Paul Woolford: "The Problem With So Much Dance Music, It's a 'Product' to Drive Someone's Social Networking Thing"
Bobby Peru. Special Request. Hip Therapist. Wooly.
Those are just a few of the guises that UK DJ-producer Paul Woolfoord has assumed over the years. And his sound is just as elusive as his artistic identity -- straddling house, techno, UK hardcore, and bass.
Nevertheless, in spite of his sonic outlaw streak -- or maybe because of it -- Paul Woolford has hit enough people's pleasure zones to emerge as one of the most in-demand DJs on the international EDM scene -- a perennial Ibiza resident who also happens to be luminary Danny Tenaglia's favorite DJ.
But don't just take Tenaglia's word for it, find out for yourself when Mr. Woolford throws down at the Electric Pickle with SAFE Miami tonight.
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Crossfade: How did you first get drawn to electronic dance music? How were you shaped by EDM culture in the UK when you were growing up?
Paul Woolford: My initial exposure to dance music came from the radio when I was a kid, really. You just absorb everything that you hear when you are that young. I would listen to the BBC Radio 1's late-night shows when I was in bed. And in particular, it was John Peel that probably opened my ears up properly. You'd hear him play a really wide range of music from punk to country & western to the early dance music experiments, and this sounded so alien -- like a revelation. And slowly the culture of breakdancing had filtered over from the U.S., so you'd see films like Beat Street and they had music from Afrika Bambaataa, who I had heard John Peel play before. You just start remembering names and keep looking out for more.
I heard John Peel play "Planet Rock" one night and it just sounded so futuristic, so out-there, it just made me feel an incredible way. As the years went by, the dance music scene slowly emerged, and then pirate radio stations were becoming prevalent in the main UK cities, and Leeds had its share.
Once I stumbled across one of those stations one Friday night, that was it -- there was no going back. It was the most important and inspiring charge I ever had. There were no rules. And suddenly, all this hidden underground music was all there, played without limits by people like us -- kids. It was the community taking charge, and the energy of it was unreal.
There's a heavy streak of experimentation in your work -- a sound hard to reproduce by would-be imitators. What's the creative process typically like in the studio for you? How do you approach writing and producing a track?
There is no set method. It depends purely upon my mood. I'm looking for a certain boldness, and there is no set way to find it. I don't think, "Well, we need a breakdown there." Or any of that kind of prescriptive approach. I want things to feel fully in their own space.
I'm ruthless in what is edited out. So much dance music feels over-produced and there's a point where all you actually hear is engineering. That to me is completely missing the point. I saw a quote the other day from somebody saying, effectively, that technology advances define artistry, but this is bullshit. The artist defines it -- what you put into it, down to everything about your state of mind when you approach it.
The person that said that is more of a marketer than anything, and this is the problem with so much dance music, it's made as a "product" to drive someone's social networking thing. That in itself tells you that the music is an afterthought. What I'm interested in is going right to the core of how something makes you feel and concentrating on that. It's almost irrelevant that it's music I'm involved in, I would still take this approach if I was working in another type of media. The creative process is driven by this, and it just emerges without a formula.
What's the impetus for working under so many different aliases? What different creative avenues do these projects offer you?
Well, none of that should really be out there in the public domain, aside from the Bobby Peru and Special Request projects being me. BP is based more on electronic music across the board, whereas Special Request, which I'm putting a lot of energy into right now, is based on that pirate radio influence I mentioned earlier.
The others were for Dustraxx in Chicago, when I was working with them years ago, but the way that things are cataloged online today, on sites like Discogs, means that people pull it all together. The only track with the Wooly name on it was a bootleg on Chicago's Peaches label, which was pretty under the radar. I would put all this material out under my own name -- only it would be too much deviance for many to understand. Certain projects or songs are things you connect with, certain ones are not. So it's a case of presenting things in different ways. Special Request is the focus currently.
Despite your experimental tendencies, you've talked about wanting to make a pop record. Do you think that may still happen? Where do you see your sound headed a decade down the line?
Absolutely, I see no reason why not. I just reworked Lana Del Rey's "Ride" under the Special Request artist name, and working on a Rick Rubin production feels as close to that as possible, really. I love good pop records when they are made in a certain way, and there is a different kind of honesty in some pop records that you can only get from them. As far as where things are headed, all I can do is what I feel, so we will see.
Getting called "my favorite DJ" by Danny Tenaglia -- himself the DJ's DJ -- is about the highest accolade a DJ could ask for. What do you think defines you as a DJ? What ingredients do you look for in the music that you serve up your listeners? And what sort of experience do you aim to take them through on the floor?
Quite the compliment. My jaw dropped when he said to me. And coming from a guy that had had me on his dance floors many a time, losing my marbles, I don't take that lightly. My focus is on energy when I play. I aim to maintain a tension within each record so that you can always feel momentum, even if that's with the deepest house records or with a Surgeon or Blawan record. The rest just comes to me but the exchange of energy is at the center of it all.
Is there any truth to the rumor that you were banned from the United States for a number of years? If so, what exactly happened and how were you able to return?
I wasn't allowed in the country for four years. Although, it was not a ban in the case of an official five-year ban, just a temporary hitch. It was for entering without a work permit, and it was in Philadelphia. It actually caused me so many problems, so I'm really glad to say that chapter is well behind me. My U.S. agent Detroit Premiere Artists made my application for my work permit in conjunction with Planet E in Detroit, which made all the difference. And now I can visit again, which is a relief because I love the place.
Your most recent work has seen you turn up the bass, which coincides with releases on the bass-centric Hotflush imprint. What prompted you to take this direction? Is it fair to say that techno in general seems to be rediscovering its bass roots after the funk-less dark age of minimal?
I had met Paul Rose from Hotflush by coincidence, through a mix-up at an airport, and this led to me sending him the tracks which he signed a few weeks later. They really are one of the strongest labels out there in terms of their profile and in terms of the talent they have signed, so it felt like a logical step. There has always been good techno but there has been a particularly fertile period of late, and the switch-up musically has thrown up some interesting records and inspired artists across the board. I've felt invigorated by it all.
Paul Woolford. Presented by SAFE Miami. Friday, November 2. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $15 plus fees via residentadvisor.net. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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