Deadboy interview: “Raves in mind.”

24.05.11 Words by: Charlie Jones

It’s a warm, grey, April evening. I’m leaning against a wall at the edge of a deserted children’s playground in East London while Deadboy – South London producer Allen Wooton – perches on a seesaw for our photographer. He then has a go on the swings, stands against a few colourful walls, chats about his t-shirt. It’s far removed the usual image of Deadboy conjured up by DJ/photographer Braiden, where an indistinct figure stands in near dark, dramatically exhaling smoke.

The weekend before all this had been one of those unusually hot spells, and I’d spent a lot of time walking from place to place in the sun with Deadboy’s ‘Here’ EP – out now on Numbers – rushing away on the iPod (listen to clips below). It’s not an obvious fit maybe. Older releases like U Cheated and Heartbreaker from his ‘U Cheated’ EP on Well Rounded Records are sparse bodies, giving off a distinctly nocturnal shimmer. Just like the lightheartedness of these playground photos, on ‘Here’ it feels like things have opened up. The first track Wish U Were Here particularly makes this case. It’s late-night high (on life? Music? Drugs? All the above? Whatever, really), reeling onwards and outwards like a raved-up Catherine wheel. It’s definitely ecstatic – it’s less clear whether it’s happy. The ambiguity serves it well. That slippage of feeling gives it a versatility when it comes to appropriate context. His DJing moniker, DJ T€ARJ€RKER, seems more poignant than ever: tears being something that come with the opposite extreme emotions of being greatly happy or greatly sad.

Deadboy – HERE (Preview clips of NMBRS15) by Numbers

It’s the R&B vocals he brings in that are maybe key here. Many will know him for his remixes of well-known R&B tunes: his re-tread of Drake’s Fireworks into yearning, slow house territory; a crackling, skeletal take on Cassie’s Long Way 2 Go, the vocal manipulated to the point of androgyny. The R&B vocal sample is something music has been inundated with for quite a while now but still, no one wields one quite as deftly as Deadboy. On his own tunes, a single, simple phrase – the rawest snippet – is repeated so all that emotion layers up and up. R&B voices wrenched from their original context, though not re-contextualized as ghosts but as pieces of free-falling, breathing feeling. “If you want me..”, “baby baby baby…”, “I wish you were here.” Tracks that leap, stumble and build with so much life that it’s almost too much.

With the photographs finished, I pass back Allen’s rather heavy rucksack – he’s playing records on radio later that night – and we return to the rush-hour hum of Kingsland Road to talk.

So now that you’ve released a few records, what is it that will prompt you to start making a track?

Deadboy: It could be a lot of different things. I mean sometimes I’ll hear a bit of a tune and I’ll think, that’s really good. And then I’ll think I could do that, but with this. That sort of thing. A lot of my music is I think an amalgamation of music by other people. I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. And a lot of times it will be stuff that’s not relevant to the song, or the music I’m making. Like I might hear something in an old disco record, and then do that sort of thing but with a jungle tune. Just trying to take lots of different elements and make one, kind of, big thing.

I wanted to ask about your choices of vocal samples. You seem to use these simple, really emotionally to the point phrases. Like on the new record: “I wish you were here”. How do you pick those out?

Deadboy: I spend a lot of time looking for a cappellas, downloading a cappellas, and then I go through them all and try and find little bits that are to the point. And will work on their own out of the context of the original tune. Loads of my tunes you can see where the a cappella has come from. They’re really obvious tunes. But a lot of people don’t recognize where they’ve come from. Because, like, you’ve worked something so out of context.

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That happy-sad line that exists in a lot of R&B, a lot of pop music. I guess that’s something you find interesting?

Deadboy: I got really into bassline when bassline started venturing down south. And I was really into the kind of… it’s the most kind of hyped sort of fun music, but it’s all got this sad depth to it that a lot of that kind of music doesn’t really have. I loved it. And I started doing that sort of thing. There’s a tune by Iron Soul called You Liar, which was a bassline tune that I was really into.

“It’s the most kind of hyped sort of fun music but it’s all got this sad depth to it that a lot of that kind of music doesn’t really have.” Deadboy

Yeah, because with a lot of that music, you feel like they’ve taken the vocal and manipulated it so that there’s more emotion in it. As though by taking it out of context you add more emotion as opposed to taking it away?

Deadboy: Yeah totally. They just always took the most concise part, or even just the part that didn’t really make any sense, and just like added a whole new meaning to it. So I try to do that. But mostly, it’s because I don’t have anyone to sing on my records. I mean I do like a lot instrumental music, I buy loads of it all the time. But I do think that a vocal on a track, especially my tracks, where there’s not a lot else going on, so if you’ve got a vocal on there, instantly it’s something recognisable. Something that people can lock on to. Or something I can lock on to anyway. Whenever I’m listening to music, a good vocal always interests me.

Would you ever want to collaborate with anyone? In fact, didn’t you as Hyper Black Bass?

Deadboy: Oh yeah, Hyper Black Bass, yeah. That was my friend who makes like Dancehall and Soca and stuff on a pair of gameboys. And I just put like a cappellas on top, and air horns and sirens and stuff. It’s kind of just like a joke party band that got going, and then we started getting some bookings. And Rough Trade asked us to do a record! Yeah, which we may do, we might not. But yeah [laughs], it’s one of those things that started as a joke. And people take it seriously.

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People’s attention spans seem to be so short nowadays. You’ve been putting out records over quite a large period of time that people have always really taken to. How do you think you maintain people’s interest?

Deadboy: Hmm. I don’t know. I mean, I always try and not do the same record again. Even if it means people are going to be like oh I used to like his old stuff, but not anymore. I’d rather have that than keep making the same record. I think if you’re making music then the best thing you can do is cover as much ground as possible. You’ve got to. I mean it’s not about doing stuff just for the sake of it but, I want to cover everything that I like. I want to make a record that does that.

“I think if you’re making music then the best thing you can do is cover as much ground as possible.” Deadboy

Your new EP ‘Here’. The first track Wish U Were Here sounds massive. What kind of things were you listening to around making it?

Deadboy: I was listening to a lot of disco when I made that. A lot of disco, boogie, stuff like that. And yeah, I was just like I’m gonna have a go at making some disco. I was never even going to send it to anyone, but I ended up just sending it in an email to Jack (Jackmaster, Numbers) along with a bunch of other tunes for consideration for the EP. And I just sent him that one as an after thought thinking oh he probably won’t like it, it’s just this disco thing. And then he replied saying yeah that’s the one. He wasn’t really interested in any of the tracks I meant to send. He just wanted this nine minute disco tune! Yeah, so I was surprised after that that people actually liked it. I didn’t think it was what people would want to hear.

It has quite a strong ‘ravey’ feel to it. Is that influenced by you playing out to those kind of crowds?

Deadboy: Yeah I think so. I think whenever I make tunes I’ve always got raves in mind, even if I’m not going to them. Well, I’m going to them like every week, but you know, not as a punter. But yeah, my early experiences of raves I think are always going to be what I base my tunes on. I think it’s the time that a lot of things change for people, that time when you first start going to raves and first start taking ecstasy, and then… that, without overstating the role of drugs…

“I think all my records are ecstasy records.” Deadboy

Well, it is something that’s part of it…

Deadboy: Yeah, definitely. I think all my records are ecstasy records.

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So what are you up to at the moment? Anything else planned?

Deadboy: Yeah. I’ve kind of started work on an album. Basically I don’t want it to be just like a collection of tunes. I’m really wary about dance albums. Because, I couldn’t really name a good one. There are good ones, but they’re rarities. So I’ve just been working on it. Pretty much haven’t left the house for two weeks. I’ve kind of been waking up, doing it. And I’ve put all these records around the walls of albums that I want to somehow inspire the album. So I put up the Sade record, the Goldie record.

Big spectrum!

Deadboy: Haha! Yeah.

How is it shaping up?

Deadboy: Basically, it might have one or two, but I don’t think it’s going to have club bangers. I want it to be a bit more like a mixtape. None of the tracks longer than like two or three minutes, and like loads of little sketches and ideas rather than a bunch of full blown tracks one after the other. Just go all over the place a bit. Everything.

Sounds a bit like what I think of some grime mixtapes.

Deadboy: Yeah definitely. More of like a hip hop mixtape.

Cool. Would that be on Numbers as well?

Deadboy: Unless they hate it! (laughs) We’ll see.

So are you nearly done with it?

Deadboy: No. I don’t really know, because I’m trying to make a few new bits for it now. Don’t know. The idea is to do loads and loads of stuff I’ve done over the years as kind of like little snippets in there… So, I think it’s going to be a long time. It’s going to be a long time coming. But I’m just going to work, focus on it at the moment.

You said you wouldn’t really have bangers there…

Deadboy: I just think that no one listens to albums in clubs. If you’re listening to an album you’re either at home, or driving around or something. So I want to make something that’s more like… something you’d want to listen to in that situation. Lots of detail. My favourite albums are the ones that every time you listen to them, you hear something different. That way you don’t get bored of it. So I want it to be like that.

You were saying with the last record that disco was something new for you. Has anything else new recently come into play?

Deadboy: Yeah, a lot of ‘90s hardcore, jungle.

Upping the BPM?

Deadboy: Hmm, I’m trying not to actually. Trying to keep the BPM down, but incorporate that kind of sound, of those like old rave tunes? Old rave sounds. Old rave breaks.

It always has that really spontaneous feel to it, that stuff.

Deadboy: Yeah, that really raw sound.

Numbers released Deadboy’s ‘Here’ EP on 23rd May 2011

Buy Deadboy ‘Here’ EP

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