Hieroglyphic Being Talks


Jamal Moss has walked a perhaps unconventional path to reach the point he’s at now. The man is highly revered in electronic music, his name rippling smoothly from fields of experimental sound design to tense, challenging dance music – and he’s worked hard to get where he is.

Chicago is where Jamal grew up and currently lives, and he clearly has a deep love and respect for it. Fostering the roots of house music, the city and the culture also took care of Jamal when he was homeless, the clubs and attendees looking after him, preventing him from freezing on the street at night. He grew up alongside the culture as it formed – getting more involved as its shape began to solidify. It’s a genre, and scene, that developed through obsession and experimentation, through collaboration and inclusion. Under the tutelage of some massively important musicians Jamal refined his craft and learnt how the industry worked, making mistakes and learning from them along the way to give him a informed perspective which is simultaneously critical and accepting. He chastises but understands, all with a wry smile and booming laugh. We sat down with him to talk about Lisbon, his label and the state of music in the world today…

Hey Jamal how’s it going? What’re you up to?

I just woke up! That’s about it.

Thanks for doing this so early man, I was worried it might be a bit early for you…

Nah, this is perfect, in a way I’m still on Portugal time, I just got back three days ago.

Oh man, how was that?

It’s nice – a few places I could live, I could live in a place like Lisbon.

There’s a few people I know who have moved over to Lisbon actually, there’s an interesting sort of scene over there, the guys doing WARP’s Cargaa series [DJ Marfox, DJ Nigga Fox] and that Principe label put out an LP which is absolutely stunning.

That too and it’s kind of cheap depending where you’re looking.

Apparently there’s a sort of cool community vibe going on over there.

Yeah, I’d been there before but I got a chance to be there for four days and walk around, and I was like ‘I can do this’. I won’t belittle the economic situation because things are cheap, but… it’s nice! It’s nice when you go to a place where it’s economical – feasible – and there’s a lot of stuff to do culturally, so it’s kind of cool because you’ve got Brazilian influences, loads of Portugeuse influences, and you’ve got some influences from Angola and other former colonies. And then of course, the Asian influence because China came in and brought in their bankers and financiers to prop up the economy. It looks so different from three years ago because their economy was really kind of shit, but now after three years it came up because they invited a lot of Chinese investors to come in.

So what were you doing over there? Performing?

It was this event curated by Levon Vincent at Club Lux in Lisbon.

How did it go? The crowd were good?

It was packed – they reached capacity, whatever it was, 2500 for the club, it was packed. I had to get off the first floor because it was sweltering hot for me, I had to go to higher levels because it was just crazy there.

Is Levon Vincent a friend of yours?

Actually no, that’s the first time I’ve met him in person, not to sound, like, disrespectful or snotty, a lot of these people I don’t even know about until I get invited to go on the road because I’m in my own little bubble. I’m at home and get into in my own world when it comes to sound and music or whatever so I just learn as I go when I travel, and I find out about these other people and what influences they have on other people and the culture, so that was the first time I had a chance to sit down with him and talk face to face and thank him for inviting me on.

Is that how you find different acts you book and release for Mathematics? Through travelling and getting introduced to sounds like that?

It’s a combination of a lot of stuff, like sometimes some people send me demos… and actually I’ve got to check my Mathematics Recordings hotmail account. I’ve got so overblown by how many demos I’ve been sent now I don’t even check it any more. They’ve probably shut it down because I ain’t checking it no more. Like I tell anybody who wants to send me demos now who actually knows me to send it to my Gmail, because the Mathematics one just gets trolled by like somebody representing some artist, who pays someone to troll other labels to try and sign them on, and you know the music is bad because they do the whole “out now, hot new electronic tune coming soon from this artist who opened up for blah blah blah in Ibiza” and I’m like oop, no, next. They obviously do not know the label and haven’t taken the time out to understand the sound direction we’re involved in. I’m not knocking them, but you can tell they’ve hired some service to troll this label to try and get them a deal and they’ve not even bothered to listen to the label, they just blast emails out, so I get hit with a lot of that stuff now.

A lot of people who I run into are a lot of people I’m connected with now, or people who know someone that refers them to me that I’ll take a chance and listen to. Sometimes too, I’ll be on the road and I’ll have a conversation with people and they might mention music, but be kind of timid about talking – because when I usually meet people I don’t really talk about music, I talk about everything but music. People feel like ‘is that misdirection because he don’t want to talk about music and we might come off as an asshole if we try to talk about music and pass a demo?’ when really it’s not the case, I just don’t want to be that asshole who’ll be all about me, and this music’s this and my music that. I just try to stay away from that because in this industry you can’t make everybody happy, and I try to find a way to be neutral to either make everybody pissed off or everybody happy, there’s just no in between thing. You can’t win.

Then some people, we’ll start talking and they’ll say they do stuff and I’ll be like ‘well, let me hear it’, you know, and they’ll get nervous and send it to me, and when I get back home off the road, and I’ll hear it and be like yeah, they’ve got a way to go. A lot of times I’ll work with people and do a lot of A&R work for them to get [them] to a certain direction, because I can hear what they’re trying to do, but sometimes they can’t hear what they’re trying to do. 

That falls in line with the idea of mentorship which comes up a lot when reading about you [Steve Poindexter and Adonis are often referred to as Jamal’s mentors], is this a role you feel a need to provide? Considering your own mentors were so great…

I don’t really see the role as a mentorship, I just look at it more as trying to help other people and put them in the right direction, because, you know, some people took me under their wing when they didn’t have to and tried to point me in the right direction. They took time out of their lives to help me out and I feel like I can do the same for others because there was a point in time where people would laugh and close the door in my face, so I know what it’s like for other artists who don’t have access or the connections to know the direction to go or how to get involved.

When I first started out, I was just a dancer. That was it. I didn’t give a shit about the name of the record that was playing, I just danced. The music was good and I danced to whatever and over time I slowly got sucked into the other areas of the culture, when I was ready to go in and start experimenting with production and making sounds like that, then people decided to take me under their wing. For some people I see now – I wouldn’t call this culture a dance culture, it’s more a knowledge culture out of curiosity, people come because they like it but it’s like the whole dance thing – for like 60% of the scene it’s like, it’s not even present any more. I see a lot of people who, I would say – curiousity killed the cat, people come to these events and hear and try and understand what is going on, and they stay here and try and translate it into their creativity, but then there’s a thing that’s missing.

Without movement, you can’t have movement in the stuff that you make. I’m starting to run into that now in a lot of the artists I meet because they’re not really dancers, you see what I’m saying, so they never put enough time in on the dancefloor to have it translate well in the music they make. It doesn’t mean it has to be a 4/4, when I was coming up we danced to all types of stuff – ambient stuff, new-age stuff, it wasn’t always just a 4/4 beat, we danced to all types of stuff on the floor so I’m not saying it has to be 4/4 but movement can be in melody, string arrangements, the way stuff is sequenced, chopped up, programmed and put together. A prime example is Manuel Gottsching’s ‘E2 E4’, it never touches 4/4 but you feel movement throughout the whole piece.

It feels like your introduction to the culture and industry was really organic, going from club-goer to getting involved and helping run different aspects of the night, the door, security, performing, I guess it’s sort of allowed you to get a complete perspective on the different aspects and elements of a performance environment, whereas young people now might just glorify the DJ or artist and try to copy and replicate. It’s like there’s not as much of an innate love of the actual music and scene…

For me I consider that people have to go through – I hate the term but people say ‘pay your dues’, I call it like a rite of passage or universal suffrage, I feel like some people need to like take their time and not rush it, because say they come to the clubs when they’re 21 – until they’re at least 26 or 27, [it’s most important to] experience the culture, don’t be in a rush to try and get a 12” out, try to like go out and feel what’s going on, feel it. Not trying to sit there and write down or use your phone to figure out what the DJ’s playing, just get caught up in the emotion of the story that’s being told and actually get deeper and try to reach out and discover different artists and that way you can get a combination of textures that get absorbed into your DNA, and then when you’re ready to sit down and create you’ll have a vast biological library which, when it comes to creating sounds, you’ll be able to translate with your equipment – because I feel like there’s a missing theme.

I’m not saying now there’s not music coming up that’s not prolific, but when I was coming up music was something dropped every week you could go to a record shop at the weekend and forty tunes would drop in a weekend and all of them were hot. Put it this way, they were so hot, I was underweight I didn’t think about eating. I was just like ‘I gotta get that music’ because it was just so hot. And I hate to say it but music ain’t so hot to me now and I’m fifty pounds heavier, so go figure. People will buy equipment before they buy music now, there are people that will spend $7000 before they even buy their first download. They’ll buy turntables with Serato, with the native instruments stuff, and their computer or laptop, and they’re like “ok we’ve got all this equipment now we gotta buy a tune”. It’s the vast opposite – you should be invested in the music and spend time learning the music culture before you can even think about going off, getting all this elaborate equipment. I see a lot of people do that stuff and then they get frustrated because they’re trying to go from kindergarten to senior year of high school within two years without going through the natural progression of learning the culture so that way you can be enriched and be empowered and feel strong, and in other words not watered down.

Everybody gets their impression or perception by what they hear, and if what they hear is only 10% of something that someone else has heard that’s only 30% of what somebody else has heard, or what they heard was 60% of what they heard of somebody else that’s heard that was 80% – see what I’m saying so it starts to lose its density every time it passes on to someone else. I try to help rebuild the missing blocks when I get involved with artists like ‘oh right, I see what you’re doing you sound like this person, why don’t you go and listen to this library or work of person’ or ‘oh I know this person who used to DJ a long time ago that would do these mixes of this type of sound that you’re into’ ‘cos a lot of time they don’t know ‘cos they’re under 27, so they have no idea of a lot of stuff that happened twenty years ago. So when the youth come along they don’t pay too much attention to anything that’s like ten years older than them, they stay within a ten-year timeframe, so anything beyond that, they kind of see as irrelevant – it only becomes relevant when a media outlet makes it relevant, like the Hype machine, and people catch on.

You gotta realise that maybe like four years ago, everybody was Kerri Chandler, outta nowhere the whole youth was about Kerri Chandler, but Kerri Chandler’s been around forever! It was weird how the youth didn’t know. Everybody who was over, say, 28 five years ago knew what was up, but people under that age had no clue, and all of a sudden there was this big hype machine that everybody had heard Kerri Chandler, but then you had all these people that locked into that and tried to emulate that sound, and it was still only 30% of the sound that he was doing so it was weird – everybody going for this deep house thing, but then you hear it and I’m like “that’s like presets!” Like you know in the 90s they used to sell presets on CD that you could sample? And you could get your basic club beat, or your club bassline or rhythm or your Brazilian rhythms and stuff like that – that’s what it sounds like! When the records come out and they call themselves ‘Deep House’ they sound like those sample CDs you’d get at Guitar Centre. You’ve got this culture that everybody’s trying to get on quick, get on fast and get on hard, but the people who actually do their research and study, they surpass and they excel – you know there’s a couple that get through and do it.

Disclosure, they came on my radar about two years ago, and when I heard them, I heard the hype and I went ahead and checked them out, and I can’t knock it because technically speaking the stuff that they’re doing sounds identical to the stuff I used to dance to back in ‘93/’94, but a lot of people my age don’t want to admit it because they see it as somewhat more commercial and not their ideal of what deep house is or whatever, but because I was a dancer I remember having movements and motion to sounds like what they do now. It’s like the same stuff that I heard that came out on Nervous Records or the same stuff on Swing Street, King Street, or whatever, you know?

It’s interesting though because I remember you saying something about the difference between homage and referencing something, and trying to replicate something – do you think producers like Disclosure have that depth of sound that is original and makes it valid or are they drawing too heavily on something that’s already been?

I mean, technically speaking everything has been done before the only thing that’s changed is the technology and having access. Everything that’s done now is all ritualistic – in the club, it started ten thousand years ago, aboriginals in all the cultures across the planet they had their dancefloors but it was in, whatever, Stonehenge, you know what I’m saying, when they had their rituals with their music or whatever. Or like if you were in the Amazon where they do their thing, or like native American pow-wows where they beat their drum and have their ceremonies – it’s the same concept but because of technology and human evolution it just went into the club. It’s kind of one of those things that people have to study what connects with them as far as an aboriginal source. I remember this one group that came out a long time ago called Afro Celt Sound System.

I thought it was a weird-ass name but then I heard a couple of their tunes and I was like ‘this shit is mega’ – so they mixed Celtic with Acid-Tribalism but it had this Deep House sound to it, and I was like ok, that’s an interesting fusion. So you catch these interesting nuances all over the place and I don’t claim to know everything – there’s so much new music which comes out now that I just kind of shut down and go for old stuff now. So I actually go into the record shops and I just buy old industrial obscura stuff or I’ll buy like, old, crazy, jazz/dance or like abstract jazz stuff, just like weird, obscure stuff now – because I feel like everything these cats did like thirty, forty years ago, even fifty years ago, everybody’s still trying to emulate now but they had no idea that these cats, it may not have been like 100 people that was doing it forty years ago, there might have been five, but there’s records out there that prove that these people were doing it and I feel like people who are trying to do music now should go all the way back to the beginning of whatever that sound signature was so they can follow the growth and understand the growth and it’ll somehow incite them, when they regurgitate it, keep that growth going.

Right now it’s stagnant. I can feel it, it’s like everywhere you go it’s stagnant – it’s like when I do my live shows now and when people DJ – I don’t knock people who DJ, you know I’ll do it once in a while, but if I go DJ I will literally go on a quest and I will try to find, and get music and edit it down so when I go play out I will play stuff that’s obscure, and for the people who are real music heads that probably know what it is, I’ll end up doing edits of it so that everybody’s way more caught into the moment and not all just like “oh I know that tune/oh I heard that tune/oh that DJ yesterday played that” – you see what I mean, because it’s so… saturated now, that when you do pop up in the scene and DJ and people are out where you are, they’ve probably heard that same tune banged like eight times in one week. So it’s better to come with something fresh and keep people growing. So when I go do live shows now, I try to incorporate a lot of stuff that I listen to at home, as far as like ambient works or industrial works or like free jazz movements, but I keep returning to the base of the house culture that I grew up in, that’s why I’ve got this weird fusion of different stuff going on with me because I got inspired by a lot of stuff coming up in Chicago, and I try to [say to] the other artists who I try to I put on, just like don’t be scared, encompass all types of influences and incorporate in what you’re doing, you know?

So the Chicago scene was massively exciting, is it still exciting to you? Do you still find the same inspiration there?

I mean, technically speaking I’ve done ran my course with Chicago, I have my memories that were good for me and the people I came up with in the scene it’s good for them, I’m just one of the few people that’s trying not to be that bitter old fuck that’s hangin’ out at the club talking about ‘oh it was better back in the day when I was coming up’, because that’s what all older people do when they see the youth, talking about how their day was better than theirs, it’s not for me to do that – it’s their scene, it’s for them to find a way to cultivate it and procure it and make it better for them, you see what I’m saying? And I catch some stuff that’s cool, but I catch a lot of stuff that don’t make no damn sense to me, it doesn’t translate well mentally for me because that’s not my culture, it’s a different generation of people.

So I try to go out once in a while and see what’s poppin’ off, and then I get really disgruntled, and I’ll be like ‘oh FUCK, this is kinda whack’, but you know, when I was coming up, my parents, my adoptive parents, they was into, you know, the jazz breaks and the classics and stuff, they didn’t do the whole disco thing because my adoptive family was like a generation older so they didn’t do the funk/disco/soul thing. They came up with the 40s/50s/60s stuff, so even when I came into what I was coming into, they were listening to it and would be like “what the fuck is that shit?!” See what I’m saying? So to them what I listened to was whack, but that influenced a whole generation of people around the planet. So all perspective is relative to what suits you best mentally.

With over eighty releases on Mathematics, is there anything you look for specifically when you lining up a release on the label?

It’s like, I’ll hear something that resonates with me, that influenced me when I was younger, when I was on the dancefloor, so I’ll hear a certain tone or a structure in something somebody created that’s sent to me, and I’m like ‘ok, I can connect with this’. There are a lot of artists that I’ve turned down that got with other labels and then got big, I’m not gonna say who the cats were I turned down, but it’s weird how it wasn’t probably good enough for what I was trying to do, but I told them ‘maybe it’ll work with other labels ‘cos if you get with me I feel it might hinder your growth, it’s just not my style or way I do things’.

So there were certain people I hear and I’d get this feeling, thisemotion or whatever and then I’d listen to it and I’d tell them ‘this is probably what you need to do to it’ and then we’ll work through it for a couple of months – some people would get it and get it done within two weeks, some other people it might take them a couple of months or even up to a year, so we’ll work with it and get it where it needs to be to a certain point, and it’ll come out and then when they hear that what I guided them to, sound direction-wise, and they realise it works, then they actually have faith in it and start working in that sound direction. But sometimes the problem is, I will put them through bootcamp and then other labels – prime example, some people can’t get on other labels. But when they get on my label, then all of a sudden the labels that rejected them? They want them because they see them as a viable commodity because now they’re a brand, and now the problem is – and I don’t want to fault the artists for it but a lot of artists are guilty of this – they’ll turn around all the stuff I rejected and [I] said was whack, basically, and needs to be better, when the other labels come back knocking on their door, they’ll give them the whack stuff and put it out, and get caught up in this messed up machine. And I tell them don’t do that because it will hinder your career.

I’m like, at least the material I turned down, at least take the knowledge of what I told you, and apply it to the stuff that I thought was unfinished and better it. But sometimes they’re just like ‘fuck it, this other label is chasing me now’, and give it to ‘em and they put the stuff out, and it sounds not like what comes out Mathematics. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but if you listen to a lot of the releases that the artist did on my label comparing it to other labels, they don’t sound nowhere close. Not even like – it makes me feel like do other labels actually do true a A&R? You know what I’m saying, like trying to work with the artist and develop them, to get them to a certain point, or is it all like capitalising – “fuck it, they came out on this label, we know now they’re getting their record aired and they get on the front page of some website when it finally comes out so we’ll invest and manage to get this project, just to get it going”. Cos I see that a lot now, I see a lot of stuff come out, and I can hear a lot of unfinished stuff – I mean [I’ve been] guilty of it! Now if I decided to put out anything that was sub-par or not finished I’ll put it on my CDr’s.

So those CDrs are kind of like a sample tester to put out to the public to get feedback on what people are feeling or what’s the sound that they like, and I’ll take the information and I’ll go back and build upon [it] in the lab and develop it further. But I won’t put it on vinyl and waste that precious resource because the pressing plants are already swamped now, with good stuff and then not so good stuff so I feel like I will not muck up the works with my bullshit. CDr, I used to do soundcloud… but that’s a whole other body of politics I’m not going to have a conversation about right now [laughing], but yeah I just figured I’d do my CDr’s or if I really want to I’ll just like put some stuff up and give it away for free, do a blogspot or whatever, for people to get a feel and give feedback from.

It depends because there was a period of time people were sending me things I knew was hot, but mentally I was somewhere else and I just didn’t give a shit, and some people I slept on and they slipped through my fingers, but you know, such is life, they’re in a better place, I’m in a better place, it all works out for itself, yeah, for the better.

And you started it back in ’96? Is that right?

I mean, officially, vinyl-wise was ’96 but before that for at least a year I was always putting stuff on cassette tape, I was doing cassette tape albums, and I would sell them at rave parties. So I would literally be at the check-point and be like – ‘cos the point was, people weren’t really trying to book me for these raves or whatever and to me I just saw this market of vast people and I figured out my hustle and how to connect and fit in, so like I would go to the check-point and nobody would buy the fuckin’ tapes – everybody was all concerned with getting their tickets to get to the damn party, and to get their motherfuckin’ drugs. They did not want to spend money on anything else but getting in the party and getting them drugs. And it was kind of frustrating because I had a box of a hundred tapes and I was like FUCK! What the fuck am I gonna do?

I would actually go to the party and walk around and people would go like “oh, you that cat that was trying to sell us cassette tapes, you know maybe when the party’s over we’re gonna buy one”, so literally when the rave was over with I would stand outside the party so all these people would come out high as fuck and I’d say “oh, got your cassette tape” and they’d be like “oh, yeah, we’ll buy one because we got a two-hour road-trip back home”, and they needed something to listen to. So I would 'troll' motherfuckers, be like yeah this tape sounds like Carl Cox or this shit sound like Richie Hawtin, or this shit sound like Speedy J – Yeah – I’m sorry – I trolled these motherfuckers to get the come up. But I had to move these [cassettes] and people would buy ‘em and I would sell, like at one point, I would sell at least 200 cassette tapes after a rave party, I was just making hand over fist, like ugly, cash. And then when I got enough money I would sell CDs. And it got to a point where I had enough stuff floating around I actually hit up – I dunno, I was trying to get a record deal and the places I was going to wasn’t feeling my sound, they thought it was like, not orthodox or what they considered safe and normal for what they were doing.

I thought 'I gotta find me a deal' ‘cos I said the culture was so powerful then there had to be somebody giving off a P&D deal. And I remember picking up some like… I dunno, some British magazines and people don’t believe it or not but back in the day, back in the 90s? You would look in the back of a British magazine and they were giving P&D deals left and right! Like it was a whole two or three pages where it was just like “Oh! P&D! Marketing and development deal! Blah blah blah” And it was all out of the UK, it was funny as hell. So I was just like I would call up, and then hit people up and I actually got a deal by Plastic City, you know… but yeah, that’s crazy, and Plastic City was the shit back in ‘95, ’96, yeah that whole outfit – I dunno what they’re doing now but I was actually offered a deal-contract by them, but my mentors was just like no, it isn’t good enough. But in my mind I’m like fuck it! But they knew better, they were just like “No, that’s not a good deal” – Then, I actually had a deal with Virgin on the table.

That’s crazy!

Yeah just from looking in the back of a magazine! I actually was on a conference call with a guy named Terry Hillingsworth… They was actually literally having a meeting in, I think it was like V2 records, I dunno it was Virgin Records or whatever – and they actually had me in the conference call and I was like freaking out, I’m like “How many people are in the room listening to this conversation right now?” But you know they was down with it or whatever, and then when I was with some of the people I was working with [my mentors] they was like “no that’s not a good deal either”, and I got frustrated, I was just like fuck a deal! I wanna get this shit out and get it going but I guess for them it wasn’t a good fit, so, there was moments I had a chance to like excel back then, but I listened to my mentors and they were just like “nah, you’re better off figuring out what you’re doing on your own.”

Then I called someone else from the back of a mag and they wasn’t talking no crazy stuff but they just told me “yeah, we’ll press it, give it a chance” or whatever so they pressed two records of mine… but then out of nowhere they were just like “…yeah …we’re gonna leave this house thing alone, we’re going to invest now into this, uh-” I think they said it was 2-step or like some UK Garage, and I was like I’m just trying to catch up still pressing regular house, like Acid! And you know all of a sudden they just flipped it on me with just like “yeah, we’re gonna have to pass on this.” And that was like ’96, ’97 when that whole wave started to pick up, so. I had a chance up on that wave but I knew nothing about no damn UK Garage culture or 2-step I didn’t know what the fuck that was [laughing].

Yeah but I mean you’re not going to compromise your sound just trying pick up on that so… do you have any advice for anyone starting a label at the moment?

The best thing I can say for people trying to start a label at the moment is just learn from my mistakes. Just make sure when you step into the arena you get everything trademarked, make sure you come up with a good brand to market because everything is kitschy, it’s gotta be catchy, your brand’s gotta be like a jingle, it’s gotta be synonymous [with your chosen music] and stick with people to stay in their head. That’s just the world we live in, you can’t just come out with some stupid name or some illiterate name, it just don’t work anymore – I mean it may work for some but in general but if you try to be in it for the long term and not short term gain then you want something that’s going to stand the test of time, you know, so.

And then from there just figure out what direction and what sound you want to build, and then like try to find five or six artists to work with that are gonna be loyal, and if they decide they want to do anything else make sure they do something that’s of the same calibre or higher so it doesn’t get watered down and you don’t get lost in the hot mess of this culture and fall to the wayside after a year or two ‘cos you got greedy and burnt yourself out… and then like forever research and grow and try to build that brand within that group and you’ll excel a whole lot faster – and don’t try to put out as many tunes as I did, because I was putting out stuff ‘cos I was still trying to figure out what works for me. I wasn’t putting out stuff because oh I just gotta put out to try and prove a point, I was just like I really don’t know what sounds good or bad, and that’s me trying to squash ego.

When ego’s in the way then you’re like oh, everything I do is hot, but if you put ego back and take a chance to put [the music] out there with no fear, you know like do a little test marketing thing with some sort of target audience or a focus group or whatever you can figure out what direction you need to go to develop yourself as an artist, what’s your sound? The label should know their market, they should know what regions they should try to push for – a prime example I tell people is like music sells but you just gotta know your territories so like okay you got the Spanish market or I’d just say the Mediterranean market – so like you got Portugal, Spain and Italy and a couple of other places and you try to figure alright, I got to sell 200 copies just in that region then you have the North markets, you got Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and you figure out how you can push 200 copies in that market, you try to do your research and figure out what shops, what vendors are there and try to build a relationship with them and the same thing is formed when it comes to the Benelux region which is Belgium, France and wherever else and you figure out how can I push 200 copies there. Then you still have the Dutch market, you still got the German market.

So you do your research and you can figure it out so that by the time you’ve put out your first release you’ve already sold 2000 copies because you did your research and didn't jump the gun. Because you've really gotta know your target audience and that was the one thing I was able to do on my own was figure out my target audience in certain regions so when I dropped something personally on my own I could sell several hundred copies out the back with no press or hype, shit just dropped –and half the time [now] I don’t even know when the records come out, my distributor will be like oh yeah the records are in… ‘cos you know I can kind of outsource the label now so they can take care of like doing everything so they can like listen to it to make sure the record sounds right when the test pressing comes in, artwork is done, and then the record’s just out to the marketplace, because we have the relationship now that we came together for like the last eleven years, which is through distribution, we know each other so well they just know what to do. And I just told them, I was just like “listen, I ain’t gonna live forever so something happens to me, this thing’ll keep living on without me,” so they already understand how the dynamics and mechanics work and what my vision is.

So if I’m dead and gone, it’ll still go on without me, ‘cos they got it, they got the science down of how I do things. That’s the one thing I want to be able to do is just like even if I’m not here that somebody else who needs a hookup or a hand up the resource is still there for it to happen.

The term DIY is used a lot in conjunction with your music – do you think there’s an intrinsic connection between the music that comes out of Chicago and the DIY attitude?

I mean, DIY only comes from the aspect of when other buyable resources that are already connected in to help excel you in your career let you down, so you either have to be defeated and walk away or you gotta be like well if they did it, I can do it too. You just gotta figure the science of how they did it.

I wouldn’t say I came from like a Punk aesthetic or whatever, I just felt like this is my calling and I had to figure out how I could inject myself in the conscious of this culture to let them know that I’m serious about what I’m trying to do and I’m not just trying to do it for, like, fuckery, or for an ego swish. I had mentors that taught me a lot about the industry, how certain things work, how certain things don’t work and then I had to figure out on my own how to navigate, to get myself a situation where I could be able to have the resources to put stuff out at such a serious [standard of] output – I’m not saying I’m proud of all the output that I had but you know if you got the resources to do it, you know… then you just gotta go all in. It seems like you gotta lay down or get down. That’s it, there’s no grey area on it.

I never saw it as DIY, I just seen it as I just had to open up opportunities to make it happen for me – and that’s the whole thing, you can connect with people and then some people will try to put you on and some people will look at you like, you know, “bug the fuck off, get out my face”, and then like you’ll have some people who’ll just try to use you, ‘cause they’ll see people that’s hungry and thirsty and they’re just like “ok, I see this person’s kind of thirsty I’m gonna use them for my purposes, to elevate” – so I just had to navigate to where I just couldn’t be used by people who were trying to use me, because I was thirsty to try and get connected and get on. I just figure, alright, I’m just gonna research and see what other people do and then try to take notes and build from there

So your musical education, that was through listening and figuring out rather than any formal training, right?

Yeah, I’ve always been an observer, just watching, unpacking, trying to like study things, I mean technically speaking I still don’t know musical notation, I don’t know musical arrangements, I don’t know music theory, I just play by ear and I’ll just have like an idea and I’ll just sit down and work on it and try and make it come to fruition, so. I have yet to really sit down and actually try to study it because I’m afraid if I actually know what the hell I’m doing I won’t be able to be adventurous in the stuff that I make. You see what I’m saying? Because then all of a sudden you get confined in this box because before you didn’t need all of this structure. And I know a lot of people like that, there are a lot of people who are like musical geniuses, and they know music theory and notes and stuff like that, but then stuff when they make it, it just sounds so traditional or just so normalised, nothing that really ventures off into anything exciting.

When you perform do you still use the two drum machines and… something else, what are you using now? 

Nah, I moved on from the drum machines, I’ve got iPads now. I use two ipads, a MIDI controller, and I use an effects unit – once in a while I’ll bring a drum machine out but right now that’s all I’ll bring on the road – it’s much easier and simpler for me. So I’ll create stuff at home and take all the stems from the external gear, and I’ll use this MIDI converter and convert stuff to put on my iPads to run through different software or apps. So when I go on the road now and people have all this stuff hooked up I just kinda look at ‘em, and they give me that funny look when I pull out my two iPads, my MIDI controller and my other unit, they all like “oh, so you’re gonna use that, huh” and I’m like “yeah” and then by the end of the night they’re walking up to me like, taking notes, like “oh yeah what app was that, what was that you were using? What was this you were using? Yeah man carrying all my gear be hurting my back!”

The way I’ve got it set up now I can run, like four drum machines at once and three 303’s, and five synths, all at once – and it’s a full, rich sound. I did one show about three weeks ago and people were coming up to me and saying “was that a classical piano/flute/bassoon”, so I’m like integrating all this stuff now. So it was cool when I was using the drum machines before, but I felt after a period of time that technology was so limited that the stuff that I wanted to create, it didn’t catch up with me. It’s just in the last two years because of the iPad’s technology that it caught up to the level of stuff I wanted to create, and now because technology’s changed to the point to catch up with what I was mentally trying to do, I feel comfortable in my creativity. Because before I’d have all these keyboards and drum machines, and I’d have to patch stuff in, all this crazy stuff, and I’m not good at this whole sequencing and MIDI crap, I get frustrated.

I’m kind of like primal, just cut it on, start clicking and then make the stuff and get to it. But this whole, you gotta plug this in, plug that in, MIDI-8 up to that, sequence this to this, Cv-gate this to this –I’m like no, fuck that, that’s like an hour’s set up before you even hit a damn note, I’m like… I’d be ready to go get some weed, or a doughnut and go chill after that. But with my iPads and the way I got it set up, I can cut it on and get to it, I can make like four or five tunes just sitting up in bed. And I actually have a wireless component so like if I have my equipment, like I have it sitting over there in the corner [shows me set up] so I’ve got this wireless unit I actually have my equipment on, I can just have it all hooked up to keyboards and drum machines, and trigger it just sitting in my bed.

There’s this weird fetishisation of hardware over here, musicians buy up synths and really expensive drum machines and I guess the argument is that you can’t get the same warmth of tone in using digital equipment, but I guess that’s not your experience?

No, I still get the same kind of warmth of tone using my two iPads and that’s what’s freaking everybody out. People get caught up too much in the nuances, you know, analogue versus digital, whatever blah blah blah, but technically speaking it’s all still synthetic. No matter what term you want to use, analogue or digital, it’s still synthetic, it’s still not organic. No matter how they look at it. Because you’ve got to look at organic musicians who actually play real drums, or the conga, or a horn, or guitar, or a flute – they probably look at them like what the fuck are you talking about you’re not playing real music ANYWAY, you’re not using real instruments ANYWAY, so it’s all perspective when people are sitting there having this fight or whatever.

I just feel like, use what you have and use it to its fullest capability. You don’t really need a lot of stuff. But people get caught up into the hype, you know what I’m saying, the marketing ploy, and they wanna get the next gear or whatever, and then they go get all this stuff and then when I hear it I’m looking like, you spent three G’s on this modular synth to do WHAT? That shit blows my mind! You can go to a pawn shop and spend maybe a couple of hundred bucks and get four guitar effects pedals, go get some old beat up Casio keyboard and then go get a module ‘cause they sell ‘em dirt cheap in the pawn shops, for like maybe eighty bucks or whatever, and hook all that stuff up to a recording thing and you can probably do all the same shit.

You can tweak it a little bit –it just blows my mind to see people do that [laughing] I just mean, I just don’t get it. It’s fine if you’re doing it as a hobby, but if you’re doing it and trying to be fuckin’ Brian Eno or whatever… nah… nah… like if you really look at the history of Brian Eno -it made sense for him to go and get a modular synth, you see what I’m saying, because he has a pedigree. But the average cat who goes out and get it and think they’re gonna like change the world or whatever, I mean, you look like a switchboard operator. When you’re sitting on stage and you’re doing that patchwork, I’m just sitting there, I’m like I don’t get it.

Maybe other people get it, maybe it’s like a geek thing, I don’t know, I have no clue. I don’t even try to figure that shit out I just leave them to their own devices and wish them the best. What works for me works for me, what works for them works for them.

Yeah, everyone’s different. So when you’re on stage and you’ve got your iPads out, what kind of headspace are you in? Are you thinking about what you’ve practiced or are you trying to respond to the space? I just want to know what it feels like for you when you begin a performance…

Actually, most of the time when I do my live shows, I’ll actually do live shows for around three hours, a lot of people kind of freak out and can’t believe I go for three hours.

I can do live performances for three hours but a lot of people kind of freak out and don’t trust it, so they try to push me down to ninety minutes, an hour, and I’m like no I can go longer! And they just can’t fathom that. So a lot of times when I go do shows I don’t even have material written, I will go to the place, or country I’m going to and I’ll like study the environment and that night I’ll go to my hotel room and I’ll like make the whole live show in my room and play it the next day at the venue.

So I never have the same live PA ever, I always have a different one every time I go out, so. And people will be like “oh, man, that needs to go to vinyl” and I’m like “which… one needs to go to vinyl?…” “that one!” – and I don’t know because I never labelled it, I’ve just got the stems in the machine, iPads or whatever and that’s it, I don’t ever label the stuff. I’ve got an iPad now that just conked out on me after three years, and I’ve got over like four hundred stems in it, and I can’t even access it. So there’s like four hundred tunes, I don’t think I can ever… [laughing] I gotta go to apple care and see if they can get the data off of it, but I don’t know because after three years it just went dead. But I mean, I’m not really stressing it because I still, I just make so much stuff I just learned to back up everything now.

So I don’t like make the stems anymore and then leave it on it I actually try to save it now and put it up to dropbox or cloudspace whenever I’m done just in case other ones conk out on me. So I don’t freak out as much.

So when you’re performing you’re listening to the sounds and modulating them, taking some kind of a musical dialogue through the show – are you trying to communicate anything with it or are you just responding to what sounds good, testing yourself and testing the equipment?

Let’s put it this way, now, a lot of people, not to disrespect them but a lot of people I’ll see do live shows, they’ll bring all this equipment right, so you know they’ll have maybe one vintage drum machine to show they’re uber cool, that they’re hip because they’ve got an old analogue piece, then they’ll have their laptop hooked up with whatever, Ableton, or whatever sequencer they use to have their arrangements set up with their equipment and maybe some, like mono synth, or whatever you want to call it, something hooked up to the thing. But then you’ll hear it and it’s full, and then of course they’ll have a whole bunch of effects, they’ll have all these effects stuff going on, and then you’ll hear it and it’s cool so, you know, but all you can hear is like a kick drum, a hi-hat, a snare, maybe a cowbell, you know, a clap, you get your bassline, your acid sound, you get your tone, and maybe a synth string, and it’s like to me it’s cool, but it’s minimal, to a point like where does it go.

Even in Chicago when people had those minimal sounds they were able to arrange it, even with those few sounds to make it sound vast and huge. And I think a lot of people now who do it they don’t arrange it or syncopate it in a way that’s challenging. Because there’s a way you can have a kick drum, a hi-hat, a snare, you know what I’m saying, a clap and like a cowbell, and you can change the pattern up every eight measures, or four measures, or sixteen measures to be challenging, with the string and acid bassline, where you do weird arrangements or movements with it. A lot of times people will have it play out for five minutes, and then it probably only changes maybe three times in those five minutes. And maybe at worst the acid sound will morph somewhere in there off and on every sixteen measures to give some dynamic to it, but it does not have any intense musicality to it where it makes people go “ooh, wow”.

That’s the thing about old Chicago tracks you listen to, like a lot of old Chicago stuff, they had very minimal sounds but the arrangements were on point, you see what I’m saying? So it’s just like now the arrangements that I hear from a lot of people are very lacking. So now when I go out and do live shows I try to show people it’s all about arrangements, and I can do arrangements now with a full sound with the stuff that I bring out, so you’ll hear a classical piano, you’ll hear a French horn, you’ll hear five different drum machines running at once. I’ll have the kicks, I’ll have snares, I’ll have congas, I’ll have five different rim shots and hi-hats going all throughout the thing. And people are like bugged out – it’s like, I would call it, just, over-the-top-max, to like saturate people to make them sucked in. I wouldn’t say it’s a trippy sound but I’m just doing an opposite to all of this minimalist stuff that’s being done now when people go out and do live shows.

I’m not saying it’s the backdrop from that whole minimal thing that was popping off in 2004, but you gotta remember people are influenced by what happened back ten years [ago]… so a lot of people are stuck in this crutch, when they say deep house, or acid house… even techno, even techno don’t sound anything from like in the mid-nineties, it’s very minimal in its scope. Prime example, the difference between a Detroit sound and a Chicago sound – they took their arrangements of minimal Chicago with the ‘Jack’ sound or whatever you want to call it, and they took that sound and they extended it and made it more orchestrated, and more challenging with their arrangements. It’s basically the same nuance but they took it to a higher level when it came to arrangements and syncopation. They might have minimal structures but the way they did their basslines and their notes and the way they figured with it back and forth they gave an orchestra feel to it, a better arrangement.

In Chicago we were kind of like laymen but we did more of like a blues structure to it. Because in blues you would have maybe two guitars, a drummer, somebody with a harmonica and somebody with a voice, and that’s it. So in that aspect, Detroit techno is to some what jazz is, and house music’s synonymous with what blues is.

Speaking of Chicago we come from a strong blues background, so you can kind of hear it in the structure of early house stuff. I mean the house stuff got more intricate and complicated as more of the technology grew, and then producers tried to challenge themselves in their musicality and creation. It was still minimal in a sense, but it became more musical and not just a regular beat track or an acid track, or somebody doing a song [which] they sing on top with still basic elements in the background.

So talking about jazz, so obviously you’ve been working with Marshall Allen loads.

Well, I don’t want to front that. It’s not that we’ve been working loads, it may seem that way but it’s not the case. It’s like we came together because of the RVNG label because they had an idea a couple of years ago, for like two years they were chasing me – well, not chasing, they were sitting down having talks with me about trying to do something for them, and in my mind I just didn’t see it because I felt what they were doing was like light-years different in marketing and branding from what I’m doing.

For me I just felt like my stuff was a bit more, um… I don’t know, underground? And I just didn’t see myself being put in a spotlight in what they were doing. So I just told them, I just said “Well I just gotta figure out some things and grow as a person, and then grow in what I do” so I could have some ideas to bring something better, because however they came into fruition, whatever their universal suffrage or rite of passage was, I felt like I didn’t want to come with any half assed stuff, see what I’m saying, coming up through their network because I didn’t want to hurt their brand, or tarnish their brand with my bullshit at the end of the day.

So whose idea was it to get you working with the JITC? How did that come about?

It was kind of one of those things where Matt had an idea of something to do, and he just said basically why don’t we do what I do with machines with human beings and I just said that’s kind of demented, I was thinking like human beings would just walk out of the studio if I actually tried to like push my ideas of what I want done with actual organic musicians, so I just said I had to figure out a way to find a middle ground where I wouldn’t like throw people off. So, you know, I did my research or whatever and I kept saying I’ll get around to it, and he’d say “ok, you ready?” And I’m like ‘oh yeah I’ll get around to it’ and I kept stalling, then out of nowhere he was just like “well I got studio, I got you a place to stay, I got your train ticket, you got to come”. I was like FUCK, so, yeah, I was kind of like, yeah, I had to go do it.

In the process I sat down and had some ideas, some other stuff that influenced me, came up with some concepts and I sat down and wrote the stems for it, like a bunch of stems and sounds or whatever then I did some Youtube videos for them to send to the other artists to give them an idea of what direction I was going on and what I was trying to do, so, I don’t know if he actually sent it to them or gave it to them, I’ve got no clue. So, by the time I got out there and we sat in the studio, like the first day, I think… I don’t know, I think I came up with maybe sixteen to twenty certain things – I mean I already came in with like maybe fourteen off the bat but then we started improvising, [and] other stuff came about and they [RVNG] were like shocked, I was like well, we’re only really trying to get eight good tunes.

We don’t have to like spread stuff so far apart into like a whole bunch of other stuff. So we finally narrowed it down to seventeen and out of seventeen they picked eleven. So there’s actually another six or seven good tunes that never made the album.

Really? Any chance they’ll surface at some point?

That’s on Matt. He’s gotta figure that one out. They’re ready for the calling so maybe down the line when they get this out the way with the actual release maybe they’ll do like a special release for download or maybe do a limited edition thing, like outtakes on vinyl or something later down the road. That’s on them for them to decide what they want to do. So when I got in there, and it was up to him, he decided “ok, how you feel about Marshall”, and I was just like if he can do it I’m cool, and originally they were supposed to be trying to get Tyondai Braxton, he’s out of Washington D.C., his dad is a famous jazz musician [Anthony Braxton], and he [Tyondai] does like experimental modular sound stuff too. So he was supposed to be on it but that didn’t work out, and there were talks of trying to get Bernie Worrell that was part of the P-Funk stuff or whatever?

But that didn’t work out so they got like other people to come in and it worked out really good. So we sat down and I told them what I was trying to do and I gave them ideas of what direction I wanted to go, and they already had the backing tracks that I did, you know like the drum sections and like the synth sounds or whatever and then they just improvised on top of it. And some stuff we just jammed out and improvised like live on the fly. So it’s just like you know some people just came in on different days and then heard the sessions from the day before and then they were overdubbed over it, and then had to come back a year later after they listened to it – because the album now does not exactly sound like the first studio sessions.

A year later they come back in and like mix it down and then like make it palatable and digestible for the listening audience, because some of the stuff was WAY the fuck out there. I mean like GONE. Like out there. Yeah. So we got it to a point where it was digestible and it wouldn’t scare off a certain targeted audience. So maybe those original studio sessions will come out one day too just for the fuck of it, I’ve got no clue. That’s out of my hands.

I love the idea that there’s some absolutely terrifying music lurking somewhere being restrained, like “people aren’t ready for this”…

Yeah its out there.

So you suggested some artists you’d like to work with and they sorted that out or they contributed some ideas of people…?

I mean I didn’t really suggest anybody, I was just like whatever you see fit I’ll just go all in as a learning experience and take it as I go, so they came up, Matt knew somebody and I guess Matt had somebody to help him curate trying put these artists together and who could be around at the time to be able to be in New York to work in the studio to be on this project. I mean in as far as the whole science behind it? You would have to interview Matt about that. I was just along for the ride.

I was just wondering because I was watching some Youtube videos of you the other day performing with Marshall…

Oh, see, that happened because a friend of mine who curates and does all the bookings for this arts facility in Belgium, in Ghent, he does a lot of shows with influential jazz musicians and performance artists and new age stuff, whatever, eclectic music, so, he had access to get ahold of Marshall and Marshall just happened to be in Europe at the time, and he has a good rapport with him and then brought me over and thought it’d just be cool to get me and Marshall together.

Everyone was talking about how it’d be nice to get me and Marshall together but it was just talk, talk, talk, and my friend, he ain’t into that talk, he’s about doing, so he just put it together and he just shut the bullshit down. So it was just like, yeah, so he brought us over and we just jammed out, improvised. Because at first, I dunno I was on stage with Marshall and I was like “You okay with me going like 120 something beats per minute, we can just do beatless?” and he was just like “nah do what you do” but I think like after like an hour of like the harsh beats I was like “I think they’re probably getting annoyed [laughing] with the whole 4/4 thing,” so like sometimes I tried to do it without the beats or whatever but I think next time if we do do some stuff together I’m going to stay away from the 4/4 format and just let it be more open to more sonics than the kick drum.

Is there any chance that’s going to happen? Like you guys performing the record?

I mean there’s stuff in the works, I can’t control that, because it ain’t like me and Marshall are like homies, you know Marshall has his own management, he has his own people and he does what he does – he does his own solo shows, he does stuff with like other bands he works with and then of course the Arkestra, so it’s just like whenever his schedule’s free just means if it can happen it’ll happen, you know, it’s just like he’ll do what he’ll do, I’ll do what I do, and then there’ll come a time when we can do it together, you know, but it’s just, it’s timing, that’s it. But it’s in the works but that’s on everybody else to make it happen, I’m just sitting back waiting for it to happen. If they give me a call I’ll leave the crib and go do it.

What was it like working with him though? Were you starstruck at all?

I mean when I first met them a couple of years ago, because I got invited to come over to the Barbican and perform with them – So I’m all thinking like yeah, when I walk backstage they’re going to be talking all this cosmic stuff, I thought cats gonna be having their yoga mats out and doing all this spiritual shit or whatever, I don’t know, motherfuckers working out equations and shit, I have no clue, all I know is I walked back there and motherfuckers just like “where the motherfucking food at? Who the fuck gonna pay me?” and this one dude’s like “yeah I’m gonna fuck this chick tonight, she got a nice ass” – they were just fucking human, you know what I’m saying, they were just straight human, I was just like shocked by it.

I thought it was going to be this whole, like, I was walking into this special ceremonial, whatever, esoteric thing going on, there was none of that [laughing] there was straight up none of that at all. It was just business as usual. It’s a show, we do it and that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, they are prolific and intelligent in conversation, but when you hear the myth and all like the propaganda stuff that’s around them, you really think some alien’s gonna walk through the door and come kick it with us smoking a spliff or something. But that’s just not the case, you know, they just straight up just, just human. Nothing more nothing less, you know, everything else that they do fuels the perception and imagination of the people who listen to them.

You know I guess the whole esoteric, galactic, cosmic stuff, that stuff was Ra, you know what I’m saying, so it’s just like they helped further his legacy by performing the compositions but as far as the esoteric or, like, the Masonic talk, or the celestial talk or whatever it is, that was left up to him. That was, some would say, his schtick. That was his energy, that was his way of being. You know, all these other cats knew about that science or that way of thinking or talking, but they had their way of explaining or connecting with things or the universe, and it’s not as like as the person that brought them together or kept them together in their group, you know, it is what it is and it was cool to meet them. 

But then the thing was I was supposed to do intermission with, uh, Mala, or whatever it was, like play music or whatever. But Marshall was just like “oh, yeah young man you’re gonna get on stage and you’re gonna introduce us to the crowd”. And I’m like “no I ain’t” and he said “yes you is” and I was like “no I ain’t!” and he was just like “yeah, you’re gonna do it.” And then on top of that he’s like “yeah you’re going to read like a book, like some poem from Sun Ra’s book” and I was like “what?” I was like “no I’m not” and he was like “yeah you are” and then all of a sudden, he was like “before you go on stage you’ve got to wear like this glittery shit” I did not want to put that on dude. I had to go out on stage with all this purple glitter and like a hat and stuff. So yeah I got on stage in front of two thousand plus people and I’m like in front of the mic and I’m like “yeah, I’m here to read a poem.” And everybody started cracking up. So I’m like reading it and the way I was reading it, the whole thing looked like a comedy skit. And then, so I introduced the band and they came onstage and I exited stage left, or right, or whatever it was. So that was my first true connection, encounter with them, personally, up front.

If you’ve got time would you be able to tell us a bit about the premise for “We are not the first”? I know we’ve been talking for an hour and a bit…

No, it’s cool, I just want people to know when they hear the album it’s basically an homage to let people know there were people that came before you. I mean that’s kind of like the basic concept of what we’ve been talking about, like people only go ten years back now in this culture. Maybe it’s because of either their age or they’re trying to have their own personal growth but they only go ten years back, and I’m trying to let people know, like, go back further.

Whatever you’re doing now these people were doing over sixty years ago, some of these people, but they weren’t doing it with synthetic equipment they were doing it with organic equipment, so it’s just like… and still until this day there’s stuff you can’t do with analogue or digital that you can do with physical stuff, they’re still trying to emulate [it] to this day and they still can’t get it right. So I try to let people know that, you know, don’t forget that this scene would not exist if it wasn’t for these people who sacrificed their time and energy, and knowledge and tutelage and time to be on the road to perform. They influenced others, and I’m like letting [the audience] know some of these people influenced me, and I just hope they’d like reach out and go and dig deeper past the decade.

Go back half a century and discover some stuff. And then follow the timeline or the family tree of this culture and then pinpoint and try to absorb it, learn from it. What the fuck is this throwing cakes at parties and shit? You know, standing up on the motherfucking turntable desk and fistpumping like what the fuck is all that shit about? 

Don’t say any names man!

No! I mean it is what it is – I used to make fun of Joe Claussel for motherfucking shimmying behind the turntables. But now I think I could deal with a shimmy [rather]than a fistpump, or throwing a cake these days, you know what I’m saying [laughing] it’s like… I mean, I don’t make fun of Joe Claussel in a bad way, I was just, like, that’s his signature thing because he’s really feeling what he do, at first it was like, at the time I’d only ever see people shimmy if they were on the dancefloor, that was the first I’d ever seen a DJ shimmy behind the turntables, that just kind of blew my mind… so I’m not going to mention names about people who do the weird stuff, having people repeat nursery rhymes in stadiums and shit – I just feel like that’s the point in me coming up with this album it’s just like NO! Like, music or art itself, culture in general or art culture itself or is supposed to uplift humanity, enlightened humanity, not dumb it the fuck down.

I’ve got this feeling that there’s a hidden war going on between suppressing and de-evolving humans, and then uplifting them with true art, because you’ve gotta realise, through the forties, fifties sixties and seventies, there was an art explosion going on, uh, as far as visual, in literature and in sound, even like in film, in sculpture, whatever, there was a cultural consciousness for humanity to uplift themselves, and if you look back on it a lot of people were awakening. And then for some reason around the mid-eighties, shit started to get dumb – it was weird, stuff was not getting prolific anymore, seriously, people can honestly say that by 1987, creativity died. After that, everything else was just emulation. That was it, imitation, emulation and no true growth. I’m not knocking 2-step or garage, but if you listen to any of the jazz music from the seventies they had those breaks, they had those riffs, they had those rhythms. You know, even in drum and bass, if you listen to a lot of old jazz stuff that they were doing back in the day, they were doing that.

Even with the drummers, they were drumming that fast – hell if you want to call my bullshit watch those old kung-fu movies from back in the day. If you watch those old kung-fu flicks you’ll hear like crazy drumming and syncopation, you know what I’m saying, that type of stuff going on. I’m not trying to hate on what people are doing now, but really be conscious and know that it’s, I think that it’s an artist’s job to uplift and save humanity, because it’s all we have. I can’t believe that the primordial ooze that came out the water, or you know or wherever the hell it came from, you know that crawled up out and came on to land, got us to this point where all of a sudden we’re all about songs that are called “tits, ass and pussy”, you know, or juke, or ghettohouse, or the cake throwing stuff or the hands in the air, nursery rhyme stuff, I just refuse that some green sperm, algae, whatever the fuck you want to call it, got us to this point for us to be this in human existence, I refute that.

I don’t think that people sacrificed themselves, our ancestors for us to get to this point and be so fucking stupid. I mean in a way you look around and people want to believe their intelligent but I’ve seen people with IQs of 186 who can’t comprehend some of the simplest things, it’s weird it’s like they run into a brick wall and they freeze because there’s something missing, there’s something in between their, in their cognitive skills that’s missing for them to be a complete human. You know how they say they only suppose that humans now, we only suppose we access 15% of our brains so how can you be a genius of 186 when we only access 15% of our brain? I think it’s just not, like, the mental capacity is like everything, mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, can help us fuel the creativity, the brain power for humanity to grow.

When I see certain things put out like the tabloid media, TMZ, and all these other like tabloid magazines always putting dumb stuff in the media, and all this like pseudo-findings stuff they push, and it’s just like for every one negative thing they put on the news, or in media that they print, there’s got to be at least a hundred uplifting stories that’s positive that uplift humanity. And that’s the same way I feel about the culture we’re in now – for every one hundred bad tunes that come out there’s gotta be that one that needs to be played for everybody to hear, either in the festivals, the open air stuff, the stadiums, to the smallest club, and that’s the one thing I can say about, especially in the late eighties/early nineties, there were certain tunes that could be played anywhere. You see what I’m saying.

Aly Us’s “Follow Me” – you would hear that at a rave, you would hear that at a motherfucking bougie club, you would hear that at an underground warehouse party, you would hear that at a loft party, you would just hear it, you know what I’m saying? But now you don’t really have this synonymous tune, in this day and age, you know what I’m saying where it would connect every human being that comes out to the club culture. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you could come up with a tune right now that everybody off the bat could chant. That’s synonymous. And I’m not talking about the electronic tune that gets played at a soccer stadium. None of that stuff. But like real tunes, I mean, not even tunes that would just like, that would not, that didn’t have vocals, you’ve got tunes that didn’t have vocals you would hear, that people would hear and just lose it and it could be played at all aspects of nightlife or festival culture. You don’t really have that one tune that was synonymous in any of that any more. It’s just over saturated with all this crazy stuff that’s out there now.

What I really like about what you said about looking back and how this record does that – it does, it’s fusing your sound which is very ‘futurist’, very modern, with all the technology, the equipment the attitudes to abstract music and rhythms and stuff like that, and the abstraction of what Sun Ra and everyone was doing back in the Seventies, and sort of holding them side by side they fuse really organically, the tone they create is extremely cohesive, it just integrates. But they’re two different periods of time which are juxtaposed, and you’re looking forward and you’re looking back simultaneously and you’ve got this thing of beauty in the middle of it all. Which is fantastic, it is a great record and I think you should be proud.

Ah thanks! I just, my whole point of it being is to let everybody know that what I was able to do, work with other human beings, they can do the same thing – it’s just about having access and the resources and of course knowing your craft and studying the culture. I’m not saying that if I didn’t have these resources or access say like in 1995 when fucking Plastic City – or when I was walking around dealing with Virgin back in the day – maybe it wasn’t meant for me, you know, maybe I would have ended up making some real half assed bullshit and I would’ve been hypocritical in hindsight. I know a lot of people that were higher profile back in the day who got the best deals, got the hook-ups, got whatever, but you don’t hear about them no more. It’s like they just faded away into the abyss. And that’s the one thing too, to let people know about “We are not the first”, is that we are not the first and we are not the last, there’s always something that’ll keep going.

Fifty years from now, a hundred years from now, two hundred years from now, and you gotta realise that everybody’s so egotistical, their egos get in the way, but you gotta realise something; at least every fifty years, who’s remembered? I mean if you go back into like fifty years of rock and roll, can you even name at twenty people out of hundreds? Same thing, even if you got back thirty years –with the exception of modern-day electronic music, as far as house or techno, whatever you want to call it, what are the top twenty names that really stick out. And think about it – a hundred years from now who will be remembered.

You know what I’m saying? Not the cake throwers, sad to say not even the people now that do prolific music that work with orchestras. It’s kind of funny how time will show itself, two hundred years from now. Who will be remembered? Like even with classical music from like a couple of hundred years ago, theres probably like five cats that’s probably like hardly even remembered from five hundred years ago. And a couple of hundred years before that, how many Gregorian chant artists are remembered? You know what I’m saying, and it’s just like, if you just dig further and further back it’s like who the fuck is actually remembered over time. You know?

But that’s the beauty of it I guess, when I search for records I’m more excited about finding out about people who are left of centre which you wouldn’t find unless you dig. That’s way more valuable to me than finding a collection of hits from the eighties, so… Anyway, what have you got coming up? What can we expect from you in the near future?

Well, I mean the only thing I’ve got coming up now, I’ve got a two album deal with Ninja Tune… So the first album’s almost complete. And then I’ve got some remixes I’ve been doing for for WARP, and I think probably around 2017 I’ll probably come out with an album for WARP because there’s been stuff on the table with them, so I can’t really do anything with WARP until I finish my obligation with Ninja Tune, so… Because they want a Hieroglyphic Being project and with Ninja Tune they want the Hieroglyphic Being moniker, so like, technically speaking if you really look for the past year I haven’t put out anything that’s actually Hieroglyphic Being, as far as like a record. I’ve done remixes, and there might be a tune licensed to a comp., but as far as an actual project project by me there hasn’t been.

There was something that came out on Souljazz which was brought to my attention a couple days ago, but it’s like the acid documents? But that’s something they licensed a couple of years ago and decided to like repackage it, put it on vinyl. Because they originally did it on CD, like a limited edition, 300, and it sold within a week out of the shop. So they just said OK let’s put it on to vinyl real quick and see what it is so that’s the only thing that I’ve got out actually under hieroglyphic being was under Souljazz. And then the Ninja Tune thing should drop around the first of the year, around February? And then of course the RVNG thing comes out around October 30th, and then, um, that’s about it. I mean I’ve got stuff to come out on my label under side-projects like the Angel Race that I’m doing with Deviere, out of Boston, and like, there’s another Faces Drums with Steve Poindexter that’s coming out. But my permanent focus is to push the RVNG album because they put a lot of resources and people behind it, so I want them to get first attention before anything else. I don’t want to be one of those ho-ass motherfuckers to get the spotlight and then push everything else, like “oh, yeah yeah that RVNG thing…”

I don’t want to be that person so I always want to have respect for the fact they gave me the opportunity, they get me to this point in life to be heard by a larger target audience and hopefully respected by certain people that probably looked at what I did before as a hot mess. It’s like yeah, I admit it was a hot mess but it was only a hot mess because I needed direction and guidance to show me what I’m capable of in a different light. Because you don’t really know until other people come along to elevate you with their resource and show you you’re better than what you are. And I think that’s what RVNG was trying to do. And maybe they knew people kind of looked at me with a side eye like who the fuck is this cat, like, damn near 400 records out but maybe only three good tunes. I mean I hear, I’m not ashamed to say it, that some people probably looking like “oh we like some of his output but a lot of that stuff could have stayed in the basement”, and I can admit that but it’s just like, shit when you’ve got to put food on the table you don’t want to be living on the street again you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

So I’m trying to be conscious now that anything, if I do still have a crazy output of music at least I’ve got to the point now from dealing with RVNG and working in their studio, and then dealing with other people, to at least be better in my creativity, to at least make it palatable to everybody so they can say “ok, he might be oversaturating the market but at least the calibre of stuff he’s putting out now is leaps and bounds, a hundred times better than what he was doing before”

It’s all progression isn’t it, you learn as you go.

And one more thing, let these people know, reach out to the people that came before you. That’s another thing that’s missing too, that people are not mentoring anybody and I think that’s a gap that’s going on. Like if Brian Eno’s a hero, I’m not saying stalk the man but find out next time he’s giving a lecture and go meet and sit down and hear him talk and then if he’s got time to meet everyone in person then get some advice from him. Well fuck it, if Richie Hawtin’s is your fucking hero and you still want to talk go sit down with him and ask him about his early days when his shit was hot – ooh did I say that, no – it didn’t mean to come out like that but, you know what I’m saying right, whoever it is, go out and reach out to them and like learn, because it’ll probably fill that empty void of what’s missing.

Brian Eno just gave the John Peel lecture recently actually, it’s interesting because he’s a musician who didn’t really have any formal training either.

Well that makes a lot of sense because there was no constraint or confinement in his creativity, he was unlimited. And that’s what I’m afraid of if I actually go and learn [what] that stuff is that I might be limited in my scope. Because there was people who I worked with in the past that were classically trained or used to playing in Gospel choirs or in church or whatever, and I’ll sit down and work with them and the way they write it’s almost like… it inhibits them. And then I’ll sit down with no formal training and structure and I’ll just start jamming the fuck out.

I think that’s what I was getting at with the whole DIY thing – the approach is unrestricted and unfettered because you have a broader mind when you’re coming to it, you’re not thinking well I can’t do that because this note doesn’t go with this key or whatever, you can be way more creative ultimately.

Yeah, and I guess if you want to go back to the Sun Ra mantra I think that was his philosophy, I mean I can’t say it was his philosophy because I wasn’t tight with him, you’d have to ask the actual members of the band who are actually still alive to ask stuff about him when it comes to his way of thinking and creativity, but that was what I kind of got from him because you would kind of hear stuff that’s in tune, but not in tune, you’d hear stuff that’s all over the place but it actually opened up the spectrum of creativity and pushed new frontiers in sound, because he was unlimited…

We Are Not The First is out on Friday 30th October via RVNG Intl.

Main Image: Celeste Sloman