So another summer draws to a close, and Ibiza shuts up shop for another year. But, for one lucky bedroom DJ, a chance to play at Space’s closing party is up for grabs thanks to G-Shock and The Burlington Project. As part of this collaboration, three of the super club’s super residents have designed limited edition Casio watches. One of these is techno maestro and Intimacy label boss Paul Woolford. Kara Simsek caught up with him to talk shop, Space and ticking clocks.
Notion: The Burlington Project competition has a fantastic prize. When you were starting out as a DJ where was the place you most aspired to play? Have you achieved this goal?
Paul Woolford: It does have a fantastic prize, and to whoever will win, it’s important that they know that this is an opportunity that needs to be used as much as enjoyed. It’s by no means the end-result, it’s a huge push upwards, albeit one that very few people have the chance to take. It’s an interesting question you ask, but my trajectory was not always based solely upon which clubs I wanted to cross off the list. You have a huge amount of different things that show themselves to you as being things that you want to explore. What happens then is down to how much work you want to put in. Assuming that you have the skills to do these things, it’s of the optimum importance to then work as hard as you possibly can and really go for it. Basics was the first club that I really had the urge for, and that urge started when I was 17! Since then there have been many clubs that I’ve had that desire to play. Electric Chair in Manchester, Warung in Brazil, Panaramabar in Berlin, The Sub Club in Glasgow, Il Muretto in Venice where I ended up playing a summer residency in 2007, there have been so many different establishments that you have on your list, and over time, as long as you keep to your ideals musically, you cross everything off. I’m making my debut at D-Edge in Sao Paolo in October which will be another one of these type of nights. It’s a constant process that never ends.
Notion: How much did you have to do with the design process of your G-Shock watch?
Paul Woolford: We had a number of discussions with the team at Casio and I went to their main store in Carnaby Street in London to do some exploring. I had worn a G-Shock watch for years so when the opportunity presented itself there was no hesitation. The team at Casio have been a lot of fun to work with and very open to different ideas, although some of my ideas were a little too complicated to work on these watches. I had proposed the idea of a decibel meter so you can actually see how loud it is in any club situation, but understandably this would create a whole new set of design solutions that needed to be found. In the end, I looked at 2 classic G-Shock shapes and used the iconic Acid House smiley face which we’ll get into next….
Notion: Do you think it’s ironic you chose to use a smiley face associated with rave culture when Ibiza is arguably the total opposite of the rave scene? What was your reasoning for choosing this imagery?
Paul Woolford: Well if you are alluding to the cliched utopian hippie ideals of the rave scene – then you could be correct in thinking that Ibiza is the exact opposite of this. That was a ridiculous and simply unrealistic fantasy anyway. If you’re actually talking about raving itself then you’d have to be a hardened cynic of the most pernickety persuasion to try and tell me that the rave scene and Ibiza has no parallels. Every Sunday for the last 14 weeks I have watched about 5000 people per week doing an activity that is exactly what you’re saying is, arguably, the opposite of Ibiza – raving, to the music of people such as Joris Voorn, Carl Craig, Derrick May, Metro Area, Steve Lawler, Miss Kitten, Chemical Brothers, Grace Jones, Ivan Smagghe, DJ Hell + loads more people I could mention. If you asked most of these, roughly 70,000 people what they would say they have been doing, I’d think most of them would say “raving” or something very similar…
Notion: What was going through your mind when you produced Erotic Discourse. It sounded like nothing else I’d ever heard at the time, was it your intention to produce something that sounded completely abstract?
Paul Woolford: It was the result of an instinctive muting of most of the channels on a Freeform Five remix I was working on at the time. I had used the main noises that were the theme of ‘Erotic…’ during the introduction of this remix, and in working on the myriad of dub versions, I ended up muting everything off except the kick, and THAT sound. I then pressed record on the hard disk and set off the effects manually as the sounds came and went. There was never even an arrangement on the screen and, as with the best pieces of music, it was entirely without thought, it just came out. The irony here is that you always strive to produce your best work in the studio, and I had particularly wanted to innovate in some capacity at some point although in reality the chance of this happening is minute. The time comes when you are not thinking about anything, just working instinctively, and this is what happens! The track took on a life of it’s own and I still didn’t truly believe the reactions that we had in for the track from people such as Francois K, Laurent Garnier, Trevor Jackson, Erol Alkan, Richie Hawtin + so many more, until I played it our for myself. It was crazy.
Notion: Leeds people involved in dance music really seem to look after their own, do you think there’s a special type of camaraderie that comes from up there?
Paul Woolford: I would say definitely, although it’s very easy for people who are not strong minded to get swept up in a drug culture that can be so corrosive. We all like to have a party but I always know that I need a good reason to be out for days, not just out for days because that’s all you have in life. There is more to life than the next after party, so make sure the next after party you are at is WELL worth your attendance…!
Notion: It must be a special relationship you have with the 2020 Vision people, as they have done a lot to push forward Leeds artists over the years, will you be helping them to celebrate their 15th birthday this year?
Paul Woolford: Indeed I will, 2020 Vision have pushed Leeds acts very hard and it’s fantastic to see them reach the 15 year mark.
Notion: Do you think people down South realise how good some of the nights up in the North are? For techno it gets a bit overlooked, events up there are easily equal to London parties, do you think Leeds gets enough recognition?
Paul Woolford: Well it depends on where you want to see this recognition – it’s no secret how healthy Leeds’ techno-based events are. Especially now with what the guys at System at the Mint club are working on. They have nurtured their links with the scene over the years and are now capitalising on this, and it’s fantastic to see a promoter re-investing in their venue to the level that Mint have. Their work with Cocoon was something that was fresh for Leeds, and I’m looking forward to playing for System in December alongside an amazing pioneer whos name I can’t mention just yet…
Notion: How important is Basics to you? It’s helped you to be in the position you are in as resident at Space – one of the biggest, most famous positions in dance music. But do you view your success as a 2-way street, with your Basics residency a helping the club to move forward as well? Would you consider being resident there again? How much impact on your profile has the Space residency had?
Paul Woolford: Basics was an incredible opportunity, which came to me through Ralph Lawson, as he’d let me open up for the first hour of his residency at the Mint all those years ago. Slowly I worked my way in and then became a full resident. The experience of breaking records and learning how to open a club properly, how to warm the floor and begin the evening in the right manner was something I taught myself at Basics. These things are the building blocks of a career to any DJ who is worth their salt. I was a resident for about 7 years in total, and I went from occasionally opening to closing the club regularly and breaking various records there as you do in any residency. It was a moment in time, and one that I’m very fond of. What I’m doing at Space is in a different place entirely, in that it’s in a larger, more globally-visible environment, and it’s more intense in certain moments. The pressure is greater, and it’s rewarding in a very different way. Although you use the skills you have learnt from all those years ago in places, there is a whole new set of codes to observe and the method, especially in the late closing hours, is different. It’s important for any DJ or producer in this scene to have a clear forward movement and not to be too caught up in nostalgia or reverence for the past. Whilst I have some amazing memories from that time, my eyes are on the future.
Notion: You’ve now got a monthly residency at Matter. Do you like the job of being a resident, building up your own following, knowing what the crowd wants and helping to shape the identity of the club?
Paul Woolford: Of course, these are the building blocks of any residency as we’ve discussed. I equally enjoy opening a room as I do closing or the peak-hours, it’s a different way to play and can be more rewarding sometimes depending on the way the night happens.
Notion: Do you feel Matter on the whole has been a success? It doesn’t have the same identity as Fabric, the way that if you go there on a Saturday you’re going to hear house and techno, if you go on Friday you’ll more than likely get drum & bass. Matter’s programming seems a bit more haphazard, do you think it’s important to have variety?
Paul Woolford: It certainly has been a success in terms of giving London and the surrounding areas something on a different scale to Fabric. It would be foolish to compare the two as they are providing a different experience. The sheer scale of Matter means that it needs to be a larger lineup in order to fill the club, but having said this, there are a number of artists that do not play Fabric, who are playing at Matter regularly, people such as Funk D’Void, Derrick Carter, Josh Wink, and so on, so as well as the huge headliners such as Trentemoller & Carl Cox, there are some excellent high quality artists surrounding these bookings. I’m at Saved on Saturday with Nic Fanciulli, Kevin Saunderson & Trentemoller, and then I return the following Saturday for the first birthday with Carl Cox & Josh Wink. These are excellent events run by a dedicated team who do an impeccable job. As a DJ, you KNOW that every element that affects your performance is going to be taken care of so you can concentrate on being creative. This is the core thing you need to know before you step inside the venue and with Matter, as with Space, I can relax knowing everything is in the right place.
Notion: You have a residency at Space, Ibiza, but if you could take residency anywhere in space where would it be?
Paul Woolford: Thanks for the offer but there’s not enough atmosphere up there….