Morgan Richards on 14/8/12
Best known for his role in developing 'intelligent drum & bass' in the mid to late 90s, Rupert 'Photek' Parkes now feels disconnected from the genre, which was none more apparent than in his recent foray into the DJ Kicks series, which showed the L.A. residing artist leaning towards a more UK bass driven sound - a genre term, like many of his contemporaries, that leaves him a little bemused.
In this interview Morgan Richards chats with Photek about his past, his present, film scores, Miles Davis and perfectionism.
Pulse: So you're an Englishman living in LA. When did you first move there from the UK? Photek: I first got a place out here in 2001, and I was trying to live half in LA, half in London for a couple of years. That got a bit much, that was a lot of air miles and a lot of jet lag. So after a couple of years of that I decided to choose one over the other and I picked LA.
Why did LA come out on top? The weather was a big part of it. You know, having a bit more of an outdoor life. And the reason I came out in the first place was to do some score work, so that was part of it too.
Score work? Can you elborate on that? I got asked to do the score for a TV pilot for Paramount Pictures. It was a sort of Mel Gibson and Jet Li co-production called Invincible. It was sort of Matrix-like. That was the first thing I worked on, and over the past few years I’ve done bits and pieces on a bunch of different movies, like The Italian Job and The Animatrix, through to some smaller indie movies.
Having made stuff like "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu", have you ever had offers to score martials arts movies and the like? Not really, funnily enough. I always thought that was weird. Tracks like "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu" have been licensed into Blade and movies like that. I got asked to do one scene in the third Matrix movie, where it was a complete drum 'n' bass, samurai-style scene and it worked really well. But in the end the producers were like, 'this music's a bit mental'. (Laughs.) I think they wanted strings and trumpets.
Your recent DJ-Kicks has been causing quite a stir. It's worlds apart from the old-school Photek sound; there's a much warmer vibe to it. I think that side's always been there. Maybe the DJ-Kicks has more in common with 'Solaris' than with 'Modus Operandi', let's say. It's kind of an issue, like, what is Photek? (Laughs.) Now that music's come back to how it was when I first got into it, which is very... everything mashed together. DJ sets contain pop music to disco house to dubstep to whatever. That's how it was when I first went out raving. So it's weird to go through that transition into very specialised music, to make a name for myself in a very specialised way, then to carry on in the obvious next steps for me... and then have people keep referring back to those early records all the time.
I like what I defined as that Photek minimal sort of sound, but there have always been other sides to it. I suppose it's a bit like Miles Davis talking about, I dunno, 'On The Corner'. That and 'Big Fun', just those two albums all the time, but then you've got all these other albums, from 'Kind of Blue' all the way to 'Tutu'. But it's all Miles Davis.
So jazz has been a big influence on you, I take it? Absolutely, yeah. And you don't hear that in any of my recent music. But you do hear a load of other things that were huge influences on me, like house music. It's just weird to be told what you're supposed to sound like! (Laughs.)
Do you still play old-style Photek sets? I actually did one for Hospital Records in London, literally billed as a Modus Operandi set. It was like anything from 1996 and one year either side of that period. If you want specifically that, then let's call it what it is, you know? So I played that. It's the first time I'd ever done that, though.
You've talked about being a massive perfectionist in the past. In a recent interview you said, in reference to 'Modus Operandi', “I remember when I finished making those tracks, I really did think: these can’t be any better, these are perfect.” Less than I did. I think after years and years of working like that I’ve started being drawn to imperfections. That's definitely something that's changed a little. I’m still very fussy about drums. But now I like to leave a few pops and clicks and deliberate mistakes in music I’ve been making in recent years. Just making it a little less precise.
Recently you've been making music and collaborating with guys like Pinch and Boddika who are pretty deep in the whole UK bass scene. What are your thoughts on bass music? Is it a fad? Is it a legitimate genre? I actually like it, because I don't feel like it's a legitimate genre at all! (Laughs.) "Bass music" - what does that even mean, you know? If you EQ it differently, does it become a different genre? It's as funny as drum 'n' bass in what it's called. What is it, drum 'n' bass without drums? I don't know what it even is, honestly. I think it's just anything that's not brostep or minimal techno. (Laughs.)
What about drum 'n' bass - what do you think about the scene today, both in the UK and abroad? Honestly, I’m not so much connected to it anymore. I used to be in the thick of it, in the centre. In the mid-2000s, I already felt like [drum 'n' bass] was going stylistically in a direction that I had no interest in. It was getting faster and faster, more and more hyper, more and more riff-driven, more plug-in-synth-driven. It's only recently where I’ve felt like making something drum 'n' bass-ish again, but it's going to have to stand on its own completely. Like maybe drum 'n' bass that fits in a bass set rather than in a drum 'n' bass set. (Laughs.)
Thanks Rupert. I've got one last quick question. What do you miss most about living in England? The Sunday Times and Formula One.
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