Photo: Press (Red Rack’em)
When Red Rack’em sent us his mix for the weekly Groove podcast, it was tagged as “a lot” which might just be the perfect summary of what the British producer is all about. With more than 20 years of DJing experience and countless releases under his belt, Red Rack’em turns up even more in 2016, now operating three individual labels while working on his debut album. We caught up with the prolific jack of all trades, who somewhat unsurprisingly had a lot to say – listen to his eclectic mix below our interview with Red Rack’em.
You’ve been in the game for literally decades now and went from DJing Drum’n’Bass to releasing Disco edits and later House and Techno records. While lots of other DJs and producers have a similarly broad taste, it’s rather uncommon that one would explore them all. What’s your motivation for that?
I guess it stems from constant desire to hear new and exciting music. I honestly think there’s about 5-10% of each genre which is really worth playing so why play the other 90%? Why not play the 5-10% of about 6 or 7 different types of music and put together a set all killer and no filler? That’s what I have been trying to do for the last 22 years as a DJ. I spent 10 years playing 4 times a week in trendy bars in Nottingham before I began to get international bookings and that meant I built up a really diverse record collection. You can’t bang out house and techno all night in a posh cocktail bar so I started to play loads of Funk, Soul, Disco, Hip Hop, Jazz, Broken Beats and African music. I love House music and I play it nearly every time I DJ in a club but I also love Hip Hop, Disco, Electro, Afrobeat, New Wave, P-Funk, Broken Beat, 2-step, mid-90s Drum’n’Bass, wobbly dark Garage stuff, the list is endless… In the UK within my social circle, it was completely normal to go and see Grooverider play the latest Drum’n’Bass dubplates and then go home and party on with some Detroit House or heavy Funk or J Dilla or zone out to some Autechre or Krautrock. So basically my background is not about playing certain styles – it’s just about the quality level. It’s completely normal amongst my friends. I think it’s hilarious that certain DJs get lauded today for isolating the shit out of “Love Is The Message” or “I Feel Love” on a rotary mixer. Me and my mates were bored of the standard disco tunes in like 2002 – what about all the other ones? Why not play them? I love DJs like Jon K from Manchester because he just lets the music play – he has such good taste across all genres so he just plays records. I love to hack genres together because for me that’s the true art of DJing – to present dissonant styles in a raw way. I don’t mean trendy distorted-drum-machine-raw. I mean 8am in your mate’s shop basement with 20 people dancing raw.
Did you ever consider it to be risky career-wise to change your style?
I never really changed my style – I just go through different phases and stages based on maintaining my own interest and the open mindedness of the crowd. I would never worry about any kind of ‘risk’ as that’s precisely what a DJ should be doing. Things would be a bit more interesting if some risk taking DJs were recognised by the powers that be. My Smugglers Inn radio show has been going for over 10 years now so that’s been a great way for me to discover a much wider range of music than just playing in clubs. I am lucky to get booked at a lot of nights which have quite an open music policy which means I can sometimes celebrate a few different types of music which I love in one set. But I also get booked at pretty banging house and techno parties where the brief is a bit more tight. I don’t mind really – I am totally happy to have a promoter say ‘this is a bit more of a Techno crowd so maybe pack a harder set’. Sometimes that’s more helpful than ‘play what you want’. It all depends on the crowd in the end – if they are open minded and don’t want rolling Tech House all night then that’s a pretty good starting point. I know this might sound a bit naive or idealistic but I have never considered what I to do be a career – I just do music and hopefully some people will book me to DJ or buy my records. I have never wanted to have my productions and record label releases be dictated by the need to earn money so I try to just do what I do and if things come good then great. If not then I will go back to being a teacher or something like that. I am not in this for the money. I don’t think anyone is until you start to earn some decent coin. Then the challenge changes to ‘how do I not go shit’.
What would you say does Red Rack’em stand for in 2016?
Red Rack’em stands for diversity, equality, originality and justice in the music scene. My only concern is the music. I am not interested in scene bullshit and politics – just a nice sound system and good vibes. I am really enjoying living in my own world these days. Not really trying to keep up with the trends and who’s hot right now. I feel much more satisfied to just simply focus on making music and enjoying listening to records. That’s kind of how it was before I started to earn a proper living off music. But once it becomes your sole source of income it slightly takes the magic away a bit and everything becomes a bit commoditised. Great records become ‘tools’ for ‘work’. So my goal is to bring that magic back into things again. I want to have that transcendental feeling while DJing and making tracks. When you’re truly present and in the moment and all your troubles melt away. I like raw funky music and I want to keep playing records in clubs for many more years! Basically I love it.
You have recently revived your own imprint, Bergerac. Why was that on hiatus in the first place? When and why did you decide to revive it?
I really enjoyed releasing my own records on the first few Bergerac releases between 2010 and 2012 and I am proud of what I achieved during that time. I had only self-released Hip Hop bootlegs and Disco edit records before (and done quite a few original releases for other labels) then, so it was great to finally stick my neck out and release some of my own original material. But around 2012-2013 I was really caught up in working on the Hot Coins album for Sonar Kollektiv and I ended up being really burned out with that. I formed a band to perform the album live and rehearsed with them for 6 months before the album was released. I had never sung live before in my life so it was pretty heavy to launch the album at Wilde Renate to a full house but it went really well. It was a very formative but also really stressful experience because I was way out of my ‘underground House DJ’ comfort zone. I was running two labels, singing in a band, doing a fortnightly radio show, learning how to manage a live band project, touring as Red Rack’em, working too hard in the studio and burning the candle at both ends for longer and longer every weekend. Something had to give and in the end I dropped out of doing everything towards the end of 2013 – I decided to only release on other labels and just DJ for a while to give myself a much needed break. It felt like a relief to just pass the stuff onto other people and let them do all the dirty work. But in the end I felt like I was compromising by releasing music with other labels and also kind of wasting my music on building up someone else’s brand. I don’t think artists get so much out of releasing on other peoples labels unless there’s a pretty decent marketing budget. When I wrote “Wonky Bassline Disco Banger“‘ in 2014, it immediately stuck out as a track which I would have to release on Bergerac and that made it pretty obvious that I had to start the label up again. The response to “Wonky” has been totally inspiring. When The Black Madonna chose is as her “track for the summer” on Pete Tongs Miami special on BBC Radio 1 I was pretty happy with that! I hope she’s right! I never thought my music could cross over in that way so it made all the hours of grind on it seem worth it. It’s just one track but it really has changed things for me and inspired me to keep doing what I do.
Apart from that, you have also released new material – this time by other artists – on your Smugglers Inn imprint which you started in 2012. The third releases comprises tracks by artists featured on your radio show/podcast. Can you elaborate on the label’s concept a bit further and also explain how you choose which tracks by whom will be pressed on vinyl? How for example did you pick the four contributions released in March this year?
The concept of the Smugglers Inn is to release music by different artists who I feature on the radio show and also either artists who I think are overlooked in the scene or tracks by people that I think stand out and no one else picked them up. I am only looking for one track per artist for each release and that makes it a lot easier than trying to find another two to compliment one A side track. The previous two Smugglers Inn releases included early tracks from Ajukaja (pre Rare Birds), Carlos Nillmns (now signed to Planet E), Roman Rauch (now signed to MCDE), Franklin De Costa (now signed to Berceuse Heroique), so the label has been a pretty good barometer so far I think. I am just looking for good quality dancefloor tracks regardless of genre. They are all loosely House and Techno but I don’t think there’s been any track so far which sounded similar on each record. I am just going for 4 stand alone tracks which compliment each other. I get sent so much unsigned music to test in clubs and on my radio show so it’s pretty easy to find new stuff to release. The latest Smugglers Inn features a big room techy banger from Nubian Mindz, sweet afro tinged heads down deepness from Tommy Rawson, a modern dubby Techno roller from Cyclonix (which Pinch cut on dubplate) and a super melodic old school tinged Jimi Oh number which is on this mix. Voyage 4 is coming together now and I have about 8 tracks to choose the final 4 from. Having way more than you need keeps the quality level higher!
As if all of that wasn’t enough already, you’re also launching a third label called Nettles. What’s that all about?
Nettles is focussing on the more sample heavy disco and house stuff I play towards the end of my set when the crowd is feeling really loose. I have been playing naughty sample heavy tracks by people like Leandre, Inxxxwel, Ulysses 82 and Dragon off CDR for years and I don’t think anyone else even has any of these tracks or is playing them out. So after heavily roadtesting them it suddenly dawned on me that I should release them. I wanted the freedom of a vinyl-only label – no digital means more samples and it’s gonna have a much more frequent release schedule than Bergerac and Smugglers Inn. Nettles 001 is out in May and it’s three tracks by me which are really from the vaults. Crazy P played the A side track “Bill George” on Beats In Space in 2010! The other two tracks on the B side are from 2007 and 2003 respectively so it’s me on more of cut up funky sample tip rather than some big room techno bangers. I feel funky again so it’s a good time to do the Nettles stuff. Number 2 (out in June) is from Jules Inkswel and has been going down well at recent gigs. Number 3 is from Leandre who has been passing me private press 45s and super rare groove sample House tunes since Brawther introduced us in 2008. I played the Ulysses 82 stuff on Radio 1 in 2009 when Gilles Peterson invited me to play a the worldwide awards and now seven years later its gonna come out. It feels great to be able to just go through my archives and choose stuff years after people first sent it to me.
How and when did you record your mix?
I recorded the mix in February in the Falscher Bart guys’ studio in Marzahn which they kindly share with me. It’s out in the middle of nowhere so it’s a great place to really focus on the mix. Unfortunately I forgot the firewire cable for my laptop so I had to cycle the 9km back home to Frankfurter Tor to get it then cycle back for the second time to the studio to do the mix. I think that gave the mix some kind of urgency though as it was my turn to cook dinner that evening for my girlfriend so I was under time pressure! I used Technics turntables and those new USB only Pioneer CDJs and my shitty Pioneer DJM 300 with no crossfader straight into Logic on my Macbook. I am a pretty lo-fi as a DJ so I am completely fine on a 2 channel mixer with no effects. I think the music is the most important thing.
Was there a specific idea you had for this mix?
I just wanted to play a load of club tempo music which I like and give a pretty accurate example of my kind of vibe as a DJ. I wanted to say something about the kind of sound I like and the type of mixing I am into. There’s quite a few styles on there but it’s not like super all over the place. I like ‘power mixing’ when you just bang the track in. I like that raw energy you can give a room with volume changes and the occasional abrupt mix. DJing is live so I think it’s boring when it just sounds like a Ableton mix. I started out as a Hip Hop scratch DJ and am pretty good at beat juggling so I love cutting stuff up and banging stuff straight in but I made a conscious decision on this mix to try to be tidy! The bit where I tease in “How I Program” was a bit of a risk but I got away with it. Doing stuff like that is ok when you do it in the club but I was a bit worried on the mix as I definitely didn’t want to play the whole tune. I have been enjoying playing more banging sets recently so it’s more house, techno and garage than soulful stuff. I go off on quite a few tangents because I like a lot of different kinds of music but I think it all sits quite well together. Nothing really jars (I hope) because it’s all about creating a context. Usually after 2 hours with a good crowd you can play anything and I mean anything. It’s harder to do that on a studio mix but I tried to put a little bit of that feeling in the mix with tracks like “Peut-Être Pas” which is wonky Goth Electro Funk that heavily influenced the Detroit guys making techno. I didn’t want to limit what genres I could play or just play brand new tracks so I just went in and improvised the whole thing. I never plan my DJ sets or mixes so it was fun to go in to the studio with a lot of music and see what came out in the end. There’s some forthcoming bits on their from my labels too as I thought it was cool to give a bit of a preview of what’s coming up.
Apart from new material freshly released or forthcoming on Bergerac and Smugglers Inn, the mix also includes your edit of Actress’ “Crushed” from his Hazyville album. Why did you make that edit in the first place and what was your approach with that?
I made the edit especially for this mix as “Crushed” is one of my favourite tunes ever and I have played it to death so I really wanted to put on this mix but I thought i would be cool to produce a special edit to give a different perspective to the track. I have never done anything like that before so it was quite a lot of fun. I have been playing the edit out at quite a few gigs and people have been saying “What’s this version of ‘Crushed’?”. I don’t want to take anything away from the original – it’s such a dope tune and I didn’t really change much – I just embellished on the amazing theme provided by Mr Cunningham.
Lastly, what your plans for the immediate future?
I am putting the finishing touches to my first ‘proper’ Red Rack’em album which is called Self Portrait and it’s coming out at the end of September. I have been working on it for ages and it’s kind of on the same tip as “Wonky Bassline Disco Banger” – sample based, quirky, slightly oddball house music. All the tracks are quite different so it’s not just a load of standard clubby house tunes. I tried to make something both for the clubs and the headphones and I am really excited to finally release it on my own label. Apart from that I have quite a few remixes to work on and also the label management for Bergerac, Smugglers Inn and Nettles. Releasing lots of records and playing some exciting gigs! I am just going to enjoy the year really – it’s been amazing so far!
Download (MP3, 320 kBit/s, 105:49 Min., 242 MB)
01. NY*AK – Shadow feat Mark Hand & Misumami (Technicolour)
02. DJ Fudge – Grysor (Sub Urban)
03. Kuniyuki – New Wave Project 11 (Mule Music)
04. Frits Wentink – Worldwide Deluxe Edition (Heist)
05. CJ Scott – Kill Da Worm (Karlovac)
06. Fred P – Energy Cloud (Frank Music)
07. Svida – The Chiropractor (Kretsen)
08. Hawkes & Blake – Flip A Coin (Aus Music)
09. James Duncan – Nostrand Stop (WNCL)
10. Panthera Krause – Umami (Uncanny Valley)
11. Analogue Cops – Every Tuesday (Sabotage)
12. MTC – All That Jazz (Ka§par Remix) (TINK)
13. Duncan Powell – Pushin’ (Falty DL Remix) (2nd Drop)
14. OBI – Midnight Hour (Obstacle Records)
15. Mudkid – Karius Und Bactus (Greta Cottage Workshop)
16. Scott Ferguson & Marvin Belton – I Am Here (Ferrispark)
17. Liam Geddes – Close Ya Eyes For The Journey (Music Is Love)
18. Liaisons Dangereuses – Peut Etre…..Pas (TIS)
19. Actress – Crushed (Red Rack’em Edit) (Werk Discs)
20. Spandex – Third Wall (Hand On The Plow)
21. DJ Haus – If U Want My Love (UTTU)
22. Red Rack’em – How I Program (Bergerac) (Tease)
23. Dar Embarks – Chester (Clear)
24. JC – The Rebellion Of The Overman (Cabrera)
25. DJ Spider & Franklin De Costa – Consume (Killekill)
26. KEENO18 – That’s A Seasick Cat (Ultramajic)
27. Juxta Position – Neubau Signal (Rhythm Nation)
28. Betke – Paris Beirut Texas (Slices Of Life)
29. DJ Q – Come With Me (Q Recodings)
30. Roma Zuckerman – I Have A Question (Trip)
31. 60 Miles – 60 Miles (60 Miles)
32. Ric Mayhem – Sweet Potato (Bergerac)
33. Jimi Oh – Red Cow (Smugglers Inn)
34. Ric Mayhem – Safari (Bergerac)
35. Red Rack’em – Wonky Bassline Disco Banger (Bergerac)