Mr C: interview
Posted: Thu Jun 28 2007
How come you waited seven years since your ‘Subterrain’ to put out another compilation?I just didn't have any desire to do a mix compilation. I didn't see the point, to be honest. There's loads of CDs out there, loads of free downloads on the internet and all that sort of stuff. I'm a really busy working DJ, at least three gigs a week for the past few years, especially the last year, which has been mental, so people can come and hear me play. The label, Superfreq Records, was in its infancy and wasn't really ready to do a CD and the night as well was just building steadily, without any hype – I always prefer to let things grow organically, without being forced – so the time wasn't really right to do a Mr C mix CD. But last year we had three successful parties at DC10 and we had a really successful run of parties here and I wanted to step it up a bit so we moved down into the club where it's a bit darker and a bit louder, and we're stepping up the label, having a release every month rather than every three or four months, getting a little more serious about it and now's a good time to do a CD, especially because the music has changed a lot. The last CD, Subterrain, was a really nice tech house CD. But the tech house thing got a bit stale and stopped being innovative and moving forward, but with the advent of the more electronic sound coming through, (which I still believe is tech-house, without the bongos and the congos), it became more right to do a new CD.
You were called MC Chelsea Boy when you first started. Wasn’t that name tempting fate with other football fans?Well, that name was a CB [Citizen’s Band] Radio thing. When I was a kid and it was illegal, doing it on the AM, and you had to have a ‘handle’ [a nickname], and being a Chelsea fan I became Chelsea Boy. So from when I was 13 to until about 16 I was Chelsea Boy, and then I started MCing and I needed a silly MC name because MCs have silly names so I because I thought I was becoming a man (it's funny because I'm 41 now and I still don't feel I've grown up!) but at 16 I went from Chelsea Boy to Mr C. The MCing was a hobby for a couple of years, just doing it on the street with my mates and in CB clubs, things like that, but when I was 17-18 I started to take it a bit more seriously, doing it in clubs and starting to get known, and that was when Mr C started to take off.
Are you ever tempted to pick up a microphone these days?I still do quite often, but very rarely in London. At the last Stink, at the T Bar a couple of weeks ago, Damian Lazarus insisted I get on the mic. I went alright, go on then. I put on a silly moustache on my eyebrows and became MC Unibrow. Damian and Matthew Dear were playing back to back and then I got on and did a quick blast rapping as MC Unibrow, talking bollocks, it was hilarious. But no, I still do MC from time to time, not so much in England because people know me as an MC here, but when I'm abroad. When I'm in Italy they absolutely insist, the promoters and the fans push me to get on the mic, so I'd say one in six or seven gigs I'll do a bit of MCing still.
How long was it before you concentrated on DJing?I started DJiing in 1987. I put my first record out in July ’87 on Bad Records, Eddie Richards’ label, and the artist name was Myster-E, the Mr from Mr C and the E from Evil Eddie Richards. That was my first track and I was giving out promos of that this time 20 years ago and I was in the Limelight on Shaftesbury Avenue and I was thinking I've got to start taking this more seriously, I've got to dedicate more time to songwriting and DJing. I really need to become a DJ so in ’87 I gave up my job as a milkman and said right, now I'm professionally going to be a DJ-producer and I'm going to get on it. So I did a few little parties, played at Translantic at the Wag on Tuesdays and Enter the Dragon at the Park in Kensington, where I was already an MC anyway with Colin Favor and stuff, a few little warehouse parties. In ’88 I felt I really had to push it so I started my own night, in February, Phantasy at HQs in Camden Lock. I did that fortnightly for about six months and then I hooked up with Paul Rip and we became residents at Clink Street and it just went from there really. Once Clink Street kicked off the DJs there were very in demand, myself, Colin Favor, Eddie Richards and Kid Bachelor and Shock Sound System were all in demand and that helped me get a load of gigs. At the end of ’88 I started a residency at the Arena in Turnpike Lane for about a year, and then I got my Braintree Barn residency every Friday which is where Prodigy first got a first taste of dance music, with Liam Howlett and Leeroy and those boys were watching ther records going round and saying ‘what's that?’ and I remember Liam Howlett gave me a cassette and it had ‘Charlie Says’ on it, their first single, and he said ‘what do you think of this Rich?, I want your professional advice.’ I came back the next week and said ‘drop the breakbeats, drop the cheesy pianos and you'll go a long way.’ It was the worst advice I could have given (laughs). Thank God they completely ignored my terrible advice and went on to become the stars they were meant to be! From then on I started getting international work, ’cos by '89 and it really kicked off for me. My apprenticeship was really Clink Street…
Clink Street [a warehouse party in Clink Street in Southwark, 1988] was so acid house. I loved the Shoom but Clink Street was properly hardcore wasn't it?Oh yes! We had two rooms. I was in the long room with Shock Sound System and in the other room were Colin Favor, Eddie Richards and Kid Batchelor and it was absolutely mental, all of the stuff that went on there it was ridiculous. but it was very acid house, especially in our room, we really pushed the acid side of it. But anything could happen in either room. Some strange things happened there, proper mental.
I remember the atmosphere when I went there and it really felt edgy…It was very edgy. You had so many people from different walks of life, different age groups, different classes, all experimenting on Es and acid probably for their first time and clubbing and taking drugs in that sort of warehouse environment and it did make it edgy. You'd see the most beautiful person you'd ever seen in your life and then half an hour later they'd turned into the ugliest person, it was a case of extremes, and it did give a real edge to procedings, but there was never any real trouble there. It was really funny watching top soccer hooligans swapping pills, really weird (laughs).
The 'Ebeneezer Goode' track. How did you get away with that?Because it was really cleverly written basically. Colin came up with the idea at a Synergy event at the Town & Country in Kentish Town. Some guy put his arms on Colin's shoulder and he was off his nut and his eyes were rolling and he said 'E's are good, Es are good.' And the idea came to Colin for Ebeneezer Goode then. Colin said ‘Rich, I've got an idea for a song called “E’s are good.” I went, ‘you're having a laugh aren't you?’ He said, ‘no really, It’lll be Ezer short for Ebeneezer, and his name is spelt Goode. The chorus would be “Ezer Goode” so you've got to go and write the rap, but it's got to be ambiguous.’ I said, ‘how do you mean?’ He said, ‘'ell it’s got to be completely ambiguous. Every line has to be both about E and about this guy, can you do that?’ I said ‘Yeah, it shouldn't be hard, because when the word “he” is spoken in a cockney accent, it drops the aitch and become ''e'. I can do that.’ And if you listen to the song and physically take the aitch [h] away from where it says 'he' then the whole song is about ecstasy, whereas if you have the aitch in it's airtight – you can't say there are any drug references in the song whatsoever. So we had a lot of fun with that. They did try and ban it but you know, we gave them all the lyrics. In the first line it says 'his friends call him Ezer and he is the main geezer' and that justifies the chorus. And there are warnings in the track: [Ebeneezer] is very much maligned and misunderstood. Colin is such a genius. I finished the first draft and he said, ‘yeah, that's good, but the language could be more colourful,’ because he's an intellect and I didn't even go to school from the age of 13, so he was like, ‘OK, let's change this for this, it says the same thing but with more colourful words,’ and I went back and did another draft and by the third draft we'd got it right, and it was so airtight that nothing could be proved. (But months later, once it was all too late I put my hands up and said ‘Yes, it was all about ecstasy, just take away the aitch (h) from the word “he” and everything will be revealed’). And we had a laugh with it. I had a good thing with Radio 1, hilarious this was. We were always doing drug references on Top Of The Pops and they knew it. On our 'Love Sex Intelligence' track, instead of singing 'Coming on like a seventh sense' I said it 'in a bong with a bag of sensi’ which they hardly noticed. But other people picked up on it. But when the next single, ‘Ebenezer Goode’, came out, they know what the song’s about so they were really hardcore with us about what we could say on the song on Top Of The Pops. During rehearsals (because we always insisted on live mics, we wouldn't do it without live mics, it was just a no-no), I was doing the chorus and going ‘Es are good! Es are good!’ and really taking the piss. The producer was getting the needle and everyone was getting the hump about it so when it came to the real take they said, ‘come on, this is the real take. Do it properly’. So I did, but the bit where I say ‘has anyone got any salmon?’ I changed to ‘has anyone got any underlay’' The record company were on my case afterwards, saying 'What's this underlay? It's another drug reference?' I went no, it's just rubbber stuff that goes under carpets, get over it.' They let it drop. The next week I was on Radio 1 with Mark Goodyer at peak time in the mid-afternoon and he said, 'come on tell me about the drug references in Ebenezer Goode, are there any?’ And I said ‘well, yes, I have to admit that there is a drug reference and I apologise to all the Radio 1 listeners for that, I really shouldn't have put it into the song.’ So he said ‘well, what is the drug reference?’ I said ‘you know the bit where I say “Has anyone got any salmon?” Well, in cockney rhyming slang salmon and trout = snout, which is a slang word for tobacco, so I'm sorry about mentioning nicotine and tobacco because hundreds of thousands of people are dying of lung cancer and I really shouldn't be promoting tobacco use, I'm really, really sorry. So he goes ‘Oh, is that why on Top of the Pops last week you dropped that line?’ I said ‘yeah.’ He said ‘but you sang “has anyone got any underlay?” So what's underlay then, is that a drug reference?’ I went ‘Oh, that’s not a drug reference, that's a rug reference!’ For me that was my favourite moment in pop: its a rug reference. Brilliant! (laughs).
I remember those parties that you and The Shamen put on at The Garage called Synergy, what were they about?When the band moved down to London and wanted to start touring and stuff it was about that synergy between two things. For those people who don't know what synergy is it's when 2 and 2 add up to 8, when the sum of two things coming together is much more powerful than their individual components. That is what it was about, making a hybrid of acid house and indie rock. That was what the Shamen was all about, and that was what the parties were all about, a synergy of a concert and rave…
When you and Layo [Paskin] started The End, you were very keen to bring the underground into the West End and embrace as wide a music policy as possible….Putting all our eggs into one basket at The End would have been a disaster. There is so much good music, from rock to soul to dance to reggae and drum'n'bass, whatever, there are so many good genres, we always thought it was good to get as many of those genres as we thought were relevant to us involved in the club, and keep an open mind and an eye on what is going on and keep it moving forward. And it's worked! Every year it gets better and better in here. Every year it's more successful, every year there are more nights…we're in our twelfth year and we've just had our best financial year ever, it's fantastic. And that's because of the programming, Layo [Paskin, of Layo and Bushwacka!] as Creative Director has been fantastic, Zoe [Paskin, Layo's sister] managing of the venue has been so on the money it's unbelievable. We had our hairy moments before Zooe took over, we almost went under, it was really hard work. On a couple of occasions we nearly went bankrupt sticking with the underground thing, but it pulled through and the work that the Paskin family have done here [Layo's dad, the architect Leo Paskin, originally designed the venue] has been second-to-none. And the work of the management team like Liam, Ty – all the managers that have been here in AKA has been magnificent, a great team effort. I've been the lucky one who's not really had to do much, be a 'face', book DJs when the office is having a problem – just use the weight of my name to phone them and and say "Oi, what are you saying?" you know (laughs) – but I've had the odd Director's meeting and really have just had to worry about my own nights, like an outside promoter almost. For me it's been a very easy ride and it's thanks to the amazing team here at The End that that's been possible.
And so it must still feel good when you walk into the End?'I love it, you know. That was why after a year of doing Superfreq in the AKA I wanted to move it downstairs to The End, I just missed playing down there. I love AKA but The End is louder and darker and more me, you know. I absolutely love comiing down here and playing every week. I still love DJing; I get such a thrill out of it. I'm really excited about doing Glastonbury this weekend, I've never played the dance tent at Glastonbury and I'm really excited. And I'm excited about the Time Out Lovebox Weekender in July, where The End will have an arena, and I'm excited about playing the Dance Valley festival in Holland, and I'm looking forward to that (I haven't played there for ten years), so you can see that I'm still very excitable, I absolutely love it. And my reasons for DJing have changed a bit over the last few years. Now my sole reason for DJing is to have fun and to give people as much fun as possiible, whereas before I was DJing for fun but I always had this purpose, to be held in awe, and I've managed to get rid of that [through] therapy. So now my DJing is all about turning people on and having a lot of fun and I'm enjoying it more than I ever have 20 years on.
Was the reference to ‘therapy’ a joke?No, it wasn't. I started to learn acting, the Stanislavski method, about three years ago and learning about acting you have to find out about the purpose of the character before the script starts, like what makes the character who they are in the script, so you have to find the purposes of the character, and the best way to learn how to do that is to find the purposes in yourself, which I went about doing and I found that my purpose was to be held in awe, and that needed to be dealt wiith, because as an actor if you're on stage and you have this purpose to be held in awe you're going to be wondering what people think about you while you're doing the part and that means you're not the character, you're you. And that's bad acting. I don't want to be a bad actor, I want to be a good actor, so it's about getting it right, getting rid of any delusions of grandeur, getting rid of the insecurity complexes which can get in the way of the acting. The crowd or the cameras don't exist, they're pink elephants, only the character and the script exist. That's real, everything else is non-existent and that's what I had to learn. That sorted me out and it changed my DJing.
Because now you play for fun and for the crowd?Well, yes. I always had an ego the size of a bus, which has been great for my DJing and my pop star career to have such a huge ego. I loved TV and being on radio and performing and it was my ego that loved all that. But it became a barrier. I always had this problem. I’d say to myself ‘Why am I never nominated for the big DJ Awards? I’m one of the best DJs in the world!’ Now, I’m not one of the best DJs in the world (laughs) by a long shot, but then I’d be thinking there’s no DJ who’s technically as good as me, there are no DJs who have the integrity I’ve got with underground music, so why am I not as big as Carl Cox annd Danny Tenaglia and so on? Why am I not as famous when I’ve done more for music? I’ve opened a club. I’ve done a pop band. I’ve opened the doors for the likes of The Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Underworld (The Shamen opened the doors for those bands), and I’ve done all this for dance music and I’m keeping it underground and not selling out, so why am I not getting the recognition? And the reason I wasn’t getting it was because I was ‘perfect’, and ‘perfect’ is a huge limitation. Once I let go of perfection I got better! And now everything seems to be happening and I don’t want it. It’s really weird but I’ve recently been nominated for Best DJ in the DJ Magazine Best of British Awards, that’s my first ever nomination as a DJ, 20 years down the line!But my ego was holding me back, my bullshit attitude about being the best was holding me back, but not any more. It’s liberating. The pleasure I’m getting from seeing the smiles on the dancefloor far outweighs anything else. For me that direct connection with the crowd and helping them (and me) to have the most fun is the ultimate pleasure in dance music. As a DJ I would get pretty deep and anal a few years ago and start clearing the dancefloor, which was kind of selfish, it was me showing off about how I could bring them all back again. I’m still dark and deep but in a much more fun way… I don’t clear it anymore.
The 20th anniversary celebrations (at The End and AKA on Saturday 30 June) seem like an extension of Superfreq, but you’re also bringing in some fellow veterans too?I wanted to do Mr C Past, Present and Future. So here in the AKA we’re going to go for the Past and we’ve got Eddie Richards, who was my mentor, he and Colin Favor really inspired me with their technical brilliance, so he had to play. And then there’s Richard Grey; we’ve been friends since ’87-’88 and then he started DJing so I took him under my wing and supported him and Femi B was another one who I encouraged to play. He was my best pal and we used to hang out together. I knew that he could mix so one time when I was on Dance FM (the pirate station) pretended to take a phone call and then left him on the decks for half an hour and he handled it really well so I pushed him into doing more DJing and he became very successful. So these three guys, Femi, Richard and Eddie, are a huge part of my history and it’s nice for them to do the retro bit. The main room is the ‘present’ with Luciano, DJ T of Get Physical, one of the best electro-house DJs in the world, Dollz at Play and myself. And the Lounge is the future, with DJ Stick, who dropped out for a while but he’s back now, an amazing DJ who been doing some really good productions lately, and he’s got a track on my new Superfreq compilation (as Hijacker and Stick), there’s Luke vB of Blonde and Superfreq Records; Cley from the Martini Brothers; Vera, the German DJ who’s getting better and bigger all the time, so the Lounge is like the future.
Is Luciano your fave DJ right now?He’s been my number one DJ for the past year or so, engaged in a sort of fisticuffs with Steve Bug, and they’re my two favourites. Very different DJs, of course, but for their individual mixing styles they’re my favourites. And my production partner, Adultnapper is improving all the time, he’s up there in my top five fave DJs now.
Why do you prefer playing the late shift, the 3am-5am slot at Superfreq?Well, because it’s for those that really mean it. The ones who may know they’ve got to go to work at 9am but they’re hanging out to hear me. And when you’re playing to people who really want it something special happens. And again, because I’ve controlled my ego somewhat I like the guests to get the main shout, I want them to have the full room. And also people are more twisted later on, and at the end of the night the last three or four tracks I can get indulgent and play tunes which are really beautiful and deep and melodic and get people hugging each so I can finish like that and make people leave with a really good vibe, full of love as they say.
And afterwards there’s often a carry-on party somewhere. What’s London like at 6am on a Monday morning? How many options are there?It can be pretty mad. I’ve done some mad afters at places like Public Life. The Kubicle girls are the onne usually responsible for throwing my after hours and theyy’re fantastic, and they’ve done the Whipping House in Cable Street a few times. it’s mental at 7am on a Monday morning annd you’ve got two hundred people going mental in a room, it’s bizarre. I must say it’s quite bizarre (laughs).
Dollz At Play are getting better all the time, but I’ve heard you’re not letting Xotchil get her hands on your records…We celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary last week on the most beautiful beach at Tulum in Mexico [his wife is half Mexican, half Swiss]. It was amazing, but our partnership doesn’t extend to DJing. When she started DJing I said to her you ain’t using my tunes. You’ll have to get your own. She now buys maybe five tracks a week and I’ll buy 20 but they’ll be completely different. When I listen to her set I won’t know any of the tunes.
Lovebox is the first festie that The End have been involved with since Homelands?Yes, we would have carried on with Homelands but we used to lose money on it because we put such an effort into our two tents, good light shows, the Thunder Ridge sound system and amazing DJs and we said ‘give us more money so that we can at least break even’ and they said ‘no’ so we said ‘see you later.’ So that was why we left it. Now, to do another festival it’s great. I’m really looking forward to the Lovebox where we’ll have Felix da Housecat, Layo and Bushwacka, a Digitalism dex and FX set (they tore it up when they played Bugged Out here at The End), Will Saul, Andy Cato of Groove Armada, myself and Paul Arnold of Chew The Fat. And we’ll be doing a Lovebox vs Superfreq after-party at The End on the Sunday.
Is London still special?There’s such a range and depth to the nightlife here. London was already the best clubbing city in the world but the change in licensing laws finally made it into a truly 24-hour city. Now clubbers can decide when they want to go out, whether it’s 8pm or 8am or four o’clock in the afternoon because any time over the weekend there’ll be somewhere open to cater for them. I love it and it’s improved London enormously, especially with all the legal warehouse parties happening too.
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