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Friday, January 9, 2015

Speaking With Fred P.: On Deep House, The Art of DJing, and Never Giving Up

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 10:19 AM

click to enlarge Fred P. headlines the Public Works Loft on Saturday, Jan. 10. - SEZE DEVRES PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Seze Devres Photography
  • Fred P. headlines the Public Works Loft on Saturday, Jan. 10.
In advance of Fred P.'s headlining DJ set for As You Like It at the Public Works Loft on Saturday, January 10 (see my Top 5 Parties column for more information), I caught up with him shortly after the New Year to chat about where he's coming from, what drives him, and just what, exactly, "deep house" is. The result is a long but revealing and honest conversation with a passionate, dedicated artist who clearly loves what he does. 

CZ: How was your weekend?

FP: A little bit tiring, but starting to get into the swing of it.

How was New Year's?

It was awesome. I was in Helsinki, and that was great. I was closing a 22-hour party. You can imagine what that was like. It was in a warehouse. It was very nice.

Do you live in Berlin now?

Yeah, I live in Berlin. I moved here about seven months ago.

How's that going?

It's pretty cool. Berlin's a different place. If you have a flat and stuff like that, and kinda know what you are doing every day… it's good, but a very different place.

So you've got this gig coming up in about a week. Can you tell me what Anomaly is?

Anomaly is, basically, a side project that I'm developing – where it's based on a more of a … spacier, more energetic type of sound and vibration. I guess – for lack of a better term, I guess it would be considered more of a techno project. However, in my opinion, it's more energetic, and more focused in a mechanical kind of direction. Spacey and mechanical at the same time.

Something I find interesting is that your projects, when you do something as Fred P., vs. Black Jazz Consortium, there's a real distinct feeling. You kind of have a separate feeling and separate sound for when you do things as different projects. Is that something you're intentionally focusing on?

I don't know about intentionally, but it kinda does just happen that way. Black Jazz Consortium is my most long-running project, and as that, I basically do my own thing, whatever feels like coming out, that's what it is. As Fred P., I'm usually remixing under that, and it's based on whatever material I'm working on. So it'll have that feeling, but it'll sound a bit different. When I'm doing stuff as Anomaly, I'm trying to distance myself from both of those things. So, in a way, I don't set out with the intention, but by definition, it does come out that way.

When did your career start? How did you get started?

In the very beginning?

Yeah, let's go way back.

I got my first credit on an actual record like, a really long time ago. In fact, I have to look up how long … one second. [pauses] It was for a violinist. Never Lose Your Heart. I guess that's when my professional career started. Let's see what year that was. '94 or something like that. Trying to find the date, but … long story short, it was '93, '94 when that happened.

And your first record as Black Jazz Consortium didn't come out till 2006, right?

Yeah, before that I was doing digital [releases, as opposed to vinyl] as Black Jazz Consortium.

Okay, so what happened in that span of time—'94 to '06—were you producing stuff?

Well, yeah, I was actually producing a lot. In the time between … wow, goin' back, let's say '90-'94, I was doing hip-hop. That's where I was learning production, DIY style. I had a group – or I was part of a group – myself and my cousin, called the Face Heads. This was how I came to be part of the No Pointer project. One thing led to another, and we were almost signed to this major deal, but it didn't happen. It fell through. We were so distraught — not because the deal fell through, but why it fell through.

What happened?

Well, basically, that was around the time that gangsta rap was really starting to break big. They were like, "you could have the deal" – but we'd have to do that [make gangsta rap]. That isn't who we are, and we weren't able to do that, even though we tried. It totally went against what we were doing as artists. We kind of had, you know, somewhat of a sheltered view of what the industry was like. So we figured everything was like that, and we just kind of left it alone. What I did was – I sold everything in my studio, bought a car, and got a job as a security guard. And for the next two years, I basically just … sat behind a desk, and didn't do music at all. I was in a dark, depressive space. Then one day, a friend of mine that grew up in my neighborhood comes walking through the door of my job, and we reconnected. He knew that I was into house music, that's how we met and became friends – he was a DJ. And he asked me if I was still into music, so on so forth, and I said not so much, I'm working this job, blah blah, and long story short, he starts bringing me compilation tapes of music that he's found throughout his journeys. He had just recently come back from Europe and had a ton of music he wanted to share with me. And that's when I kinda reconnected to the music, again, and in a more diverse manner.

Do you remember what was on those tapes?

Well, I could tell you who the artists are, because it's basically the people I idolize today. Modaji, 4Hero, G-Force. Lots of West London cats, mostly John Beltran, Derrick May, Carl Craig … in fact, one of the most influential projects was Indio, which was Derrick May and John Beltran together, and what's funny is, a lot of people don't know that one. It's the only time they hooked up. Very influential project. I could go on, it's a long list…

So it's that old, kind of mid-90s UK sound that got you hooked.

It was a bit … what was going on in West London, what was going on in Detroit. I was already familiar with what was happening in New York. And at the time, the sound in New York had stalled, it wasn't that exciting. But what I was hearing was all these different elements of music I loved, but done in a different way, like the West London stuff was broken beat, nu-jazz, the Detroit stuff was deep, melodic techno, but in a romantic way. So that inspired me, made me want to make music again. I saw a different component that could fit right in the middle of both of those, and I wanted to make that. I started saving money, buying equipment, had to acquire everything all over again. It was very difficult, took about a year, but once I got enough gear to make stuff, I started the process of relearning gear again, getting back into it, and eventually, I started making some decent music. I would run it by this guy – his name was Jay Locke, used to work at Dance Tracks [renowned New York City record store, now closed] – very respected New York DJ. I would run all my tracks by him, to get his opinion, to see if it was starting to make sense or not. That process went on for a year. After awhile, it got better, and better. It got to the point where it's like, okay, I can start showing this stuff to people, and maybe someone will be interested. What happened was, to my surprise, nobody wanted to hear it, and they'd say things like, we don't know how to sell this, how to market this, what IS this? That kind of thing. I got through about a year of that and then said screw it, I'm going to make it for myself. I did that for awhile and, at the point, my girlfriend at the time got tired of hearing me complain about how bad [other] music is, and said, do something with it! That's when I started putting some of the tracks that I had been making online. I wanted to see if anyone thought it would make sense to them, going by the responses I got from industry people. Lo and behold I got the attention of the guy who ran, Joseph Mercado. He liked it and had a digital label, and wanted to put it out. So I said, why not? I'm giving it away for free anyway.

This must be mid 2000s, right?

Yeah, we're talking 2002 or so. Between 2002 and 2005 was the whole digital thing. When I got to 2005, I said, I'm not making any money on this, and I'm giving away my hard-earned work, so I'm gonna quit. [laughs] But before I quit, I'm gonna do one project that's like my love letter to dance music, so I can leave it alone and say, at least I gave it a shot. And that was my first album, Reactions of Life. So I take all my money, invest it in making this CD, I printed like 100 copies of it. And I give it to my friend, Jay Locke, who works at Dance Tracks, and he put it in the store. Some people bought it. It got me my first gig, playing in a club in Manhattan. Maybe four or five people came, the entire night. It was, ... it was an experience. After that, I said … that was the extent, you know, of what this is, and at least I really gave it a shot. I was cool with that. My goal was to get a job with the post office, settle into a life of mediocrity. But what happened, at that point, was I got an email from Jenifa Mayanja [a producer and DJ from New York City], she asked me to do a remix for her, one of her 12"s, Time Waits For No One. It came out on Underground Quality [a deep house label operated by DJ/producer Jus-Ed]. So when she asked, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I did the remix, and it got the attention of her husband, Jus-Ed. And that's when the dialogue between he and I began and I got to learn who he was, he got to learn who I am. Our relationship began there and he asked if I would like to do something on Underground Quality, and I was like, absolutely! From there we developed a relationship and the rest is history.

That's a long journey. And it was right at the very end when you were just about to throw in the towel, that it all started working out, huh?

Yeah, man. It's weird how the universe works, you know? But I'm happy it did, though.

Absolutely. You are from New York, right?

Yes. Born and raised, Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Something I've always felt about your music is that it has a very New York feeling. There's a very kind of – New York sound, when I hear your music, or Jus-Ed's, or DJ Qu's, or Levon Vincent's. There's something about it that has kind of a New York feel.

Well, it's definitely an East Coast thing. What I mean by that is, early New York dance music culture, is based on R&B, soul. You know? And most of the songs that were played on the radio were dance records, or remixed soul records, remixed R&B records. So there's a long tradition of that, and when house music broke, it kind of took that on, and took on elements of hip-hop as well. At that time, hip-hop was still very do-it-yourself kind of music. So it had the rawness, but it had the melody of what rhythm & blues would be. So it was that warm under the bottom, but then the hard, crackin' drums on top, which is characteristically an East Coast thing. You can kind of tell when you go from artist to artist, where those influences come from. So it's definitely, yeah, an East Coast thing, and it comes from going to the clubs – you kind of get programmed in a way. It's a tradition, almost, in New York, dance records, right off the top, the percussion's really tight and smackin'. Even if it's raw, it's still smackin', and that characteristic stands true today. I think that's one of the things that make house music so appealing, that hard four-on-the-floor that gets you moving, and then whatever's in between tells the story.

What do you think about New York these days?

New York is amazing. It's like a wonderland all over again. Up until when 9/11 happened, New York was really reaching this precipice, and then the towers came down and it all ended. It was in a void until recently. And now it seems like it's reaching that precipice again, but in a much different way. It's very diverse, because now New York looks completely different, people from all over the world living there, making their homes there. In nightlife, I would say, ten years ago, you'd have 3-4 places you could go to on the weekend. Now you have 15-20 places to go. It's never been that way in the history of the underground. Even more choices than you need. You have a lot of new and young artists, the scene is relatively young, and there's plenty of places for them to go work out and develop their material, try out their crafts. I'm very happy to see what's happening in New York right now.

Let's talk about your DJ sets. How do you approach a DJ set? Do you come up with a plan, just pick out some records that you've been enjoying lately, how does it work for you?

There's really no rhyme or reason. The people kind of tell me what to play, based on what's happening in the room. Music-wise, I'm a vinyl junkie, I like collecting music and buying music. I look for interesting things when I can. But what has kind of got my attention lately is about mood and vibe. And since most of my sets are during primetime, there's a lot that I don't get to play, so I have to focus on what's happening at the moment when I start and how to take it from there. So it's more like an energy thing. I can't really plan that. I just have to know that I've packed my bag correctly and that I'm relaxed enough to be sensitive to what's happening in the room.

What's your music production process?

It really depends on what I'm doing. If it's a remix, it starts with the parts, and I'll rip 'em up until it starts to make sense. If it's my own stuff, then there's no rhyme or reason to it. I'll sit down at the keyboard, start playing around until I find a hook where I'm like – that's it – and then go from there. For me, the creative process can start as simply as just pressing a note, and there's a bunch of ideas that comes from that. Then there's days where I can sit down and not a single thing comes, you know? Now I'm working on an album. Completely different process.

Is it an Anomaly album, or?

I'm not gonna say at the moment, because I don't know what it is. [laughs]  

In your own words, as someone who has seen the entire scene develop, what do you think deep house is?

Ooh. Okay. [pause] Well … deep house, it's a feeling. The thing about it is, if you look at it as a genre, the way it's presented in a store, for example, it's the more musical side of electronic music that is danceable. But if you look at it from the culture side of it, it's more about the feeling, the movement, the vibe. For me, basically, it's a bit of a way of life, because I do this every single day. I need to do it because this is what I live for. So it's more like a lifestyle and a way of being. I just happen to be able to express it through instruments and things like that.

What do you think it is about the deep house sound that has gripped you and become so popular?

It's always been there. I think people are getting more in tune with themselves and the sound has come of age at the same time. Now, we are in the 21st century, so people are a little bit more open to different things, and things that were already there that they didn't notice before, now they're starting to notice. Which is good, you know, it means we're progressing as beings. It's a positive thing because it helps you get more in tune with your feelings, and when you're on the dancefloor, expressing yourself with your body, this is ultimately good for you as a being. I'm glad that it's become popular. There isn't really a downside to it if people continue to embrace it with open feelings.

Have you noticed that, over the years, people have been responding to your work more and more?

Yes. Yeah. I have come to notice this and I am very grateful for it. I remember like it was yesterday when people were telling me, they don't know what this is, have no idea how to market it. So yeah, I've come to notice that. I believe that when I go to play somewhere, I'm there to serve the people. I'm there to bring what I've been studying and collecting and compiling and present it to them in a way that they can enjoy themselves while they intake this information. So, yeah, this is a great place to be, because this is what I love to do.

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Chris Zaldua


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