Kris Wadsworth - "Intensely emotive music is everywhere and in all forms. You can express any emotion with sounds, without having an actual 'voice'.
- Published on Wednesday, 16 January 2013 15:14
Kris Wadsworth tells it like it is. For those that truly understand him however, there's an acknowledgment that his music says ten times as much about him as his mouth ever could. As prolific and obsessed a musician as you're ever likely to meet, recent years have seen Kris transformed into a burgeoning and critically acclaimed DJ and producer. A vinyl lover, hardcore canine-enthusiast and part-time philosopher, MEOKO caught up with Mr. Wadsworth to reflect back on, and look ahead to, some of the happiest and most important years of his professional and personal life so far.
Yo Kris, thanks for talking to us. How do you reflect back on 2012? It was a pretty big year for you, what with the move and the debut LP.
I played a lot of the big, famous clubs in Europe last year for the first time. Fabric alone, three times in less than a year. I guess I must be doing something right? I went all over the place, met some awesome people, and worked my ass off on too many productions for me to even count. And yes, all while immigrating to Germany, writing an album, and staying 150% sober. No joke, it was the best year of my personal and also professional life to date. I rang in the New Year headlining at Fabric with real friends, my girlfriend, and at the club I play more frequently than anywhere else. What else could I ask for? 2012 was kind of busy for sure, but I loved it. 2013 looks like it’s another step in the same direction and I couldn’t be happier.
You grew up listening to a lot of heavy metal and dark, conscientious hip-hop. What was it about electronic music that first attracted you? Did it stir up something inside of you that no other music could?
I heard all sorts of stuff, you know? Detroit is a music city first and foremost. Most people that are still there that I know have great taste in music. It was common when I think about it. There is a strong sense of what is “seriously” good there. Almost like a bubble, if you will. I think that has very much decreased in the last decade or so, unfortunately, but the things I heard on little college radio stations, public radio stations, and even major radio stations late at night had a huge role in exposing me to some cool stuff. Family and friends play a big role in anyone’s upbringing too.
I guess I just heard electronic music and it made sense to me. I 'got it'. And the stuff I 'got' somehow was the stuff most usually do not 'get'. It stirred up everything in me. How could it not? There are a lot of connections between all music that people really don’t often see. I hear a Dimebag Darrell riff or a Ghostface Killah verse and I think about it a little differently than most. That’s what it seems like maybe, I don’t know. I’ve always been hyper-sensitive to my surroundings and what they may or may not contain. When I was falling asleep on the floor of my bedroom at age 11 listening to Plastikman’s classic album 'Musik', for example, I knew I had found something that I could totally disappear into another world with. I think all good music takes you there though, no matter what it is. You’re drawn to music which reflects who you are, which gives you something to hold on to. It finds you or you find it, and I suppose the rest is inconsequential.
It's commonly known that you had a tough upbringing in Detroit. With rock, hip-hop and the blues expressing pain, sadness or anger is given a literal voice through lyrics and singing but this isn't possible (in the same way) with electronic music. I suppose I'm interested in whether (and if so, how) you translated your feelings into your electronic productions or if the music's less inherently song-like format meant it became more of a way to escape your harsh, difficult surroundings?
Electronic music can convey as much emotion as any rock, hip-hop or blues song. It is possible in the same way, I can tell you all about that. Bear with me as I explain. Sounds make you feel; no matter if it’s a voice, a synth, a clap, a guitar, or just 'noise'. Like I said before, there are a lot of parallels between different forms of music that people don’t often see. Intensely emotive music is everywhere and in all forms. You can express any emotion with sounds without having an actual 'voice'. Track titles can be helpful at times too. At the end of the day, it’s up to the listener to decide what they take from a piece of music. That’s why it’s so cool. It’s endless! Listen to classical music or jazz and then tell me you always need words. Words can be a hindrance a lot of times even. Being an artist gives you an opportunity to guide people to feel, think, and even sometimes act. What they do with it or how it affects their lives, (as fans have told me innumerable times), is amazing - especially when they feel very similar to how you feel when you wrote it.
I had a girl about three weeks ago write me from Chicago who was pissed off about her job, taking annoying public transit to work, just kinda sick about her life, right? She was listening to a track every day on the way to work that I made when in a similar situation myself called 'It’s Time'. I told her why she probably likes that track and where it came from to begin with. She likes it even more now. The same track made a bunch of kids in Italy start an outright bloody brawl in a club. I felt that way too. I was totally pissed off, totally out to do some damage, but instead of doing so, I turned to music. I wish I had the sense or ability to do that in other times of my life, but I didn’t. However, much to my amazement, it’s pretty clear that I did express those emotions accurately according to these people and many others. That shit trips me out.
People don’t have to know this stuff, they feel what it is. While tracks like 'It’s Time' have vocals, there are plenty of others which depict moments in life that I cannot always give words to. You identify with a feeling just the same when you hear those too. It would be cool if more people aimed at that when making music, rather than the 'Top' whatever. I’ve said this before and I will always say this: a good artist can express themselves accurately. That is what I am always trying to do. Do some homework and investigate what kind of people 'rock, hip hop, and blues' come from. You might be shocked to realize they got some serious demons too. Most artists do. It comes with the territory.
Tell us about Uranus Records, the vinyl-only, limited press imprint you've recently set up. How long has it been in the pipeline?
URANUS is just an outlet for purifying my music. It’s my own world, with a dually sarcastic and meaningful name. There are no vocals allowed, no intention of success, no anything aside from a place where I can do whatever I want and with the best sound quality possible for my music. I make a lot of stuff, I always have. I can’t put out music every other month on everyone else’s label. Sometimes it seems like I might, [laughs], but that's only because I have a lot to say. The stuff on my own label is different from anything else I release. It’s a place for me to escape to, strictly on my own terms and as a gesture of support to the culture which I feel supports me. You cannot fight technology, but you can support what you believe in. I believe in quality vinyl, quality mastering, quality record shops, real DJs and patrons of electronic music which love it as much as I do. I’m not trying to do anything which catches the attention of the masses here. I never try to anyways, but for me, this is my little contribution back to a culture which has given me so much. A really weird 'thank you' card to the 'cool' people all over the world. I hope you guys like it.
Over the years you've really honed your own sound. I like to think of it as 'straight-jacket tech-funk'. Can you chart exactly how this sound came to be? Are you at all conscious of having constructed such a unique, easily identifiable sound? Does it ever feel constrictive?
Nope. I make a lot of different stuff. It feels constrictive when people try to categorize me though, or base their classification on one track or three. I wasn’t really conscious of it until Jamie Russell of Hypercolour told me not long ago that; “You know a Kris Wadsworth record the second you hear it.” I think my face turned red and I said “Really?” He looked at me like I was retarded or something. It’s humbling to know that people think that way. I just try to stay true to myself. I’ve alluded to this a few times in this interview and elsewhere. It’s not an easy path - BELIEVE ME when I tell you that. I think people are finally starting to get it though, and that makes me really happy. There are very few people out here that can move around between “genres” and still be identified. Philipp Jung at Get Physical told me something like that. In my eyes, that is probably the biggest compliment a producer can ever get. Way better than any award or poll position. Something real, you know? Something that lasts that no one can ever take from you. There are a million hyped-up, one trick pony types. I’m pretty happy not being one of them even though some of them are pretty nice guys.
Your debut LP 'Life & Death' dropped in November last year. I feel like certain areas of the dance music press never gave it the respect it deserved. Reflecting back, how do you feel about that and the album more generally?
Really? I’m on the cover of DJ Mag partly due to that album. Groove did a nice piece on it, De:Bug did a few things on it, Defected did a nice piece on it, Mixmag bit it, even Vibe Magazine in New York City which blew me away. No other underground act is in a major American magazine like that and with that sort of coverage. I think the typical source, Resident Advisor, didn’t give a shit because I don’t do charts? I’m not sure. They review all sorts of other things of mine very nicely; also recently for the Save You release which has a remix of mine on it. I am not sure why the album went under their radar.
That aside, I feel good about it. I love the press it got. It was from people that support me consistently and honestly. It’s not easy going your own way, doing your own thing, and being yourself. The people who matter most are the ones who 'get it'. I’m not a media darling or a socialite - I’m an artist. Dance music albums are a joke these days: a million collabs, all vocal crap, people not even writing it themselves, tons of filler that has no meaning or direction or just boring track after boring track with no expression of anything other than what they've already said ten times before. Oh yeah, and one or two thoughtless singles intended to finance the whole thing and get them DJ gigs. Artistry is nearly dead in this industry. It’s all about being a 'superstar'. I think I made my views about that shit pretty clear with tracks like 'Famous Anus'. I murdered and buried the notion of me being a 'deep house producer' with tracks like 'The Boring People'. It’s a statement. Confrontational yet humorous, and exactly what I was trying to do with it. If that means I don’t get 'album of the year', who gives a fuck? Not me. That is not the goal over here. Lots of people respect that album a lot. I guess some stuff goes over a few people’s heads. I’m used to that. People misunderstand me as a person almost as often as they do my music.
I thought your collaboration with Jimmy Edgar on the LP was a particularly strong one. You guys share a similar musical aesthetic: funky, techy, sleazy, sexy. Are you as similar in real life as you are musically? Will there be more collaborations in the future?
Jimmy is…Jimmy. He’s an amazing producer with an almost scary amount of diversity in his discography. The dude is bad-ass. He’s fuckin’ hilarious and really smart, and he’s been through some of the same things I have with labels, the industry, life and the like. He’s just cool in my book and I’m really proud to call him a friend.
He has started his own label as well and we are going to collaborate for it. I only collaborate with certain people, if anyone has noticed: Butane, Mark Broom, Alex Jones and Jimmy Edgar so far. If I step back and look at my 'company', it’s pretty impressive. Integrity is something I value highly.
The second LP must be dropping soon on Hypercolour. Releasing two albums so close to each other is something we rarely see. Why did you decide to do it? In what ways does this LP differ to the first, both in terms of sound and your relationship to it?
My second album is coming when I feel like it. I already have a bit of it done and some material ready to finish. I’m taking my time. The thing people should be asking, that you see way too often, is why the fuck are there people who contribute NOTHING back to this music aside from phoney little DJ gig stunts even given the time of day? I’m a music producer. What else would I be doing? Oh right, somehow everything else other people do too? DJing all over, moving to the other side of the world, remixes, press stuff, and you know, a love life, grocery shopping, digging for records and all that. I work harder than a lot of people fully grasp. I eat, sleep, breathe, shit and shower music. It’s all I got. I love making music and people who have something shitty to say can fuck off. Ask them why they can’t make a track on their own or make more than one once every ten years. I’m creative for a living. No joke.
Hypercolour are my boys. They have stuck beside me through thick and thin, ups and downs for like five years. That is much more than I can say for a lot of other people. Some people just don’t get me. I have a hard time with 'people'. Hypercolour are normal, down to earth, real dudes. Know what I mean? They are my friends, you see? They also run great, honest labels and support me more than anyone out there. How could I not give something more back to them? It’s going to be dope, already is. It’s for my boys, you understand? That’s how it differs. It’s my first album but on steroids; menacing yet kind; dangerous as fuck, but will put a big smile on your face at the same time. That’s how I roll…
Where does your love for dogs come from? You and Derrick Carter should get together, I hear he's got seven.
I talk to Derrick a little. You know I did a remix for his and Luke’s label right? I’m doing another one right now and will most likely drop some more tracks at some point. We will have to wait and see. Yeah the dude has a few dogs and seems like he loves them to bits like a real man. You know my girlfriend says you can tell a person’s character by the way they treat animals. I’ve had all sorts of pets - from beetles, snakes, frogs, toads, birds, cats, exotic predatory fish and of course dogs - my whole life. Animals and music are my sanctuary. You don’t give a fuck about a damn thing when you got your best friend.
I love animals. I have a hard time with humans sometimes, but animals don’t fuck around. They just love ya’. Dogs don’t care what the fuck happened years ago, they don’t give a shit if you just got out of jail, they protect you and stand loyal till death right by your side.
I have a Doberman, as some people know. I rescued him from some real shit heads. I watched him go from a horrifically abused and starved, death-warmed-over, shattered existence to a beautiful, amazingly intelligent, hilarious, loving, sweet and often intimidating young guy. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I love him to death, his name is Dennis. He is almost four years old and I have had him since he was 9 months. We talk on Skype when he’s not too busy. He’s coming over shortly. He sent me a Christmas card even! He signed it with a muddy paw, that little bastard. I travel and shit, man. I can’t have him over here until I make sure someone I really trust can look after him. I’m very careful with him. That’s my kid.
Finally, you're playing for Save You on the 2nd Feb at Basing House in London. I sense that you're itching to move to the city. Have you managed to figure out what it is about the capital that you love so much? Do you think you ever will move here?
London is magic. I’ve spent a fair amount of time there. Not all of it has been a fairy tale, nowhere can be, but there is something about the UK in general that just draws me to it. My girlfriend lives there too, so it just feels right. I’ve noticed it over the years especially now that I’ve been sober for two. I love Germany though. I was just in Cologne on the other side of the country and I absolutely loved it. This sounds stupid, but I think it changed me a little. Berlin is great too, but it’s really cliché. I’ve played pretty much all the famous clubs here, but I never feel as comfortable as I do in the UK. I wish I did! I love Berlin, but its hype and stuff sometimes is like…eurgh. I’m not that kind of guy. I think the people who are from here feel that way too sometimes. They tell me they do! [Laughs] I’ve been getting torn between the two countries lately. I love the UK, but Germany is much less complicated in terms of immigration. They both offer me a good life. We will see shortly since my 'people' and I are on the case. Like most things I do, I try my best to do them right. The writing is on the wall though. Basing House will be fun, I haven’t played there yet and the dudes from Save You are good people.
Words: Carlos Hawthorn
Catch Kris Wadsworth next at Save You Records at The Basing House - More info here