Dr Packer is the alias of Greg Packer, a former drum & bass producer who switched to his first love, soul and disco, in 2014. With a series of successful nu disco releases and re-edits on labels like Joey Negro‘s Z Records, Salsoul, Soul Love, Masterworks Music, Hot Box Boogie and File Under Disco, in four short years his Dr Packer alias has quietly risen to the fore of the nu disco/edits scene.
Greg’s approach to re-editing is to maintain the original spirit of the song whilst updating them by adding additional production in the shape of drums, percussion and synth parts, with plenty of filter sweeps and extra effects. Greg is currently riding high with his Different Strokes album of re-edits and re-works on Glitterbox Recordings and has just reached the end of his third European Tour. 5 Mag interrupted Greg’s post-tour family holiday in Spain to quiz him on his particular approach to the art of the re-edit.
“I set up my studio around 1999,” Greg tells me. “I’d been DJing for ten years and I figured it was time to take the next step and have a go at making my own music. At the time I was a drum & bass DJ playing under my real name so began producing drum & bass.
“Around 2013 I took a year off from music and DJing and by the end of the year I was ready to try and carry on with my DJ career. I was getting no bookings at all for drum & bass anymore so it was either try something new or retire. I always had a passion for soul and disco music so the re-edit scene was what I figured was my best shot at a fresh start with a new name.”
Greg’s first effort was Keni Burke’s classic “Rising To The Top” – “my all time favorite soul tune” and a pretty tough job to attempt, but one he carried out with aplomb. Greg’s approach to re-editing classics has always been dancefloor centered, with one simple aim:
“To be able to get people to dance to a song when they may not dance to the original as much. I’m all about making stuff dance floor friendly and introducing it to a new audience, often a younger audience…it needs to pump hard on a big sound system and be mixable and DJ friendly.”
Greg pays close attention to detail in the studio, often returning to his re-edits after their first road test to improve either the production or arrangement: “It’s rare that I nail it first time.” This commitment yields quality results and Greg now has unreleased edits in his DJ arsenal that he continually gets requests for. However, this level of quality control doesn’t come easy and the process can sometimes be lengthy.
“My Whispers’ ‘It’s a Love Thing’ or Grandmaster Melle Mel’s ‘White Lines’ are two of my most requested edits (still unreleased) and always a favorite in my sets. The production is spot on also which I don’t say often about my own work, haha. I’m quite a perfectionist!”
“[Editing is] never fun: hours and hours of warping is never fun, haha! But the outcome is always usually worth it. I did quite enjoy working on my INXS ‘Need You Now’ as I turned a pop song into a quirky acid roller and stripped it right back. It always goes down well and makes people smile – plus it required very little warping!”
Speaking of warping, while most producers are on either Ableton or Logic, Greg has stuck with Pro Tools, “simply because that’s what I learnt on back in 1999 and I can work very fast in it. I usually just use the plug-ins that come with the software and Kontact for sampling. My set up is really very basic. I rely heavily on my ear more than the new up-to-date fancy plugins and I like to try and keep it respectful to the original but still add my touch – I don’t like stuff that is overproduced.”
There’s an on-going discussion in the dance music community about the line between re-edits and remixes. Some producers and music fans think a re-edit has to be only made from the original track with no extra production or processing, while others are happy to quantize entire songs, add extra drums and production touches, moving more into remix territory. As a successful producer who has made a career from working with others’ music, Greg is at the heart of this discussion as his productions often substantially add to the original source material. So does he make re-edits or remixes? It turns out neither:
“If you are quantizing/warping, adding drums, replaying bass and adjusting the arrangement, that is remix territory or as I like to call it, a ‘Rework’. An edit is when people just chop up the original (cut and paste) and make it more DJ-friendly and usable in their sets.”
There’s certainly no shortage of DJ-friendly versions of older disco tunes available. Is the edit scene getting overcrowded? And are there any more tunes left to edit?
“I still think the market is healthy but it’s a bit over-flooded with average edits of popular tunes which will probably help them build followers, etc. But the quality just isn’t there sometimes. Thank God most promoters and label owners recognize good quality production and DJs.
“For sure there is a world of music out there and loads could be done still. It’s a shame that the same tunes constantly get re-done over and over such as ‘Chic / Sister Sledge’ for example or Michael Jackson. If I hear another version of ‘Rock With You’…!”
These tunes were classics at one point, so why shouldn’t they be again?
Digital technology is at least partly to blame for the explosion in re-edits in recent years. Do you think that the ease with which digital can facilitate re-editing has been good for the scene? Are there pros and cons?
“Well, I think everyone can have a go at it these days. You don’t need to set up an expensive hardware studio like the old days and you can start your own label and get your music on platforms such as Traxsource or Beatport. But having said that you still need to know what you are doing in order for your stuff to stand out and grab people’s attention, as mentioned before there are a lot of below average edits in circulation.”
Flooded market or not, the popularity of disco doesn’t look like waning any time soon, and for all its critics and deriders, disco has had exceptional longevity, with records from 40 years ago still able to utterly slay a dance floor. What is it about the production/song writing from that time that has lasted so well?
“I think that live element brings a lot to the tunes and certainly keeps things more interesting – the energy it creates, the big sound of the strings, brass and big diva-type vocals and even more so with some up to date drums behind it… Those tunes were classics at one point so why shouldn’t they be again? – but in a new way so new audiences can catch it the second time around.”
And when you’re done editing, and you’ve mixed and mastered to perfection your new take on an old classic, what does it feel like when you play it out for the first time and it slays a room?
“Amazing – no better feeling.”
“Different Strokes” is currently available on Glitterbox Recordings.