I love many of the records that get tagged as 'minimal' but hearing really stripped down sets of mainly drums for hours on end bores me to tears. What can start off as refreshingly austere can quickly become plain dull. I prefer a bit of light and shade.
As a former university professor specialising in cultural studies whos nowadays one of biggest name remixers and producers of the last three years, English ex pat Ewan Pearson is perfectly placed to discuss the merits of minimalism, though hes keen to stress hes outside the genres inner loop.
I live in
There are some DJs who I like to hear play that style - my favourite is a guy from Perlon called Zip, who is great, and Luciano who is incredibly musical, but they are the exceptions for me.
And I can't help thinking that the particular culture around it is contributing to the monotony of some of the music, Ewan continues.
If you get to the point where you can only enjoy something if you're off your head on Ketamine then there may be a problem. I think there's a danger that we're headed towards a more clicky version of that era of just getting hours of housey monotony, he predicts.
But then, I think one should be suspicious of all trends as a rule. If you spot a bandwagon you can choose to jump on it or run in the other direction.
Practising what he preaches, hes just delivered a highly original sounding compilation for Soma; Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Volume 1; thats best defined as electronic house. Melodic, energetic and packed with tracks with melodies and tunes, its a collection thats both easy to listen to and refreshingly varied, comprising 15 largely unknown tracks from the likes of Villalobos, Dirk Technic and Spirit Catcher. Its also his first ever mix CD in his seven year full time music career, a fact he attributes to caution.
I've been asked about doing a mix CD twice previously, but I never really thought of myself as a DJ at the time, he explains.
In fact, I still think of myself as a producer who gets to play records on the side. I never imagined that the DJing side would build up quite the momentum that it has. So it wasn't until the start of this year that the idea even seemed appropriate.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): BY what criteria will you judge the CD to have been a success?
Ewan Pearson: For me it's already a success in the sense that anything I manage to finish without absolutely hating it is a success. It's quite musical, it has a shape to it amd it has lots of music that I really like so I'm happy. As for the commercial criteria you'd have to ask Soma.
Skrufff: Lots of DJs will be plundering the compilation, tracking down the tracks for their own DJ sets- fair to say, youll now abandoning all these tunes from your sets?
Ewan Pearson: I tend to play tracks for quite a long time if I really like them and I don't hear lots of other people doing so, so not necessarily. One of the ways I picked tracks was to choose things that I thought had maybe been overlooked or undervalued by other people, things that I kept playing and playing well after release. That said the whole licensing and production side of things has taken a good while so I'm well onto lots of other stuff by now.
Skrufff: Last time we chatted you said Im not the worlds greatest technician, I will happily say that: where are you on this Ableton debate: will the average pro DJ HAVE to learn how to use it or risk obsolescence?
Ewan Pearson: I used Ableton to sequence the mix on the computer - partly for convenience: I only own one turntable and it meant I could work on it wherever I happened to be - I did the first third at my Mum and Dad's. And partly because I could use it to fiddle a little - do some key mixes and edits. I could have prepared those separately and then done the final mix live but I'm not at all bothered about the live / not-live thing when it comes to putting a CD together. It has to bear close attention and repeat listening and so I'm happy to admit my working methods. So much supposedly 'live' music is edited or doctored - all classical music recordings contain hundreds of edits for example. The idea is to make something that sounds as good as possible rather than getting macho about whether it was done in one take or not. Hopefully I dont have anything to prove at this stage.
As for Ableton in DJing terms, I still use decks and CDs when I play out and I don't really see that changing, to be honest. There are people who do amazing things with Ableton in a DJing context and if DJing was my only job then I might set some time aside to have a go at it. But I don't really have enough time as I'd like preparing for DJing as it is; the sheer volume of new music to go through is overwhelming and I have to keep as much time free as possible for the studio.
Skrufff: Your fellow
Ewan Pearson: I regularly get asked if I'm wearing eye-make up because of the dark shadows round my eyes. Maybe I should try it.
Skrufff: How important is image and appearance for DJing?
Ewan Pearson: Erm, I try to manage a clean T-shirt or shirt when I play but that's about it. I am as vain as the next man, although I hate having my photo taken. I sometimes think I should make more of an effort; I neglected to get my hair cut before doing some pictures in a rush for this compilation and now it looks like Mrs Slocombe from Are You Being Served has a mix CD out. Bugger.
Skrufff: Dipping into your pre-dance days, theres am old expression Teachers teach, while achievers do, how much did you actively change your mindset when quitting academia?
Ewan Pearson: I hate that expression: 'Those that can do; those that can't teach'. It tells us a lot about the worst sides of the
Climbing down from the soapbox for a moment; I spent a lot of time at college analysing and writing about the effects of books or music or whatever, but I never felt entirely satisfied. I would be reading about something and it would make me feel like I wanted to make something myself rather than providing a critical commentary on someone else's work. Luckily music developed enough of a momentum for me to be able to do that for a living. It's incredibly satisfying and challenging as a job but it's a very different set of skills. So I do miss academia, the writing particularly, although I still read a great deal and I don't have all the difficulties which comes with being a professional teacher. You have to be incredibly dedicated to do that job in the current climate.
Skrufff: I guess one of the key aspects of teaching is motivating people to work: What do you make of Paul Van Dyks recent comments that
Ewan Pearson: Well, speaking as someone with an intermittent work ethic, in other words, lazy, I can't say that I mind much! Just before I moved here, someone referred to
Ewan Pearson: I had a good time; played some excellent gigs at Manumission and We Love Space, though I didn't swim in the sea to my shame, although after all your jellyfish stories it's no wonder. As for 'Diddy' I must have missed him. Shucks.
Skrufff: how much were you mobbed by the Manumission girls?
Ewan Pearson: It was my third summer so it just seems normal now; the first summer I was there it took a little getting used to, but then after a couple of times you're chatting away to the girls forgetting that they're wearing next to nothing.
Skrufff: How much are you being mobbed by adoring fans generally these days?
Ewan Pearson: I don't think I've quite got the mobbing stage yet. Almost all of the people who want to chat to me are very nice and it's great to get good feedback about the work you've done. I get cornered for earnest discussions about plug-ins and production and things from time to time, but no one's asked them to play "Misty" for them yet.
Skrufff: How much is fame seductive?
Ewan Pearson: I guess it's an unfortunate side-effect of success in certain careers. I would sink the boat before I ever got to the being recognized in the street stage I think.
Skrufff: And seven years since you left your Professorship, how do you view dance culture as a cultural force: is it entertainment or something more substantial?
Ewan Pearson: It is entertainment, but it is more participatory and socially/ communally minded than some forms, so I guess it's on the whole a pretty positive or at the very least benign cultural force. It's dangerous to load it with too much political significance though, as many did in the heady days of acid house. God, this is taking me back. I feel like I'm giving a lecture. Erm, maybe I should set some reading: Jeremy Gilbert and Ewan Pearson "Discographies: dance music, culture and the politics of sound" [1999 Routledge] Chapter 7: 'The Politics of Popular Culture' has lots about all this.
Skrufff: How about its role in spreading Western values: how much do you see the world entering a clash of civilizations:
Ewan Pearson: Eek - I don't think I can manage a clash of civilisations chat - I have to go to the studio . . .
Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Volume 1: Ewan Pearson: is out now on Soma Records
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)