Rick Wade on EDM: "People Are Tired of Trendy Disposable Tracks and They're Starved for Substance"
The classic house revival is well underway, sweeping across the international dance music scene as young producers who weren't even old enough to walk in the '90s revel in that decade's sound.
Sadly, a lot of these kids are probably unaware that among the pioneers of that deep house sound they love to emulate is DJ-producer Rick Wade.
That's because Wade is arguably the greatest unsung hero of Detroit house, part of that city's legendary second wave of electronic dance music producers along with Kenny Dixon, Jr. (AKA Moodymann) and Theo Parrish.
Wade's seminal Harmonie Park imprint boasts a catalog of deep house classics going back all the way to 1993. But he's hardly a relic of the past. Wade is still a prolific producer, even releasing a high-concept album -- Neverending Reflections, the soundtrack to a graphic novel created by acclaimed Detroit artist Abdul Haqq and Japanese anime director and writers Shinichiro Watanabe and Dai Sato -- this year.
Crossfade caught up with the eminent Mr. Wade ahead of his gig at the Electric Pickle with Flight Crew tonight to talk about his roots, the deep house revival and his new LP.
Crossfade: How did you first get drawn to dance music? When did you begin DJing and producing?
Rick Wade: I grew up with the music my aunts and uncles were listening to, which was all Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield -- stuff like that. Then when I got a little bit older, I was listening to Chicago's Hot Mix 5 on the radio. I'm not from Chicago, I'm from a town called Buchanan, Michigan, which is one of the last towns on the border of Indiana and Michigan. But all of our TV and radio were pretty much Chicago stations. So we would hear BMX and GCI. And on a good night, you could hear KKC, college stations, and stuff. So I would hear all that stuff in the mixes, and I just loved it all. All that early house music and deep disco classics they'd be running, they just resonated with me.
It's funny because I was considered strange by my peers for my varied musical tastes. Most of my friends were simply into straight the R&B of that time: Parliament, Prince, Isley Brothers, etc. I loved all that too. But I also had a natural affinity for the new wave and disco too, like Klein & MBO, Salsoul Orchestra, and Kraftwerk. So whenever we'd be hanging out, playing our boomboxes and I'd start to play stuff like Dharma's "Plastic Doll" or Z Factor's "Fast Cars," my friends would all start to laugh at me and say I was playing "space music." [Laughs] I can laugh about it now. But back then, it used to kind of hurt my feelings. But I didn't let their teasing stop me -- I still kept on playing my "space music."
My first actual legitimate DJ gigs were probably my freshman year of college, 1987 or 1988. That was when I started doing party parties. Before that, when I was in high school, I was DJing friends' parties down in the basement. I only had one turntable and a bunch of classics, like Trans-Europe Express, and stuff like that. I was the guy who had the music, so I was the DJ by default. My nickname back in those days was Mixin'. They used to call me Ricky Mixin'.
You were one of the pioneers of deep house in the early '90s. How did you first begin developing that sound and what influences if any were you pulling from in the beginning?
Like many other DJs and fans of this genre, I too was influenced by Larry Heard. I loved all that Fingers, Inc. stuff. Also, Derrick May's early productions played a major part in shaping my sound. I loved the melodic moodiness of those tracks.
Detroit is one of the cradles of electronic dance music and remains home to some of its oldest pioneers. How did the scene there shape you as an artist? Is there a sense of community as far as you exchanging ideas and collaborating with other artists there?
Back when I first started making house tracks, back in the early '90s, there was a very strong sense of community and exchange of ideas. The community centered around the record store. Every DJ and producer in town would come into the record store I worked at, Record Time, and we would play our tracks for each other from cassette tapes, right there in the dance room. We called it the "firing line", and we'd critique, comment, and give suggestions to each other. Mike Huckaby especially played a key role in shaping my early sound. He'd tell me things like, "You need a bassline on this track" or "You should put a stronger kick in this one."
What are your thoughts on the '90s deep house revival? Is it just a fad for the kids? Or are they genuinely wising up to the quality of that era's music?
I believe that the '90s revival started as just a fad, and a lot of these labels are just trend chasers trying to make a quick buck. But I find that lots of people are genuinely wising up to the quality of that era's music. I believe that people are tired of trendy disposable tracks, the equivalent of musical junk food, and are now starved for something with more substance that stays with you long after the party is over.
Do you feel like this revival has spurred interest in your work and Harmonie Park's catalog?
There has been a definite spike in labels contacting me for productions. But it's ironic because when a lot of these labels contact me and ask me for tracks, I'll send them some material and I'll get responses back like, "These are really good, but we're looking for something more '90s-sounding." Or, "We like the material, but do you have anything like the old Harmonie Park stuff?" The reason I say it's ironic is because some of the material I submit to these labels was actually created back in the '90s on my old gear. But somehow, it isn't '90s enough. Seriously? [Laughs]
Just one more point about this subject ... Back around '99 to '00, I was approached by a major underground label of that era and asked to do an album. I won't mention any names, but Kenny [Dixon, Jr.], Theo [Parrish], and Dan Bell have all released projects for this label. Anyways, I submitted my tracks to this label and I was told in no uncertain terms that the tracks I submitted sounded too '90s and old-school, and they're going to pass on the project. Back in the '90s, I was too '90s. And in 2012, I'm not '90s enough! Go figure.
2012 saw the release of your latest long player Neverending Reflections. What can you tell us about working on the album? And how did the companion graphic novel come about?
Well, the whole process started last April, when I was asked to do a mix CD to go with an art book project by creative artist Abdul Haqq, who did the artwork for my album. Haqq hooked up with the StoryRiders crew in Japan -- director Shinichiro Watanabe and screenwriter Dai Sato. And the project really started rapidly developing from there. Watanabe is the director of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and a number of other animations. Sato, too, wrote the original screenplay for classic animations such as Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Kokyo Shihen Eureka Seven.
The book was a collection of stand-alone pictures, and included one Haqq had done of me and the mix CD was also included inside Haqq's book. Normally that would be the end of the project as far as my involvement was concerned. Using the stand-alone pictures in Haqq's book. Watanabe and Sato created a story outline, basing the central figure of the story on me -- the picture that Haqq had done of me in the book. They then tied all the characters in the book together and called it Requiem For A Machine Soul. It was straight-up pure anime. And once I had seen what they had created, it inspired me to produce more music to fit with their story. Watanabe came up with most of the track titles and that then became my new album.
You have a sideline in visual arts and animation yourself. How has that been going lately? Are you working on any current projects?
Lately, my animation projects have been on the back-burner as I've been a lot busier doing remixes and travelling for gigs. But I hope to resume work on some of my personal animation projects in the near future.
What differentiates Big Daddy Rick from Rick Wade? Are you still producing and playing as Big Daddy Rick? And what is the status of Bass Force Records these days?
Big Daddy Rick was my ghetto-tech moniker, because I used to make and spin ghetto-tech. But now the name has just become more of a cool nickname for me. In Detroit, I'm still more known for my ghetto-tech tracks than I am for my house tracks.
I actually still make ghetto-tech. I have a few that I've been meaning to get over to DJ Godfather. I've released six or seven EPs in the last few years, but the last three or four have been digital only. I'm not playing any ghetto-tech sets, though. The only way I could is if I went digital. I sold all of my old ghetto-tech vinyl years ago, back around 2005.
One of the years I played DEMF, the organizers told me that they wanted to feature a set from me in that style. I actually had to borrow DJ Godfather's laptop for it, and thank God he had a folder of my old Bass Force tracks on there. I'd never played Serato before that gig. But if you're a DJ that knows how to mix, you can find your way using Serrato.
You've been going strong for over two decades. What is the secret to your longevity? And what does the future have in store for Rick Wade?
I don't know if there is really a secret. I just like to create music. Some people like to play video games or watch sports, I like making melodies. I don't follow trends and hop onto the latest hot genre. My music is simply a reflection of myself -- sometimes good, sometimes bad. But it's always honest and from the heart.
Also, creating music is really good therapy for me. When I'm sad or discouraged, I let those emotions flow out of me and into the tracks I create. That's why a lot of my tracks contain a melody of sadness, but there's always an underlying drive in each track signifying my will to keep pushing on. The sun loves to shine and it's never long before it's shining on me again. As for the future, who knows? The only thing I can say for sure is that I'll never stop making music.
Rick Wade with Baez and Swanken, presented by Flight Crew. Thursday, June 28. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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