What do you think that time spent working on pop music has brought to your production that you didn’t have before?
I think it’s probably brought a bit more colour to my production. Working in the pop world for ten years you’re used to hearing radio people, managers and A&Rs tell you exactly what they’re looking for and it’s usually the same type of thing because they want that big record. I think I’ve been able to kind of take some of that and apply it to what I do in house music. You don’t take too much of it because you don’t want to be too pop, but you take just enough to where it’s masked in a cool house track. You’re like, ‘Why do I like this song so much?!’
It’s like a secret catchiness.
Yeah, exactly. And if you pull the house part away you’ll find a pop song. The perfect example is ‘White Noise’ – if you just heard the vocals without the track, it’s a pop record. But then the way Disclosure did the production is perfect. It’s like doing a really good remix to a pop record.
So you mentioned how the major labels were pushing you for remixes which sounded just like the Nightcrawlers mix. Did people expect certain things of you when they sent you a track to remix?
It doesn’t happen any more, but it happened back in the 90s, when I wasn’t really known. The hardcore house DJs knew who I was but I was still new. To me it took that ten years I spent working in the pop world for people to realise what I was doing was dope, just because it stuck around or it still worked or whatever.
But looking back you were the master of taking a track, twisting it completely and turning it into a pop hit with a house twist, even if major labels didn’t realise that at the time. Were you getting a lot of remixes rejected?
I got rejected a lot. Honestly I think one out of three remixes were getting rejected, then I’d go back and do it again. The first Nightcrawlers mix got rejected. What I learned over those years was that I was giving the label what I thought they wanted, rather than just something that was all me. When I got rejected, that’s when the MK dubs started coming in. I’m like, ‘Let me do something that I think they want, but then let me do a dub that I know I want just in case.’ And the dub was the one that always won. Over the years I started trusting my own judgement.
That’s quite reassuring to new producers, to know that even you get remixes rejected.
It’s a normal thing. It’s frustrating at first to new producers, but it happens to everybody. It happens to the biggest pop producers. It’s like if you want to be an actor, you’ll go on castings and sometimes they just won’t like you. I just did a remix of ‘Addiction’ and that was a second take at it.
I think everyone has this idea of the classic MK dub in their head: chopped vocals, organ basslines, shuffling drums. When did you first realise that you had a distinctive sound?
I realised it back then. I was getting asked to remix songs that I didn’t really like or songs where the melodic line wasn’t strong enough, so I basically tried to create my own hook by chopping the vocals. Any dub that I’ve done over the years, you can replace the melody with an actual lyric and it’d probably be a pretty decent song, but the ones I’ve done you can’t understand what they’re saying. Probably the first or second time I did it, I was like, ‘Oh… This works.’ Then I realised, ‘This works every single time.’ Even now if I’m doing a song that’s really great I still do it anyway because it makes a second hook.
You did that on the Lana Del Rey remix.
Right. It makes the song even more catchy.
Which other producers do you rate now?
Jamie, of course. He’s a really really good producer. Disclosure, of course. Duke Dumont. Eats Everything is incredible. I like Catz & Dogz, I think they’re really good. There’s a few out there that I really like a lot. Their production follows that formula where they could have a pop record but it’s matched with the production so perfectly that it stays cool.