If you have been keeping up with the last 20 years of Electro Bass music, then you have probably been quite keen to the great influence that has come from what may be the UK's most cult classic imprint, Breakin' Records. A label that has brought us many amazing artists like Bass Junkie, and Mandroid, as well as one of the labels most interesting projects: DMX Krew! As the primary alter ego of Edward Upton, known to many also as either EDMX, Computor Rockers, or Bass Potato, the artist has been an unstopabble force in the scene for what feels like a lifetime now, bringing us timeless dance classics with pure innovation, as well as a clear sense of respect for the foundation of styles laid before him. Songs with familiarity, as well as intriguing concepts that carry a unique sense of futurism tied to his never ending desire to stay connected to the roots. This month, we get a chance to sit down with the man himself, as we discover his history and how one of the most influential underground musical entities came about...so without further ado, let's get into the action!
Santino Fernandez: Welcome Ed! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview, I am very honored to get a chance to speak with you for a bit about all things EDMX. Let’s talk about your early life, what influences geared you towards making music? Are classically trained by any chance?
EDMX: No, I'm not classically trained. I have picked up a bit of theory over the years, but never studied anything properly. I studied a bit of Jazz piano recently.
I really liked pop music from an early age and we had an organ at home that I loved playing on. My parents got me a little Casio keyboard one Christmas, and over the years growing up I gradually upgraded my Casios for better ones. By the time I was 18 I had a big Yamaha home keyboard and I think I had my first drum machine by then, and my first "real" synth. I think it was the availablilty of those cheap keyboards that got me into it as much as hearing electronic sounds in pop music…those 2 things together.
Those are fairly humble beginnings I must say, really seems music was a core component in your family life. So what was the Electronic Music scene in the UK like in the ‘80s? Do you remember the supposed 2nd “Summer Of Love” when House started to take over the London club scene?
No I'm too young. I just heard electronic sounds in the Pop charts, stuff like Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock, Depeche Mode, New Order. In 1985 or 1986, "Jack Your Body" was a number 1 hit single in the UK pop chart, so I heard a bit of House but not loads. In 88-89 I was mostly into old Funk, George Clinton, and Pop, and once a week I listened to a radio show that played a mixture of Hip Hop, House and Go-Go. I can remember first hearing Detroit Techno on the radio and really thinking it was good, more interesting to me than the commercial House stuff I had heard. More emotional. That would have been tracks from the compilation "Techno: The New Dance Sound Of Detroit". I bought a tape called "Deep Heat 4" that was mostly commercial House, but had a few amazing tracks on it from Juan Atkins, Derrick May etc.
Interesting to hear how you became involved. I personally got into Electronic music a bit similarly, kinda from the outside in if you will. Some of those old commercial compilations did feature some good tracks once in a while.
So what about Raves in the ‘90s, were you a big part of it? Can you talk a little about the government crackdown and how everything changed after that in the UK?
I went to some Raves starting in 1991 when I moved to London. I really loved the music, I bought lots of records and was able to hear a lot of stuff that was new to me. There were interesting people in London, record shops on every corner, cheap and good parties and free festivals all the time. I was a bit of an outsider though because I never took Ecstasy. Sometimes when my friends went to a big Rave, I wouldn't go because I found that people all being on drugs made me feel a bit alienated from them. So I preferred to go to clubs and warehouse parties where you could go home when you felt like it, rather than being stuck in a field all weekend until the person with a car was straight enough to drive.
After the Criminal Justice Law, a lot of the sound systems that were run by travellers moved abroad, warehouse parties and Raves became harder to find, I guess things moved to clubs. At the same time, music started splitting into genres, whereas before you could go to a party and hear Todd Terry, Soul II Soul, Public Enemy and Joey Beltram all in the same set.
To be honest, I didn't really have the spare money to go to clubs a lot. I was obsessed with making music and I saved all the money I earned to buy music gear. There were no cheap computers with cheap or cracked software then, you had to get hold of quite a lot of money if you wanted a sampler or a decent sequencer. So by 1994 I was just working and then staying in and eating the cheapest food so that I could buy another synth or whatever. I would go out if there was a chance to check something amazing like Rephlex artists or something.
I really respect you taking your own path through all that, especially while so many were part of the drug frenzy. Also, the idea of "staying in", and saving up for what you want is such a rare concept for kids these days. I can't help but feel like you are really laying down some words of wisdom for the younger crowds in what you are saying.
Anyway, let’s talk about one of your very first releases, “Sound Of The Street”, which was on Aphex Twin’s “Rephlex Records”. How did you wind up signing to his label? I have always been very intrigued by Richard James’ lean towards the Electro Breaks sound, and this release shows his interest goes back perhaps even to the roots in Electro Funk from the early ‘80s. What was your experience meeting him and getting on the label?
I sent them a few demos, as well as many many other labels. I just sent tapes to any label I was interested in: ACV, Shiver, Rephlex, DJax, etc. I loved the mysterious vibe of Rephlex and the unique sounds.
Most of what I was doing was influenced by the current sounds of the time, Hood & Mills kind of Techno, as well as the early Rephlex hard Techno stuff. But I gradually realised that if I was going to get anywhere, I had to be different and unique because, for example, I was never going to be better at minimal Techno than Robert Hood. So I started making more Electro-influenced stuff, but because I wasn't very cool or knowledgeable, I was much more influenced by very commercial 80's Electro stuff like Freeez or Paul Hardcastle, than I was by the underground stuff like Cybotron or Egyptian Lover. At that point I didn't know a lot of music. As I got more into Electro I started buying all the old records and my sound evolved from Sound Of The Street into the harder/less poppy sound that you hear on Breakin', more influenced by Juan Atkins, Egyptian Lover, Dynamix II, Maggotron etc.
Anyway, back to the point, I got a record released by a dutch label called DAP and I made them put my phone number on the label. After that, Grant from Rephlex rang me up kind of just to say "hello" and "well done." He had heard my record and remembered that I had sent demos. I said: "If you like the record, why don't you sign some tracks from me?" Grant seemed a bit taken aback, but eventually he agreed and that became Sound Of The Street after about a year.
So what about Breakin’ Records, what was the inspiration for this highly influential label of yours to come about as time went on?
I would say "virtually unknown label"...anyway I just had more tracks than Rephlex could possibly release, plus I had spare time after quitting my job, so I decided to start a label to release my own stuff. After the first couple of releases I discovered some artists that I wanted to release. It was fun learning about designing labels, vinyl manufacturing and all that stuff, and then receiving the first demos.
I have to imagine, especially hearing those old demos from Mandroid and Bass Junkie, two legends who helped shape our sound; in many ways thanks to you and a label I have to argue is to many, a cult classic! With that, let's talk about something else though: Breakin’ and much of your music has always been regarded by many for its unique flavor of the Techno Bass style, what a lot of people like to call Electro Bass. The influence of Electro Funk, as well as Miami and Detroit Techno Bass is obvious in your early tunes, but overall your sound is fairly eclectic and has become more so over the years. Would you say you always aspired to produce a very broad range of styles, or did you plan originally to stick more towards the Electro Funk and Bass sound?
I never planned anything. I just make music the way it comes out. Obviously at different times in my life I have been more or less influenced by different things, and near the beginning I made a decision to try not to follow what was big, but to do something different to others. As I get older I try harder to be original and invent my own sound, whereas when I was younger I was happy to pay tribute to other musicians that I loved. I really admire people who manage to be original from an early age. It wasn't really possible for me! I can only say I was original in that in 1995-97 I was copying something that nobody else was copying at that time. But I was also influenced by everything else I had ever liked, such as Kraftwerk and 80s Synth Pop stuff, Detroit Techno, and House...plus I wasn't that great at what I was doing, so even when I tried to copy it always came out a bit different.
I must say I really respect your humility. I would personally say you are a very unique artist; even when, as you say, you were promoting a certain style already pioneered but really in a way that was still your own signature sound to me. But I do think its important not to ever place yourself on a pedestal. I appreciate that you don't, as I can't say that for many others.
Anyway, so let's cover an intriguing subject really quick here. As a big fan of your music, I have most of your early works on Breakin’, and through you I got exposed to the term “Techno Bass”; primarily through songs like "DMX Bass". As most of us know, Techno Bass was a term that both Miami and Detroit adopted for their evolution of Electro Funk into the ‘90s; coined originally by David Noller of Dynamix II and evolved further upon by the guys in Detroit like Aux 88. Were you aware of the term already when you made this record?
I think the phrase "Techno Bass" comes from the Dynamix II song title, but Aux 88 referred to it as if it was a style.
By the time I was doing Breakin', I was listening to loads of old Electro from the early 80s, but also I was deep into Chicago House and Brooklyn Techno and House stuff like Nu Groove records, Frankie Bones etc…. and I'd been into Detroit Techno from quite early as well.
DMX Bass is an attempt to do a Maggotron-style rap but with a slightly harder Dynamix II kind of beat. On the other hand, the B-side "Rock Your Body" is kind of Parliament meets Paul Hardcastle. And then there's a Hip-House track on the record as well…so the label was a bit varied from the beginning. Number 6 was Hardcore/Dark Jungle kind of stuff, and number 10 was Acid Techno.
Very interesting to hear this! I have always loved that record, and surprised people a few times playing "Rock Your Body"....great stuff! Actually, you have just reminded me I need to hunt down Breakin' All-Stars again, I lost it somehow many years back. That megamix you did on the flipside was a tenacious dancefloor bomb!!!
So let me ask you one more thing before we get off the subject of Breakin' Records. Mandroid, an enigma to so many, and in my opinion one of the most underestimated musicians out there. You dedicated a good part of your early years with Breakin' to bringing the world many classics by him, all of which have perhaps influenced me musically more than any musician ever has; something many feel to be true as well. What about you, as the guy who brought us this great artist, what would you say about what inspired you to pursue his music?
He was the first person to send me a demo, and it came with a VHS tape with him breakdancing, which I thought was really cool. I liked the tracks and the video, but the quality of the first demo was quite rough and I wasn't sure if it was ready to release. I asked Grant (Rephlex boss) for advice about it and he said I should just release some tracks even if they don't feel quite ready, because it would be so exciting for him that it would encourage him to work harder on music and get better. So I chose my 3 favourites and we put them out. Grant was right, because after that he did the album "Electro Freaks Rehab Clinic" and all the other cool records we put out.
Cool to hear that story straight from you! I can't say enough how much all of you guys influenced the newer generation that came up in the mid to late '90s.
So let's move forward a bit. Over the span of the 2000’s, your career evolved very gracefully, and your music has gotten a fairly high level of attention all over the world; perhaps because of the broad range you have been producing. What has it been like for you? Do you find people’s preference for certain styles to be disappointing, or is this exposure to different cultures what has been a driving force in opening up your horizons musically?
I find it weird that people are so narrow in what interests them, that they could expect me to still be making records that sound like what I did in 1997, even in 2016.
Over the years you get interested in different things at different times. At least I do. I get bored easily, I want to do things I've never done, I want to hear things I've never heard. I am not satisfied with repetition.
I know other people just focus on one thing for their whole lives...that can work very well in terms of a career because journalists and some parts of the public like simple concepts like "this guy does Electro", and "that guy does hard Techno." So when you do a lot of different styles, many people react strangely, they don't understand it, they can't put you in a box. The people with interesting minds understand that it's natural, however, and are able to follow the evolution of an artist.
What is the state of what people like to call “Electro” music in your eyes then? What can be done to help this music get back to where it needs to be? I am sure you have been witness to so many new sub-genres calling themselves “Electro”, and the effect it has had on the music that called itself that for so long. How do you feel about it all?
I don't care. It seems to me like most people who talk about electro are old men who reminisce about their youth. I want to go forwards. Let's do something different. Electro is something that existed in the 80s, like bebop existed in the 40s and 50s. Artistically there is not much point in making a straight Electro record now; although it can be a fun way to spend an afternoon!
How do you feel about the return of vinyl, are you personally seeing it continue to rise in sales and interest?
Vinyl is still insignificant in terms of sales, compared to the mid '90s. Even if it's tripled in the last few years, three times almost zero is still almost zero.
I don't release vinyl on Breakin' any more because it's too difficult to break even and I want to spend my time making music, not chasing after money that people owe me. I like having my tracks on vinyl when I can because I like the way they sound after mastering and pressing, so for those reasons I release my music on other labels that i trust.
Recently, Fundamental Records re-released many of your classics over the years in their original vinyl format. This has never been done before that I know of; especially considering these records look like perfect represses of the originals. Was it a fairly painstaking task getting all this together? Seems like it’s doing well so far, can you talk about the project a bit?
No that's not what it is. It's more like a compilation with some previously-released tracks plus lots of remixes and lots of old tracks that have never been released before; plus a few new tracks. There are no records in the set that are perfect represses of anything old. All the artwork is new.
Yeh it was hard work doing all the artwork and getting the mastering done to my satisfaction, persuading the label to slow down and do it right instead of rushing.
Very Interesting project though. I had seen some of the units, and they looked like perfect represses. Cool idea regardless, especially the DMX box!
So how about Breakin’ in regards to vinyl then, any plans for that? I noticed over the last several years, Breakin’ has licensed its vinyl formats to Shipwrec. Any inclination to return to vinyl for your own imprints?
No it's too much work. I just want to spend my time making music and let someone else do the business stuff. I hate the music business.
I struggle with the same thing, the businesss side of things can often kill the inspiration for things. Very frustrating. Making the music is definitely the funnest part of it all!
So let's talk production a little. I have been asking this question lately, and I am curious with you...how do you feel about these on-going Loudness Wars? I am sure you have noticed music getting progressively loud over time. Has it gotten to where it’s almost offensive to you? Is it even an issue you think?
Is that still a thing? It doesn't really affect vinyl because you can't make a record any louder than a certain limit, after which the needle will jump out of the groove.
I don't really listen to other people's music much anymore, so I don't care how they master their stuff. I am always careful not to use mastering engineers who will squash my stuff too much.
Indeed. Dynamics are too often sacrificed for the sake of being louder, and sadly it really still goes on. Though thankfully many steps are being taken on many levels to ensure it has no ultimate effect other than killing the beauty of someone's own work.
So what’s a studio session like for you? What gets you inspired?
Whenever I have some free time I just go in my studio and make music. I nearly always have more ideas than I have time so I'm not chasing around after inspiration. I'm desperate to go in the studio and make stuff.
I know the feeling all too well! So any production tips for the aspiring engineers coming up? What recording gear or plug-ins have been changing the game for you?
People always want tips or things to buy that will make them better quickly. Nothing worthwhile works like that. You just have to put in the hours. Do music whenever you get the time.
I've learned how to mix and EQ things by doing it for 25 years. When I wanted to get better at piano, I spent 4-5 hours a day practicing for a year. That's how humans get better at things. There are no tips or plug-ins that are going to make you a better artist. There is nothing you can buy that will "change the game".
The only tip I can think of is: work fast. Don't get bogged down in tiny details, just make decisions quickly and finish the track the same day you start it.
Good advice! Sadly I see this as having been a trend for many years that seems to be subsiding some; that of having technology somehow replace the need to refine your craft and simply be better, instead of having something do it for you.
What would you say to the aspiring musician in general. What will it take not just to make it, but also to retain longevity as a true musician?
Be yourself, try to make something original. If you are focusing on "making it", then you are not focusing on being an artist. Just be true to what you really want to make.
In conclusion, what is in store for you for the future? Any more new releases coming up?
Yeh still lots more new releases to come this year: a soundtracky/chill out album is next, some more Techno bangers on Power Vacuum, some more Electro-ish stuff on Abstract Forms and possibly CPU, and a nice EP on ShipWrec with what I think of as my own style, or genre-less Electronic music on it.
Great stuff Ed! Very thankful for your time, and for the many years of incredible musicianship. Look forward to hearing all the new material! Good luck with everything!
Interviewed by: Santino Fernandez