After first breaking out with the now ubiquitous ‘Hyph Mngo,’ his subsequent releases came at something of a trend bucking slow pace. A couple of records put out on his short lived Doldrums imprint, an EP for Aus Music and another 12” on Hotflush populate the first four years of his discography, but from knowing him and watching him up his work rate as a jobbing DJ, it’s always been obvious that he had broader interests to pursue. And frankly that’s always been something I admired in him. Having the gumption to forsake expectation and jog at his own pace has enabled him to retain a sizeable portion of control over his career and it’s afforded him a lot: respected record labels, noteworthy collaborative projects, headline slots, US tours and the ability to shut down the internet when dropping tunes called things like ‘Big Room Tech House DJ Tool - TIP!’
Currently running two record labels - Hinge Finger which he runs alongside Will Bankhead and SunkLo, which is piloted alongside his regular studio partner, Boddika – and DJing to big rooms and confined spaces across the world alike, I caught O’Grady on a phone call on a brisk Wednesday lunchtime ahead of his Room One appearance on 29th November, discussing his career whilst he prepared for a whistle-stop tour of the US where he’ll be playing a series of shows B2B with Hessle Audio’s Ben UFO.
It's been so long since we've chatted and I guess it’s a while since you've actually made any kind of statement - I mean obviously you are running your labels but, what's going on with you? What's really getting you excited about music at the minute?
Well, there's a really interesting middle ground between the house music scene and the… those sort-of-elements that came after dubstep, or the guys who are just into UK stuff. For instance it's really nice to now be able to play with DJs like Gerd Jansen and I might be on the same lineup as Axel Boman or John Talabot or even a Dixon or a Zip or someone... there's just a really good cross pollination of music and I think that that is actually more interesting [now] than it being in these small scenes.
That's one of the things I always used to really struggle with when we first started; we were always booked as a sort of showcase sound and I don’t think anyone really felt like they were a part of a scene or such. You know, if it was one record label travelling [around] I could understand it but we all had these little pockets of what we were doing and I was always quite interested in lots of different bits. And then, when you're going abroad, you're sort of saying to people 'we represent this' and if you don't really represent that, it can be a bit frustrating. But now, it just seems like a bit of a happy free for all!
Yeah, everybody is listening to everybody at the minute. For instance Ben [UFO] played the fabric birthday, in between like Dixon, Villalobos and Craig Richards and seeing him trade off with the other DJs was amazing!
Yeah and that’s well deserved as well. I think people may write off certain elements of young people (although we're not so young anymore [laughs]). When we first started it would be quite easy to write people off and, perhaps people's opinions of it have changed, but I always thought that I'd love to see Ben play along those guys; and David [Pearson Sound]. There's a lot of really really good DJs in our scene.
"..when I'm DJing, I'm DJing. I don't see it as a live showcase of what I do as a producer, I just see it as playing records for people..."
It was amazing to see him playing and for him to drop something like Lil Silva and see the crowd that might have been there for Villalobos fully embrace it.
And that’s perfect! Like some people can see a house DJ or whatever - and that’s the broad term for what they do, but they can play broken beat music, they can play techno, they can play reggae if they wanted, and people still think ‘yeah, he's a house DJ.' But if you're a dubstep DJ it’s like, no, you must just play dubstep! Or if you're a techno DJ it’s like, 'I don't wanna see you play anything else, I wanna be fed techno;' so there's something quite nice about that sort of broad term of being a house DJ. People kinda just let you do whatever. You can play broken beat records. Your Villaloboses and your Zips they just play whatever they want to and that’s because they sit safely in this box of a house DJ, so they're not trying to be anything they're not. I've always quite liked the look of that. It seems like a nice place to be.
Well, for me that ties into the idea of what a DJ should really be; someone who’s more knowledgeable than you about music feeding you stuff they like…
Definitely. And I think that's another thing, I think as myself now, as a DJ first and a producer second, and to be honest that’s quite an obvious thing because I play [for] so much longer than I make records [laughs]. And when I'm DJing, I'm DJing. I don't see it as a live showcase of what I do as a producer, I just see it as playing records for people….
Not just a way to play your productions and link them together with tools or tracks made by other people...?
No. I suppose there wouldn't necessarily be anything wrong with that, but it's just not really how I like to do it. Yeah...
So what is going on with your tunes at the moment?
I've been sort of working on stuff for the last few years, but it's just… quite a slow process [laughs]. Yeah, I dunno, I don't really feel the need to rush, I suppose. Well, I do and I don't. I think it's good to get music out there and sort of let people know where you are at...
But you're concentrating a bit more on the label side of things...?
Um, well yeah, sort of. I'm buying a lot of music and at home I've got a little studio and then I'm in the Zoo every week with Al [Boddika], so I am doing bits. But I'm not rushing it, or I'm trying not to. I just don't want to put everything out for the sake of it, or because it sits well into a schedule or something. I'd rather just be really happy with it. I've got a few things where I think hopefully something is coming together but I am quite changeable to be honest [laughs].
Well I guess when you afford yourself the studio time with Al or whatever, you can actually just concentrate on making stuff with no pressure of actually 'needing' to put stuff out...
Yeah, totally. We've been doing it now for a good few years and it's just become a bit of a routine now, y’know? You just go down and you play about on machines and you press record at some point. It's actually a great process. We're always saying to each other how lucky we feel we are that we get to do that. But I don’t think we quite feel the pressure that maybe some do and I think we're very, very lucky for that. And I think when you're afforded that slight freedom then you need to make the most of it and try and be quite picky and not just abuse people's interest, because if people are interested in what you do and they believe that you're doing these things with a certain reasoning, you kind of need to live up that. If we just stuck out some kind of nothingy house thing then I thing I would feel like I was doing people a bit of a disservice. And also myself, I suppose…
Well yeah. But you've always kind of had that attitude though...
[Pause] Yeah, I guess you could say that.
I mean, it's always a good attitude to leave people wanting more...
Yeah, though in my case it's more a case of me being very long winded. I'd like to pretend there was a bit more of a plan but it's just me being a bit fucking long winded [laughs].
And that's fine. And I guess, with all the DJing, that must take up so much of your time now really?
It does, but that is my job now. That’s what I do more than anything. Because the record industry has changed and it's not like how it was in the days of drum & bass or whatever, where you could sell really good units and you could maybe just live off that. But I don't mind that really. I don't mind going out and DJing and engaging with that side of it. I think it's a really good culture.
And it's really healthy to be sociable.
Yeah, but I mean more the culture of clubbing and the people that hang out and listen to music is a really good thing and the fact that that's thriving to a certain extent is great. I mean it's definitely not easy. Promoters have to work really hard but I much prefer people going out and clubbing than people kinda sitting in on the internet and doing that kind of stuff. I've a lot more time for people who go out and mingle with other people.
It changes their dynamic a lot.
And that's what this is all about, to me; essentially. It's about people going out. I'm not so into the internet side of the industry although it's a good tool.
Well, it's helped a lot of things happen, but it's also given people a voice to just be a dick.
So, I know we touched on the idea a minute ago, but are you putting any pressure on yourself to finish any music?
There is quite a lot of pressure from myself but that’s just me on myself really and it doesn’t actually get good results - as you can see. But I do. I do get quite worked up by it because I want... I think it is important… but it’s just... yeah… it just has to be the right time really. It has to feel right and I don't want to regret anything. I mean that’s one of the big things. There's stuff I’ve had in my past which I’ve not had complete control over and it's not been exactly what I've wanted. It can be annoying to regret stuff, to regret these things, which is why now I just take the time so when I do something... Like the SunkLo series, for me personally, I'm so happy with it. Like we had so much control over it - it literally is just me, Al, my girlfriend doing the artwork, a bit of help from Will [Bankhead] and that was it really. We worked straight with the distributor, Rub-A-Dub, and it was just very hands on and I really like that myself. We got to make all the decisions and when we made mistakes we had chance to rectify them and do our best. I think that's a nice process. So nowadays it's getting a bit easier to achieve what I want and not go away from it regretting things.
It's just taking that control over every aspect possible isn't it? Because, for example, I know you don't play every show that's offered and in the same breath, you wouldn't put out every single thing you made...
Yeah, I do turn down a fair amount of stuff but again, you just want to make it as good as it can be and for it just to be suitable really. There's so much that is not necessarily suitable and it's just about trying to wean it down. And I don't wanna blow out. I don't wanna push myself in people's faces like, it's tough enough! You don't wanna be shouting your head off every five minutes saying 'I’m doing this, I’m doing that, I’m doing this.' So, when you play less, you try and make each show in each city [feel] actually important, without doing it too much. Without too much overkill.