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A Prydz Worth Paying

Arriving in Miami means a lot to our cover star Eric Prydz – for more than one reason. The man who effortlessly makes underground house and techno cuts that sometimes blow up into mainstream monsters has more quality new music to unleash on the assembled throng at this year's WMC…

Going to Miami is a very big deal for Eric Prydz. Two years ago, the last time he was there, his massive track 'Pjanoo' became the conference's unofficial anthem, a track that also scored him a No.2 in the UK charts. And it was all thanks to a boozy night on the decks that it happened at all.

"It was a great feeling, but a funny one, because at that time the track was over two years old," Eric tells DJmag. "I made it, then I played it that same night in a club up north in the UK, and it just didn't connect with the crowd at all. So I said to myself 'Maybe I'm wrong about this one', and I shelved it.

"So two years later I'm playing a Christmas party in Stockholm, with all my friends there, and I found the CD in a case. I was a bit drunk, so I played it and the whole club goes crazy. Someone is filming it on their phone, and puts a clip up on YouTube, and it grew by itself like that. It shows you, that track was nothing back then - two years later it's a No.2 record. It's mad.

"It's all about timing with those sorts of things. You never really know. That first time I played it, I thought people would get it and I was wrong. I pictured people hanging from the ceiling, which of course they do nowadays when I play it."

It must be a great feeling, scoring yourself the tune of the conference. "When I got there, there were so many DJs and producers who had never met me, because I don't come to these events, because it's too far away for me to go. So I met a lot of people who were like 'Eric?! You're here! Fucking hell!' We had an absolute blast."

So yes, going to Miami is a big deal for Prydz, but not just for its power to make or break a track (and not just because he's playing DJmag's pool party at the Sherbourne Hotel either). Principally, because it involves doing something he truly hates in order to get there. To explain, there are a few subjects that always come up in interviews with Prydz, and this very fact is among the reasons why he doesn't do them very often.

One issue is the whole 'Call On Me' business, the track that, for better or worse, made him famous. The other is his fear of flying. So let's get them out of the way.

That he is going to Miami at all is an indication of how important the coming months will be for him, and in particular the projects he will be taking with him. This isn't a decision he has taken lightly. When people don't seem to understand why he finds flying so difficult, he explains to them that to him the prospect of getting on a plane and taking off is akin to being put in a coffin and buried alive.

"If I said to you 'Sure, you can go to New York, but you have to go through that first', when I say that to people they look at me and go 'oh', like they get it."

Loud and clear, no doubt. When Prydz heads off to play in Ibiza it takes him two-and-a-half days by boat and train across Europe, not a two-hour hop on an EasyJet. He's been to Russia for gigs too, a considerably more arduous proposition. This might sound like utter madness when you consider how integral a part of the job air travel is to even the most averagely successful jobbing DJ, let alone a man in as much demand as Prydz, but in his eyes the alternative is simply unworkable.

He went through nearly a whole year a couple of years back where he bit the bullet and started flying more, but ended up a burned-out nervous wreck at the end of it, having to cancel an entire tour of Australia. He simply couldn't get on the plane.

Eric Prydz

"If I have a flight in a month's time, I can't sleep at night. It's worry, worry, worry. It eats you up," he says. "You need to have fun in life. You need to enjoy yourself. You shouldn't be doing stuff that makes you feel bad, you know?"

What his elected mode of transport (rail, mostly) does show is an enormous, unquestionable commitment to his craft, a passion for DJing that is above and beyond the call of duty. And there's a hidden plus side too. He has hours and hours alone to write.

"Travelling by train, it's very inspiring," he says. "A lot of this music, I think you can hear it, is me sitting watching an ocean going by. Or going through the woods, or going through the Swiss Alps, or the Spanish countryside. I get a lot of inspiration from the way I travel. 95% of all the music I make is made with me on a train with headphones and a laptop."

After years of almost constant touring, crafting huge crossover dance records, moving from his native Sweden to live in London, launching an underground techno label (his Mouseville imprint), a prolific house label (Pryda) and producing tracks under a dizzying number of pseudonyms (Moo, Sheridan and Cirez D among them), Prydz is now almost ready to reveal his debut album. He will be taking a couple of new tracks to unleash in Miami too, one called 'Inspiration', under his Pryda guise, and the other nameless for the moment ("I love music, I hate names," he says).

That you won't often see Prydz in the press promoting his work is an ethos founded on some the labels he has always admired, labels that forged his love for electronic music.

"It was growing up and buying records from the Detroit producers and Chicago, and then people like Thomas Bangalter. They had their own labels like Roule and Crydamoure and they did no press, never, not even promos. It was always just about the music and you had to go out there and find it for yourself. I used to love that.

"So that was the same thing for me when I started my labels. I don't want to push music in someone's face, like 'Oh look at me! Look at me!' I want people to hear from a friend's friend's friend, like 'Hey, have you heard that record?' It was almost like a secret. Like they almost didn't care, it was just the love of the music. Maybe it's an old fashioned way of thinking, but it's worked out really good for me. When I started my own labels, it was natural to me that this was how I was going to do it.

Eric isn't too keen on the cult of the DJ, either. "When you get successful with something, it's all up to you what you do with it," he says. "If you want to be the guy that everyone on the street recognises from the papers, then that's one thing. But for me, I want people to focus on the music and not me as a person."

Stockholm
Before 2004, avoiding the spotlight was arguably a bit too straightforward. But when Prydz released a track featuring a certain vocal by Steve Winwood, initially intended just as a good party track used by local DJs on Stockholm's house scene, things started to get a bit out of hand.

"I made that record back in 2003 with some guys in Sweden called Retarded Funk. They made this demo with a sample from 'Valerie', and it was very rough, but there was something in there, and I thought I could do something really good with it. So they said if I wanted to do something with it, great. It took me about three hours because I already knew what I wanted to do with it in my head.

"It kind of blew up in Stockholm, and then people in the UK started hearing it too," he continues. "Actually, we never cleared the sample, we got Steve Winwood to come in and re-vocal it. So there's actually no sample in it. By that time the track was so big. He's never been known for clearing samples, but I think we were just very persuasive." Winwood's percentage must also have been pretty persuasive too.

The track ended up selling in the region of 4.5million copies around the world, lifting dance music out of what was at that time something of a chart funk. It went to No.1 across Europe – the UK, Germany, Australia, Norway, Austria, France and, of course, Sweden. "I'd never had records on that level before. I was releasing underground records that would sell, back then when vinyl did sell, between 5,000 and 10,000 copies. So this whole making videos and daytime radio play, it was all a mystery to me."

The set that changed everything: Space Terrace Opening, 2005

"It was a big gig for me. With the preconceptions of 'Call On Me', and Ibiza at that time was really far for me, travelling-wise. It took me days to get there. I got there late, because the ferry was fucked up, and I arrived with 10 minutes left of my set time. John Digweed was kind enough to give me one hour extra.

"I had all these new tracks with me and I was so fucking nervous. Back then I played vinyl and CDs, and I was shaking putting the needles on. I had all this new music with me, one of the tracks being 'Aftermath', a 15-minute long journey of a thing. I played this new music and people were going absolutely crazy. I remember John coming over and saying 'Hi, I'm John, what is this?' and I said 'Oh, the last track?' and he said 'No, all of it, what is this music?' because I was only playing my own stuff. That's how I got to know John, and to me he stands alone. No one can play like him, and for him to come up to me and say that - it was amazing."

 

Leg-Warmers
It was that video that caused the problem, made by Ministry of Sound's chart-busting spin-off label Data without Prydz's consent - or indeed any consultation or editorial input. "I remember being in Ibiza, and they sent me a clip of the final video on email, and I checked it out in the hotel lobby and was like 'Woah, what is this?' I know it sounds a bit weird, but before the video and all that 'Call On Me' was actually a pretty cool track, the original version. Carl Cox, everyone was playing it. Then they made this video."

Eric Prydz

The video, which spawned a thousand imitators, with its eye-popping, soft-core choreography and liberal use of leg-warmers, became a sensation, and not insignificant to the single's ultimately vast sales. Even ex-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at the time said: 'The first time it came on I nearly fell off my rowing machine'. When the PM is passing judgement on dance music, you know that you have officially entered phenomenon territory.

Recently he was asked by the organisers of Sport Relief if they could use the track and recreate the video for one of their now customary skits for the forthcoming fundraiser. The track seems to have taken on a life of its own, now effectively entering charity single status (Prydz is donating all sales of the track to the charity too). "If they can use the track to make money, then I love the idea," he says.

"The video was an entity in itself after a while. It branded the whole thing. Then everyone else started doing these 80s-sampled tracks with a sexy video, and I got the blame for all of it! For me, after a few months, I got a good perspective on it, and it was around the time I was launching Mouseville, my techno label, and Pryda for the progressive, melodic stuff. The only thing I cared about were the labels, and I went back to making the underground music I was always about."

His brushes with crossover success were not quite over, however. He then dropped 'Proper Education', the track that performed the impossible – getting sample clearance from Pink Floyd for its use of 'Another Brick In The Wall'.

"The track was never meant to be released," he says. "It was a DJ tool, just something I had to surprise people in my DJ set." So how did it get cleared by the notoriously cagey Floyd? "I have no idea," he laughs. "We knew someone, who knew someone, who knew some of the band members, and we were basically really lucky."

Environmental
At this stage, Prydz seemed to be getting a name for himself for making tracks using big samples for commercial gain, something he refutes. "I don't think like that," he says. "You can never know if you're going to have a hit record or not. You can know it might have the potential, but it is all about the timing. Maybe some people are better at that than I am. The 'Pjanoo' thing shows that. 50% is the track and 50% is when you present it to the public, and whether they're receptive to it at that moment. You can never know."

So rather than allowing the raunchy video route be taken for 'Proper Education', he took creative control over the clip, giving it a positive environmental message, and getting him props from Greenpeace along the way, who used it in their promotional activity.

"By then I'd learned about the video, so I wanted to be totally involved and got a free hand to do whatever I wanted to. [Pink Floyd] had a serious message in their original track, and I didn't want to take that and do something totally naff with it, but take a current problem and do something around that."

But don't get him wrong, Prydz is deeply proud of both tracks (particularly now that 'Call On Me' will be raising money for charity), whether or not they gave a rather different impression of him to those who had only learned of his work through his thumping chart successes. "It's not a track I look back to and think 'Oh I wish I hadn't done that'. I'm really proud of it. Look at what it did. It connected with millions of people."

Though you might be forgiven for thinking his various pseudonyms are a way of distancing himself from those commercial tracks, he was producing underground music using other cunning disguises long before 'Call On Me' started boosting leotard sales.

"I like so much different music," he says. "And the Cirez D alias came up when I had this bunch of quite hard techno records which didn't really fit with the other music I was doing on Pryda. So I started Mouseville to have a forum for this hard, aggressive music. And it's kind of nice to hide behind another name. There are still people on forums who don't understand it, like 'Eric who? That 'Call On Me' guy? Are you sure it's him?' It's kind of funny.

"I think I've released music under about 10 different names," he reveals. "Some of them, no one knows it's me. It's fun - like a challenge, almost. You need to keep things interesting. One day I'll do this dark techno record, then the next something melodic, almost like an 80s rock record."

He did his first production as Cirez D in 2002, and launched Mouseville in 2003. Since then, he has scored a stream of underground hits (only one track on Mouseville has not been penned by Prydz, Paolo Mojo & Jim Rivers' 'Ron Hardy Said'), like the filthy electro houser 'Knockout', which sold in its thousands. Most recently the deep, chugging club-smasher 'On Off' has had everyone from Sven Väth and Miss Kittin to Tiësto and David Guetta going wild for it.

But it's one user posting on the 'On Off' page on Discogs.com who puts it most succinctly: "This seems to be getting knocked a bit by the techno snobs because it's Eric Prydz, which in my opinion is laughable because it's a certified barnstormer of a track. When it comes to bringing a night to a head, 'On/Off' is the answer." Well, quite.

Inspiration for his harder sound came locally. "For me, some of the best producers in the world were in Stockholm," Prydz says. "People like Adam Beyer, Thomas Chrome, Jesper Dahlbäck, they were my heroes."

Before they became friends, Prydz even thrust a demo into Beyer's hand during a DJ set, a track called 'Deep Inside' with vocals from his friend Sebastian Ingrosso. Beyer played it there and then, and signed it immediately to his Truesoul label. His slightly less cryptic alias Pryda, too, has produced some defining work, none more so than 2005's massive 'Aftermath', an epic, euphoric builder which had DJs as disparate as John Digweed and Tiësto going - for want of a more polite phrase - ape shit.

Tracks That Defined Me

Depeche Mode 'Everything Counts'
"This one just stuck to me. I am a massive Depeche Mode fan. Something about the sounds they used, the vibe of the track. It's one of those tracks that when I heard it, I said 'I want to make music like that'. I've done about 40 covers of it. Whenever I got a new synthesizer as a kid."

Kraftwerk 'Tour De France'
"It was one of the tracks that presented me with this raw electronic music that I had never heard before, and it actually blew me away. And also because it was related to this whole breakdance thing, which made it all the more cool."

Iron Maiden 'Fear Of The Dark'
"This track I could listen to over and over and over again. I think it is one of those tracks in my musical upbringing that wraps up that whole period in my life. My mum hated it, which just made me love it even more."

Aphex Twin 'On'
"The first time I heard that track was on MTV. It was like 'What the fuck is this?!' It has a very special video too. There's this melody going through the whole track, and then this breakbeat. Aphex Twin always had this twist on things, and you can't really place him. It blew me away."

Daft Punk 'Burning'
"For about five months, it was the only track I didn't like on the album. I'd listen for two minutes and skip to the next track. So I never heard that bassline kick in. Seriously, the best track ever made. That album made so many people want to make music."

Growing Up
Though he lives in London now, Stockholm will always be where things began - his proving ground. He began playing the piano at eight, with music all around him growing up. His mother used to love going dancing to disco, he says, even introducing the young Eric to the sounds of Italo. Soon enough he was assisting his music teachers in class, aged 10. It was seeing the breakdance movie Breakin', specifically the part where one breaker dances with a broom to Kraftwerk's 'Tour De France', that everything changed. In typically forward-thinking Sweden, a 14-year-old Prydz took advantage of government funding for youth clubs to set up a soundsystem and start buying records.

He dropped out of school to start a small business with a friend, and then began hanging out at a friend's studio-cum-commune, eventually moving in where he began to dabble with Logic and Cubase. He soon got himself a residency at a gay VIP bar called the Rainbow Room, where he'd play all night.

"It was the best club I ever played in, still to this day," he recalls. "The vibe there was like nowhere else. It was small, intimate, people would stand on tables. It was electric. I'd play for six or seven hours. Word started to get around.

"Then from nowhere, a guy from the UK heard my music on a tape with some of my demos playing in a clothes shop in Stockholm and he asked for my number. A few months later, he came over with a friend of his from Parlophone, an A&R guy called Dan Keeling. He was really excited because he'd just signed this band called Coldplay. He signed me on the same day."

After making some tracks for Parlophone, Prydz moved to the now-defunct Credence label, but after a handful of tracks, they decided not to renew his contract. A month later, he made 'Call On Me', signing it to Ministry.

"Sit here," says Prydz, positioning DJmag's chair just so, towards the back of the room, directly in between the two substantial studio monitors which seem to be looking on menacingly. We're at his west London office, and he's giving us an exclusive glimpse of his latest work.

Pulling up Logic on his Macbook, he clicks his remix of the new Faithless track 'Not Going Home' into action, fiddling here and there with some complex-looking EQs. He only finished it the previous night, and because he was up all night doing it, it's the reason he's a little over an hour late for our meeting – which at 1pm was hardly an early morning call. This is clearly mortifying for a man as polite as Prydz is. He apologises often, but if his lateness was to necessitate the noise coming from the speakers, then it is forgiven.

It's a bit like that bit at the beginning of Back To The Future, when Marty McFly is firing up that colossal amp, carefully flicking switches and turning the oversized overdrive dial right up before hovering with a plectrum over the strings. When the kick drum comes humping in after a couple of minutes, it feels a bit like being pinned to the back of the room. How does he get that kick drum sounding like that, all round and enveloping?

"I just know how to do it," he says after thinking for a second. "It's hard to explain." It's a throbbing, progressive track, a towering big room anthem, produced to a spit-shine. Maxi Jazz should be well chuffed.

Then it's on with the new album. The tracks mostly have working names like 'Rubber Duck Manchester' and 'Agag' (the second being just a mash of fingers on his keyboard), and will doubtless change as they take further shape. The former is a textbook terrace track, weighed heavy with strings and certain to have hands reaching for aeroplane undercarriages come the summer.

'Shadows' has already leaked somehow, receiving plays in hundreds of thousands on YouTube, all dreamy tech-trance, wobbling sub-bass and a gorgeous breathy vocal. One track, so far unnamed, is his favourite, a twinkling, melodic number, full of arpeggios, which he says reminds him of the French film The Big Blue. 'Agag', which will no doubt be renamed, is destined to be huge, a big-hearted summer anthem featuring a blissful breakdown. The euphoric 'Melo', already out on Pryda ("it's almost like an 80s radio track," says Prydz), will feature on the album too, now with a new vocal from Kele Okereke from Bloc Party. It's all extremely promising. Prydz fidgets as the tracks play. Something tells me he knows that too.

Piracy
A few weeks later, we meet again at matter, fabric's outpost perched on the edge of the Greenwich peninsula, tucked underneath the vast canopy of the O2 Dome. It's a Pryda night (the label's first) and it's been sold out for a few weeks.

Prydz has a brand new bespoke stage set built for him by the club, huge white obelisk-sized boxes flickering with projections and UV lights. The line-up is varied and savvy, with a live set from Iranian techno don Aril Brikha, Simple Records' Will Saul, Tom Middleton and Sébastien Léger.

It is packed. Packed to the hilt, and it's a big place too, cavernous, sprawling, even slightly disorientating, with a capacity for about 2,600. The reception he receives - added to the fact that this is a sell-out crowd - leaves little doubt that he is among that breed of DJ who can quite fairly use the prefix 'superstar'.

Backstage he frets a little. As much as he wants to play some of the new material from his album, to road test it, and then refine it, he can't. People film his sets and post them online all the time, and he knows from past experience that less scrupulous producers will lift sections of melody wholesale and use them themselves. Piracy isn't his only concern, then, but plagiarism too. But don't worry. You will hear its sun-soaked sounds soon enough.

"We are dreamers in Sweden," he says, by way of explaining the album's sound. "We dream our way to far away places. The winters are so long, we spend our time wishing for the summer."