Tuesday, December 30, 2008

prince language interview pt. 2

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.