Classic's Derrick Carter keeps the thumps coming.
Thu Jan 24 2008
“He’s a puppy!” Derrick Carter shouts over a shaky cell-phone signal as he leaves a veterinarian appointment in his native Chicago. “I’ve got four, but he’s the latest in a long line of ne’er-do-wells.” Bad connection, driving, unruly young dog in car.… Probably not the best time to attempt a chat, but TONY will take what it can get: Carter, one of the most influential DJs in house music’s history, does not often consent to interviews. “I have other things to do besides talk about myself,” he says. “When people ask to interview me, I just say ‘Come to the club and write about that instead.’ ” That press shyness is somewhat odd, considering the flamboyance of Carter’s warped take on the house sound. But NYC will be able to catch him at his most outgoing—when he’s behind the decks—as he makes a return trip to Sleepy & Boo’s Basic NYC bash on Saturday 26.
Carter, 38, came of age in Chicago’s nascent ’80s house scene; one of his first forays onto vinyl was 1989’s Mood EP under the name Symbols & Instruments, with fellow Windy City house heads Mark Farina and Chris Nazuka coproducion. “Oh yeah, that was our foray into ambient experimental madness,” Carter recalls. “Basically we had been doing a lot of mushrooms when we did that, and had fun making the machines do what they did.” But it was in the early ’90s—with tracks like “Do Things Dance” and his remix work for artists such as Dajae and the Stickmen—that Carter refined his jacking, jagged and soulful take on electronic house. To this day, it’s a style that’s instantly identifiable as his alone.
“It’s awesome that people think that,” Carter, ever the modest superstar, says. “Honestly, I don’t know what it is. But part of it might be that, at least at first, there were limitations on the equipment; I only had 50 bucks a week to buy chorus pedals and weird little effects things that I would just hook together instead of having some big computer with all these crazy soft synths or whatever. That shit is expensive! So that forced me to be a little bit more creative within those limitations. I think a lot of my sound is due to trial and error, and these little tricks that I learned from that. And, of course, everything is filtered through my weird idea of what I want to hear really loud.”
Aside from his own singular template, Carter’s most known for the Classic Music Company, a label he ran with partner Luke Solomon from 1995 till 2005. Classic had an amazing run of cutting-edge releases, with tracks from Herbert, Tiefschwarz, Isolée and other warped-house heroes redefining the genre’s parameters. But after Classic’s 100th release, Rob Mello’s “Critical,” the owners shut the label down. “We had always planned that, to the point that we actually started at release number 100 and counted backwards to release number 00,” Carter explains. “But what was kind of awesome was that when we released number 02, we got a notice from our building manager saying that the building had been sold and was gonna be demolished to make way for townhouses. We were like, ‘Perfect—even the address is being wiped off the face of the earth!’ ” (Not quite, though: Classic has just been revived as a digital-only imprint, with a new EP, Trademarq’s Dirty Girlz EP, listed as Classic 101.)
One of the most admirable things about Carter is that unlike many of his peers, he’s resisted the urge to adulterate his house with trendier (and potentially more lucrative) electro or minimal techno. “At a point in the late ’90s or early noughties,” he says with a sigh, “I kind of was feeling as if the changes that were happening in house were ruining the music, that there was no real thought or emotion in what was being made—like, ‘I’ve got an arpeggiator and I’m gonna use it’. But now, I’m over it. If people like it… I mean, I’m not the arbiter of taste for the world. Hey, I’m getting old—I gotta pick my battles. If the electro dudes take over the earth, that’s cool. There are six billion people in the world, so I’m pretty sure I’ll still be able to get 200 people on a Saturday night to feel good about my music.”
Derrick Carter spins at BasicNYC Sat 26.