Underground Passion: Paul Woolford

Having dropped the typically hard-edged ‘Stolen’ via Paul Rose’s currently world-conquering Hotflush Recordings last autumn, house and techno stalwart Paul Woolford bore his way into the consciousness of many a current ‘bass music’ fan in 2011, the tracks’s rolling acid-tinged atmospherics and taught, E-Dancer-esque bassline ringing true with a scene that is currently embracing the pan-generational sounds of house and techno across the board.

Known to many as a long time resident of Ibiza’s We Love Space, to a younger generation of fans Woolford’s history may seem a world away from the dark, 2-step riddims, heads down skanking and 1200 leagues deep sub power of the past decade’s bass scene, yet anyone who remembers his 2006 ‘Erotic Discourse’ release (as Bobby Peru), or his work on Carl Craig’s outstanding Detroit imprint Planet-E, will know that Woolford is a multi-faceted producer and DJ, who’s depth of understanding of each corner of electronic music outshines many of his peers.

In a climate where UK labels like Night Slugs, Hessle Audio, Swamp81 and the aforementioned Hotflush are all embracing a reformatted version of classic house and techno, the scene needs an old hand like Paul Woolford, who’s passion for the underground continues to inform his remarkable career. We caught up with the Leeds man for an depth talk about his passion for pirate radio, his take on the current sounds emanating from the UK, his family ties, and everything in between…

You recently guested on Hessle Audio’s show on Rinse FM with Ben UFO – what do you make of the new breed of electronic producers currently tampering with the house and techno template?
I think it’s great that even after X amount of years, there are people showing that house & techno are actually still in their infancy, and that there are a myriad of directions still yet to be explored. It’s hard to break new ground, there’s an argument that there’s not much left to innovate with, but the changes we are seeing are small ones, which then add up over time and before you know it, you’re almost in a different scene. It’s invigorating and inspiring to hear new approaches.
I’ve always had this impossible desire to be able to hear through someone else’s ears for a day, just to be able to listen to a pile of records and hear them from another completely unique position. New artists with new approaches are always vital.

What do you you think makes Ben’s style, and approach to mixing and crate digging so special?
The best DJ’s have always played from across the years and I’m seeing that increasingly more artists are digging around and really searching out music, with no regard for any so-called rules. Obviously technology has made this easier, but I think a huge part of why it’s happening is almost a symptom of technological overload; house & techno music have been built on imperfections, that’s the soul of it all. Once things become super-polished and pristine there’s a change in the way that makes you feel, and I know that there’s a reaction against years of slick
but soul-less dance music going on at the moment. We can be more clinical and technological in our productions than ever but the records that shine through this are things with real humanity and feeling, rather than sheer engineering.
The first time I heard Ben in a club he played a fierce jungle set and although he could have played it way safer, he dived in headfirst as a direct contrast to what was on previously. I’d been hearing him on Rinse for a period of time, and then it went to the point where I couldn’t miss his sessions on there. The things I like about any DJ are always contrast, a healthy disregard for boundaries, and some kind of narrative arc so that the night or set goes from one place to another completely. Ben is a master of making the connections in a coherent way.

With your past ties with Back II Basics, there must be a Leeds-based bond with Hessle Audio…
The common denominator is Leeds, yes absolutely, in fact the connection starts with the very talented Harry Agius, who records under the name Midland. We got to know each other and hung out a few times before Harry and David Kennedy moved back to London, and so I met David through Harry, and then Ben got in touch further down the line.

One of the things both you and this younger generation of bass producers share is a history in pirate radio – can you explain the importance pirate radio has for you?
I seriously doubt that we’d be doing this interview without hearing it for years, in fact from my mid-teenage years up to when I was 21 and moved out of my parents’ house, I was glued to it – it was relentless. The exposure to what was being released was incredible, and without boundary. I have to stop here and give respect to one guy that was always an absolute trooper in the Leeds area with it – Jason Taylor – more commonly know around these parts as DJ Shock – his broadcasts for years opened my eardrums up to all sorts. I found a cassette recently of him playing records like Dread Bass & London’s Most Wanted, just killer tear-out stuff from way back when. But this came later. Some of my fondest memories, and I’m talking life-memories, not just music-related, were listening
to PCR in my bedroom from 8am on a Saturday morning, hearing the first few Warp releases, things like Man Machine ‘Demkimi Shakuhachi’, Ital Rockers ‘Ital’s Anthem’, various NuGroove releases like Aphrodisiac ‘Song Of Then Siren’ and the holy grail of bleep… LFO (Leeds Warehouse Mix). I remember banging on to my parents about how this record had blown my mind, and then my Dad giving me a cutting from the local paper about Mark Bell and Gez Varley from LFO, with a photo of them in their old attic studio in Leeds. The journalist had asked them if
they had many interruptions, and they’d said “the neighbours are pretty cool, it’s only Mum with cups of tea and sandwiches”. All of that, plus of course the Detroit stuff, and subsequently what was coming over from Belgium and the rest of Europe created the point of no return. It was like a massive neon arrow appeared over my head in the sky [saying] “THIS IS WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO”.

So do you still check for pirates at all?
I actually found myself listening to online stations in the studio before Christmas at some silly time of night, but the way I ended up doing that was finding YouTube footage of old Kool FM broadcasts, people like Brockie on there. It still gets the blood flowing faster if the recording is good. And this culture is pretty much unique to the UK. This is why we have this whole scene, pirate radio has created a context and now we are hearing the by-products of that. I think Rinse FM is excellent, they really have exposed a lot of fresh music to a lot of new ears.

Which new producers are you reaching for in sets at the minute?
Well some have become the usual suspects now, but people like Patten, Boddika, Cosmin TRG, 2562, Midland, Pariah, Red Rackem’, Blawan, Objekt, Helix, Redshape, Sigha, Marcus Intalex’s Trevino stuff is gonna blow people’s minds, Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka, the new Komonazmuk stuff is superb, looking forward to hearing new stuff from Appleblim, there’s a couple of techno guys Ozka & Phase that I really like for those really heads-down moments, that Mickey Pearce record on Swamp 81 is great, I guess it depends on the moment and the
set really. But beyond the dancefloor, I love what Hype Williams do, the way they just fly in the face of convention is fucking great. I’ve been working on some remixes for an act called The Slow Revolt who are incredible, they have reworked Patten which is worth searching out for sure, a combination of classic songwriting and electronics with balls. Dean Blunt’s Trilogy Tape is delightfully spannered. It’s endless.

Why do you think it is that a lot of UK DJ’s, who may have previously been more interested in ‘bass’-led music, are being turned onto the sounds of house and techno?
Probably because everyone, deep-down, is into all different kinds of music – I don’t know anyone that only listens to one type of music. I can’t bear listening to one thing all night, it bores me senseless, and I suspect that’s at the heart of it. But let’s face it, you can’t deny the power of a huge fuck-off house or techno record through a really heavy system.

Tell us about your current work with Planet E?
I’m recording a stack of new material and then picking the tracks that suit the label. It can be a long process as I always let my instinct run my studio sessions – which inevitably leads to all kinds of outcomes, but I’m trying to push things with the Planet E stuff – there is no point in re-making what has gone before, I intend to
shake things up…

Do you still collect vinyl, and if so, what records are you particularly proud of?
I buy vinyl all the time but I don’t collect in that obsessive way I’d perhaps like to, purely for reasons of space. I love special editions, box-sets and all the rest of it but sometimes you can’t justify it, so I’m trying to keep it to what I absolutely need, although it still works out a small fortune each year. The answer to your question is probably never-ending though, I could go on for days.

Obviously you had quite a hit with ‘Erotic Discourse’ as Bobby Peru a few years back – are their any new aliases of yours we should be aware of?
Yes, I’ve been putting together a project called Special Request which has it’s roots in the pirate radio we have discussed, so that’s the starting point, there’s a couple of 12″s imminent, one of them with a remix by Kassem Mosse & Mix Mup. Recording these tracks has been a breathe of fresh air, really liberating.

Do you have a defining memory of your time spent as a resident at We Love Sundays?
There’s a few although it’s ongoing, I’m really looking forward to returning this year and we’ve been working behind the scenes on refining the dates I play there so I’m going to be playing one of them back-to-back with a certain someone which will be a lot of fun.
The great thing about the We Love team is that they are open to things as experiments – no mean feat when you consider the scale of the party. There’s a mutual trust which means I can suggest things to them that wouldn’t be
possible with other clubs.

What do you feel you’ve learnt from Carl Craig and your trips to Detroit?
Probably that doing what you feel is the only way to do this. So many artists get caught up in marketing bullshit and are distracted by the circus, but when you see that City and the state of disrepair, and then you connect and absorb the spirit of the people there, you know what’s important and what isn’t. It’s a humbling place.
I think there’s quite a few DJ/producers that once they get to a certain level of financial comfort, they switch off from really connecting on a grass-roots level. So they only go out when they are playing – something about Carl is that he’s just as likely to be out mid-week with some jazz guys until silly o’ clock as he is playing a gig on the weekend. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life, and I think that it’s the same of anyone seriously involved in this – it’s all-encompassing.

Why music? What do you think your connection with these sounds is?
It’s in the blood. I’m adopted and my parents have been really supportive of my interests in music over the years, my Dad always bought records and had music on in the house. When I started to ask my parents bigger questions about my background, they gave me some information which opened a few doors. In around 2005 I traced my birth father and found out that he is the improv jazz drummer Paul Hession – which obviously felt like jigsaw pieces falling into place. We have a great relationship now. He plays in quite abstract ways, and in various groups, one of which was with Squarepusher, another was with Marshall Allen of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Finding this out blew my mind, because I’ve always felt like an insider in a weird way – that sounds odd, but it’s always been the way, even though in dance music you need to almost fight your cause, I’ve never doubted myself. I’ve always loved Tom Jenkinson’s Squarepusher material, and when Paul told me about this it really made a lot of sense.

*Here‘s a pretty intense recording from YouTube of the trio with Squarepusher from Koko in London – and here‘s another, slightly less frantic recording of Paul with Marshall Allen from Sun Ra’s Arkestra taken at a festival in France.

Paul Woolford features as part of the huge Hideout Festival 2012, taking place from June 29 – August 1, at the Island of Pag, Croatia. You can buy tickets direct from here, and check out the Facebook page here.