"Walking to the Beat"
Walking to the Beat, 1984
This track is by Yellow Magic Orchestra's Yukihiro Takahashi. It's basically a synth pop song.
This is interesting. It has this kind of proto house feeling. What I really like is the crazy soprano sax solo at the end. It's almost like free jazz—for 30 or 40 seconds it's almost like New York post-punk—and then it stops. That was quite bold.
Maybe you should use a sax solo in a house track.
Well, I used to play sax in the past.
Yeah, for a long time. I started playing alto saxophone when I was 13 years old. I had tried piano a few years ago, but I wasn't so much into it. I don't remember why I chose saxophone, but I remember I wanted to do a wind instrument. So I learned to play jazz and I absolutely loved it! I began rehearsing with a few bands, mostly jazz or funk groups.
When I discovered DJing, though, I was instantly hooked and I started playing less and less saxophone, until I quit around 2001. DJing, collecting and discovering music became more important for me. I dabbled in production around 1996, but got a home studio setup two years later. I remember that my main reason for producing was that I found that certain records were lacking something or were arranged in a way that I thought was not so effective. I was thinking "Hmm, the producer should have put this part first," or "the chord there doesn't sound nice although the beat is dope." After a while I just thought I should make my own tracks.
"Love Me Tonite"
The next one is a disco track. It is close to current disco productions, with a spacey vibe. It is a song though, which most current producers in that field don't touch.
That's true. I like some of what they call nu-disco, and I play some of it. It does sound like disco, but more pumped up. The way they build tracks is more like house and techno. Although disco was already DJ-based with long intros and stuff, it still had strange breaks and the melodies were not that sequenced. Nu-disco is more DJ friendly. I like Prins Thomas, Lindstrom, Todd Terje and Force of Nature from Japan.
So you think their sound is the most valid update of the disco sound? It certainly would be too expensive to produce with a ten-piece band nowadays.
Yeah. But it is funny, I met Prins Thomas recently and now he is playing everything by himself. No sequencers. He uses a metronome, drums, bass, keyboards, no plug-ins. That's all the way back to playing instruments.
There was this phase with deep house a few years back, where all the producers like Kerri Chandler, Ron Trent and the Body & Soul people were using live instrumentation, and discovered musicianship. But now they are doing tracks again.
If you take somebody like Joe Claussell, though, you still hear a lot of live percussion. It's still around. It might be not like in the mid-'90s—house with full bands and live bass and live keyboards—but some people will always do it. I like working with musicians, and I know some people who do. Even if it is just some live rhythm guitar.
Back in Geneva, when I was still DJing and producing under the Ianeq moniker, I was collaborating with many jazz and funk musicians for my productions or performances. I was also part of a proper electronic jazz trio called Today's Special that featured a saxophonist and a keyboardist while I was playing loops and samples. But one of my favourite—and still ongoing—projects is a duo I have with jazz pianist Leo Tardin, AKA Grand Pianoramax. Our performances are based on each other's compositions, but we approach them from a new perspective, mainly because improvisation is the most important factor during our performances. I will sample Leo's Rhodes or Moog on the fly and build up a new track from scratch. I love playing with him and I think we come up with some crazy stuff together!
The last time we played, I had all these new Quarion tracks and remixes to try out and he picked them up instantly. I'll always remember that because when we performed my remix for Jamie Lloyd's "May I?", he was playing keys like a proper piano house tune, as if he'd been working as Inner City's keyboardist his whole life! It was magical.
What about production-wise?
I enjoy working with musicians, although I might act too much like a tyrant sometimes: "play it like this," "I want more soloing in this direction!" [laughs] In 2008, I've been more focused on making proper "solo" music, just me and my keyboards/drum machines/gear, but I plan to start collaborating with more musicians in the future.
"3 A.M. (Give Me)"
Give Me, 1982
This is a disco dub by an '80s UK band. For me, this has a deep house feeling. The way they use the keyboard sounds. It's still Disco, but already heading somewhere else.
I like this one. The original song is called "Give Me", right? It's disco boogie, but in this version you can hear that it's influenced by Jamaican dub, and they turn it around. It is like the basis for what was to come later with house.
As you're mostly known for your deep house productions, is this something you specifically look for in music? A certain element of deepness?
Somehow, yes. Maybe I have my own perception of deepness, but I have to say that I listen to a lot of different stuff and I always like the deeper stuff. I come from a hip-hop background, and I think the best hip-hop was produced by Jay Dee. For me, that was deep hip-hop. Lots of Rhodes sounds, mellow laid back tracks.
I actually discovered hip-hop via the commercial dance scene in 1989. I was into Snap, Technotronic and MC Hammer! For me, it was all about these powerful beats that got me hooked on the dance floor. But a few months later, I got into the "real" hip-hop: LL Cool J, Run DMC, Ice Cube, De La Soul and of course Public Enemy were my first hip-hop passions. Hip-hop was also the perfect companion to jazz, which I was also discovering at the time. I would find samples or influences from the jazz pieces I was rehearsing in some of the hip-hop tracks, it was so fascinating. But, my true love for hip-hop really blossomed a few years later, when I started DJing.
It was during the golden era of 1993-1995 which had so many crucial artists: DJ Premier, Wu Tang Clan, Nas, Dr. Dre, Jay Dee/J Dilla, The Notorious BIG, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock. I was totally immersed into the culture, buying two copies of a record, cutting it up, scratching, and not leaving my basement for days! [laughs] Hip-hop is still very important in the way I approach music, because I love this sample-based approach, where you stumble upon a segment on a record and it inspires you to compose something entirely different. That's also why I enjoy making remixes so much. You have to make use of what they give you to make your own mark on track. I found the whole process fascinating.
When did you get into house?
I started buying House records around 1995, mainly because hip-hop was becoming gradually more commercial and boring. I got into house via Masters At Work, they were always collaborating with jazz musicians plus Kenny Dope had this hip-hop edge on the beats, so their music instantly appealed to me. I was pretty much into garage and deep house, my favourite artists were MAW of course, Mood 2 Swing, Kerri Chandler and Deep Dish.
I got into techno much later, again via a jazz track: Galaxy to Galaxy's "Hi Tech Jazz." I can honestly say this track traumatised me! Now I'm actually not sure if what I like in techno is actually techno, because I'm more into the musical, moody and deep aspect of it rather then the energy. I do have some bangers from Jeff Mills or The Advent in my collection but I'm more into Derrick May, Kirk de Giorgio, UR or Basic Channel. I've also been checking out music from West Africa, from Mali.
Yeah. I also find this deepness there, the way they play their instruments, the chords, the repetitive patterns. I see a direct connection to Detroit techno there. I got into African Music about four years ago. I was working on a hip-hop album for Jonas, a rapper from Geneva, and he wanted to incorporate elements of Western African music in his album. He went to Mali and Burkina Faso to record with musicians and he kept giving me CDs for inspiration. It was a wonderful discovery for me. Listening to these albums from Ali Farka Touré, Boubacar Traoré or Cheikh Tidiane Seck gave me an even larger picture of the music I love, which is fundamentally Afro-American music. In the hypnotic rhythms and moody chords of Malian music, I could find the same elements as in a John Coltrane performance, a Jay Dee beat or a Mad Mike track.
Black Target, 1992
The next one is a really weird New York hip-hop track. But the keyboard sounds and strings in the background are totally deep house.
Absolutely, I also thought that was really interesting. The pad sounds are very much like deep house.
There was this phase of hip-house, where house producers took up hip-hop elements. These do it the other way round.
Yeah, and people are still doing that. Jay Dee for example, you could tell that he listened to Detroit techno. He used those Juno basslines which are typical for a lot of the Detroit stuff. And more commercial producers like Timbaland, you can tell that they listen to a lot of electronic music.
Strangely, they never admit that they do.
True, it is still a taboo for hip-hop producers to listen to house and stuff. But it is changing. Like you have Kanye West sampling Daft Punk. I think it is evolving now. You always have producers that are narrow-minded, and producers who use many influences to make a good track.
And it also works the other way round, working with hip-hop production techniques in a dance context.
Yes. A lot of people I know who produce come from a hip-hop background. They all use those techniques to make house and techno. I also think that when listening to a track, you can tell if the producer comes from a hip-hop background. In my opinion, most of the people who have started producing hip-hop but then moved to house or techno are somehow more open musically.
If you produce hip-hop with samples, you'll need records to sample from, so you'll start listening to different kinds of music in order to collect sound sources. Whether it's jazz, rock, soul, dub, heavy metal, disco or Balinese traditional music, you'll always go through a lot of records to produce hip-hop. So when you start applying this knowledge to house or techno tracks, I think you can come up with some pretty interesting things. Now, it's not possible for me to hear in every house track if the producer was a hip-hop head or not, but there are some obvious signs, mainly in the use of drum sounds and samples.
Most early house and techno tracks are based on the sole use of drum machines for beats but after a while, you could hear more sampled drum sounds, mostly snares, hi-hats and fills, which gave things a more organic vibe. Maybe hip-hop is responsible for bringing back the snare sound in house music: "It's OK, we don't need to use the 808 clap sound for the millionth time, maybe we can sample The Meters instead." [laughs]
What producers do you hear as being into hip-hop?
All my Zürich mates at Drumpoet have a hip-hop background, Lexx used to be a very successful rapper and producer back in the days. As for me, I'm still producing hip-hop. I just finished a digital EP with a New York rapper named Roger Kahlon. It was interesting because we did absolutely everything over the internet, I only met Roger when the EP was mastered. The project is called Side Hustle and you can download it for free.
Lewis Taylor, 1996
This is a UK club soul classic from the mid-'90s.
I like that he starts with samples and then, in the end, he brings in real instruments like drums and guitars. Very nice. Really good singing, and the chords and harmonies are very good.
I think he really tried a different approach, with all the distortion in the background for example, and the structure which leads to this astonishing climax. Today's R&B sounds are more advanced, but the songs are often too simple.
It's true. R&B today is often lacking musicality. It's more about production and not about songwriting. Of course there are some amazing things being done, but you don't find nice chord progressions very often.
Would you like to work on songs yourself?
Yeah, I'm really getting into that. I'm a traditional musician in some ways. I learnt how to play sax, I took piano lessons. With house it's more basic, but now I find myself getting back to finding chords, doing song structures. Seeing how it works, chorus and bridges and so on. It's something I want to do more. I don't know if it's something you could really use in a proper dance context, but I'll try.
So we can expect some garage house from your side?
Yeah, maybe. I think I want to bring back garage actually. [laughs]
Garage house has kind of vanished, but with all the other house sounds resurfacing it might be about time to write some songs again. Frankie Knuckles' mix of "Blind" seemed like a step in that direction to me.
Yes. But in Berlin, for example, people are so afraid of vocals. When I was out last weekend I heard some really great deep house but I was longing for a vocal track. So when I came home I listened to some Jasper St. Company. I like to play vocal stuff, but you have to be cautious because for some people it's a terrible thing. It's a bit of a shame. Maybe all these years of minimal suffocated the voices, I don't know.
"It's My Life"
Warriors Dance After Midnight EP, 1991
This is early '90s UK breakbeat music, but a bit more soulful. I thought that was an interesting phase. Are you into that?
I like this one, because it's some kind of proto jungle. It reminded me of old tracks by 4 Hero and LTJ Bukem. At one point I was totally into drum & bass. For a couple of years that was the best music in the world for me.
You mean the classic mid-'90s years?
Yeah. Metalheadz, Photek, 4 Hero, Good Looking. For me it was amazing mixture of everything I loved, like hip-hop, dub influences, Detroit influences, some house and all this amazing drum programming. It really reminded me of jazz as well. For a while I was buying everything, but then it got too dark and too minimal and the beats got very simple. You heard that all night long and I got tired of that.
It suffered from everybody using the same formula. You always knew when the break was coming in, and you even knew how long the break would last. The genre hasn't really recovered.
It is quite crazy. It is still going on and there must be some good stuff out there, but I don't find the time to look for it. When I first got bored of it, I followed guys like 4 Hero going to broken beats and got totally into that, but it also went into a formula. Dubstep, for example, has this kind of old drum & bass vibe of trying different things and taking things to another level. What I liked about drum & bass was that you got an amazing record the one week, and the next weekend somebody would top that with something different. Finding some new effects or whatever. Every week the bar was raised higher and higher. With dubstep it's the same thing, people are challenging each other. Sometimes it's too nerdy and boyish. "I got bigger drums than you!" But it's good.
"Manos Que Tocan" (Deep Mix)
Sneak Essentials Volume 2, 1995
This sounds very current, although it came out in 1995. It's a good example of a very basic use of deep house ingredients, it kind of precedes the way deep house is produced these days.
Yes. What you mostly hear now are exactly the same elements that this track has. One or two Rhodes chords, strings, vocal samples and an upfront beat. Today's productions are maybe arranged differently, and they sound cleaner. But all the elements are indeed already here, just maybe in a different order.
Would you say that there is some kind of traditional basis for deep house, which cannot really be improved?
Well, there is music that is deep house because it uses the stereotypes of deep house. This track uses all the elements considered to be deep house and you label it that way. And today people use exactly the same sounds. But for me, deep house is more than that. I'm more into Mood 2 Swing, Masters at Work, deep house which is closer to garage. Or Global Communication and Secret Ingredients, and Larry Heard and early Deep Dish. They were really trying different things with using techno sounds, but still it was deep in the way they built it. I think that deep house can evolve. I hope so! I'm a bit bored when I go out and I hear the same elements just arranged in a different order.
So you think that people will soon tire of it?
You can only do so much with the formulas you hear now, so people could get bored. I like a lot of the new deep house, there is a lot of amazing stuff. As always you have some really good producers, and a lot of people copying their sound. For me a lot sounds like minimal now. It's just the new version of minimal, but now they use Rhodes samples and vocal snippets.
"On My Way" (Straight Up Mix)
On My Way (Crisp Biscuit 1), 1992
This track is very mellow. It's a remix by Tony Humphries for Larry Heard.
I love this track. I don't have it, and it is really beautiful. I would play that in the morning and I'm sure it would work. I love these early morning tracks. If DJs can bring people to this state of mind, it's the best. You go to the peak, then you drop and then, in the end, you play this beautiful deep house, and you get people locked into it.
This song has very reflective lyrics. Would you say that people locked into this vibe could also react to what is sung?
I love melancholic and sad stuff. If I would hear this in a club, I would have a smile on my face even though it is sad. It is so beautiful, the chorus and everything. I would be totally into it. I don't think it is too depressing, and it's still dance music. You shouldn't totally disconnect dance music from reality. You can always put something of what's going on in your personal life into the music.
It would be disappointing to just hear the same dance floor imperatives since the disco era whenever vocals are used. There needs to be a place for other lyrics, too.
Yeah, and some people do write good lyrics for dance music. You don't find it too often, but a beautifully crafted garage song can surely supply that.
Well, let's wait for what the garage revival will bring.
Yeah. [laughs] I think I'm going to play more garage now. I have this vision. [laughs]