Electronic Directory represents Melodika Recordings, featuring interview with Matt Chester.
Matt Chester Biography
Matt Chester is a London based techno, house and electro producer, specialising in a unique blend of soulful funk-drenched Detroit techno, raw jacking Chicago house and deep and emotive UK electronics. He released his first EP, ‘Into The Fall’, in 2004 on his label 11th Hour Recordings to great critical acclaim, with Germany’s DeBug magazine hailing it as the ‘finest debut of the year’, and UK’s DJ Magazine stating ‘if this is only his debut, just imagine what he will become capable of’. DJs around the world were also fast to pick up on his sound, with strong support coming from Laurent Garnier, Dave Clarke, Derrick May, Fabrice Lig and dozens more. Since then he has released 2 more EPs on 11th Hour to equal reaction, as well as EPs for Paul Mac’s Sula Muse and Fabrice Lig’s Melodika imprints, has remixed Detroit’s Terrence Dixon and has a new 11th Hour due out featuring a remix from UR’s DJ 3000.
He is renowned for his extraordinary DJ skills, playing with a fluid and energetic fast-cut style, usually performing on 3 decks & on special occasions with additional drum machine. He has played across Europe and North America, performing in London, Detroit, Glasgow, Vancouver, Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Vienna, Prague, Cologne and many other cities, and has appeared alongside artists such as Derrick May, UR, Surgeon, Octave One, Jay Denham, Autechre, Andy Weatherall and many more.
Since 2006 he has also been playing live – live, that is, directly off synthesisers and drums machines, without Ableton or even a laptop in sight. Each set is performed completely off the cuff, an improvised jam blending in snippets of his released material alongside drum lines and synth jams made up right on the spot, lasting anywhere from 90 minutes to 4 hours ! His debut live set was performed as a special guest alongside the Underground Resistance crew in London, and he has since taken it on the road across Europe.
Matt has several new projects lined up for 2008, including 2 more releases on his own label with guest remixers, and an EP showcasing the housier side of his production to be announced soon.
Interview with Matt Chester by Kazuumi Ishii
First of all thanks a lot for taking the time to do an interview for us. So what have you been working on recently ?
My pleasure, thanks for asking. I’ve been working on a lot of new material this summer – the main projects are the next two releases on my label 11th Hour Recordings, scheduled for next month and the end of the year respectively; but I have also been doing some remixes for Terrence Dixon and Nice & Nasty records, and have just put out an EP on Paul Mac’s Sula Muse label. Plus I’ve got a record upcoming on Fabrice Lig’s Melodika imprint sometime in the next month or so…
Apart from that, just trying to spend as much time in the studio as possible.
How is the scene in London generally ?
Spoiled ! ;-) We are really pretty lucky here, the more I travel the more I realise that. Pretty much every great musician of every style comes through this city at some point. The downside of that is that perhaps people don’t make quite so much effort to get out to the parties as they could do (myself included !), and of course there’s endless competition between different nights. But that’s good in a way too, because it means that many of the best parties are still pretty small and intimate, and attended only by those who really love the music. We don’t have the same huge warehouse scene anymore that you find in Berlin for instance. There is one ‘super-club’, Fabric, which to be fair does have excellent taste with the artist bookings it makes. But it lacks the underground atmosphere that makes the smaller parties a lot more special in my opinion… luckily there are still just about enough crews willing to take the risk in putting on those kinds of nights.
Basically, London is a city where you can hear whatever style of music you love, almost every week of the year. I think that’s probably pretty unique.
What’s your favourite club and what makes it special ?
Well, my favourite London club was always the Fortress, but sadly that’s no longer with us. It was a perfect place at a perfect time for me, a really special little underground bunker.
I also used to love all the old warehouse parties that were held out at godforsaken docks in the east end – the Lost parties were the classic ones, usually involving a two hour trek with a badly scribbled map as your only guidance – your efforts eventually being rewarded by some of the sickest techno that you’d ever heard.
These days there is only one really good underground venue in London and that’s Corsica. It always has the best line-ups and a great audience – I couldn’t really describe it as one of the hottest clubs I’d ever been to, but if I were recommending a place to go in London these days, that would be it…
As far as favourite places to play though, that’s easy – Glasgow ! The best venue there for me was always the Unit, but the atmosphere in that city is so alive and unique that pretty much all the clubs shake like no others.
So, let’s go back in time. Have you always been into music ? What music did you grow up with ?
I was lucky enough to have two brothers who were much older than me, and they did the hard work of distilling all the music that was out there so that by the time I became interested in it myself they had filtered out a lot of the crap ! I grew up listening to plenty of synth pop, funk, electro, new wave etc – none of which I had to buy myself ;-) When I was very little there was always something like the Pixies, Prince, Happy Mondays, The Cure etc playing in the background. I hated most of it at the time, but it obviously had a subliminal effect on me ! Later on my brother Simon (who I later started 11th Hour with) introduced me to Detroit techno, playing me Underground Resistance and Transmat records when I was about 14. I have to say though, the artist who really got me hooked on electronic stuff was Andy Weatherall – I completely fell in love with the Sabres of Paradise tracks, and the production he did for Primal Scream. That was definitely the turning point for me.
My parents also played their part, my mother is a big Motown fan so I grew up listening to plenty of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, whilst my dad introduced me to a lot of blues, which along with funk was always my main love before discovering techno.
What is inspiring you musically now ? Who do you think is cool ?
Well, I still have a serious soft spot for Detroit music – whilst there maybe isn’t quite the same wealth of stunning music coming out of that city as there was 10 years ago, it still provides more than its fair share !
Currently the house scene there seems to be stronger than ever; I’m really enjoying the work of people like Keith Worthy and Patrice Scott, KDJ as ever; and also a lot of the new wave of techno people like The Plan, Santiago Salazar, DJ Skurge etc.
And of course, Carl Craig is still the man ! I saw him play live at DEMF this year and it totally blew me away, possibly one of the most dynamic and harmonically rich sets I’ve heard in my life. That was definitely my most musically inspiring moment of the year.
Shawn Rudiman’s material is always of the highest quality too, and Convextion’s tracks have that special edge that most producers simply miss these days – dynamics !
I also love a lot of the tougher ghetto sound from Detroit and Chicago, like the Dancemania stuff and all its spinoffs, the various booty crews – my friend DJ Guy is doing some particularly hot tracks in that vein on his Global Fire label right now.
Also, all the Dutch stuff is always sick – Bumper is a big favourite of mine, and I love the Kubra stuff too, as well as all the Clone crew. And the Versatile guys in France are consistently great, almost every release on that label is a killer. I could go on and on really…
But I have to say that 60% of the time I’m not even listening to electronic music, I spend a lot more listening to older funk, soul, blues, jazz – these are my main loves, especially funk. I tend to notice that producers who just listen to the genres they are making get pretty dull pretty quickly – I’d much rather be influenced by a whole range of music than just being tied down to one sound. Actually, one of my absolute favourite artists at the moment is Saul Williams, who I guess you would categorise as hip-hop, though his material is so much more than that. Outkast are also on stunning form, their work is more musical and rich than any band I can name right now – they put most musicians to shame.
If I had to pick my two greatest all-time influences though, they would be Prince and Mike Banks – that’s easy. But there are a lot of contenders for the places after that !
You have been producing as long as you have been DJing and the UR guys like Santiago Salazar play your tunes in their sets and often refer to you as one of their favourite producers. When you start making a track, do you start with a certain type of sound (i.e. beats) or some other hook that inspires ? Is there a special tune out there that you would like to work on ?
Well, it’s been amazing to have that level of recognition from the UR guys as they have always been such a constant inspiration to me. I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m more of a ‘producer’s producer’ – not that many people generally know my work but a lot of the other guys producing this music seem to really get into it…
Whilst I’ve been producing for 10 years, I really wouldn’t count the first 5, that was just a learning period ! Even now I still feel like a complete beginner, there’s always just so much to learn and discover. I don’t think anyone ever really finishes that process, it just goes on forever, as long as they are making music. I’m sure that I still have a seriously long way to go before I can call myself a decent musician ! Actually, I think that distinction of terms is pretty important – I would always want to be regarded as a ‘musician’, rather than ‘producer’ or ‘DJ’…
I never start writing a track with the intention of making a new piece of music, everything I’ve ever created has always started out with me just messing around, trying out different sounds and musical ideas until I hit on something I like, be it a beat or a bassline or some melodic phrase. Then it just evolves out of that. The hardest thing is deciding when something is complete – most tracks I write just end up sitting on the shelf, 90% done but still missing something to my ears. That’s why I always try to finish whatever I am doing in one sitting, I find it very hard to go back to something later and pick it up again.
As for any special tune I’d like to work on… I’m just looking forward to the time when I feel skilled enough as a musician to be able to get any idea that’s in my head laid down and sounding exactly as I imagined it to. There are so many things I want to try, so many styles to blend together and techniques to learn – I don’t think I could ever pin that down to just one track.
I have to ask about Broken Shores EP on MELODIKA which is coming out very soon. How would you describe the character of your single in your own words ?
This is a pretty unusual release for me I would say, it’s much more stripped down and deep that the material I’ve been putting out on 11th Hour. It’s got a kind of hollow futurism to it that I enjoy creating, I guess you could even call it minimal in a way – though not in the way that words sounds to most people now ! I’m glad to have the opportunity to showcase those kind of tracks, they represent a much more distant and subtle mood than I’ve tried to express in other releases.
Describe your relationship with Fabrice Lig and his MELODIKA imprint ?
I first met Fabrice through our mutual friend Oliver Kapp (for those who don’t know his work, he ran the excellent and sadly now defunct labels Indulge and Raygun – also a superb DJ); and I once did an interview with him for the 11th Hour Technology online magazine I was running back then. We always kept in touch after that, and he also played at one of the Flashpoint parties I put on in London. He’s been very supportive of my label and releases throughout, and given me a lot of handy advice over the years !
Speaking of labels: what does 11th Hour have in store for us ?
Hmm, good question ! The next immediate release is another from me called ‘Endless Days’, which also features a DJ 3000 remix. It’s more dancefloor orientated again than my previous releases, with lots of heavy synth basslines and tough rhythms going on – though hopefully still with the kind of haunted futuristic edge that I like. Beyond that I’ve got a lot of electro material I’d like to get out there – I’m hoping the next one will feature more of that along with a remix from a rather hot electro producer, and I’m also lining up some other artist’s EPs and remixes; though I don’t want to say too much until they are all confirmed…
In the longer term I really want to get back to releasing far more material more regularly by a whole bunch of artists. It has just been very hard keeping up consistent releases over the past couple of years with the ridiculous state of vinyl sales, and digital sales not yet making up for the shortfall. But I’m confident things will get easier again soon…
I also want to start a digital only side- label to release more unusual material and to showcase more new artists – though still releasing compilations of the best tracks on vinyl. I think it’s still really important to have a physical product, I never want to be working solely in the digital realm.
Besides your own productions, you also did loads of remixes. Amongst others one for Terrence Dixon. How did that happen ?
That’s all just come about recently to be honest, though I definitely plan to do more in the future. Desy Balmer from Nice and Nasty put out a call last year for people to remix a new act from Japan he’d signed, Tomi Chair. I’d never done any remix work before and thought it would be fun to try – I could imagine a tough electro rework of the track straight away so gave it a shot. It seemed to go down well so I got a chance to do the Terrence Dixon one as well, which I’m really proud of – a very different style of track to what I normally do, much more dark and driving. Those will both be out this month, so I’m curious to see what others make of them !
It’s a fun process, trying to re-imagine someone else’s work through your own ears – it’s interesting how quickly it can start to sound like something completely new.
You’ve said on your biog that you’re performing without laptops or Ableton, just directly off synths and drum machines, this is techno at its most immediate and provides a pure connection between the artist and the audience.
Yes these new technologies often mean the DJ appears more distanced from the crowd. The DJ just stands there, looking at a display, searching for some MP3s. Somehow the whole show around DJing, spinning vinyl, for example, is missing. Today there is not much happening in the DJ booth.
But the new advances in DJ technology enable a lot of people to DJ themselves. If you compare the early days of techno with the current situation I think there is a high count of DJs today. Of course this increases the competition and also the quality gets a bit watered down. What do you think about this development ?
Haha, don’t get me started ! ;-) Well, I don’t have anything against making music on computers, I use them in the studio alongside my hardware and they are immensely powerful tools. But I just can’t stand them in clubs, for all the reasons you mention. To me they act like a barrier between the performer and the crowd, and seem to suck the artist’s entire attention and focus, so they seemingly forget about the world around them. For me, any kind of performance is about being part of the audience, connecting with them directly. I’ve just never found that possible when you’re staring into a screen. Plus there’s the whole lack of spontaneity. Most sets I’ve heard using Ableton are pretty much pre-programmed – the artist has control over the sounds and some of the sequencing, but generally they don’t improvise. Technically then can, but they just don’t. Nothing is done off the cuff – hence all the sets that are precisely 45 minutes long and sound exactly like the last one you heard.
I love playing off hardware because it is so immediate, you are really choosing and sculpting the sounds as you go along – and it’s so dangerous in a way, so much can go wrong, so many mistakes can be made. There’s none of the sterile purity that you get from laptop live sets. You’re really following the music, you can take it anywhere you want it to go, you’re free to adapt to the situation, to feel the crowd, to work with them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you can be absolutely certain that no two sets are even remotely the same.
The same applies to DJing too, I just find the whole experience a thousand times more satisfying and entertaining off vinyl, either as a punter or a performer. To be fair there are plenty of people out there doing great things with Serato, especially the more turntablist DJs. And I can definitely see the advantages of being able to carry 50,000+ tracks to a gig ! But it’s just not for me, I need something more tactile…
As for technology allowing more people to become DJs, I don’t really understand that argument – buying a couple of second hand decks and a beat-up mixer is much cheaper than buying a laptop; if that’s your passion, if that’s what you really want to be doing. What the software probably allows more people to do is dabble half-heartedly, to pretend to be DJs.
Just what we all need…
So what’s for the immediate future ?
More releases I hope ! I’ve got so much material that I want to finish and get out there, it’s just tough finding the time to get it right and also to find the right outlet channels.
I love releasing on my own label because I have the control to do things exactly as I want, but it’s a lot of work ! And I already have a day job ;-)
I guess I’ve been very slow to release music to date, I tend to sit on tracks for a long time and only pick a small few to put out for public consumption. Hopefully that will change…
I’d like to collaborate more with other artists as well, it’s something that I haven’t had much opportunity to do so far. I would love to get the chance to do some proper work with some of the Detroit guys one day.
I’ve also got a couple of album projects in the pipeline, but I’m not going to put those out until I feel they are 100% ready.
I really want to spend far more energy working on my live sets as well, I think they are something pretty unique that very few other people do, and I relish any opportunity to develop them further. Once you start to get into true improvisation there are really no limits to where you can go with it…
Matt Chester joins Melodika Recordings
Matt Chester – Broken Shores EP [Melodika]
Hot on the heels of Pedro’s mighty "Retrofuturism" Matt Chester delivers a fine piece of deeply emotive techno. ‘Rewound’ is the one for me, proper deep techno with a twist of Detroit influenced soul. But these other two tracks are just as nice !
- 01. Broken Shores
- 02. Rewound
- 03. Salvage Run
Matt unveils a new EP on his 11th Hour imprint
Matt Chester – Endless Days EP [11th Hour]
Just can’t get enough of Matt Chester’s productions and this is no exception. The EP itself sums up Matt’s output and DJ sets perfectly – a hi-tech explosion primed for the dancefloor. ‘Kick It’ is a nasty slice of filthy electro funk and another dancefloor bomb that’s sure to electrify the sound system ! On remix duties is none other than Motech head honcho DJ 3000 who really needs no introduction, a true master of his craft. For his remix he has surpassed all expectations and the result soulful masterpiece oozing with jazz wilderness. On the flip ‘Cold Restraint’ is exactly my cup of tea, it rides along on the hats and goes very very deep. Quality stuff all round.
- A1. Kick It
- A2. Kick It (DJ 3000 remix)
- B1. Cold Restraint
- B2. Down & Out In EC2
Matt Chester Discography
Into The Fall, 12"
11th Hour (2004)
Lives Unlooked For, 12"
11th Hour (2005)
Desert Shift, 12"
11th Hour (2007)
Sula Muse (2008)
Tomi Chair – Waterslider (Matt Chester’s 11th Hour mix)
Waterslider, Nice & Nasty (2008)
- Terrence Dixon – Minerals (Matt Chester’s 11th Hour mix)
Remixes, Nice & Nasty (2008)
- Never See Us
Lifeworks Volume 1, Open Mind (2006)
- Blank Horizon
Tales Of The Unexpected 3, Platipus (2008)