’ll do the edit and then I forget about it. I want to put out some edits that I’ve done but honestly, I’m not in a hurry. Josh and Jacques are active in doing it. That’s why they put out my own edits. Let's just say I like good edits and I like to play edits.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Jacques Renault - "Disco Galaxie"
Jacques Renault has already received accolades from Paper Magazine and the like and he works on numerous fronts, be it his own name, as Runaway, or with the DFA's Justin Miller as a tag-team DJ duo. His most recent edit appeared on the RVNG label and it was one of my favorites of the year. Over a slice at Marlowe and Sons, we talked about WMBX, Ian Svenonious, and of course, disco.
I played violin up through high school (before switching to viola). I didn’t get into the Velvet Underground until college. I played Carnegie Hall my senior year in high school, the All-American Orchestra. And at DePaul, I don’t want to be a professional classical musician. I did very well. I’ve always been interested in other stuff. I was really into DC hardcore stuff. I grew up in Maryland. So I was in love with that stuff. I played trumpet.
Did you play in punk bands, too?
I tried to do everything. you dabble in everything and in the end, you’re left hanging. All those stupid string and horn stabs, now I can record all that stuff.
A one-man disco band?
Exactly, layering strings and horns.
So you dropped out of music school. What prompted your change of heart?
Before I went to Chicago, I started going to this DC party called Cold Rice, the Make-Up's night, Ian Svenonious. I was hearing drum’n’bass, soul, and reggae, in the same night. After dabbling in so many things, I realized I could do this on my own. I got into the idea of DJing. Went to Art Institute and got into Sound Engineering class with David Grubbs. We’re doing tape loops. Nothing was Pro-Tools, I learned everything on samplers and tape blocks. The Pro-Tools was hard to wrap my head around. I just kept on DJing.
What did you start spinning?
I started doing soul and d’n’b and dancehall. There was a great night, Deadly Dragon Soundsystem, that’s here now. I bought house but didn’t get it, but I realized they were sampling disco.
What inspired you about disco? How did you move beyond your pre-conceived notions of it?
Hearing the hooks and stuff. Sampling of course was of interest to me. that producers were using these smalls bits for new things…Material, Metro Area, Danny Wang was a good example. I liked that stuff. The dirtiness of it. It’s similar to punk. Simonetti’s a punk kid, Love Fingers, we’re all old punk guys. How is it we’re all into disco ten years later? There’s still this…it’s limited, you can’t find it, there’s still the pleasure of finding that awesome record. Using it and being able to do something with it.
Does the stigma factor in?
Yeah. Maybe because we’re older too?
Is there a record geek aspect to the revival?
Definitely. There’s always been a little competition about who has what. The whole vinyl thing is important to disco. Oh, mine’s in mint condition. It’s like baseball cards. It’s ridiculous. There’s that geekiness, that’s maybe why. There’s that appreciation. You’re gonna go see Harvey DJ and you know he has it. It’s really amazing that someone has given that to music. Todd Terje did that same thing. He’ll make a comment about a record and suddenly (it goes up). Its interesting how many people pay attention to these things. It’s admirable how the network now works, a global network. Just how many people know my mixes or know what’s going on in New York.
Obviously disco came up in this gay Latino culture. but now it’s in indie rock. how do you feel about that shift?
It’s along the lines of people that admire that era. Mancuso’s still the guy. There’s a lot of respect for the actual sound quality. Maybe that’s part of the geekiness? How and why does it sound amazing? There’s so much attention to the mastering.
The warmth gets me. German techno isn’t moving me lately, it’s more clinical.
A lot of techno is so clean. It isn’t dirty enough. I like a lot of the sampling.
How did you learn about edits and their history?
I started listening to house and picked up re-edits, didn’t know what I was getting. I came out real backwards. I’ll just do this for fun. I only played vinyl. I had records I liked but I hated that one part so I made edits or extended certain things. I did Martin Circus that was too long and cheesy. I just took instrumentals and just played over them, Juno basslines over drum tracks. It was loose, which I liked. I tried to make edits that weren’t so recognizable. Trying to do something a little more unique that maybe more head-y people would recognize but I tried to make it my own.
Do you do edits that people know where they recognize what’s being done to it? Or is the mystery part of it?
There is a fine line. You shouldn’t be doing things that…there’s this unspoken ‘you shouldn’t repress something” that…there’s a want and desire for certain things, but maybe you shouldn’t do those. I feel like…I wouldn’t say something but it’s a bummer when something is a gem and doesn’t need to be edited. If you have a record that doesn’t need to be edited, then it shouldn’t be edited. There’s so much value to having that original. There’s an edit of Billy Ocean’s “One of Them Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)” but it doesn’t need it. or these Black Cock bootlegs (out now). There’s a lot of pride in having these. There’s a secretiveness, not wanting to share the music. But in this day and age…if someone asks me what I played, I tell them. there are people (and I respect the protectiveness).
If you wanted to hear certain edits, you had to go see that guy DJ to hear it.
It’s special who I give my edits to. A lot of people just post their edits online. I share with friends.
What do you look for in editing a song? what appeals to you about a song?
If there’s anything that appeals to me about a song…I’ll listen to a stack of records, if there’s something that catches my attention. I love the challenge of it. The fun for me is looking for anything that I can use, even beyond the break. I have a stack of records just to sample and edit. Half the time it doesn’t work.
Is it more a tool or a stand-alone work?
Half and half. There’s things that I strictly sample and build upon, to where you don’t even hear the record anymore. Or there’s a vocal hook that I restructure to make a new song. “Bad Skinned” was a record I found nothing about online. It’s not anywhere. I kept digging, nothing. It’s just some Eastern European band with all these weird effects. I only used an 1/8th of the track. It’s the worst song I ever heard, but the loops I made were amazing. It has the worst changes and I just cut and pasted different parts and made effects. Emphasized certain sounds.
Where does the edit go from here? Is it a calling card for other things, a springboard for your own productions?
Edits are a great output for showing a side of your creativity. Everything I’m doing (remixes, original music). With every edit, it’s an ode to the artist. You admire this piece of work so much you want to make it even better. It’s exciting that people are excited about edits and I hope it makes people pay attention. I hope people see my other work as well.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
The Real DJ Spun has been a real heavy on dance culture in NY since relocating here in early 2002 to curate PS1's crucial Summer Warm-Up series. Spun also keeps up the cheeky, shadowy, under-the-radar series of "Promo Only" edits released on his Rong label. Rub-N-Tug's drum circle drubbing of Chicago's "I'm a Man" remains a classic fulcrum of 21st century disco, wherein classic rock re-established its place in "party music" crates. Man cannot live by disco alone.
So I saw some flier for Ben Cook with the Rong logo the other night. And then later on that same night, a friend and I watched The Phantom of the Paradise for the first time and we went, “Oh, riiight...”
HAHAHA! Yeah, Doug Lee did that. I saw it in the theater when it came out.
There’s a lot of fantastic shit in that movie. I can’t wait to watch it again. Okay, so just some bio stuff.
I’m from San Jose, CA. I moved here in Spring 2002 to curate the PS1 Summer Warm-Up series. I’ve been DJing since 1987, since I graduated high school. I played in punk rock bands before that.
It seems like everyone has a punk rock background. I’m curious as to why. Definitely punk rock taught me to hate disco originally. So why are there so many punk rock disco heads?
It’s good vibes, it’s about energy.
I mused on the communal aspect of it. When I found out about Mancuso I wished I had known about what he was up to during the punk rock days.
The big part of the punk rock spirit is individuality. There’s an anti-social and sarcastic and comedic aspect as well. As punk rock became more mainstream and after the backlash against disco. By the mid-80s, being into disco was as anti-establishment as you could get.
Talking to Harvey, he said of course you liked disco because you were supposed to hate it and be contrarian.
I was mostly into hip-hop but I’ve always been a fan of music, good music. That’s the trip, playing good tunes, good music, trying to express a feeling. I was into funk and soul. People get into punk and from there get into rockabilly and blues. With hip-hop, you get into the original breaks. House has its roots in disco. It’s a roots thing. For DJing, disco is the essence of where that all came from.
It doesn’t go back before disco, really. Northern soul maybe…
There have been a lot of people with that sort of dancing spirit, wanting to dance all night. From the 20’s or ancient pagan rituals. Hitting a drum, dancing around the fire. I’ve always kept all my interests. I’ve never let any of them go. I’ve liked the same things I liked as a teenager. I’ve always tried to do my own thing.
So how did you come to learn about edits?
There were already DJs doing their own special mixes on reel tape. That’s always been part of it, making special mixes for yourself. That’s where a lot of DJ edits come from making a special version for yourself. There have always been special DJ services. Since I started DJing, there were already people doing it. It got trendy again in the last few years.
In SF, were you aware of Harvey and Thom.
I met Thom the day after he came to the US. We got into house, early techno. In 1991, these English house ravers came out and they wanted to throw full moon parties on the beach. It was a party called Wicked. I was one of the few DJs in the Bay Area so we kinda gravitated towards each other. Then Thom moved to New York and I came out a few years later, but we show the same ideas and spirit.
We started Rong in 2003 with Ben Cook, who was a friend of a friend. We weren’t really that good a friend, but we’re both friends with Idjut Boys. I had moved to Seattle, then back to San Fran, then Idjut Boys asked to do a record. At that time, Ben and I were the only people into disco, so it made sense to work together. We did an album called Thick as Thieves for Noid, all disco edits. We did disco edits together. We collaborated on an original project as well. That went well as production partners. We started the label as a bi-coastal thing, repping New York and holding onto our west coast roots.
Were you thrilled about coming out here?
For me, I was excited to hear people with a little more creative approach to DJing. Things had gotten stale out west, very pedestrian house music was the way of the walk. So it was good to reconnect with Thomas and become friends with Eric. I enjoyed the Rub’n’Tug parties. Danny Wang, Metro Area, there was a cool scene with nice parties. It was nice to see people embracing a more eclectic sound, open to hearing disco and rock, anything goes. It was pretty refreshing.
It’s funny for me, knowing how disco comes up through gay, black, Latino cultures, that it’s no longer the province of gay culture.
It’s kinda sad. I know some people see it as the gentrification of this music. But it also makes sense. When you were talking about punk rock as an influence. Back in the 80’s, nobody was more disenfranchised than punk rockers. As we get older and more in-tune with that, we continue to listen to the music of a disenfranchised culture.
Is it odd that it’s so…white? Or these tight rings of people, not mingling.
New York is so cliquey. Some parties are all nerdy white kids. But you go to Santo’s for Nicky Sciano and different people come out and dance together. You can go to the Loft and there are all different kinds of people dancing. It’s a special party for sure.
What are your thoughts on the recent up tick in disco edits?
I just love music. I appreciate that people are getting into it for the music. It’s nice when I travel that people are a lot more aware of what we’re doing. That side of it is good. But it hasn’t affected me too much. It’s positive if it can help regain some glory for this great music of the past.
Does it make a difference between obscurity/ popularity?
There’s a lot of stuff I’ve seen people edit that doesn’t need editing. There’s already a masterpiece. There’s no need. I prefer to just leave it at that. I won’t point fingers. Some songs don’t need an edit, you don’t need to edit it. Covers are the new edits.
For me, having a record label, putting out original music is what that’s all about. Doing disco edits, that’s just a fun little thing on the side for us to play. It’s fun for us as DJs, but that’s not really what Rong Music is about. Right now, we’re doing some nostalgia things, but on a more original angle. We’re doing a new James Chance with some remixes. (Mentions Cody Mooney, Gary Davis).
Have there ever been copyright issues with the edits?
It’s small, we don’t make that many.
So it’s not like Chicago would ever find out. Much less Gloria Taylor.
That’s the most obvious, mainstream one we did. We want to promote the tunes, but when we do them, we don’t use any names. We want it to be for the music. We’re not promoting the artists name or hype ourselves up. The disco edits are for us and our friends, for the heads to be able to play. We don’t make very many of those. They’re limited edition. It’s just for fun.
Is it weird that it’s become more of a fetish?
It’s flattering. I’d much rather see people get into good music than shitty music. It’s refreshing. But too many people these days just look to the internet to learn about music. If you’re a DJ, you don’t learn on the internet. It’s about interacting with people on a personal level, in-person. It’s about paying attention. I have a different view than other people. It’s more about the vibe. It’s about how it feels, in the end. A lot of people get into just having the most obscure things. Original style is really important, making a statement of your own, it’s a huge part of it. That’s what moves me.
Do you think disco will move along?
I do believe in too much of a good thing. I love disco and house and techno. But I don’t want to hear any of it exclusively. It’s that punk rock contrarian spirit. Variety is the spice of life.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Combining two of my great loves.
Forgot to post this before splitting town, but a long-brewing feature on the revival of the disco edit finally appeared in the Village Voice. Since my previous series of disco interviews (with James Murphy,
Mike Simonetti, DJ Harvey, Thom Bullock, Johnny Jewel, and Morgan Geist) was insanely popular, and since I did a batch of interviews with many of the city's current practitioners, I will be posting some new interviews with this new batch of disco DJs soon. But first, I need to learn my ABCs...