It might not be such a stretch to describe Ewan Pearson as the Brian Eno of electronic dance music.
Like Eno, Pearson is an out-of-the-box musical visionary capable of taking artists to new levels. And his studio wizardry has made him one of the UK's most in-demand remixers and producers, having worked with the likes of The Rapture, M83, Tracey Thorn, and even Gwen Stefani.
Of course, Pearson is also a seasoned club DJ with a fanatical following on the transatlantic house scene. And like the studio work, his DJ sets offer a deep-thinking, song-oriented respite from uhntz-uhntz monotony.
Hear for yourself when Mr. Pearson headlines at the Electric Pickle with SAFE Miami on Saturday. But first, find out what he had to tell Crossfade about his latest studio projects, the art of the remix, and the state of contemporary electronic dance music.
Crossfade: What did you listen to growing up and which artists or records do you consider your earliest influences? When did you first get drawn to electronic dance music?
Ewan Pearson: I had quite diverse musical influences as a kid. Music was and is very important to my mum and dad, and so I heard all sorts of things growing up, from folk music to pop and jazz. But I guess I gravitated towards electronic stuff around the age of 10 or 11, when there was a lot of electronic-influenced pop in the UK charts and Italy, and Hi-NRG influenced dance music too. The character Bruno from the Fame TV show may have had more to do with it than I am comfortable to admit also! A friend of my dad's lent us an early Yamaha monophonic synth, which piqued my curiosity, and my dad bought a drum machine too. I got my first synth, a Casio CZ101, at the age of 13 or so.
London is a booming electronic dance music capital. What prompted you to leave it for Berlin and how has living and working in Berlin differed? Is the scene there more conducive to creativity?
It was nothing to do with work. The move to Berlin was a needing-to-have-a-change-in-my-life move rather than a career move. In some ways you could say it took me further away from the London music business, which was not necessarily good for the band production side of what I do. But I really wanted to be somewhere else for a bit, and I've come to love Berlin and feel very mellow and happy there. So I think the overall impact on work has been positive. And there's a nice community of people doing similar things, which can be useful. But my career was well underway before I moved.
As a producer and DJ, you're known to elude categorization and straddle a wide spectrum of sounds. When push comes to shove, what do you think defines the Ewan Pearson sound overall? What sort of elements or characteristics do you look for in music and what turns you on sonically?
I'm kind of curious and magpie-minded, and I do wander about where the mood takes me. But I'm sure other people than me could point to consistent threads and aspects to what I do. I quite often like maximalism, large dollops of melody and affect rather than just brutal party functionalism. My favorite dance records are excessive in that they have a lot more than just a kick, whereas dance music has usually been about stripping things down.
You're a celebrated remixer known for bringing a unique spin to the original. What do you think is the recipe for a remix? How do you approach the reinterpretation creatively while still doing justice to the original?
The key is to find something you like enough in its original form that you can take it somewhere without losing what made it great in the first place. Lots of my mixes have been extended mixes in that way -- not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But there are times when you end up transforming something utterly and creating something else largely unrelated to it in the process. I think both are valid, but my instincts are more with the first approach. My favorite remixes are love letters to or conversations with the original songs. I love the remix as a form, even as it gets rinsed to death by a million versions of every release coming out these days. Certainly many of the greatest pieces of dance music ever made have been remixes.
You've collaborated with and produced numerous artists. What draws you or piques your interest in working with a particular artist? And which past collaborative works have you found the most rewarding?
Well, they grab my interest when they ask me to work with them! But I am certainly lucky to have been asked to work with artists of whom I was already a fan in some way. I owned and loved records by M83, the Rapture and Tracey, for example, before we worked together. But I also really enjoy working with new brand acts and being part of the process of bringing their first work to the public.
I just did a little additional production and mixed the debut album from Footprintz for Visionquest, and it's exciting and kind of an honor to help them realize their musical vision and give it the presentation and setting it deserves. I'm lucky in that I haven't worked with any assholes yet. Sometimes the logistical factors involved with bringing in a record in a crazy deadline or to a small budget (sadly more the case these days than not) can be very stressful and make things a bit grumpy, but that's as bad as things ever get. Ultimately you're helping people to make the best thing they can at that particular moment, and I would never take a job if I didn't think we had a complimentary idea of what that was and how best to get there.
What are your thoughts on the current nostalgia and recycling of classic house and techno sounds? Why do you think producers are looking to the past for inspiration instead of the future? And what do you think the future of electronic dance music is?
I think that although we can never escape influence and it's often fun to play with and reference past musics, we also have to try and push things onward a little and add new elements and sounds and techniques. Without trying to push a modernist aesthetic, I do also want to hear something new being added. I am more than a little tired of the current '90s house revivalism, for example. That's partly a result of age. I was there the first time!
Similarly, I already did a lot of paying homage to Detroit, for example, in the mid '90s myself. So you can listen to some things and think, "Been there done that." But in many cases, it's a new generation discovering the '90s and plundering it for inspiration, and they can do what they like without having to get my permission! In the meantime, there's so much stuff out there to discover and explore, and there are thousands of records to play that are fresh and exciting.
As for the future of electronic music question: that's perhaps the worst question I ever get asked, and I get asked it several times a year without fail! The reason it's an awful question is that music's art. The reason why we're fascinated by it is its capacity to surprise, to twist and turn in unfathomable ways. If you suggest that we can anticipate what it will do next, then you impoverish it. I'm waiting be be delighted or appalled - at what it brings next but either way it won't be what anyone expects.
What can fans expect from you in the studio next? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
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Well, apart from the Footprintz album, which is not coming out until 2013 now, I think ... I've produced a new Tracey Thorn album, which is out in October, and a couple of remixes -- one for Luke Solomon was just released, and there's one for a Swiss act called Kaltehand coming soon too.
And next, I'm working on the debut album for Jagwar Ma. I helped with their first single "Come Save Me" last year, and the new record is already sounding great. Plus, I've started a new label called Machinists, which is a bit more analog electronics-based than Misericord, my other one. The first release is by Markus Enochson. And it's ace.