Paperwork & Beats: Franklin De Costa Talks
Franklin De Costa has been putting out records since the mid 90s and he’s a favourite of many DJs but he seems to have always flown just under the radar when it comes to the broader scene. Never sticking to one style, he’s encompassed the length and breadth of house, techno and ambient, but always doing things in his own way, with very much his own sound. He’s always been a huge favourite of mine but with a record as Mudkid out now on Greta Cottage Workshop and a release under his own name coming soon on Curle I thought it was the perfect time to have a chat. After a bit of linguistic confusion (the nuances of “this week” and “next week” understandably being a bit vague to a non English speaker) we finally sat down to talk about his music making process, “happy hardcore gone jazz” and, of course, Devon hot sauce.
Where are you and what have you been up to?
Yeah I’m at home. I haven’t been up to much today. I did some paperwork. A little boring but it’s ok.
We’ve talked before about the nightmare that is sending demos out to people and how much of an emotional rollercoaster it is. And then I was looking at your Discogs page and you’ve got like a million and fucking ten releases and that’s a lot of demos to send. How are you still sane?
(Laughs) well actually in the beginning I didn’t really send out many demos. In the 90s people came to me and then later the stuff with Trapez I only sent them one demo and they said OK let’s do an EP and then after that I had a relationship with them. And then after that a lot of people approached me so I didn’t need to send too many demos. Then later on I released less and it was more about getting with the right labels.
So it was mainly through friends and people you knew?
Well you know how it is, when you have a good run people approach you and then when you become quieter it’s hard to get noticed again.
So you currently have a couple of things coming up at the moment but it’s the Mudkid record you have coming out with Greta Cottage Workshop I wanted to talk about first. How did you link up with those guys? It seems like the Berlin – Torquay connection isn’t a likely one.
Yeah I know, I think it was just via the internet I guess. I don’t really remember I think it was through some friends and I sent Matt some music. It was a really long time ago. I've not been there but I got some nice hot sauce from Devon that Matt brought over. It was really good stuff I must say.
What was the first thing you did with them? Was it that track with the really big piano? I can’t remember the name. You know the one right?
No that was the second one I guess.
You know the one though right? What’s the name?
(Laughs) we’ll have to look it up. Yeah the one with the piano break. The huge happy hardcore turns jazz thing.
Ha! Yes I didn’t want to say those words but that’s the one.
Yeah but at the time some people said you can’t really do that, with the big sudden piano breakdown, it doesn’t work. I think for the typical house guys it’s not what you expect from track development. But that’s what I like to do, working a little bit with expectations. Breaking things down a bit and some people can’t handle it. Or they don’t want to. You know, like that traditionalist thing.
Perhaps that’s why Greta Cottage and your Mudkid alias work so well together because they really don’t give a fuck about expectations.
Yeah definitely, because Matt is really supportive with his artists. He gives people their freedom. I mean he has good taste but also likes the weird shit. Also it was easier to be with a digital only label (at the time) because later on when they started to do the vinyl you have a little bit of pressure to sell some records so you can’t be too freaky.
So explain the thinking behind the Mudkid alias? The stuff is still quite dancefloor orientated but also it’s weird shit. Where did that come from?
Yeah that was what I wanted to try out because back in 2007 or 2008 I was kind of bored with all the dancefloor orientated stuff so I was trying to experiment. But really there was no label where I could release this so that’s why I was really happy that I could work with Matt and we developed this relationship.
With the aesthetic to a lot of your music you blend the mechanical and weird side of techno but also with a dub element and also the more dancefloor friendly side of things. It seems that you’re not focused on one thing but you want to try to do everything. Is that right?
(Laughs) Yeah I think this was always the way. I’d listen to one thing and want to do that and then listen to something else and I’d want to do something like this. But in my own way also. So I rarely try to make some really traditional sounding track.
So where do you draw your inspiration from?
I guess from everything I listen to. From DJing, from digging a lot and I still also listen to a lot of sets from other people and go out dancing. I just enjoy listening to music and this gives me inspiration.
When I speak to people who produce or DJ for a living a lot them say that they can’t listen to dance music in their spare time because they have to listen to so much in the studio but you still consume a lot of techno and house?
No not all the time, I do listen to a lot of different stuff. Also I can’t produce all day long, it’s always in phases. This is why I try to change the style of tracks I work on as well as what I’m listening to. So maybe I did a housey track for a while but now I need to do something more melodic or some ambient stuff for the next couple of months. And not everything works out so maybe I’m thinking I’ll try to make a better track from this or come back to it later. That’s how I keep it interesting for me.
Do you know in your head when you’re sitting down in the studio that “ok today it’s a Mudkid day, or a DCNT day or a Franklin De Costa day”?
No no it doesn’t really work like that. It’s more like “ok I’m in the mood for something deep today” and then we’ll see if it’s good enough. And that’s the nice thing with Matt because I can show him some stuff from what I think could be fitting for Mudkid and he has an input too. So yeah I can’t really decide before hand that I’m going to make something as Mudkid.
So how hard is it to tell if something’s good enough? Like you I write a lot of music and I find it really difficult to say “ok that one’s crap but that one’s good”. How good are you at judging your own music?
It’s changes over time. In the beginning I am always super excited and wanted to show everyone my music and then over some weeks or months I see that “ok this track needs more doing to it or something”. I mean with some releases the tracks come out after two years or something since sending them to the label. So that helps to judge the quality because if it’s still good in two years time then it must be ok.
So as well as the Mudkid release on Greta, you also have a release coming out on the Belgian label Curle right? Is that something you’ve done recently or is this music sent two years ago like you were saying?
Yeah this is my third EP with them. I had quite a lot of stuff to send to them as I’d been collecting some material together and it was time to start sending out some demos. I was going back to some of the old labels I really liked and so I sent some stuff over to them. Tom the label manager has great taste but he’s also really picky! Usually I send like ten tracks and he only takes one but this time it was really easy. One of the tracks is really old, maybe like three years or so but the other ones are pretty new. You can hear it in the sound maybe because the newer stuff is maybe a bit rougher sounding because I’m using more hardware to produce than I used to.
You did a collaboration with DJ Spider recently and that’s some of the roughest stuff I’ve heard from you. Is that his influence coming across? Also how did you guys link up?
He was here staying at Red Rack’Em’s place and all three of us were jamming together and then Spider and me did some more music. Spider delivered the drums and I did some synth work over it and then we worked really well with the arrangement, keeping things more minimalistic but still with a lot happening.
Do you like working with other people?
Yeah. I mean it’s quite rare that I find someone who I think is really interesting to work with. But I found working with Spider really productive. I mean we work really fast together. I think the point also is that we don’t have much time when he’s here so we have to finish a track in two days or two sessions or whatever. We have a new one coming also on Berceuse Heroique from me and Spider. I think we did like a track a day when he was here.
Where do you think your music is going style wise? I mean a lot of people don’t like it when I ask this question but where’s your head going to be at in 2017? How do you see this progressing?
I don’t know. It depends on what’s going to be interesting for me. I wanted to do a little bit more with software again because now the focus for everyone is really on hardware but now I want to go back to how I was working ten years ago when everything was done with a computer. I just want to see what I can do there.
I guess now it feels like if you admit to using a computer at all in the writing process not just hardware you’re somehow not real and not as authentic as everyone else. But I guess most people started out with just a cracked copy of Rebirth or something like that.
Yeah well I’ve been doing it for a really long time so when I started in 1995 there was very little to do with a computer.
How did you first get into producing then? It was a lot harder to get into producing then than it is now. What made you take that step?
Well I guess I was really lucky with that because my dad had a little home studio that I could use. He was doing fusion stuff, kind of soul with rock mixture. And so I used that and got a demo together.
So was your early musical influence from your dad then?
Yeah I guess so. He had a nice tape collection which I used to listen to with lots of different stuff, from jazz to rock to pop. And then later I started playing drums playing everything from metal to jazz. So I guess that’s why I try to make my music with different influences, and to try to bring something interesting into dance music.
So you have a night yourself called Mother’s Finest. Tell me a bit about that.
Well I’ve been doing parties for a long time but now under this brand it’s maybe one and a half years. Before that I was just booking nights in Berlin and selecting DJs, so you maybe don’t have a risk with that but it’s nice to do my own thing and have control over the whole night. The venue is called Griessmuehle. It’s not so new, like 4 years old. It’s more rough and underground, shitty toilets (laughs).
We were talking a little while ago over twitter about how people complain that there’s nothing new happening in music and that everyone’s just trying to do the same thing over and over. How can anyone do anything new in music? It’s just doof doof after all right?
Yeah I think that’s not the point and that there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening with the mixture of different styles. But everyone has a different view and a lot of people are keeping to quite traditional techno and house. That’s why I try to bring something different in there and not just stick to the traditional approaches.
So where else do you look to bring other influences into your music? Other cultures or other times?
No I don’t see myself as maybe the kind of guy who mixes eastern culture with western culture or anything.
I guess the Beatles have already done that right?
Yeah. I guess I just try to find my own approach with this and leave it up to others where you have scenes developing with young people and they have a different outlook. I mean I’m already pretty old now! (Laughs)
So to finish off, what else have you got in the pipeline at the moment?
Well actually there’s a Mudkid album coming on Greta with their Woodpile offshoot which will be a CD and digital. That’s more of an ambient project. I’m really looking forward to having that out because I’ve been working on it for a long time on the side of other projects so it’ll be great to get that done. So maybe going back to what we talked about, what to expect in 2017 could be working on more stuff like this.
So when will this be out?
Well we don’t have a release date so I guess it depends how fast Matt is (laughs). Hopefully before the summer.