If the EDM industry handed out high ranks for badassery and length of time spent on the battlefield, like they do in the military, Mr. C (AKA Richard West) would surely be a general by now. Yes, this UK rave veteran has pretty much been through it all.
West got his start MCing in the late '80s seminal London scene and would go on to front infamous chart-topping rave-pop outfit The Shamen. During the '90s he opened legendary London nightclub The End, an international hub for underground EDM, while emerging as a formidable tech-house innovator himself, on the strength of his original productions and the output of his Plink Plonk, End, and Seprfreq imprints.
Today, Mr. C remains more prolific than ever, as you'll find out in this candid interview where he waxes philosophical about everything from rave spirituality, to Buddhism, to method acting. Read it after the jump, then go catch him at Treehouse with LINK on Friday for the Superfreq 10-year anniversary party.
Crossfade: You're a UK rave veteran. What are your fondest memories or impressions of that time? How do you think EDM culture has changed since then?
Mr. C: Back in the mid to late '80s, when I was young and foolish, EDM was new, fresh and exciting. There was lots of songs really about sharing the love, freeing South Africa, going to the promised land, etc. and the scene was very hedonistic. I think my fondest memories were enjoying the madness that were the RIP parties at Clink Street in London in 1988.
These events were absolutely mental and had people from all walks of life coming together -- every race, color and creed sharing and getting extremely high. And I truly believe that RIP was where proper rave culture was born. All the DJs that played there were very versatile, and we'd play New York garage, Chicago house, acid house (in 250 mic doses) and Detroit techno, and we'd wash it all down with some proper old-school electro to boot.
All of the big rave promoters that followed in the UK, 1989-1990, witnessed these events and got bugged by the sheer hedonism of it all -- also saw the commercial opportunities that were available, which was for me when the spiritual side of EDM got lost, as it all became about the money. And DJs would go to these raves and compete over who would drop the biggest bassline. It became the attitude "fuck the subtlety and trippiness of it all and feel the bass".
Looking at how EDM culture has developed over the years, it's easy to see how this greedy attitude took over for many years, with cheesy trance for children in furry boots taking the front seat, which was OK, as it left us that believed in the good shit to crack on, and it also gave the cheese-ball kids somewhere to go, which was out of our hair.
Nowadays, it's great to see that quality cutting-edge music is on the rise, even if a lot of it isn't that artistic in the sense that it's music made by numbers, and lots of the young producers seem to be following each other around in tiny circles, going nowhere fast. But nevertheless, the good shit is definitely on the up.
Do you think the spirit of rave culture (as opposed to club culture) is dead? Or could it come back?
Are they not the same thing? I've always preferred to play in clubs than at raves. As a DJ you can get sexier, deeper, darker, more psychedelic and more playful, and it's so much more adult. But the essence of rave culture, which is about coming together with like-minded individuals in the presence of forward-thinking innovative EDM to celebrate life, is still very much there.
About 8 months ago, I noticed a very obvious shift in human consciousness, and since then the scene does seem to be more full of love and celebration. Let's hope that continues to grow, as I'm sure it will.
Its recent mainstream popularity notwithstanding, why do you think a widespread grassroots/underground EDM culture hasn't taken off in the US the way it did in the UK since the '80s? What do we need to do to make it big over here?
I think that in the '80s, most of the house and techno scene in the US was predominantly gay. Many people got stuck in the rock music time warp and hip-hop also took a stranglehold in the US. When EDM did start to kick in, in the early to mid '90s, it was pretty damn cheesy, which put off a lot of Americans -- and rightfully so. Even though there's always been a good underground scene in cities like San Francisco and New York.
Even now, when I tell people I'm an EDM DJ, they think about pacifiers, furry boots and glow sticks, which is so not what it's about. I do now think that there is a proper grassroots-level underground EDM scene in the US and there's many wonderful people all across America trying very hard to throw quality parties. This is great, and for me says that EDM culture can only keep growing in America in the right direction too.
Quality EDM started in the US in the '80s, and now it's coming home. And one of the things I really like about America is that the crowds are less forgiving when egomaniac DJs mess up. It really seems to be more about the quality of the music now, which can only bode well for the future. That said, what Americans need to do now is too continue what they've been doing with this scene, not become sycophant slags and suck up to the big names with their inflated prices and even more inflated egos, and enjoy watching America hijack the scene back from Europe. Watch this space!
You've juggled the multiple roles of vocalist, band frontman, DJ, producer, nightlife impresario and A&R man. When push comes to shove, which of these roles is the most rewarding for you and why?
There's nothing quite like spinning quality cutting-edge vinyl to help people celebrate life -- that's what's up and the thing I enjoy the most. I also love working in the studio, both writing music and performing vocals. I enjoy promoting and organizing events, etc., but it's spinning records, meeting new people and challenging the dancefloor in a fun way that really floats my boat and has no comparison. When I see lots of people celebrating, smiling, dancing, loving, and even not being sure, and challenged, it fills my heart with joy.
What prompted you to move to the US, considering how much bigger them EDM scene is in Europe?
After losing both parents, and then my club The End closing its doors for the last time in January 2009, I felt it was time for a change and a fresh challenge. Having lived in London my whole life, being one of the protagonists of EDM, spinning, producing, doing record labels, having a weekly show on the UK's largest dance station Kiss FM for 10 years, being a pop star with The Shamen and opening the nightclub that created the blueprint for modern clubbing the world over, there wasn't many challenges left for me in London. And moving to a different European city was out of the question.
Also, as I'd been studying acting for quite a few years, I thought that Los Angeles would be a perfect place to relocate, as if I am going to crack it as an actor, it does need to be on the big stage. As someone of some celebrity in the UK, it would've been easy for me to get on a British TV show or what not, but that wasn't what my intuition told me to do. Due to my training, I can play pretty much any character, so in moving to LA, I will be able to put those skills to the test. Also the quality of life in Los Angeles is amazing -- the weather is perfect, you get some nice property for your bucks. The Californian hippy attitude remains, even in the youngsters. People are so damn friendly and I'm meeting some wonderful people too. Happy days.
What else can you tell us about your acting pursuits? Any forthcoming projects or future plans along that avenue?
I studied a very serious and modern form of method acting for five years, before moving to America, called The Spiritual Psychology of Acting with tutor John Osborne Hughes of Miracle Tree Production, who's just genius. It combines the teachings of Stanislavski with Buddhism, creative visualization, and positive thinking, which was for me the perfect style to lean towards, as I'm kind of Buddhist. I say kind of, as shamanism and magic are also a part of what my belief system is based on. I shot a small role in a British movie a month ago, which was fun and will be good for my reel. And I have landed a huge role in a movie that I'm told almost has the funding in place, in which I get to play the Devil, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the shoot will take place this year.
Other than that, I'm in no hurry to go headlong into acting, as I'm really enjoying my music career right now, which keeps me in the comfort zone, unlike many desperate actors that have to tend bars or wait tables to make ends meet. I'm a firm believer that my acting will truly kick in when the time is right for me, which I see as a slow yet steady transition over the next three, four, five or even six years. If it does happen to kick in sooner, then great.
DJing is a young man's game and I'm no spring chicken any more, so I think I have the timing pretty down with switching the way that I entertain people. I will of course still spin cutting-edge EDM occasionally at special events, even when I hit A-list actor status, as music is my lifelong hobby.
So what have you been up to in 2012 so far and what can fans expect from you for the rest of the year on the production front?
I took most of January off, after the BPM festival down in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, only doing Superfreq at Fabric in London. And then February seemed to get off to a slow start for me, but by the end of February, the normal madness of being a traveling DJ pursued. Superfreq celebrated it's 10th anniversary on March 3rd in London, which was the start of a Superfreq 10-string of dates that will take me right through to the autumn.
Production-wise, I've been extremely busy indeed. I have my new single "Something Strange" Part 1 with [a]pendics.shuffle on Adjunct Audio in stores now and available both on vinyl and digitally. Part 2 comes out in a month or so from now on vinyl and then digitally a few weeks after that. I have a Mr.C remix of a track called "Money Dish", that I'm rather proud of, by my LA Superfreq partner David Scuba, who teamed up with Mikael Stavöstrand, which should be out in about 6 weeks from now on Riff Raff records out of LA and Vegas. I also teamed up with my old mate Omid 16b to do a remix of a beautiful track called "Picture Us" by Francis Harris from his Leyland album on Scissor & Thread Records out of New York.
I've also gone back to work on my new solo album Smell The Coffee, which I hope to have complete by the early summer. The album has quite large vocal contents and has a real modern acid house attitude to it, where lyrically I express my spirituality as well as throwing in some political satire for good measure. On top of all of that, I've started a new collaboration project with Affie Yusuf under the name Indigo Kidz, and we've been making some pretty incredible tunes, so I'm extremely excited about that too. I've really stepped up my production output for 2012, so it's going to be an interesting year to say the least.
You seem to be generally drawn to the darker side of the tech-house spectrum. What is it about the darkness that inspires you? What sort of emotional experiences are you aiming to take listeners through on the floor?
I wouldn't say I'm drawn to the darker side of tech-house, but I do have a serious aversion to cheese, mediocrity and a fear of the normal, which is why I do tend to play deeper and more cutting-edge than most. Having a low boredom threshold, I get excited by new sounds, so my record box is in constant evolution.
If I was to describe my sound, I'd say it was playful, sexy and mischievous. But due to being allergic to dairy products, I can't go down the uplifting route too much, which I suppose does mean my DJ sets may be a little darker than most DJs out there. But the emphasis is definitely playful, sexy and psychedelic. When I'm spinning, I like to think that I do take people on a magical journey that plays on all of the emotions from down-right craziness to melancholy, and I want to make my audience feel good about celebrating, feel good and sexy about themselves, and also challenge them a little -- as without a slight challenge, it's no longer art!
Your upcoming party at Treehouse marks 10 years of Superfreq. What was the concept behind the label when you first launched it, and how has it evolved in the last decade? Where would you like to take the label in the future?
Superfreq is about having fun. And to still be growing organically after 10 years is very satisfying. When I started Superfreq, I'd just stopped my night Subterrain at The End and, to be honest, I was getting a little bored of what London tech-house had become, so it was time to switch things up a little. Tech-house was always meant to be a hybrid of house and techno that was forward-thinking, electronic and innovative, and all that 130 bpm, same-sounding bongo and conga loop stuff that became tech-house for a minute just wasn't what it was meant to be about. Also, the tech-house scene at the turn of the millennium needed an input of glamour. So killing Subterrain, even though it was probably the best tech-house night on the planet, was the right thing to do.
So my music got more electronic and playful, and with the help of the Dollz At Play, we injected some serious glam into the proceedings, which leads us to where we are now. And it's so nice to see over the last ten years that, at last, cutting-edge music and cutting-edge fashion have now met and are skipping along together, holding hands and being jolly well gay! As a record label, Superfreq became dormant about five years ago, but who knows what the future holds.
You've played all over the world, from the megaclubs of Ibiza to Burning Man in Nevada. Which are your all-time favorite places to play and why?
Burning Man is quite incredible and tops anything else I've ever done as a DJ. I mean, what's not to love about 50,000 like-minded forward-thinking adults in costume for a week, having the time of their lives in an experimental situation, a human social experiment if you will, that seriously helps to raise the consciousness of humanity in the most fun way imaginable?
Of course, playing in some of the best clubs around the world is amazing and none more so than some of the many wonderful experiences I've had at The End in London. Ibiza is special -- there's always been a certain magic about that island that brings my horns out the moment I land there. I could now name a shitload of amazing clubs to spin in around the world where I continue to have a real blast week in, week out, but we'd be here forever.
And how does Miami rate for you personally among the EDM capitals of the world? (Don't spare our feelings, we can take the truth.)
Up until a few years ago, my opinion of Miami was pretty dire other than one week in the year when WMC is on -- it was cheeseball even then. But over the last few years that really seems to be changing. Now, through the hard work of people that love specialist dance music, Miami has really become a great destination for great DJs to play. So now, as a party city, Miami definitely comes in my top five cities in the US to spin, along with L.A., NYC, San Francisco, and Chicago.
Of course, London remains the cutting-edge music capital of the world, with Berlin hot on its heels. But Miami is definitely as much fun to play in now as cities in Europe like Moscow, Paris and Amsterdam, as well as Latin cities like São Paulo, Lima and Mexico City, to name just a few places. And then that's not to mention Ibiza or new buzzing beach club destinations like Monañita in Ecuador. But yes, Miami is now officially rocking.
So what can Miami expect at Treehouse on Friday?
The Treehouse is a very special club, so Miami can expect some serious fun. I'm bringing Droog (Culprit Records) and [a]pendics.shuffle with me from LA, and I can personally guarantee that we will be smashing the living granny out of it, but of course, all in the best possible taste.
Mr. C with Droog, [A]pendics.Shuffle, and Joint Custody, presented by LINK Miami and Miami Rebels. Friday, April 13. Treehouse, 323 23rd St., Miami Beach. The party starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $10 plus fees via residentadvisor.com. Call 305-674-7447 or visit treehousemiami.com.