Henry Smithson admits to having a relatively short attention span when it comes to music. This perhaps explains the radical reinventions he's undergone as Riton throughout the past seven years.
Early single "Take Control"—which was a firm favourite at the Electric Chair in Riton's then-home city of Manchester—and the debut album from which it was taken, 2001's Beats Du Jour, saw him draw on '80s electronic disco and repackage it as a spasmodic house/breaks hybrid. Three years later and it was electropop: Homies and Homos, buoyed by the rough-edged but sweetly sung "Candy," was one of the superior full-length efforts from the electro resurgence.
And now, apparently, it's Krautrock. The Newcastle-born 30-year-old's recently released Eine Kleine Nacht Musik is poles apart from previous releases and his energetic DJing style; but don't count on it being the last surprise he has up his sleeve.
So as to maintain his interest, RA assembled a fairly random selection of records and set off for his home/studio in Camden to quiz him before his upcoming DJ set at the opening weekend of The Warehouse Project in Manchester.
Krautrock seemed a fairly obvious starting point. I picked this track as it is one that you used for the mixtape to promote the Eine Kleine Nacht Musik album.
DJ Harvey used this on one of the Sarcastic mixes as well. Although he used a different part of the record than the section I used. It's amazing. It's just a really weird, almost trip-hop record in the way the vocal samples are used. And it's really Balearic as well with the guitars. It's a great tempo, too. I just love it. It's Kraut, but it takes a slightly different direction.
Has listening to these records changed how you go about producing music yourself?
It made me understand the techno way of doing things a little better: long, hypnotic tracks, that sort of thing. I find in my own music I can't do that very much, but I can appreciate it. The way that these guys do that is much more organic, in terms of the repetition.
That's the key to great techno.
Exactly, there's lots of movement and you can perceive things shifting very slightly throughout. Obviously Holger Czukay was in Can as well.
The Can records were produced before his solo work though, right?
I think he was doing both simultaneously, although I'm not massively up on the history of it all. The Kraut scene is fairly small really; there aren't that many bands that are really worth checking.
How did your interest in Krautrock come about?
I've been listening to it for about three or four years, ever since I met Fergus, my sister's husband. He wanted us to DJ at his wedding and he had a bunch of records he wanted us to play, including "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO, which they had their first dance to. He had a whole collection of Krautrock records that I began working my way through.
Which Krautrock albums are favourites?
"Hallo Gallo" by Neu! is a real favourite. It's one of the most famous tracks from the genre, but it's famous for a reason. It's the blueprint for a lot of music that came afterwards. You can really hear loads of music that's taken that idea and worked round it.
"Les Années Des Plombs"
Les Années Des Plombs, 1999
This is an old Ivan Smagghe record. It has a slight Kraut feel to it.
I like anything with a good sequence! I like this a lot. When did it come out?
It's about ten years old, I think.
Really? It sounds quite contemporary.
Do you know what he's up to these days?
He has that new project with Tim Paris. It's A Fine Line, I think it's called. It's a drugs reference, I'd imagine! I used to really enjoy watching him DJ as well. He was one of the best DJs around at that time. He still is really, but I don't see him so much these days.
Is that because you're not in clubs other than to DJ?
No, I still go out. But I don't have that many nights off. And I'm not out during the week that much. If I'm in town, then I'll go and check something out. I still enjoy it.
Who are the key DJs for you then? Who would get you out?
I really enjoy the Horse Meat Disco parties. And I like the Zongamin and Midnight Mike party; I've been to that a few times. When I'm out I prefer to go to something a bit smaller.
This is a new record—and a personal favourite—but it's another with a clear retro-influence, although this time it's Italian horror soundtracks that are the inspiration.
I've got a lot of the Italian soundtrack stuff as well, again off Fergus. I even sampled that track, which Justice then sampled and made into a massive hit.
What was the track?
It's "Tenebrae" by Goblin. Actually this is fairly like Goblin.
Yeah, I think they're a clear influence.
There's a lot of good stuff that's coming out that's produced at this sort of tempo
Why do you think that is?
I don't know really. I think it's a combination of a lot of people that are into dance music getting a bit older and new kids wanting something a bit different. And the French guys have really helped bring it back and make records that aren't just in the 125-130 tempo bracket. I think kids are just into everything these days.
The French dance music producers have always done that to an extent.
Yeah, exactly. I do like this but, for me, I wouldn't combine the beats and chords. I don't like tracks to necessarily feel that open and spacious—I like one or the other in general.
"(I'm Just A) Sucker for a Pretty Face"
(I'm Just A) Sucker for a Pretty Face, 1983
I picked this because I remembered you playing it the one—and only—time I've heard you DJ. And I thought we could talk a little more broadly about the style of disco that you like.
This is exactly the sort of disco I'm into. When I was making my first album I was heavily into this sort of thing. It's electronic but it'll have live drums, well sort-of live drums. It's disco, but it's more future-y and electronic.
Where did you first hear these records?
It was when I was living in Manchester and working at Fat City Records. We would get loads of back catalogue stuff in there. Record dealers would come in and sell us bits too. We would argue over who could buy what! I got a lot of the weirder, '80s disco stuff whilst I was working there. Also, one of the guys that worked at the store was called Andy Madhatter. He was one of the first guys in England to import house music, even though he was a soul DJ. But he just had this massive amount of knowledge when it came to soul and disco and I'd just listen to him all day and take it all in. Obviously the Electric Chair was playing this sort of thing as well.
I guess Manchester has had clubs that play these sorts of records for a
Yeah, that's right. The first time I heard Vangelis was at Aficionado [Richard "Moonboots" Bithell and Jason Boardman's long-running Manchester club night]. And they also used to play a lot of the Balearic records. They've just celebrated their tenth birthday as well, which is amazing. Particularly when you consider that, when they started out, they were celebrating music that was made about ten years previously. And it's now ten years since they started bringing it back!
"Les Antipodes – Versions Spéciales"
Les Antipodes – Versions Spéciales, 2004
Another maverick Frenchman. I was spoilt for choice as I have a lot of
Joakim records, but picked this as it's another with a clear retro influence.
Ah yeah, that's a Liasons Dangereuses sample.
Yes, it is. I'm not sure whether that's on the original or whether Joakim just sampled it for his mix. He's fairly prolific, isn't he?
Yeah. I really like the Poni Hoax stuff. I think he produced their album and also remixed one of the tracks from it last year. I really like him. I like most of what he does and then, occasionally, he will just be amazing. He did a remix for one of our Gucci Soundsystem tracks. I didn't like it though, to be honest. But I don't think I've ever had a remix done [of one of my tracks] that I've liked.
I don't know. There's always something about it that I won't like which will stop me playing from it. Maybe it's my original bit!
Do you play many of your own tracks when you DJ?
I don't play a lot of my own records. I think if they were better I probably would [laughs]. It's just because I play loads of really good records so, to keep up with those, they have to be pretty amazing. But that Mickey Moonlight remix I just did really works in slightly smaller clubs. And the Sonny J one I did, which is just a hoover track, really kills it as well. When I made it I was, like, "Yeah, it's kinda good," and then I downloaded it off a blog after it had been mastered."
The label didn't send you a finished copy?!
Not a mastered one, no. People were e-mailing me saying it was really good and I was, like, "Is it?" I have to wait for other people to tell me my tracks are good before I'll play them myself [laughs]. Now, it's one of the biggest tracks I play.
It seems that there are DJs who make tracks specifically for their sets and
others who will barely play any of their own records.
I want to make more tracks specifically to play out. And that's what I'll do when I start on my next album.
If you're not making tracks specifically for clubs, what sort of listening situation do you have in mind when you produce?
I don't know! I'd never make a really long club track. I think a lot of these tracks that we've listened to are twice as long as they need to be. And if I was to play these out I'd chop them right down first, or mix out of them fairly quickly.
So you get through a fair amount of records when you play?
I don't normally play a record for longer than two or three minutes. Just because there are so many that I want to play.
"Work That Body"
Street Trax II, 1994
It seems we share a love of Dance Mania records.
I play this a lot. I play a lot of DJ Funk tracks, usually in amongst newer records because they're really great to DJ with. If you're in the right place and people pick up on it, then they absolutely fucking kill it. I remember when I was doing an American tour the guys there would just freak out when you start playing Dance Mania.
Whereabouts were you playing in the States?
I was in Los Angeles. I remember someone saying "Oh shit, serious shit now!" [laughs] and everyone busting out.
How did you get into Dance Mania?
I got loads of the tracks off [Get Physical DJ/producer] Heidi. She's a big Dance Mania fan and has loads of the vinyl. I've got pretty much all her Dance Mania records now digitally. There's a Godfather track I always play. It's called Bang The Box.
This track is very different to the others we've played—the production is so basic.
Yeah, the production is so full and noisy. It has much more emphasis on the bass and the kick drums. The last time I played at Fabric I finished off playing stuff like this, but I hadn't realized that these tracks had the loudest kick drums you have ever heard in your life! They were totally distorted, hard kick drums. But not really that fast, you know, just solid.
Here It Comes, 2008
I thought we'd go disco to finish. And this is proper end of-night sing-along disco. The original, which is by the band Exile, was a #1 record in the States in 1978, but this is an extended edit by the Community Service guys.
I like this. It's pretty catchy. I'd definitely dance to it somewhere like Disco Bloodbath, that's for sure! I just wonder if this stuff's ever going to cross over into the big clubs? It probably won't, will it?
It does seem to be for clubbers of a certain age.
I guess. Sometimes when I start playing at Fabric and it's four in the morning and the music's already hard I think, "Do they really want me to go harder than this?" And then you start playing a little bit less hard and everyone's like "What are you doing man?!" It's just the mad ones that are left hanging around by that stage. I'd like to be able to tone it down a bit, but you can't really. Maybe in Ibiza.