Words: Joe Roberts
Hidden by a gold-beaked mask and top hat, Claptone is the mysterious deep house DJ and producer who has soared above his contemporaries.
Originally announcing his presence to the world through Berlin's Exploited label, with club hits such as his 2012 Wu-Tang Clan-sampling 'Cream', October heralded the release of his debut album 'Charmer' (out now on Different Recordings).
Already previewed in his Immortal live show, 'Charmer' expands on Claptone's frequently Beatport-topping sound by bringing in the collaborative talents of various guests, from Finnish electronic hero Jimi Tenor to US indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Despite regularly getting tens of thousands of SoundCloud listens to his Claptone podcasts, and notching up well over a million YouTube views of his remix of Gregory Porter's 'Liquid Spirit', a summer Ibiza smash, his identity remains a tightly-kept secret.
When we call to interview we're told that he will be in character, the masked artist painted as a mythical creature in his online bio who 'emerged from wooded darkness, floating and fluttering, drifting and dreaming'.
Having evidently since learned to use Skype, we did our best to uncover the secrets behind the mask...
Batman wore a mask to protect the people he cared for. Why do you wear yours?
“To protect me, I guess.”
Medieval doctors wore similar masks to guard against the Black Plague, hence the term quack. Is yours protecting you from infection by the music industry?
“That sounds amazing. I love it when people make an effort to find something out and then invent a completely new meaning. It just adds to everything that the mask means to me. And yeah, I'll incorporate that into the meaning. It's also shielding me from a lot of stuff and giving me freedom on a personal level.”
Does that mean giving you a fresh start?
“It gives me a new face, I'd say, a chance to experience a new part of my personality. People often have prejudice. You might be right in saying that when people had different musical projects before, they're judged by what they did in their past — very often by people that only think in categories. I don't think in categories so much. For me, music is the main thing and the mask is there as a means to be able to make music, whatever music I want.”
On the subject of making music, was the tone of your claps really important enough to inspire your name? We've heard of people tuning their kicks...
“You're right, that where it's from. I think the clap tone describes my music in a very distinct way. It's very organic, it's funky, it's got that human emotional touch. I think it's fitting.”
Your Gregory Porter remix was the hottest track of the summer. Do accolades such as getting a Beatport No.1 raise a smile behind the mask?
“It's not being No.1, it's more that I can play in front of a lot of people that enjoy the music. People come out and enjoy my DJ sets, or download my Clapcasts to listen to in their car, and all the feedback they give me on social media, like, wow, 'Your new production is great', 'Looking forward to the album'.
That's great positive feedback. It's not the reason I started to make music in the first place but that emotional connection with people is very important. It's not just one way.
“I love to be loved, but I also love to love. My music is very emotional and it should touch people. It should be that people can attach memories and certain events and places to the music. They can listen back later on and say they associate the Gregory Porter remix with a great Ibiza 2015. That's very important to me.”
Does the anonymity of the mask help them project their emotions onto you?
“Without the mask, there is no Claptone. I don't like the fact that people put DJs on a pedestal. I like it when people listen to the music and enjoy a song. For me, on a personal level, I like songs whether they're reggae or indie-rock. There is no sacred band or DJ for me and I don't want to be that sacred musician for people either. It doesn't feel good or right to me. It's practical for enjoying anonymity for the rest of my life. When I want to be Claptone, I can be Claptone. When I don't, I can be... part of Claptone that people don't see.”
Did the guests on your album meet the man behind the mask?
“I met them over the last decade, but only on a musical level. I listened to their records and those records inspired me to make music and keep on making music. Jay-Jay Johanson, for example, with his first album was very important. I loved that back in the '90s. Or Jimi Tenor or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, I could connect to their music. So when deciding on making an album, for me it felt natural to get in contact with those people who inspired me, just sending emails telling them and asking if they could see themselves singing on a Claptone album.
“I sent a hundred or more emails and got a fraction back. I only sent them to people when I really liked their voices or their charisma and I thought it fit to my music. But I never met them. It was a very personal experience. I made the music, I listened to my heart about who I should approach about the vocals.”
You have a live show called Immortal. Would like to live forever?
“Yeah, why not? Mankind should make an effort to live forever. At the moment they don't. I have the feeling that mankind is about to destroy himself within the next 25 years. But we shouldn't give up hope.”
How about learning to fly, high?
“I fly a lot, actually. I fly around the world, and I like flying. I'm not only human, I'm part-bird, part-human, part whatever you want, a mystic figure as they say. The travelling enigma.”
Indeed. You've become so successful so quickly, it's almost like you're doing the work of two people. What's your secret?
“I'm a workaholic and I have some magic powers, so I can achieve a lot more than the regular guy would. And I love music. It's hard to admit, but I also probably have good management. The record company might also be good. Who knows?”.
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