Filed under: Interview
Formed in 1996, Narcotic Syntax was originally a series of collaborative efforts helmed by DJ/producer James Dean Brown (Peter Weiss). The last few years have seen the project become a solid ongoing partnership between James and producer yapacc (Uwe Giegler). One of the first acts to release on Perlon, the inimitable Berlin based techno label, Narcotic Syntax’s productions are often characterized by driving rhythms with a playful edge. Yet they cannot be easily pigeonholed, as they constantly seek to expand their sound through the exploration and merging of a myriad of musical genres; techno, funk, Latin beats, and pop structures are all equally likely to inform any given Narcotic Syntax track. This constant synthesis and evolution of sounds marks Narcotic Syntax as one of the more interesting and innovative acts currently producing club focused electronic music.
HigherFrequency recently spoke to Narcotic Syntax about pop music, Krautrock, and their latest musical directions.
Introduction & Interview by Cameron Eeles(HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : Narcotic Syntax has been active since the mid 90s, but its current identity seems to have formed in 2003, which is when you guys started working together, right?
James Dean Brown : Yeah, that’s right. I started Narcotic Syntax in 1996 with Zip from Perlon, and we produced some tracks. I always like to collaborate with other people, because you can exchange ideas and inspire each other, and I need somebody who can operate the machines. I’ve got some analogue gear at home, 11 different rhythm machines, but nowadays it’s more comfortable to work on a computer. But Zip’s a busy man, so we didn’t have the opportunity to produce so often. I also produced one compilation track with Markus Nikolai. Then in 2003 we were introduced to each other
HRFQ : How did you guys meet up?
James Dean Brown : I think it was at a party. We talked to each other and he asked me if I’d like to produce a track with him. So, we recorded the first track, ‘Pingpong Voodoo’. On the “Superlongevity 3” compilation. And that is how we started. And now we are a team. I read in certain magazines that Narcotic Syntax are the two Perlon chiefs Marcus Nikolai and Zip, or sometimes Zip and yapacc. But my name is never mentioned. (Laughs) But I’d like to make it clear that Narcotic Syntax is James Dean Brown, plus some guests.
HRFQ : “Superlongevity 4” is a great compilation, but ‘Raptor’s Delight’ was one of the tracks that really grabbed us.
James Dean Brown : Thank you, but in Germany no one will talk about this track. Nobody says, “I hate it” and nobody says, “I love it”. But in other countries people really like it. In Germany it’s all minimal. There are not so many club producers who are into song structures. There’s Markus Nikolai, and some of the older producers who have the skills and know something about music and cultural references. But not so many.
HRFQ : With ‘Raptor’s Delight’, what prompted you to turn the Greek myth of Prometheus into a love song, while referencing The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’?
James Dean Brown : Actually, Robert (Conroy) wrote the lyrics for that. He included the Greek myth in the song. And since he sings about vultures, or raptors, I decided to make a pun with the title. It’s my part to make puns and play with words. It’s a tradition, an old tradition. When Atom Heart, Pink Elln, Dandy Jack and I are together, everybody tries to make the best pun. My private texts are also sometimes quite baroque. That’s why I first used the name Narcotic Syntax, in the sense of writing text, and I transferred it to my music. Because writing, producing music, and cooking are the same. They have a lot to do with each other.
HRFQ : Yes, we wanted to ask, when can syntax be narcotic?
James Dean Brown : (Laughs) I hope the people who read the texts and listen to the music will find out themselves. And become entangled in the structures. I think the most important thing is to leave the music incalculable. I do A&R for the Treibstoff label now, so I have to send off hundreds of mails denying various demos because most of the time I listen to the first measures and I know exactly how the track will end. And this is boring. So that’s why we are narcotic because we like to surprise ourselves; you get used to a certain structure and suddenly something completely different is happening.
yapacc : The name is your (James Dean Brown’s) invention. And the music is the same as the name.
HRFQ : On a lot of your tracks vocals are a really important part of the music. What attracts you to using vocals and vocalists?
James Dean Brown : We want to bring music back to the club. Our claim is “the emotional maximum”. We’re not part of the minimal scene. I think it’s a good idea because rhythm is full of emotion, and of course vocals, if you listen to vocals you’re more into the music. And since I’m a copywriter, I like writing the lyrics and trying to tell some bizarre stories as an add-on to the music. I think it makes it more emotional, so people will get into it.
HRFQ : Your recent collaborations with the vocalist Robert Conroy really do seem to be a synthesis of pop structures and club music.
James Dean Brown : Exactly. It’s a blend of club and song structures.
yapacc : I think we have different thought processes about music. We share some ideas, but yes, I think we’re different, very different. And therefore Narcotic Syntax stands for surprise. Neither of us knows what will happen in the studio. He (JDB) is the one who conceives the project and the music, but I’m a musician, so I play with the music.
James Dean Brown : He plays the music I have in my head.
yapacc : It’s always a surprise!
James Dean Brown : Usually I make the architecture of the track, and I bring some samples and some ideas about rhythms. yapacc is the designer, the musician, and he fills it up with lots more ideas. But sometimes we’re in front of the computer, and he’s doing something, and I’m thinking the track could go in a certain direction, and suddenly he’s executing everything I have in my mind without having said anything. So this proves that we are the right team.
HRFQ : So will the mixture of club and pop music, with Robert Conroy, continue?
James Dean Brown : Sure, yeah, definitely. This will be our direction for the future. But we never know what will happen. We did the “Provocative Percussion” double EP, but this project is finished and we’ve now started a new track which will concentrate on space jams and psychedelic Krautrock vibes. So we will finally bring Krautrock back to the club.
HRFQ : James, your DJ sets are extremely inclusive, embracing funk, techno, latin beats. Can you tell us more about what you call the “potpourri flow”?
James Dean Brown : (Laughs) In the past, instrumental orchestras used to record potpourris of famous songs, medleys. They put together songs from different decades in one rhythmic flow. So my potpourri flow is that I play all the styles you just mentioned. It’s also to surprise people. Maybe I’ll start a bit more minimal, and then the crowd thinks, “Oh, this is the sound for tonight”, but it isn’t. After 20 minutes it’s completely changed. I hope it works well. After last night’s set someone told me, “Listening to your set is like is listening to music history”.
HRFQ : yapacc, do you find yourself doing the same with your live sets?
yapacc : It’s not exactly the same, but similar in the way that I like to perform different styles in one live set. But I go straight for the dancefloor most of the time. You can hear some minimal stuff and also some melodies and more techno style. I have many projects, and I can include all those projects in my live sets.
James Dean Brown :I think it’s an important thing to allow yourself to do whatever you want. I think a lot of producers restrict themselves to a certain sound. Sometimes I think we should stay in one direction, we should produce something which is obviously for the clubs. But, on the other hand, this isn’t our style. We see that we are quite successful selling our records because we do something different with every record. So that proves to us that we’re on the right track. And now we’re changing our style again, but keeping the name. Even if we did death metal we’ll still be called Narcotic Syntax.
HRFQ : So, what else can we look forward to in the future?
James Dean Brown : Well, definitely the Krautrock thing. We think we could make a concept album like they used to in the ‘70s. Three tracks, one track would be maybe 20 minutes long, and the other two tracks would be linked to each other, and the album length would be about 40 minutes. Like back in the old days, you would have two LP sides each about 20 minutes long. Then there’ll be an edit, with the 20-minute track cut down to about 12 for an EP. I talked to Zip about it, and he said if he likes the music it’s a great idea. He always likes that the album is different to what is released on the EP. So he’s okay with the format, and I hope he’s okay with the music when it’s finished. So this could be our next project, not only an EP but a full-length album.
End of the interview
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