Remix, Remake, Remodel
Are record producers losing their touch now they've regained their influence? Are DJs better-equipped to make music that moves? Simon Trask gets the answers from an objective source - one of Britain's top remix DJs.
In today's dance-crazed music world, the role of the DJ is becoming more and more like that of the producer. We talk to Paul Dakeyne, one of Britain's best-known - and most ambitious - remix men.
FAR FROM THE noise of the dancefloor, down a leafy lane deep in rural Berkshire, lies the headquarters of the Disco Mix Club. Started by ex-Radio Luxembourg DJ Tony Prince with a view to upping the status and prestige of the club DJ, DMC now has 20 branches and a membership of 5000 jocks worldwide. Thanks to events such as the World DJ Mixing Championships (organised by DMC), the art of the DJ is now receiving serious recognition, while many state-of-the-art mixes and remixes can be found on DMC's DJ-release-only records.
Any DMC DJ can submit a mix or remix for inclusion on these records, but in practice most of the work is done by a select few, the stars of their profession: Chad Jackson, Les Adams, Ben Liebrand, Alan Coulthard, Bizzi Bee, and the man I visited DMC to interview. Paul Dakeyne also has the distinction of being Disco Mix Club's in-house mixer, remixer and producer. The Club has a 16-track studio (soon to be upgraded to 24-track) on the premises. In addition to the inevitable two Technics record decks and a GLI mixer the studio's compliment of hi-tech gear includes a Yamaha DX7II, Akai S900 and MX73, Steinberg Pro16 sequencer, and Microvox sampler. The 26-year-old DJ plays keyboards but claims no musical training.
Dakeyne's introduction to the world of record mixing came back in 1978, when he saw an American DJ working a club in Leeds.
Keen to find out for himself what was happening, Dakeyne went out and bought two record decks and a mixer. Unfortunately, he hadn't appreciated that the decks needed to have a varispeed facility for mixing, and his didn't.
"My early days of mixing were back in '78 in my bedroom with two decks and a Tandy mixer, and my finger on the deck speeding it up or slowing it down. Very rough, but from little acorns..."
Dakeyne persevered, and eventually nosed his way into a nightclub in his home town of Beverley, North Humberside. His strategy was simple: he told the manager he could do a better job than the resident DJ, got himself a trial, was put on the lights, and before too long was given his own night. True to his word, he went on to become the resident DJ.
"At that time the scene was 130BPM New York disco, but as we entered the '80s the New Romantic period reared its little head. I ended up doing a New Romantic night, a funk night, an alternative night... My own musical taste ranges from Alien Sex Fiend to Mozart - as long as it's good music, and good dance music. But I do draw the line at heavy metal, country music and folk."
With such exemplary taste and a growing mixing expertise, the young DJ began to build up a cult following.
"Around about '82 people were beginning to talk about me: there's this guy in Beverley who never says a word on the microphone, mixes all night, and does strange things to records."
"I'd buy two copies of a record and use the second to follow phrases a half, one or two beats behind the first. Then I could bring up the fader for the second record whenever I wanted an echo effect, or I could run the second record constantly at a low level - which could be especially effective as a subtle echo on a record which had a lot of space in it."
Dakeyne's first step along the road to production came through the medium of local radio in 1983, when he was asked to do a weekly mix of three or four tracks for broadcast on Radio Humberside. Suddenly a large part of the listening population of North Humberside was listening to his mixes, and liking what it heard. But as well as mixing records, Dakeyne had been experimenting with remixing as far back as 1979. At that time he was using the pause button on a TEAC cassette machine to do his edits.
"I remember the old Gil Scott Heron record 'The Bottle' started with the words 'Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro'. Using tape editing, I must have had that running for over a minute, just repeating the same phrase over and over. But early daft things like that started me off on the track I'm on now. I just wanted to experiment, to mess about with sound. But I never played a pause-button remix in a club, because it just wasn't accurate enough. People would have got pissed off with beats being a few milliseconds late, and walked off the dancefloor."
By 1984 things were starting to take off for Dakeyne. He had already decided that he wanted to get into remixing and production, and now it was time for some decisive action.
"I decided to go very much into debt. You've got to gamble in this business. I invested £750 in a Revox B77 because I had to start doing tape editing. I also bought a small drum machine and a JHS digital delay. So I had my bedroom recording studio: quarter-inch facilities, digital delay, drum machine, two record decks and a mixer."
A pack of razor blades, a chinagraph pencil and an SOS Band record later, Dakeyne was experimenting with putting one bar of one section of the record into another section. Soon he was cutting up individual beats - piecing together single snare beats to get rapid repeats, which people often mistook for digital delay.
Once again it was radio which provided a big break for Dakeyne, but this time it was national: Radio One. The young DJ sent Bruno Brookes a Paul Hardcastle megamix; Brookes not only played it, he asked for more.
The result was a regular weekly Dakeyne megamix of tracks by bands such as Bronski Beat and U2, which eventually came to an abrupt end when Radio One ran into trouble over record company permission.
Fortunately, Dakeyne was already pursuing other avenues. He had been sending mixes to Tony Prince at DMC for some time, but generally favourable comments were tempered with criticisms concerning the lack of a theme running through the mix, and the presence of key clashes.
Finally, in June '85, Dakeyne had a mix of summer classics accepted by DMC for inclusion on their DJ-only records. From there his next big break came with a remix of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's 'Love Missile F1-11', which mightily impressed Tony Prince. Subsequent mixes by Dakeyne (including a '60s mix and a swing mix) were all accepted by the Club, and then came the offer to join DMC as in-house producer. It was an offer the young DJ couldn't refuse.
MUCH OF DAKEYNE'S work is to be found on the monthly DMC records. Thus you may have heard a Dakeyne mix or remix in a club, but you won't find them in your local record shop. However, with the recent commercial release of two remixes of the Jets' 'Crush On You', Dakeyne's remixing skills are beginning to take on a much more public face. How did the first remix come about?
"The original record had gone into the lower reaches of the charts, and some top brass at MCA told the A&R guys that he wanted a remix done urgently. They didn't have time to get the multitrack over from America, so in cases like that they come to companies like ours."
All Dakeyne had to work with was the 12" single, yet it took him two days to come up with a remixed version which went on to make the Top 5 in the national charts. How did Dakeyne go about this daunting task?
"I was very lucky, because the record included an a capella version on one side. The main methods behind the remix were a combination of tape editing (to create sections like a new intro), a lot of sampling, and multitracking. I recorded the basic drum track onto multitrack, using the break beats on the record, and then took samples from the a capella version and, dare I say it, from other records.
"Once I'd recorded a few samples over the drum beats, I transferred that section back onto quarter-inch tape and did some more editing. My name for those sections is "effects blocks". For instance, effects block 1 could have a brass stab, the words "crush on you" and a sampled record scratch.
"You just couldn't do a remix like that one from multitrack. It's an entirely different feel when you do remixes off record. Everything's pieced together in a linear way, from beginning to end. I don't record the last minute first, or record this bit here and that bit there. I don't sit down and think 'How am I going to do it?', because I'd sit there for hours thinking 'What the hell am I going to do?'.
"To me, doing remixes is ad-libbing. I'll think of an intro and from then on just think of things as I'm going along. Granted, when I've finished I always think of something I should have done, but then who doesn't?"
In the long term, Dakeyne sees sequenced samples eventually taking over from the quarter-inch-tape method of working. The technology's already available in the shape of mega-instruments like the Fairlight and Synclavier, but even the sub-£2000 samplers are ripe for experimentation in this area.
Yet when it comes to working from a multitrack tape, Dakeyne finds as much use for synthesisers as he does for samplers. For the 24-track Jets remix he went to Hollywood Studios in London, where he also hired in the services of an engineer and a synth programmer.
"I basically chose the samples and the synth sounds, and every single idea was mine. I decided to make it a completely different remix. Obviously there's no point in doing another remix if you don't make it completely different from the first one...
"I must have left about six tracks from the original. 'When the remix was done there were the male and female vocal leads, background vocals, two synths and one guitar. I wanted to have a big, dramatic bassline running through it - a bit akin to the current trend in house music, but not quite as numbingly boring."
The bassline was given to a combination of DX7 and Roland Juno, with an Akai S900 vocal sample lending added character every now and then.
"I wanted this to be a serious funk remix. Their drums were right out. They'd used a Linn 9000, which is now sounding a bit dated. So I went through the studio's sample library, found a bass drum and snare drum that I liked, and created the relatively simple but powerful pattern that runs through the remix. A lot of people have said that even on the quarter-inch remix, 'Crush On You' has been turned from a pop song into a serious dance piece."
So what exactly should a remixer be trying to accomplish?
"Basically, a remixer/producer is taking your ideas and glorifying them, or expanding them, or slightly changing them, or adding things to what you've done. I maintain that a remix is a compliment. If somebody remixes something, they're doing it for one of two reasons. Either it's a good song but the first mix is wrong and it would do better with a different mix, or it's a classic song and people want to hear more of it but in a different version."
But how would Dakeyne feel if he was in the position of the artist?
"If I was an artist and somebody remixed a piece of mine, 1 think I'd be quite flattered. But I think I'd like to have the final say over whether or not it was released. If it was shit I'd say: 'Sod off, you're not using it'.
"Some artists must have a remix clause in their contract which allows them a final say over any remixing done on their products. But I think such a clause is still quite rare. Old-established groups don't have remix clauses, and new groups are so keen to get a deal that they couldn't really give a shit. The Jets didn't have a say in the 'Crush On You' remixes, but I do remember hearing that they were very pleased with them.
"Let's face it, when somebody like Paul Young releases a record, how much of it is them? Did Paul Young produce it, engineer it, play all the instruments on it, make the coffee? Did he bollocks. He just sang on it. OK, so the bigger the star the more say he has over his own stuff, but essentially it's a team effort and overseeing it all is one man: the producer.
"A song is recorded one way, but it could be done another way too. A cover version is basically a remix: same song, different musicians playing it, different singer singing it. I don't see any artists screaming and bawling when somebody covers their song, because it's coppers in the bank, thank you very much."
Returning to the subject of sampling, I quiz Dakeyne on his stance in the political debate that rages still within the music industry. Is sampling technology robbing artists of royalties through breach of copyright, or is it the biggest aid to musical creativity since the piano?
"I pluck things from records and put them where I want them in order to create new music within the limits of the song. I'm like any other producer in that I'll sit, I'll listen, and I'll steal. I'll steal people's ideas, but I'll change them into what I want. I'll take samples. Name me one producer nowadays who doesn't take samples. For Christ's sake, it's like saying don't record on video. I don't see anything wrong with it as long as it's beneficial to what you're doing.
"There are only so many ways in this world that music can be put together, and basically, everything is a variation of one thing or another. Let's face it, everybody has their influences. Even the Beatles had their influences. What happens is that you take your influences and expand on them to produce your own stuff."
Which seems like a good time to ask Dakeyne about his own musical influences, the musicians he admires most.
"My idols are people like Jean-Michel Jarre, Prince, Kraftwerk, Yello... I think Yello are greatly under-rated in the UK. They haven't had a single chart success here, yet they're one of the biggest bands in Europe. Their sound is unique.
"Prince is the man I identify with most as regards dance music. Look at 'Kiss': it's the most simple record you could think of, yet it's incredible. Jean-Michel Jarre is the Beethoven of the '80s, a god. Kraftwerk I like for being purely innovative, and for virtually inventing hip hop, or at least influencing it. ...There, we're back to the question of influences again."
There's no doubt that DJs are in the unique position of being able to see, frequently and regularly, how people respond to all sorts of music. Surely that, in itself, must be quite an influence?
"I think good DJs have an innate quality which lets them understand music: the way it's structured, the way it operates, the way people move and dance to music, the way they feel it.
"DJs who go into production - and there aren't that many at the moment - are the people who really live, sleep and breathe music. They have a quality that a guy who's gone from sixth form into college into a studio course into production hasn't got. DJs are used to entertaining 3000 people a week, and they have a feeling for music and how it affects people that someone who's gone the other route hasn't got. Maybe we're missing something that the other guy's got, but I doubt it."
Yet with or without a DJ's knowledge, there's no question that the producer has an upfront part to play in the running of today's music industry — as Dakeyne is well aware.
"I think Trevor Horn and Martin Rushent did the job of bringing the producer out of the background, because before them, the producer was never seen and never heard of. Nowadays record companies accept that a producer is a major part of the music-making process, and can even be a marketable product.
"The fact that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have their name on a record will sell that record now. But there'll come a time in the next year or two when people will tire of the Jam & Lewis sound. Every two years, you have a current in-vogue producer. George Martin had his time in the limelight with the Beatles. Trevor Horn is a very talented man but he's out of the limelight at the moment, whereas Jam & Lewis are currently the people."
So who's going to be the producer of the '90s? Dakeyne has the answer.
"Me, I hope. I'm 26 years old but I feel like I'm just starting. I'm going to make an impression on the music world in the next few years that you won't believe. I'm determined to do it, because music is a way of life for me."
And with such resolve and commitment, he might just do it.