Transcendental experiences at raves were a dime a dozen, but I actually had one in some ruined industrial shell of a warehouse back in 1994 without the aid of small pills with numbers stamped on them. It came when Derrick Carter (Facebook, twitter) played “When Doves Cry” over Plastikman’s minimal “Spastik” and 2,000 teenagers simultaneously lost their minds.
Seventeen years later and Derrick Carter is one of House Music’s icons. Few DJs in our era have earned their reputation one room at a time, one person as a time, simply as DJs. And he still rides without a seatbelt, with the same playful daring that exposed a room wild-eyed kids to Prince and a harsh bit of techno from Richie Hawtin. And while he does have a weighty discography and the pedigree as co-founder of Classic Music Company (the most interesting House Music label that ever existed), Derrick to me is still primarily a DJ. Book him for an event and you’ll have no idea what he’ll do… but you know people (teenagers or not) will leave having lost their damn minds.
Classic famously started their catalog at #100 and worked down to #00 (I think Rob Mello and Stella’s “Critical”?), at which point you stopped releasing EPs and singles. Suddenly: two new releases. What made you and your original partner Luke Solomon want to bring the label back today?
It was mostly Luke. He’s the catalyst and backbone behind “The New Classic”. I was all good to let it lie and carry on with the other shit I have to do but he convinced me to give it another shot. So, here we go!
There was very little publicity when you struck a deal with Defected a year ago. Do they own the back catalog or the distribution or… ? What motivated you to strike a deal when the label had been dormant for the previous few years?
We’d been sitting on all of this really great music and having it exist only on a hard drive somewhere was silly. Especially as “House Music” seemed to be making a return to the front. We hooked up with Defected since they had a really good distribution network in place and the resources to make things happen. They picked up the rights to everything we still had the rights to. Luke and I are still part owners/A&R guys. So we have a stake in the company and its well being.
I have one request: please make awesome videos like that Greenskeepers’ “Should I Sing Like This?” Rees Urban has a VHS copy (I think it was filmed in the flat he was staying at) and showed it to me a couple of years ago. Also, are you going to bring out vinyl as well?
We’ll be doing SOME vinyl. Not everything we release will make it to wax. It’s just not really a tenable position in this market. And if something we think could benefit from a video appears, then we just might do one.
I must confess though… The Greenskeepers shot that video on their own. It was their concept, their money, and their gung-ho which made it happen. I was just a dude in a brown shirt.
Classic had an extremely eclectic approach to A&R and for that reason remains a lot of people’s favorite label. Every release was a surprise, such as following up Iz & Diz with Greenskeepers or Jacob London. With the label reborn, are you looking at releasing mostly Luke’s and your own music or reaching back to more eclectic acts?
We’ve signed some things which are quite interesting. Luke’s also got a new project that he’s working on. And I’m going to start off my kick with a re-release of “Squaredancing” including new mixes and outtakes as well as possibly digging up some of the old Sound Patrol stuff.
Hopefully I can clear out the remix backlog I have at the moment so I can get back to working on new original stuff. It’s good ’cause we’ve still got what I’d like to think are decent ears and a crazy bench to cull from, so watch out.
I notice on the tour that you’ve brought a couple of the Classic artists in tow with you, including Rob Mello. All of the dates are in Europe so far – can you tell me about the tour and if there’s any possibility that Americans will be able to see this?
We just wanted to reintroduce the label to new kids. The thing is, we’ve always thrown parties in association with the label. From our residency at The End in London to venues in Italy and Belgium to SmartBar to parties during the various music conferences around the globe, we get in where we can fit in.
There might be a few shows in the US though nothing has been booked at the moment. We still have our separate lives and careers which for the most part take precedence. Luke has always done his thing. As have I. As we should, in order to make the synergy of our coming together that much more potent.
New blood is needed and welcomed for sure. Just don’t front like you’re all that to me. I’ve seen all that, and you ain’t it. Just because you have a residency somewhere doesn’t put you in the running for legendary status.
One of my favorite Derrick Carter moments was the first time I heard you blend “When Does Cry” with “Spastik”. It was a defining point for me as far as DJ creativity. Is that kind of DJ creativity a lost art today?
I’ve always tried to flip odd things and mix them together in a way that was both interesting and innovative – using the pitch shift on Pioneer mixers to play stuff at 45 and key it down so it would fit properly… Stuff like that.
Without trying to sound dickish or too hip, it was fun and exciting and of our generation. Back then, people seemed to play a lot of different music as well – mostly because it’s what you had to do. Playing Friday at a commercial club, Saturday at a loft party, and a weekday gig at a bar or a lounge somewhere…
I DO think that a lot of people that are calling themselves DJs now don’t have a clue about programming. They just plug in their laptops and start “DJ’ing”. Seemingly they’ve either had a good record or two so they spin and ride the buzz. Or they’re trying to do what is now a cool thing. Or they’ve started on this path and don’t have any history behind them.
Now, I’m definitely not trying to shit on anyone’s parade. And I feel that there’s room for everyone. But it shows when people play, what kind of ear and musical indoctrination they have or have had.
Sometimes I bug out because I’ve been buying and even playing records for longer than quite a few cats I play with now have been alive! Again, not a bad thing. New blood is needed and welcomed for sure. Just don’t front like you’re all that to me. I’ve seen all that, and you ain’t it. Just because you have a residency somewhere doesn’t put you in the running for legendary status.
There aren’t many “event” compilations anymore but Fabric certainly is one of ’em. I wrote in a review of your Fabric mix that I think you’d have a very receptive audience if you started a mix series – has there ever been a time, past or present, when you wanted to do that?
Not really. I don’t have the attention span to really focus on a series. I’ll start something and do it for a while but then get bored and want to do something else. When I did the Fabric comp, it was a great opportunity to showcase my thing and do it on a platform which works. I’m way too wild to do that consistently. I’d have already spun off five different sub-series and want to commission a gallery show and corresponding clothes line!
I only have a couple of days per week to work on stuff anyway. I have animals, friends, a career, and the need to pursue other interests. Doing a series is way beyond my time allotment…
For your birthday set at SmartBar, you’ll be playing a 5 hour+ set. When was the last time you played that sort of slot? and what do you want more than anything else for your birthday?
I played a set at SmartBar not long ago which was 11-5 and I’ve done a “Derrick Does Disco” party in London which was a six hour set. I like doing that open ’til close thing on occasion, just like when I was a resident at Shelter.
Playing all night can be fun if you know you’re going to get a decent, open, educated crowd. Truth is, I’ll probably be doing something more like four hours as I’ve invited Ms. Honey Dijon to play as well, and she be greedy!
What do I want for my birthday more than anything else? I don’t know. It looks like I’ll have my friends and a good party happening so that’s pretty cool. I’ll take a day off that’s warm and sunny. I could always use more of those…