UK House Legend Charles Webster Talks Three Decades of EDM and His Latest Projects
story reads like the history of transatlantic dance music itself. He was born and bred in the early-'80s electronic music boomtown of Sheffield,
England, cradle to such seminal acts as the Human League and Cabaret
Voltaire. He shared time in the studio with Detroit techno pioneers Juan
Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson when they were just beginning
to define the sound of a new era.
And later, Webster made a prescient move to San Francisco to help foster the burgeoning '90s West Coast house music scene with releases on the esteemed Defected label and his own Love From San Francisco imprint. Yes, Charles Webster
has pretty much done it all.
Fast-forward to the new millennium
and the legendary DJ-producer is as relevant and prolific as ever, with
extensive tours around the globe, numerous collaborations, and releases on top labels like Buzzin'
Fly, Freerange, and his own Miso Records. And despite having sold over
100,000 records, he's managed to elude the trappings of commercialism
and retained that pioneering spirit unique to his groundbreaking
We caught up with Charles Webster in advance of his
Friday night gig at the Electric Pickle to survey a career spanning
three decades and his take of house music's past, present, and future.
New Times: You
started out playing in electronic music bands in Sheffield, a city with
some major electronic music history. What can you tell us about the
scene back then and how it shaped your musical development?
Charles Webster: Yes,
I was playing in bands from when I was 13 years old in the early '80s.
Everything was very fresh and exciting back then. Synth music was quite a
novelty, it was sometimes tricky to be taken seriously. Eventually, I
won a local band contest with 100% electronic music, so people were taking it more seriously and not treating it as just a
novelty thing. I think making music at the time and place
certainly shaped my music journey.
What prompted you to move to San Francisco and how did the electronic dance music scene there differ from the one in the UK?
moved to San Francisco with a few friends to start a record label. We
were getting bogged down in the UK scene, so we decided to relocate to a
city with no discernible music style, so we could create with no
expectations or boundaries. It was a really fun time in S.F. back in the
early to mid-'90s -- great clubs and DJs.
You spent some time
working with legendary Detroit techno producers Juan Atkins, Derrick
May, and Kevin Saunderson. What can you tell us about these
collaborations and what did they impart to you?
They were all
releasing music on the Kool Kat and Network labels at the time and they
always used the same studio. It just happened that I worked in that
studio as one of the resident engineers. I really learned a lot watching
these guys create music. They were very inspired just to hook up lots
of drum machines and synths and just go with the flow -- pretty much
doing the tracks 'live,' straight to tape. I certainly learned to just
believe in what you are doing and just go with it.
How did you first hook up with the Defected label and what impact do you think it's had on your career?
manager at the time knew the boss and was having a conversation with
him about our ideas for a compilation and they just said, "Well, we would
like to release that." It was as simple as that, really, and the rest
of the remixes and tracks I did for them just followed naturally. I
guess it has brought my sound to a new audience, slightly more
What is the status of your own labels these days? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
My label Miso is running well at the moment. We just had a successful digital release, Soothe
as Furry Phreaks featuring Terra Deva, and we are just about to release
a new Version record, my project I do with Atjazz and Emilie Chick. The
track is called "Nothing". We are also planning a compilation, Miso Moments Vol. 1 for release in early 2011. Lots to do!
DJed for audiences all over the world. What do you consider a
successful DJ set?
A good DJ set really depends on many things.
The most important is reading the crowd energy. It is to easy just to
play all the hits. I believe a good set is 66% entertainment and 33%
education -- it is vital to take people to places they probably haven't
been to before, that way you never become stale. As for feelings on the
dancefloor, it is important to have light and shade and to use lots of
dynamics in the set.
As a European expatriate, why do you
think electronic dance music has always been less of a mainstream
phenomenon in the US than in Europe? What can we do to make it big again
I think it comes down to economics. As dance
music has never really been chart-topping stuff in the USA, I think it
pushes producers into more commercially viable styles. But on the other
hand some of the best underground producers ever hail from the USA.
These guys are just doing their thing regardless of commercial
expectations. As for making it big again, it will happen eventually and
in a natural way.
What do you think is the secret to staying
fresh and relevant after three decades?
follow your heart as a producer. Don't get attached to scenes and you
become unique. I always work hard on my music and never just load up
some old track and re-hash it. Always trying to find new ideas is the
key, and never becoming complacent with your status and success.
do you see the house music form going in the next decade? Is house
becoming exhausted? Or is there still room for innovation?
is always room for innovation! For me, it is always a great song that
changes things and steps it up to a new level. People love a great song.
After all these years, your record collection must be titanic. Any all-time favorites?
So many to list after 25 years of house music. There are plenty of
great new producers and still some older guys making great tracks. The
list is endless!
What have you been up to in 2010?
working on new music. The main project is a jazz album I am working on with a friend
and a few vocalists -- very traditional jazz with a slight modern
electronic twist and some lovely vocals. I am nearly finished with this
and will hope to be releasing it in mid-2011. Also, I have been working
with a vocalist from L.A. We have a project called January Tuesday and
we are going to release an EP fairly soon. Also, I have been working on
songs with Shana Halligan, ex-vocalist of Bitter Sweet.
What can Miami expect during your performance at Electric Pickle on October 15?
Some really good house music!
Charles Webster. With Will Renuart, Tomas of Aquabooty. 10 p.m.
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