Raw and unfiltered: It describes Detroit producer Omar-S's music, as well as his personality. But once you hear the man speak, you'll find that there's more than meets than eye. RA's Thomas D. Cox investigates.
Despite releasing all of his material on his own FXHE Records imprint until this week, his distinctive sound has catapulted him to the forefront of house and techno music. Using old-school synths and drum machines to elicit a funky mechanical feel, Omar-S has managed to show us the future by reaching back to the past. And now he is stepping out into the spotlight. With a new release on Theo Parrish's Sound Signature label and a mix consisting entirely of his own material forthcoming as number 45 in Fabric's mix series, RA sits down with the underground hero to see what makes him tick.
Why did you decide to do this new mix for Fabric?
I was like, "Fuck it, why not?" you know. We kinda came together, I played there a shitload of times.
What did you do to change up the older tracks for this mix?
They're different mixes. I put four unreleased tracks on there, and three or four different mixes of tracks that were already released. I did these mixes special for this Fabric release. Probably three of the unreleased tracks will come out on vinyl, one of them in a few weeks on 45 on FXHE.
Did you read the shit people are saying already about the Fabric Mix? A few assholes are talking about "Oh, Omar-S. He did the same thing as Ricardo Vi-vi--...." whatever the fuck he's called. I don't even know who Ricardo Willalobo is. I ain't start hearing his name till like a year ago. Who the fuck is that? So how would I know what he did for Fabric? I don't even know how to say his last name, why would I bite off of him?
Fabric got 45 mixes; I only heard one other one, the Matthew Dear one. It was cool, he played some shit on there. That's the only one I ever heard, I ain't heard Carl Craig's, Stacey Pullen's. Nothing to disrespect them, I just never heard them. People try to say that I'm arrogant, how the fuck am I arrogant? This is promotion for Omar-S, Oasis and FXHE Records for people who don't even know who the fuck I am. This mix will reach out to people that I would never know how to reach out to. Why not do a mix like this? People just want to talk shit.
You also recently put some of your label's releases up on Beatport, how did that come about?
Well I'm about to put the whole catalogue up there on Beatport 'cause a lot of people already got my shit up illegally for free. It would be dumb for me not to put my own shit up there and get some of that money. Don't get me wrong, it's not something I would do. But if someone is giving your shit away for free, and you can do the same thing and get more money and it will come from the original masters and give different mixes and shit, fuck it.
Will there be tracks exclusive to Beatport?
Yeah a few things, a few different mixes. That Big Strick track that's [already on Beatport] up will be out on vinyl in the next couple of months. That's my cousin who started me deejayin' and shit like that. That track is an instrumental, the original's a vocal track. I want to put that on a 45, but a 45 is limited on time, like four minutes at low volume or three-and-a-half minutes at high volume.
In the last 18 months, you've only put out three dance songs. They've been some of your biggest tunes, but that's a much slower release rate than usual. What's the reason for that?
I guess I don't have a good relationship with a lot of distributors. So why waste money? I don't even have US distribution at this point. It's all about some "name game" shit. That's another reason I did the Fabric shit, because of the name game. That's a reason I did that shit with Theo [Parrish], the name game. People don't give a fuck about you being independent, they don't care.
So associating with known names is going to help?
It's all about the fucking name game, that's all it is. So my next album is going to have a lot of people, Amp Fiddler, whoever want to work with me. Fuck it, that's the way it's got to go. I tried not to go that way, but that's what you have to do.
I played Theo some tracks, months back. He didn't say nothing so I was like, "OK." I played it to him again later; he started going crazy and shit, started whipping around the room like he's drunk, making fucked-up faces and pointing sayin', "I want that one, that one, that one! I want that one!"
Did he remember it from before?
Hell naw! I told him I played it before, he said, "No, you ain't play this!" I don't argue with nobody so I said, "OK..." I played him a few other tracks, he wanted to put some more tracks on there but they wouldn't fit.
You've been working with Theo a good bit recently, haven't you?
I'm just engineering and arranging for him, working on post-production shit. I have a few ideas, where to put some effects, know what I'm saying? Theo gave me a tape of like ten tracks that Leron Carson did from the same sessions as the 1987 EP [on Sound Signature], I'm remastering them, editing them, boosting them, whatever. A few of those tracks are coming out, some real ill shit. A lot of that shit was really low, you can still hear the tape hiss. I brought it up a lot.
Are you going to put anything by Theo out on FXHE?
Naw. He asked me to put out "Space Station," but I didn't want to fuck with it. Why put it out on mine when he could sell so many more on his own? It would just be a waste of time.
FXHE was the launching pad for numerous producers like Jus-Ed, Seth Troxler and Kyle Hall. Are you planning on putting out more unknown artists?
A lot of people are fucking babies and shit. They want you to keep putting shit out on your label. Basically what FXHE Records was designed to do for other artists was for the artist to do a record or two on the label and then go off and do his own thing. I might release some stuff from Jason Fine and Big Strick and one other person and that's it, I won't fuck with anyone else.
I'm not putting out music that you put on someone else's label that sounds the same. You do shit on FXHE or you do shit on your own label. Fuck that, I'm not fucking with you if you're fucking with other people. Jus-Ed is the only one who really took advantage of that. Jus-Ed did his first song on FXHE Records, he got a name for himself, now he's doing his own thing BIG. I'm really proud of him. Kyle Hall is doing the same as well!
Now he's breaking other artists himself.
Exactly. That's what the fuck people are supposed to do. But you know, people aren't from the old school. They don't want money, they don't want to put out good music. They want to do that shit half-ass, know what I'm saying? They don't have no hustle in them, that's what it's all about. They just don't want it, so I don't think about it no more.
but who's gonna buy them?"
Do you have new releases coming up on FXHE?
I have so many tracks to put out, but who's gonna buy them? I do have a new 45 coming, limited 1,000 copies, colored vinyl. Labels will be handwritten. Without the middle, you need to get the adapter to put in the middle.
Your two most recent singles "Psychotic Photosynthesis" and "The Further You Look - The Less You Will See" seem to have received a lot of praise and support, have they not sold as well as your older releases?
They did alright, they didn't do what the record for Theo did just in pre-orders. "Psychotic Photosynthesis" is the best record I've heard in ten years from any-damn-body.
What was the inspiration for the title of "Psychotic Photosynthesis"?
I was listening to a Bootsy Collins record, he kept saying "It's psychotic, baby" and I thought of photosynthesis.... Bootsy Collins and leaves and shit mixed together gives you Psychotic Photosynthesis!
Essential Omar-S Deep Cuts
The catalog of FXHE Records is deep with cuts from its owner Omar-S under his own name, as well as his collaborative Oasis project. These are some of the tracks that have defined his sound.
"Just Ask the Lonely," Just Ask the Lonely
Using a simple repeating drum pattern and just a few chords, Omar-S builds the tension for nearly eight minutes before releasing things with a simple twist of twinkling keys. Rarely is so much accomplished with so little.
"Set It Out," 002
One of the very few vocal tracks in the FXHE catalogue, "Set It Out" rips the a cappella from the classic electro-disco jam of the same name by Midway and layers it over a deep Rhodes inflected house cut. The EP this appears on was the first Omar-S record to receive distribution outside of Detroit.
Omar-S proudly displays his affection for Motown in this repetitive house jam. Snatching a tiny sample from the Supremes' "Come See About Me," a hypnotic groove is established that rises and falls with the filter's cutoff frequency.
"Oasis Thirteen," Thirteen/Two/Eight
Produced along with the mysterious Shadow Ray under the Oasis moniker, "Oasis Thirteen" sounds like a robotic Metro Area. The fat melodic bassline leads the way here, satisfying fans of house, disco, and techno simultaneously.
A nasty, simple, lo-fi cut that straddles the line between beautiful and harsh in Omar-S' inimitable style. While it sounds great layered under a disco record, it shines in the context of the EP which ranges from kickdrum-less 727 and bassline workouts to extremely minimal jacking rhythm tracks. This is one of the best Omar-S records from front to back.
I like Donato Dozzy from Italy, I like his shit. Sex Tags, they're from Norway. Scott Grooves. Theo Parrish. And Kyle Hall, and that's it. I would like to meet Dam Funk one day, I really like Dam Funk's stuff. I kinda contacted him a few times, I guess he did me like I do everybody else. [laughs] His shit is really fucking good, it's the best inspirational shit I've heard from anybody. He's got that Oakland, Ohio, Detroit feeling.
I'm really a big fan of Oakland rap music from back in the early to mid '90s. I don't fuck with new rap music though. The first three Geto Boys albums are sick as fuck. Fuckin Scarface's first album was sick as fuck, that was the best shit he did.
You have a day job with Ford Motor Company, right?
Yeah, I been there for what, 13 or 14 years now. I certify parts with a marker. That same exact marker that I certify with, I usually take some home, that's what I usually write on my records with, the same exact marker I use at work. I take the markers home, they got like ten different colors. If you see a gold, a grey or a blue—blue is my favorite color marker—those markers come from my job.
Why did you decide to start going with the full printed labels instead of the handwritten style of your earliest releases?
That shit started getting out of control around 2004, 2005. I couldn't keep up with it. It would take six or seven hours to fill out the records.
Have your co-workers been affected by the recent economic problems that are hitting the auto industry especially hard?
There's a lot of layoffs and shit like that, people accepting the buy-outs. You gotta have a secondary thing, another business going on. For me, that's records and DJing.
How has your DJing been going?
It's been going really good. The main places I like going back to are Sub Club, and Fabric of course. I haven't been to Panoramabar in a few years, I need to go back there. Those three places are professional: No problem with the equipment, no problem with the turntables, no problem with the engineers, none of that shit. A lot of these places I go to the engineers don't know shit, the turntables are all fucked up. At those three places I don't have to go to sound check, because I know everything's gonna be OK.
Do you have any gigs going on in the United States at all?
I got something coming up in New York this Saturday, and I got something coming up in LA in a couple weeks. Some people ask for me to play in the US, but these two guys here are the only ones who were serious about it. I'm looking at it like a music historian, this shit has been going on like this since the 1900s. People in Europe appreciate art more than Americans. You could make fucking ice sculptures. And, in Europe, that's art. Over here, that's fucking nothing. If it's not about sex, drugs, and violence people here don't care.
That's everywhere though. People always ask me about that picture on the net with the gun sitting there while I'm writing on records. Why do people bring that shit up? Like this one asshole French interviewer yesterday asked me what kind of neighborhood I lived in. I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Do you live in a poor neighborhood?" What the fuck kind of question is that? It seems like to me France is one of the most fucked up places I've been to so far. And he has the nerve to ask me what kind of neighborhood I come from?
Hey man, I'm tired of these motherfuckers coming to Detroit and going downtown, you know downtown is kinda fucked up. Detroit is bigger than a motherfucker, they don't ever go to West Side, East Side, North Side. They only go downtown to see the fucked up bars with crackheads hanging around and shit. I live on the East Side. I grew up in Conant Gardens, that's where my father and grandparents were from. We still own the property over there as far as the house and the store, the arcade and shit.
Would you ever consider leaving Detroit?
Fuck naw. I can't see that, man.