As localised a sound as the current strains of house tempoed music emanating from London are, its humbling to think that everything can reach the furthest corners of the globe, thanks, undoubtedly, to the invention of the internet and the level of reach its given producers. The New York based Contakt – who has this week released his debut EP for the Local Action label – is one of the many benefactors of the information superhighway, able to discover and follow new trends and productions happening here and represent them properly in his adopted home at his co-run TURBOTAX parties.
His 3 tracker single ‘Not Forgotten’ also benefits from the technoid edge of UK funky, it sits comfortably alongside releases from the Deep Teknologi camp and the work of T.Williams, which can also be found on Local Action. Contakt brings his own distinctive vibe to proceedings, his tracks full of dry kicks that hit hard and snares that sound like a rally cry for listeners to shake their hypes in time to the carving synthesized riffs. He straddles an odd boundary that hasn’t really been breached yet, keeping his productions raw with an unabashed dancefloor bump, yet rooting his sounds in a deep techno pallet.
We caught up with him on the week of his release, to grab our 68th Sonic Router mix and discuss many things, including his production, the state of play in the US of A and that fertile middle ground between techno and London house music…
SR: What do you do on the daily and where are you from?
Contakt: I grew up in Lansing, Michigan, which is remarkable only in how unremarkable of a city it is. Much like the rest of the rust belt, Lansing is a very blue-collar city, hit hard over the last two decades by the disintegration of the auto industry and the accompanying loss of jobs. Even though Lansing is the capital of Michigan, there wasn’t and still isn’t much going on, so we would head to Chicago or Detroit for concerts, raves, etc and as soon as I was done with school I moved to NYC and have been here ever since working in the music industry and media.
What’s the scene like out in NY? You’ve got Dub War kicking off, FaltyDL dropping Sushi science all over his beats, Sepalcure making Natalie Portman dance in blockbusters…
The scene in NYC is different than a lot of people think. It’s smaller than you would expect for being one of the biggest, densest cities in the states, in fact, the scene for this music in America is much smaller than you would expect from a country so huge. It seems much different from London, where there can be several clubs the same night, all with amazing DJs booked and all having a successful night. Even electronic music is “underground” in the states, and that underground is just starting to discover dubstep (and by that I mean brostep), so whatever this music is called is the underground of the underground. The nice thing about it being small is the intimacy and the friendship. When FaltyDL plays all the DJs from Dub War, TURRBOTAX®, and all the artists tend to come out and support each other and have fun – the same goes for visiting DJs which is really fun.
What first brought you to the UK sounds?
Right around 2000, I somehow discovered 2-step, I don’t even remember how, but I immediately fell in love with the melodies and rhythms and was hunting down as many MJ Cole, Artful Dodger, So Solid, and even Craig David. Back then finding these records was a true challenge (and expensive) without the convenience of the online stores we have access to now so I bought what few records I could find. The collective rediscovery and reinvention of these sounds by people like Burial, FaltyDL, and Zomby has been equally, if not even more so inspiring.
What first got you into production and what’s your set-up like? Have you got a favourite bit of kit and how do you approach working in the studio?
I first got into production through in the mid 90’s inspired by hip-hop producers like Premier, Pete Rock, J-Dilla (then known as Jaydee) as well as electro sounds of Cybotron/Model 500, Aux88, and Drexciya. My best friend bought an MPC2000 that I had unlimited access to and I essentially ended up skipping class most of my last year of high school (secondary school) to teach myself how to make beats. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I really developed my skills working with J-Zone. He was my first true mentor and I learned so many priceless techniques from him that I still utilize today.
My studio these days is a combination of hardware and software after long period of using only hardware, and short period of using only software. That said, I am firm believer in it not being what you use, it’s how you use it. I have old hip-hop “beat tapes” that were just MPC straight to mini-disc that still sound good in this really raw way (it’s my current Moby Dick), and loads of amazing 90’s techno and house was recorded to cassette 4-track. I will say, I do have one piece of gear that I do truly love and use on every track; the E-Mu SP-1200. It’s a 12 bit sampler with only 10 seconds total of sample time, but it sounds amazing, it’s really chunky, dark, and gritty and the filter has a really distinct “ringing” sound that can’t be imitated.
How would you describe your sound? There is this sweet vibe going around right now, which somehow unites the loose raw end of techno with the hyped up sounds of the UK underground. You seem to play with those sounds yourself. How do you get it to work?
It seems like you have really nailed the description – it may sound simplistic, or even obvious, but I think my sound really reflects the music I have grown up on and DJed for years. If you listen, there are little references to everyone from Kevin Saunderson to Just Blaze to Shortstuff and to be honest, I don’t know how I get it to work, it’s one of those things that I turn on my sampler or synth and this is what comes out.
Tell us about TURRBOTAX®, how are the nights going, what inspired it and what have you got in store for up and coming events?
It’s been a tremendous couple of years for TURRBOTAX® and 2011 is off to an amazing start. We really couldn’t be any more thankful. Rem Koolhaus and I conceived the idea as a reaction to there being no club nights in NYC (or even America) focusing on the new sounds we were hearing from UK artists like Untold, Cooly G, Brackles, Roska, etc as well as the local club scene’s focus on what people are wearing, club photography, and being seen. We wanted to do a night strictly focused on experiencing groundbreaking music with the vibe we grew up on – out of control basement and warehouse parties, not posh clubs with photographers, horrible “emcees,” and overpriced drinks. Thankfully people find it as refreshing and exciting as we do – every month I find myself as excited a fan as I am a resident. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world that Laurel Halo shares a bill with Kyle Hall and Shortstuff, or Todd Edwards with Lemonade, or Doc Daneeka with Delorean. People not from NYC always think our line-ups look a bit odd on paper, but when you hear the artists/DJs in the context of the night it really connects the dots in a way you wouldn’t expect.
You’ve got you’re debut EP on the way with Local Action tell us a bit about that release, what’s the inspiration for the tracks?
The record just came out this week which is (of course) really exciting. I have to say this entire experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I have worked at record distributors, labels, in media, etc through out my career and I couldn’t imagine a better response. The inspiration for ‘Not Forgotten’ is a bit personal, but the vibe of tracks I think reflect all 15 years of being a DJ and collecting records – everything from Innercity to Pete Rock to Martyn. I am not sure if anyone else hears it, but I feel it.
Who hooked up that sweet Rolando remix? He’s a bit of a techno legend, its not every day you get remixed by a guy from Underground Resistance, how’s that feel?
To be honest, it feels like a dream to have a hero remix one of your songs. I remember when Rolando hit the scene in the 90’s and he has been a massive influence and inspiration to me ever since. We met this summer in the UK and admittedly, as an adult, I was nervous and reverted back to a 16 year old techno fan at first. Just meeting was an amazing moment, hearing stories and insight from someone with so much experience and talent is something that you can’t put a price tag on, and to for him to do a remix is beyond words.
What music are you feeling at the moment, any producers you think the world should know about?
It’s a really exciting time for music right now, maybe even the most exciting time I have experienced. There is something really special going on (even if it doesn’t have a genre name) and the speed things are changing and evolving is really interesting. There are so many great records that have come out recently or are on the way from the next “stars” of this sound – folks like DJ Dom, xxxy, Optimum, and Jacques Greene, etc who are all making outstanding records and all pushing things in different directions.
After this Local Action 12” arrives what have you got in store for us? Any more releases you can chat about on the horizon…
2011 is off to hectic start, I am not sure about release dates yet, but I feel like I have spent almost every day this year in my studio. The next projects I have coming up are remixes for Grizzly and Palms Out Sounds, a sophomore single for Local Action, a collaboration with Mayster from TURRBOTAX® on Dutty Artz and a return to the UK for more gigs, pints, and haggis this summer.
Tell us about the mix you’ve turned in for us…
This mix I didn’t focus on exclusives (although there are a few on there), I really just went for records I love to play. One noteworthy song is Los Hermanos – ‘Tescat,’ specifically because it’s 10 years old, yet sounds totally fresh. Mixing the old with the new is a big part of how I play, there are so many outstanding, but forgotten records out there that still sound ahead of their time – the new Planet E compilation, and the Shake one last year are great places to start, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Have you got any words of wisdom for our readers?
I wish I had some words of wisdom for your readers; perhaps they have some for me?
DOWNLOAD: Contakt – Sonic Router Mix #68
01. Rolando – Junie – Ostgut Ton
02. Shy One – Comfortable (Numan Remix) – DVA Music
03. Cosmin TRG – Seperat – 50 Weapons
04. Martin Kemp – Cracks – Unreleased
05. Aril Brikha – Read Only Memory (Octave One Remix) – Art of Vengeance
06. DJ Dom – Untitled – Ptn
07. Robert Hood – Clash – M Plant
08. Contakt – Not Forgotten (Rolando Remix) – Local Action
09. Los Hermanos – Tescat – Los Hermanos
10. Julio Bashmore – Ribble to Amazon – 3024
11. xxxy – Think Twice – Unreleased
12. Contakt – Still Up – Unreleased
Contakt’s ‘Not Forgotten’ is out now on Local Action.
Words: James Balf & Oli Marlow