Where were you in ’92?
While we’re talking to the originators, we can’t help wondering: do they resent the fact that many of the underground heroes of 2013 are making more money from copycat sounds than the pioneers made from creating them in the first place? How does Altern8’s Mark Archer, for example, feel about Zomby’s Where Were You In ’92?, an album so slavishly dedicated to recreating the vibe of hardcore that it wouldn’t have seemed out of place blaring from the stereo of an Escort XR3i two decades ago?
Archer graciously acknowledges the appeal of Zomby’s rave rehash: “There have been new takes on hardcore with rave breaks, elements of jungle and dubstep and new production techniques, but Zomby sounds like he’s got a bunch of sounds from ’91 and ’92 and set out purely to make a tune that sounds like it’s from that time. Ultimately though, I think if one person likes your tune, there is merit in it.”
It seems a general rule is that if you’re one of the first to a new revivalist party, you’re good to go, but don’t arrive late and expect not to be turned away from the door in a hail of abuse. And as long as you acknowledge the originators, DJ Pierre doesn’t have a problem. “I feel like a proud dad knowing acid is even stronger now than ever,” he beams. “I think everything happens for a reason. Phuture was chosen to be the proud parents. I don’t like the fact that some people try to take credit away from us as the creators of this sound, but there’s no denying it. It’s a humbling feeling knowing you’re in the history books, you know. The greatest praise is someone trying to re-create what you’ve already done. So I take no offence to it as long as, to quote Daft Punk, the students recognise the teachers.”
We all accept there have to be rules – a house track wouldn’t be house without a motorik kick; dub wouldn’t be dub without echo and delay. It’s the way these elements are employed, though, that will either set you apart or blight your art. “Standard-procedure breakbeats such as the Amen or Think have so much instant memory attached to them that they have a power that you can draw on if you create in a smart way,” says Woolford. “For different people it’s a different moment but nonetheless, in the right hands, they’re like nuclear weapons. Use smartly or you risk fucking it up completely. There’s a stacked weight of amazing records that have been made out of those breaks sitting there, so if you use these things you need to ensure that it is absolutely necessary – that your use of them is vital. I would say it all comes down to the application. You have to justify the use of them with the end product, which in these times needs to be air-tight. If you get that right nobody can question your method.”
Bicep have a similar view, stressing the importance of the end result: “Creating a track from samples of glass being broken might be original, but may not sound the best. We aim to make music to make people dance, to be enjoyed in a club and ultimately to put in our own sets. Some people only value originality, which is great, but it was never our number one goal compared to making people dance. Developing a signature style is certainly a long-term goal of ours, but we’re enjoying trying lots of different things.”
The big homogenised glob of everything
Ah, that dark mistress the ‘signature sound’. Though the Holy Grail for many, it can be a curse as much as a cure, as Cox articulates. “Having a personal sound is not an easy thing to do. It’s much easier to have a relatively ‘pro’ sound quality, or even a ‘lo-fi’ aesthetic, that covers up lack of production skill or musicality, especially when you can just colour-by-numbers a successful producer’s sound! It’s funny how many KDJ and Theo Parrish copycats there have been, but they all only copy their old jams that jack disco samples. You don’t see people trying to copy new Moodymann jams, because they can’t sing and play instruments in the idiosyncratic manner that Kenny does. Those guys have stepped up their game, and that leaves the copycats a day late and a dollar short.”
There are many ways producers can help develop their own creative ways. From Moeller’s approach of “cutting yourself off from the outside world and having a few tokes on a doobie” to Todd Edwards’ self imposed rule of “making music that I feel good about but also making music that pleases an audience while maintaining the first idea” via Eats Everything’s hungry approach of “being open to all types of music, not being blinkered and then picking them apart sound by sound and putting it back together in my own way”, it’s not impossible to make music that incites both shock and awe.
But still, Edwards wonders aloud about wider social and cultural issues and their importance. “Do people really want change?” he asks. “Pop DJs are selling out arenas at ticket prices over $100 a piece. If an audience is willing to spend that type of money on a product, that product isn’t going to die out. Supply and demand, no? If the audience is sick of the state of music, they need just to stop listening and buying it… You’ll see a big change. The reality scares me because you have generations of young listeners who think mediocrity is actually brilliance. Where does that leave an artist that is seeking to better his or her art? You want to create Shakespeare but people are only aware of, understand and crave nursery rhymes.”
Ultimately, the entire debate essentially all boils down to one simple sentiment. “Humans are gonna get fucking bored of the same shit,” explains Moeller. “Let’s face it. In life as it is now with the big homogenised glob of everything, the playing field has been so levelled by technology ‘cos everyone has access to everything. That means the only element we have to shake us up and prick up our ears is the element of surprise.”