King Britt: "I Just Do What I Love, I Don't Care About Trends"

By now, there's not much King Britt hasn't done musically in a career spanning almost three decades.

As one of Philadelphia's electronic dance music pioneers, Britt enjoyed massive commercial success in the '90s, through his Sylk 130 project and as half of E-Culture with fellow luminary Josh Wink, with whom he would also co-found the seminal Ovum label.

The past two decades have seen Britt emerge as one of the most creative and versatile forces in EDM, with an ever-evolving style bridging the gaps between house and techno, and genres like jazz, funk and soul through myriad collaborations and remix projects. And his production work has become just as in-demand in the realm of film, television and the art world, as it is on international dancefloors.

Ahead of an intimate performance for Bardot's Living Room Sessions on Saturday, Crossfade caught up with the legendary producer to talk about all his years in the game, the secret to longevity and his latest projects.

Crossfade: What sort of music were you into growing up and how did you first get drawn to electronic dance music?
King Britt: My parents were collectors, so avant-jazz and funk was the menu of the days. I first heard electronic music with early Sun Ra and, of course, Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi project. But it wasn't until Art of Noise that I wanted to buy a synthesizer.

How do you think Philadelphia shaped you as an artist? Is there anything about the city and its music scene that contributed to your sound?
 The radio in Philly is pretty amazing. WDAS played all the classic boogie, and of course the Philly sound, which sets the bar high for any musician/DJ coming up. Also, the community is pretty tight -- so many amazing collaborations happen. I mean, I have worked with almost everyone from Philly on one project or another!

You and Josh Wink enjoyed a fruitful relationship in the '90s. How did you first hook up with Josh and how did your Ovum label come about? Why did you eventually decide to part ways?
[Laughs] Yes, it's always funny how we met. We both went to Temple University, and I used to see him at parties he would throw with my good friend Blake.  Blake told him I was a buyer at Tower Records Philly, where I specialized in 12-inch imports. Anyway, he came in, and you had to go on my word because you couldn't listen to them. I sold him a horrible record by Koto, thinking it was up his alley. He came in the next day and returned it, but we laughed about it. [Laughs]

Anyhow, a little bit after, I sent my demos to Strictly Rhythm and Nervous, who had just started out. I got signed to Strictly and asked Josh to join me in this adventure. The result was E-Culture, "Tribal Confusion". From there, we did a series of singles, but in '94, after I came back from Digable Planets touring, we decided to start Ovum (named since my ex-wife was preggy with my now-18-year old daughter.)

Our first single was with my sister Ursula Rucker, "Supernatural".  From then, we went on to release many tunes, then we signed to Sony off the strength of Josh's success with "Higher States of Consciousness". 

I then released two Sylk 130 albums, which I now own, and he released an album and we continued to sign many many things. In 2002, I decided to leave and just do production. Ovum is of course a huge brand in dance music, and I'm glad we had the idea to collab and do it. Nothing but love.

You've been musically active for a good three decades and still remain very much relevant in the international dance music community. What do you think is the secret to professional longevity in a scene where young new artists are emerging all the time?
I just do what I love. I don't care about trends
or whatever. I love many different types of music and love to try them all in terms of production. I also stay out of the pigeonhole categories. I just do me.

How has your creative process and use of technology evolved since you first started producing music in the '90s?
Oh my god, to see where technology has gone, it's just mind-blowing. I'm so much more efficient and I'm having a ball creating. I just released my first sample pack for Beatport, Sounds to Sample label. The series is called Fragments and it's me having fun with my toys, basically.

Also, when DJing now, I use Maschine and Ableton, doing remixes on the fly, incorporating my Fragments and just creating many things I normally couldn't when DJing before.

In 2007, you received the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Composition for your work featured in film and television. Do you see yourself eventually transitioning away from the dance music scene and into a full-time role as composer and producer? Or is DJing always going to be at the forefront as well for you?
It's funny, I never saw DJing as in the forefront, because I was a producer first. The both go hand in hand, because I can test things on the people, and then that feeds my studio creative flow. But I have been making big moves this year as a composer in the academic realm, doing sound installations and shows. 

I'm actually answering these questions while in Zimbabwe with Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces and son of ethnomusicologist and Mbira legend Dumi Maraire. We are doing a major project for 2013. 

What can you tell us about this project?
Well, Dumi Mararie was the first person to introduce the Mbira to the USA. When he passed, his son (and my homie) Tendai got the masters. When I brought Shabazz Palaces for their first ever show, we started messing around with the masters. This was 2009, and it has grown into this mind-blowing cultural exchange of traditional Zimbabwe sounds and electronics -- like nothing you have heard before. End of 2013

Which are some of the classic cuts that have never left your DJ bag and which new artists or records are inspiring you?
Scott K. vs. The O'Jays' "I Love Music" never leaves my bag -- going on 4 years now. [Laughs] As far as inspiring, it's really the sounds that have been inspiring. Sounds from everyday life, rhythms from street sounds and textures from bits and pieces of records -- breaking things to a microscopic level.

So what can Miami expect during your set at Bardot? Do you have any special tricks up your sleeve for this gig?
I love Bardot -- such an intimate space. It's been super fun and I am excited to continue in 2013. I am really psyched to bring in more live instrumentation into the sets. Me and Eric Paredes have been creating live on the spot, and have had guest bass and percussion. I want to market this more so people know what is happening because we are so seamless, no one realizes. So this Saturday ... Many open-minded surprises and I always love hearing Sven play after our set.

Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Levisman