How did you team up to form 12 Stories and where did the name originate from?
We’ve know each other for a couple of years and made an EP as Inxec & Mark Jenkyns for Leftroom Recordings. 12 Stories is respectfully a totally different concept and we are trying to lay focus without and pre conception. The name comes from Chris trying to be clever.
Your excellent new release: Bright Lights on VIVa MUSIC features a striking vocal from Digitaria. How did that come about?
Mark & Daniella (Digitaria) had been talking about doing something, and the vocals that she had recently sent gave us the idea for Bright Lights.
Can you talk us through how you produced the track – including any favourite studio software/ hardware you like to use?
Not really it’s a secret.
Who would you say are your main influences both old and new?
Mark: One of my biggest influences is Matthew Jonson and to date, is still my favourite producer.
Chris: My Little Brother, he got me into making electronic and he’s the only person who truly tells me if my stuffs shit.
How do you feel about the current replaying of old sounds from the late 80’s/ early 90’s: positive or negative for Dance music?
Well if it’s done right. Then well done. Obviously a rave horn isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, my mum included. Marks mum is full on rave horn friendly.
What’s the story behind your current Night Obscure EP for Hot Creations? And where did the inspiration come from for that production?
This reverts back to us forming, and this being the first ep signed, was probably catalyst behind 12 Stories progressing and being BLESSED enough to sit here doing this interview…
How has 2015 been for Yoruba Records, and can you tell us about why you have decided to launch Yoruba Soul?
The year has been great for the label. Every year has its challenges, today’s main challenge being vinyl production turn around, however we have been lucky, also splitting up manufacturing helps. Yoruba Soul was born from a long need to separate the non-house music on the label. There are nearly equal amounts of non-dance material on the label however these releases get lost as most know Yoruba for house music mainly. The label also gets mistaken as Yoruba Soul as that’s been the branding of my remixes, so Yoruba Soul was fitting and familiar. My idea was to simply create a 7″ sub label dedicated to all things other than dance music. I decided to instead base the labels format on double gatefold 7″ as it was something I’d not seen before.
The excellent debut release on Yoruba Soul from Miles Bonny ‘I Bring You Love’ pushes atmospheric boundaries. How do you feel about it, and what attracted you to signing the songs?
Miles and I have been kindred for some time now, I’ve been a fan of his for years and we are both from Missouri. He joined me on tour in Australia a few years back and we always spoke of him doing something for the label. It took us about a year to get here, mostly due to the design of the dbl 7″. I’m very happy with the release as it opens stage doors but doesn’t dictate the shape of the rooms. Yoruba Soul will be anything soulful, be it with a beat words or even music in the basic sense for that matter.. It’s a simple exploration of sound and another vehicle for my family to express themselves without the boundaries of the 4×4.
How do you feel about the art of song writing in recent years – and also in terms of how dancefloors react to them around the world?
There is very little song writing going on in my opinion, most things are repeats of something already said or heard. That being said, as always there are many new artists pushing the boundaries. I suppose it’s what you’re being served. I am a music fiend so I look for the unknown. Most I think are the opposite. Those things their fed are without soul or song. In terms of the dance floor, it’s changed a bit..normally people go up for vocals and certain emotion in the song, today that’s replaced with the break down, build up crap, however organic wins over hype every time. One can never deny a good feeling.
Can you tell us about your studio set-up and how you balance your day between work and life?
My studio is mostly analog gear, I record and edit with logic. I balance work and life simply. It’s one and the same. I’m never doing just one. Recording happens when the inspiration comes. Running the label(s), 24/7, managing the artists 24/7 .. it all falls into the life category. It’s one event for me.
What is your favourite instrument – do you own one?
Can you tell us about your latest Mix on Soundcloud: No Sleep?
Basically couldn’t sleep while in Paris. Woke up decided to make the mix to distract sleep. Always nice to create when everything around is calm
Outside of Dance music which artists have you been listening to most?
There is music playing 24/7 in my life so I can’t say one artist plays over another, but to name a few this week and presently on my mind., floating points, abbollina, dornik, sounds of nature, the dramatics just to name a few
What are your plans for 2016?
Take a break, finish my album and spend as much time in nature as humanly possible
Your latest release for Hot Creations is excellent ‘Pinball’. Where did the idea come from for the track and can you talk us through how you produced it?
In the first step we were looking hard for an interesting bassline to make up the track, much like how we began our successful tracks ‘Take Some Time’, ‘Get This!’ or ‘Spunk’ for example. We did find a couple of interesting sounds that when we mixed together and played around with really excited us. Then we followed the unusual sequence of claps and percussion and by that point building the track up became quite simple as we felt we had secured most of the winning elements.
You also have music coming out on Gruuv, Noir, VIVa MUSiC and more. How would you describe your relationship between DJ’ing and Producing – could one work without the other?
Yes, there are a lot of good DJs around that don’t produce very much but these days’ producing has become a full part of a DJ’s job. We’ve been doing this with a lot of passion for so many years and the difference is that in comparison to the early days you produced a track to promote it in the club and not necessarily with your own name on it because what counted was to be a good DJ… today you have to make tracks to promote yourself, so in that sense the scene has completely changed. But that’s ok – if we are known around the world because of our productions then let’s go!
Italy has a long and important history with Dance music. What were your earliest encounters with the music, and who were you first inspirations?
We get into Disco Music and Funk since we were very young. We always loved that kind of sound and at the time Giorgio Moroder was our hero and everything he produced together with Pete Bellotte as Donna Summer, Munich Machine and all the albums under his own name. Other great artists of that period were Gregg Diamond, Kraftwerk, Dennis Coffey, Chic and Vincent Montana Jr – just to name a few!
You DJ all over the world, do you find that people like different sounds in different countries?
Honestly no! We always bring our own sound and generally it goes very well. In recent years promoters calls us because they know our tracks, of course, so they expect to hear that kind of sound during the night and the audience seems to appreciate it
How do you feel about the importance of song writing now as compared with the past, and its relevance in today’s music?
If you have a good songwriter and singer it’s always worth taking risks. It also depends on the target you want to achieve. The main thing is to always have a great idea and a great song and if you do not have that it is better create a good track instead. This is a rule that was true yesterday and still is today.
For sure it would take more effort, energy and investment to produce a song instead of a club track with some spare sample voices here and there, but obviously if is a good one it will have a much longer life and better chance to have success .We use to do that in the early 2000s when I produced as Bini & Martini together with Gianni Bini. We are very open minded, so maybe in the future we will do some features as well if we find the right partners.
Can you tell us about your studio and a typical working day there?
We have a really basic studio and work with Logic and both analog and digital instruments. We listen to lots of music and everything inspires us, including old tracks, samples, or whatever brings us some energy and strong emotions. We don’t have any rules, though we often start from a strong bassline, a simple percussions or listening to a DJ set from some of our heroes that inspires us.
What plans do you have for 2016?
We produced a lot of stuff throughout the last six months that will get released between now until March next year. At the end of this year we have releases on Hot Creations and Gruuv as well as remixes on VIVA, Time Has Changed and Noexcuse. Then from January onwards we will have releases on Suara, Material, UNI and a remix on King Street of the anthem Johnny Dangerous ‘Beat That Bitch’ – a track that we really love, so we were really excited to get our hands on it when we were asked to do it. We are also working on a collaboration with Anek that will probably be release on early 2016.
As DJ’s, besides Italy where we do most of our gigs, we have already scheduled Berlin, London and Ginevra for the beginning of the next year so we’re looking forward to it!
Delivering not so much crash, bang, wallop as this is much more nuanced than that this multi-textured production from Atapy effortlessly moves on more than one creative level. Not to say that this still doesn’t pack a tidy punch as it does via a pounding kick drum and deep throbbing bassline but its chiming, undulating atmosphere’s enhance an altogether more thoughtful perspective. Daniel Wilde supplies an excellent remix with darker tones working up a much more tense arrangement of the track, although that sense of ambience is still wisely included on route.
Dave Martins, Mimanos
Only Love / Carillon des Marionnettes
The fifth release from Marionnettes is a rather lush, deep affair in the shape of Only Love by Dave Martins and throws up all sorts of surprises along the way. While the beats and bass groove along most effectively it’s the effected repeating vocals and twanged guitar sounds that really enhance the rich atmospheres. This is late-night listening which contains a real bite. Next is Carillon des Marionnettes and is a joint production from Dave Martins & Mimanos that opens with a cinematic, almost Spaghetti Western like theme – or have I completely lost the plot – which drops in an unsuspecting beat around the four minute mark but none the less always feels imaginative, probing and quietly edgy.
The Salsoul Orchestra Story
40th Anniversary Collection
Groove Line Records
WOW! Three cd’s worth of the Salsoul Orchestra. Or, to put it another way, heaven on earth. The clue is of course contained within the title: Salsoul from the infinitely influential record label for a start, secondly the word Orchestra and all of the musical prowess which accompanies the noun. I love that you can simply switch the music on, then get lost in a world of soaring strings, driving beats and bass, and yes occasionally sleazy, though always sensual, uplifting lyrics. At times there’s the sheer romance of it all, at others hard and heavy grooves drive it all home. Needless to say if you haven’t yet experienced the soulful joy of ‘Take Some Time Out (For Love)’ featuring Jocelyn Brown or the classic rhythms of Shep Pettibone’s mix of ‘Ooh, I Love It (Love Break)’ then here’s the chance. A wealth of talent informed the orchestra’s production’s and remixes too from Larry Levan to Tom Moulton to Walter Gibbons. And, with arrangements from the likes of Vincent Montana Jr., Bunny Sigler, and Patrick Adams this newly remastered exploration of their sights and sounds from 1975 to the early eighties is both exceptional and essential.
“Music is the direct access to the soul” sounds like a good a place as any to start this review of Oskar Offermann’s spellbinding new long player. Fuelled by an undulating funkiness the album delves into all sorts of landscapes which reach ambient depths to edgier heights. Sometimes purely atmospheric without the reliance on beats, sometimes up-tempo and energising such as on ‘Carol’s Howl’ there really isn’t any identifiable rule book being followed – good. What you do get is an exciting travelogue of gritty, booming, speech laden, probing, emotive music which embraces funky breaks as much as it does sizzling electronics. Further.
To label this as merely ambient may do a disservice to the rather glorious, beautifully textured music that lies within. However, let’s go with Pop Ambient, although as the selection of tracks doesn’t display any melodic resonance perhaps that doesn’t quite accurately describe what’s going on either. Never mind. This 2016 edition of the long-standing series of atmospheric brilliance maintains breath taking standards as distinct layers of sound lift and drop all five senses with immaculate precision. The second track typifies the inclination with who else but The Orb’s epically charged ‘Alpine Dawn’ stretching sonic boundaries via all sorts of expanding ideas. You will also find the caliber of artists such as Stephan Mathieu and Mikkel Metal alongside Max Würden’s deeply involving ‘Unterwasser’. A truly wonderful compilation of music which talks its own melody.
Can you tell us the story behind choosing the name Winter Son as an alias?
It just came about from living in Manchester and having a particularly exciting Winter a few years ago! Most people enjoy the summertime and the sun, but I’m more into those November nights that are crisp and cool. I was going to events and gigging a few times a week and it just seemed to fit!
Your current release ‘Tribal Rhythm’ is huge everywhere. How did you first team up with co-producer Jozef K, and how did the track end up ion Kim Ann Foxman’s Firehouse imprint?
Ah, wasn’t sure it was huge to be honest! You don’t really get to see the outside and impact of the music you make when you’re in the inside the windowless studio.
I met Jozef during *that* Winter and we started sharing techno, new wave punk stuff and industrial tracks, kind of gathering some kind of inspiration playlist. We thought it’d be fun to see if anything worked in the studio together, and I guess we never stopped since then.
Kim had played some of his stuff in the past and we debated sending her the track, but we got the courage to drop her a line. She loved it instantly anyway, I’m not sure what the panic and anxiety was about looking back!
Can you talk us through how the track was originally produced, and any favourite studio items you like to use?
It only really took a day on that track, it was very much a jam with a few choice pieces of kit. It started off with a beat on the 808 with kick drum and toms, and then we sampled a piano chord I made to create the stabbing lead sound. Then came more development on the percussion side and a 909 hi hat to round the drums off. Bizarrely, the track doesn’t have a bassline, which is I think it’s most interesting feature! We found that taking the bass out gave space to the other elements, and it allowed the track to breathe freely. Jozef had this cool little vocal line written in his phone voice messages and contacted Flora about a guest appearance, and the rest is history!
The 808 and 909 drum machines are incredible beasts to use, they’re so intuitive and user friendly (if I can say that)! I’m also really into my SH-101 synth for arps and ‘bubbly’ sounding basslines.
Your remixes display a welcome flair of musicality. Where did this come from? And who are your main influences musically?
I don’t really come from a DJ background as I grew up playing guitar, piano and drums, so I think that really feeds through into how I think about making music. I like to perform as much as I can, and I’m really into giving music a lot of drama and showmanship. Some people talk about analogue equipment and digital soft synths, but I like to call them all ‘instruments’, because that’s what they are! I also like to include unusual instruments and instruments that aren’t typically associated with house and techno, like the guitar. I’ve recorded guitar on almost every track I’ve made, even if it’s buried way down in the mix. I even played classical guitar on a remix I did for Saytek (it’s at the end, and was my first actual track as Winter Son!!).
My influences come wide and far, I can pull ideas from everywhere when I’m writing. I LOVE metal – I grew up playing in metal bands and practice speed metal guitar techniques every night! When I was 16 I started getting into Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada and ambient music, and I think I saw a point where the two could meet.
Your recent remix for SDXN on Frontier Records (released on Oct 26) is another departure focusing on the instrumentation rather than the rhythm section. How was that created and how do you relate your music to creating atmospheres, compared to working with more structured beats?
I had an idea a few months ago to make a track with no kick drum or real beat behind it, so I thought this might be a good chance to try that out. The original has some lovely parts to it, so I had a lot of scope to work with even with no beat. Like Tribal Rhythm, it was pretty much a jam session, and just involved turning up instruments up and down when I wanted them to come in and drop out. It was so much fun making a big lush soundscape and not focusing on a build or drop.
How would you describe Manchester Clubs at present?
It’s brilliant here, it’s very much (and has always been) alive. I’ve always thought you can ‘feel’ the city when you’re here, and I haven’t felt it in many other cities. Things are still operating in very much the DIY frame of mind. It’s awesome that within a mile you can go see Chez Damier or Lee Gamble or Rival Consoles, there’s some serious variety. Obviously, you’re spoilt for choice sometimes, which is the downside.
Can you tell us about your set-up for playing ‘live’ and how are you finding audiences reacting to the experience?
I’m taking as much as I can carry to gigs at the moment! I have my 808 and 909 drum machines (both over 30 years old and as grumpy as they sound), drum pads and a laptop full of all kinds of sounds. It’s kind of a DJ/live hybrid at the moment, and if drums are your bag, you’ll absolutely love it. The sound of the drum machines through a good system absolutely shreds the venue to pieces. I also have the drum machine sounds loaded onto percussion pads for some extra battering, which I very much enjoy giving
I think because people can actually see me playing something they can relate to the music more, it’s quite a visceral experience, which is what music should be in a live context. If I go and watch someone play I don’t want to see them looking bored or staring blankly into space, I want to bond with them and feel the energy they’re putting into the performance.
What are your forthcoming plans going into 2016?
Me and Jozef have finished and signed off a good few EPs, and we’re waiting for these to come! We can’t wait to announce release dates and that kind of thing. Sometimes music ‘burns a hole’ in your hard drive just as money does in your wallet – you can’t hold it in and need to spend it!! We’re going back into the studio this Winter too.
Hopefully I’ll find time to do another beatless remix too!
Firstly, sorry to hear that Sergio is under doctor’s orders. How is he getting with his recovery?
Sergio’s back is doing better, slowly recovering. We hope to be back on the road and fully operational in December.
Your new release ‘Old Streets’ on Soul Clap once again highlights your musical skills as well as your song writing abilities. How do you compare the importance of your timely melodies and sassy grooves with the more minimal, functional sounds that have been dominating many dancefloors?
I think essentially it comes down to a slightly lesser focus on sound “for the sound”. We love to explore sounds and try to find innovative textures but ultimately we search for a sound that inspires us to play. We likely have a more “old school” approach when it comes to melodies than modern days tracks. Some tracks today literally have the same note repeated but the sound itself varies in such ways that it creates a convincing and catchy hook, almost sounding melodically complex sometimes. I think this is as commendable as a more melodic approach. We’re just more on one side than the other.
Can you talk us through the process of how you produced/wrote the track?
‘Old Streets’ was produced in Washington DC. The “recipe” there has been the same pretty much every time: jamming on synths sync’d up with drum machines and recording as much as we can… occasionally going to the computer to start picking up the right loops and elements. Finally, we recorded the vocals that Sergio had written. The final sequencing is usually what takes us the most time. Sometimes it is obscenely long. It’s almost as if the infinity of combinations of sequencing freezes us. You can completely change the vibe and almost the style of a track with sequencing… Letting the tracks develop slowly and repeating some elements for a while can make a track real deep, whereas changing things fast will make it more pop. These decisions are also part of the process.
Your current release for Matt Tolfrey’s Leftroom Limited ‘House With 500 Rooms’ showcases a tougher more robust side to your productions. What’s the story behind the title, and how did you first hook up with Leftroom?
“House With 500 Rooms” is a play on an amazing old song from the 80s by a band from New Zealand called The Chills. Their song is really pretty and gentle classic 80s, lofi indie pop. And it was called “House With A Hundred Rooms.” Since our track is all about a macho braggadocio, it just seemed sort of funny to try and be that way even in the title of our track by topping another title that uses “House” even though that song has nothing to do with the genre. It is indeed a tougher, darker and more dancefloor side of us that’s showcased in this case. This diversity is probably because we enjoy a lot of different genres and never really limited ourselves to any subgenre.
Leftroom makes sense for this EP as it represents a label with a classic sense of House music. We are really happy Matt wanted to release it. We met him through friends at parties and always had connected with him. He’s a great person.
Having already released music on the likes of Culprit and Visionquest what plans do you have for moving into 2016?
We have few more tracks/EPs we hope to release in the near future. One is more on the House side and the other more rock. A bit like the “Old Streets”/”House With 500 Rooms” combo.
And finally, how would you say that your main influences play into your music?
A lot, essentially. I would say they play 70% of the part. Then there is probably a good 20% of “direct” influence from playing in the club and experiencing a track there. This is a different kind of influence in a way kind of like the difference between studying a textbook vs practice. The last 10% comes from being in our “bubble”. We tend to be also relatively isolated when it comes to production and this 10% accounts for that.
Music Is Love Records
For their thirteenth release it’s the turn of Music Is Love Records label head Oli Furness and to say that this doesn’t pull any punches is pretty much a serious understatement. ‘Crash Gorgon’ is up first with a series of up-tempo brutal, pulverising kick drums that require your undivided attention but are then creatively contrasted by sweeter chords and soulful vocals. This is a first rate arrangement of tribal beats, crashes, lifts and drops that certainly keeps the excitement levels peaked at all times. The Bodyjack Remix then injects funky breaks and 90’s styled gritty synth lines into their excellent reworking which proves to be just as addictive. ‘Big Booty Girls’ continues with unrelenting, dirty House/ Techno grooves, while ‘.64’ changes tack via solid Electro drums and a speedy cut-up of an eighties classic.
Terrence Parker/ Melodymann/ No Shit Like Deep
Kicking off number five from the label is this killer production from Detroit’s Terrence Parker. Indeed, ‘Heart break’ just about sums up the reasons I got into House Music in the first place, and if like me it plays out in rich, life-affirming rhythms that make sense of it all then it doesn’t get that much better. Piano is the name of the game with insistent hi-hats and beats driving it all forward like nothing much else matters. Next up is label boss Melodymann who delivers two equally hot slices of music. First is the steamy, ‘Lowfunk’ which takes it down deep via smooth chords, cutting Stabs alongside suitably smoky vocals offset by fiery snares, then ‘What Are You Gonna Do’ picks up the pace with punchy bass and a classic voice. To end is the sassy, easy tempo grooves of ‘Ambassador of Love’ by No Shit Like Deep who sequence Disco inflected tastiness together with infectious low-slung beats.
It all goes back to Ashford & Simpson’s production of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for Diana Ross. I was two years old. I remember finding the 45 single in my mom and dad’s record collection. Hearing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” singlehandedly revealed to me the transformative power of music. The introduction, the choir, the orchestration, Diana’s voice, the build towards that climax, Paul Riser’s arrangement, the unique structure of the song … all of those elements created a masterpiece that still moves me to this day. At two, I wasn’t analyzing any of that of course, I just knew that I wanted to hear more. In fact, the other night I was talking with Joshie Armstead, who was one of the background singers on that song, and even she still marvels at how that song was produced, so it was very special for me to share that love with her. The flip side of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was “Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow,” which I also loved. The yearning in Diana’s voice really got to me, the way she almost cried “tomorrow.” This is why I hold Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Diana Ross in such high esteem and so dear to my heart. They started me on my journey through music.
What made you want to become a writer (and not a DJ to share your love of music)?
Growing up, I collected all of these books about music, Billboard books, the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Music, etc. Initially, it was just so I could have photos of my favorite artists but then I became fascinated by the words on the page. I was eight when I got my first music book, “Paul Gambaccini presents the Top 100 Albums” where all these critics listed their Top 10 albums, which Paul Gambaccini then compiled into a master list of 100 albums where he wrote comments about each album. The seed for writing about music must have been planted there. I just absorbed all of these facts. I still reference some of what I learned back then in the essays I write today. Lily Tomlin calls that process “imprinting.” You spend the first 20 years of your life imprinting all of this information and then you spend the next 20 years releasing it through your work.
When I was 12, I wrote my first artist bios, just for fun. It wasn’t a school assignment or anything like that. I used my sister’s typewriter. CHIC and Patti Smith were the first artists I wrote about. I must have had a fascination with NYC. It wasn’t until college that I even considered the possibility of a career in writing. Before then, I’d majored in music and theatre, I’d done many musicals in high school, but I finally realized that I didn’t want to be involved with music from the performance side of things. It was actually through writing about plays in my theatre classes that I realized how much I enjoyed writing, period. After trying four different majors, I finally created my own major and took courses that gave me the opportunity to write about music by examining the social and cultural conditions that influenced artists and their work.
It’s funny you should mention DJ-ing. When I was eleven or twelve, I used to make mixes on cassettes where I’d create my own edits of songs. In college, I bought DJ gear and actually played a couple of parties …. so maybe I have some latent desire to be a DJ! Actually, the main reason why I could never be a DJ is because I enjoy dancing too much. I’d keep leaving the console.
How would you describe your working day and the process of writing?
My working day always begins with a good cup of coffee! I work from my apartment. The day can start as early as 5:30 a.m. and end as late as 3 a.m. I try my best to avoid having too many late nights, though. The day itself varies depending on whether I have to prepare for an interview, conduct an interview, transcribe an interview, research, write an essay, or edit an essay … or some combination of all those tasks. Today I’m putting the finishing touches on a Kleeer essay and preparing for an interview with Kathy Sledge later this evening.
My actual writing process? A professor of mine once said, “Writing is re-writing.” That is so true, especially if you know the writing’s going to be published. I think of the specific kind of writing that I do as storytelling. Ultimately, I just want to tell the story about the artist and their music. I try to find some some sort of hook that I hope catches the reader’s attention and keeps them reading.
One mantra that I created for myself is “It’s better to be clear than clever.” It’s easy to be impressed with a word or sentence you wrote but what good is that if your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying or if it disrupts the tone of the essay? Sometimes the things that I want to include the most end up in the trash bin because I realize they’re only significant to me and wouldn’t mean much to anyone else, at least in the context of the essay I’m writing. That ties in to another tenet I observe, especially in writing liner notes: be invisible. I know that’s antithetical to everything we’re supposed to do in 2015 but I learned this when I started writing for PopMatters in 2006. When people are reading about an artist, very few of them want to hear about you the writer, unless there’s some compelling reason that you need to insert yourself in the essay. Over the years, I’ve been very careful about using “I, me, my” in anything I write. There are a few instances where I did “appear” in the essay but it was to establish the fact that the quotes were culled from a first-hand interview. All that said, these are just my personal guidelines and what I’ve found works best for me. I’m still growing. Oh, one more thing that my 8th grade English teacher Linda Fuller told our class: “Lay off clichés.”
I know it’s a big ask. But who have you most enjoyed interviewing?
Wow! There isn’t just one person because there have been so many. I’ve interviewed more than 300 different artists, and have interviewed some of those artists on multiple occasions. Donna Summer was the very first artist I interviewed, so that conversation will always stand apart from the others, especially since it pre-dated my first published article. The interview was for an independent study I was doing in college that I later presented at NYU. I will tell you that one of the most meaningful and memorable interview experiences I’ve ever had was interviewing Nona Hendryx, Ruth Pointer, Kathy Sledge, and Rochelle Fleming onstage at the Apollo Theater earlier this year. I’d interviewed each of them previously but to have them all there together and see the rapport between them … I still get goosebumps thinking about it. I’d never moderated a panel before so to have that be the first panel, especially with those phenomenal women, was a life-defining moment for me.
Do you find that the more famous a person is the more guarded they are?
To tell you the truth, no. I think it really all depends on the person and how comfortable they are with themselves and with whoever’s asking the questions.
Tell us about life living in New York?
I love living in New York. I’ve lived here since August 2004 and have lived in Hell’s Kitchen, specifically, since March 2005. I’m very aware of the history that gives the city its lifeblood, though much of that history is disappearing. I’m glad I could attend shows at CBGB’s and the Lenox Lounge before they closed, or dance at the Roxy before it shuttered. It’s still a thrill to walk by Studio 54, even if it’s not a club anymore. With the type of work I do, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Everyone comes through this city! If I may, I must give a shout-out to The Public Theater, which houses my favorite music venue in all of New York, Joe’s Pub. I’ve hosted and/or produced eight shows there over the years for artists like JOHNNYSWIM, Aziza Miller, David Bronson, as well as a benefit concert I founded called Three of Hearts. It’s intimate, sophisticated but not pretentious, centrally located, has an excellent staff and superb sound/lighting. Let’s see … that’s where Amy Winehouse made her NYC debut, where I saw Alice Smith for the first time, where they supported Allen Toussaint after Hurricane Katrina, where Janelle Monàe danced on table tops, Carly Simon held a private CD release show, Nona Hendryx climbed atop the drum set, Martha Redbone premiered “Bone Hill,” Alfa Anderson and Norman Jean Wright sang “Saturday” and “I Want Your Love,” and Martha Wash/Linda Clifford/Evelyn “Champagne” King recently performed two-sold out shows as the First Ladies of Disco … I could go on and on. They support developing and established artists alike. They just do amazing work.
Is there such a thing as bad music or is it all in the eye of the beholder?
Mostly, I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Music is such a subjective thing. I respect music critics and I respect the institution of music criticism but I just don’t enjoy critiquing music. I’m much more interested in documenting the stories behind the songs. That’s why I pretty much stopped writing CD reviews. Who am I to say something’s bad if it brings you joy? If my 8-year old niece is smiling and dancing to a song, even if it’s a song that I’d never willingly listen to, then that’s a beautiful thing. However, I’d want to make sure that she also knows some of the classics and expose her to other types of music. (Actually, my sister already does a good job of that!) I know there’s music I loved when I was 13 that I’d never listen to at 36, yet it helped me through that particular part of my life. I think of it as another stop on the journey.
Truthfully, some albums that are considered the most influential of all-time are albums that I wouldn’t necessarily play or have in my collection. I personally might favor the Brand New Heavies over the Velvet Underground, but I understand the appeal that both bands have, depending on the listener. It’s easy to fall into a herd mentality where you buy something or force yourself to like something just because it’s on every critic’s list. Over the years, I’ve kept myself in check about that. Do I like this because it moves me or because Pitchfork says I should I like it? I also don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I feel that’s a construct created by the rock elite who secretly or “ironically” enjoy a song like “Physical” whereas I openly, un-ironically enjoy “Physical.” Why feel guilty if you enjoy the music?
I must say, Smokey Robinson was the artist who instilled that belief in me. I remember when the 20th Anniversary of Rolling Stone special aired on TV. I think it was 1987 because that was also the summer PBS aired a special on “The Summer or Love” and I saw the Monterey Pop Festival documentary for the very first time. I taped both all those programs and would watch them over and over again. Anyhow, I can remember Smokey’s quote from the Rolling Stone special almost verbatim: “Music is a thing that touches you way deep down inside where you cannot deny yourself. You can’t say to yourself, Hey I don’t like that because I’m not supposed to like that. If you like it, you like it.”
What are your thoughts on the art of songwriting now?
I was at a panel sponsored by the Polar Music Prize back in April where one of the panelists made the point that pop songwriting used to be more about melodies and chord progressions and now it’s about hooks and beats. I thought that was an interesting way to characterize the difference. I know songwriters who are doing fabulous work but either they’re new artists who’ve yet to get massive support from the industry or they’re veteran songwriters who the industry doesn’t seem to value anymore. That’s really a shame because both the emerging songwriters and veteran songwriters have things to say. In the case of established artists, some of them are even better now than they were 30 years ago. I must be honest though, in the realm of dance music, I’d take anything that was written or recorded in the ’70s over contemporary EDM any day. Give me strings, horns, chord changes, a rhythm section, and outstanding vocals!
What are you looking forward to in 2016?
I’d love to build on all the high points of 2015. It’d be wonderful to lead another panel discussion and work on a music documentary. For years, people have been asking me about writing a book so maybe I’ll start exploring what that book could be. There are lots of great re-issues on the horizon. As you know Greg, I’ve been writing the essays for BBR’s re-issues of Ashford & Simpson’s Warner Bros. albums. In early-2016, BBR will release A&S’s first two Warner albums, Gimme Something Real and I Wanna Be Selfish, so I’m looking forward to that since it will complete BBR’s campaign of all the studio albums Ashford & Simpson released on Warner. I’m also working on a re-issue of Circle of Love by Sister Sledge. It will include bonus tracks of the group’s work with Phil Hurrt and Bobby Eli. Lots of good stuff happening in the new year!
Ben Sims presents
Rock Your Body
Ben Sims aka Ron Bacardi feels so very right landing on the excellent Bass Culture opening this three track release with the devastatingly hot, ‘Rock Your Body’. You’ll need some quality bass bins to handle the production’s fierce low-end theory or be left feeling bruised by its crushing beats and dirty bass. There are even a few subtleties too as the meandering, haunting vocal line twists around the rhythm section, though not that many. ‘First Effort’ works the beats into a tribal fury which eventually explode into a hint of classic Disco. Leaving the equally killer, ‘The Money’ to end with more of a Disco twist this time shot across blistering hi-hats plus straight-up and relentless House Music kick drums.
Vinyl Release: October 30
Release Date: November 6
Have to confess that I’m glad I given this a second listen otherwise I might have missed out on this records rugged beauty and hidden depths. At a shade over ten minutes long this is all about the groove which certainly hits you hard and heavy, but there are also a wealth of other layers to discover too, like the swirling ambience and fiery snare programming that underpin this highly impressive arrangement. The Malin Génie remix then ads a slinky bassline alongside insistent hi-hats and jazzy keys to give the track a fresh, swinging alternative.