This weekend just gone, a lot of us in the office witnessed a talk about London’s clubbing sub culture. Instigated by the ICA, who invited our founder Keith Reilly to talk about fabric, his motivations in starting it and how it’s played its part in the city’s underground club culture. What was most apparent from hearing him talk is that the most important thing for him was to create a space where artists from all around the world would be invited to share the music they love on a suitably strong and supportive sound system.
And it’s that kind of way of thinking that we’ve always tried to stick to, trying hard to create the welcoming and learned type of environment for little known artists to stretch into the occasion and enjoy the immediate appreciation of the crowd directly in front of them, first and foremost. As a result the list of artists who’ve passed through Farringdon and consequently found their musical home here in the capital on our custom built Martin Audio soundsystems already counts Levon Vincent, Shackleton and today’s interview subject, DJ Qu.
This means that for our 14th birthday we can really count on a performance from an artist who genuinely feels a connection to the space he’s playing in - almost as much as we do. As he mentions in our interview below, Qu - a man who is now very much an ‘international’ DJ – notes exactly what it means for him to be returning to the place that first invited him to play outside of his New York home after he grafted, following a humble, genuine passion to fill his life with music. So as we ourselves have turned out to be part of his story, we wanted to share the full account of his musical path ahead of his next venture here as part of our 14th birthday celebrations next weekend…
For this interview, which strangely is the first time we've spoken to you properly for the blog we wanted to go over your story from the beginning can you tell us about when you first remember connecting with music?
If I had to pinpoint when I got into music, it was really from birth it was always around me and as I grew up I got to experience newer music and you know I just never left oit, it's just always been a part of me.
Did you have radio shows or any other outlets for music that also played their part?
Definitely, the good thing is that when I was an adolescent you could find radio shows for almost any style of music you were into. So you could have been into anything and they would have a station for it. A few people know I also used to be a dancer so that's also something that got me into the music and wanted to find out more about it and learn more.
Can you tell me more about what that entailed for you? I didn’t actually realise until now that you had been a dancer...
It was more of a urban dance type of thing, think of b-boy or break beat I'm sure you know what breaking is, it's an urban cultural dance like that that we did but we did it to house music and it was a club thing. It started as a fun hobby thing that everyone just loved to do and somehow or another it just started becoming a business you know and everyobody just started travelling around the world teaching classes or doing shows or whatever it might be that you just did with the dance but it was all representing that club dance thing.
That’s pretty big, how come that dropped off for you?
I would say there were a few factors, but the main reason was that as soon as the business side of things came into it and money was around it just didn't feel the same.
If dancing was your way into the music world, when did you come to start making your own tracks?
Dancing was my way in and I would say I started DJing in 1989, with producing I only started in 2002 so I was a DJ before I was a producer.
That time was also really at the time house and techno were at their own beginnings
Yeah it was all house records at the time, we didn't really call it techno in ’89. I started out with help from my family, because I had a couple of cousins that were DJing that let me use their equipment in 89 I started DJing. I’d say it was about 92 or 93 is when I first got like my first actual small gig somewhere around the city after a few years of practicing. I've been DJing ever since and to go back to your question it was 2002 when I started producing but I didn't get my first record out until 2005 but I wish I could have started producing sooner, I just never had the funds to do that. That's just how things work.
And at that time you were moving to establish your self as a DJ – what was going on in New York for you?
It’s hard for someone to picture it if you weren't here but in the late 80's early 90's New York was the party capital, there was nothing like it, there were so many places to go to. There were so many places you couldn't escape it. And as time went on some people fell off of it and there were people like me who stayed into it so that's basically the whole story with that. There was a point where I don't think there was any club any clubbing city in the world that could have compared to New York back then.
There seems to be a perception from Europe who look to New York’s house scene and they see yourself, Fred P , Jus Ed Levon and you've all had a visible rise to prominence in the last few years over here into how you're doing - i mean how much for you does your music actually have to do with what these guys are doing?
We all have our own distinct sound but how much does it have to do with them? We met each other within the last decade and we all had the same similar stories when it comes to how we all got into the music so that's our connection, the love that we had for this music. And it just made sense thanks to Jus Ed for connecting us all together he was the connecting point for all the artists.
But I would say you know that's what my music has in connection to theirs and vice versa, is that we had the same singular story even though we do walk different paths but when it comes to the music that's the connection. Music brings people together from all walks you know.
And how do you think that your collective popularity has helped you out abroad? Do you think there's a bigger audience for you music now compared to, say 5 years ago?
Of course yeah. Today it's a different ball game though I no longer have to do a full time job so I would say promotion does help where there's good promotion, that promotion does something because you can't say it doesn't. At the same time I feel we're all lucky too because it could have easily have went another way and nobody would have taken notice of anything so I say, spiritually, it plays a little love as well in my personal view.
That's great to hear you've been able to give up the job that’s quite a new development for you, this last year right?
Yes it was starting to drain me down having to juggle all these things and finally I saw the light that I was always waiting for and I didn't rush it because I always wanted to make sure that when I did decide to leave it would be at the right time. And so far so good. It looks like i did it at the right time.
So what has that meant for you? When you go and do your shows you can give a bit more of yourself and you can bit more of yourself to the studio?
Yeah that's exactly what it means I can give more of myself to the music, experiment more and have time for it. There was a time where like I didn't know if I was going left or right anymore you know from working all week long, leaving on the weekends coming back in the beginning of the week coming back to work and doing the same thing the following week and trying to make music. I had no sense of time anymore. I’m greatful for how things have shaped out to this point I'm living off my music so I think at this point that I'm blessed and I think if there's anything else that comes out of it then that's just a blessing but right now I'm happy with it. I can't ask for no more.
I can see this success you’ve got right now just by going online, everywhere I go I can see there’s so many people talking about you and sites that want you to record mixes for them and speak with you Have you got anything left towards that you want to work towards and achieve at this point?
Like I said musically I'm happy with where I'm at there are other things I'd like to achieve I don't know if that's in the musical world it's probably more personal things that I'll try to shoot for because music to me is always going to be part of me it doesn't even matter about what I have I could have graduated colleges and got high paying jobs and all that money would have just gone into me making music because that's what I'm passionate about, with music it's just going to be a continuation for me. Year after year.
Do you think there could be a potential downside now you're relying on music for your income, if it's going to get into that situation where you've got to play the bigger parties there's a bigger pool people for you to entertain, that might mean you might have to compromise on what you actually play?
As far as dependant on music goes, I do make a little bit of money with music but I always try to use my money in a way where I don't have to [rely on income from music], you know the music thing could end tomorrow and I'm still going to be OK because of other things I've done. I never wanted to get into a situation where I had to do music by force and change what I wanna do just to stay afloat I don't think that's a good move and it's going to start to feel like the way dancing was for me - when I didn't like the business anymore so I'm always trying to make sure that I don't go down that route.
As far as having to play different things if I'm playing bigger venues first of all anything out of what I play is because I like it, I'm never going to play something that I don’t like and the second thing is that I cherish a lot of different styles and i think that makes me in a way lucky where I'm not so one minded about a sound that I wanna hear or present to people all the time. I come from the tradition of the DJ where the DJ was there to make the crowd move and not to be the focus point of the party you're there to work, you could easily be replaced if people weren't happy with what you were doing so whatever room you walk into I try my best to analyse it. I bring a bit of everything with me and I just try to talk their language but make them understand my language at the same time that's basically my approach at everything at every gig.
That’s definitely all about the art of DJing...
Yeah and you’ve got to remember that today I go in and out of different dancefloors globally and they don't all talk the same language: what makes Italy get down doesn't make France get down what doesn't make London get down well that's what I try to learn - what makes each country dance is specific like everybody has their own history and language to the music.
Do you find that more of inspiring thing for you, than something that might constrain you then?
I'm actually greatful that I am able to see this because I never knew. In New York if I went to the club and listened to so and so and he played whatever record that was the brand new record in the club for months. I thought globally this is what everybody's playing, it wasn’t until now that I was like wait a minute it's not. I can play records from 10 years ago somewhere, anywhere and they don't know what it is and I was there thinking everybody knew what this was. So it's a blessing that I get to experience that I wish everyone can because I think it would kind of unite things a bit more.
We’ve talked about the range of your DJing, yet it feels your production seems to always have this dark edge to it, how does that compare your approach in the studio where do you think that sound comes from?
Well as far as the dark sound and my music, I would say I never even realised that was even there it wasn't until media writing about it. It’s just part of me, I guess it's just part of my personality. I would like to think I have done some light records as well maybe not but i would like to think I did.
As far as the music I do and the label I run I would say that's the only area I don't let anything whether that’s my travelling around or anything influence what comes out there. That's strictly for me only for me and I do what I want you know that's my output, it’s personal.
So what qualities would you say you're looking for in a record for it to go onto Strength?
Emotionally, it's gotta have something that makes me groove with it - when you hear it you know that that's going to work. A lot of records I make they just don’t make the cut. I couldn't really pinpoint anything specific that needs to be on the record it's just got to be something that I'm feeling, really.
It's more a feeling than something you can go and analyse I guess, so what have you got that we can look forward to over the next year? You’ve done one album to date but I’ve seen you say somewhere that you don’t really have it in mind to do an album any time soon…
No, but I also said that I am pretty moody so my mind can change. So you might see an album coming soon I'm not going to announce that there is one and then it not arrive but I have a lot of more time and I'm working on a lot of more stuff so you might see it.
And of course you're coming back here for the birthday
Yes so looking forward to fabric, you know fabric is the first I ever travelled anywhere because of music. So fabric always have a special place for me especially it being my first gig and how professional they were with everything and everything runs like a machine and I was like oh wow this is what it is i love this. You slowly find out that not all places operate that way but fabric definitely holds a special spot because it opens my eyes to a lot of things so I’m looking forward to coming back.