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Yeah, mate, think I've had enough of this heat," says Dave Ralph without preamble as he strolls into a South Beach coffee shop on a recent summer evening. Wearing sandals, days-old facial scruff, and a white T-shirt depicting the Berlin airlift, the DJ announces that by the time this article comes out, he will have fled to New England after making Miami his home for the past two years. "I grew up in England, so the bad weather won't be nothing new," shrugs the Liverpool native, who has held residencies in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. "I'm not very big on New York, and I think their club scene is really overrated," he adds. "I'm looking to start a family soon, so I like the idea of living near a city like Boston, which is very culturally advanced and has great schools."
But don't take his settling down as a sign of slowing down. At a return gig this Saturday at crobar in Miami Beach, Ralph will deliver the coolly cultured beats found in his current sound as heard on his newly released Naturalized (Kinetic Records). Once a member of the hard-tech cult, Ralph has found a new religion, both soulful and cerebral. "The sound, I'd call it electronically organic," he says. "That's what I want my original album to be."
A mix compilation, Naturalized features two original tracks that demonstrate Ralph's newfound organicism: the ominous intro "Islands of Light" and the soothing soul machine "Giggledropz." Even when Ralph falls back on an intense track like Fatboy Slim's "Star 69," he quickly softens the blow with jazz saxophone riffs from Laurent Garnier's "The Man with the Red Face." On another mix Ralph tempers the abrasive structure of Indart's "The Devil" with a pulsing bass line that leads cleverly into Jurgen Drelssen's futuristic "No.5."
"Naturalized is a bit more clubby, [featuring] more cool records, I think," Ralph offers. "It's just indicative of the times. People seem to like to tap their feet more than nod their heads. This music is not banging but more the type that makes you take notice.
"Before, like with the Tranceport stuff," he says of the successful series he released with Paul Oakenfold, "I was looking to bring new sounds and maybe capture a moment in time. Now I'm more concerned with the intensity and making something that will last."
Such careful crafting wasn't always the focus, as Ralph concocted his share of flavors of the month. In addition to Tranceport, the Liverpudian delivered acclaimed sets at Berlin's annual Love Parade and at the last installment of Woodstock, closed the sessions before nearly 75,000 rock fans.
"People weren't at Woodstock to see me or Fatboy Slim," Ralph observes. "The bands finished at midnight, and everything shut down except for the emerging-artists area. There were all these fans wearing Metallica and Green Day shirts just going mad to the music I was playing. When I finished, they wouldn't let me leave. I had to have security take me out."
Given such proof of electronica's broad appeal, Ralph was disappointed by the recent abortion of the ambitious nationwide Mekka Tour. "I'm disappointed for the scene, mostly," he sighs. "America is rock and roll, and this isn't rock and roll. When you consider the best-selling records in my field only reach maybe 200,000, that translates to small venues, not a huge tour.
"We have a great scene here, but it's miniscule compared to other places. There are things lacking that are necessary to making it work here," Ralph expounds. "There needs to be a national magazine, and there isn't. We need a definitive radio show. And there needs to be the definitive club brand, the Cream or Ministry or Gatecrasher. And it can't be English; it needs to be American."
Although efforts have been made by Spundae in California, Avalon in Boston, and crobar in Miami and Chicago to promote a signature event, the vastness of the United States has made unifying the scene nearly impossible. "Those clubs are trying real hard, but my perception is that it'll take at least five years before something emerges," he offers. "It's not like in England where, say, you live in Liverpool and want to go to London for a party, you can make a night out of it. Now, say you live in L.A. and hear Sasha is playing in New York. Well, it's not very likely that you and a few friends will get on a plane and travel cross-country for one night. It's very difficult to tie this scene together."
However far-flung fans might be, Ralph has every intention of trekking across the country for gigs himself. With a sly smile, he breaks up the ice in his coffee and takes a last swig. "I have no problem with Miami, and I'll definitely be coming back to play," he promises. "Some of my best experiences as a DJ have been at Shadow [Lounge] and crobar. The problem is Miami is too transient. The crowds are good, when they're local. It's just time to move on."