Finally, Someone from the old school has voiced an opinion that has clout. The state of affairs in todays dance music scene is very fragmented and distorted, like everyone took the brown acid. In a nut shell, the young EDM fans of today have no idea of what is good and what is crap music. The North American EDM festivals are nothing more than huge commercial outdoor dances with exorbitant gate prices and DJ’s that are charging up to $250.000 for a 2 hour set. How much can we put up with a mouthy punk in a mouse head?
Back in the day, we saw Moby,Underworld,Chemical Brothers and Orbital along side DJ’s that were paid a fraction of what they are today. The whole experience was not shadowed by corporate signage and Blue light everywhere! The music was raw and genuine, unlike the EDM sound ( otherwise Euro House from the 90’s). Why is it that a DJ has to be a producer and own a record label to become a DJ. Blame Tiesto and Beatport for this mess. Tiesto sucks as a DJ, but because he was a producer of Trance, and had good record sales everyone recognized his name, and he automatically gets $100,000 to play the opening of the Olympics in Greece and he’s a household name. Beatport is the real culprit, anyone can now be a producer and get a label on Beatport. Does this mean it’s good music? No, 90% of Beatport songs are crap, but everyone wants the fame and glory of being a world-famous DJ making $100,000 a gig and having a residency in Ibiza. The cost of becoming a DJ/Producer/Label owner? If you have a decent computer and a couple hundred bucks for software and midi controllers your on your way to becoming a superstar.
So where are the real DJ’s? Most never leave their bedrooms, some are great club DJ’s and some only make special appearances. These are the really talented DJ’s that very few people get to hear because they are not a money-making DJ that draws a crowd. These Large EDM festivals are nothing more than a business and that is why the same DJ’s will play the same event year after year, playing the same music formulated by Beatport’s Top 100. Wait I think I just saw Deadmau5 in a Jack in the Box commercial!!!
Unlike his previously held kingpin stature in London, Mr. C faces today’s conditions as something of an upstart, laboring over his Superfreq label with the sort of commitment to quality rarely found in today’s hit-and-run DJ culture.
Acid House Icon Mr. C on the Realities of Dance Music
“How underground is an underground DJ when he’s being paid ten, fifteen, twenty thousand dollars a show?”
When he first stepped into the spotlight in the mid-‘80s, Richard West (aka Mr. C) was at the center of the UK’s acid house movement, one of the zeniths of electronic dance music. As a headlining DJ, label owner, nightclub impresario and frontman for ‘90s techno-pop stars the Shamen, there is little he hasn’t accomplished over an almost 30-year career. But that hasn’t halted his ambition. After decades in London, Mr. C moved to Los Angeles in 2010, right as electronic music was experiencing another apex moment—probably its highest ever.
This pinnacle means endless opportunity, as well as additional challenges for the community of artists who make up EDM’s immense industry. And unlike his previously held kingpin stature in London, Mr. C faces today’s conditions as something of an upstart, laboring over his Superfreq label and events brand with the sort of commitment to quality rarely found in today’s hit-and-run DJ culture.
Insomniac sat down with West over coffee in a shaded canyon of Echo Park to discuss the trials (and some triumphs) of the current state of dance music in Los Angeles and beyond.
We’re supposed to discuss the “state of electronic music.” So, uh, what are you listening to these days?
Listening to lots of good stuff. But there is a lot of music coming out right now that is being made by numbers. A lot of the young kids are getting involved because they see all these star DJs getting all the adulation and thinking, “I can do that.” And with the software so cheap and easy to use now, pretty much anybody can start making music for virtually nothing. I feel that’s really taken down the quality of music in the last few years.
Also, it’s so easy to digitally release a record now and get someone to distribute it. That’s leading DJs to be lazy with their shopping and their selection. That’s taking down the quality of what the end-user is listening to on the dancefloor.
So not a very optimistic view?
No, it’s not. But at the same time, there are a lot of people who are making a lot of effort. So now you gotta put it down to the DJs and distributors, getting them to raise their own bar. Some digital distributors just don’t care. They’ll release about anything, sell 100 downloads and get their little bit of money. It’s not like they’re wasting warehouse space storing vinyl that they can’t sell. There should be some sort of standard that digital distributors stick to—or at least have a connection with the labels they work with. Take a stand and say, “We believe in these labels that we work with,” rather than just taking on loads of labels.
It’s not good. I go out, and I’m hearing music that sounds like I’ve heard it all before, but it’s allegedly new. Is that the best that we’ve got? Then there are other DJs who make an effort and have their own sound. So it’s a little swings and roundabouts. You lose it on the swings and gain it on the roundabouts.
The good thing is that amongst all the rubbish, with so many people making music, there has to be a larger net sum of good music out there. The more the music crosses over, and the more people want to do it, more will come through.
Maybe we should define what exactly you’re talking about, with “dance music” being so broad.
I’m talking about the so-called “underground.” I’m not even thinking about David Spaguetta. Those guys are so far removed from my world, we might as well be talking about trash metal. I’m talking about supposedly futuristic dancefloors. You still have big-name DJs earning a shitload of money. How underground is an underground DJ when he’s being paid ten, fifteen, twenty thousand dollars a show?
“Back in the day, DJs played other people’s records and helped to celebrate life and tear dancefloors apart and set roofs on fire. That’s what DJing was meant to be about.”
Why does money matter?
Money matters because you have to play a certain style of music to obtain that—or stand there in your god pose, with hands in the air, every breakdown. It’s gotta be one or the other. The ones that have their hands in the air are gonna have the people screaming, and that’s where the problem begins. You get a 21-year-old on the dancefloor thinking, “I wish that was me.”
Do they wish that because they love music and want to share their passion? Or because there’s a DJ booth full of chicks wanting to get around the DJ. Where do you draw the line?
But even 20 years ago, there was still DJs getting the girls. You’d have to go back to the ’80s to find the real blue-collar-type working DJ nobody knows, who hides in a corner and plays records simply for the music.
I still think there are a lot of DJs who want to turn people on to good-quality music. Because the scene is so huge, there is always meant to be artists. Is a DJ/producer an artist or a copyist? If only 5 percent are artists, that’s still a huge number of people.
Part of the problem is the fact that you have to be a DJ-slash-producer.
That’s a huge part of the problem. Back in the day, we used to go listen to DJs. They played other people’s records and helped to celebrate life and tear dancefloors apart and set roofs on fire. That’s what DJing was meant to be about. And there are DJs who don’t produce who are overlooked. That’s one of my biggest peeves.
I consider myself a DJ first and producer second. I have a discography as long as your arm, but I consider myself a DJ first. I know a few DJs out there who don’t produce, who are incredible, who should be out there touring the world, but don’t get the opportunity because they don’t kiss the right buttholes.
You have to blame promoters as well. Promoters don’t do what the name says they’re doing. How many promoters actually promote, instead of just booking big names, paying overinflated fees to overinflated egos to play to kids who wouldn’t know the difference between tech house and acid house?
Who’s an example?
It’s not really for me to name names.
“The upside is that it’s now a dance world… so as much as I’m bitching about things, it’s actually fantastic.”
I meant example of the good DJs.
One who comes to mind immediately is Murf. He was a resident DJ with me at Subterrain at the End in London. He is an encyclopedia of music. His mixing is out of this world. His selection and taste and integrity is beyond whatever you can imagine, and no one knows who he is. And that’s because he doesn’t make records.
There’s a lot of blame to be doled out. You can blame the agents for charging so much. You can blame the promoters for only booking DJs who are in the news. You can blame the copyists who only want to get in.
But the upside is that it’s now a dance world. People are dancing in every major city on the planet. People are making music in every city on the planet. There are good people who want to make music for art’s sake in every city on the planet. So as much as I’m bitching about things, it’s actually fantastic.
You’ve been in L.A. over five years now, seemingly from right when things picked up.
I love L.A. It has its problems, but… The change had already started when I moved here. That was one of the reasons I thought I could come to L.A. From my own point of view, America gives me a chance I no longer have in London. After DJing on Kiss FM for a decade and owning the best club in the world, and running my labels and throwing warehouse parties and being a pop star, and just doing everything I could possibly do in London, it was only repetitive.
Here in America, I can have a bit of an influence and maybe inspire a few people. L.A. was a great move. It’s a huge city; there are tons of people who love to dance. It’s a strange place, I think because of the alcohol laws. I hope Los Angeles gets in line with the rest of the world and increases the drinking time. If bars were open until 4am, parties could go until 5am, which is perfect for L.A.
People in L.A. like their days. Even if you do an underground, it’s done by 6am—while in London or Berlin, it continues for days. People in L.A. want to do stuff with their days. They want to go to the beach, go shopping, meet friends for lunch, or hang out by the pool. That’s what L.A. is about: body- and mind-conscious. But increasing the alcohol just by an hour or two would give people more options without having to throw drinks back before 2am.
People ask me, since I owned the End in London, if I would open a club in L.A. Yeah, I would, if I could do that sort of a club. But right now, it’s impossible because of the licensing laws.
“Publicists are being paid by labels and DJs, who feed lazy journalists, who run with it…It’s the same cycle, the hype machine.”
Did you see the recent Jamie Jones quote in LA Weekly that the city is “ripe for the picking”? Some people took offence. What do you think of this attitude as more people come to L.A. because they see it as a gold rush?
I don’t think they’re coming for a gold rush. I think they’re coming because it’s nice to be here. I don’t know of any one DJ who moved here for a gold rush, because it certainly isn’t. There are too many parties and not enough people going to them. That’s another big issue I have: people only go out with their clique. People won’t go to a party if it’s not their friend organizing it.
Maybe because you can’t party-hop, due to time and distance.
People here are restricted geographically, but I think it’s more than that. I can’t work out why, but people don’t support each other the way they do in New York and London. Once people find their niche, they stick with their tribes. I find that strange about L.A., and it makes it a difficult place to work as a promoter.
I did a Superfreq party at No Filter, and it was a great party musically, but it wasn’t terribly busy. People decided to go to another party the night before, and a different party that same night, and Superfreq hasn’t got a big clique that follows it. It has a small core of followers who love innovative dance music. It doesn’t have that extra hype. And people follow the hype. That’s not just in L.A.
Unless you’re spending a lot of money on marketing and publicists, people aren’t going to have a look-in—which is a shame. It’s another catch-22 situation. Publicists are being paid by labels and DJs, who feed lazy journalists, who run with it. That then gets new, fresh ravers (and ragers, as they call themselves today). It’s the same cycle, the hype machine. It’s the labels paying the publicists who schmooze the journalists who trick the punters into following something that started with money.
Is that so different from the ’90s in the UK, where there was tons of dance music media?
If I think back 10 years ago, there were a lot more DJs who were doing well without a lot of hype. Nowadays, not only do you have to be a great DJ and make great music and run a great label, you have to payto get it all out there. It’s all fucked.
And I know this sounds like such a negative interview, but I keep coming back to the fact that things are bigger and better than ever. The reason we’re talking about the negatives is because there is a major scene everywhere you go. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be talking about all of this.
“The things we were talking about in the lyrics—about human evolution, creativity, altered states of consciousness, global connectivity—it’s all stuff people find trendy the past few years.”
Does it matter?
It doesn’t matter to the kids; they don’t give a shit. I care about the good DJs getting work. I care about good producers getting their music released. I care about art and human evolution. And I think the more the hype machine rolls, it is different from the ’90s.
I was in a big pop band, the Shamen, and we were on the cover of all the magazines and on every TV show. But there was substance; it was art. You don’t win UK Songwriter of the Year (which is voted on by other songwriters) without some substance. The things we were talking about in the lyrics—about human evolution, creativity, altered states of consciousness, global connectivity—it’s all stuff people find trendy the past few years. We were 20 years ahead of the game on that shit.
There are other great bands who were doing “pop,” but with quality. The KLF is a great example. You can’t really say the same for today with the David Guettas and…
But we agreed we’re not even talking about that.
I don’t want to start ripping on any individual DJs. They have put in a lot of hard work, and they’re good people.
But it would be nice if the promoters were to wake up and say, “I’m going to draw a line on how much I will pay”—like I do for my events. There are certain DJs I would love to have, but I won’t pay that much. I set a top limit, and I won’t go above that. Because what am I getting for that money? What sort of people am I attracting? It’s a tricky balance.
There are DJs I would love to book, but they won’t bring anybody. They won’t put any bums in seats.
So, how do you break free of that?
I’ve been putting on parties my whole career. I think if you put on quality entertainment and keep it consistent, then you’ll get it. You build up momentum.
Do you think you have momentum now?
I feel like I’ve lost the momentum in L.A. I stopped throwing undergrounds in L.A. a year ago. Cops were busting everything up. People were ratting out other promoters. I could see myself being the type of person to get ratted on. I just took a step back.
But I still have a lot of good will here. People know that I’m doing things here for the right reasons. I’m not compromising sound. I love the city. I love the people here. I love how friendly people are when you go out. People will always chat with you. They don’t follow through much, but…
I think for me to get the momentum back for Superfreq, I need to throw a string of small, personal, intimate events—like 200 people—which I’m probably going to do through the latter part of the year. That’s going to have to be the way forward.
Sounds like you have a plan.
It’s not a plan, yet. But I love it here.
Mr. C’s Illusions EP, with remixes by Jay Tripwire, Noel Jackson and David Scuba, is out now on Superfreq.
Mr.C Tour Dates
May 01: Chicago, Spy Bar
May 02: Denver, Seifhaus
May 08: Tampa, Hyde Park Cafe
May 09: New Orleans, Kompression
May 10: Washington, Groovetop
May 16: San Francisco,The End Up
May 23: Boston, Underground
May 24: Burlington, Sunday Night Mass