There’s few terms more ambiguous in the world of electronic music these days than ‘Deep House’. Ask any number of people dancing away in London’s East End on any given weekend and they would most likely point you towards the music of Dusky or Disclosure. Ask the decidedly different crowds to be found in underground venues in London or Berlin for example, and the chances are they might turn your attention to the lesser exposed sounds of Moomin or Steffi. The answer to the question of what truly defines the genre is an elusive, arguably impossible, one, but you could do a lot worse than holding up Detroit’s Rick Wade as an example. A self proclaimed ‘Deep House Soldier’, the Harmonie Park boss has been making music for more or less 20 years at a pretty astonishing clip. 2013 saw Rick put out a record nearly every month, adding to a Discogs page that’s an impressive four pages long. Skim through this extensive back catalog and you’d be incredibly hard pressed to find a single ‘bad’ Rick Wade record-a striking achievement for such a prolific artist.
A father of three, Rick makes no bones about the need to provide for his family as the reason behind his continual deluge of material. Speaking to him recently from his home in Detroit however, his overwhelming passion for making music and DJ’ing is also abundantly clear-an interesting counterpoint to his clearly stated professional ambitions. Due to play alongside Max Graef, Fantastic Man and Leon Vynehall in Brixton this Saturday, Hyponik spoke to Rick about how he balances these contrasting motivations, as well as family life, his love of anime and his thoughts on his friend Theo Parrish’s recent ‘sonic selfie’ comments..
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Rick, what have you been up to today?
Working on a couple of tracks and taking care of the little baby-I just finished feeding him a little bit ago. He’s two months old today. Its my third son-I have two other boys from a previous marriage, a 15 year old and a 13 year old.
When you’re going around the world gigging, is it hard to reconcile being a dad with your DJ’ing responsibilities?
At times, because you don’t wanna be away from your family for too long. Especially the kids. The kids need their dad’s influence. So that’s why I try and limit how much I travel and I don’t do extended tours or anything like that. Its typically in and out-a gig on Friday or Saturday night and then I fly back on Sunday-sometimes I go straight to the airport after my set.
I guess part of going away to play abroad is so you can look after your family-so its not all bad…
You’re right there. When I travel to play I’m bringing money back for the family to take care of the bills and the car payment-all that kind of stuff.
There’s the professional side of it there, but do you still get a buzz from going around the world and seeing countries all these different places?
Oh I do. Nowadays these old bones they get kind’ve tired-getting in the airplanes and waiting in the airport and stuff like that , but I always enjoy meeting the new people in different places, like the promoters and the fans. Its always a nice thing to see people really enjoying and dancing to your music.
Definitely. Talking about your music, I read about how you grew up on classic Soul, things like Curtis Mayfield and Issac Hayes etc, that you heard from your family. Nowadays you get a lot of producers who grow up just listening to dance music straight off the bat-do you think this is going to effect the quality of their music?
The younger generation who are coming up today and haven’t been exposed to some of the classic Soul, their productions might be lacking because what they hear on the radio – is in my opinion, somewhat lacking in actual substance. But, as with anything, no matter what might be your profession, when you first start off you go through a learning process and the longer you do it there’s sort of an evolution and you start seeking out music with more substance. You start to become dissatisfied with whatever the mainstream media puts out on the commercial airwaves and you start searching to find things to quench that thirst you have for quality music.
Do you think its just a logical progression for people to eventually start looking deeper?
Yes, thats correct. And if they do that, their productions in turn will start to be a bit deeper and have a more soulful quality. That said you have a lot of guys who in my opinion get into it for the wrong reasons. Making music should be something that comes from the heart-something that you love and you just gravitate to it. If you get into it to make some fast money and think you’re going to be the next EDM superstar or something right away, then that’s going to reflect in your productions and there won’t be any staying power. Its very rare that someone comes out the gate and just blows up, you have to stay in there, and the only way you’re going to stay in it is if you love doing it. If you love music and the creative process. Then if you love that, you’ll stay in there a while and you’ll start digging and looking for other artists and musical types that resonate with you and your productions in turn will reflect that.
Well it seems like you’re making a good living for yourself these days, but have there ever been any tough moments over the years where you’ve felt like you should pack it in and get a day job?
When I started Harmonie Park is when I first got on the map so to speak, and that was in December of ’93, but throughout that time I always had a day job as well. I worked in the corporate sector for many years, doing multimedia and application development for Ford and General Motors and then even freelance graphics work as well. So I always had something else because early on the music wasn’t enough to live off. That’s why I say it had to be something you love. A lot of people play video games, watch sports or do whatever in their spare time- I like to make tracks. So that’s what I find as a source of relaxation, a stress relief if you will. Now that’s what I do for a job: making music full time and travelling around the world to DJ.
Now ‘cos I’m not in the corporate world anymore it does get lean at times. Some months you might have a lot of gigs, maybe a lot of releases so you’re income is doing really well, but there’s other months where the gigs are few and far between, you haven’t sold any tracks and it gets hard. During those times I haven’t thought, ‘I just need to give up doing music and do something else’, because making music was never a career choice if you will, it was just something fun I liked to do. Lets say I stopped DJ’ing altogether, I still would keep making music, because that’s what I love doing.
You mix things up and there’s a lot of variation in your tracks, but one thing I’ve always liked is how I can always tell a Rick Wade tune almost on first listen. Is that something you strive for personally, and do you think having that kind of identity is important for longevity as an artist?
To be honest that’s something I’ve never thought about. People tell me that-a lot of people say, ‘oh man if I hear people playing something, I know right away if its a Rick Wade track’. For me I just make what I like to hear. As I’m sitting down creating music, the melodies I’m putting together, the arrangements I’m putting in-I say to myself, ‘I enjoy listening to this, I would like to play this’. So that’s how I go about making the music.
As far as having your own signature sound helping your longevity within the industry, I think that is a definite plus, but that’s not anything I consciously or actively set out to do. Just the way the creative process goes, that sort of happenstance is a side affect of how I feel about music.
Talking about Detroit, where you’ve lived pretty much your whole adult life, it went bankrupt last year-have things noticeably changed since then?
Overall Detroit is coming back up again. The auto industry is doing really well, they’re rehiring people back at the plants and factories, they’ve reopened some places that were shut down, the housing market is starting to come back up again. Detroit as a whole has an upward momentum. As far as the bankruptcy goes, in my opinion that was just an official announcement. Pretty much anybody who lives here figured that was the case anyway. So Detroit just went public with it. The rest of the world or the rest of the nation heard it and thought, ‘oh my god, they must be doing bad’ or ‘what’s going on?’. For us, we’ve been living that life for years, so Detroit going bankrupt was just really an announcement. That said though, some of the consequences of the bankruptcy have an affect with a lot of the union people here. The city I feel was trying to get out of having to pay people’s pensions and that sort of thing, but that’s all in the courts right now. There’s some sort of wrangling and arrangements, where I think a resolution is going to be reached that everybody can live with in terms of people getting their pensions paid and whatnot.
Do you still get to play in Detroit ever? Is there a ‘scene’ so to speak of?
Well there’s still a scene here, but for House music-Deep House in particular, its very small. It’s kind of like an uphill battle. People don’t come out to support it like they used to in the old days-in the 90’s and the early 2000’s. That’s not for any lack of crews trying. There’s a lot of good promoters here that have their acts together. Every week you could probably find something going on for Deep House but getting a crowd in there of more than 50 people is the what the real battle is.
As far as me playing in Detroit? I play maybe three to five times a year on a good year. Like I said, because the parties don’t get much support, the promoters-as you can imagine, don’t really have any money. So a lot of the times if you’re playing a party here in Detroit, you’re doing it for free. At this stage of the game I’ve got too much stuff going on to be DJ’ing for free-that’s just not an option for me. So if you see me playing in Detroit, you can rest assured I’m getting paid. About the only time I consistently play is during the festival time, I usually play after parties during DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival), but that’s the only consistency I have with Detroit. Other than that 90% of my gigs are in Europe or Japan.
Its interesting you would talk about not playing for free anymore, because the other day I went to a lecture from Theo Parrish, where he spoke about how he thought the idea of using Soundcloud to promote your music was ridiculous-I’m guessing you’re from the same school of thought?
Here’s the thing with the music part of it: Me personally, unless the mood strikes me, I won’t give away any tracks for free either. Because for us, this is what we do for a living and you can’t pay the rent if you’re giving away your source of income for free. We can’t live like that, so we need to make money doing this. Like I said, I didn’t get into this to make money. When I first started making tracks I was making them just for fun and to play them on my mix show or t0 have cool stuff to play for (Mike) Huckaby or Theo (Parrish) when we were hanging around.
I understand where Theo is coming from with that and I would have to agree with it. Occasionally I might give away some tracks for free for a charity thing or play a charity night- like after the earthquake happened in Japan I did a couple of charity gigs. Beyond something like that I’m not just gonna give away tracks for free that I could make money off of.
That makes sense because you’re an established name, but do you think if you were a young artist trying to break through that’s something you might consider?
Yeah that’s actually a good question, I think about that a lot because the game is different now for people trying to get into it. I think because there’s so much music coming out now, the question is, ‘how do you get noticed?’. Even somebody who’s an avid music buff and they actively seek out things, can’t possibly go through every release that’s out there-especially in the digital world. So how would you get noticed? I guess you could try giving away some stuff for free, but I wouldn’t make that a common practice.
I look at it like back in the day when we would press up our records; we would always press up about 50 to 75 test copies and we would give those away for free. We would give those to key DJ’s that we were pretty sure would play it, and we knews these guys had a following where people tended to wanna buy whatever these guys were playing. So for new guys coming into the scene I would say maybe do it that way and send some digital downloads to some DJ’s you respect with a polite message asking them to check out your stuff and then send them a hi-res version if they like it. But just putting your stuff up there, with your personal website and a message saying, ‘everything I make is for free’, with the hopes that someone is going to discover you, I say you’re kind of just playing your self out.
You used to make Ghettotech. Is that something you still dabble in?
Oh yeah, I actually have a few Ghettotech tracks sitting on a hard drive right now that I haven’t done anything with. I keep telling myself I’m going to contact Godfather and have him release them on Electro Bounce, but I’ve just been lazy about it. When I’m making music I’m not just making Deep House. I’m making Hip-Hop, Ghettotech-recently I’ve been getting into a lot of cinematic style things, like music for scenes and animes. Two tracks-one was Ghettotech and one was more standard kind of ‘Rick Wade’ Deep House, just got licensed to be in a Japanese anime called Space Dandy, on an episode that aired two weeks ago. So I’m really just kind of getting more into that, making music for video games or anime…
I can see your string sound crossing over pretty nicely into more cinematic type things-
Yeah, a lot of people ask where the string sounds come from. They actually come from my keyboard, I have a KORG-T3.
Talking about anime, I saw a trailer of your anime film ‘T.R.U.’ on YouTube from back in 2008. What happeend to that?
Oh yeah, well I guess ‘life’ happened with that! (laughs) ‘Cos as you can imagine doing an animated production on your own is a daunting task. The way I would do it, is to model the characters in 3D, then I came up with this process to give it the look of 2D-because I like the 2D look for an anime. Doing these processes, making the characters, then animating it and rendering it-the render times are crazy. Maybe a couple of seconds of animation might take a few hours! Then you have to go into a video editing program and put it together, put the audio in it, put the music in it. At the time my DJ gigs really started to pick up and I was doing a lot of travelling. I also had my regular life with my sons. So there was a lot of external stuff. I want to get back to it of course but its just a matter of time and at the moment the top priority is doing things where I may be able to see some sort of return to keep the bills paid.
What’s your release schedule looking for the next couple of months then?
Well I’m working on an album for Harmonie Park at the moment, and I’m hoping to have that done in the next 2 months at the latest. Also I have a lot of other things coming out on other labels, but their release schedules I have no idea about. There’s people putting stuff out off me that they bought three or four years ago. The biggest project for me is the new album. With the album I know that some of my more Hip Hop style tracks I could put out on the album as opposed to letting someone put it on a 12″. With running my own label I have a bit more freedom to put out tracks whenever I feel like, it doesn’t necessarily have to be standard 4/4 Deep House. I tend to take a bit more time to make stuff for my albums.
Rick Wade plays notsosilent’s Day & Night Terrace Party at Prince of Wales, Brixton this Saturday. Buy tickets here.