Ever cooked Kerri Chandler a fish dinner? Us neither, but Citizen — AKA retro-futurist house producer Laurence Blake — has, and if his culinary skills are anything like his tunes, Chandler would have been in for a treat...
So, you’re making music videos for other people, running an online magazine and doing some DJ gigs and production on the side, when Kerri Chandler’s people turn up at one of your shows and ask you to put out the debut release for MadTech, a new sub-label of Chandler’s esteemed Madhouse Records, which also happens to be your own debut release.
It’s the stuff of fantasy for most new DJs, but when this happened to Blake it certainly wasn’t down to luck. Chandler’s people, like many others, had picked up on his classic-channelling, future-thinking grooves, dangerously deep but not afraid to break out the bass either, ably demonstrated on everything from his MadTech ‘Deep End’ EP to the heady ‘Room Service’ 12” to his recent swirling stomper, ‘U Give Me Love’, on new vinyl imprint Loft Records.
When DJ Mag speaks to Blake, he’s just woken up from a much-needed kip after a mammoth extended studio session. But he isn’t grumpy, he’s on fine form, and why wouldn’t he be, with two albums in the pipeline (one for 2020 Vision, one for London party crew and label Love Fever), a whole galaxy of musical adventures still to come and a voracious appetite for making killer tunes...
How was the studio session?
“Yeah, it was good, I’ve been finalising things for a 2020 EP. The album is still in the works. It’s been awesome, but it’s pretty daunting. I thought they just wanted an EP, then they approached me to do the LP as well and then Love Fever approached me to do an LP just after I signed with 2020. I hadn’t even considered it up until that point, I’d just been making three or four track releases.”
How do you feel about making that jump to albums?
“It’s almost a baptism of fire, because I’m totally out of the album game. I haven’t listened to an album in ages, but when someone mentions it, that opened my eyes a bit to everything album-wise and what people were doing. It was almost a nostalgic vibe for me, listening to albums in their entirety instead of just using tracks that I like and making a playlist.”
How did you end up DJing and producing alongside making music videos and your online work?
“I’ve always been doing something music-related, whether it’s putting on nights or making little tunes for other people or myself. Everything else came later on when I moved down to London from Nottingham. It happened pretty organically, just by going out and meeting people.”
What kind of shows were you playing when you first started DJing in London?
“I was quite fortunate to play Snap, Crackle & Pop, run by Harry James from [London label and party promoters] Deadly People. He had me playing pretty nice crowds straight away. I was just playing with really insane people, obviously as a support act, but it introduced me to that whole seriousness of the game, where it could be taken to another level.”
How did you end up releasing on Kerri Chandler’s MadTech label?
“One of Madhouse Records’ A&Rs came to one of my shows. He’d been sending music to Kerri and his colleagues, and they approached me to do a release under a new Madhouse sub-label that was open to sounds other than the classic Madhouse deep house. I was like, no way, this is crazy… It was a bit of a surreal moment. Three weeks later I was playing the Boiler Room and met Kerri for the first time. It was pretty nuts.”
How was it meeting Kerri?
“He’s an awesome dude, really cool. He came round to ours and we cooked him a huge fish dinner. The fact he wanted to come round our house for dinner rather than eat in a fancy restaurant tells you a lot about him.”
What artists or tracks have you been influenced by over the years?
“Garage in general, I guess. Garage is a really significant genre that’s affected me in different stages of my life, growing up, recording tracks off a radio show, up until I bought the first ‘Pure Garage’ mix by DJ EZ. It’s always been a continual influence in stuff I do.”
There’s obviously been a lot of renewed interest in house recently, particularly classic and early '90s strains. What do you think it is about those styles that keep appealing to people?
“I think just because it’s such great music, there’s always a time and place for it if it’s given a platform. House can really create a lot of emotions, even though it’s becoming a little bit contrived and identikit now. The instruments and sounds that are used and the vocals — everything’s been done to evoke an emotional response and get you dancing. I suppose you can have a similar experience with techno, for example, but I don’t feel like it would ever really touch you as much, emotionally.”
Do you think it’s a positive thing that acts like Disclosure are breaking through into the mainstream and opening up house to a wider audience?
“Oh yeah, definitely. It’s happened before, this is probably the third time it’s happened. It’s come from the underground then gone mainstream, then gone back down again. But it’s a positive thing, of course. I think the whole Disclosure thing’s awesome. They’re amazingly talented, but they get a lot of flak for taking it to the mainstream, there’s a lot of hater-ism.”
Do you feel that your music is connected to any particular genres or scenes?
“It depends what release people listen to, really. People always have different ideas about what I’m doing. The general theme is '90s house — that’s the vibe I get from industry people. I feel like I’m associated with that by the labels I release on, but my first Love Fever release [‘Room Service’] is not even house. If you actually listen to it, it doesn’t have any of the elements associated with typical ‘90s house at all, expect maybe a little bit of the M1 organ in the track I did with Jimmy [Edgar]. So I guess I am associated with a certain scene. I’m not going to argue with anyone, whatever people want to call it is fine.”
What have you got coming up in the near future?
“Some remixes for some high profile people that I really respect and a release on Waze & Odyssey’s label. The 2020 stuff is taking precedence at the moment. It’s all kind of rocking my world, I’ve just been really busy making music. It’s still fun for me.”
How does it feel to have your profile as a producer and DJ raised so quickly and to such a high level?
“Kind of daunting. I try not to think about it too much or I’ll just stop and not do anything. I feel like I just wouldn’t be hungry anymore. I’m not saying I’ve reached the pinnacle of where I can go — I’m so far away from that at the moment — but it’s just still really exciting for me. I can’t even believe some of the things that have happened, some of the moments I’ve had. They’ve been hilarious or really scary or just stupid. I’m just trying to be in the moment and not quantify everything.”