With podcast number 7 comes an exclusive interview with label artist Argy (Argyris Theofilis), who talks about his recent masterpiece, Fundamentals, as well as the art of sampling, Ibadan Records, his inspirations and being honest. Scroll down to listen to his podcast for signs of a house revival in the horizon.
Was there a concept behind Fundamentals?
The concept was simply to bring all my influences together; influences from the 90's, not just melodic but, musical ideas and the imagery that I had experienced from my youth. How diverse clubbing was back then and all the different types of people that went clubbing then as well from different backgrounds. House music was the balance between the commercial and the underground. You had house records that made the chart that were relatively underground records to begin with. With all these experiences and ideas, I set out to make an album with musical sophistication, that also communicated my ideas clearly. It was also a sort of exorcism for me as a writer to just bring those ideas together and just do this. Unlike some of my older stuff, I wanted this to be a very happy album and a reflection of the best times that I had growing up.
How long did it take to finish?
80% of it I did in one month, last summer. I like to finish a track very fast, so 90% of a track gets done in one day and I take ages with the last 10% deciding on what it needs and what it doesn't. I sampled a lot of my favourite 90's house records (but I'm not saying which...) and played a lot of the parts on my Nord Lead keyboard put through a series of tape and high frequency delays to get a dirtier 'phatter' sound.
Was it very difficult in deciding what was going to be on the album?
Not really. With this album everything just came about very naturally and organically, I think I was super clear about everything that was going to be on there, They all gelled together very beautifully like a family, cousins, brothers, you know, they were all relatives – they were supposed to be together.
Do you have a favourite track from the album, one that you feel stands out?
If I had to pick one track from the album, I'd say somewhere between Party People and Upon Ourselves. Party People, because of its simplicity; it was an idea that nobody went for and was obvious for me to do. It's a record that does what I wanted it to do. It's sort of like a magic loop that you could listen to all day. And Upon Ourselves because there were so many elements, textures, frequencies and colours that all fit into one song. The vocal from Bajka is beautifully stunning. And a year after I produced it, I still love it as a song. It's a maximal representation of beauty and I wouldn't change a thing about it. Jerome's influences on the remix comes through beautifully too.
Were there any 'Easter Egg' moments within the album?
No, not really. This wasn't a very personal album, it was a record for the people, nothing too self indulgent. It was supposed to be an easy way to communicate exactly what I wanted to with the people in the easiest possible way, so there aren't any inside stories or secrets or tricks - it's generally my thoughts and ideas, that's that really.
The album being released on Ibadan, did that mean a lot to you?
Well, yes, obviously from the heritage we all shared with it; from Vince Watson to Joe Claussell to Slam Mode, Jerome and Christine. These are people that I like and I love working with people who understand me and my ideas and those who mean a lot to me. I didn't usually feel that way when I was younger, but as I grow I realise how important that is.
How did the relationship with Jerome and Ibadan come about?
I grew up with the label and played a lot of their records and Jerome was already playing a lot of my records, and when he moved to Berlin, he found me through Myspace, called me up and said let's hang out. I was the first person he met when he arrived here. We started hanging out, going to each other’s studios and listening to each other’s music and it all just clicked.
What was there a process to decide what went on the album?
Whatever sounded better and whatever made perfect sense.
Your views on sampling?
Oh I love it. I think it's a great thing to do. Just do it with consideration to the original artists’ work and don't use too much of it. But if you do use a great deal of it get in touch with the artist and strike some kind of a deal where he or she gets a proper cut too. But with dance music, there's been so much going on already so I think people should relax a bit, and not over intellectualise about it. Dance music is meant to be for the clubs, for the dancers who go there.
Did you start off as a producer or a DJ?
Producer definitely. I started out playing and listening to a lot of records when I was 14, writing music with very basic software. The DJ'ing part came almost right after.
Describe yourself as a DJ?
When I DJ I really only play records that I really, really like. Doesn't matter if they're new or old – my record bag changes all the time. I don't believe in just playing the new records for the sake of just playing new music. I'll play records that I really love. And with that, I'll do my very best to give the people in front of me a great time. As a DJ I have a massive responsibility towards the people and the club – there are some people who've saved up to come to the club, pay the cover and watch me play and some who've been working hard all week and want to just dance and have a good time, so I try my level best to give them that.
Are there any records that never leave the box?
There'll be my favourite Ibadan records like Jango or Jero, lots of Proto-House stuff, some really old Todd Terry records that I've re-edited myself – I try to include a lot of records that still make sense today, not a lot of them have survived the test of time, some DJ Sprinkles stuff too. There some good tools there too.
How would you describe your sound?
I'd call it honest, sexy and functional. It doesn't run in static shapes, more like lots of curves.
What medium do you use when you're DJ'ing?
I usually use vinyl and CDs. I won't get into the whole vinyl versus MP3 thing. But I work on my computer most days of the week and I travel with my computer, so when I'm DJing it gives me a welcome break from my computer. I will get into the whole Traktor thing at some point, can't say when but, as busy as I've been, I just can't see myself digitising my entire record collection just yet.
Tell us a little about your own label 'These Days'.
I'd been doing a lot of music for a lot of big labels like Cocoon, Cadenza, and Poker Flat in the past, they're all great labels and all, but I needed a platform to express myself as well as put out music that I really liked that's not mine as well on my own terms and in my own way. There's also an aesthetic factor about the label from the covers to the labels themselves. I'm very inspired by Tony Wilson and Factory Records and his quirky and eccentric ideologies. I wanted the label to have a very indie feel as opposed to looking like another dance label. I suppose it's also an outlet for my own quirky and eccentric ideologies as well.
DJing, producing, and running a label must keep you busy....
Yes I am very busy because this is all I do really. At the end of the day you only have to be somewhere on the weekends only. I can choose the times when I need to be busy and times when I do absolutely nothing really. Sometimes I need to have days when I do nothing to be creative.
Any inspirations that fuel that creative process?
My inspiration is generally people who seek clarity and simplicity in their own work, not just in the field of music, but in art and general things. My heroes are people like Henry Moore, the English sculptor and artist, Bill Evans, the pianist, Mies van der Rohe, when it comes to architecture – all these people are masters of restraint. I feel that to arrive at simplicity, you need to build a whole wall of elements and then slowly take them apart and reach a point of perfection when you can't reduce anymore and have all the essential elements in place. It's not just about just placing a few elements around and call it simplicity, it's never easy.
You currently reside in Berlin, do you think Berlin is where you'll be for the next few years to come?
Not really. I think I've been here for 4 years now and I'm on my way out I think. I think logically I'll move back to London because it's very multi-cultural. You meet lots of different people who are into very different things. It offers me a lot of variety, culturally and aesthetically, which is what I really dig. Also, having been in Berlin for 4 years, I think it's time I became vulnerable to new challenges and influences. When you stay in one place for too long you can develop the feeling of being very safe and not want to challenge yourself much.
What makes a good song?
That's a really tough question to answer, but I suppose the first thing I'd like to hear from a song is honesty, which is sometimes debatable because you can't read or see into a writer or producer’s mind and investigate the true intention behind the song. I generally just use my own perception to try and figure out the honesty behind it. That's one thing, I guess I define honesty in a record as one that is pure and wasn't just made in trend or for the producer to get laid, or just serves no artistic or musical purpose to the universe. There many records like that that exist. From my position, I believe that if you follow great producers and the records that they put out consistently, you just get it, you get honesty.
Any future plans?
I suppose a new album, sometime, but it all gets so difficult to plan these days. Not like a decade ago when you could plan for a year ahead. I can't understand labels that have a release plan already for the whole year. Things change so fast now that a sound may not even be relevant in 6 months from now.
Midnight Shift Podcast 007: Argy
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