This was the first track you ever edited. Can you tell me a little about it?
A very close new friend at the time, Erasmo Rivera, was in school for sound engineering and was learning to edit/cut tape. Every Saturday night at The Warehouse (in the early days) he would ask me to give him records to edit for his class. One of the first songs I gave him was "So Fine" by Howard Johnson. He did such an incredible job that the crowd would beg for it.
The more tunes I gave him, the better he got. It really inspired me. I started cutting tape at home. I would sit all week behind my Pioneer Reel-To-Reel with a splicing block, a white grease pencil, next to my turntable and cut everything I could. Then, Erasmo and I re-edited "Let No Man Put Asunder," which had already long been a staple on the dance floor at The Warehouse. Our re-edit breathed new life into this tune that was a long forgotten B-side album cut. Word got back to Salsoul Records in New York, and they wanted the edit. Then they decided they wanted me to completely remix the record. Our original edit never saw the light of day because I kept it for myself. But "Let No Man Put Asunder" was my first professional remix.
Erasmo was helping Ron Hardy with edits too?
Erasmo was not helping Ron Hardy with anything. So whoever told you that was lying.
That was a quote from Chip E in Last Night A DJ Saved My Life.
They didn't even know each other. Ron Hardy was aware of who Erasmo was, but they had never met.
That's interesting, because that book's sometimes taken as the bible of DJ history.
Well, guess what, that bible got it wrong! [laughs] No, Erasmo worked very closely with me. He was a close friend of mine and we hung at the Warehouse every Saturday night. We worked very closely together. He was in school for sound engineering, and when he started to learn how to edit and cut tape he was constantly asking for records. That was the first one I gave him. That's what inspired me to get more involved in it, he never worked with Ronny. Not on anything, just me. Ronny did all of his stuff on a cassette deck, he pause edited everything. Erasmo and I sat behind a reel-to-reel with grease pencil and splicing blocks. And we cut everything. Ronny didn't know how to do that or didn't have the patience to learn it.
Was that the difference between you two?You would sit down and make things more perfect?
Well, he made it perfect for him in the format in which he did it. And that worked. But when he did something like that, the song would go on for about 12 minutes. I was always conscious of link and continuity in the song. It wasn't enough for me to just take the favourite part and just keep looping it over and over again for 12 minutes. It gets a little mundane after a while. I would get bored with it, and if I get bored with it, the room would get bored. So if I put the proper intro and the proper outro of the song, manipulated just enough in the middle to keep it interesting, maybe give a different twist on the original and kept it at a decent time—nothing longer than eight, maybe eight-and-a-half minutes—then it was good. You know, I couldn't just take a small piece of a record just because it was the best bit and keep looping it over and over again. [That] was pretty much what he did most of the time. I mean he did some clever stuff with it. Don't misunderstand me.
What kind of clever stuff?
He would just choose different parts of songs. It might be two bars of this. And to sit there with a cassette deck and do this whole pause thing - with that one little minute-and-a-half piece and just looping it to make it happen. When you're on the dance floor, 12 minutes is a long time for one monotonous track to keep going round and round. And he never necessarily intertwined or interlocked anything else with it. I mean it made a major impact on the room, and I could see it. When there's a strobe light at the end of the room and the kids are all messed up on drugs and this that and the other—it's the basis of what kids are into these days. A monotonous drone beat is enough for a 15 year old. But when you're 25, 26, it ain't enough. Not unless I'm on the same drugs. At that particular point I wasn't.
Bad Boy (Unreleased Mix)
This is the demo mix of this record.
And how'd you get it?
It was re-released by Rush Hour and Trax.
Obviously nothing I had to do with.
It feels like I'm coming in here and giving you bad news...
[laughs] No, I'm here for you.
This mix. Was this Jamie's original demo mix?
No, that was my original production. I just haven't heard it in a long time.
Well, we didn't necessarily work in the studio together in the beginning. He brought everything to me and asked if I would produce him. I told him I'd never produced anyone before, but he kept saying "I liked what you did with First Choice and I was told you'd be the best person for me to bring my music to get it produced." I told him point blank, "I've never produced anyone. But I'm willing to take the chance if you're willing to work with me." And he was like, "yeah sure."
He pretty much fashioned everything he was doing at that time around Prince—he was a real big Prince fan, hence the name Jamie Prince-iple. His train of thought was a lot like Prince too. Just being slightly left-of-centre, but spot on with it. Little socio-political message here and there embedded in the music.
When Jamie would write his songs, they were pretty much like books. He would pull out—literally—a book. There would be pages and pages and pages of lyrics, but it all went on different tracks. There were certain answers to certain questions here, and then over there was the main lead track in the middle. It had to be edited down. He had his own train of thought of what that was, but it had to be put into some cohesive form that made sense. It made sense in his head, the way he read it, but to the average person it really didn't. So that's what I ended up doing. Editing down a lot of it. Even for example "Baby Wants To Ride": there are so many lyrics to that song, and if you listen to it full on, as it is, it's a lot.
What was your first reaction to hearing Jamie's work?
Well that was the first song I actually took Jamie in the studio and recorded. We went to this little studio out in the south suburbs of Chicago, which is the same studio in which I had mixed "Let No Man Put Asunder." I'd sat on a bunch of sessions before that too. But when it came time for me to actually record this track, I didn't know my way around it. There were engineers there helping me, and they were a little frustrated. I didn't know the language. I didn't know how to speak to them about really getting what I wanted.
But I did the best I could. And at the end of the whole session, after we finished up "Waiting On My Angel," the engineer kept saying: "It was really frustrating working with you, but I have to take my hat off, you knew exactly what you wanted. When I listen to it now, I totally get it. I've never heard anything like it before." But you know what, they probably said the thing about the first rock & roll records. [laughs]
I was absolutely in love with it, because I thought it was just so dreamy and so beautiful. I never thought about it like, "Wow! I just did this." I was just so completely wrapped up in the song itself because Jamie wrote all of those songs for the girl that he was in love with at the time—her name was Lisa, a beautiful young girl.
To see that love, and to be able to take that, and make it into something real and tangible that you can touch and actually hear and taste and feel... It was another world. It really was. I felt that close to it, but I didn't ever think anyone else would feel the same way. But then when I would play it at the Powerplant, and everyone would just lose their minds to it when they would hear that whole refrain. That sustained note at the beginning... People would just lose their mind to it.
I didn't know there was a real girl behind the record. That's fascinating...
When he wrote "Your Love," it was for that girl Lisa. And that's why, to this day—with everything that Trax has snatched up and put out—it's really bittersweet. They pretty much stole the stuff from me and Jamie. It was really personal to Jamie, because Lisa was the love of his life. The fact that they've taken it and bastardised it, and done all this different shit with it... Pardon my French. That's really, really sad when you know it from the personal side of it. That's why when we came to revisiting everything, I was like, "So it's not Lisa anymore, but the history of what it means... we can give it now what we couldn't give it then." And we couldn't give it then just because we didn't know as much as we know now. Technically, as musicians, as producers. Hopefully it can touch somebody else in the same way it touched him and Lisa.
That's hugely interesting because whenever people talk about how musicians got ripped off at Trax they usually talk about the commerce side, and there's this whole personal and artistic side.
I don't co-sign anything on Trax. If someone comes up to me with something that's on Trax they want me to autograph, I don't. I don't recognise it. A lot of them get pissed off and some of them get disappointed, but they need to understand. When someone has taken something from you, you are co-signing what they have done the minute you put your signature on it.
Some people just don't care. They just want your signature! Well, I'm sorry, but I care. And I care for Jamie. And I care more about what it means to him. That was a pure love between him and Lisa. And unless you know somebody like that up close and personal or you lived through that, you have to give it respect.
Where Were You?
I wouldn't like to guess how many times you've heard this one...
It was like a theme song at Sound Factory. There were a handful of tunes that made up any given Saturday night while I played Sound Factory; "The Whistle Song," "I'll Be Your Friend," "Where Love Lives," "The Pressure," "Tonight" by Those Guys and "Where Were You" by Black Science Orchestra. These seven tunes created the personality of "The House Sound of New York." You could interlock any tracks around the seven songs and have an amazing evening. It's probably one of my favourite songs too. Ashley Beedle really worked out, he did an incredible job with this.
Do you think that Sound Factory period was a peak for dance music?
Yeah, I think it was. Absolutely. Sound Factory was the last club of that ilk. Fashioned behind Paradise Garage; fashioned behind David Mancuso's Loft or Nicky Siano's Gallery. One of those rooms where it was about the soundsystem, it was about the dance floor. That's what was for sale, the dance floor. It didn't take all the rest of the fluffy stuff going on in the periphery to make the club. It was a stark room that was probably painted black nine times out of ten with a massive soundsystem in it.
There was nothing but you and the sound in this pitch black space. That's amazing, because then you really see the music in the dark. Because what you're hearing is creating the visual. You're actually seeing in the dark. And when you're caught up in that kind of thing all night long—from midnight till noon the next day? How can you come out of that place without a song in your heart as well as in your head that you sing all week long until you go back there the following week? Because you knew, back then, that was the only place you were going to hear it. No matter how many times you ran to the record store. "Is it out yet? Is it out yet? Is it out yet?" And it doesn't come out—or sometimes it never comes out—but they know that's the one place they can hear it every week.
I didn't really realize what kind of void I left in house music when I stopped producing and remixing. In the late '90s when hard house, trance and techno took over, I was no longer inspired to make music. So I took my act on the road and thought that I would stay there until things got better. No one seemed interested in what I was doing as a producer. (Or so I thought.)
The further I got away from production, though, the more my health spiralled out of control. And, at that moment, Hercules & The Love Affair asked me to remix "Blind." They wanted "that classic Frankie Knuckles/DefMix" sound. I thought they must be kidding. No one was really playing anything remotely DefMix sounding. I passed on the remix, but they remained diligent. "I had to mix it" according to them. Then I took ill and thought, "OK, here's a way out." But the group said they'd wait until I was well. I didn't know how long that would be.
As soon as I got better and was ready to return to the road, they asked me again if I would remix it. At this point, they had waited six months, I had to do it. I pulled Eric Kupper in on programming, knocked out the mix and moved on. I was in Greece on tour when the record had been released. I didn't even know it was out there, but everyone was asking for it. I was blown away. Long story short, I have Hercules & The Love Affair to thank for getting me back to my first love. Correction, not my first love, my real love.
The reason I wanted to show you this track is because it clearly owes a lot to the early Chicago period. What did you think of this kind of revivalism, especially as it's for a period you were so closely involved in?
When people ask me that question, I always think to when I was a kid and my parents would say, "Oh, we used to do this to that record. We've heard all this before." What goes around keeps coming around, so to speak. It's almost like living it all over again. I think it's clever what they did. Do I think the particular song or track is anything massive? No. I can hear it done better. And I've heard people do it better. But I recognise and pay homage to the homage they are paying. [laughs] I don't think it's bad.
Would you want to revisit that sound yourself?
It's not what I do. It just appears that way to you. But that's not what I do. It's just how we make music. [awkward pause, then laughter] I'm sorry, I threw you a curveball didn't I?! I wasn't trying to, I'm just trying to be honest.
I appreciate the honesty!
I've been making music for a long time and Jamie's been writing music for a long time. There's a certain formula he has about the way he writes. I think he writes hearing me produce in his head. Which is why he always gives it to me! I think there are certain expectations that people have that they place on what I do. I just try to be as honest with the music as I possibly can be and what it feels like to me.
The instrumental of that record appealed to me more than the vocals. There are certain instrumentals you can listen to and they say so much, even though there's no voice. It was one of those for me.
Instrumental mixes on Prelude from around this time were really more dub mixes in their own right. This one is obviously by Francois K. Larry [Levan] had input on this record too. Obviously you two were really close, what influence did he have on you?
He played things I wished I could play. When you're young, you look at your best mate and there are things your best friend will do and you'll just think to yourself, "God, where'd you get the nerve to do that? You're crazy, what are you doing?" And then they do it and you say, "Damn, I should have did that. I had every opportunity and I just didn't." You can kick yourself for not doing it, but as I've gotten older and look back on it, I've realised those were things that were all part of his make-up. He was very daring, he didn't care. That was just him! I don't have to read more into it than that. What I do is what I do, and that's all that it is.
Are there any particular moments that stood out that really made you think, "whoa"?
What made Larry the ultimate DJ was the fact he would play anything and everything. At the middle of the night he would go into "Dancing" by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Which is just such a way off-the-grid track. It's very electronic, very ethereal. It's a great record to test a soundsystem because it sweeps around the room. It has lots of electronic blips and things in it and it just stops you dead in your tracks. And he would play that after something like "Mighty Real" by Sylvester when everyone's screaming. What it does is it gives everybody a chance to catch up to themselves, but at the same time you just get swallowed up in it. And if you were off your face on drugs... You may never come back! He would do things like that, whereas me, I was just a little more conscious about the journey I was taking people on and the story I was trying to tell.
So do you think that's why he's still evangelised as the world's greatest DJ?
Well, if you were someone who was really into music you could recognise that. But today's crowd would not agree because he didn't mix everything. He didn't put everything together. And when he did, he didn't always do it in a pristine way. That's not what it was about. It was more about the songs themselves, as well as how they're put together. That has always been our theory, even growing up. Still to this day, it's not how perfect I put them together—it's what's following what's playing. That's what makes the difference.