Diy Drums, Goth Funk, The Universe: Ed Dmx Talks
Ed DMX is more prolific now than ever before. Having been putting out analogue electronic classics since '94, the last couple of years have seen his production rate go through the roof. With his own label, Fresh Up, releasing live funk and electro jams, a heavy new album on Hypercolour that sees him fusing Italo, techno, disco and electro, plans for at least two more albums, a retrospective and a string of 12"s all set to drop in 2016, it seems the fact he's become a stay at home dad to his 2 year old daughter has done little to slow Ed down. We caught him on a day he'd booked in a childminder to find out how he was planning on spending some rare free time –
So what are you up to today?
I’m learning a programming language because I want to make my own drum machines. It’s quite ambitious as I don’t know anything about anything. I want to make a hardware one – I started learning the language yesterday and I’ve managed to make a little one that sequences. I reckon I can do it, but every little tweak takes about 40 minutes of googling as I don’t know any of the terms for anything.
What do you want it to do that other machines don’t?
How much of a nerd are you for this sort of stuff?
Hahaha. Quite a nerd. Like a 7 out of 10.
So I used to have this amazing drum machine that was really rare, and it got nicked. It was a sampling drum machine that was really low sound quality, it was 8 bit sampling rate and when you pitched the samples down they’d go really crunchy, like a Linn Drum. If you’re a real engineer designing a digital audio circuit, you put a filter on the end of the circuit to clear up all the noise. When they made the Linn Drum they didn’t know what they were doing so they didn’t put the filter on, and if you pitch it down all the high end is still there, you get loads of sparkly high s that sound distorted but cool. Any modern sampler or VST, they filter all that out because that’s the correct way of doing things – I want to make a weird grungy thing. There’s machines you can buy that do it but there vintage things that cost thousands.
What was the machine you lost then?
Ahhh I hate talking about it. It was an RSS. French company. There was only about 100 of them ever made and most of them are dead because they had an internal battery leaked. It came out in 1985 and I think Aphex Twin’s got all the ones that are left. He said I can borrow one but I haven’t been down to Cornwall to get it. I love that machine and haven’t been able to find another one.
So you’ve been bringing out records since the 90s – how has the way you’ve earned money from music changed?
That’s the thing everyone thinks about – I’m in my 40s, I’m losing my hearing – I’d rather save what’s left of my hearing for the studio rather than carry on doing gigs- which makes my money. I mean I like doing gigs a lot of the time, but how many 19 year olds want to go to a club and look at a 60 year old?
Well, more than you think – I mean you’d wonder how many kids would like Jeremy Corbyn, but it turns out loads do..
Well I’m not gonna talk about that. But that’s different, it’s not cos he’s old it’s cos he’s offering a glimmer of hope. But about DJs, I do a show on Radar radio, and everyone else on that station is well under 30, and the people who run it are very young. I’m the oldest DJ on that station – well I think Jumping Jack frost has a show as well – and every time I go in if I get chatting to the people who work there they’re like, ‘what was it like going to record shops?’ It’s quite funny, it’s like they’re asking you what it was like before World War 2 or something.
What do you think is the solution for someone like you – do you get into making music for TV or film?
I’ve done one or two library things – it’s not much money, just a few hundred quid a year. But people buy digital now – I make more money than I ever have done, probably. I put out a lot more records though. I used to do an album every year, or an album every two years. Now I put out several Haha! I’ve always made loads of music and I feel I’m gradually getting better at it – more of it is good and more of it is worth putting it out. There are loads of little labels who want to put stuff out, and I’m happy to do it as it keeps my name out there, and keeps me getting gigs. As long as a label will do a good master and press it up properly on vinyl, I love doing it – I like getting my tunes mastered – someone who knows what they’re doing can make you’re records sound better. Putting an album out these days is partly to satisfy my enormous ego, and partly as a business card. It’s why I like Hypercolour, they can get it out there. My labels I do fuck all and Rephlex wasn’t much better.
You run the Fresh Up label – the stuff on there is very different to the Hypercolour album. Do you consciously decide you’re going to make a particular style of music when you go into the studio?
No. When I’m working I try and express myself and be original . Music gets put in genres after the fact – I’m not saying this as an insult- by people who do PR, or journalists, or people who work in record shops are concerned with genre.
But you must have decided – to a degree – that Fresh Up was going to release a certain style
Yeah, I started Fresh Up thinking, I’ve got 20 or 40 tracks here and they kind of hang together. But I don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘oh today is a soulful jazzy house day’. I think what influences the Fresh Up tracks is, if I’m using the Fender Rhodes, or if my mate Dave’s around, who plays guitar. If I do music where I’m playing live keyboards that’s how it comes out – it’s not gonna sound like Coldplay cos I don’t like that music. I grew up on Parliament and James Brown and that’s what comes out when I play
Does whatever you’ve been listening to have an influence on what you play?
Everything has an influence, even stuff you hate, but I listen to very little music – it’s partly to do with having kids and having very little time, and when I do have time I just want to work in the studio. I mean I’ll put a record on and within 30 seconds of listening to it I’ll have one of two reactions – either this is wicked, I want to go and make something like this, or, this is bollocks I can make something far better than this- y’know, it’s not work, it’s all I want to do with my life. I try very hard not to make music in a genre, and not to copy. And if I do, I try and mash up unexpected things together, like what would it sound like if Prince did a record with Sisters of Mercy?
Is one of your tunes specifically trying to find out what it would sound like if Prince made a record with Sisters of Mercy?
Yes it is! It’s not out yet but it’s coming out. I’ll give you exclusive news – I’ve got a big box set coming out this year which will include some new tracks and some old favourites remastered and remixed. And one of the unreleased oldies is Prince meets Sisters of Mercy. It’s called Dark Funk which says it all really. It’s got funky drums and what they used to call chicken grease James Brown guitar, and a kind of gothy vocal and keyboards.
Who does the vocal?
Me. Any record of mine you hear that has male vocals is me.
So what’s the deal when you write lyrics?
Lyrics just pop up really fast. They have to rhyme and sound cool. I grew up listening to funk and soul and then house, and I hated people at school who listened to the Smiths and they all hated me. People who liked indie music like poetry and lyrics that mean something to them about their life and I like lyrics that go ‘jack your body’.
Well some of those old house lyrics had deeper meanings – Baby Wants to Ride has got quite a lot to say. Prince as well – Sign of the Times has amazing lyrics
Well, I wouldn’t put myself up there… When I put vocals in the track it’s for the sound. I like pop music – music is about the feelings you get from the melodies and sounds and harmonies
I can feel that – there’s a lot of people who moan about modern hip hop not being as lyrical as old school stuff, but personally I find the feeling of the delivery amazing, even if the lyrics aren’t obviously intricate.
I don’t really listen to hip hop any more but people who harp on about the old days, it’s boring isn’t it? ‘ yeah chips used to be 50p and fags were a pound blah blah blah’ So what? It’s bollocks isn’t it? Just think of any old rap record; “Do the hip hop, the hip bop, the hibbity hip hop”! Even Public Enemy – “Soul on a roll but you treat it like soap on a rope” what does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything, it just sounds cool… There’s a really interesting interview with Hank Shocklee and he talks about putting Public Enemy together. The reason he got Chuck D was that Chuck D used to do parties, and at the end of one of these parties that Shocklee was at, Chuck D got on the mic and started going “Don’t forget to come to the next party, next Friday!” – and Shocklee was like ‘what the fuck is that voice!” he’d blown everyone off stage just talking about the next party. It was all about the voice; Chuck D’s got the best voice. So for me it’s about a sound.
So what new stuff have you got coming out?
The Hypercolour album has just come out. That’s me trying to make electronic music that isn’t in a genre. It’s all my absolute favourites – I save them up until a label comes along who wants to do an album with a picture cover. I save up the best of the best for albums. When I made those tracks I was really trying not to be in a genre. When people ask me what I do, I say I make music with old synthesisers. You can dance to it, but it’s not techno really – I mean if someone asked me for a genre I’d say techno.
I think techno has become misunderstood as a genre – for me it always meant music that was looking to the future, and was made with technology, and somewhere along it got narrowed down to mean Jeff mills pounders or whatever
Yeah I agree with you. In that sense retro-futurist is a good way to describe it. All my influences come out in it, but you couldn’t take any track out and say; that’s an Italo track, or that’s an electro track. Hopefully I mashed up things in a slightly original way
It’s called You Exist – any reason why?
That’s something I said to my daughter – she’s little and wants my attention all the time, and she was going ra ra ra to me, I turned round and said “You exist!” like, meaning, I don’t have to do something to interact with you every second to let you know you exist, let me read the newspaper or whatever. So it’s just a little jab at my daughter hehe. And as I was doing the artwork for the sleeve – have you ever read or watched the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?
Yes, and there’s the machine that shows you how insignificant you are in the universe.
Right! You remember it. It’s meant to be a punishment, it shows you the whole universe and how small you are in it, and the cover is supposed to be a representation of that.
I’ve been thinking of that concept recently, the idea it’d make you feel mad rather than it might release you. Maybe you’d feel good about it-
Yeah, I’m quite happy I’m insignificant.
Totally- all those fuck ups I’ve made don’t matter! There’s a guy who has come up with a theory that it’s incredibly likely we live in a simulation – some people find this quite comforting.
I think it doesn’t make any difference. This interview is going places that no interview has gone before. But it doesn’t make any difference because it doesn’t affect the situation you find yourself in in the end anyway. All we have is what comes in from our eyes and ears- that goes back to Plato, all we have is what comes in through our sensory apparatus. How it gets there and what the reality is kinda doesn’t matter.
So, trying to get back on track, what have you got coming next?
I’ve got some tunes for Tabernacle, they’re quite Detroit-y and a little bit banging. Then there’s this big boxset which I don’t want to give too much away about. It’s a big vinyl boxset on a Spanish label
Does it feel strange to be boxsetted?
It’s weird and I resisted it. I said no to the guy a few times
What was your reason for saying no?
I want to look forward. I may be in my 40s and may have 20 years of records out but I want to look forward, and I think what I’m doing now is better than what I’ve done before. What I’ve done before, I’m not ashamed of it, but it’s not how I chose to represent myself now. But he let me have complete control over what tracks go on it and the artwork and everything. So I’ve picked some of my old tracks that I love that came out but I wasn’t happy with the pressing. A lot of the Rephlex tracks they did as old fashioned LPs with 5 or 6 tracks on a side – so some of my favourite tracks from those albums, and a few alternate takes and releases from back in the day, or just unreleased.
So it’s more rare and unreleased than a straight up retrospective?
Yeah, I mean I haven’t fully totted it up but a third of it is old tracks remastered, a third is unreleased remixes and tracks, and there’s a few brand new remixes we’ve had done, and a couple of old remixes by well-known artists. I’m normally dead against remixes, but at least I got to choose people I respect and they all did their best for me.
So once the boxset is out is that looking behind you over and done with?
Hopefully yeah, it’s taken quite a bit of time to do the artwork, and the mastering – I’m a real stickler for mastering so files have been getting sent back and forth. But now I’ll have the free time to do more music. Later in the year there’ll be at least one more album of electro-ish kind of stuff, and there’ll be an ambient soundtracky kind of album. I’ve also got a few discussions about 12”s underway- Power Vacuum might do something, they get my bangers. On my hard drive there’s over a thousand unreleased tracks. Probably three quarters of them aren’t worth releasing but that’s still leaves three hundred. So as long as people want to get them mastered and put it on vinyl, then I’m up for it. As long as they’re not an arsehole. Because why not?
You Exist is out now on Hypercolour – get a copy on CD, vinyl or digital from over here