Peace Chris, could you please tell CRDS readers about your history, where are you from, what was your first Hip Hop memory, how did you become a DJ?
CR: I guess I first really got into hip hop around 1988. A friend lent me a couple of cassettes which had tracks by folk like Eric B & Rakim, Rob Base and what have you on there - pretty commercial stuff at the time. I wanted to hear more so I started checking out rap shows that aired late on some of the London radio networks - Capital, GLR and stuff like that. There were some pirate shows too. I'd tape them and then listen back and try and find out what the songs were called, write them all down and then eventually when I had money go and buy the records. By about 1993 I had acquired quite a lot of records and wanted to get involved so I bought turntables and a mixer from a kid I was at school with and started teaching myself... By 1995 I was starting to play clubs. It begins there really.
When crafting your legendary mixes, do you go through a ton of crates to find the right tracks or you do you just use the ones that had the biggest impact on you in those years?
CR: For the Classic Material mixes? Yeah, it's a process of many stages really. First pull out everything I have from the year in question, then go through them all quickly and pretty much end up with a pool of anything up to 300 tracks or so that might make the final mix. Then I arrange them roughly according to tempo and start working through the mix - start slow, finish fast(er) typically. Obviously the tracks I go for first are my personal favourites, but if stuff isn't working in the context of the mix then there are choices to be made. That's it really.
What are your personal favourite years for Hip Hop music and why?
CR: I have some fondness for all eras really but for different reasons. Around '88 / '89 is big for me because it's when I first really got into the sound. People were sampling great records then too - James Brown, Sly & Family Stone and what have you. A lot of it was kind of naive sounding but it was raw and energetic. Around '93 / '94 is good for me too - it's when I started DJing and also when production really advanced. People went heavy into sampling jazz and studio / sampler technology changed a lot so the records sounded much fuller and better produced. I like a lot of post-2000 stuff too because commercial hip hop had gone its own way and it was almost like it left a vacuum for people to do what they liked so there's a lot more experimentation going on.
How did Classic Material get started?
CR: It sort of stemmed from the Diary mixtape really. When I put that CD out, I did a few small low key nights at a local spot as a promo for the CD, playing music from a different era at each night. Then a few months later I went out to Berlin to play at a night called Rap History, where they played only music from a specific year at each night. I played the 1991 night and loved it. So a year or so later I came round to thinking that a similar thing could be done in London so I chatted to Rap History to make sure they were cool with us doing it and then Nick Armitage and I set about getting Classic Material set up over here. A year and half on and we're just about to wrap up the series. It's been a ton of work but a lot of fun.
What was the first record, first ever tape and the last album you purchased?
CR: Tricky one. I suppose I have to be honest - the first 12" I can recall buying was probably the Beverly Hills Cop (Axel F) theme as a kid, you know from the Eddy Murphy movie. It had this killer bass led track from the film on the B-Side called 'Stakeout' or something like that. First 'proper' record was a few years later - Eric B & Rakim, I think it was "As The Rhyme Goes On"
. First ever tape I'm not sure I remember to be honest but it would have been something pretty awful. As soon as I got into music properly though, I pretty much only bought vinyl. I still have a few classic rap cassettes though.
As for the last album I bought, I have to confess that it's mostly singles over albums that have been getting my money of late - Modeselektor 'Berlin' and SBTRKT 'Wildfire' were both recent purchases. I have had some really good albums sent to me recently that are getting a lot of play, the new Opolopo album and the Future Boogie album, both on Tokyo Dawn. Also the new Julien Dyne album on BBE is great.
Are there any records that you own that not many have, any super rare dub plates, test presses or anything in your collection?
CR: I've never been one for spending big money on records on ebay and stuff like that really - there's just so much good music you can pick up very cheaply if you know where to look and what to look for. But, I did radio for a while and was on a lot of mailing lists for a long time so I have a lot of promos and a few test presses. Some of them may have value I suppose but for me it's more what they're worth to me. Occasionally promoting clubs / events, producers travelling with acts would give you a white label of intrumentals or something like that - I'm sure some of those are worth money.
Whose record collection would you love to raid?
CR: Hmm. I think one of the great golden era producers - Pete Rock or Premo probably. I think people are naturally fascinated by their sampling habits so that would be an obvious choice for me.
Who are your most listened to artists these days?
CR: Another tricky one. My taste wanders quite a lot these days. For hip hop, Oddisee is one artist I check for regularly, also anything Phonte goes near. There are a few producers too - Apollo Brown, The ARE, folks like that. Albums I've really listened to a lot lately include Slakah's recent album on BBE and Julien Dyne that I mentioned before. I'm into a lot of the new-latin / new-afro stuff too - Public Opinion, Ariya Astrobeat and stuff like that.
Please list the top 10 records that you would want to introduce to your Children...
Please list the top 5 records you are embarrassed to own (but loved at one stage)
CR: I honestly don't think I could name 5 that I'm embarrassed of. I certainly own some records that some would consider cheesy but I'm not really embarrassed of them as such. I like a lot of 80s boogie and synth sort of stuff and some of that is quite poppy. Pointer Sisters 'Automatic' for example is basically a pop record, but I still think it's a great record.
The records I suppose I would cringe if someone came to my house and pulled off the shelf are the more commercial hip hop from the early part of the last decade - 'Be Faithful' for example. The records it's made up from, Chic 'Chic Cheer', Black Sheep 'The Choice Is Yours', even Faith Evans are all solid records in my opinion but you'd be perfectly entitled to say the AV8 version is crap and it would be hard for me to defend.
What are your thoughts on the state of Hip Hop today and where do you see Hip Hop in the future?
CR: I think the thing is that 'Hip Hop' as a definition has lost all meaning. You say 'Hip Hop' to one person and they're thinking Akon, or possibly even Rihanna or something. Say it to another person and they're thinking Bambaataa and Wild Style and in between those two extremes are a thousand shades of grey. So it's impossible to say where it's going really because it's already gone in thousand different directions and each of those directions will go somewhere different. I actually think it's a good thing - if some guy in his bedroom wants to make a 'hip hop' record that doesn't have a rapper on it, is made partly of samples and partly of a load of electronics he's made himself and changes tempo and time signature 3 times in 2 minutes then that's great - there aren't any rules any more. These days my preference is for hip hop that owes something to its heritage but doesn't really play by the prescribed norms.
What do you think makes up a good DJ?
CR: First up passion for the music and knowledge of your records - more important than technical ability in my opinion. But the best DJs have broad taste, innovative technical ability, experience behind them, and a love of what they do and a desire to be the best at it. There aren't many out there that tick all the boxes.
What are your thoughts on DJ's that use laptops and have never touched a turntable?
CR: It's easy to get all misty eyed about vinyl - it's been a big part of my life and I still love it, but the truth is that technology is making DJing a more creative activity again. I love that a combination of turntable, computer, midi and effects allows me to play sections of a record out of sequence, to extend parts of tracks, to apply effects to an acapella and things like that - it's made DJing more like production and that's pushing me to do new things. BUT, I think younger DJs who have never used vinyl or turntables are missing a really important part of the skill set. It's all well and good to stand there pushing buttons on a midi controller but to me part of the showmanship and grass roots skills have been lost if that's all you've ever known.
Out of all the mixes you have done, which one are you the most proud of?
CR: I suppose the Diary is the most epic, certainly the most time consuming and the one that provoked the biggest reaction, but I don't listen to it as often as some of the others. Sometimes it's the ones that were done without tons of planning that I'm most fond of. The Legacy was knocked together in a couple of days but when listen to it now it sounds way more crafted than I remember when I was doing it. I like the ones also that cover stuff a little bit outside my normal repertoire, like the 80s Electro Rap / Electro Funk thing I did for Spine TV.
When BBE gave you access to their entire catalogue for your 15th anniversary mix, how did you pick the records, did you spend hours listening to tons of records and creating different mixes?
CR: It was quite a journey really. There's something like 180 albums, a lot of them I knew well already, but ones I was less familiar with I sat and listened through. I narrowed it down to a pool of my favourite tracks and then constructed a bunch of 15-20 minute sections but the number of tempo and genre shifts was daunting so I had find creative ways of linking it all together. There were a few last minute changes thanks to licensing restrictions on some of the catalogue but I actually think the final take is the best of all the drafts. The reaction to it has been overwhelmingly good and I'm really pleased with it.
As for my own stuff, I have a mix / compilation of modern Latin stuff coming out on BBE in the Spring and a couple more releases for Breakin Bread too, which are yet to be finalized but more or less ready to go. I'm producing an album for a band called Maylight which is a sort of Jazz / Electronica style project with Lizzy Parks (Tru Thoughts) on vocals too but we don;t have a release date for that yet. We debuted our new material at Leftfoot last night and it sounds killer even it I do say so myself. I also have a bunch of remixes coming out over the next few months for a few different labels including Bastard Jazz out in NYC, Hope Street in Australia and a few others...
Thanks a lot Chris.
CR: My pleasure Jaz!
You can download all of Chris Read's The Diary and the Classic Material mixes etc here...
or purchase some mixes, t-shirts or limited edition box sets here