Filed under: Interview
As one half of hugely respected deep house duo Farley & Heller, original acid house producer Pete Heller is well known for working with others, so it’s unsurprising that for his new label Phela Recordings, he’s chosen to go down the collaboration route. Roping in friends including Faithless’ Sister Bliss and Rocky from X Press 2 and Darren Price, he’s put together a series of collaborative productions, starting with Amerika, a track he’s made with Darren Price. Coming out last month, the politically themed record pokes fun at George Bush, though as Pete points out, isn’t particularly symbolic.
“The sample we’ve used is the political aspect of the record, and to be honest, it’s not that overt, it’s taken from this tirade by this guy berating his audience for not being real, Darren was using it as an acappella last year,” he admits.
“The original intention was to release it around the time of the US election but as things developed it didn’t happen in time. It took me quite a while to set the label up to the point of production mode so finally the track’s coming out somewhat late.
In terms of my politics, I suppose I was more politically active in the past, during my student radical days. I guess it’s a hangover of those days but who wouldn’t be radicalised by what’s going on in the world out there? I would never shy away from sticking a bit of politics into dance music, it could do with more.”
Studying at Manchester University in the 80s, he returned to London just in time for the acid house explosion, landing a DJ residency at Danny Rampling’s Shoom when it moved to Busbys and soon after hooked up with Junior Boys Own when he became one of the label’s star producers. Mega-commercial success first came when he produced the Farm’s pop smash Altogether Now followed by solo success in the mid 90s with Ibiza anthems Ultra Flava and Big Love, and he remains an A list remixer, recently reworking the likes of New Order and Underworld from his Kentish Town studio. Today, though, he’s focused primarily on Amerika
Interview by Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) : You’re not best known for making politically themed records, with your best known track Big Love being the diametric opposite, what’s the story ?
Pete Heller : I don’t necessarily think that dance music is the best forum for political activism or messaging anyway, but there’s no harm in sticking something in there. There are people in dance music such as Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz from Faithless who are definitely into putting messages into their music but I think it’s quite a difficult thing to do, given that dance music is centred around this hedonistic aspect of drug taking. Trying to get a message in there that doesn’t come across as trite is difficult.
Skrufff : Do you visit America much, how do you regard New York compared to its reputation of old ?
Pete Heller : I do visit there, yes, my sister lives there so I go there quite often. The way I see New York these days is just as being part of what’s going on in the world generally right now, in terms of how cities are turning into places where only rich people can live. Certainly Manhattan is following that trend, as is London. London is slightly better because it seems there’s still room for people to get on with having fun without being stopped all the time, whereas in New York it seems to have gone completely insane in that respect. All the clubs have a real problem in terms of the drugs issue and I guess that’s just a reflection of the whole Bush, right wing agenda that’s seeped into the culture over there. When you have corporate business on your side as Bloomberg does and before him Giuliani, their interests come to the forefront. America seems to be very corporate in all respects these days and the prevailing attitude seems to be that people want to have good quiet neighbourhoods without having to worry about people enjoying themselves in clubs and parties. The thing about New York was that it used to be known for being a hedonistic, freak city, that attracted those people, the artists and outsider types, people who wanted to express themselves but I think there’s less and less room for those people in New York today, they can’t live there because it’s too expensive.
Skrufff : I understand your new label is based on collaborations with Darren Price, Rocky from X Press 2 and Sister Bliss lined up for records, have you done all the tracks yet ?
Pete Heller : No, we’re working on them now. I’ve done one track with Rocky and have some more planned, I’ve also been working with Victor Calderone and a girl called Scarlet Etienne. The idea is to work with people I like. They come into my studio in Kentish Town, which is quite big, and ludicrously expensive and we spend a few days together in the studio. It’s a nice change from me working like a hermit by myself most of the time, which is what I tend to do.
Skrufff : Do you do all your own engineering ?
Pete Heller : Yes I do, though not necessarily through choice (chuckling), it’s cheaper.
Skrufff : I read an article recently saying that advances in music software is making original studio equipment and synthesizers obsolete …
Pete Heller : There’s an element of truth in that. In my studio I have a large collection of old analogue keyboards though I think in the last year the arrival of a load of new software is finally changing things. I was always a bit sniffy about software synths I didn’t used to like them but now they’re pretty impressive. They do the same thing but they do it extremely well. They also do a lot of other things that you can’t do with the original synths. Some of the stuff that’s out there, like Native Instrument’s Reactor, is pretty spectacular software, it does things that no analogue synth could ever do.
Skrufff : Does it get easier to make tracks as technology improves ?
Pete Heller : No not at all, that’s a whole different issue. Being able to create sounds is one thing but to be able to put them together in a musical way that gets people interested and engages them emotionally and makes them excited is a whole different talent. Having access to great equipment is one thing, being able to do anything with it, another. Good talented guys such as Trentemoller, who are using these software programmes would probably be just as good with a load of rock synths too. Because they’re good at what they do.
Skrufff : What do you make of where dance music is right now, with minimal thriving, and electro ?
Pete Heller : I think it’s quite exciting and software is involved in that. Traditionally, in terms of technology, dance music has always been at the cutting edge, if you go back to the 80s and 90s dance people were always the first producers to embrace new technology first, such as samplers. I think that’s going on still today too- the people that are making interesting new music are those who are embracing all this new technology and trying to use it to make sounds that are different and unusual. The minimal thing is a reflection on that, it’s no coincidence that Berlin is the centre of what’s going on because it also just happens to be the centre of where a lot of the companies who make these software programmes are based. These producers are just using the tools that are being given to them by local companies.
Skrufff : Is Berlin a place you spend much time in generally ?
Pete Heller : No, it isn’t and I’d really like to get back there, there’s loads of great music coming out of there. I liked the fact that they’re slowing down the tempo of dance music again, I was at a club in Zurich recently and was watching a young DJ playing a really groove mix of electro and it just reminded me of the old Chicago house when that music was first coming through. The music was quite slow, very deep, very groovy and electronic, it was around 124 / 125 bpm and people were really into it.
Skrufff : You’re still DJing overseas regularly, how do you prioritise between DJing and production ?
Pete Heller : I take what comes along. When work comes in you have to work harder, right now for instance I have three remixes on the go, an Underworld remix and a couple more.
End of the interview
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