Alex Hammond had the chance to interview one of House Music’s most iconic figures ahead of his appearance alongside Graeme Park, DJ SS and the Stanton Warriors at Heritage in June…
How did you develop an interest in music, and what were your own early influences?
I used to play baseball, I got injured and had to take a break for around 2 years to recover. During the recovery period, I started listening to the radio mix shows by Shep Pettibone and Tony Humphries, because it was different from the regular rotation and unique at the same time. I took inspiration from how they seamlessly transitioned from one record to another – without sounding like a train wreck or a horse race! So I decided that I wanted to learn how to mix like that too.
How did you get into DJing and music production and which came first?
I got into DJing with 3 other guys in my neighbourhood who used to play at a local park and the local summer block parties during early 1980’s. It just looked very interesting and different from anything that I had seen before. Shortly after getting into DJing, I then started wondering what it would be like to see my name printed in a record. So that inspired me to figure out how to make that happen – without any production training experience.
Your first production session in 1989, was Dee Holloways “Our love (its over)” with David Cole of C&C Music Factory which was a huge New York club hit- how did this track come to being?
I was trying to tell my first girlfriend ever that our relationship was over!. David and I had a talk about it and next thing we were writing the words and I was came up with the music. It was magical because I had no idea that I was able to make that happen.
You produced 2 In A Rooms “Wiggle it” in 1990 which became a big club and commercial smash. Can you tell us how that came about, and what it did for your career?
That’s a unique story! I started writing and producing instrumental tracks and decided to have one play in my answering machine as background music to inform people to leave a message after the tone. At that time it was called “As It Grooves”. Aldo (Marin) from Cutting Records called me and during his message he asked “what is that track?”. So I sent him a version, the next thing he asked if he can release it in the 2 in a Room new album! He later asked if I would like to have Dose (rapper from 2 in a room) write something for it for his next release, so I said “Sure why not?”. Next thing, we are all in the studio. During the recording session, I felt the hook was not there but at the same time I was nervous because I did not think that I knew what I was doing! Since I never took a lesson or played an instrument, I felt intimidated. I thought “if I open my mouth, they will laugh at me and figure I that I’m not a real producer”. So, I kindly asked if I could be alone in the control room so that I could figure out how to make things fit. Whilst alone, I was kicking myself for getting into the situation and trying to figure how not to appear a fool. Somehow, I started thinking of my salt water fish tank to relax – and then the imagination of seeing the fish swimming made me think of the line “Wiggle it just a little bit!”. I changed the music so that it fitted better, then called everyone back in. We went with it – re-touched things recorded it, mixed it and next thing I know it was playing on the radio! I still can’t believe how big it became, from me almost shitting my pants, to having a great flow with the guys and Cutting records in that recording session.
Can you tell me about your time at the great Strictly Rhythm records –you were working both as in-house Executive Producer and as Vice President of A&R from 1991-1998?
I was already an independent producer and a DJ by that time. Through being a DJ, picking new music came naturally, so I joined help Strictly with their releases. In short, I enjoyed both selecting unreleased music and helping other producers finish up their productions prior to release. I simply tried different formulas but with a view to helping others – that’s the drive that made me do what I still do today.
The “Morels Groove” series was your famous 10-E.P set on Strictly Rhythm, starting in 1992 and ending in 1996 – and featured the classic tracks, including(amongst others) the Margaret Thatcher voice sampling “Get on down and party”, “Down to the waistline (honey” and “Lets Groove”. What was the inspiration and musical direction for the series?
They were all about having fun during the recordings! It was all about going with the flow and enjoying the vibe and seeing what came out.
“Lets Groove” is arguably the greatest club house instrumental of all time. Having seen an interview with you about the track, the hook came to you as you were going out the door to a meeting, and you had to go back in the house to note it. How did you feel about the ultimate success and popularity of the track?
Extremely surprising! I still cannot believe it. In fact, I actually cannot believe that its still played today, like a timeless record.
During your Strictly time, your production career also heralded somed of the most enduring and universally-loved house music of all time –including South Street Players “Who keeps changing your mind”, Aly-Us” Follow me”, Sir James “Special”, Simones “My Family depends on me” and your collaboration with Eric Morillo as M&M “So deep, so good”. Do you have any favourite personal tracks from your time at the label?
There are lots but, I would have to say South Street Players “Who keeps changing your mind”.
You also run the “Groove On” label, what is the labels definition and sound?
Groove On was always my own platform. Since there was too much politics taking place at Strictly, I decided to just keep doing my own label to experiment different styles, without the need for justification on my reasons for trying different sounds.
You have received numerous awards for your work over the years, and have He even served as a panelist-judge for the Grammy remix category for five years in a row (2004-2008). Any favourite awards/experiences?
Every award was a great and positive experience. Please understand that I never expected any of this – I simply followed my heart and ears.
You have also had many releases on other labels including Poker Flat and Get Physical. What direction do your productions take now?
I’m into melodic techno and underground electronic music.
You are have an equally accomplished DJ career having held headline residencies in nightclubs such as Privilege (Ibiza), Cocoon Club (Germany), The Mad (Switzerland) and many more. You have also appeared as a guest DJ in some of the worlds bes clubs such as Pacha (Ibiza), Amnesia (Ibiza), El Divino (Ibiza), Space (Ibiza), Tribehouse (Germany), Ministry Of Sound (U.K.) Peter Pan (Italy), Queen (Paris), Yellow (Japan), Club Seven (Bahrain) and the legendary Tresor (Berlin) to name a few. Have you any particular favourite DJ residencies and guest slots?
Every place is a special guest spot for one reason or another. Sometimes the smaller rooms have amazing vibes – but of course the big floors have a magical feel.
You were the first DJ to spin in-flight on the Camel-Air Rave – what was that experience like?
It was unreal, It actually hit me more after then during. It was like a virtual reality dream in real life!
Your impeccable ear for production and quality in house music is incredible – can you explain what you believe makes a great house record?
By transpiring soul into it and creating a feeling. it does not matter what kind of electronic music it is , as long as it is coming from the heart, and the feeling and soul can be heard – this is what makes a great record.
Have you a vision for the future of house music?
House music has taken a lot of different genre directions so its hard to determine a vision. I just know that I have gotten more into the melodic techno side of it.
George Morel joins Graeme Park, DJ SS and Stanton Warriors at Heritage on 9th June.
Image credits: Music4lovers.com
Interview: Alex Hammond