Detroit producer Rick Wade has been a fixture of the Deep House scene since the early 1990s. Long considered an underground hero – one of those guys we call a “producer’s producer” or a “DJ’s DJ” – Rick’s international stature has grown explosively in the last five years, leading to a reappraisal of his extraordinary body of work & renewed appreciation for the Harmonie Park catalog.
5 Magazine took the opportunity to talk to Rick prior to the release of his next album, Neverending Reflections, which is based on a graphic novel with a main character based on… Rick Wade.
So, Rick… how exactly did you wind up a character in an anime graphic novel?!
That’s a long story, so I guess the best place to start is in the beginning. I’m a big-time anime fan – of any kind but especially Japanese anime.
There’s a guy named Abdul Haqq who’s a talented painter here in Detroit. He used to be a part of Underground Resistance doing their labels and covers, and has also worked with Transmat, Planet E… He sort of became the go-to guy for Detroit techno labels that needed artwork. He’s always travelling to Japan where there’s been a really great reception for his work. He was sort of taken in by a crew called the StoryRiders, which consists of a screenwriter named Dai Sato and Shinichiro Watanabe, who’s directed Cowboy Bebop and a number of other great anime.
They released a book showcasing Haqq’s artwork entitled Requiem for a Machine Soul in a limited edition and wanted to add a little something to it, like a mix CD of tracks from Detroit artists. They asked Haqq if he knew a DJ in Detroit who might be interested. He contacted me, since he knows I’m an actual anime fan. Haqq got back with these guys, who were unsure – “Rick Wade? He won’t do it, or he’ll want a lot of money.” In truth, I would have done it for free just for the opportunity. I did get paid for it but I just looked at that as a bonus.
One of the images was actually a painting of me, or like a futuristic painting of me. In the clubs I’m usually wearing sunglasses. Haqq drew them as almost cybernetic sunglasses – a real Ghost In The Shell sort of look. Based on that painting, Watanabe San wrote a short story with that character as the central piece tying all the artwork of Haqq’s book together.
That might have been the end of it. But I started going to Japan with Haqq, and in the club I’d DJ and he’d do live painting. The StoryRiders came to the club and saw us perform and in the end have become really good friends.
It’s strange, but I was the biggest fan and now we hang out & chill together. I’m in the home of the guy who directed Cowboy Bebop, and they’re showing me these unreleased projects and everything. Even stranger is that they’re big fans of mine. Inside the house there’s like a “Rick Wade Collection” – pretty much every record I’ve released going back to the ’90s.
Anyway, based on that story, I wrote a couple of tracks and then I was inspired to put together an entire album. I sent the mp3s over to them as kind of an advanced preview. They came up with another story based on those tracks with me as the central character. Haqq read the story and that story in turn inspired him to write more and turn it into a graphic novel. That’s how it all came about.
Is the character named “Rick Wade”?
I think so – the character looks just like me. In the liner notes of the panels he is referred to as “Rick.”
When does the graphic novel come out?
The album will be out at the end of December. With the novel, Haqq is flying to Japan on December 14th and gets back the 1st week of January, so I think it’ll be available around early Spring.
I know that the album is meant to be a companion to the graphic novel, but I haven’t read the latter at all and I think the album is fantastic. There are highs and lows on here that aren’t on many Deep House records and some things that were a completely different sound for you.
Thanks, I think this is some of my best work. Production wise, with the sequencing of the music and the elements… The Deep House tracks I think are more fuller, and not as tracky as maybe my earlier work was. I was inspired by the story and the artwork and that helped me a lot in the creative process. I think, for sure, that this is my best album, with a lot of different styles. It’s really well-rounded.
“Dimensional Fugitive” is one of those departures. You’re known for putting strings in your work but this sounded so incredibly fresh and new. It’s like slow disco, which is becoming a popular genre, but kind of dirtier. Is that based on a sample? I’ve never heard anything quite like it before.
It is based on a very old sample. I’m a big fan of Mad Lib, Dilla, and those kinds of hip-hop styles – MF Doom is maybe my favorite hip-hop artist. I always like to work with that sound on the side and do a lot of crate-diggin’ with that sound in mind. I’m not on their level but it is something that has a resonance with me.
The sample itself is from a record called “Hoy Me Siento Asi” by Sonia Silvestre. It came out around 1980. It’s the intro to a track with a woman singing in Spanish.
You still live in Detroit, do you play any local gigs there at all?
I play in Europe and Japan far more than I ever play in Detroit now. I actually play in Chicago more than I play in Detroit. I’d say I probably play about three times a year here.
Is it strange to jet out on tour and then return home and become so anonymous?
Living here definitely keeps you humble. I guess if I were in LA, it would be easier to get caught up in that “star life” style. Here, I have to take care of the kids, pay the cable, pay the electric bill… But I’m not the kind of person to get caught up in all of that anyway. We’ll be waiting in line to get in somewhere and my friends will be like, “Tell ’em you’re Rick Wade!” [laughs] But I never get caught up in that.
The city is still creating talent, but it must surprise people abroad that the local scene is so comparatively sparse. Do you think Detroit will ever get on that bumpin’ level again?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. It’s never for a lack of people trying. There are different crews who are always trying to put things together on a consistent basis, which is really where we’re hurting. Rick Wilhite is still going on Wednesday nights at TV Bar. Getting the people to come in big numbers is the problem. You have the die-hard heads and they’ll come out, and you’ll have the DJs and producers who will come out, but it never expands beyond that. A lot of one-off gigs will have a very good turnout, but the weeklies are difficult.
The thing is that the overall club scene in Detroit is really, really good. There are places featuring more commercial dance music, trance, dubstep – they’re packed. It’s the House scene specifically that needs a boost.
What you have to understand about Detroit too is that it’s always been a city that’s been influenced and directed by FM radio. People still follow that. When radio changed and ClearChannel came in and began buying up stations and changing their format, it’s like everything stopped instantly. The House clubs and underground music spots wound down and ended up closing their doors. Until radio itself starts playing House and underground music, I don’t know if anything will change.
The ’90s Deep House revival: has it been positive for your career?
Definitely. When Rush Hour approached me and said, you know, there’s this revival of the ’90s Deep House style going on, and your catalog is so extensive and a lot of people have never heard those tracks… a whole new audience was hungry for it. A lot of them really had never heard the old Harmonie Park stuff. Almost instantly, I began getting a lot of gigs after Harmonie Park Revisited came out.
It also had a huge effect in the remix offers. Until last year, I never got remix offers. People would be like, “Hey, that’s a great track, Rick,” but I was never offered much for remixing. I shouldn’t say that – I did get offers but they didn’t pay anything, or they’d offer to split profits and the label would decide at the last minute to only release it digitally and so on.
Suddenly, overnight, I started getting remix offers that paid in advance and that’s really been keeping me afloat during periods when it’s harder to get gigs or when flight shares don’t materialize because the airline prices are so high right now. Almost every week there’s a new offer.
I have to ask about your thoughts on DEMF, since you’re both a “Detroit DJ” and still a resident of the area. It’s definitely changed in the years since Derrick [May] was fully in charge.
My personal opinion on the Detroit music festival is this. For Detroit, it’s a good thing. It puts a focus and full attention on the city. It brings in a lot of business and revenue for the area. It’s Detroit’s time to shine.
As far as the entertainment there, I feel like there should be more focus on Detroit artists. I’d like to see more Detroit artists on the main stage rather than at the “underground stage” or in a tent off to the side. It is the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, and the majority of the people who come from overseas for this are coming because of the sounds of Detroit. But the guys who run the festival are businessmen. It’s understandable that they bring in the big name trance or minimal guys. It isn’t just about me, though. They’ve brought in Huck, me, Theo [Parrish] – we’ve all played it before, but I’ll play it, then two years later Theo will play it, then Huck… it’s sort of all over the place rather than all of us at once.
Is there going to be a digital release of the album?
There might be, but it’ll be after the CD and the vinyl are released. We’ll have a limited edition CD and a thousand copies of vinyl to follow thereafter.
I’ve never made much money off digital releases – the bulk of the money comes from vinyl. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve always put out vinyl and never felt the effect when vinyl began to decline. I’ve always had consistent numbers. Really, vinyl just makes sense for Deep House.
I’ve experimented with digital and a little section on Beatport, but the return was almost not even worth the effort of uploading the tracks. The one thing, though, is that with digital, there’s definitely the potential to make far more money – obviously with vinyl, you’re limited by how much you print. In our genre of Deep House, this is new. With guys like DJ Godfather, if they do a remix of something from Rihanna or something like that, they’ll put it up on iTunes and immediately get thousands of copies sold. We’re not there. • • •