Some people in the game always push for attention. Their ego and social media presence often outweigh the quality of their musical output. Thankfully, we have artists like DJ Richard who prefer to keep it low-key. Rather than fighting for admiration, the White Material co-founder prefers to listen to tracks in the comfort of Berlin’s Record Loft where he works.
In this feature the Rhode Island native discusses the makings of his debut album ‘Grind‘, scheduled for release on 4th September 2015. He also shares details about the loss of his laptop in 2014, along with the stems, WAV’s and back-up for his initial album, forcing him to write a completely new album. We’re also happy to offer you a first listen to DJ Richard’s new track ‘Savage Coast‘.
Words by Mateusz Mondalski Photography by Emily Shinada
"I never set out with the intention to "write an EP” or whatever… I'm just making certain tracks and then I feel - "Okay, here we go.” - but I never set out to accomplish this in the first place."
How have you been lately? You’ve spent some time in the US and played shows there in cities like New York and Washington. Before that you also did a spring tour in Europe with stops at Paris and London. Recently you focused on some launch parties for the release of your debut album Grind.
Touring in the States was fun. It was the first time I played somewhere outside of New York in a long time. I played there three times but it was also cool to go to places like Washington D.C. and North Carolina.
Did you play in your home city – Providence?
I actually didn’t. Most of the time that I was in Rhode Island I was just relaxing, I went to the beach a lot and I did a bit of reading. Just great. (laughs)
What is the scene like in Rhode Island? Any clubs with your sort of music?
I have a few friends who have been doing smaller dance-related events in Providence. Morgan Louis, Galcher Lustwerk and Alvin Aronson used to do a party there a while ago. It’s a small city but people in general are very committed and supportive – even if it’s a party with just five people. It’s still a really fun night.
"Acid and electro are two genres that I could keep buying endlessly."
You also played the famous Warm Up party at MoMA PS1. How was that? Are you strictly into club events or do you enjoy open-air shows too?
Yeah, that was really great. For a large-scale event it was very relaxed and everyone involved was very friendly and professional. The open-air thing is fun because there’s a different sort of expectation from the audience. It’s during the day and it is more of a social and communal experience, because people see their faces.
I think as a deejay you get to put on a sort of different thing. It was fun to be playing back-to-back with Galcher. We were playing some really slow eighties electro and this sort of vibe which was really fun and chill. It was in the afternoon on Independence Day.
Before you took a month’s break in the US, you did a few shows in Europe back in June – for example in Amsterdam and Hamburg. How did that go?
I got to play Golden Pudel again in June. It’s absolutely my favourite place to deejay… so that was definitely a highlight.
You played with our mutual friend Jacek Plewicki aka RRRKRTA, right?
"My deejay sets sometimes go in different directions but there's always an anchor in acid at the same time, I'm not interested in producing acid at all."
I saw the poster with the skeleton doll. Pretty creepy but also amazing!
Yeah, a great flier by the wonderful Nina! The party was so much fun. Jacek and I never got the chance to play that much together even though we were hanging out almost every day in Berlin (DJ Richard and Jacek used to work together at The Record Loft) so it was a great fun to play at the Pudel until eight or nine in the morning.
I’d like to rewind back to 2014. I heard that you had a full album ready back then and – as we know – the new release is coming out next week. You encountered some issues with your computer, right?
I think I had ten or twelve tracks that I was kind of done with and then I had a burglary. One of the things that was taken was my back-up. I lost everything except for one project file that I had on a thumb drive so I had one track and WAVs but no stems – just bounced final WAVs for almost everything. That was in September I guess. I was trying to finish the original record by last fall. It was all gone except for one and a half tracks.
Did any of this retrieved material end up on your forthcoming album?
Yes, actually the second to last track – Ejected – I had finished that. That was actually the first thing I recorded which made me feel that I wanted to do a longer format release. So I had that just as a WAV and a back-up project file with the stems for Screes Of Grey Craig. Everything else was done between the end of September and sort of mid-January.
"I'm way more interested in being excited about some record that I dug out and I think I get more excited about other people's music."
Was the loss of files a devastating experience for you? I imagine you’ve never had anything like that happen before. Did it stress you out?
I was pretty bummed for two days or something but there was legitimately nothing that could be done besides starting new material, and it was almost a relief to be rid of all the old tracks, or some thirty-second preview of a song, which I never completed, for example.
After recording basically an album’s worth of stuff and then losing it, it was very easy for me to get back into it and know what I wanted and what I didn’t want to do based on how it’s been going on for me previously. It was a really fast thing. I made more tracks then for the album. I basically made them in a three-month’s window. It was tighter and feels to me like a more solid release this time around.
The track you’ve mentioned – Screes of Grey Craig – was premiered at an S/S 2014 fashion show of the New York brand Eckhaus Latta in April last year. How did this come about? And is there a story behind the title?
Yeah, they are friends of mine who started their fashion label a couple of years ago in New York while I was still living there. This was in 2011 I think. I did sound and scores for their first couple of presentations. They asked me to write a track for them but what I wrote didn’t really work, so I gave them an early version of Screes of Grey Craig, which I had written around that time. That matched their aesthetic more. The title is a reference to an estate and rock formation near where i grew up.
Around two years ago we met at Berlin’s Record Loft. You’ve been working there for some time. It must be a fascinating experience for a deejay and producer to explore music this way – like a librarian or academic researcher in the world of literature. What impact has it exerted on your album? Has working at a record store pushed you musically in any surprising directions?
I’ve been working there for a year and a half now. I had been there for nine months by the time I started working on this version of the album. One of the things that I love about that job is listening to pretty much everything. (laughs) I’ve really gone through the entire shop. I was checking out and buying a lot of 80s and early 90s EBM, new beat, weird techno – Dutch and Belgian stuff-, just really giving everything an opportunity to be listened to as much as I could.
"I think having a new clean way of recording helped me a lot. I was definitely able to process more heavily and in ways that I always wanted to but couldn't."
I know it’s a difficult question but was there anything in particular that you came to like or appreciate that you maybe detested before? Can you think of any producers or genres that you started to perceive in a different way?
I wouldn’t say I detested it, but I definitely found appreciation for producers like Johannes Heil. He wasn’t as huge in the States as he was here. So the only way I knew his name was through his more recent stuff.
Through working at the Loft I got into all the early stuff from Kanzleramt – 1995, 1996, and 1997. It’s really incredible and not my normal thing. 135 loopy sort of – for lack of a better word – deep techno. But it’s really, really good and I would’ve never guessed that I would be buying up ten Johannes Heil records or stuff like that.
I had a similar experience with Kirk Degiorgio, and through that I got into the whole B12 related network of producers and labels, of which a few have become some of my favourite records.
Was that the sort of music you listened to when you worked on your album?
I don’t think I was listening to a lot of club music. I don’t know. It’s hard to remember.
I saw you play at the Brutaż night in Warsaw this April. You played a long crazy left-field acid set. There was a lot of electro in there too.
Yeah, but that’s more or less the kind of way I’ve been playing for the past year – in that world, very acid-focused. Acid and electro are two genres that I could keep buying endlessly. Even sometimes friends are laughing at me when I’m record shopping because I’m freaking out about some record and they say it sounds like five other records they know I have already. But I just get very much into the details in acid tracks, which make each worth having. I get really into it. My deejay sets sometimes go in different directions but there’s always an anchor in acid (laughs) at the same time, I’m not interested in producing acid at all.
In one interview you said that you’re not interested in playing your own music live and what you’re saying now seems to be in line with this.
I think on this record there are tracks, which are close to stuff I’m also interested in playing but that’s not my priority at all as a deejay. Sometimes I’ll force myself to pack my own records to my bag and I think that it will be fun if I play my own stuff but then I’ll just forget about them when I’m looking for the next record I want to play. It’s never my own thing that comes to mind. I’m way more interested in being excited about some record that I dug out and I think I get more excited about other people’s music.
"When I think of the ocean, I immediately think of certain places in Rhode Island. Somehow being away from the ocean made me feel more adrift. It was always a very grounding thing for me as a defining feature of my environment."
How has your studio setup evolved over the years from Leech2 to Grind?
Once again it all comes back to the computer. I bought a new one after the previous one got stolen. That was a really old laptop. It didn’t have enough processing power. The processor was really shitty so I could only have two channels. That computer was the one I used to make my first two records on White Material.
Then I got a new computer, which had a lot more processing power, and I was able to really get into the detailing that I previously couldn’t in terms of the sounds. So I think having a new clean way of recording helped me a lot. I was definitely able to process more heavily and in ways that I always wanted to but couldn’t. Even things like how a large screen helps create a very open and uncluttered workflow.
Do you work at home or fiddle with tracks in trains or on board airplanes?
Now I’m just working at home. I need to be in a room where there are not too many distractions. I get distracted easily. So I’m producing at home 100% of the time.
Coming back to your album, what I really like about it is how it strikes a balance between the physical and the intellectual. You have these techno tracks intertwined with drone interludes like No Balance or Vampire Dub. It’s also foggy and textured. You were inspired by your home state, right?
Yes, I made the album all in Berlin but it was inspired by my time in Rhode Island. I was actually having a sort of a problem because Berlin was the first place I lived where I didn’t have access to the ocean. It was really driving me crazy last fall – the general knowledge that the ocean isn’t close by was just making me a bit frantic, the ocean was on my mind a lot.
That led me to thinking more and more about the coastline that I grew up on. When I think of the ocean, I immediately think of certain places in Rhode Island. Somehow being away from the ocean made me feel more adrift. It was always a very grounding thing for me as a defining feature of my environment.
That sounds like a curious paradox. Do you have a favourite track on Grind? Is there any particular cut that you’re most happy with?
I don’t know. When I was listening back during the test pressings, there were moments when I was like “Woo!” (laughs), like when the hats come in at the end of I-Mir or a triplet arpeggio comes in onSavage Coast or the kick drum in Nighthawk.
"The only thing that's sampled on Grind are some of the drums. Everything else is completely synthesised."
Very specific details spread throughout the whole album.
Yeah, it’s very hard for me to pick a favourite because I’ve spent so much time with them that I’m sort of beyond that. I think if I were going to play one more than the others it would probably be Savage Coast.
I listened to your album on headphones and I heard some vocals, which were very blurred. Also, the synths in the beginning of Nighthawk reminded me of Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush. Maybe cause they’re in the same key.
Oh! (laughs) The only thing that’s sampled on Grind are some of the drums. Everything else is completely synthesised like the synths and basslines. Some of the kicks even – I did them all from scratch. Oh, actually there is one sample on the first track: the sound of keys being cut.
Some tracks sound very cinematic. You could use them as a score to a movie. Was there any music you were listening to – distant from club as you mentioned – that influenced you at the time? Like art pop or sound design?
I was listening to Alvin Lucier a lot but that’s a very different thing and mostly composition-based music – like Dmitri Shostakovich. I have always been very fond of his music. It’s so tormented and heavy-fisted, depressing, but sometimes with a really perverse sense of humor. I know a lot of people don’t like it for that but I think his work is incredible.
You’re having your album released on Dial. Will you continue your work with Young Male on White Material? Which direction will you be heading?
It will be both. They’re just groups of friends so there’s no pressure to go either way which is great for me. I can be involved with two different groups of people, which I really respect and I love what they’re doing. It’s pretty perfect for me. I only release music with people that I personally know so it’s a privilege I have to know so many great producers and deejays. It will be just which ever makes more sense.
"I only release music with people that I personally know so it's a privilege I have to know so many great producers and deejays. It will be just which ever makes more sense."
Which parties and promoters are you most excited about in Berlin?
I think the place I like most is OHM. Just in terms of it being consistent in adventurous programming. I really respect it that it has managed to hold its identity. It’s also a real fun space, the perfect size. I like that there’s just one room that even when you’re at the bar you’re still directly linked to the deejay booth and the dance floor.
There’s always a lot of cool stuff going on there. At OHM it’s also great cause you can do one-offs. It’s not exclusively promoters who do parties once a month. You have those too but not always. It can be also people who have an idea and have a space they can approach which I find important to any type of community.
What’s next in line for you?
I have a few dates in Europe in the next few weeks but apart from that I think I’ll focus on producing. I’ve been working on a lot of stuff with Draveng but in general I’m just happy to be in production mode again.
I never set out with the intention to “write an EP” or whatever… I’m just making certain tracks and then I feel – “Okay, here we go.” – but I never set out to accomplish this in the first place.
Photography by Emily Shinada
DJ RICHARD – GRIND
4th SEPTEMBER 2015
1. No Balance
3. Waiting For The Green Flash
4. Savage Coast
5. Screes Of Gray Craig
9. Vampire Dub