People take the piss, that’s life. I’m not being serious or antagonistic. Life is funny. People do things that other people don’t do. And if you don’t take the piss then life will be fucking boring!
An obsolete interview: Hopefully not too obsolete… But in time, as the fact that he’s just dropped his debut album after years of waiting loses its excitement and becomes another moment in electronic music’s ever-sprawling history, this page will eventually lose its purpose.
Such is the nature of release-sensitive interviews. Such is the nature of Rockwell’s statement, too; he reckons albums, vinyl and even producers could be argued to be obsolete. In fact, he thinks electronic music is obsessed with obsolete mediums.
Right now, though, we’re obsessed with his Obsolete Medium. Having worked on it for Breakage-level eons (and applying similar levels of fastidious attention to detail), it’s an album that sits on its own, sounding like nothing else yet referencing everything else: From the crude doses of toxic rave synths to rich immersive cosmic textures by way of gully ghetto-tech, all tailored with Rockwell’s signature precision, his years of sonic slaving have paid off and haven’t disappointed.
Here’s why it took so long and why he did it this way….
This has been long hasn’t it?
Very long. That’s how I write, though. It takes me a long time to get to point when I think I’m happy enough with something to let it go. I can have a tune sketched out in a couple of days but then I’ll deconstruct it and put it back together. That’s my method. And it takes ages! It’s quality over quantity for me. Well… Perceived quality!
Do you worry you overcook and over deconstruct things so you lose their original inspiration?
Totally. Detroit was one of my longest processes in that way. I had the sketch of that done years before but wasn’t quite at the level to get it where I really wanted it to be. I must have rewritten that eight times over the course of two years. Not solely working on that tune but kept coming back to it. But in that instance the overworking did pay off. But I have had projects that I’ve worked into the ground that I can’t listen to any more. It’s a delicate balance.
What do you with those projects? Seems like a huge waste of creative energy!
I never waste it. I may work things or mix things to a point where I’m not into it but I’ll come back to an earlier version six months later. I bounce hundreds of versions so I go back through them and find the moment where I lost the original idea and go back that old project file and take it in a different direction. Sometimes you back things into the wrong corner and force things to be what they can’t be. Time helps you get that objectivity back.
So let’s talk obsolete mediums…
Electronic music is fascinated with obsolete mediums. Vinyl is obsolete. I’d even go as far to say that I am an obsolete medium as a producer. These days, being a DJ, you can pay someone to make your tune and have a massive hit and no one cares. It’s just the norm now.
I’d beg to differ. The reactions we had to our recent interview with a ghost producer would definitely suggest music fans do care.
Okay. That’s good to hear. You can forget that sometimes when you watch all the bullshit unfold…
How about analogue kit? Is that obsolete?
Maybe. I don’t use much analogue kit. To be honest I wouldn’t know how to wire it all up!
That surprises me. Maybe because of the rave elements throughout the album…
Well I have got an Access Virus Snow, but that’s standard for drum & bass! What I do like doing is layering and texturing. So on Please Please Please there’s that big rave stab that everyone, their dog and nan has used, but then I fill out the space and playing with the tops and making things a bit grainy and nice and white. So it’s not just static sounds pieced together.
I guess that level of attention to detail can only be done in the box?
There’s a reliability you get from working on the computer that you can’t get from hardware. But then using hardware you get that immediacy which you lose on a computer; that’s when you have to find the line and work out when to stop or you get lost for hours, days, weeks….
Yet another thing that does your head while you’re even wondering if people actually listen to albums anymore?
Definitely. From a career perspective it would have been much better for me to release these tracks as a series of EPs over the course of a year. But I kind of love the ridiculousness of releasing an album in 2015. No one seems to have the concentration span for an entire album. I do it myself while listening to music on the tube, just flicking through tracks 30 seconds and I’m swiping to a new one.
We’re all guilty of it; constantly scrolling and swiping. Never satisfied.
Totally. The immediacy of communication and media consumption has made it very hard for us to pay undivided attention to things. People want everything instantly. You can’t have tune on dub for a year because people want it right now and they’re on the internet so they’re used to getting what they want!
On a forum recently I saw people demanding some dub cut that dBridge and Alix Perez made years ago. They didn’t it even finish the tune and I think they played it once. Everyone seemed to be like ‘why didn’t they release it! We want it!’ It struck me that people forget that we don’t make tunes for them. You have to right to enjoy everything we make, but not necessarily to own everything we make. Making music is much more personal than that.
Hence the ridiculousness of making an album in 2015… You did it because you wanted to.
Exactly. I’ve never been bothered about selling loads of MP3s or vinyls. I’m lucky to have had some incredible radio support. But I’m not sitting here thinking ‘ah man I’ve got to make it like this so Mistajam will play it’. It’s an innocent process; I’m not trying to fit into any scene, I’m just making music I like and want to play in my DJ sets. There’s no ulterior motive in my music. I’m not trying to be famous. I’m not the most confident guy; sometimes when I’m DJing I look up and think ‘oh shit they’re all looking at me!’ I’m not built for any superstar DJ career.
But you are making a very clear statement with Please Please Please (Play This On The Radio) So while you’re not trying to fit in to any scene you have established yourself within the scene… And have opinions on it!
Of course. It’s all very tongue in cheek, though. I don’t actually care too much. If you want to make pop music and DJ to a bunch of 14 year old girls, that’s cool. But I’m going to take the piss! Much like people took the piss out of me with the Ticky Ticky video and saying music sounded like two woodblocks falling down the stairs. That was funny! People take the piss, that’s life. I’m not being serious or antagonistic. Life is funny. People do things that other people don’t do. And if you don’t take the piss then life will be fucking boring! I take the piss out of myself the most; I sit in a room, on my own all day. I have to be either mad or stupid to have this profession. If I can’t laugh at myself then I’d be a narcissistic arsehole!
Ha! I love the skits… “I make music about people I hate” Who is that?
Jerry A from Poison Idea is the first skit. It’s a really grainy interview in the UK in the late 80s. The other one is from a band Negative Approach which was on public access TV in Detroit in the mid 80s. I’m really into my punk and 80s hardcore. It’s such a fascinating genre; there was no money to be made from it but it was so well documented. It’s unbelievable; you can go onto YouTube and see interviews with these tiny regional bands. It was all done for the love of the music. No outside interference; I love that. It was inspiring and honest. The scene was an antithesis of what was going on in American music in the late 70s. It was real and people believed in it. You don’t get youth sub cultures like that anymore. Dubstep was the last and it rinsed itself inside out in four years.
The internet accelerates things…
Yeah. As soon as something gets popular everyone latched on it, bastardizes it and there’s fucking cat memes everywhere. It gets tiring, and things move too quickly for anything to have a long lasting effect.
I guess the only way you can stand against that as a creative person is to have that really long and arduous creative process you mentioned earlier?
Totally. I’ll never make a sound that’s hot. I’ll never surf the wave of current cool. If some people don’t like it, cool. If some people do, that’s equally as cool. I’d never want to be that guy who everyone likes.
I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to be that guy! Tell me about the videos…
There’s one for every track on the album. So when you watch them all in the order of the album it’s me going through a day. So there’s one me cleaning my teeth, there’s one of me making Jenga, one of me sat listening to records with James Breakage. It makes more sense as a playlist but they’re amusing in isolation. They take on a different meaning which we didn’t realise until we premiered the first video. Like an anti-video. Traditional dance films have breakdancing or graffiti or extreme sports. It’s all so tired. People go down the same paths and look for the same things and sometimes I don’t understand why.
What paths will you be going down, now the album is done?
At the moment I’m having fun writing hip-hop with no view of it coming out. I’m loving writing music in my room that no one else will listen to. It’s been amazing to get away from the album mindset and all the pressures that come from that.
Give me a moment when you felt the pressure the most…
Every day! Sometimes you yearn for the security of a 9-5. Those moments when you’re away DJing and you’re not back until Sunday night and don’t see your mates or your girlfriend all weekend can be a bit like that. But then I love playing sets and wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s the other bullshit around it; the travelling and the business side of things and, just sometimes, the isolation.
Cue: the obligatory collaboration question. Phace, Sam Binga, Breakge. All mates?
Yeah totally. Some I’ve known for ages, some more recently. Co-labs have to be with friends though. I can’t just walk into a studio and vibe. I vibe once a month and the remaining days I feel like everything is crap! But these guys are friends; Flo Phace has been a friend for years and we’ve done loads of tunes together. Breakage is a very special man. We share similar perspectives and he’s interesting to talk to. Most our sessions were us just talking shit about whatever. That’s really important; you can’t just sit in the studio and go ‘right let’s make a tune’. That’s bullshit for me. So Breakage’s collaboration involved lots of chatting, cups of tea, a few hours in the studio and down the pub. It had a flow and we had a rapport.
How about Sam Binga?
That was done online. Sam sent me a sketch of a tune for an opinion. It was bare bones but I was into it so got the stems off him. One day during a writer’s block day I loaded them all in and approached it like I would one of my own tunes. I stripped it from everything and made every sound again and put it back together with a few more bars and the Wiley sample.
I thought that was Jakes on the sample…
No no, it’s from a famous Rinse FM set and Wiley’s kicking off, ranting and calling people out. Right at the end of the set you can hear the station getting rushed and people fighting. It’s legendary.
How about the sample on Music 2000?
It’s an interview with guy called Chronic and I liked the statement about music being a leveller. It doesn’t know class or race or anything. You can listen to whatever; music is there to be enjoyed and references and borrowed from. People get precious about their own music and their own tastes but in reality we can like what the fuck we want. I like thrash metal, I like jazz, I like classical. Music is there to be listened to be enjoyed.
Rockwell – Obsolete Medium is out now on Shogun Audio