Although Germany’s bigger cities dominate the narrative about dance music’s history in the country, the influence of smaller locales like Mannheim is often overlooked. So it goes for the history of breaks-oriented styles in Germany; as four-on-the-floor styles imported from America took hold in the national consciousness in the early ’90s, the club Milk! introduced UK sounds and DJs to German audiences and forming a local scene devoted to styles like jungle and drum ‚n‘ bass. Hard Wax’s Finn Johannsen called one of the main Milk! residents, Holger Klein, to talk about an especially important record for his Rewind column. He picked The Call Is Strong, a Carlton LP produced by downtempo duo Smith & Mighty and released by Pete Tong’s Full Frequency Range Recordings label in 1990—the same year when Milk! opened its doors.
What was your first encounter with The Call Is Strong?
Alongside Daddy Gee, Carlton was featured on “Any Love”, the very first Massive Attack single, which was a cover of one of my favorite songs from Rufus and Chaka Khan. I was a huge Chaka Khan fan and went to quite a few concerts. The very first time I saw her, I even waited for her at the backstage entrance because I wanted an autograph. Want some trivia? She lived in my hometown, Mannheim, for a few years in the ‘90s. Anyway, back to Carlton: I was really impressed by his crystal-clear falsetto. I think “Any Love” came out roughly around the same time as the first Smith & Mighty singles, so this was the starting point of the Bristol sound. I first heard about the Bristol sound when I read about it in i-D Magazine or The Face. So I already knew about Carlton when his first album dropped. I bought it at the local WOM store where I used to work back then.
1990 was a very exciting year for club music. Why did you choose this album over others? Why was and is it so important for you?
After you approached me for this interview, I thought that I’d have a hard time choosing “that” record. But then I stumbled across a 12-inch of his song “Cool With Nature”, which contains killer remixes by Bobby Konders, and I remembered how much this album meant to me. When I listened to it for the first time, it blew me away. Smith & Mighty did a fantastic production job. At that time, it was very state of the art to incorporate elements of dub, contemporary US R&B, classic soul, reggae, electronic sounds and even some swingbeat bits. I fell in love with the ethereal and often spliffed-out vibe of the album and Carlton’s songwriting.
How do you rate Carlton as a singer? Why do you think they chose him, and could the album have been as good with another singer?
Carlton’s voice struck me instantly. I think he is a truly underrated singer and it’s a pity that the album wasn’t successful. His voice is really unique, and that must be why Smith & Mighty chose him. It was his album—not a Smith & Mighty project. When you listen to him, you can clearly tell that he’s coming from a reggae background. On The Call Is Strong he sounds like a reggae vocalist singing some kind of otherworldly UK version of R&B.
The album takes quite some detours. For example, “Love And Pain” could have been a Two-Tone Records ballad from years earlier, while “Do You Dream” is right on par with breakbeat pioneers like Shut Up And Dance or 4hero. How does The Call Is Strong work as an album? How pioneering was what Smith & Mighty did?
It was very pioneering! The sparse beats, their very English way of bringing together the Jamaican sound system culture and US hip-hop without sounding like eager copycats. And of course, as they grew up in England, they must have been in touch with Two-Tone stuff as well when they were teenagers. You’re right: you can also trace down elements that became integral in the breakbeat scene, which was already emerging at a very early stage.
I first became aware of Smith & Mighty when they appeared with their Bacharach reworks “Walk On” and “Anyone” two years earlier. The Call Is Strong sounds like a continuation. I thought they sounded like nobody else at that time. Suddenly Bristol was on the map and making a difference. But could anyone predict how big that difference would be?
You could clearly hear that Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack were making a difference when their first 12-inches came out. It all sounded so new and fresh. But I really had no idea how big this Bristol thing would become. Also, I had no idea how misinterpreted the whole thing would be when the term “trip-hop” emerged.
Of all the groups that emerged in the late ‘80s and were deeply rooted in sound system culture, why were Massive Attack and Soul II Soul so much more successful than Smith & Mighty? Were they less traditional and closer to pop music? And why do you think Carlton didn’t manage to establish himself as an ongoing fixture?
Massive Attack and Soul II Soul had the big hit singles, but not by accident. They both had good labels with a staff that knew how to work their releases. Smith & Mighty signed a major deal as well—with Full Frequency Range Recordings, at that time a subsidiary of London Records/PolyGram. The first big project was Carlton’s album, which didn’t prove to be as successful as expected. Then Smith & Mighty were kind of locked into this deal. Under their own name, they only released a four-track EP on FFRR. I would say they missed the right moment due to this deal. It took them years to get out of it.
You were one of the resident DJs of Mannheim’s seminal Milk! Club and very active in introducing UK club music to Germany. How important was the sound of Smith & Mighty and likeminded artists to that scene?
For my friends and I—for the people who made the club happen—it was very important. For those Milk! regulars who entered later, it probably wasn’t such a defining experience.
What made Mannheim so UK-orientated?
Mannheim had a legacy of being a big US garrison town. A lot of US soul and funk artists came to town to play live. The roller skating rink that hired a DJ from New York City was legendary in the early ‘80s. So these Anglophile traits are still some kind of mystery to me, even though I have to point to the fact that Milk! also reflected these US influences. At some point, more and more people came to Milk! who were dressed like UK ravers. They didn’t look like the regulars of Sven Väth’s club, Omen, in Frankfurt; Frankfurt is not far away from Mannheim. So we asked ourselves: where do they all come from?
Many people who were involved with Milk! from the very beginning came from the local post-punk scene with the Hard Rock Club as its focal point. The Hard Rock was a legendary sweaty basement in Mannheim that closed down in the late ‘80s. Many of us went to London quite often, including myself. But I wasn’t really a part of the post-punk scene; I would rather cite ABC’s “The Lexicon of Love” as one of my biggest influences.
Milk! was founded by DJ D-Man in Autumn 1990. He and Gregor “G.O.D.” Dietz, who passed away ten years ago, were the resident DJs of the early incarnation of Milk! club. Gregor used to play acid and house at Hard Rock, and D-Man established a weekly acid house club night in Heidelberg named Planet Bass in 1988. Two years later, the Sheffield bleep sound was very popular at the illegal warehouse parties they hosted in Mannheim. The opening of the Milk! was a big event. The first three months were really exciting, but soon there was a huge drop in popularity for whatever reason. Then I stepped in as a kind of stopgap playing records in a mostly empty club. Nobody expected how big the club would become from late 1991 on.
Smith & Mighty were part of every progression of what they originated when they first appeared, be it drum ‘n’ bass, UK garage or dubstep. How relevant were their productions over the years?
You can most definitely say that they started something. Their early releases are legend – “Anyone”, “Walk On By” or Fresh 4’s “Wishing On A Star”. All the Carlton singles came with great remixes. One of the biggest things they did is the Rushing Mix of Carlton’s “Do You Dream”. This track is really far out; it’s uptempo with a slightly breakbeatish house beat. Their Steppers Delight EP from early 1992 was a dope proto-jungle record. I would say the Bristol drum ‘n’ bass scene around Roni Size and DJ Krust owed them a lot. Their 1995 album Bass Is Maternal and other releases on their label, More Rockers, combined the original Smith & Mighty approach with a rootsy take on drum ‘n’ bass. Later on, they still did solid records, but I have to say that I wasn’t impressed too much anymore.
It was very common that DJs displayed different styles, grooves and tempos in their sets at the time The Call Is Strong was released—and it worked. What happened?
Continuous, seamless mixability in one tempo became king. In the ‘80s, DJs played a wide range of styles that included downtempo, midtempo or uptempo R&B, Italo disco, dance mixes of pop records, house, hip-hop, ‘70s funk breaks, electronic body music, new beat, whatever—not necessarily all these genres in one night by the same DJ in the very same club. We all know there were instrumental underground tracks and DJ tools already, but DJs had to drop the big songs as well. When house and later on techno took over, this approach to DJing was lost. Younger DJs were not brought up with this versatility anymore. It all came to a point when the dancers regarded a change of tempo unnatural. The death of this versatility in styles and tempos was the invention of the travelling DJ who was booked to play in different clubs each and every night. It could only work with resident DJs who knew their dancers.
The early days of San Francisco’s disco scene lives on today thanks to Steve Fabus, a Chicago-born DJ who moved to the Bay Area in 1975 and became a fixture in the intertwined club and gay communities. He played regularly at some of the city’s most important discos like the I-Beam and the Trocadero Transfer around the time that local producers were experimenting with a blend of sounds that became known as hi-NRG. As a longtime digger and savant for many forms of soulful house and disco who participated in an important Bay Area record pool, Fabus was a natural fit for our Rewind column, in which talented minds go deep on a track they hold dear. In this edition, Fabus discusses “Let’s Start The Dance” by drummer and disco pioneer Hamilton Bohannon.
How did you discover “Let’s Start The Dance”? Was it in a record store or a club?
I discovered “Let’s Start the Dance” from the record pool BADDA [Bay Area Disco DJ Association] in San Francisco in 1978. It was the first track on side A of the album Summertime Groove. I was blown away when I first heard it and couldn’t wait to play it at the club that night. When I did, the crowd went crazy and it was—unsurprisingly—the peak record of the night.
When the record came out, you had already started your career as a DJ in San Francisco. What makes this record so special for you? And was “Let’s Start The Dance” a definitive record for the sound you played back then?
I was playing at loft parties, underground clubs and two of the major clubs in San Francisco: the I-Beam and Trocadero Transfer. I know one of the reasons I was brought into the scene was because I incorporated a lot of the R&B, groove, funk and soulful sounds from Chicago and New York and mixed it with the NRG and electronic sounds already being made in San Francisco and coming in from Europe. “Let’s Start The Dance” was and still is a definitive record for me because it’s a fusion of so many of those sounds—and, most importantly, it’s a jam. Its many elements—jazz, blues, rock, funk, electronic, boogie—take you on a trip and build up to an orgasmic crescendo. It relates to other fusion sounds like the Isley Brothers’ “Live It Up”, Crown Heights Affair’s “Dancin” and many of James Brown’s tracks.
Hamilton Bohannon was originally a drummer, and he started releasing records that were very rhythm-focused and distinctive from the early ‘70s on. What was his role in the history books of disco?
I first heard Bohannon in Chicago in 1975 at Dugan’s Bistro, a major downtown gay club. The track I heard was “Bohannon’s Beat”, which is on one of the early albums on the Dakar label. It stood out to me because it didn’t follow any of the commercial rules of the day. It presented itself as a unique sound: experimental and minimal; a mantra to hook into. It inspired and encouraged DJs to take disco underground. It was like a loop, a tool used to improvise, phase or bridge. Mantra is a major theme for Bohannon, and he carries it forward with “Let’s Start the Dance”, which is just the opposite of minimal. He turns it up with a full-on jam that puts dancers in an intense trance that they have no choice but to ride to its conclusion. It’s very rich and features a number of instruments, including guitar and keyboard with Carolyn Crawford’s couldn’t-get-any-better voice. What this record represents to every generation is that this is the real deal, musically.
Are there other Bohannon records you rate nearly as much?
My other all time favorite is “The Groove Machine”, which is as intense as “Let’s Start The Dance” but trippier with a phased-out psychedelic break and a total fusion of hard funk, rock and electronic groove. When I hear it, it makes sense that Bohannon early on drummed with Jimi Hendrix. Both “Groove Machine” and “Let’s Start The Dance” feature guitar riffs prominently.
1977 was the peak of the classic disco era. Was “Let’s Start The Dance” an early sign that the genre could live well past the end of that boom or that the sound could move on and still matter?
“Let’s Start The Dance” is timeless because, as I mentioned before, it’s a whole movement and jam where you’re hearing real instruments. It always ignites a dance floor, and from the first note you want to pay attention. The lyrics come fast: “Everybody get up and dance/Ain’t ya tired of sitting down?” This could be cheesy, but it’s not, and you surrender completely to it right away. There’s no way you could stop yourself from being seduced by it, and every generation experiences this seduction. It still matters because it’s a prime example of the authenticity of disco from that time period, and that’s what lives on.
Bohannon revisited the song in 1981 and renamed it “Let’s Start II Dance Again”. Do you think that version is on par with the original? Why do you think he did that?
I think Bohannon wanted to reintroduce the record to a newer crowd and make it easier to mix with a longer intro and buildup and a more even sound. Many DJs were happy about that, but I feel some of the intensity of the jam was wiped away.
You moved from San Francisco to New York City in 1983. Were there notable differences between the nightlife in those cities?
Certainly there were differences between NYC and San Francisco, just like there would be differences between NYC—which was arguably the club capital of the world at the time—and anywhere else. Also, because I’m from Chicago and first came into the scene when DJs like Ron Hardy were active, I could appreciate and respect scenes outside of New York. San Francisco was obviously for many people the promised land, the counter-cultural mecca that welcomed all who wanted to party and change the world—especially those in the ‘70s gay community. All this served to create a uniquely alternative nightlife to New York’s. San Francisco was to New York as Amsterdam was to big European cities: the small, bohemian counterpart.
The disco scene traveled west and took a little longer to hit San Francisco—but when it did, it hit big. Both San Francisco and New York are coastal cities with bridges, tunnels and a similar infrastructure for nightclubs in warehouse districts. The South of Market district, SOMA, was where most of the clubs found a home, as did the Trocadero Transfer. Indeed, the Trocadero was fashioned after New York’s 12 West in look and feel and had the same Graebar sound system. This ushered in the era of the Manhattan-style party-till-dawn experience in San Francisco. Other clubs followed, and San Francisco became the West Coast’s major showcase for DJs and underground disco culture. Also, both cities were were at the forefront of the gay movement politically and that created a special cultural bond between the two. San Francisco developed its own notable DJs, producers and stars, including Sylvester and Patrick Cowley. Even though many people would say San Francisco was New York’s little sister, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that it was just as significant in its own unique way.
How did you experience the ‘80s from the booth? Would you say that there were more developments in club music than in the decade before that led up to house?
In 1980 I started playing the morning party at the EndUp in San Francisco. This was the start of a legendary party that truly established San Francisco as a 24-hour town. Because I played a diversity of styles, from groove to NRG to sleaze and morning music, I was brought in to play from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday. My signature sound was definitely Paradise Garage groove mixed with San Francisco NRG. It was always about mixing sounds together for myself and a number of other DJs like Tim Rivers and Vincent Carleo. They wanted to serve up the East Coast with the West Coast.
In 1983, when I moved to New York to play at Tracks and the River Club (which before that was 12 West), disco and dance music culture had already survived a lame attempt to destroy it by those who felt threatened by it. What’s amazing about the ’80s is how seamless the transition from the disco to house era was. The doors naturally opened for Jocelyn Brown, Taana Gardner, Carolyn Harding, Colonel Abrams, Blaze, Marshall Jefferson and A Guy Called Gerald. On the other side, you had new wave, new romantic, Italo, Hi-NRG and the type of rich morning music you heard at the Saint in New York. I would go through all of it at Tracks every Sunday night. I would say there were more developments and different directions established in the ’80s than in any other decade of dance music. It was arguably the most musically diverse decade.
Your DJ career has a remarkable longevity, as you haven’t stopped playing since the ‘70s. Did you imagine that you would be able to keep doing this for such a long time?
Back then, I didn’t really imagine I would be doing this for all this time. I was only enjoying the moment and realizing how lucky I was to be in the right place at the right time and being able to go up and play. I didn’t really think about it too much. I was just driven to do it and hoped I could continue doing it for as long as possible. And it’s the same for me now. I’m still in the moment where I’m driven by it and realizing how fortunate I am to have this happening for me. It’s been a great run, and yes—there’s no end in sight!
Finn Johannsen managed to nab one of the first interviews—and perhaps the first English-language one—with German producer Lars Stöwe for his Rewind column. Since 2007, Stöwe has appeared on respected outposts like 50 Weapons, Monkeytown and All City under the monikers Anstam and, more recently Anno Stamm. Here he explains one of his formative influences, T Power’s classic jazz-influenced drum ‘n’ bass jam “Complexification”, and the distinctions between his two main aliases.
How did you first encounter “Complexification”?
It was a vinyl that my older brother bought. At that time I wasn’t going to record stores by myself, so he was basically my record store. When I came home earlier than he did from school, I would go through his collection and record my favorites to a cassette with my father’s hi-fi tower. It was always very James Bond-like, because touching my brother’s vinyl and father’s hi-fi tower were two major offenses that would turn out really ugly if one of them would have caught me.
Why did you choose this particular track, the b-side to “Symbiosis”, over another classic from that era—or even a different track by T Power, like his much more famous track “Mutant Jazz”?
This song stands out in many ways, and I think it’s outstanding and unique even for T Power. You’re either mad or in an extremely clear state of mind when you produce such a song. It breaks so many rules, but still manages to be simply breathtakingly beautiful. That’s a goal that I admire very much in making art.
Do you rate Marc Royal (aka T Power) particularly high in the history of drum ‘n’ bass?
I must admit that I reduce T Power pretty much to that one song. I like his general sense for sound and chords, but I’m not really an expert on his complete back catalog. “Complexification” isn’t necessarily a typical drum ‘n’ bass track; it’s much slower, and it works with jazz leanings in the synth and bass sounds, while the beats and groove hint more to the sound of West London’s broken-beat scene.
Nevertheless, does “Complexification” belong to a certain genre or context, or does it defy all categorization?
I chose this track because it’s a good example to me of going “beyond genre.” It’s perfect in every way; it’s idiosyncratic and lives in its own cosmos—and there are no genres in that cosmos. Sometimes that’s the problem with genres: you get into a routine because there are rules, schemes, patterns and templates to work in, and you get lazy in terms of decision-making. But this song isn’t lazy at all. Every note is in exactly the right place, but it feels like it really started out as a tabula rasa.
Do you like both drum ‘n’ bass and broken beats? And do you think of them quite differently, or do you see them as parts of the same whole?
In terms of drum ‘n’ bass, I started with its jungle phase, because as you might know I’m a big sucker for those drums. That’s why I was into that fast, wild, raw and break-y material. Actually, when it was called drum ‘n’ bass, that whole thing was nearly over for me because all the wildness basically turned into one sterile drum loop with saxophone samples. There was a big shift from the rhythmic energy to a generally more chilled, background music approach. So I think they may come from the same origin, but I do treat them very differently.
There are other fine examples where jazz elements were integrated drum ‘n’ bass’s sound palette. Are you interested in jazz? And if so, how it can be worked into other music?
When sampling something smooth and jazzy over a fast drum loop was trendy, it wasn’t very interesting to me. Sampling some “blue notes” doesn’t make you a “jazz cat.” For me and perhaps many others, jazz is about expressing yourself through an instrument and pushing its boundaries. You have to have a plan if you want to achieve that purely with software. Squarepusher’s “Hard Normal Daddy” is a good example from that time of how an electronic version of jazz may work. He brought the real instrument into the software world in a very smart and respectful way. But in those days there were a lot of other electronic composers who would deserve much more to be called “jazz cats” by virtue of how they pushed the boundaries of their instruments.
You are known for making bold statements in your music as Anstam and Anno Stamm. What are the conceptual differences between the two projects? Can traces of “Complexification” be found in either alias?
Yes, you can definitely find traces of “Complexification” in both projects. Anstam is now more of a studio project; it’s more about the idea of modern music played with modern instruments, exploration, song structures and sentiment. Anno Stamm is my take on danceable, four-to-the-floor club music. It’s much more simple in terms of rhythm and structure. But in the end, I have musical preferences that you can recognize in nearly every thing I do.
From what I’ve heard of your music so far, “Complexification” probably isn’t the only inspiration for what you do. Could you name other music you draw inspiration from?
I’m not so much inspired by bands, artists or tendencies. I would say that I prefer and look for special musical ideas, approaches and tactics, all of which you can find in nearly every music genre. I like a raw and playful rhythm section, complex and original song structures and dramatic and bacchanalian melodic developments. And above all, I admire music with its own individual musical handwriting. “Complexification” has all of that.
I couldn’t help thinking that a track title like “Complexification” alone sounds like a concept you might like, as your music is indeed rather complex. Does your music antagonize monotony and simplicity?
Yes, I antagonize monotony, but I don’t have a problem with simplicity. Back in the days I made a cassette series called Ruheschleifen, which was basically 20 minutes of synthesizer arpeggio loops. I always liked the idea of the perfect loop that can run forever without being boring. I think the reason my musical outlet is always rather complex comes from a different angle. I have a very submissive attitude when it comes to art in general. The simple chance to release art professionally and let it out into the real world always comes with responsibility. That may sound a little pathetic, but I really believe that you have a social and cultural responsibility as an artist—so what you come up with better be good. I put a lot of thought, time and detail into my albums because I want them to be a serious and significant body of work.
“Complexification” was released in 1996, which year is generally acknowledged as part of drum ‘n’ bass’s golden era. But would you agree that the releases of these years had a higher quality than what came before and after? Do you still follow current developments in that field?
With different times you always have different surroundings or habitats for artists—and these can be very fertile or very infertile. In the mid ‘90s it was really good to be an electronic producer in general. There was an extremely euphoric sentiment; everybody was actually exited when new releases came out and they really followed the music closely. As a producer you could feel some kind of social and cultural appreciation. That’s why it was much more productive to work on music, and maybe why music in general was less inhibited and turned out to be much more significant. The same thing happened 2006 with the early dubstep phase. So maybe now in 2016 we’re in for a treat again.
In the latest incarnation of Rewind, the influence-oriented column headed by Hard Wax mainstay Finn Johannsen, Manchester native Trus’me (aka David Wolstencroft) talks about one of house music’s seminal records: Forevernevermore by Moodymann. As the founder of the reliably solid Prime Numbers imprint, Trus’me has built a reputation for fine taste in dance floor sounds by releasing remixes from the likes of Terrence Dixon and Fred P as well as penning his own unassailable tracks. His most recent offering, Planet 4, showcases his talents in full force. And as he explains below, it all comes back to the very roots of house and techno: Detroit.
I doubt that Forevernevermore was your first encounter with Moodymann. Did you eagerly await his third album?
I 100 percent did not know who Kenny was until I found a copy of Forevernevermore in my friend’s record bag. He had left his records at my house, and I was doing the usual noseying though the records when I found this CD. I was completely into Slum Village, Madlib and J Dilla. When I first played this CD, everything became clear in my mind. It was the sound I was looking for: hip-hop, house, jazz and disco all rolled into one. I became obsessed with the production techniques and went on to discover the whole world of Detroit right after this. Three years on, Moodymann was playing my first LP launch in a pub on Oldham street, home to where I had been buying his records for the past few years. KDJ and Theo Parrish were number one at that time in Manchester, and I couldn’t help but be influenced by the whole sound.
Does Forevernevermore work as an album for you?
Yes, for sure. The whole LP worked as a cohesive hour of music, yet there was something at every turn that was unique and compelling. I related to this LP in more ways than one due to it’s almost hip-hop nature with intros and outros that connected the tracks and glued the whole piece together. There are so many seminal tracks on the LP that’re still played out in clubs today, yet they remain good LP cuts that also work for home listening. This ideology is what I’ve embraced on all four LPs that I’ve produced over the last eight or nine years: there’s something for the dance floor and something for the car or wherever else one listens to LPs these days.
You told me that you wanted to talk about the CD version of Forevernevermore, which has lots of interludes, skits and hidden tracks. Do they form an alliance with the music that almost works like a radio play? What is the special appeal of it?
When I think of an LP, I think of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On or even The Verve’s Urban Hymns. They’re constructed to be a continuous piece of music in which the listener is taken on a journey from the beginning to the end. With the CD format, there’s extra playtime in which intros and outros can give a context to the background and making of the LP. On the Forevernevermore CD, KDJ takes you into his home as he sits at the piano with his child, has discussions in the studio or listens to his local radio for inspiration. Hidden right at the end of the CD is a live recording of three hard-to-find cuts from the KDJ label mixed together after two minutes of silence. In many ways the CD provides the platform for further expression as an artist in the format of an LP.
Forevernevermore was a step forward in terms of his distinctive sound; it was still dense and immersive, but also more refined. Do you think Moodymann’s sound evolved on Forevernevermore in comparison to earlier works? And was it for the better?
This was for sure his best LP. When people talk about their favorite Moodymann works, Forevernevermore is at the top of the list. He established his own sound and unique LP format that was new to dance music. Most underground dance LPs were merely a collection of 12” tracks, but this felt more like a well-thought-out process, something like Daft Punk would execute. In many ways, his earlier LPs were a collection of his previous works, but Forevernevermore was an LP made from beginning to end with a single idea.
Tracks like “Don’t You Want My Love” display a confidence to transcend mere club credentials for traditional songwriting, a path he has followed ever since. Is there a side to Moodymann the producer you prefer to others, or is it not necessary to differentiate his persona as an artist?
This LP was the beginning of Kenny’s unique raw sound, which he developed by marrying typical MPC studio production with live instrumentation. He worked with local artists who played percussion, bass and keyboards. The juxtaposition of quantized grooves with loose musicianship created a genre of its own and is still replicated today.
How do you rate the albums Moodymann released since Forevernevermore?
Black Mahogani is on par for me. It’s perhaps more refined than Forevernevermore, but maybe the rawness of the LP relates to me. I’ve enjoyed the productions on subsequent LPs, but felt slightly less connection to the music I listen to and make today. That’s not to say that it’s not great music, but I started to feel that the tracks in the EP releases didn’t have that Peacefrog touch I admire. The LP process began to evolve towards the creation of a new sound where he begins to sing and perform more as an artist and less in the background as a producer.
Did Forevernevermore inspire your own initial steps as a producer?
110 percent. It kickstarted everything. When I read the notes and credits at the back cover, it was like joining all the dots together for the first time. I was huge into Dwele and Jay Dee at the time, and I had seen instrumentalists who worked with Moodymann, like Amp Fiddler, Paul Randolph and Andres. When I saw that all those guys worked with Kenny…well, let’s just say I flipped out. I could marry all these worlds into one that I loved, but before this the combination had never crossed mind or seemed possible. I was ready to make the music that I guess was inside me the whole time, but now I had an outlet and platform in which to do it.
You’re an album artist yourself. Is the format still superior to others, especially in times of streaming and files?
In a sense of promoting yourself as an artist, the LP gives a solid indication of you as a musician and your musical style. An EP can only provide a snapshot of your style, whereas an LP showcases many sounds and directions that can be represented to an audience. The power of the LP can be shared with both a visual and musical concept that stretches further than any single track.
A lot of club producers who integrate elements of classic Detroit techno are compared to those iconic, canonized producers. How can you set yourself apart when you’re using such established references?
I don’t try to. I’m very much a byproduct of my hometown, Manchester, where Detroit, Chicago and New York music were popular in key record shops like Fat City and Piccadilly. They actually coined the term “Detroit child.” We were the byproducts of a decade of parties such as Eyes Down, Electric Chair and Friends & Family. Those parties often booked Detroit artists, from hip-hop acts like Dilla to techno founders like Jeff Mills and, of course, house acts like Moodymann and Theo Parrish. For example, Eyes Down was the first party in the UK to book Moodymann, and the Electric Chair released compilations from Detroit producers like Amp Fiddler and Carl Craig. So there was no escaping the sound of Detroit when I was growing up in Manchester. You can hear in my style as a DJ and as a producer that Detroit is thick with me. But there’s an undeniable UK twist to everything that I do.
Detroit producers have been critical of the way their music and the black music traditions they incorporated were interpreted in other—particularly European club music—contexts. How can you use your own sincere love for the music without being disrespectful? Can you even draw conclusions from the very source?
Well, I don’t know. But I’ve always tried to support Detroit by buying records from Emporium 50, straight from the source. That was a rudimentary site run by Mike Grant, but the money went straight to the artists with no middle man. I have released and worked with Andreś, Amp Fiddler, Paul Randolph, Buzz Fiddler and Piranhahead, who were all well-respected Detroit artists in the core of that scene. I have supported and pushed the Detroit scene from my first solo releases and on my imprint Prime Numbers, and will continue to do so, as the sound of Detroit is very much the sound that fits with me as an artist most.
In 1998 the prolific and wide-ranging UK label Soul Jazz released a compilation of percussive Brazilian music titled Batucada Capoeira, a title that described the two styles contained therein: batucada, a percussive, African-influenced style of drumming usually performed by an ensemble and capoeira, a form of dance-fighting invented by slaves in Brazil hundreds of years ago. At the time of the record’s release, Tyler Pope was on tour with !!!, an American band that helped to colonize the liminal space between dance music and indie rock. As Pope tells Rewind columnist Finn Johannsen, the collection struck a chord with the dance-punk bassist, who went on to contribute to other likeminded groups including LCD Soundsystem and Hercules And Love Affair. These days he channels his eclectic musical influences into wide-ranging DJ sets that he performs live or as a host for Berlin Community Radio.
So how did you come across Batucada Capoeira? What triggered your curiosity?
Through a friend and bandmate of mine! I bought this compilation when it came out in the late ’90s. At that stage we were always looking for stuff that was rhythmic, raw and had energy—stuff that wasn’t punk rock but had the same energy and essence, and I think that’s in batucada. We liked some other great reggae and Latin compilations on Soul Jazz, so I’m pretty sure that’s why he bought this one. We dubbed the vinyl onto cassette and listened to it a lot on our first tour of the states in ’98. It grew on me the more we listened to it on the long van rides during that tour, and eventually I got totally hooked.
What attracted you to a sound that is so predominantly rhythmic?
I’ve always been drawn to rhythmic music. My dad was a drummer and there was always a drum setup in the house, so it started with that. As a youngster I was into Primus, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and that whole funk-rock thing. That music primed me for getting into soul and funk music and all other kinds of tribal, rhythmic music. This batucada compilation was probably the first stuff I really enjoyed that was only drums, and thats why it’s special to me and why I chose it for this article.
The sound of a bateria, the rhythm section in a samba band, can be quite a complex wall of sound. What is the difference between that and percussive music from other countries, like mbalax or other African styles? Or are they not so different?
There are different drums, instruments and rhythms in bateria than there are in mbalax and other African percussion music, and I guess that’s to do with the European influence in Brazil. There are no snare drums in African drum music like sabar or mbalax, and the snare drum comes from Europe. Also I’ve never heard such a large group of drummers playing in such an organized way in African drumming. But the frantic energy of the drum music of both countries is certainly similar.
Not every track featured here is as frantic as the drum workouts usually associated with it. What do you prefer?
I like this compilation because it mixes some of the frantic workouts and with more minimal tracks, which in my opinion makes for a more enjoyable listen from beginning to end. Some of the other batucada records that I have are just the big frantic drum workouts, and they’re fun to listen to for a track or so, but maybe not as a whole record.
Was the compilation a first glimpse of a style you delved deeper into? The tradition of batucada and capoeira in Brazil is rich and sure offers a lot of listening material.
I checked it out because it was on Soul Jazz, and at the time it came out other Tropicalia records were being reissued, like Tom Ze, and Os Mutantes other real arty, weird, quality music, so I wanted to hear more stuff from Brazil. I haven’t really gone too deep, or at least deep by my standards. This compilation never really gets old, so if I want to hear something like this I just listen to this record.
Capoeira is a form of martial arts developed by slaves. I always found it interesting when music transforms otherwise potentially critical encounters between rivals into a battle of dance moves, such as breaking and vogueing. Yet the music of Batucada Capoeira is comparably more dynamic than its counterparts. Are such aspects important for percussive music?
I hadn’t thought about that, but I also like music made for these types of encounters or battles. I love a lot of the new vogue and ballroom club music and recently have been really digging some of the Jersey club battle tracks. The records for dance battles are more beat-driven, and of course they have to be super funky since they have to inspire the dancers. The tracks for battles also cut away at anything that wouldn’t be just for the purpose of the dancing. I really like that focused, rhythm-track energy. It’s also dynamic because people are there playing the drums while the battles are happening, so the drummers feed of the energy of the battles and vice versa.
There is a vital element of competition in this sound. I first became aware of this music when I watched football games in Brazilian stadiums. The match between the football teams was extended to a match between rival supporters and their drum groups, and it was quite an inferno. European support seemed very tame in comparison. The competition between the samba schools is as dedicated, albeit in a probably more playful manner. Do you think this serves the quality of the music?
Yeah, totally. If you were playing you’d have the passion that all the drums being played together inspires as well as the passion that comes from wanting your team to win. I’ve never been to a football match personally, so I can’t say, but I know that when you come from having less, things like winning football mean much more.
You are primarily known as a bass player. Bass guitar is not very important to the sound of batucada or capoeira. But did you learn anything from it as a musician anyway?
There’s always a bass type of drum or drums in these compositions. Of course, the amount of notes or bass tones that one can play at one time is limited to one or two drums, so listening to batucada music inspires me as a bass player to play more simply and to think of the bass as a drum. Even just one note can work if its orchestrated well with the rest of the rhythms in a song. I only played one note on certain LCD Soundsystem songs.
You are an acclaimed DJ as well. Could you work these rhythms in a DJ set, or do they destroy every tune left and right?
What comes to mind with this music as a DJ first is “Good Girls” by Designer Music [aka Carl Craig]. And man, I love to play that track, but it’s more of a DJ tool. Jeff Mills and Derrick May often had a very batucada feeling in their sets, and I know that Derrick May would actually play batucada tracks in his music. I think a lot of the techno that I love is sort of energetic and cacophonous like these batucada records can be.
Given that there are so many great examples in Brazil of what you can do with these instruments, why does so much electronic music that tries to incorporate Brazilian influences sound so dull? Is it even possible to achieve something similar with other means?
Hmm, hard to say. I’ve never totally attempted to do it personally. I can imagine the people who do it wrong are trying to exactly replicate it rather than taking the energy and feeling that is there and doing their own thing. Also, there’s a huge amount of house music out there that has some kind of Brazillian or “world” influence that is horrible aesthetically. Like the same awful kind of world music that was inspired by people listening to Legend by Bob Marley.