Rennie Foster Interview

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– What was the last record you bought? What made it stand out for you?
I recently purchased some of the “Proper Trax” releases from their Bandcamp page. I was actually looking for somewhere to buy the track “GF” by Alex Falk, which is just an excellent, a real cheeky club tool. In my search I came across his stuff on Proper Trax and ended up buying a few of the releases by him and other artists. Ironically they are a “vinyl only” type label, for the most part anyway, but I ended up grabbing these tracks digitally. Great stuff. I have some love for that label for sure.

– Do you still go record shopping? Are there good record shops in Canada? Or do you do most of your record shopping in your adopted home of Japan?
There is fairly good used record shopping in Vancouver, but I lived a decade in Tokyo, so it’s hard for me to compare, I was pretty spoiled. I have a strange relationship with record shops, as I am what you might call an “addict in recovery”. The digital music game has certainly lead to a decline in my income, in terms of selling my records, but then again, I am no longer blowing my grocery money just to get some new tracks to play on the weekend. I still buy physical records, when I want a track that I can’t get digitally, or picking up a potential sample at a thrift shop, or when I am feeling like record shopping and have a chance to, I am also buying and playing digital music. I used to pay to have new stuff pressed on questionable sounding acetates back in the day, so the idea of playing anything i want to, using timecode, is right up my alley really. I care more about the turntable as a manipulatable instrument, so it works for me. I tend to go back and forth between a timecode record and actual vinyl records, so I’m not a digital vs. vinyl person, more of a “both” person. I’m not a CDJ or controller type guy though, although I respect anything other DJs do, as long as they do it well. I am not hung up on format either way really, I just want the good tracks and the ability to rock with them in the way I want.

– As a DJ, what do you see as your role? How has this changed over the years?
My role hasn’t changed at all, but then again, I exist in my world quite underground from what is happening to the role of “DJs” in the mainstream dance music culture. I consider myself “outside” all that “EDM” nonsense. I am there to rock the party and keep it raw for the real heads, that is what I do, that is what I will always do, I am absolutely dedicated to the craft of DJing. Not the tools you can choose to purchase, or the formats you can choose to purchase, but the craft, the stuff you can’t buy, that will never change for me.

– What’s been the biggest changes to effect you since you first began working in the electronic music scene? How did you reckon it’s changed for the worse and the better?
Well, like I just mentioned, I think a lot of folks are hung up on products now, records or files, hardware or software, controllers or turntables, whatever, all stuff you can just buy. Aligning their identity as an artist with what tools or formats they use, and not much else really. As well there is a lot more emphasis on the popularity and recognizability of artists and DJs now, who is “hot” and who’s name will draw a crowd and all that. That way of thinking is quite commercial to me, and at odds with the core dance music subculture mentality that I grew up in. Even in the so called “underground”. it’s not much different than commercial EDM really, in this way, you gotta be popular in the right way to be on Boiler Room and whatnot. This is a lot different than the emphasis on new and unknown music that prevailed in the earlier dance music subculture, opposite in many ways. I mean, I could never imagine that “underground” DJs would actually want to play music that was on any kind of “top” chart or list. I am from the school of trying to find tunes no one knows and break them on my floor. I sound pretty hard-line I guess saying that, I’m not, I am also just going with the flow, trying to do the best I can for my music, but these are just observations I have made along the way. Really, I just do what I do and try not to judge what others do as much as I can, but I still call it like I see it.

– You’ve produced on some really great labels over the years. Do you always produce with the label in mind? Or do you just send it to places where you think it might work?
Pretty much all the labels I have released with have some sort of organic relationship behind it. It’s about getting to know folks who have similar musical ideas than me, and who I get along with as people, outside of that. I was lucky to get support and mentorship early on from people like Laurent Garnier and Derrick May, and incidentally, I have released for both F-Communications and Transmat, I took the passing on of their knowledge and advice very seriously. I am all about respect for the architects that have laid the foundations. I also care a lot more about leaving work behind when I’m gone, and contributing to labels that are part of permanent electronic music history, than I do about working with who is a “hot” brand at the moment. In terms of releases, I am always thinking about how to put out work that will survive, and contribute to the lineage of the culture, not just trying to get “big” and sell a lot of units, like I mentioned earlier, I find that way of thinking at odds with the core values of dance music sub-culture, so that has a lot to do with what labels and brands I end up working with.

– Musically, what’s been your proudest moment to date? What constitutes success for you as an artist with your releases?
One of my proudest moments was releasing for F-Communications, and having Laurent Garnier call me and request a demo. I see artists like him no differently than how a dedicated student of jazz sees Coltrane, the respect is at that level for me. He initially wanted some tracks I had already signed to DJ Bone’s “Subject Detroit” label, that he had heard Bone play. I was in Paris, staying at the studio of Electric Rescue, and he heard I was there and called me. I told him I had other demo tracks that were similar, and we made a plan to meet at The Rex Club the next day. I actually didn’t have anything, yes I lied to Laurent Garnier! I broke out my laptop and set it up in the studio there and made the track “La Defense” (his studio was in La Defense, Paris). It was so lucky he liked it, I had only the one demo track. When I received the contract from F-Com, I framed it, and it hangs in my studio still. I am as proud of that as a pop artist is of a grammy. Success to me is a story like that, a little piece of dance music history that I lived.

– Are you a hardware or software man? Have you adapted to new technology over the years? Or are you still old-school in your approach?
I have a room full of tools. Some are computers, and some are other machines, some are old and some are new, I use them in different ways and at different times, but they are just tools, my music is not them, it is me. I don’t identify myself as an artist, or my music, by the tools I used to create, as much as a painter defines his work by the brand of paint he uses, or what materials make his brush. So, to some, that might be “old-school”, I’m not sure, I would say a lot of “old-school” thinking is more cutting edge than a lot of “new-school” thinking, certainly less conservative, so I’m not sure if “old” is an accurate descriptive. But I’m comfortable being “old-school”, I’m in good company I think. I try to push my methodology out of my comfort zone, and experiment freely, while still being able to create naturally, sometimes with more success than other times as making mistakes is a necessary element of my creative process. I came up in the early house music and hip-hop sub-culture, I’m really a b- boy to the core, so I have an affinity for creative sampling more than many “techno” artists do I think. I love programming synths, but I don’t consider myself especially good at it.

– Tell us about your latest EP and the inspiration for it… What gave you the idea for the trumpets?
The “Childish Things” EP is three tracks I made in my studio with two different jazz musicians. The title track, and “Traders” were made with Alphons Fear, a celebrated Canadian trumpet player. Alphons is the brother of a long time friend and graffiti artist, Hans Fear, who I created some of my first art with. Hans suffered from Schizophrenia, and tragically took his own life in 2001. In 2012, our mutual friend, and another one of the graffiti artists I grew up with also died tragically. His name was James “Jamer” Lindsay. You could say that myself, Jamer, and Hans were a creative threesome for much of my teenage life. The narrative of this EP is really about those memories, those childish things that we hold dear in our heart when we become men, that make us who we really are. It is not a tragic piece of music, or typically dark, although it does contain melancholy, and some angst, but the message is joyful, beautiful and a celebration of art, life, friendship, and unruly behaviour. The third song, “Grass Roots” is made with my girlfriend’s father, who is an accomplished jazz and blues musician, and avid pot smoker. It’s inspired by the Chicago traditions of deep house masters like Larry Heard.

– And what 5 tracks are really making an impression in your bag right now?
1. Los Hermanos – Truth about Techno
This whole album is great. I have been playing this particular track, along with “Angel Feathers”, since I received the new LP pre-release from Gerald Mitchell. I love the message in the lyrics, and the fast paced, yet undeniably soulful, groove. KInd of an anthem for DJs, like myself, who want to bring the focus back to the music, not the format you purchased.
2. Santiago Salazar – Galactic Stomp
Santiago is one of my favourite artists, you will rarely hear me play a set without dropping something involving him. This EP signals the comeback of “Finest Blend”, which is Kenny Black’s vinyl label. The title track is a floor damaging techno stomper, party music of the best kind. I may drop something on this label in the near future, so keep a look out.
3. Shook Ones 2 (Rennie Foster’s Mobbin’ Deep House Remix)
This is a sinister deep house tune with vocals from the 90s hip hop classic “Shook Ones 2” by Mobb Deep. This original tune was big for me in the 90s, and I still love hearing it. The track is stripped down, piano and bass driven, and is made to suit the lyrics. Getting a really good reaction from this from both hip hop heads and fans of proper house music. It’s a free WAV download on my soundcloud if you want it.
4. Lady Blacktronica – Bodymove
I’m not sure if this has been released or not, but it’s a simple DJ track, in a raw, traditional house music style, but with that edge you can expect from a Blacktronica track. No fancy breakdown, no galactic build up. The vocal sample is easily recognizable from a classic, and presented with no pretentious effects. It’s the kind of cut that sounds like it took an hour to make and is perfect just like that. All the plug-ins in the world won’t help you make a gem like this if you are not “deep into the vibe of house” for real.
5. Rennie Foster – Good Time Charlie (Claude Young Remix)
Good Time Charlie, or “GTC” as it’s sometimes called, was a sample driven house cut I released on Subject Detroit, vinyl only, a few years back. The original wax had remixes by Aux88 and DJ Bone. This is a newer remix that Claude Young did for the RF label re-release of GTC, that is just stunning. The piano he added is just beautiful, he turned my raw, tracky, DJ record into a masterpiece of modern soul/jazz. Unlike what Claude is most known for, more along the lines of his “Different World” project, but just totally advanced, an undeniably great remix.

– Finally, what else can we look forward to from Rennie Foster over the next while?
Most of my focus right now is on the new “RF” label. This will be more than just a label, but a consolidated brand that represents myself as an artist, as independent of creative restrictions as possible. The order of business this year will be to release several EPs and singles of brand new material that I am very excited about. I will also be re-releasing some of the material I have regained release rights to, such as my Subject Detroit EPs, and will re-release digitally some of my past “vinyl only” material, including updated remixes and mastering. I also plan to digitally release some of the best and strongest “Futago Traxx” material, that I was responsible for, under my own name, including unreleased tracks that never made it to vinyl. I have many inspired RF releases planned, alongside some great artwork by groundbreaking artists, such as Erik Van Kobra from the Wolf/Sheep Arthouse Collective, so please keep an eye on the label! I promise it will be worth the effort, and something truly different than what others are doing. I just don’r want to do it unless I am bringing something unique to the table at this point. I am also working on a very interesting and international, collaborative project with Swedish creator, Andreas Saag and Japanese artist Kousuke Ishido AKA Trio, I am not sure when or where or how we will release that yet, but I am sure it will find it’s way to the public when it is time. In the meantime, I will be hard at work for “RF” and rocking clubs whenever I get the chance.

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