Wednesday, December 24, 2008

prince language interview pt. 1

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.