Midfield Generals Battle Plans 2008- One Rule Stays The Same :: Skrufff.com
13 years after he set up uber-successful dance label Skint Records and 11 after he made Fatboy Slim into one of the worlds biggest pop stars, Damian Harris remains one of the music business sharpest sorts so his advice for prospective label starters is refreshing.
A couple of years ago I'd have said don't bother, he admits, The old model of the record industry just doesn't work anymore and it's nigh on impossible to make it a go of it with the old school methods. But now I'd be much more enthusiastic about it.
Despite such sage advice, hes personally doing the exact opposite, stepping back from Skint to concentrate on his own production alter ego of Midfield General, a role he last occupied eight years ago via album Generalisation.
This time round hes retaining his emphasis on producing eclectic high energy dance music, adding a distinctly Gallic flavour courtesy of an internship he recently served with Justice/ Daft Punk man Pedro Winter (aka Ed Banger Records). Featuring vocal contributions from actor Ralph Brown and Vila of the Bumblebeez as well as production input from Xavier De Rosnay (Justice) and David Dewaele (Soulwax) new album General Disarray is unsurprisingly excellent though Damian is happy to stress he has no plans to be the new Fatboy Slim.
I would be very happy with 'Respected In My Field': he insists.
Of course I want to be successful at what I do, but I certainly have no desire to be famous. I've seen some of what Norman went through and a lot of it's not very nice. I'd still like to go to the parties though, he adds.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Its 8 years since your last album: how much did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do? And who you're aiming it at?
Midfield General: To be honest I didn't really have a clear idea of either. I've never had one particular sound to my music, I flit between musical styles quite a lot so I just started making tracks and picked the best ones and hoped it worked out as an album. I think Ive managed to achieve that. And its a bit late if I haven't! And as for who it was aimed at, I spent far too much time worrying about that . . . so i stopped . . because down that path lies self doubt and furious procrastination.
Skrufff: Your biog says 'In 2005, after 11 years running Brightons Skint Records, Damian realised that he was much happier in the studio then behind a desk": how gradual was this process of understanding: what were the signposts that alerted you?
Midfield General: I think that feeling has always been there. In no sense of the word do I see myself as a businessman, I was very lucky that Skints success meant that I could be fairly indulgent. I loved the early days of Skint where I literally did everything; the artwork, the press releases and the club; on top of choosing the music and preparing the releases. As we grew and things got busier it became impossible to be so hands on. And I missed that creative outlet which just accentuated my desire to get back into the studio.
But I think the state of the music industry really didn't help either. We'd been very lucky to have Fatboy Slim doing so well just before the harsh reality of downloading and CDR burning truly hit the music industry. That allowed us a lot of freedom to carry on doing what we wanted and be fairly indulgent. Suddenly margins where squeezed and we had to actually start playing the game a bit more; and the game isn't a fun game, it's a fairly soul destroying game actually.
I found myself at a stage where I was listening to music and I'd be thinking right, how many could we sell of this? Who could remix it? How do we market it? And that wasn't really why I got into music. I used to just think this records fucking great; we have to put it out.
Skrufff: Sounds like a midlife crisis: a fair description?
Midfield General: Ha, ha, well, yes and no. The momentum of the label had meant I'd never really had a break and I really needed it. It was 11 years and as I mentioned before, the music industry just wasn't as much fun. And it just felt like the right time. Of course with any be change like that, especially with something you've invested some much of your energy into, there's going to be an element of soul searching and looking at your life, but luckily I'm still a long way off a sports car and leather trousers. Well i hope so anyway. Apparently they chaff quite badly.
Skrufff: Your biog says 'After being rejected by the conceptual art world' he started Skint: how much did you feel you had something to prove?
Midfield General: Not at all. I always claim I was misunderstood, it's an easy get out in the world of Art education. I loved being at Art College but I realised fairly quickly that I wasn't going to be an artist in that sense. But it was a brilliant base for me. I did a lot of work with sound as well as the more graphics based stuff. It's also a good place to put on a lot of parties, mix that with working in a record shop 5 minutes from College and without realising it I'd graduated from The University of Independent Record Labels. So they can stick their 3rd (class degree) up their conceptual bumholes! Actually if I'd done that whilst wrapped in cellophane I might have got a 1st (class degree).
Skrufff: How much do you still feel like you have something to prove?
Midfield General: I do suffer from an affliction that means that everything I enjoy or am passionate about I feel I can do just as well myself. So I want to be a football pundit, make TV programmes, films, write books, design clothes, build hotels, bring down the evil media empires and solve all the worlds problems. So, no, not really.
Skrufff: Skint became massively successful over the last 12 years: how much were you driven to achieve that? (how much did luck/ circumstance play a role?)
Midfield General: I was driven to do something I was proud of but success for me didn't mean selling lots of records. The labels I loved and sought inspiration from didn't really sell lots, but they did make a huge impact on me. So I would have been very happy with that level of underground respectability. But then we got lucky. Friends hate it when i say that, and I can kinda see that that false modesty is annoying so I've now changed my view to. 'We were in the right place at the right time'. Dance music had been going through a bit of a lull and was quite bloated and self indulgent. It needed a kick up the arse and ourselves and our contemporaries like The Heavenly Social where seen as the Boot, a Big Boot if you will.
Skrufff: Running the label must have been VERY lucrative with Fatboy Slims success, do you need to work to make a living ever again?
Midfield General: Of course; we spent it all. Seriously though I did have some weird catholic guilt thing about having lots of money, I gave a lot of it away, mostly under the guise of 'investing it' in friends music or art projects, I still keep hoping one of them will work out.
Skrufff: looking back on the early days: how broke were you, were you ever chased by debt collectors?
Midfield General: I was very broke but I wasn't quite that bad. I left the education system just before student loans were introduced and before banks were quite so generous with their overdrafts, so I didn't have that opportunity to rack up loads of debt and worry about it later. Though I couldn't really turn to my family as none of them had any money at the time either. I'm fighting the urge to exaggerate and say I had to live off a packet of Happy Shopper Muesli for a week but I seem to remember I always had some Cream Crackers and Marmite to hand so things were never too bad.
Skrufff: Youve been living in Paris a lot during the last year; why do you think so many super-talented producers are suddenly emerging there in particular?
Midfield General: If I was trying to be funny I'd say that lessons in Compression are part of the school curriculum over there; but that's a fairly spoddy thing to say.
I always think it's a cyclical thing. I think in Paris it was the generation who had grown up with the likes of Daft Punk, Oizo, Cassius and the like, coming of age. And they bought a fresh approach to it, production wise they pushed things to the extreme and it's incredibly inspiring; especially if you're hearing music played at its inception by the producers themselves at these great parties and clubs. You also have to take into account that you can create this music on a computer for next to nothing. That enabled a lot of young Parisians too.
Skrufff: How much do Parisiens live up to their notoriously rude reputation (What was the rudest situation you experienced?)
Midfield General: I didn't pick up that much of it really, They do honk their horns far to much. The worse bit of rudeness I did see was actually quite dark. A fire engine was coming down the street and a lorry was unloading, blocking the rue completely. And instead of rushing to move it the bloke started fucking arguing with the firemen and carried on his delivery. It turned out the fire engine was going to a fire that killed several African immigrants. Sorry if you were expecting an amusing anecdote about baguettes.
Skrufff: We ran a story a few weeks ago of a criminal psychologist claiming France is crawling with serial killers: how much did you sense a dark vibe there? (ever feel unsafe/ how did it compare to Brighton/ London for street security?
Midfield General: Hmmmm, I didn't sense that at all but then I don't suppose I'm really what a serial killer would look for in a victim. As with every city there are places to avoid, but I remember my first night, walking back to my hotel along the Seine, past the Louvre as the sun came up and I don't think I could have ever felt safer or happier. To get home from some clubs I did have to walk down Rue St Denis, the area where the prostitutes hang around but again, that was more amusing than scary.
Skrufff: I understand you nowadays own a hotel in Whitstable Kent, what prompted you to become a hotelier?
Midfield General: It's actually a restaurant slash pub called the Sportsman. I'm a silent partner with my two brothers, one who runs the bar and one is the chef. I just get to eat there. We've been open about 8 years and just got awarded a Michelin star which is amazing. I'm very proud of them, but of course because they're my brothers so I'd never tell them that. My sister runs our other pub in Canterbury which has been going about three years and is also excellent.
Skrufff: How are you perceived around Brighton these days: are you a local celebrity?
Midfield General: I'm not sure really. I think our sponsoring of Brighton & Hove Albion has always been greatly appreciated by people in the town. Luckily Norman gets more of the attention, he's even got his name on a bus. After the Big Beach Boutique I found it difficult walking round town for a couple of weeks as everything still smelt of piss and I felt partially responsible. I don't really do the Brighton Celebrity circuit, where you go to launches, get photographed with David Van Day from Dollar for the 'out and about' pages of local magazines.
General Disarray is out shortly on Skint as is new single Disco Sirens (featuring a killer rave remix by D.I.M.)
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)