Todd Terry at ADE
Todd Terry is one of house music’s true legends. Starting out as a DJ in New York in the mid-eighties, his edits and productions towards the end of the decade brought him attention outside his native city and made him one of the first artists to come to Europe from the US to play in the Ministry of Sound in the early 90s, fuelling a boom in American house DJs crossing the pond in that decade. Having remixed everyone from Michael Jackson and Bjork to Everything But The Girl and Garbage in a Grammy-winning production career that’s spanned over twenty years, his In House imprint has over a decade of classic house music under its belt. We caught up with him at ADE to talk about his journey through electronic music, his thoughts on his home city, and why Amsterdam is one of his favourite destinations.
We’re in Amsterdam at ADE 2012. You played last night, at Chicken Tonight. How did that go? It was great, it was this gritty, dirty club, and you were playing acid, and the crowd was jumpin’ around, trying to reach out and touch you while you were mixing a record. It feels great! They were really feeling it. We kinda got lost for about seven years but we turned it around and now it feels good. Now I can go anywhere in the world and play and play acid, and new stuff and just fit right in.
There’s probably always going to be a section of people who will come and see you and think “I just want the Todd Terry greatest hits” and perhaps that’s a bit of pressure, and they won’t know what you’ve been doing since those days…. You know, I say you can be the best in all the world, but you got to mix it up. You can play your old, your new, you can play your classics, but just mix it up. There’s nothing wrong with having a collage of music.
Absolutely, there’s probably a lot of people that will have only seen you once or two, may not know your new stuff, and you’re like “I love those records, but here’s a bunch I’ve made in the last ten years.” Yeah, right. Mix the old with the new, check out a bit of a different thing. I’ve made some new records, that I appreciate owe a lot to the old style, and I like to start things up with that, drop them in early, then wind it up.
And Barabara Tucker was doing a live thing last night. It must be fantastic to do something with those people still, it must make you feel at home. Yeah, I mean, we’ve done tons of gigs before, me and Barbara. It’s always good to have her sing. You know where you stand. You only have to do your thing and you know exactly where it’s gonna be when you come on.
It must be like being in a lovely bubble in a way… like back from the 90s. That’s the whole thing, it’s about finding the right promoters really. You know, I play what I play, and you get someone that understands that and it just works. Or you get these guys that just want your classics, and they book me and expect all old records, and, you know, you can’t play that same classic track for an hour! [laughs] Don’t get me wrong, I love playing those records, but you gotta have variety.
Have you been going to anything else in ADE, are you out here for a few days? Yeah man, I go to everybody’s parties! [laughs] You gotta go see people. I go say what’s up to David [Morales], and Kevin Saunderson and everybody, but you gotta say what’s up to the new guys too.
What I think is really lovely here, is that there’s guys like you playing, but there’s new artists with you on the line-ups and so people will come down who’ve come to see you and see someone they’ve not seen and then they’ll pick up, and it’s the same the other way round. Yeah, the collage is funky! That’s where we needed to be. It took us a while to get it back to where it is. And ADE has really helped these last five years, to bring that fusion together.
I think it’s really good. People come doing deals, having meetings, and while the music and the nights are brilliant, it’s a different vibe too in the day. It’s that face to face thing that matters. You know, aside form the Miami thing, which I think has gone a little bit more commercial now, here the business deals power the thing. The business deals they’re really one on one, it’s not like ‘call me’, it’s like ‘we spoke already, let’s hook up’. It’s really important to have that face-to-face, not just saying hi on Facebook or whatever.
Going back to the start, when I first got into dance music in the early 90s, everyone in Europe knew you for your productions, but of course you were a DJ in the mid 80s back in New York. What was it like back then? Yeah, when I first started out, I was DJ and making music, but for me, I was thinking “well, one day, I’m gonna play all my music as a DJ’. That was my big idea, my plan. Two or three hours of my own stuff, and that way I’m different to that other guy. Obviously he can’t play my records because I’ve made them for me, and they’re mine, so that was just an interesting thing back then in the 80s. Look I played weddings, people’s houses, all sorts, I just loved playing.
It’s changed so much, it’s so much more of a business now, people don’t just turn up and play a block party… Yeah, but you know it doesn’t mean people don’t still do stuff like that. I mean I just played this club in Brooklyn, a week ago, and the guy was like “I don’t have much money” but I was like “don’t worry man, it’s cool” and I went there and I played and it was just three hundred college kids going for acid house. And I’m playing and the guy’s just going crazy. And I just said, “you know, that was so good, next time I’ll come and play for free”. And you know it doesn’t have to all be about business and money all the time. I played last week [at Bugged Out at XOYO] with 2 Bears and we practically did high fives and did it for free, we just wanted to play with each other. It was so good, it’s about doing what you love, not just getting paid. And man I’ll do that again two weeks from now, when it’s that good. That’s what it’s all about.
It’s like the guy that does the blockbuster movies so he can do the indie films. Yeah yeah, exactly. I’ll be the the Kevin Bacon of this shit! [laughs]
Going back to your home town, New York’s changed over the years, many say sadly for the worst. Man, it’s horrible out there, it’s horrible. You know, it’s a great city, but musically it’s such a shame. It’s greed. It’s the promoters, it’s the Djs. They got a really great scene but it took itself out. Unfortunately America is like that. Long live Europe! It’s just not like it was.
It must be hard, as people might turn round and say “well, he would say that, it’s that old ‘back in the day it was better’ line”. But man they’re wrong. It’s true! [laughs] I’ve been there, I’ve lived there, I know what I’m talking about. But hopefully we can get it back, there’s some new clubs opening up and they said they’re real places, so we’ll see what happens.
It’s interesting with the whole ‘EDM’ thing. Dance music is, in some form at least, getting into America in a way it wasn’t in 5 or 10 years ago. And while Guetta or whoever isn’t my sort of thing, if it filters down and a kid then starts listening to house, techno, going to underground parties, then that’s cool. Yeah it’s the domino effect man. They like that but now they like acid house. So you know, all this stuff, two years ago, I said, “you know David Guetta is making dance music bigger. It may not be your taste, but it’s out there, and that’s important, it’s powerful.” I got Wild Pitch [hip-hop label] asking me to do a house record, and that’s a big deal.
What keeps your inspired these days? You’ve remixed everyone from Michael Jackson, Bjork, what keeps you interested in 2012? There’s lots of guys that respect what I’ve done, and that means a lot. There’s some collaborations that I’m doing, people like Dubfire, techno guys now that I’d never have worked with before, and that’s keeping me going. That’s what it’s all about.
Well, thanks for your time Todd, it’s been brilliant. And have a great ADE. Thank you man.