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KRIS WADSWORTH: A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH

We catch up with the Detroit-born Kris Wadsworth

Kris Wadsworth is swamped. But in a good way. “When I'm getting really into something, so starting new tracks every other day, I can't just stop,” he says. “By the time I realise what the fuck time it is, it's 9, 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning.”

Right now, the Detroit-born Berlin-dweller is hitting a rich seam, so he's making the most of it. He's just released his debut album for Get Physical, the stunning 'Life and Death', and already he's two-thirds the way through another long-player for Hypercolour — recently awarded Best Label at the 2012 DJ Mag Best Of British awards. Then there's the steady stream of remix requests which, frankly, he's loathe to turn down.

“I say no to work all the time, and friends say to me that I shouldn't release so much,” he tells DJ Mag USA. “But I can't help it. It makes sense, and I understand why people say it, but if it's there, if the creativity is there, I don't see why not. And I love it, too.”

Wadsworth is 28 now, but he's been producing since he was 14, so that puts him not far off 15 years into it. He's outspoken, dedicated, subsumed in electronic music and has an old school outlook and work ethic which has so far stood him in good stead. When he's DJing, which, he admits, is not as often as some of his contemporaries, he plays vinyl, which these days must seem like a novelty — pitching up with a bag of records rather than a pen drive in his pocket.

“Yeah, fuck!” he says. “I dunno, man. Sometimes I think I live in some kind of bubble. I show up at places, and it seems that guys don't even know what the fuck this shit is. I'm not that old. I'm not some older guy turning up with a phonograph or something. You see it on flyers 'vinyl-only DJ set'. Since when is that a thing to mention? What the hell is that?! I'm not a purist. I'm not trying to stand out. I just like it, and it's a culture I identify with. So rather than fight the technology, I just support a culture that I feel supports me too.”

He'll be supporting his chiropractor too lugging that heavy plastic around, but he's not about to change now. Wadsworth is nothing if not single-minded. “Maybe it's a thread of thought from where I grew up,” he says. “A lot of Detroit boys are vinyl guys. Whether I want to acknowledge that or not, consciously or subconsciously, that's embedded. I just always went to the record store to get this kind of music. It's in me. But you know, whatever works for you.”

PLASTIKMAN

Where the previous generation from Detroit were listening to the sprawlingly eclectic sounds of veteran Detroit radio DJ the Electrifying Mojo, the man who influenced everyone from Jeff Mills to Derrick May, Wadsworth and his cohorts (he went to school with Jimmy Edgar, who appears on 'Life and Death') were locked on the ghetto-tech breaks of DJ Assault, and other local DJs like Waxtax N' Dre. It was on radio station WJLB, where the generation before him tuned into Mojo's 'Landing Of The Mothership' sessions, that he found the right path. “My sister was into ghetto-tech and freestyle. She'd bring home mixtapes,” he said. “But there was no kind of mentor who came up and said, 'Hey, this is called Basic Channel'. It just kind-of fell into place.”

There were, of course, other methods of procuring music. “I was kind of a bad kid, and we'd go to stupid chain music stores, and every now and then there would be cool shit in there. So we'd raid these little sections and steal all that shit and come back to my house to flip through it. And there was Frankie Bones' 'Escape From Brooklyn'. And that's still one of my favourite mixes ever. That opened me up to a lot of stuff. And then kids I knew knew about Plastikman, and that was like 11 or 12-years-old.”

DRUGS


He says that music “saved my ass from a lot of shit”. He's now got himself out of certain patterns of behaviour that were holding him back, too. “I gave up drinking and doing drugs about two years ago,” he says. “Music was always there for me. That was an escape from a lot of stuff. It stopped being a fucking party when I was about 20. I really started fucking up my life real quick. You can only watch yourself fuck up so many times before it's just like, 'OK, have you had enough yet? Have you had enough yet? Have you had enough yet?' It certainly wasn't the worst thing that had happened to me in my life that brought me to that conclusion, but I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of it.”

Music as salvation has become a hoary cliché, but in Wadsworth's case, it's pulled him out of something that could have had fatal consequences. “Every record I ever made, I was sober,” he says. “I never made records when I was fucked up on anything. It was two separate worlds. The bad shit would take over, and that would hinder me from being productive. There would be periods where I wouldn't even touch music at all. I'd just be doing whatever the hell else I was doing. So my personal life was hindering me from doing anything musically.”

Drugs and drinking and the world of nightclubs are inseparable, but now Wadsworth is doing it straight, and it's working out. “Now I laugh about it,” he says. “You go to countries, you know, like the UK which has a huge binge drinking culture, and people are almost offended if you don't drink. So you got to know how to get to the point real quick in a way that isn't offensive but at the same time is pretty clear. I'm not going to sit there and blow lines all fucking night, watching people get stupid and ugly. I've done all that. I know what that is. Now I'd rather enjoy it for reasons I was doing it in the first place.”

STABILITY

Certain relationships in music have provided him with a linear kind of stability. After his first international release on the prolific Swiss label Morris/Audio, the bumping Chicago-style groove 'Get Your Wadsworth EP', UK label Hypercolour got in touch. “I've released with a few labels, and I've not had the longest career so far, but I've been with those dudes going on five years, so for me it's one of longest-running label relationships I've ever had. They were the first people to bring me to the UK, and they've done more for me consistently than anybody else, and that's great,” he says.

Morris/Audio also continued to support his work consistently, along with the likes of Subb-an and Adam Shelton's One Records (his track 'Lime and Pink' from 2011 is a slab of club-wrecking house music) and his adopted hometown's Get Physical, which has floated 'Life and Death', a cross section of dark dubby techno, skittering electro breaks and jacking house delivered with an enviable polish, whilst still managing to sound entirely raw.

“I did an EP for those guys, and the idea came up for me to do my first album,” he says. “I wrote it in about seven months, and I really did my best with it.” So despite the fact he's now only 28, this was the culmination of half his life spent messing around with loops and synths. “I was probably 14, with some free, piece-of-shit program that I found because I was screwing around on the computer, just totally random,” he says on how things started for him. “It was like, 'Woah... what's this?'”

MINIMALISM

At the time, and perhaps unlike most 14-year-olds, he'd already been exposed to the abrasive, alien noise of Plastikman, the identity Richie Hawtin first adopted in the early '90s which has been much aped since, but never quite equalled. “The Plastikman stuff,” he says, “there's never really been anything before that or after that that compares. You go into 'Sheet One', 'Musik' or 'Consumed', just the way that it's structured and it flows, and you can hear that fingerprint and that thread. It was insane. Even with the FUSE stuff, you can hear exactly who it is.”

Even when Hawtin became wilfully minimal, Wadsworth was still on board. “Minimalism? When I first got into that as a kind of aesthetic, that was when I was like, 'Woah'... People either get that shit, or they hate it, because it's so repetitive. That's the shit I love the most. Some of the records I have, there's no way I could drop those in sets at most of the clubs I play. But minimalism as the proper aesthetic, not the perverted, marketing form — real minimalism, that is the shit.”

That said, he's no real interest in genre. Quite the opposite, in fact. “It's strange to me,” he says. “I can't wrap my brain around the idea of jumping out of bed and saying, 'I'm going to make this genre of music'. When I think about music, and hopefully when other people do, they're not that limited. I'll try and hit a kind of creative burst and see what comes out. I like to hit the four-four stuff a lot, but the material I've submitted for this next album is totally all over the place.”

What's good about Wadsworth is that he talks sense, and he's not in the least bit interested in what's hot and what's not, or whether he should be producing more music, less music, DJing more, DJing less, whether or not the scene is diluted or over-saturated.

“Some of my heroes, indisputably, have huge discographies. Carl Craig. He's made a fucking ton of music. Is every single track a hit? Absolutely not. But the guy is genius. Mark Broom, I did a record with him, and I've loved his music forever. He's got a massive discography. Or Mr G, again, tons of shit out, Robert Hood's got tons of shit out. People right now are more focused on making hits. They should just go and make some fucking tracks.”

And with that, he's off to make some more fucking tracks.

'Life and Death' is out now on Get Physical.


 

Hypercolour's Jamie Russell on Kris Wadsworth

“He's been one of the core artists for us over the years. That first Morris/Audio EP was special. He was finding his feet, honing his sound. The musicality was always there, and part of the romance of why we loved his stuff in the first place was that it was raw, and the levels were all over the shop. It reminded me of the Chicago stuff I was buying, the Cajmere and DJ Sneak stuff. It had that feel to it. We remain good, true friends who share the same vision.

He always believed in us, and we always believed in him. We're already going backwards and forwards on material for the album, and I think he'll use it as an opportunity to surprise a few people. We're all about that. He's been sending us electro, jungle, and drawing on a lot of influences. He's having fun, and that's something we massively encourage. If it's not fun, why are you fucking doing it?”

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