It doesn't help that his newest project, Different World—a collaboration with Takasi Nakajima—doesn't put his name in lights. Then again, Young has never really wanted his name in lights. He even downplayed his universally lauded performance at this year's Movement Electronic Music Festival as "a regular set, a little bit sloppy." When pushed, he thinks that "maybe the tune selection resonated? I don't see the reason for the explosion, I'm happy but I don't get it."
Our theory is that it was a number of people remembering just how good of a DJ Claude Young is. Time and again, he's done the types of things that a manager would advise strongly against. (It's no wonder that he does much of his own booking nowadays via his official website.) But that's why he's remained at the top of his game. Dissent: It may be bad for business, but it's great for art.
I think most people don't know. I have this love-hate thing with the business, I really do.
In the few interviews I've read, that's what I've noticed.
I enjoy the music part, I really enjoy playing, but not the travelling and not so much the bullshit that goes with the personalities. There are a few personalities who I really like; they are pretty much who they present themselves to be. But a lot of other people are just full of shit and, to be honest with you, I just can't deal with it. I have a low BS tolerance, so I know I'll say something that'll piss people off and I have done so on several occasions but I just don't care about that. This is my time and I'd rather do it my way. It hasn't helped me at all, but I'm free, I do what I want.
I read that in 2004 you felt you had become kind of known for something and, as a result, you felt trapped. How do you feel now?
Yeah, it was into 2004 and I'd actually quit. I said, "Screw this, I've had it with agents, I've had it with all the BS." I was fed up. It was one of these things where I was with an agency and I was doing really well and I had loads of work, but it got to a point where I wasn't really enjoying the parties anymore and they were saying that they only wanted to hear really hard techno.
I enjoyed that when I first moved to Europe but I just got to the point where I was like, "I don't want to go on this plane, I don't want to do this party, I don't want to fake through a set." I just woke up one morning and realized I wasn't enjoying it for the first time in 15 years, so I stopped. It was tough. Financially, it was tough. I never really came out of that actually. It's kind of morphed into something else, but it was really tough.
You got your start in radio, right?
Yes. My dad, actually, helped to found a station, WJLB. I was never on JLB, though. I was on WHYT which was more of a pop station, but we had a really cool programme director called Mark Jackson and Mark knew my dad. No one else knew that my dad was my dad because I didn't want to go in and get treated any differently. So I went in and did my internship doing market research and one day he called me into his office and said, "A couple of guys are going to leave the show, do you want to try out?" They had a competition and I was one of the guys that got picked.
Were you already DJing a decent amount before this?
Yeah, I'd been playing a little bit, but I didn't actually own turntables until I moved to London later. I had a little Technics SLB 5 and I had a cassette recorder so I would buy records and tape them and then I'd mix between the tape—through a crappy Radio Shack mixer—to the turntable. That's how I got my skills up. Playing in clubs was the practice time, and then when I got the radio show I had access to the studio reel-to-reel machines.
One of the first big things that you did was an edit for Kevin Saunderson. How did you meet him? Was it through the radio?
Yeah, basically. I was doing my mix show and I was playing a lot of local stuff but our program director wasn't too crazy about it because the playlist would come up and it would be "no title." My whole two hour slot would be blank. I got a memo one day, "You've got to play some commercial." My boss said that for the first hour I can play whatever I want, then after that it has to be commercial stuff.
Anyway I called down to Metroplex, and Shake was working there and I said, "Hey, it's Claude Young, can I get on the promo list?" and he said "Young? Oh, I know your dad!" We've been good friends ever since. He introduced me to Kevin. The first thing I did for Kevin was a couple of edits for Warner Brothers. Kevin called me and said, "I hear you're doing a lot of edits, I want to see if you can hook this record up." So I went down to KMS and I did a radio edit and he wrote me a cheque. That was that. There are three or four people who were central to my advancement as a person back then. People who were just respectful and didn't treat me like shit. That was Kevin, Rich[ie Hawtin], Shake and Dan[iel Bell]. Dan, Shake and I were really close.
A sampling of Young's early 12-inches for 7th City, Djax-Up-Beats and Frictional.
How did you meet Dan originally?
I think it was radio. And then we worked at [local record store] Record Time together. It was really amazing, the people who worked at the shops. At Buy-Rite on 7 Mile, you had Kenny Dixon, Sherard Ingram and Blake Baxter. I lived close to there. It was also close to the original UR office, which was near Mike Banks' house. I had to walk past Banks' mother's place to get to the record shop. We were all there from the very beginning.
I met a lot of local people around that time because I was playing a lot of local stuff and few other people were. People started calling me, and they would come to the station, give me promos and it all really built from there. Dan, Shake and I were always like brothers. After I moved to London, I became close with James Ruskin. When I went to Glasgow, I met Jackmaster and Calum Morton, who works at Warp. I wouldn't call them protégés or anything, but they were 15 and 16 and they would hang out at Rub-a-Dub in Glasgow and I had a really nice apartment and so people used to come and hang out. They used to hang out at my place a lot and I used to let them play on the decks and just have a good time.
I think Detroit, Berlin, New York, Chicago and other cities are places where you have to be really good. You can't be a marketer type DJ and make it. You're not going to market your way past Derrick May or Kevin Saunderson or Jeff Mills. You've got to come with some skill. I always try to keep that part with me. I take that idea of the competition and the push to be different with me everywhere I go.
What do you think is "Detroit" about how you play?
Something I picked up from the RA Exchange you did with Chris Liebing was that Germans, Berliners especially, have been lucky enough to play extended sets all the time. I think German DJs created a situation where they were in charge of the night, so they had space to really evolve, but in Detroit it was the exact opposite, it was like, "There are 12 DJ's playing and you're all getting 45 minutes, so it's tight."
45 minutes to make an impression on someone?
Jeff Mills' Wizard thing is the bar that people still try to live up to. In the beginning I was really trying to do that, but now it's a meld of the Detroit style and the German style. I still do it off feeling. It's kind of like jazz, it's real spontaneous, I may have a few songs but for the most part I just roll in. I try to keep it like that because that way I'm interested. If it's a set set, I can do it, and people will probably like it, but I'll be extremely bored and it'll be obvious.
Tell me about the Different World project.
Different World is my project with Takasi Nakajima. With me and him it's almost symbiotic. He's a former DMC contestant, and we both came from the same kind of musical background; funk, soul, hip-hop, abstract and techno. The first time I went to his office—he's a web designer by day—I realized that we had a lot of the same records. He had all of mine too. I don't even have all of mine. One day we decided to do a mix and so we set up the computers and we had CD players, vinyl and a computer. We decided not to plan anything and just press record and run through it. We really enjoyed it. It wasn't as great as we thought it was at first [laughs], but we knew there was something there.
How is it different to what you've done before? What things are you indulging in that you haven't before?
A lot of sound design, strings. Among all my friends, when they come to me it's for tech support or sound design or if they're looking to get a particular sound. I get to spend a lot more time doing sound design and Takashi usually does drums. He's a hell of a programmer and he always comes up with some really cool shit so that forces me to go back and do more stuff. We interchange parts, but for me it's atmospheres and strings and bits and pieces.
Do you play out much?
Not a lot. We really want to push it, though. We'd like to do more things outside of Japan. Ironically, I don't do a lot inside of Japan. It's a really bizarre place. Maybe 15 years ago it was really brilliant, because it was so unique and now it's basically Europe East. People you can see in Europe you can pretty much see here on a regular basis.
You said in another interview that there wasn't an infrastructure in place to build up local producers. Is it still the same situation now in your opinion?
Definitely. It's a troubling trend. It's really interesting, because Japan had the run of being the top spot in Asia for a very long time and now the scene in China is really emerging. China is still on shaky ground, sometimes there are problems with events. But when they get that all sorted out, China is going to be the hotspot and there will be another dip in Japan because there is nothing really unique there. I don't want to be insulting, but from my perspective, there isn't anything unique. If I was in Europe or America or somewhere else and I wanted to go to Japan for something uniquely Japanese, it's very difficult to find. You're not going to find it at any of the major places, because they're pretty much tied up with tours. They have to fill the clubs.
me. It's like, 'Dude, you're not making
a million so get over yourself.'"
I think you have a different perspective on it, living there as opposed to someone who just comes in, has an amazing time for however many days and then leaves.
Yeah, it's hospitality central so when you leave you're going to say, "Yeah, I had a great time." I had lunch with James [Ruskin] last year, and it was the same thing, he said it was really good but he just wishes he could get over more frequently. I get that all the time, "Why aren't you playing here?" And, you know, it has to be up to the promoters to talk to the right people. I'm the easiest guy to do shows with, but they don't get in touch. So when the people who actually find me [get in contact], I'm going to go out there and bust my ass for them as they've done their homework. As for the rest of them? Fuck it. I'm not interested.
[Throughout] my career—if you want to call it that—I've kind of wanted people to discover me. When this is all said and done, hopefully I'll be one of those people where you have to know about it to know about it. That's pretty much gone these days. I grew up around a lot of famous people because of my dad. I went to see Prince when I was 13 and we were backstage. My dad used to put up pictures of all the famous people, so it would be my dad and Quincy Jones, my dad and Isaac Hayes, my dad and Barry White. I grew up around those type of people. So in this business, when people do something seriously, I take them seriously. But if it's just hype stuff, I overlook it, because you can't really get any hotter than those people. The whole attitude thing is a turnoff for me. It's like, "Dude, you're not making a million so get over yourself."
It's like you talked about before. You get into this situation of doing festivals, and you lose some perspective.
I don't think I'll ever go back to the point where I want to do festivals. Financially it would be fantastic, but that would put me in a situation where I'd have to play records I don't want to. I'd much rather play the back rooms and be free. You know, you meet a lot of DJs—the really big ones—and they're kind of characters. I'm the farthest away from a character you can get. When you see Derrick May there is something iconic about the way he carries himself. He's an artist. I'm not really like that. I'm just a tech geek who does music. That's my thing.