Amongst all the Americans here this week, our two favourite characters are probably Jason Bentley and Tommie Sunshine. Bentley hosts Morning Becomes Eclectic on California’s KCRW (acknowledged as the best dance music programme in the US), and was the music superviser on the Matrix films. He’s also recently finished working with Daft Punk on the soundtrack to Tron: Legacy. Pete Tong engaged him in a fascinating discussion about working with the duo. Later Bentley moderated a panel discussion of the recent and long overdue surge of interest in dance music in the US. One of his panelists was the super cool Tommie Sunshine. Afterwards in the press room he filled us in about what’s happening in New York, the importance of authenticity and his love for the Australian party scene.
First off, let me say this. Ibiza is absolutely the heart and soul of dance music. It’s clear this island lives and breathes electronic music.
I started in ’86 and I’ve been making music for a decade now. The first big thing that I worked on was I co write Silver Screen with Felix da Housecat which went on to be quite a seminal track, and from that started getting into my own production. I’ve done well over 100 remixes in my career and I have a new single that’s just now breaking in Australia on Nova which is one of the biggest national stations.
Here’s what I love about New York. When I get home on Sunday I’m going to David Mancuso’s loft party which he’s been doing since the early 70s. He does something that’s completely out of this world in that he doesn’t mix. He puts on a record and plays it all the way to the end, and everybody claps, and he puts on another record. He plays records in their entirety and pretty much mainly plays disco, real proper ten minute long crazy disco from the ’70s. But then he’ll play a DFA remix of M.I.A. It’s from 4.30 in the afternoon to midnight, and he’s got little kids running around as well as people in their 70s. Then there’s the deep and dingy warehouse parties in Brooklyn. So there’s all of this going on at the same time and it’s all connected. It’s a pretty legitimate history in New York. There is a community there, but it’s not as big as you would hope, or as big as the mythology would lead you to believe. As I said in the panel, NY and the way it’s perceived is a myth. People think it’s this amazing place for dance music and it’s not. I mean you can go see the DFA guys throw a party and there’ll be only 200 people there. Derrick Carter can’t get 50 people in a room in Chicago!
We’re living in a very tricky time. I think one of the biggest problems in America right now is that you’ve got an entire cast of characters, especially on the major labels, who are old and probably do too much cocaine, and they’re trying to make decisions about music that’s completely divorced from all of that attitude. How can you have progress when these are the people pulling the strings. And these are the guys who fucked the whole business up in the first place. We still haven’t even progressed to figuring out how the industry got ruined in the first place, and now they’re doing it exactly the same way and only just now plugging dance music into the equation. But you know the biggest problem I think in America is that the radio doesn’t support this music. You can count on one hand I think the commercial radio stations in America that are dance music stations. One of the only real radio stations is Jason Bentley’s, because otherwise it’s all Clear Channel and controlled by inane corporate shit. When 9/11 happened they sent out a list of songs you couldn’t play any more. You couldn’t play Burnin’ Down The House, Edwin Starr’s War…all these songs came off the playlist because of what was going on.
The most perplexing part of all this I think is that in America things are the most fucking insane that they’ve ever been. We have a better president now, but nothing is fixed. We’re still in a really bad place. You would think now would be the time we’d have PE or Rage Against The Machine, all the people that were pissed, but you know what, no artist is gonna be PE because you won’t get your video or airplay tour support. You won’t play in any of the venues that Clear Channel own because they run the radio. The most dangerous person that we have is M.I.A and what is that? That’s a fucking dog and pony show, it’s like a political handjob that’s not real. It’s insincere and that is exactly what I was talking about earlier. This authenticity thing really bothers me. It’s my achilles heel. It’s “business music”, and here’s my motto: Music business, not business music.
What I find so fascinating is at no other point in history could you learn as much as you can learn about this music. You can go online and in an afternoon teach yourself the entire timeline to this music. You can learn about Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder… every single person that mattered in the grand scheme of things and no one’s doing it because they’re too distracted by Facebook and all this other nonsense. They have everybody totally distracted with this shit. The thing that’s really kind of a bummer is I feel like a lot of this stuff is being lost in time, and they would like you to believe that it’s always been this way, like everyone’s always had a computer. Like it’s never been any different. When I came into this we would go to the absolute worst side of Chicago, like where no sane person would ever go, right into the south side of Chicago. As a white kid from the suburbs you would never go there, but we would. Without a cellphone, without real directions. We didn’t Mapquest how to get there, we just figured it. It was dangerous and crazy, and people got their cars stolen at parties and it all was part of it, the element of danger which I feel has been completely removed. Because there is something about having to search these things down and go into situations that maybe weren’t comfortable that actually push you into having a bit more of a comprehensive experience at the end of the day.
Here’s an example of how slowly things are taking off here compared to Europe. I stood in a room and I have never seen anything like this. It was at Terminal Five in New York, two and a half thousand people, Ed Banger’s 7th anniversary and FEADZ was on the decks playing an absolutely perfect sound. There were 25 hundred kids with their feet firmly planted on the ground staring at him as if he was playing a piano. There wasn’t one person dancing, not one. I mean I’m not gonna lie. At the Guetta show at Pacha in New York there were definitely more people taking pictures with their phones than dancing, but at least everyone there was excited. I was just happy because there was a general excitement in the air at that show. Most people in modern times have such poor social skills because of how little human interaction they have on a daily basis. When they go to a nightclub they don’t even know how to act. They don’t even know that it’s ok to dance, like they’re not comfortable enough with themselves to get on a dance floor and act the fool, because they’re too worried about who’s watching, and how it’s going to look on Facebook the next day.
Understand something. In 1986 when I started going out there was no danger of having your photograph taken in a nightclub, and if anybody did take out a camera somebody would rugby tackle them. The minute that you involve a camera everyone changes how they act and the authenticity of the moment goes right down the shitter. I’m hoping the underground will recultivate this authenticity. I hope that there’s a bunch of kids that are throwing parties and booking DJs that I’ve never heard of, playing a genre of music I don’t know about and what’s going on in the underground for teenage kids shouldn’t have anything to do with me anyway.
The craziest place in the world I think for dance music right now is Australia. Absolutely. When you go out in that country it’s as if everyone in the room just got a text message that said that the world is ending in five minutes and that if they don’t fucking party as hard as they can its gonna end sooner. I just got back from Creamfields there where I played right before the Bloody Beetroots who were headlining to ten thousand people and it was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. The thing about Australia is that you can play anything, as long as you’re playing music from an authentic place and it comes from the heart they will react accordingly. I did an interview for my new single on Nova and the Action Battle Team as they’re called, – the presenters are 19, 20 and 21 years old, so it’s coming totally from a youth perspective. It was hysterical. One of the things they made me do and this just goes to show you the perspective, was a station ID in which I insult them and they record it. So I abused them verbally and they play it on the radio all the time. When you put power into kids’ hands and you let them decide what they’re gonna play and they take the reigns – that’s when things get interesting.
But back to the inauthenticity thing in corporate business music. When it gets like that it gets dirty to me. I feel lke itchy when I hear music like that as it seems totally contrived. It is being made to make money and if you’re going to do that, then do it the KLF way and have your little finger up. I’m all about that. Every single person in the music biz needs to read KLF’s The Manual. To make them more real about the whole thing. It’s all in there and that’s the baby that really tells it like it is….
Interview by Helen Donlon
Pix by Frank Fabian.