By now Psychemagik have made edits of everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Bobby McFerrin. As DJs, their combination of leftfield selections and well-placed reworks has made them a festival favourite. This year alone they have toured the US twice, been to Australia and played places like the Garden Festival in Croatia. That's partly thanks to the success of Magik Sunrise, their recently released compilation of no-hit wonders. Surf pop, chanson, dub disco—it's all there with lovingly compiled sleeve notes and fascinating back-stories.
For a few years, though, they were unheard of—they'd signed a deal with Warner Music, and weren't allowed to release any other music. They were promised vocalists like CeeLo Green (just after his debut hit "Crazy") and got to work with the same 17-piece orchestra that played on Amy Winehouse's Back To Black. Ultimately, though, it didn't work out. The label started dictating what they wanted and the relationship soured. "It's probably a good thing it didn't work out," says McLewin. "It all happened a bit fast and we hardly knew each other. Where we are now, it's happened more organically, we feel like we've earned it more." In the throes of a busy summer of gigs, we called up the duo in their native Kent to chat about the records they adore.
Don't You Know
Did you come to Jan Hammer through "Crockett's Theme" / Miami Vice like I imagine many people did?
Danny McLewin: No actually. I first heard this about ten years ago. I've got a few of his albums, that album is called Melodies. When I first heard it I nearly fell off my chair, it's just so beautiful. Beautiful lyrics, beautiful melodies, synth playing—it's quite mainstream but it's just one of those tracks that really resonates.
Was it one of those gateway records that opened up a whole new world?
Danny McLewin: Yeah, if I discover an artist and haven't heard them before I will explore all their stuff. Sometimes, though, people only make one great record, and that will be it.
Tom Coveney: The internet and Discogs are so important for this, especially for new music.
Danny McLewin: My way of digging is—first of all the artwork, cover, typography or a beautiful photo will mean I'll put it out. Then I look at the back and the personnel and the instruments. If it says Moog, drums, synths, stuff like that, then I'll pull it out and check it out. If it says harmonica and banjo I'll usually swerve it.
Tom Coveney: Or saxophone.
Danny McLewin: Yeah, we're not into casual sax at all. It's our most hated instrument, with bagpipes a close second.
Why is that?
Danny McLewin: It's just a horrible sound.
Tom Coveney: What they did in the '80s, chucking it on top of everything and making it about sex—every cheesy film about sex, out the sax would come.
Danny McLewin: Just brass in general, though. So many great tunes have been crucified by really toppy brass. But that's where the blade comes in!
Is that why you turn to edits, then, to remove the brass?
Danny McLewin: Not really, we just get the loops going, extend the good parts, get rid of the shit and put a donk on it is the main policy. That's the thing: the old tracks are usually great, but if you want to play them among modern productions we have to beef them up and make them sound contemporary and club friendly.
Do you clear out your collection often?
Danny McLewin: I rarely buy blind. If I can spend two - three hours in a shop I'll pull out 50 records, go to the deck and go through them all—that's how I discover new stuff, by putting the hours in. I love it, that's the greatest thing, those discoveries.
I was in a shop in Texas called End Of An Ear, and they had a whole section of private presses. Privately pressed records put out on their own label—quite often interesting and quirky productions but produced quite badly because they were made on DIY budgets. There was one I found that had been made in this kid's dad's log cabin. It was just an incredible album, that's the stuff I am really looking for.
So the backstories interest you as well?
Danny McLewin: Oh yeah, I'm a total geek. I will read all the sleeve notes. We just put out Magik Sunrise. I contacted all the artists for the sleeves notes of that because I'm always really interested to find out the stories.
I Was Born
When did you come to this?
Danny McLewin: A guy called Ben Horner first played me this almost 20 years ago. It blew my mind, it's such a beautiful song, the lyrics are heart-wrenching, the chords and the melodies are just epic. Back in the day when I was playing more folk sets, I'd play it at sunrise and men would be in tears, sobbing with joy. It has a melancholic quality to it that people can really enjoy. It's a joint favourite of ours and I probably have six or seven of his albums. I'm really into him.
Apparently this guy had a skill for re-working old songs, as do you. Is it daunting when you start something like a Fleetwood Mac edit?
Tom Coveney: Not daunting at all. It could be, I guess, because it's such a big track, but we just did it for us, for our dance floor. It wasn't made to see how big we could get. It's just about beefing it up so people can hear something different about something they love.
Danny McLewin: The motivation for all our productions is ourselves —if people love it then great—we've been lucky because they have.
And regarding licensing?
Danny McLewin: The Magik Sunrise and Magik Cyrkles compilations are all licensed, but, for example, we did a version of Wang Chung, "Dance Hall Days," put it on SoundCloud, he heard it and loved it so sent us the parts and we did it legitimately and it made it onto his album.
Tom Coveney: It was actually on an American show with Elijah Wood called Wilfred. He has a dog as a friend and they do some dance to our version of the track, which was quite cool.
Talking about rare finds, I hear you sell some of your records to people like Soulwax and The Chemical Brothers. Are they buying for sample sources or…?
Danny McLewin: Well Soulwax, yeah, are always looking for stuff to work with, but they are also quite extensive archivists and they do so many styles of mixes, and I collect so many styles of music, so I take them a whole bunch of stuff from Italo to psych disco to Bollywood stuff. They love their electro so it's always a mixed bag. If they haven't got it and it's good, they will grab it.
Do you think you will become archivists?
Danny McLewin: I would like to be, and have managed to track down a lot of records that pre-internet would have been impossible, but it really comes down to money. But for example, with David Axlerod, I went on a mission to find everything he had done because it just blew me away from a production standpoint. The guy's a genius. Same with Kenny Rankin: I went and bought six or seven albums. There have been albums I've spent years looking for and then when I find them it's been overwhelming because you've been looking for so long. I wouldn't merit a record having more value because it's rare, though. People do that but a dollar bin record is just as valid.
Tom Coveney: I only heard this a couple of years ago. I'm not such a collector myself so I don't dig that hard, but I love this one. I've always loved folk music. We both do. To be honest, I can't go much more into it than that. I found it and fell in love, but I don't really follow the bands.
How did you get into folk?
Tom Coveney: It was my parents from a young age. I had this one record that was really old folk nursery rhymes that I always asked mum and dad to put on. I think that got itself in me and never really left.
Danny McLewin: We actually bonded over an album called Morris On. It's basically a Morris dancing album, all accordions and really fast.
Like your own stuff, folk is obviously vocal-led. Is it the words or the sound of the voice you are drawn to?
Tom Coveney: The whole package, really. The vocal on this is amazing, that British sound of people like Fairport Convention I love. It just harks back to old taverns. In fact, I think there might be someone from Fairport on this track because they all used to work together on different projects.
Danny McLewin: That feeling really just takes us back to an old boozer three or 400 years ago with people clunking tankards. It's so old school England, it's just our roots.
Tom Coveney: It sort of connects us to a past life. Medieval.
This track is so quintessentially British. Do these things translate when you play them in, say, the US?
Danny McLewin: We don't really play that kinda stuff out. We've been talking for ages about doing a folk edits EP because we have some great tracks, but that would really be a love project. I don't suppose it would be that popular, but a few people might get it.
So what are your sets like?
Tom Coveney: Disco and house. We start with slo-mo, tricky and weird stuff. It evolves all the time but we're a little less cosmic disco than we used to be.
Danny McLewin: We mix it up, really. It depends on the club. Most places say, "Yeah, you can play what you like," then the guy before you is banging out new stuff and you know if you play an old record it has such an odd texture you can clear the dance floor easily. We're preoccupied with making people dance when we DJ, we want a full dance floor all the time.
Why this one in particular? Were you always into trip-hop?
Tom Coveney: I was in my teens. I was always into haunting sounds and this is a trippy track. The vocal is really out there. I'm into the resonance of the track. I don't know much about Tricky or his life story, but that doesn't really bother me. I used to listen to this on loop. I remember playing football in the playground at school with this on in headphones, running around tackling everyone.
Did you keep up with him after this debut album?
Tom Coveney: A little bit but this was the real standout that hit me.
Paid In Full (Coldcut Remix)
I guess these guys' cross-genre mixes were an inspiration?
Tom Coveney: I love the use of samples in this. As soon as I heard this it was fucking amazing.
Danny McLewin: The Coldcut guys are next level. Some of the mixes they were doing in the late '80s and early '90s were amazing. They still sound incredible now. Serious diggers with incredible skills.
Tom Coveney: I remember my nan bought me a hip-hop mixtape on tape for Christmas and this was on it. I was like, "Yeah, this is fucking dope, come on nan!"
Danny McLewin: You got one funky ass granny!
So What Cha Sayin
For 1989, the production on this is amazing.
Danny McLewin: It's fucking awesome. I was totally obsessed with hip-hop in my teenage years. I'm old enough to remember the Beastie Boys' first record, which was when I was 13. That blew my mind, got me into LL Cool J then EPMD. I actually really loved the Dust Brothers' production on Paul's Boutique, but EPMD were amazing producers and incredible MCs. Same thing with 3 Feet High And Rising. I was stoned all the time when I heard that, and hip-hop was a huge part of my life. Hip-hop really lost its way after the mid-'90s. The Neptunes early stuff was probably the last thing I was into, but I kinda grew out of it.
It's interesting you were taking note of production at such a young age. Were you making stuff yourself then?
Danny McLewin: No, I was more into DJing. I was into samples and was collecting them by then, just for DJing and playing original breaks. I used to play with a guy from Morcheeba. Me and Paul [Godfrey], one of the main guys [in Morcheeba], were at college together, so we were playing parties in a village hall kind of thing. Bands would play—all different styles, ska, funk, psychedelic—and we'd play records in between.
How much do you keep up with new music?
Danny McLewin: That's more Tom's area, to be honest.
Tom Coveney: I listen to a lot of folk, not that I can remember names. I used to be really into indie, and still listen and learn from that. Plus house music, every day. I loved the Leatherette's album recently; it's all over, though, really, every day I like at least 20 tracks, brand new.
Valley Of The Shadows
This one I didn't see coming.
Tom Coveney: I was a big jungle head. When I first started getting into a specific genre, it was about 1991 and I was playing out at about 11 years old. I started in clubs at about 16, a dodgy old club in Kent. A ratty old acid victim used to run it. He didn't give a shit that I was underage. There was a pot smoking room next door. It was just crazy. It was a proper den.
Back to that track, I didn't really know where these sounds had come from. The bell sample—I didn't know what the fuck could have made it, and it was just music from out of this world. Over time I learnt how it was all put together and got to grips with how it was made.
Did you turn off at that point, when you knew its secrets?
Tom Coveney: Possibly, but it took a good six years to fall out of love. It took a real turn in 1998/99 when they introduced trance synth sounds. I lost it then.
Danny McLewin: The arse dropped out of it.
Are there other genres you think have life spans?
Tom Coveney: I had a UK garage spell for three or four years. Things do have a span, but the thing about house music is that, as a whole, it's 30 years old and it's still fucking strong.
Danny McLewin: With modern deep house and techno, the production is really out there and next level; it's phenomenal what's going on in that area. We just made a house banger, actually.
Tom Coveney: It's got a bit of the Bristol feel coming through in it. We love making house. This is the thing, we've been doing the edits and remixes for ages, but we're back in the studio as of really soon and will be focussing on our own material. A lot of house will be made.
Is that a result of playing more gigs, do you think, of seeing more dance floors?
Danny McLewin: I think so, but we've been itching to do this for a long time. Also, there is so much great music out there that's inspiring. We've met various people along the way we also said we would work with, but we've been in a trap of doing remixes to pay the bills and hoping to get to a level where we can free up the time to do our own thing.
Why this one?
Danny McLewin: Well, I'm talking about the 15-minute version in particular. It was my first psychedelic experience, when I was 16. I'd had a few mushrooms and could not believe how incredible this record sounded. I played it about 75 times. It was the way my ears were perceiving music and I will never forget that experience.
Psychedelic crops up a lot in conversation and in your music's aesthetic. Are psychedelic drugs part of your creative process?
Danny McLewin: It's a continuing aspect of exploration. I think it's healthy for your mind and consciousness and understanding of music. It's important to do that stuff in the correct context, though, which I would say ultimately would be in nature.
Oh You Pretty Things
You don't get pop like this any more.
Danny McLewin: My first musical obsession as a kid was David Bowie. I grew up with that record, my parents played it when I was a baby. I was gonna go with "Kooks" but I chose that track because I played it on a beach on a proper system recently and the bass and the drums sounded amazing. It's an epic album, so reminiscent of my child hood.
A critic at the time said this song heralded "The impending obsolescence of the human race in favour of an alliance between arriving aliens and the youth of the present society." Were you getting that back then?
Danny McLewin: My thoughts entirely [laughs]. He was such a great lyricist. His first album, largely slept on, is a great record. It's the same with Jimi—I wasn't there, but people just lost their shit to this stuff back then.
You think people could still create something as shocking and out there nowadays?
Danny McLewin: When I first heard dubstep it had a similar effect, but not in a positive way!
Tom Coveney: It's definitely possible. Sometimes you think, "How the fuck was that sound made?"
Danny McLewin: Pretty much everything's been done now, so even new stuff still has elements of the past. Back then no one had heard an electric guitar played [like Jimi]. It's hard to do that now; we'd have to make a new instrument. We're working on a thing that's a cross between a banjo, bagpipes and saxophone. It's called a banjopipe.
And pop music now?
Both: It's wank!
Danny McLewin: Most pop now is like that dance shite you'd only hear in a European holiday resort years ago.
Tom Coveney: Everything just gets ruined by Simon Cowell, Satan's ball bag.
Peter Green founded Fleetwood Mac, who have obviously been big in your lives. Why them? They were such a tragic band.
Danny McLewin: Yeah but they translated that into phenomenal music. After all the shit they went through it's amazing they stayed together. But this is Peter Green anyway, his solo album. He'd gone nuts by the time he made this. He'd been kidnapped by a kraut rock band. They gave him shit loads of acid and locked him in the studio and made him play guitar. They fucked him up!
Tom Coveney: This is a desert island disc; it's in our top five of all time.
Danny McLewin: Sonic and melodic perfection. It's beyond a dream, perfect in everyway. Immaculate.
Tom Coveney: And on green vinyl as well!
How do you feel about the Mac touring again?
Tom Coveney: I saw them a few years ago with my girlfriend of the time and they didn't play "Everywhere" and she ended up crying her eyes out. It was good but it was in the O2 [in London], which I fucking hate. I'd rather see them in a smaller place if possible.
Danny McLewin: They were brilliant in the '70s and '80s but now it's a bit like a karaoke session. Like Mick [Jagger] at Glastonbury, he couldn't even remember what he was singing! I sacked it off and went to see Public Enemy, Chuck D fucking destrrrroyed it.
I wonder: is there an end to it all? The digging, searching, compiling?
Danny McLewin: It's an addiction. It's limitless and it still astounds me how much music there was just in the '70s and '80s. Once you start collecting vinyl, you're totally fucking screwed.