Freshly signed to Rinse with a massive tune set to run dancefloors and radios this spring, and with huge tracks for Kerri Chandler's Madtech doing the rounds, Krystal Klear's disco-informed house is more in vogue than ever — though in his eyes, disco never really went away. We chat to the Dublin-born Hoya:Hoya resident to learn more about his penchant for the vocal, love of New York dance music — and the art of the slow jam...
Dec Lennon loves the sound of the voice. Not his own broad Irish tones. Nor are we talking about the late Whitney ‘The Voice’ Houston, even if — as someone who happily claims to have been “the guy who would play Mariah Carey at 1am just because I love the tune” — he’s certainly not averse to the odd outbreak of melisma. But what Dec really loves are the scenes he sees on the dancefloor when he lets rip with a singalong.
“As a producer I over-analyse music constantly, so an instrumental top-line can be more invigorating for me than any vocal,” he ponders. “But when you’re playing to a crowd, vocal tracks trigger so much more of a reaction because there’s a real hook to interact with and relate to.”
Amongst the old house, disco and boogie belters that make up the backbone of a Krystal Klear set, you’ll hear newer songbirds too. He’s recently remixed Sky Ferreira, and following up from 2012’s ‘More Attention’ single on Kerri Chandler’s Madtech label, Dec has once again collaborated with Jenna G — former singer with drum & bass group Future Cut — to produce ‘Addiction’. With its super soaraway chorus, swaggering wah-wah guitar and bassline more pneumatic than Jane Fonda digging up a road, ‘Addiction’ has all the ingredients of an instant classic, as well as the crossover potential of a house music Katy B, who shares his current home on the Rinse label.
“I didn’t set out to write a pop song but I’m not going to shy away from the fact that that’s what it is,” Dec states. “But I wanted to make the songwriting and production all credible and I’m really happy with that. I thought Rinse would be a good outlet because even though the song’s got obvious disco elements, I didn’t want to be just ‘that guy who makes '70s disco music,” which might have happened if I’d put it out on a more obvious label. Releasing on Rinse throws off a lot of those connotations.”
If ‘Addiction’ stands out amidst the R’n’B, grime and hip-hop normally synonymous with the label then so — until recently — did Krystal Klear’s show on its parent radio station Rinse FM. The station’s recent reshuffle might have brought in more house and disco-orientated DJs like Bicep, but when Dec first got the call asking him to present a show “I was the first of the new roster. I was really surprised because I’d never done any radio and I was probably a nightmare at first because I didn’t really understand that you can’t swear on the radio. But the show’s going really well. I felt like the black sheep a bit at first, but now there’s more guys doing what I do there”.
Finding himself with the right crowd has been crucial to Dec’s career. Born in Dublin, where he inherited his father’s love of “everything from the Doobie Brothers to Prefab Sprout”, he began hanging around the All City record store as a teenager and was taken under the wing of shop manager Olan Dyer, whom Dec says “gave me an essential education” and producer Mike Slott, who listened to Dec’s embryonic instrumental hip-hop experiments “and opened me up to looser arrangements and stuff that had more texture to it”. Moving to Manchester to study, Dec discovered like-minded souls again, visiting the Hoya: Hoya club on his second night in the city and being “blown away by the fact it was going off to Flying Lotus’ ‘Massage Situation’, which wouldn’t really have happened in Dublin”.
“It changed my whole perspective,” he continues. “I was making experimental hip-hop and buying a lot of records for samples, but the things I was buying like Teddy Pendergrass and Cameo weren’t really suitable for what I was trying to make. But I realised I’d built up an enormous knowledge of funk, soul and boogie and that I should just have been making and playing the music I really know and love. I’d been to a few clubs where I’d just been nodding along to 70bpm dub or something — which I’d really enjoyed — but there’d always been a part of me that had wanted to just down some tequila, grab a girl and kick out the jams.”
Now ensconced as a resident at Hoya: Hoya, Dec has his own place in Manchester’s clubbing lineage, running back through similarly eclectically-minded nights like Electric Chair in the noughties to the likes of The Twisted Wheel that were getting Mancs moving well before the Hacienda put it on the international map in the 1980s. But much as Tony Wilson was reportedly inspired to erect the Hacienda after visiting clubs like Danceteria in New York and deciding that “Manchester needs one of those”, Dec might have made his name in Manchester, but it’s the 1980s Big Apple that’s the seed of his sound.
“I find the whole attitude of that era massively influential,” he enthuses. “The music and people that came out of that city were so exciting and just thinking about them makes me want to make another record. I really want to dig deeper into that more this year and bring my DJing back to that Larry Levan style I’d always dreamt about.”
For whilst Dec’s string and diva-soaked sets can be ranked alongside the likes of The Revenge, he doesn’t see himself as part of a ‘disco revival’, largely because — to him — the sound never really went away.
“I’ve always played it so it wasn’t like I was waiting for it to be ‘revived’” he says. “But if something is coming back it’s more about the principle of disco — which is just about having a good time. That’s not just a disco or boogie thing — it should be a dance music thing. I do get annoyed when people call disco their ‘guilty pleasure’ though. There’s nothing guilty about it — it’s just good music.”
He’s also prepared to stand up for disco and R&B’s bastard child new jack swing, the genre best-known for bequeathing Bobby Brown to the world. Dec won’t deny its fromage flavours, but new jack swing wouldn’t be the only cheese to get better with age.
“You can’t knock the musicality or the performances, or the fact that Teddy Riley completely changed the game when he invented it,” Dec expounds. “I honestly think he did as much for R&B as Skream is doing for dubstep now. It’s not particularly intelligent and that means people either love it or hate it. You can find disco that’s grimy and raw or over-the-top and euphoric, but with new jack swing, there was no variant — it was all songs about trying to get a girl or trying to fuck a girl.”
Speaking of which, visitors to the Krystal Klear Soundcloud page can have their ears metaphorically licked by a mix of slow jams featuring the likes of Minnie Riperton, which suggest Dec is quite the latter day Lothario himself. “I’ve made slow jams mixtapes for years,” he says. “I rule them because I know the secret of making them work with a girl. First you need to set a mood where it’s like ‘This is nice’, then you make them upset, then you make them happy and then they’ll want to have sex.”
Despite worrying that “that makes me sound like a right prick”, it’s a more subtle approach to seduction than that practiced by his near namesake Crystal Clear, an American actress famed for films where clothing is as disposable as the plot. So why did Dec choose to take his DJ name from a porn star?
“It’s actually from my graffiti background,” he protests. “When you start doing graffiti you spend ages thinking about what your tag should be.
But when I needed a name for music, ‘Krystal Klear’ popped into my head straight away, and it was perfect because I like music to have a glisten and shine. No-one else seemed to be using it outside the porn industry, so I thought I’d be safe unless I embark on a professional porn career.”
And is there any chance of that?
“I’ve been told I’ve definitely got the body for it,” he laughs. “So it’s just a question of whether I’ve got the — er — genital stamina.”
Although his ability to keep the dancefloor going all night isn’t up for debate.