DJ Stingray unedited
- Issue #314 (April '10) | In Writing
- By: Derek Walmsley | About: DJ Stingray
Derek Walmsley: Hi there. Good to see you. I'd like to ask, how easy is it for you DJing when you're wearing a mask?
Sherard Ingram aka DJ Stingray: Yeah it's fine. No problem. I try to keep in decent condition, so it doesn't bother me, no breathing problems, no fatigue, anything like that.
D: Condensation inside your mask?
S: No, I try to keep the breathing out of my nose. By the time I'm at the end of a set, it can a get a little, you know, there can be a little build up, but it's not too much. Like I say I try to keep myself in decent physical condition so it doesn't bother me.
D: So you're going to wear a mask in our interview, is that more comfortable for you?
S: Yeah, you have any problems with it?
D: No, it's fine with me... obviously the images won't be seen by anyone else. So it won't really make a difference whether you have a mask on or a mask off. Whatever's best for you.
S: OK no problem. [takes mask off]
D: Regarding photos, you prefer images where you're DJing with the mask on? Is there a reason why?
S: I think it just helps keep the mystique up. I think it's just better that way, to keep the mystique up. You know obviously there are photos of me without the mask and people know who I am, but again I just like to keep that mystique going, and generate interest for those who don't know. So in general I prefer those when we're discussing DJ Stingray or something like that.
D: To start with, let's talk about what you've been doing in the last couple of years. In the last two years you've had 12"s, and the new 12" coming. You seem busier now than it seems for some time. Is that case? And if that is the case, why?
S: Well yes, that is true. I am a lot busier than I have been during my career, and it's a multifaceted answer to that. I would say, one, the rise in technology where it's a lot easier for you to produce nowadays because of laptops and things a lot cheaper. And maybe two, maybe a sense of urgency, where I feel like I need to get more material out there, because it seems like the field is much more expanded now. Because obviously because of computers you have a lot more people doing electronic music. Another answer to that is, the inspiration. I'm a lot more inspired, as I've matured as a man and as an artist I've just learned to draw more from my external environment. And just put that into production. You know, I've learned how to ride the ebbs and flows of creativity. Because sometimes you can get into these ruts where you don't want to see anything that has anything to do with music whatsoever. And then you have these days where you're chained to the production desk, you don't want to do anything, you don't want to go anywhere. So I've learned to kind of strike a balance between that, and I've learned to sometimes work when I don't want to, and I've learned to chill so I don't overdo it. So I guess the end result of all those that I've mentioned is just more production. It's a balance between more opportunity, better technology, ease of production that kind of thing. And just kind of inspiration overall.
D: What kind of things are inspiring your stuff at the moment, those external influences?
S: Political situations, the change of political climate. Political and economic climate. The changes in electronic music, the expansion of it. As well as a result of my, again, maturation, where I feel like, hey, you know, I'm not going to be able to do this forever. So I need to get busier than I was when I was younger, you know as you tend to get older you tend to value time a lot more. It's not like I see the end of the road two weeks from now, but realistically there's going to be a time when I'm not going to be able to do anything anymore. Either because of lack of being relevant, or who knows what life is going to hand you. So I feel like I need to just produce, and work. And again I do draw inspiration from external environments, a political situation, cultural things going on here in America, personal things going on in my own life. And I use it just to fuel me. I use those aforementioned things to fuel me. Politics, culture, personal circumstances.
D: What is it about the current politics in America or worldwide that gets you thinking?
S: Truthfully I think that the world is shrinking. I feel like there is less and less room for the individual, it seems like everything is being just standardised as the world shrinks, with communication and commerce. And I try to use those situations or what I believe is a shrinking world, shrinking personal freedoms including freedom of expression, to kind of fuel what I'm doing. If you look at some of the titles you'll find some references to that, especially if you go to my myspace page. Also science, a lot of science and particularly microbiology and genetics.
D: You didn't seem to produce under the name DJ Stingray for a long time. Is that correct, and if so, why did it take so long to use that name?
S: Well I'll tell you the story behind that. After the first Detroit electronic music festival, I was contacted by the late Mr James Stinson. And we discussed being a tour DJ for Drexciya. We're talking somewhere around 2003. So shortly after that I was contacted by James Stinson, we talked and we went back and forth with some things, and he gave me a lot of records. Due to his untimely passing you know, obviously I discontinued with Drexciyan DJ Stingray. And my original intent and purpose was just to go out as a Drexciyan tour DJ. But again with his untimely passing, things change. I still had DJ commitments that we had already signed to, so I continued for a while more, and then later on I dropped the Drexciyan, just started DJ Stingray. Partly as a homage to him, and then partly as it it gave me a new identity and a new avenue for expression. Because I love the uptempo style, so-called electro style. To me it's techno. And it gave me an outlet for expression. And so I stuck with it and that's why I started producing under that name seemingly so late.
D: I wonder if you can ask you about the Drexciyan connection so to speak. Were you aware of their work when you were contacted by James Stinson?
S: Oh absolutely, I was playing Drexciya stuff in hardcore motorcycle clubs in Detroit. That's a secret that a lot of people don't know, that a lot of guys around Detroit were playing one or two Drexciya tunes here and there. But in one of the hardest clubs in Detroit, it was a motorcycle club, it was pretty hardcore, I would get by playing a lot of Drexciya tracks there. I was already a fan, and I was already playing the music back when they first came out, and I had known Gerald and James because I worked in a record store in the late 80s and early 90s called Buy Rite music. So I was selling their music as well. We'd buy like 50 of them or so and put them on the shelves and we'd sell them to people. So I was already familiar with James and Gerald long before they started Drexciya. I met them, talked to them, we argued about somethings.... We argued because one of their first pieces, I think it was "Glass Domain", and I was telling them the count from the beginning of the song wasn't even. You know, it didn't come in on like an eight or a 16, it came in on like a five or a seven. And I said you shouldn't do that cause DJs are not apt to play it if the beginning isn't even. And we argued about that, but it wasn't a hostile argument. And I had told Gerald this, and the next day him and James came back in the store and we kind of argued about it, and that's how I met James.
D: What did they say about that, when you said their tracks are irregular?
S: They were like, 'man, who are you, you can't tell us what to do,' and I'm like, look man, I'm just telling you, I sell these records to tons of DJs that come in, I know what they buy I know what they like and I'm telling you, this is what you do, XYZ. And we went back and forth, and at the end of the day we just shook hands and it was over with and we were cool.
D: I heard about this story with you playing electro in hard clubs in Detroit. When was this, and what was the club called?
S: This was the early 90s to mid 90s, it was a motorcycle club called The Outcast. It was a really hard club, kind of out of ordinary, stayed open late. And you'd have, I wouldn't say unsavoury characters, but that was a club where you didn't want to go and start trouble. It wasn't your typical club where if you got into a shoving match with somebody the bouncers would escort you out. You kind of risked getting knots put on your head if you started any trouble there. And more. So it was a get were you didn't play around. So you can imagine. And then [kids] there were mostly into rap and just like Urban Music. So we would go down there, Kenny and I, we would kind of sandwich in... well back then was kind of more like what we would call booty music, Luke Skywalker, a lot of Miami bass stuff. So in between that, we would sandwich in stuff like Ectomorph, some Metroplex stuff. I don't know if you know this track called "Jesus Loves The Acid", we would play stuff like that, and we would get the actual members of the club would get out on the floor and do a dance called the hustle, it was a group dance, to that record. One of the hardest records in Detroit, if not the hardest. And I would even squeeze in, there's a record called Gods Of Techno, we would squeeze in some Plastikman... Just all kinds of stuff that no DJ, I'm telling you, almost no DJ would have the guts to come to that club and play those records that we played. We were forcefeeding these people techno and electro...
D: ...because it was so hard, these tough guys wouldn't argue with it?
S: ...Precisely. It was something that they had never heard before, but it fit in with the Luke Skywalkers, the Miami Bass. It's like a strong drink. Most people don't drink alcohol straight up, they mix it with something. So you can look at it like that. Where we mixed something in, we mixed it in between the ghettobass, and they liked it. So that was that, and once we got them used to that, we could almost play anything we wanted to.
D: I have two questions about that. How did you end up at that bar, and were you influenced by that Miami bass stuff anyway?
S: Well I'll answer your latter question first, yes I was influenced, just like everyone else in Detroit was, I was definitely influenced by Miami bass, the big bass sound, the raunchy lyrics, the up in the face beats, the high tempos. But I might add it wasn't just Miami Bass, we played the West Coast stuff, Professor X, Egyptian Lover, Jamie Jupiter, even though that stuff was released in the 80s, we could still play that and get a good response out of kids who were just babies when that stuff was written. I ended up at the bar through my job at Buy Rite music. Almost every DJ in the city would come there to buy records. So I had contact with a lot of people. And also club owners would come there, because sometimes A DJ might quit and so a club owner would have to take over responsibilities, and he'd ask, 'hey man, what's hot' and blah blah blah. So a promoter came in, and I was selling him records, and he'd hear me DJ, because we had two turntables sitting there. Because sometimes I would play records in a mix, just to show guys that you don't have to always buy what you hear on the radio. So that allowed me to sell some tracks that we wouldn't have gotten to sell, unless a guy heard it in a mix. So this guy approached me. And he said that he had a DJ contest happening at his club. So he brought me down, and I went up against this guy, and I happened to win the contest. But it was a close call as we both had a bunch of technical problems. Later on he came back and he just asked me to play there. So I played there for about two weeks, and found myself to be a little bit over my head. So I called up Kenny Dixon, and said I need your help man, I need you to bring down some more records, because I wasn't accustomed to playing that long for that crowd. I was just strictly playing almost tech. He brought his records down and the rest was history, and we just had fun. Our first three weeks there we were playing without headphones, and we would just use the sound coming from the needle to cue up the record. Because something was wrong with the mixer, and we just played without headphones. And we had to play stuff fast. Because you couldn't leave the tech stuff in for too long, because the crowd would get bored. So we played for 30 seconds or a minute, and then we'd come back in with something they were more familiar with. That kind of lends to my DJing style as DJ Stingray 313. That's why I play stuff kind of fast now, it goes back to those days at the motorcycle club. But that's how I got there.
D: How did you hook up with Kenny in the first place?
S: Ah, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, kids. So we saw each other, went to school together, 'hey what's up man'. But I'll tell you how I got into DJing, we were in school one day, and I was raving about this mix I had heard on the radio, it was 'mespotatamia', but it was an edit mix. And I was like wow, it was by The Electrifying Mojo, and I was like wow, man, that is bad. And then Ken was like, I can mix better than that, and I said there's no way you can mix better than that. And he said I'll show you. So after class, he took me to his house. I had never seen two turntables before. And he properly demonstrated to me that he could mix better than that. And the rest was history. We had already known each other, I had a basketball hoop in my back yard, and played football in the street and all that, so we knew each other, see each other, wave, or just hang out, we had mutual friends and associations, so we've been knowing each other since we were kids. But he ushered me into DJing, I guess it was about 83. And I've never looked back.
D: When you DJed Drexciyan tracks, did you treat them in a different way? Was it a different style of DJing? As Drexciyan DJ Stingray, did you take a special approach.
S: I'd say I take a special approach, and what's it like, it's fun, and I love it, and it's like I'm free. And what I try to do, I don't think I really do anything special when I play Drexciya tracks. Everywhere I go I like to play two or three Drexciya tracks, and I mix it up. But what I like to do when I play as DJ Stingray, insteading of focusing on, OK, I'm going to do this one seamless mix, and it's this gigantic 12" mix that's I'm doing for you, I just try to play as many different tracks as I can, as quickly as I can. I like to let people know, here's a different record that you're listening to. Instead of people trying to figure out, 'wow, is this the same record?' ... I don't like to play like a record that is going on for 20 minutes. I like to give people as much, as many different records as possible in the shortest time possible. So if I'm on for two hours, I like to try and get 100 tracks in, so people have an experience. I'm not concerned with being seamless, or that technically perfect, although in 2010 I will strive to be more techinically perfect, but I'm more into the tracks and people, what they're hearing. So to answer your question more precisely, it's not like I say this 'is a Drexciya', because I think that would be unfair to everyone, to focus in on that. Because that's an era that's passed.
D: I have to ask, what you thought of their music.
S: I love it, I've been a fan of it since they been around. Always been a Drexciya fan, and I hold James when he was alive, and Gerald in the upmost respect. And I was very flattered and I was honoured when James tapped me on the shoulder to be the Drexciyan tour DJ. And if you want to call it a career, I felt like I had stepped on to another level by just being even affiliated and associated with them.
D: What were the gigs like, when you were doing Drexciya tour DJing?
S: I played at the Warp magic bus tour in London, I can't remember the year I apologise, that was my first gig, and we went to London and then Dublin the next day. It was a trip, a lot of people were paying attention to me, asking questions, and just everywhere I went, it gave me a lot of insight onto the impact and the respect that Drexciya had, it was phenomenal. And it made me even prouder to be associated with it, and when I played, I tried to do the best I could, and I tried to play tracks that people could remember and be like, wow, I heard something out of ordinary. You know, I didn't just hear a night when it was all 4/4, and I'm not criticising anybody who plays all 4/4 all night. That's not a criticism, I just wanted to give people a different experience. So I went to those gigs, and I was doing those gigs, it was kind of like, wow, here I am, I'm in Italy, I'm in London, I'm in Glasgow, doing what I always wanted to do, playing the music that I wanted to play. And man, it was almost surreal, man, doing it by myself, and it was just fun, I felt blessed and I felt privileged. And I really felt honoured, especially by the people who came out and showed love and clapped for me when I finished my sets, and just shook my hand and wanted to know if I was OK, I had never had an experience like that before. It is, and was, so much fun, and just really enjoyed that. Because the crowds typically in Europe are very educated and they know the music.
D: How did you get the name Stingray?
S: That was given to me by James. He decided to call me DJ Stingray and I was like, cool. There was only one problem, he wanted to me to wear this thick woollen ski mask, and I opted for the balaclava. I was like man, I can't do that, so we left out from his house, and I saw a police supply shop, and I knew exactly what I wanted, a SWAT mask.
D: What did you make of the whole Drexciyan ethos, and does it still have relevance to you?
S: In the sense that... there are some other things, maybe another time I could get into that would tie into that, especially with the Black Atlantic race, and Atlantis and that kind of thing. But overall, I focused more on the music than the concepts behind it. Because I was into my thing regardless of that particular area in terms of, black culture, and rise of black culture particular here in America, you know. Without trying to get too political, out of bounds with it, I had my own thoughts, I was more into the music. It was the music that moved me, and not so much the concepts.
D: Lets talk about your yourself and your own name, because your history goes back a long way. You were involved in 12"s back in the late 80s. The first one I understand you worked on was the "Time To Party" record, back in the late 80s. Had did that come about?
S: Right. This was before I started working at Buy Rite. We had an old, it wasn't old then, it was kind of state of the art then, it was an RX5 drum machine. So the owner of the shop Cliff, he would allow me to come downstairs and program it, and this was a real big honour, because you didn't just walk into the Buy Rite record store and go behind the counter unless you were considered, you know, somebody. And I felt like a big shot, you know. So he would let me go down there, and I took to programming it rather quickly, and so we came up with that track, "Time To Party", originally Lou Robinson had done the work on it, and I kind of skeletonised it, and stripped some things there and there. So really it was a collaboration between Lou and I. There were some things we wanted to do, but the owner, cliff, liked it as it was, so you know we're not going to argue with it, so we put it out, and we also did the other record "Can't Stop Now". If you can believe it, I did it at Juan Atkins's studio on the spot, right there. And I had, Rick did the sampling, but I already had the bassline and everything in my head. But we did that track right there at the studio. So that was my first record, that was 1987, I was excited, I put some of my own money behind it for the mastering, and it's something I'm proud of, just the fact that I had the initiative, because I had always wanted to do my own records. You know, after spending hundres of dollars from a minimum wage job buying records instead of cars and clothes, I was buying records and to see my name on a record, even though it was misspelled on the first pressing. To see my name on there I was so happy and to hear something I had done... yeah, that's how that started. And then later on, three years later I met up with Carl Craig, Carl Craig was a customer at Buy Rite. And you know we'd talk, we'd kick it over the counter or whatever, so we just hooked up and exchanged numbers. And he would let me use a piece of equipment, I'd let him use a piece of equipment. We eventually got to meddling around and making tracks, and that's how my second track "Covert Action" came about. And actually, he had loaned my his equipment, like his 4 track recorder and a couple of pieces. What was it, I think the Roland DS10, no the Roland S10 sampler, and the Alesis drum machine and the sequencer. So that's how I came out with my second track "Covert Action", and that was 1990.
D: So just as you're known for mixing pretty quickly, you're also pretty quick at working a drum machine, yeah?
S: I would say yes, I would say my aptitude is relatively high for that. But I'm the kinda guy, that, I don't mind sitting up reading manuals, I would rather sit up sometimes and read a manual for a drum machine or a synthesizer than go hang out. Now don't get my wrong, that's not all I want to do, I do like to go out and see some ladies.
D: If you have some Miami Bass, you have the best of both worlds.
S: That's correct, right. I love the technology behind electronic music. I guess you have to, in order to be a part of this.
D: Was it anything you ever studied?
S: I did get a little bit of formal training at the Recording Institute of Detroit. They even hired me in as an apprentice, well you don't get hired in. But I actually got to set up one professional lesson with mics and that kind of thing. And I was taking music theory and basic recording. But I eventually pulled out of it, because I simply wasn'y making enough money to maintain the payments on the course. The formalised study I guess, reading lots of magazines, and lots of trial and error. And asking questions.
D: Other producers?
S: Other producers, colleagues, Blake Baxter, Juan Atkins, Shake, very knowledgeable equipment. Even at one time Blake and even Derrick May loaned me equipment at one time, I asked them questions. This was the golden age of Detroit, when everybody was helping everybody else out, you could borrow a drum machine no problem.
D: What do you use to produce your music these days?
S: I'll just say it's something different, and I'll have to kinda leave it at that. But it's much easier for me to produce these days than it was, you don't have to buy hundreds of dollars and thousands of dollars worth of equipment, I'll just say that. Some of it is on computers and some of it is drum machines.
D: Is it a laptop situation?
S: Some productions, yes. Absolutely.
D: Let's talk about the Urban Tribe stuff. How did that come about, and was it particularly your project, or was it a collective projective?
S: The first Urban Tribe, the first single I released under Urban Tribe was Covert Action, in 1990 on a compilation put out by Carl Craig and I believe Damon, they had a label called Retroactive. That was the first conception of Urban Tribe, it was a name I thought of. How did I think of that name, I think I was really into Afrocentric studies at the time, and I guess 'tribe' and then me being in the city, I put the two together. Still being a member of a tribe, but in an urban setting. So that's how that kind of came about. And later on it evolved, how the collective evolved was on The Collapse Of Modern Culture album. And Shake had helped me out quite a bit, Carl with his studio and his guidance, I had Rick Willhai do a mix, I had Ken. And so I was just like, hey, you know what, these guy, far as I'm concerned, they're part of Urban Tribe because they give valuable... invaluable ... assistance, because this was my first time ever trying to do a full length LP. I was kind of awestruck, it seemed like a huge undertaking that I would never complete. And those guys helped not only in encouragement and technical advice, but actual hands-on assistance helped me get through that put that album together. You know all of them played their little part. But chiefly I would say it's a concept, initially it was a concept invented into my own mind but it evolved into a collective.
D: When the album came about, was it on Mo' Wax? Did they contact you, or was it the other way round?
S: That was facilitated by Carl and James Lavelle. Carl was taking a trip to England, and he told me that James had liked Covert Action and to just take a few tracks to take with him. Sometimes I'm kind of last minute-y, and I put the tracks together, he submitted the tape to James. And James enjoyed a couple of tracks and we just struck a deal from there.
D: Let's talk about the music of the Urban Tribe stuff. It's often a slower tempo. Is that deliberate?
S: Yes, up until a certain point, it's deliberate. My last two albums on Rephlex was an experiment, probably should have been DJ Stingray projects. But, yes, it was deliberate and that was the mentality that I had at the time, because at that time I was listening to a lot of rap, and a group called African Headcharge, produced by Adrian Sherwood. And I was listening to that, and a lot of slower Industrial stuff, so I was trying to capture that mood and hiphop and the same time, as well as infuse it with elements of electronic music. And you have a lot, in my opinion experimental stuff going on at the time, and drum n bass was pretty big as well. But I didn't want to just ape that style, and I didn't want to be just disrespectful and copy that style. So I tried to infuse a lot of elements, hiphop, industrial, that kind of thing, and even believe it or not R&B. Because I was going to a lot of strip clubs too.
D: Really, what kind of R&B was in your mind?
S: Oh, you know, kind of lover boy stuff, love songs, slow kind of love songs. Everything from Keith Sweat to Bobby Brown, things like that.
D: How did you end up going to lots of strip clubs?
S: Yeah, you know, young guy in his prime, I was like 20-something when I started really going to strip clubs. And you know, I'd spend my day, I'd get up like one, two o clock, and head to the strip club, you know. Go get some fast food, stuff my pockets full of tens and fives and ones, and go head to the strip club. A lot of my best times were when they would play those slow songs, cause, hey, you can have fun with the dancers.
D: Expensive business, though, I imagine.
S: You know, those were days when like lapdancers were like 5 dollars, so 20 dollars could get you real close with a young lady.
D: At that time, were you working at the record shop? I'm just interested what you were doing in your life at that time.
S: At that time, when I was working on The Collapse Of Modern Culture, I was living off of an advance. So I was just taking that, probably money that wasn't well spent. But hey, I spent it. I bought equipment, I did other things, it got put into production as well, and some other things, you pay bills, you get clothes, and I took some odd jobs here and there too. But after the Mo' Wax thing, I was like, there's no way I'm ever going to work for anyone else again. I don't care if I have to struggle, if I'm broke, if I have to live with relatives I'm going to do that, but I don't wanna work. And that didn't work out too well, I had to eventually take a couple of jobs. Dishwashing here, construction job there. That's what I did, man, you know. But at one point I was at a point where I didn't have to work or do anything. I could just live off of money I was making DJing at the Outcast, and a little bit off Mo' Wax.
D: Let me ask about the title of the album, The Collapse Of Modern Culture. What was your thinking behind the themes of the album?
S: Er, shock factor, and when I was saying The Collapse Of Modern Culture, I didn't mean you were going to have buildings going down, bridges on fire, starvation in the streets. I was thinking more how computers and technology were kind of changing the whole way people tend to do things. The more personable face to face transactions, or where you would talk with a human being over the phone, that kind of thing. And how technology changed, even down to the roles men and women play, where gender roles were being skewed, where you had kids with disposable income at early ages. And then some of it was apocalyptic too. It did seem things were on the brink of chaos at the time, with the Gulf War, with the second war coming around... well that didn't go until 2000 but we were still in a kind of Big Brother-ish era. I was under the influence of reading a lot of things about the impending New World Order. So that's what kind of lead me to go with The Collapse Of Modern Culture, the New World Order, changing gender roles, the changing of cultural construct within America. Hence The Collapse Of Modern Culture meaning collapse of the present day culture when I made that release.
D: What was something you felt a lot in Detroit?
S: Absolutely, from things like the cellphone, to the internet, to even the kinds of cars that people drive, the clothing. And for a city of only 1 million people here, things change fast here. And word changes fast, from the political climate... when I was growing up, we had a major names coleman young, and he was a major for like 20 years, and things seemed relatively stable in the political landscape. But once he left, or once he left office, it seemed like things started changing a lot quicker. There was this push reinvent the city. Because there was this perceived rift between Detroit and the surburbs, and it was this racial line, and it was thought that it was formented by major Coleman Young. And that wouldn't have been fair to totally lay the blame on him, it was on both sides, where that line was. But after that things started happening a lot faster. They were tearing down things, restructuring downtown, we had a new mayor, yeah you could things things changing fast. Yeah, to synopsise or wrap up my answer, yes, changes that I saw in the city of Detroit helped me come to that title of The Collapse Of Modern Culture as well.
D: They call it white flight, don't they, where the white folks go out to the suburbs, and the city becomes a less social, vibrant place. Was that your feeling at the time, and does that still apply now?
S: You know now, because of the economic hard times, you've got more people co-operating now. Nobody's going to put up with this garbage of this line between the suburbs and the city. I think you have more people coming into play in the business and leadership sectors who do realise there has to be regional co-operation, as opposed to this is the city, this is the suburbs. As far as the white flight, that's not felt as much as when I was coming up. Cause downtown has been totally revitalised. There are some neighbourhoods that are neglected, no question about it, but I think on the whole, there's a genuine heartfelt effort to revitalise not only the city and the region. And you have a lot of people, white people... Like I happen to live in a neighbourhood where you see all types, whites, blacks. [ ] we have a lot of people, developers, civic leaders, white and other races, who will support Detroit, they love Detroit, doing the best to help the city rise, to become what it can be.
D: In what manner has it become revitalised?
S: Again, I sense that there's more co-operation, between certain sectors of business and civic leaders. And again Downtown, you can look at Downtown, where they've almost completely remodelled it, we have a couple of new ballparks, just recently we hosted the Superbowl, we hosted the final [ ] of the basketball collage tournament, which is huge. The Detroit electronic music festival draws tens of thousands of people... Detroit is, sometimes it looks like we're on the way up, then we have a few setbacks, but I definitely think the city is heading in a positive direction.
D: Maybe it's be good to ask about your new material. The EP that's coming up, the Naked Lunch EP, are you a big fan of the book?
S: Actually, that happens to be the name of the label. I didn't happen to give that EP label. It was only after I did a search that I found out that that was a book. I just thought someone came with a weird name.
D: Ah, OK. My mistake. Lets talk about some other titles, "social engineering", "authorized clinical trials", etc. Is this interest in genetics, chemistry etc something you've always had?
S: Yes, I've always been interested in science since I've been a child. And I guess it's one of those things that I've never really fulfilled, I wanted to be a doctor, and I wanted to be a surgeon, but I never followed through with that for various reasons. But my interest in microbiology, science, physics has still continued well into adulthood. Not though, in the context of my releases, when I talk about "Authorized Clinical Trials", that's really kind of a title that has to do with how drug companies these days rush things out. As soon as a drug comes out, no more than two years later you're getting all these recalls. I don't know if you've ever watched American TV but commercials come on everyday, if you've taken this enema, or if you've taken this for heart fluctuations or if you've taken this for pregnancy, you may have a law suit, if you've experienced this, call the attorneys and so on... so "Authorized Clinical Trials" was kind of an indirect jab at the pharamaceutical companies and their rush to put products out, at the calculated risk they take to put people's health on the line for profit. Unfortunately I'm crippled by the fact that I don't have lyricism, I don't write lyrics, which I'm going to in the future with the upcoming releases I'm going to take care of that, I'm going to include more lyrics and things so I can express my concepts more clearly. But "Authorised Clincal Trials", that's what that was about. "Social Engineering" was just that, how a lot of that goes on in America. How you'll be working at a job, and you get somebody what's called a head hunter... I'm sure you know what a head hunter is. Or when you have aggressive telemarketing... head hunting, they do it in a surreptitious manner, they may call posing as some kind of authority. They prey on people's penchant, or people's tendency to answer to someone who presents themselves as an authority. Even those this person doesn't have authority, they present themselves as an authority on so and so. And that's kind of what "Social Engineering" was about. People just trying to trick you for information. And I just try to leave it up to the person to do the research, hopefully they'll see that title, like 'OK, I wonder what social engineering is', and they'll type that into a search engine and find out what's that about.
D: What about genetics, you were saying earlier. Why are you interested in that, and how does that feed into your music?
S: Well right now, science, particularly biology and medicine, is focusing heavily on the genetic level now. They're trying to cure disease at the genetic level. And my involvement comes, or my interest comes where the ethical issues that are involved with genetics. Things like cloning. We know that human cloning is around the corner. Somebody, somewhere is working on cloning a human being. And so my interest with genetics is along the lines of the ethics, and the cultural and sociological impact that genetics... From genetically modified food, there's a big issue about that in this country. Like OK, what are going to be the long-term effect of people eating all these foods that are engineered for longer shelf lives, engineered to grow in fashions that they weren't supposed to grow, grow larger or smaller. Don't get me wrong, human beings have been doing genetic engineering for tens of thousands of years, but not such a precise scale. And so when I had a project called "The Genome Project", on The Collapse Of Modern Culture. So my interest in genetics again focuses on the ethical implications of genetics. There are good things that come along, but we also have to stop and take a look at the social things. Are we really going to start engineering human beings, are we going to start excluding people from certain jobs based on genetic propensity for certain sorts of diseases and conditions that may never occur? There are all kinds of ethical and socialological issues that come from opening this Pandora's Box of genetic engineering and curing diseases on a genetic level.
D: Overall are you positive or negative or the effects of this capabilities on society?
S: I try to stay positive, but where profit is involved, you know it's going to take a dark turn somewhere. There's going to always be ethical and sociological issus that revolve around almost any new technology. I try to stay positive, but my experience reserves part of that for pessimism.
D: I wondering if any recent advances in technology, or social engineering, have effected you in real life.
S: Absolutely, specifically with social engineering. Unfortunately I can't get too detailed with that, but I have been effected particularly by social engineering. If you look at one of the We Me tracks, I made a track called counter surveillance. That has to do with, with technology you have this explosion of people with these cameras, these bugging devices, listening devices, people are able to get online with just a modicum of information about you, and basically unravel your whole life. So "Counter Surveillance" was kind of a warning to people to just be vigilant out here. Because it is real, and wishing it to go away, that's not going to happen. It's best to confront it, and be as pro-active as possible. ID theft, I don't know how big it's there in the UK, it is huge here. It's a huge business on both sides of the coin.
D: Is Detroit a city which has a lot of surveillance?
S: I'll say this. Only Sweden is more surveilled than our two societies, the United States and Great Britain. And it is growing. And we're becoming probably as well as the UK in other western societies we're going to become so paranoid that we're watching each other. We are watching each other now. It's almost like the Soviet Union now. I think it's fair to say that there's quite a bit of surveillance cameras in this society, as well as most Westernised societies. It's going to increase, especially with these perceived and real terror threats, certainly that's going to be a leveraging point for more cameras and more intrusion into society. ID theft, so this is supposed to be an open and free society, I guess there's going to be an issue forced to where people have to choose between their personal freedoms and their safety. But I think yes definitely corporations, governments, private individuals, criminals in general, everybody is using surveillance technology. It's a tool, not unlike a hammer or a nail, a screwdriver. It's just a tool people use now, it's reality.
D: You mentioned We Me, and I have a question about the record labels have been involved with. It seems a lot of your stuff has been released on European labels. I'm wondering why you think that came about?
S: You know what, I take a line from my friend Anthony Shakir, and he says 'go where the love is'. So if he likes what I do, then I'm happy to be affiliated with him. Mo' Wax, Rephlex... I think that my music has more of an electronic edge to it, and is not as, maybe the R&B and hiphop influences are not as evident. So there may be this, it's just where the European continent and people overseas just may be more attracted to it just because of the way it sounds. And it may sound like material that on the one hand they're familiar with, but yet it has components to it that they're not familiar with. It's a little different. How it comes about, I don't know. Maybe I don't hobnob or network with enough people here in America, frequently enough to get things released.
D: Is there a lot of interest in your music in Detroit?
S: You know truthfully I don't think so, I don't think any of us electronic musicians can break that strangehold that R&B, rock and pop music has. It's just too big of a machine, and they just have too much money, and they have too many people that support it. They've got video, and all kinds of things that support those genres. So breaking that grip is, unless we employ those tools, I don't think we have much of a hope of penetrating those scenes here in Detroit. So to answer your question again, no, I don't think there's much interest. To be truthful with you I've never made a heartfelt effort to get myself out there among the citizens of Detroit. Maybe that'll change this year.
D: When you says tools, what kind of tools are you referring to?
S: We need radio stations, we need to do videos, we need to write songs, we need billboard advertisers. We need to do everything these big guys are doing without compromising our sound and our aesthetic. And I think a lot of people feel like, as soon as you start putting things on billboards and you start going for the radio, you have to change you're sound, no. you just have to be brave, you have to be strong, and we need people who can invest and pool their money, who are willing to invest if we can't do it ourselves. We have to be willing to invest ourselves. And so those are the tools that I'm referring to, the internet, we need to use everything that these big machines use. And stop treating ourselves as the step-children of the music industries. And let's get out there and push our efforts, our sounds, our concepts out there. Why can't we capture the 18-34 market, why not?
D: You talked about songs at one point. How might you go about that?
S: I have a couple of young ladies that I'm dealing with right now, they can sing and they can write lyrics and they're very intelligent, and I'll provide them with the concepts and the music and they go from there. Some of the structure may be something you're familiar with, but I can assure you the music won't be anywhere near pop music or commerical music. It'll be the same music you've been listening to, but it's going to have something you can sink your teeth into, something you can listen to, and hopefully relate to.
D: Actual songs?
S: Actual songs. They might not be quite as formally structured as what you would hear on the radio or you would see on the video. It won't necessarily follow strict form that the pop song would, but it will be a song with proper lyrics that you can listen to and enjoy, hopefully.
D: One more question about the European appreciation of your music. Over here, what you do would be known as electro. Is that a name that you recognise.
S: You know something, I'll be honest with you man, I think it's very disingenuous to lump music into the category. Anything that's not 4/4 a person's going to quickly shove into the electro category. My impression of electro, if you go back to the late 80s early 90s, it was kind of like breakdance music, quasi hiphop/breakdance/club music. And I think out of a lack of imagination, or maybe people just wanted to exclude certain artists, I think they just started classifying everything that wasn't 4/4 beat as electro. ... what does that mean, electro? You know really what does that mean, where did this division between techno and electro... OK, drum and bass I can understand the division there, house I can understand the division there. But then people just started going genre crazy. And I think everybody, people I say everybody, you had all these scenes in these different cities, they were trying to copy Detroit, trying to copy Manchester, and everybody started trying in these burbs and little towns, and there's nothing against them, but everybody wanted to have their own little market and little sound. And so things just got too freewheeling, and anybody who made anything just slightly different, maybe it was a slower tempo, they're quick to say this is down beat, drum 'n' bass, just all kind of names, and this stuff fizzles out a year later, never to be heard again. It's like an archaic, obsolete term... what does this mean? And I think it's all about people trying to establish an identity, similar to again, Manchester and Detroit. Those are the two cities that I knew that had their own distinct sounds and scenes. And of course Chicago. Well I think people saw those models and they started wanting to start creating their own little scenes. Just a lot of disingenuity, and not a lot of thought, went into it. And that's to me why you have these ridiculous categories. It's just absurd to me. So to get back to your question, you know it's just difficult for me to recognise 'electro'. When somebody to me says electro, I just want you to explain what it is.
D: I don't want to class you as an uptempo or downtempo artist... but a lot of your stuff is very fast. Why do you produce a lot of quick music?
S: I think that goes again back to if you listen to a lot Detroit DJs, and how we play our dance music, we play it very very fast. And even today, if you go to certain clubs, mostly every club, nobody plays hiphop at the speed it was supposed to be played at. Except for straight-up hiphop heads, true classic hiphop heads. Everybody else is playing everything sped up. And that was the way traditionally that people had to play it in Detroit. You couldn't play it that slow, you know, why is this? And I think where initially it came from was, maybe some of the strip clubs, the DJs would play stuff real fast. But it goes back even further than that, a lot of DJs who were playing Miami Bass and House music, they'd speed it up, so it'd fit together. So I guess it just became a tradition. And I guess I just followed that tradition myself. I like to hear things at a fast pace myself, there's just something energising about it. I'm just part of that, I didn't invent that, I didn't start it, I'm part of a long line of people who did it.
D: Down South they have the tradition of slow hiphop. Maybe in Detroit, it's to do with the climate, so you have to keep warm or something.
S: That's a good idea, heh.
D: So the Urban tribe album, is that going to have vocals on it?
S: Yes a couple of tracks are going to have vocals on them. And when we're doing some live stuff, I have some plans for some vocals or not. So maybe in a week or two, I'll send you some little demos. Some stuff I've been doing with a lovely young lady from Croatia.
D: Based in Detroit?
S: No, based in Croatia.
D: So how did you hook up with her?
S: Oh, the underground network! I used some contacts to put me in touch with her. We communicated and she sent me some demos. And I like what I hear, and I like what I saw.
D: Would you have hooked up with her if it wasn't for the internet?
S: That is certainly a product of the 21st century, yes, there is no way I would have known of her existence if not for MySpace, Skype etc.
D: The world might be collapsing, but there are some amazing opportunities for creativity with the internet.
S: Oh definitely, it's definitely amazing and it's allowed me to be more creative and I think it's allowed a lot of us, young and older, to reach people who we might have never reached. Obviously. Yeah, I have no problems with technology when used properly.
D: Are you going to tour the Urban Tribe album?
S: Oh yeah, absolutely, there are plans to tour in the next couple of months or so. And I already have a live show worked out, and we already have a couple booked now for the spring. One is gonna be in London and another in Holland. Last year I was supposed to do a live show but I had some technical problems. That was depressing , it took me a couple of weeks to come out of my funk on that one.
D: You were going to do a live gig?
S: I was going to do a live gig, I had the MPC, and I was ready, I had everything set up, and it was going to be live tracks. I had some images of Detroit in the background. It's going to be like that.
D: What kind of technological problems was it? It's often odd when people who know a lot about technology are brought down by their main tool.
S: Ha, I forgot to order a SCSI cord to connect an external, actually I didn't tell them to order an MPC with an onboard zip drive. So they had to call a friend who was a couple of hours away to bring up a zip drive, but the cord that connected to the SCSI input was not the proper size. So there was nothing I can do.
D: But it's good to hear you're planning live gigs. It's a positive thing that you're making the progression from playing the music to playing it live.
S: Yes, yes, I believe it is a natural transition. And these days with this over-proliferation of DJs, I think we need to give it to people more. These days with the tight economy, and just this over proliferation, let's give people more for their time. I appreciate people coming to even see me, man, so I want to give them more for their money and their time.
D: I have a lot of information from you now, Sherard. I think what I might do is give you a call if I have any follow up questions, unless there's something you think hasn't been covered.
S: No, absolutely not, and you can feel free to call or email, whatever you need, man.
D: I find it kinda interesting that, when I talked to Gerald Donald of Dopplereffekt, he's very secretive about what he does, but you're quite open about what you do.
S: Well, you know, somebody's gotta do it. And I'm really interested in seeing the field grow, and I'm interested in attracting young people to it, particularly the young inner city people to it, as an alternative to the current forms of music, to relieve the glut... and I feel like if I put myself out there, I feel like, maybe somebody will see this somewhere, and they'll feel like, maybe this is something I can do. And also, I like to kind of lift that veil of secrecy to a degree. Not to the point where you're hurting anybody, but just trying to shed light on areas people feel are shrouded in mystery. Because I don't feel like we're going to grow, hiding behind these corners, and just not being revealing. So yeah, I don't have any problem, I'm not shy about it, I don't really have anything to hide, I like for people to know about what I'm doing, and to know about me. I'm a big boy, so I need to act like it.
D: It's a good thing, Sherard, because sometimes there's a lot of mythology that surrounds Detroit music. Sometimes it can lead to music journalists writing the same thing over and over again. An example I can give you, it's good to hear Detroit is being revitalised. Because in the UK it's quite a cliché to write about Detroit music being music from a broken city. I feel it's helpful it's talkative about what you do. I was quite struck by you saying you want people from the inner cities to hear what you do. Why is it that you pick them specifically?
S: It's partly because hiphop is not what it was, not as nourishing or as reflective of the culture as it was. A lot of it has become clichéd and prefabricated. Also you want to provide opportunities other than, OK, all I can be is an R&B singer or a hiphop star. It's like, no, you can get behind a computer and a drum machine, and even better if you can write lyrics, and you can see the world. Hiphop is not the only way to see the world. And also, you can express yourself on more levels, you can cover science and politics, without being so confrontational, without having to have this hard image, that I'm from the slums and I'm the toughest guy in the world. I'm just trying to provide a different alternative. Yes, I do feel like there's more opportunities needed. I believe there is this cultural glut, not only in inner cities, but just in Western culture period. It seems like there's no room or escape out here. I don't want to name any commercial establishments, I'd just say, Starbucks, strip-mall, soccer-mom, gotta go, multi task, and I'm just, hey, here's a chance where you can think outside of the box, and we have a chance to actually influence people. Because people hear this music, they're hearing music that's not music that they're gonna hear on the radio, or at the club, or in a McDonald's commercial. So it's just a chance to help people do some out of the box thinking, which is sorely needed these days, in my view.
D: Let me ask you though, people would say that techno can add to the glut, because it can be created quickly. So what would you say to people who say techno adds to the commercial glut?
S: Well I would say there's a difference between The Orb and Autechre, there's a difference between Basic Channel and, what's his name, The Funk Soul Brother, Fat Boy Slim. All they need to do is just do a little bit of research, there's clear differences. So yes, if you want to say glut, in the sense of sum total of collective electronic music, certainly you can say glut. But if you're selective and you're inquisitive, and you're really seeking out high quality electronic music, it's out there for you. And so if you're gonna be lazy and not discriminate, well yeah, you're just going to see this big collective of bleeps and blips. But if you truly seek this high quality material, what I think is high quality material, you'll find it. Cause there's a clear difference between the Macarena, and let's take a Carl Craig, Suspiria, I believe he was still on Retroactive. Two different sounds, both electronic music.
D: Another thing you've just said which struck me, you said you don't have to be a rapper or a singer, it doesn't have to be just have to be about personality, it can be about craftsmanship.
S: That is spot on, as you say over there, it's about craftsmanship. Sure, any doorknob can get behind a computer and crank out some bleeps, blips and squelches. But it takes a craftsman to get behind a keyboard or a drum machine, and make something that people enjoy, and that's pleasing to the intellect as well as the ear, or pleasing to the soul, or whatever that inner thing is that makes people appreciate music. It takes craftsmanship and hardwork, and I think if you look at some of the more elite guys and people who left a legacy, and have made an imprint, you can hear the quality in their music. It's simply different from a run of the mill person, who goes out to the mall, or goes to their local music store and decides they want to make music. You know, it's about suffering the pains of having some months where you don't have a lot of money, and you're suffering. You may play a club and not a lot of people turn up. But you love what you do, and that's what separates the run of the mill guy from the guy who is a craftsman. It's taking that machine and putting feeling, putting part of you into the that machine, using electronics to not just make a song, you're trying to move people with the melody, the structure, you're trying to peak interest. And make people sit up and pay attention to what you've doing. That takes craftsmanship. Certainly, there's a lot of rap artists and singers that are craftsmen. I'd be a fool to say that doesn't exist. But the pop machine today makes those type of people anomalies. And it's more like you're following this form, and this prescription. This pop formula, you sing about this, you sing about the club, lost love, you break all this guy's silverware and throw his clothes out into the street, or the ladies man and you're buying drinks for everybody in the club, or you're the greatest asskicker ever known to man... all this kind of stuff. It's clichéd formula. I feel it's much more difficult to get people to pay attention, especially as the overwhelming majority of music that we do is instrumental, so it's that much more harder to get people's attention. Because people almost reflexively ignore instrumental music, or it's just considered background music.
D: Indeed. I think I've got most of what I need, now, Sherard. Thanks very much for your time.
© The Wire 2010