Next Saturday marks Scott Grooves’ first UK appearance in ten years. The last time the Detroit luminary was on this side of the Atlantic, we were clinging to the dawn of the millennium and fabric was still in its earliest days. Though one of the world’s most esteemed house and techno pioneers has been missing in action physically, Grooves’ profuse studio work and diverse productions, meanwhile, made a vast impact on record crates and dancefloors around the globe...‘prolific’ is an insulting understatement. No introductory paragraph could ever give justice to Scott’s contribution to electronic music since his first 12” on KMS back in ’94. Doyourresearch.
Because Scott makes as many UK appearances as he does press appearances, I didn’t set my hopes high on bagging an interview with him. When he obliged for our blog, however, it came as little surprise that the left-field visionary had come up with an idea of his own for our interview format. This is part one of a fascinating two-part interview series we will do with Scott: read on to find out more about the enigmatic producer’s current projects, why he purposefully sat out of the limelight for the last decade, and what he has planned for his long-awaited London gig. Part two of our interview will be completed after that gig - the reasons for which are best left explained by Scott himself...
“I checked out the site, I was checking it out yesterday. I had an idea – I wanted to see a contrast in the interview; where you interview me now, and then I wanted it to be contrasted later by having you yourself attend the night – and you commenting and letting me get a rebuttal on what I experienced that night, after the fact. When people look at interviews now, believe it or not, they’re so streamlined and so...”
“Exactly. Everybody pretty much says the same thing, because they pretty much ask the same thing. For me, when I think about a blog, it comes off as more of a journal – you know, it should be personal. Before any show that I do, I start to think in a totally different way. Everything – even driving around listening to the radio – determines what I’m going to play. Because unlike most DJs, I don’t play so much where I can’t stop and breathe in-between dates; I’m more like an assassin. So I’ve been in that mode ever since I knew I was coming to fabric for sure.”
What first crossed your mind when you decided to come to fabric for sure?
“The first thing I always think about is so not music-related. The first thing I start thinking about is going to the airport and sitting there two hours before my flight – watching the news, sitting around people-watching. Our airport in Detroit is fortunate to have a nice store in it called the Motown store where they only sell Motown products – I always try to get something there that I can either wear at the party or play at the party. It’s a really nice store, they sell t-shirts and really nice underground, sometimes even unreleased, music. Now with the death of Michael Jackson, I’m just wondering how it’s going to be differently displayed. I can’t wait to go next week and see. That in itself is another little trip for me, just to go to the Motown store in the Detroit Metro Airport.
“That’s the only reason I wanted to do the interview in this kind of way – because people need to hear us after, just as much as they need to hear us before. Then this becomes an intimate blog, and it’ll be different. Also, what it does is - it puts a sort of pressure on the club. For instance, if you have a restaurant and you know a critic is coming in to eat, he doesn’t need to write anything before he eats the dinner. The important aspect is when he eats the food and what he writes after. And that affects how well you prepare the food and how well the ambience is, because he’s going to criticise it or praise it afterwards.”
And as a blog, it will become real interactive because now everybody – the interviewer versus the interviewee; the performer versus the critic; the passive readers versus the club goers – can feel much more of an involvement in a sense.
“Exactly, now the interview seems to have more of a purpose. It seems to do more than just say the same things that everyone’s read before. That’s just how I am with everything I do – I need for it to do what I think it’s capable of doing, as it relates to me. I guess sometime I have to learn how to stop myself from always wanting to do things my own way. Because sometimes I can’t have it my way. But when it comes to my art, I have the most control and the most input.”
It must be – I don’t know if frustrating is even the right word – but it must be frustrating and slightly bewildering to suddenly have your art, something that you’ve been able to protect and control every step of creation, be thrust into something as uncontrollable as the media.
“You have to see the machine, whether we want to or not - that’s the reality I understand. You can give out your disclaimers and do things, or choose not to do it. Artists like myself and Moodymann – most of the time we choose not to participate because of the fear of not having that full control. Sometimes you read these articles and say, ‘I didn’t say that!’ You can’t help but think that sometimes, when a press guy sits down to talk to you, he had his own agenda – almost as if him and the record company went off to the side and airbrushed everything you said to fit what they wanted. And when you’re a young artist, you don’t really say anything about it. You don’t really know any better. But now, I haven’t done any interviews in years. I was able to grow up, so to speak, and become more stubbourn in the right areas. (laughs) But also at the same time, here I am talking to you and coming up with some new ideas for press – and it’s not just for my benefit, I’m thinking that this will make your job more interesting too. Because once you become apathetic as a writer, it’s going to sound apathetic. So with that in mind, what is it you want to ask me?”
Well, I could sit here and ask you a million questions about how you met Kevin Saunderson, I could ask about how you initially landed on Soma, I could ask you about how you managed to hook up with Roy Ayers...you know, there’s a million things I could ask you, but these are all questions you've been asked a million times before. So before I called you, I had to really ask myself what it is that interests me most about you, Scott Grooves, and what it is that no one’s heard about for the last decade. And then it hit me that it was exactly that - the last decade. What have you been up to? I read somewhere that you have two mix CDs coming out...
“Yeah, that’s a good place to start. I compiled two mix CDs of all my own material and they’re very different. One is more analogue and techy, and the other is more organic. I did it like that to show my versatility as a producer and also, of course, DJing – if I make it, I play it; if I play it, I make it. They’re both coming out on my two labels myself, and that’s pretty much the immediate thing that I have going now. One label is called Natural Midi and my other label for the organic sound is called Modified Suede. The thing that’s most important for the fabric date is that I’ll be releasing those in the UK that weekend in the shops. So it’s going to be officially released that weekend, and I’m going to do an in-store at Phonica that Friday at 7:30pm.”
Can you tell me a bit more about the two mixes?
“The analogue mix is called ‘Does Not Compute;’ that’s the techier mix and contains most of the releases on my label Natural Midi. One of the highlights of it is this track I did called ‘Classic 909,’ where I use all 909 drum machines, because this year is the 25th anniversary of the 909 drum machine; it came out in ’83. So I put out the 12” two months ago and there are only 909 copies in total, they’re all numbered. It went down really well, so what I did is I went around to certain prolific producers and I acted like you, like a journalist – I asked them for their thoughts on the 909 drum machine. I interviewed Derrick May and asked him about the 909, and that’s on the CD. It’s not the whole interview but it’s a short clip, an excerpt; I’ll probably use the full interview on another project. He really shined a lot of light on it: he sold his 909 to Frankie Knuckles and that’s how the 909 came to Chicago. I interviewed Derrick, Theo [Parrish], Juan Atkins – the 909 was a big deal. I did my ‘808’ 12” in March, with 808 copies and then I did the 909, and next, and finally, I’m gonna do the 606 with all 606 sounds. With ‘Does Not Compute,’ probably the biggest track that’s on there is called ‘Only 500’ because I only put out 500 copies of that out. That was really big in Germany. So that CD’s got more of a raw, techy sound to it.
“Now the other CD is called ‘Journey into the Riddum,’ because it’s more organic and a deeper house sound. It has the mix of a track I did, called ‘The Journey,’ that Carl [Craig] used on one of the fabric CDs, it’s one of his favourite tunes. So the two CDs are very different, but they all have my groove. They still have continuity in it, but one is more analogue and one is more housey. People in Detroit walk up to me and tell me they either like this one, or they like that one, which I guess is good because I don’t restrict myself to one particular audience.”
So fabric’s the big launch for the two CDs, that’s exciting. Are you excited about coming to fabric? I know the last time you played here, we’d just opened and the event was an out-of-house promotion - a lot has changed since then...
“I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but I pretty much thought that I would be around ten years later, still making music – but I didn’t know fabric would be around ten years later to appreciate it!” (laughs)
Then you must be interested to see how much we’ve grown. And I think it’ll also be fascinating for you to see how much the club climate’s changed in ten years.
“Yeah, most definitely. I’m coming, it’s like a reconnoiter’s mission for me, and because it’s all for me to become inspired musically when I come back to Detroit. I try to make music that draws from all of this. And then I get on the phone and call my buddy, who I’ve known for a long time, and tell him what happened that night, how it songs got played, what tracks went over well – we have our own little soundboard. And that’s usually how it goes for me. Because I don’t play often, I don’t get bogged down with the whole anxiety of flying, or of playing here and playing there, so I can be more aesthetic about it.”
Did you purposefully set out to make your break as long as it has been – 10 years? Or was that just a result of you focusing on music?
“Yeah, I was doing the music thing because the music producing side has more longevity to it. So I wanted to hone that craft and perfect that as well as I can. Because sometimes DJing, and playing out, works against that. The DJing thing can interfere with the producing thing, because sometimes they don’t have anything to do with each other. A lot of times, with the DJs that play out the most – it takes them 7 years to make a record. Because that touring life is a whole other animal in itself. Especially if you become a quote-unquote “star” at it, it really can take you left field. Next thing you know, you’re not making music, you got four girlfriends and you’re an alcoholic. (laughs) So for me, and wanting to be grounded – because you can’t build anything unless you have a strong foundation – I wanted to make sure I had a strong foundation as for making music. I figured the DJing will always be there, especially if you’re known as a good solid producer over a long period of time. For ten years, DJs have still been buying my music steadily. But then I learned, of course, they are two separate entities – because the majority of people go out, and that’s a far greater number than the people that go to record stores and buy music. So when I started thinking about putting the mix CDs out, I decided to go back out and see what’s going on. I went to Germany this year in March, and that was the first time I’d been to anywhere in Europe in a decade. I went to Munich and played with Patrice Scott and it all fell back in place.”
How did it feel for you, after all this time?
“First of all, going back to the start that I mentioned before – at the airport, I noticed going through customs was really different now post-9/11. It had been so long since I’d flown out of the country, I had to get a new passport because my passport had expired! So going back over to Europe and seeing the kids...because it’s been such a long time, people have been telling me, ‘You know Scott, a lot of the kids don’t know who you are per se. They don’t know about the Daft Punk mix that was really big for you, they don’t know anything about Ray Ayers,’ and so on.”
That’s surprising actually. I would think that kids these days are a lot more clued-up, or at least a lot more researched – music’s so much more accessible to them, because everything’s at their fingertips.
“Right, of course. I mean, literally – when I was playing in Munich, all they were doing is taking a picture of the record I was playing with their cell phones. That freaked me out, like wow – technology. (laughs) But it didn’t feel weird coming back to Europe, it didn’t feel strange, things fell into place; it was almost like I hadn’t really stopped. I didn’t feel that the long break had hurt me in any way. It was almost like wine – with vintage or classic, something a bit more aged, it tastes better. So that’s how I looked at it. The last thing I wanted to do ten years ago was turn into a superstar DJ. Because as I said before, with DJs-slash-producers, rarely do you see them put wear those hats both well simultaneously. The DJing thing pulls you so far from your center of gravity. Because truth be known – I don’t know if many DJs are honest about it – to make the big bucks and to sustain yourself, you have to play a lot more music than the music you’re known for making. I didn’t want to go down that route. It doesn’t balance. Sometimes I would be playing and go to another room to hear a bigger DJ that I came up buying records from, and listen to him play like, ‘What in the world is he playing?!’ But there’s 2000 people dancing, and I’m sure he’s getting $10,000-$15,000, and that’s what was important. But that’s not what the music I have in my crate represented, and that’s not what I’d known him for. For example, Roger S [ed: now known as Roger Sanchez] was the first producer that I bought from Strictly Rhythm, a record called ‘Love Dancing.’ That was my first Strictly Rhythm 12”, and I was a Strictly Rhythm buyer – I worked at a record shop at that time, and when they first came out they were putting out a record every week. So after ‘Love Dancing,’ everything Strictly that was coming in, I was buying it – even to this day, I have a Strictly section in my record collection at home. So you know, coming out and hitting the road in ’98 and ’99, I realised that I could go down one of two roads – I could go down a road that led to a dead end, or I could go down a road that went somewhere. And it’s so funny, because the road with the dead end, that road is more glamourous looking.”
It’s always like that in fairy tales: the road that looks more enticing always ends up being the most dangerous. And in reality, the “glamour” in tour life doesn’t quite match how it looks on paper. Working at fabric, we see the real nitty-gritty side of it through our artists – work permit and visa nightmares, missed flights, they get to the airport and their driver’s not there, they arrive at the hotel and their room isn’t booked, and so forth...most artists are so dead and pulse-less by the end of their tours. I think the dead end comes up repeatedly throughout that “glamourous” road. And especially on a performance front - of course the artists put all their love into it, but sometimes they don’t always have a lot of love left to give.
“Of course. And that’s what I’m known for here - is that I don’t charge to DJ. I charge to fly and to leave my home. DJing will never be anything but a gift, that’s something I can’t put a price on. Music just comes naturally to me, I received that gift for free, and I give that gift for free. I can’t put a price on it. But I can put a price on leaving my house, flying 8 hours and waiting at the airport for this guy to pick me up – I don’t know if he’s driving me to the hotel or to the venue, I don’t know if he’s on drugs, he could be anybody. I don’t know this guy; he could be wanted by the police!”
Damn, I never even thought about that aspect...
“See, I think about these things because I’ve been away from it. I’ve been away from the lights, the cameras...I’ve been away from it long enough to see clearly. That’s the thing that distracts us as DJs – we’re such music lovers, it’s a form of passion that blinds us to a certain degree. We would DJ in quick sand if the price was right! We could be standing in quicksand, literally going down, and we would put on Lil Louis’ ‘French Kiss’ and bob our heads as we go down. With a smile on our face! It’s just a way of life. So for now, my charge and my fee is based solely on the inconvenience of leaving the comfort of my home in Detroit. Imagine if I’m at fabric DJing and people are going crazy - and meanwhile in Detroit, a guy is going out of my window with my keyboard and my drum machine, and I don’t even know it! (laughs) A lot of us DJs have to mask the fact that we’re leaving our homes for a long amount of time, because some of us don’t live in great neighbourhoods. Some of us have to sneak out late at night or arrange that our mail gets picked up, so it doesn’t look like we’re gone for a month or whatever.”
So in reference to your fabric gig, what made you decide to leave the comfort of your home?
“I pick and choose carefully, as you know. And fabric, to me, and from what I’ve been hearing, is one of the places that has kept the torch lit. Between me and you, we both know that it’s hard to keep the fire burning for a span of ten years, and still be economically viable and still have your underground edge. It’s really hard to do. So when Judy [fabric promoter] called and spoke to me, well...usually it’s very hard to get me out. But I did the Munich thing because I was playing with Patrice and I’d never played with Patrice before. And I’ve never played with Omar-S, so I’m looking forward to it. It should be enlightening, and when we get back to Detroit we can see each other and talk about it. It’s a cool thing, playing with people from Detroit - it keeps me transported but I still have a little bit of home while I’m on the road.”
Out of curiosity - do you play all vinyl these days?
“I play some CDs, I play both.”
After working in a record shop and being a passionate vinyl collector, how big is your record collection?
“It’s so big that sometimes, it’s easier for me to buy the record again than look for it!”
So when you get ready to play a set – as you mentioned earlier, you start thinking differently (driving in the car listening to music and what not) the whole way up until your gig - do you start panicking about where certain records are?
“Oh yeah, I’m like that now. But the main thing is – I’m thinking about the fact that I’m coming over there and I don’t know everyone’s favourite records. I come from an era where I played in Detroit to a particular crowd every week, and I got to learn people’s favourites. And I hate that sometimes I don’t have that. I’m so used to putting on a record knowing that this is your jam – back in the day, people would even try to test me about what their favourite songs were. And I still remember most of them, because I still associate the record with that person.”
But in a way, surely it’s kind of beautiful to not know people’s favourite records – because not knowing, it’s almost like a blank canvas. You can have somebody leave the club with a new favourite record. And all those kids that are taking pictures of the records with their phones, they may just be taking a snap of their new jam.
“That’s true. But I always relate my sets back to relationships – and a woman still wants a man to know exactly what she wants. You can’t argue with that! It’s alright that you don’t always know what she wants, but she’d appreciate that you at least make an attempt to find out. There have been times where there have be 70 people on the dancefloor dancing, and I’ve left the turntables and walked over to the one person that’s not dancing to ask them what they want to hear. You would think that I’d be happy with the 70 people that are dancing – but if you really care about the flock of sheep, you’d care about the one that’s going astray. Because the one that’s going astray is more valuable than the ones you have, believe it or not. As long as you think like that as a DJ, it’ll make you care.”
I'm most definitely looking forward to reconvening with you afterwards, and discussing what we both independently made of the gig...any other projects you want to mention, any last words?
“The next project after those two CDs, this fall I have a whole album coming out through a label called Clone, just whole riddum stuff. And when I say riddum, I mean the more organic side of me – percussion sounds. I grew up as a percussionist, I was a drummer so I grew up listening to a lot of African music. A lot. So I wanted to put that more as a forte in my music, so I’m devoting this whole project I’m doing with Clone Records out of the Netherlands. It’s called The Riddum. I did a 12” with them last November just to feel it out, a 12” called ‘Coco Brown’ and people really liked it. A lot of people miss that side of me because back in the day I was more organic, but then I started to go more towards the analogue side of things because I like that too. I came up listening to both. I heard techno here first and I heard house on the radio, but the first house club I went to was in Chicago, that was probably in ’88. I came back here to Detroit and thought, ‘Where can I hear this music?’ and that’s when I found the Institute in downtown Detroit. But anyway, my next project is the Clone album – if you go on their website, you can hear samples of the tracks. It’s coming out in the next month or so.”
Join Scott Grooves and myself on Room Three's dancefloor next Saturday (alongside Omar-S and Lakuti) and see if he ends up playing your favourite jam. We'll meet again here in the weeks following to see how it all went down.
For those of you coming down this Saturday: your reviews and comments are more than welcome, so get involved afterwards. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any feeback from the gig.