Thursday, 30 June 2011

Resident Djs: Craig Richards

I’m not one of these DJs who like to blow their own trumpet” Craig Richards stresses rather sincerely. “Plenty do, but not me. I haven’t really changed since I first got into music. I enjoy what I do… what I hear and play… but let the music do the talking.”

Richards is a long-standing Musical Director for London’s similarly long-standing Fabric nightclub. He was with the heavyweight venue at its inception, as popular resident DJ, and launched its very first mix compilation in 2001. Not to mentionFabric 15 three years later. Seven years on from that, Richards is helming Fabric 58. So what, artistically, has happened between volumes?

“I’m still doing the same thing” he answers laconically. “I like the juxtaposition of old tracks and new. I included both on those early Fabric mixes, and I’m doing it again now.”

Indeed, veteran Chicago houser Gemini appears on the new record (At The Party) as he does on Fabric 1 (At The Café) – both appearances woven into a simple yet sensitively applied tapestry of dubby dance from various corners and eras of the house and techno genres. It’s an irresistible formula but, if anything, Richards’ command of sounds and styles has widened even further“I don’t think a DJ is ever truly at the top of his craft, there are always new tunes to hear and things to learn” he reflects. “With the new Fabric album, it was exciting for me to place something like a jazzy, mid -90s outing by Two Lone Swordsmen [Andy Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood] alongside that obscure Gemini track and Marcel Janovsky’s bleak, but more recent Vamos A Otro Piso. I’ve always tried to change things up, do what’s not expected of me. I’m nervous about saying it but it’s kinda bold.”

It certainly is. And it’s earned him an ever escalating level of recognition over the years. If Richards’ various Fabric comps all share a similar sonic approach then there’s a huge difference in terms of how the early and recent numbers have been received. “There’s so much more appreciation of what I’m doing with Fabric 58compared to Fabric 1. The sound I play wasn’t widely respected back when that first album came out; I was also inviting people like Ricardo [Villalobos] and Steve Bug to play at Fabric who weren’t universally known or loved. It was variety… experimental… but I always thought their sound on the club’s system would be highly believable.”

Richards actually presents Fabric 58 under the banner of his current, liberating Saturday night Fabric jam ‘The Nothing Special’ – it’s a smart, genre-less premise which sees him inviting in the eclectic live acts he admires and fitting his own performance around them. It follows a relatively straightforward Fabric residency of 11 years, bringing with it all sorts of potential for dancefloor creativity and revolution.

“It’s all night variety” Richards explains. “It allows me to keep pushing myself; play a deep, mellow warm-up for Moritz Von Oswald or twitchy electro set ahead of Dopplereffeckt for example. Not everyone can pull that off but I’m able to because of the range of things I usually play. I’m not a selfish DJ either; I like the handover to another… presenting them with the dancefloor intact and not exhausted because of some selfish, narrow-minded agenda to burn the floor within the slot I have.”

Richards has always been an avid collector of vinyl, spending his early years on the English South Coast tirelessly saving profits from the barbershop he ran (within a vintage clothing store) to buy music. He arrived in London in 1987 - to attend the prestigious Central St Martin’s School Of Art – at the same time as house, and so his love of underground music developed further.

Further study at the Royal College Of Art led to lucrative commercial design and art commissions but Richards found them restrictive and by 1993 had had enough, starting to organise one-off parties in unusual spaces, and then promoting and playing in clubs. In 1997, Richards formed his infamous ‘Tyrant’ partnership with Lee Burridge, which would quickly evolve into legendary clubland residencies at The End in London and The Bomb in Nottingham, as well as compilations, a label and serious international profile.

“I owe a lot to my older friends. They introduced me to the kind of inspirational artists that allowed me to consider music as an alternative to working only with art” he confides. “Older friends are incredibly important in terms of passing on recommendations about tracks. Today, I look to share knowledge with my younger DJ contacts; it’s a ritual that has sadly lost its way. The internet makes it really easy to find things now but back in the day you had to develop a rabid hunger to locate those priceless tunes because there was no other way. Your older friends and local record store helped that process by giving the sort of emotional feedback a website simply can’t.”

Richards, however, is practical. Many of yesterday’s tips, tricks, and traditions are being incorporated into his future plans. “I’m alright at finding music, I’ve got years and years of hunting experience under my belt” he says. “That thirst for the different and sometimes obscure helps keep my performances original. At the same time, I still play a lot of vinyl and CDs. I’d really query the statement saying that the convenience of digital has led to a better end product. There’s too much information out there now and too much uniformity; Dan Ghenacia told me he switched from playing out with computers back to vinyl because he was struggling to cope with all information at his fingertips.”

Richards continues: “New music is appearing and disappearing too quickly as well, such is the nature of the digital medium. I mean, do you really have time these days to fall in love with a new record… to really appreciate it? I think not; flicking through thousands of new releases sent to me via my computer is like wading through glue. I’m sure a lot of people barely have time to hear the end of each and every record there’s so many out there.”

In recent months, remarkably, Richards has been finding additional time to re-acquaint himself with his first love of art: “I paint most mornings – colourful, textured pieces - and have been building some serious momentum, to the point I’m actually considering a show next year.”

The DJ work is being purposefully slowed down, but not just for abstract brushstrokes; Craig Richards wants quality time in the studio for “a creative recharge.” He has just started work on his debut artist album and is finishing up a long awaited album project with Howie B; both are due by the end of the year.

“I can’t say too much about my own record” he teases, “but the thing with Howie B is finally finished and it’s down to small tweaks. It’s beat-less in quite a few places and rather beautiful. We’re planning to release it with a book of poetry; I’m totally proud of how it’s turned out.”

Poetry? That sounds like some Seth Troxler would approve of….: “Funny you should say that. Seth and I have talked about an artistic collaboration but we’ll see. The art is important; it has the power to make music far more impactful to the listener. In recent years, the money hasn’t been there for record labels to indulge this sort of thing but I do think it makes a difference. It gives music personality and people will always respond to that.”

One senses that there are more masterpieces right around the corner …

Words: Ben Lovett

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