Paul Woolford Interview
Electronic music is at one of the most exciting places it's been for years. The cross-polination and inter-breeding of house, techno, bass music in all their many strands is creating some of the most intriguing forms of cerebral body music we've heard for a long, long time. It's never sounded so right, right now. Paul Woolford has found himself at the vanguard of this movement. A veteran of sorts, his music as the wonderful Bobby Peru was pushing this sound before there were a million media tags for it. His 2006 Erotic Discourse has been picked up of late by the new breed of bass loving tastemakers and given a second lease.
Over the years, Paul's ploughed a very different career furrow to that of your run of the mill house/techno/bass producer. Always mildly obtuse – that's a compliment – it's been in the past few years he's really found his stride with releases on Planet E, Hotflush, Pokerflat and Phonica. He's a also a madly respected DJ playing the likes of Womb, Cocoon, Warung and D Edge in Brazil, and for the 4th year his We Love.. Space on Sundays residency in Ibiza. R$N caught up with him this week ahead of his Eastern Electrics datet his Sunday & soon come We Love… appearances to learn about his roots, Detroit, Bass anthems, working with young producers and a whole load more.
"When Paul played in Detroit at The Works with Derrick May and I, it was the most spiritual set I've heard him play…" CARL CRAIG. How was it for you?
Spiritual is one word, but it's hard to articulate for me, because I have been listening to the music of these guys since I was 15 years old. To be touring with them is one thing, and then for the Detroit date, Carl had decided to open (with Niko Marks from Underground Resistance on keys), and then I was playing in between him and Derrick who was closing. So this is my first trip to Detroit. I came off to Stacey & Andrea Pullen, Kevin Saunderson, Anthony Shakir, Kenny Dixon Jnr, Sherard Ingram from Urban Tribe, Juan Atkins turned up a little later, and it was magic. There are gigs that are great for various reasons, you can have a ball for crowd reasons, or because the actual club is excellent, the booth is perfect or whatever, but playing to the people that directly inspired you to do what you do is something else. Especially under those circumstances, where you are the only person on the bill who's not from Detroit. It was great returning to play DEMF a couple of months later but I'm glad I met a lot of people first on different terms. Carl and Aaron from Fit Distribution took me to meet Mike Banks at Submerge which was another inspiration, so these were the things I had dreamt of doing.
Tell us about 'spiritual' love from the Detroit legends, Space Terraza adoration/dancefloor destruction as well as a huge interest from the new breed of bass producers. Hotflush, Planet E, Cocoon, 20:20… it's not really your run of the mill house producer's path!
It's probably not, but then I've always just followed my own path, and for more than any other reason, to escape the fear of boredom.
I'm not interested in becoming known for one sound, or the illusion of a sound through marketing – I just do what I feel.
Erotic Discourse – your 2006 track as Bobby Peru for the unitiated – became somewhat of a Bass/UKF anthem. It was massively played by all and sundry across the board when it first came out (Hawtin and DJ Hell to Francois K and Mr Garnier) but then someone like Monki – your Reprise room cohort at Eastern Electrics – picks it up and plays it on her Rinse show and re-turns it into an 'anthem' all over again. She'd have been 14 when it came out! Quite the timeless border crosser?
It's funny you should tell me this because I saw some tweets from friends who were at a Nightslugs gig, and Bok Bok was playing it recently. I have not played it in a club for years, and even when it had blown up I quickly stopped playing it as it had been over-exposed, but each weekend I would get text messages from all over the place and it surprised me how far and wide it actually crossed. And yet… it didn't cross over in the way that other records of that time did, and nor did I follow it rapidly with 6 records that sounded the same… which I had been told to do by all and sundry, much to my surprise! You'd be shocked if I told you who some of these people were as well. Rinse has been a really inspirational thing for me, particularly listening to Steve Braiden and the Hessle show, Ben UFO who is just a killer DJ, and that goes for hearing him on Rinse or playing vintage jungle at club gigs. Ultimately the music that I've aspired to make, and the people I respect see no borders or barriers between genres or scenes, you just make what you want to make.
You're working with a lot of new young artists – when a lot of people are turning to what is essentially quite an average line in 'tech-house'. What is it that endures you towards the bass scene? Do you think more established artists such as yourself benefit from such collaborations with these younger producers?
It all depends on your history. My first point of call with dance music was the radio, hearing Jeff Young's show on Radio 1 and then exploring across the frequencies on those old radios and discovering local pirate stations in the North like PCR which was broadcast from Bradford – this radio station blew my mind. Absolutely no boundaries, so you would hear Shut Up & Dance, next to Frank De Wulf, next to Carl Craig, next to a Thelma Houston funk record from the 80s. I would stay up so late just recording hours and hours of it. I remember one saturday night listening to a show and the guy played purely releases from Gherkin records for about an hour, and I had never known what it was, it just all sounded different. And then of course, the tidal wave of sub-bass from Sheffield and Leeds. When LFO and Forgemasters came out on Warp, the seismic shift – suddenly everyone knew they could put these extreme frequencies into the tracks – and here we are today, a movement that we actually just call 'BASS'. It's full circle for me. It's as simple as that. Of course there are benefits but it's important with collaborations that they are natural. You can't force it if you want a true result.
Your recent sublime Achilles/Razorburn on Planet E was amazing. Any more coming on that front?
Absolutely, we have Skudge re-working 'Razor Burn' as we speak, and there's going to be more from Planet E but I have to ensure that what I send to Carl and Monty is from the right place, although I could probably send them an industrial jazz-funk album and they'd listen with open minds… it has to be correct, so to speak. There's more also from Phonica – we have Kassem Mosse and Boddika from Instramental remixing the next single, plus the Hotflush 12" with my good friends Psycatron out in Sept/Oct. I've been working on a couple of other projects that vary quite wildly from what you know of my output so there are decisions to be made about how to present these things. There's a remix for Vince Watson coming with Rolando on the flip. I've had an invitation to work in Paris with someone later this year that surprised me so there's various things happening.
What made you decide to give away a whole album of remixes?!
Well they were re-edits that I stopped playing a few years ago, aside from the Paul Rutherford and occasionally the Delite track. Ultimately they were from 2007 and I put together around 12 a year anyway, so there was no point in sitting on them. I wasn't expecting them to be shared so much, purely on Soundcloud alone we did 25,000 downloads, and of course what is so powerful about Soundcloud is that you see where they go – even places like Nigeria were showing up on the map which is all due to the wonders of modern technology. More to follow.
Grab the edits on Paul's Soundcloud here
So many of the old guard – and by old guard I'm not actually calling you old! – have turned to 'branding' in one shape or form to sustain their careers. You've not done this and continued to skirt the edges of the underground. Why haven't you sold out?! 🙂
Great question. I'm going to go out on a limb here and maybe this will ruffle some feathers but what I see about branding, is a lot of labels pumping out product to support a DJ's career, and rapidly, because of release and visibility pressure, the quality control goes down the toilet. So many labels started out with a handful of great records, and then slowly the descent begins. And I'm talking about some of what were previously the sharpest, best labels out there. Smart branding is powerful and can be done in a different way but what has happened in the last few years is that previously underground labels have watched the climb of more commercial concerns and seen that flooding the market seems to generate bookings purely because the visibility grows, so they have followed the same marketing remit. For years I had my management on my case to do this and I went the other way, stopped doing downloads on Intimacy and pressed vinyl-only on the Appleblim & Norman Nodge release. Immediately we actually made money. You have to do what feels right, not what you think managers, bookers (this is the hardest to resist), agents, or other artists advise you to do.
Tell us about your We Love… residency this year. You've become part of the family out there. How does it differ to other gigs, is it somewhere you can experiment with the more bass-inflected elements of your sound or is it more on the stricter 4/4 tip? I'd imagine the former from everything I've experienced at the institution that is We Love…
Well of course it's playing at mainly 4am on a monday morning, so you have to lay it down and as much as I'd like to flip it and drop the new Blawan record in there, 9 times out of 10 it ain't gonna happen so it's pretty 4/4 heavy, and I've been doing a lot of editing of new records whereas in the past it was the older tracks that were under the knife. I love playing there. There have been some interesting moments actually this year, especially watching how others play – it's funny seeing who is considerate and remembers that the night runs until 7am and those that forget all that… jokes aside, it feels like home.
You and your fellow We Love… resident Mat Playford used to make sweet music together as Snow Monkeys way back in 2000. What about a We Love… reunion EP? 🙂
Well we've been recording as Ford INC for Throne Of Blood this year which is the New York label owned by The Rapture and James Friedman. There's more in the pipeline on this, but stylistically it goes across the board from Drexciyan-aqua funk to druggy low-slung throbbers.
Ford Inc – Satire
Ford Inc -Delirium
Are you planning on doing any further Jackford Files? from Steve Macri
Aha, Steve – hope you are well sir?! Well Soundcloud effectively renders the need to press them up as irrelevant these days, they were always made in association with my friend over in Chicago Radek from Dust Traxx – I'd love to see him again actually, it's been years – both he and Steve 🙂
On a similar tip, For My Bleeps was an absolute banger, in fact pretty much everything you made as Bobby Peru has floated my boat in one shape or form – any chance of bringing him back to life?
Yes indeed, he's coming back ….
You've remixed other Eastern Electrics room cohort ex-Deep Teknologi T. Williams. I hear you're quite a fan… so much so you did a remix! Who else is bubbling under on your radar?
Oh that's an endless question, I love Tesfa's music, but what's been blowing me away more than anything else lately is Hype Williams. Not only because of the lo-fi don't-give-a-fuck approach to the actual quality of the recording, but for the way their music channels and counterpoints so many different influences without being anything less than completely engaging. As well as them, the usual suspects I suppose for anyone with an interest in more interesting dancefloor material, Cosmin TRG, Paul Rose's Scuba stuff, Untold, David Kennedy, Blawan, Space Dimension Controller, Fabio Gianelli has been making some excellent house material of late, Shed/Wax, Skudge have been properly on a roll, Boddika of course, Joy O, Actress, but I guess most of these have a solid profile anyway. Christopher Rau on the house tip, Endian, Matthew Styles has done a killer EP for Running Back, the Just Another Beat label is excellent, I could go on and on.
You'll be returning to the scene of the crime of your 20 Years of Planet E London date @ the legendary Great Suffolk Street warehouse for EE. Tell us about your experience of London clubbing in recent years.
Much too much to mention there, suffice it to say I've had more than my share of late nights What I love about London is that you can just keep going from place to place from Friday afternoon until Monday morning should you wish although I never get the chance to do that these days. I'm very much looking forward to returning and seeing a lot of old friends.
Eastern Electrics explores all the furthest reaches of House, Techno, Bass and everything in between. What can we expect from your Reprise headline set?
Everything from ancient 'ardcore to brand new unreleased techno and all points in between, there are no barriers.
Let's talk about your own label Intimacy, what's its musical ethos and how has it evolved over the years? I had no idea your Intimacy studio had, had the likes of Depeche Mode, Morgan Geist, P. Piddy & DJ Hell and Juan Maclean pass through its production doors over the years.
On the remix side yes, that's what's happened, god knows I couldn't manage those different people personally had it been in the flesh!
I think the Morgan Geist remix with Jeremy Greenspan from Junior Boys on vocals was the most satisfying, I think working with high quality vocals is probably one of the best parts of production for me.
Intimacy was initially just an outlet for my own productions and then we started to do other things, it culminated in a T-shirt for sale in Selfridges at the same time as I had collaborated with my birth-father drummer Paul Hession on something pretty out there – that was initially a remix for Black Devil Disco Club, they were strange times. I stopped doing downloads and then we released the Appleblim & Komonazmuk & Norman Nodge 12" this March. There are still re-works of my catalogue from people like Kink, Benny Rodrigues, Altered Natives and we have been waiting for a remix from someone else for some time, but as I have just altered the background in terms of management lately I'm waiting on all the administrational stuff to be returned to me. Ultimately you cannot work with people that don't understand you creatively so that's the stretch, finding the people that do and finding a comfort level to switch off and create.
Do you think you'll still be doing this when you're 50? If not, why not?!
Yep, no question. It's not a lifestyle choice for me, in it's the blood.
What record never leaves your box?
A few of Derrick's, and Carl Craig 'A Wonderful Life'
What record got you into electronic/dance music?
I couldn't choose one, that's impossible!
Top 3 tracks of the moment.
1- Joy Orbison & Boddika 'Swims' (Unreleased)
2- Stacey Pullen & Mirko Loko 'Tronic Illusion' (Cadenza)
3- Gunnar Jonson 'Relationer' (Just Another Beat)
Having read back through your biog properly I want to ask you a million more questions but have gone overboard already here… another time! Let's finish with this:
"No one knows how to wring every last bit of emotion from wires, cables and microchips as Woolford." What's your favourite, wires cables of microchips?
Yeah, that was from a Platform review, bless them. Microchips for obvious reasons every time!
Mr Woolford is right at the cutting edge of this thing we call dance music and it'll be a delight to see, hear and feel what he's got in store for us at Eastern Electrics this Sunday and at We Love… next month!
Paul plays the excellent Reprise room at this weekend's massive Eastern Electrics alongside wunderkind Seams (interviewed elsewhere on R$N this week), Icicle, T. Williams & Monki. Elsewhere Maya Janes Coles, Robert Dietz, Simon Baker Jesse Rose & the rest of his Made To Play crew represent.
Mr Woolford also is gracing the rather fine weekly fiesta out in beefa in the form of We Love… Space on more than one occasion. Lucky, lucky-ness.
Free stuff? Grab Paul's recent excellent FACT mix here.
Wanna have a listen first?