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At home with Anthony Naples

Anthony Naples is the man behind one of this year’s most insouciant debut records. Mad Disrespect, the first drop on Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin’s Mister Saturday Night imprint, combined snappy percussion indebted to the heyday of New York garage, woozy synths reminiscent of classic Detroit house and an underlying contemporary edge that hinted at the influence of British bass music. There was a whiff of intrigue and mystery behind the release – who was this Naples character, after all? – thanks to the raw yet incredibly accomplished sounds on display throughout the EP’s three tracks.

The release, it turns out, came about in the most organic way possible. Naples is a regular at the Mister Saturday Night parties hosted by Harkin and Carter, and handed in a demo CD which was then picked up for the party-cum-label’s first release in May. Since then his star has been on the rise – Four Tet is a confirmed admirer and has already tapped up the producer to remix his track “128 Harps” – while labels from both sides of the Atlantic have been circling in an attempt to secure his next release. Our New York based writer Nik Mercer went to visit Naples in Brooklyn to discuss everything from Skrillex to remixing, pushy record dealers and his plans for the future.

You’re from Miami – what brought you to New York and when did you move here?

I guess it’ll be two years in about a week. I was going to college before that, at Florida State, which was a really boring university. So it was the usual things―I lost my job, I wasn’t enjoying school, and I had girlfriend problems. I heard of a job up here―working at a summer camp upstate―and I did that for two months before moving to Brooklyn.

What were you studying?

Linguistics. Trying to, at least.

What’s your background in music?

Well, I’ve been buying records for a while… since 2006 or so, when I was about 16. There was one record store in my hometown, and the owner would force-feed everybody that came in what he thought was cool. So I have a bunch of, like, random drum ‘n’ bass records, which I don’t like, but he kind of put that on me. He was the only record collector in the city, so everyone respected his opinion. Before that, I was doing the whole guitar/noise thing, with all the pedals. Nothing serious. Then I acquired all these computer programs over the last eight years. I never used them―I just pretended to since it never worked out―but then, two years ago, I got a laptop for the first time, and that led me to start using Logic. A year ago, I made the first thing I’ve ever made from beginning to end. Before that, it was really just joking around with friends.

So you’re all computer-based?

Yeah. I’ve found that a lot of people think it’s all hardware, [I guess] because it’s rough. The guy who mastered the Mister Saturday Night Records release, Mad Disrespect, thought it needed less of an analogue sound, so he told me to turn off certain things. I was like, “there’s no tape machine at all!” Everything was run through Ableton. There’s a few samples. I have some gear now, but I haven’t used it yet.

What got you into this sphere that you’re currently operating within?

Around 2008, I really got into what I knew to be DJ culture. I saw that documentary called Maestro on YouTube. I’d never thought about DJ’ing like that―not just playing one record after the other―so I started playing little things for friends. And then I thought it’d be fun to make music for that purpose, too. So then I worked on [the MSN tracks] and, since that was the first thing I finished from start to finish, it felt like a chance. If I had been in a band and finished [music with them] first, it would’ve been a whole different thing. I got lucky in that I sent the tracks to Justin [Carter] and Eamon [Harkin of Mister Saturday Night]―I didn’t send them to my friends or anybody other than them―and they thought they were cool. I’d never self-edited and there was no trial-and-error to what I did. It was just the first thing I had finished. That’s what I don’t like about [working in dance music] so far; the first thing I did, I’m proud of it, but I’m not behind it 100 per cent. I don’t listen to music in that way. The stuff I’m doing now, I have more confidence in it, I’m more comfortable with how it sounds. If you told me two years ago that I’d make something with a piano sound in it, I’d have laughed―I don’t even like the piano, really.

I was sort of under the assumption that you knew Justin and Eamon, that you were part of their crowd.

No, I was just a person who went to their parties. The first one [I went to] was when they had Floating Points at the Marcy Hotel, years ago. When I was in college, I came up just for that. So I kind of had their names in the back of my head. I joined their mailing list and went to a few more, but it wasn’t until September of last year that I was of age, and I felt bad, breaking their rules!

That’s an exciting way to get embedded in this environment, though, I guess.

Yeah. It’s weird. I don’t have a lot of contacts, though. I don’t have a bunch of friends who produce music or DJ. I never went out all that much. I don’t want to say it’s bedroom-based―it’s stupid to say I’m a “bedroom producer”―but my only conception of it is… I mean, my best club experiences have been from [the recent past and present]. Before, I was too young and I wouldn’t go because I didn’t find it interesting. Now, I go as often as I can. It’s weird to think about how I made music for clubs without experiencing them and dance music in general that much firsthand. Justin and Eamon pointed out that I put this bass line kind of thing in at the last minute of the song, and they said, we should change that so it’s more involved throughout the song. I had to say, I can’t change that―I already deleted [the files]. I didn’t think about how people would react to that, though; I didn’t think about how people would want a bass line four minutes earlier in the track.

Well, in fairness, that’s something you see with guys who transition from being in a band to doing solo electronic stuff. When they do it well, it sounds cool, but it doesn’t necessarily “work” for the floor… they’re making things in a more song-based fashion.

I feel like I make my stuff in a very naive fashion. My favorite producers are outliers … people like Actress. You can say it’s “dance music” or “electronic music” or “house music,” but it’s really just kind of alluding to that idea. It speaks without that context. That’s what I’d like to be. It’s easy to say it’s just dance music. I want to DJ, but I don’t want to be a three-song EP [producer] who DJs and then has another one in two months. I kind of want it to be a bigger thing. I just finished this thing today. It’s an hour and a half of music, and that’s going to be whittled down a bit to, say, eight tracks. It won’t be a dance record, though… it’s very obtuse. Hopefully someone will play it out still.

What is this? Is it an album?

I think it’s just going to be an EP. They’re not all six-minute songs. Some of them are three or four… some of them are 10. I don’t know if it’s an album, though. I guess it’s a long-player, but I didn’t think of it in that format.

There’s a few EPs that ride that line. Mission of Burma’s Signals, Calls, and Marches always comes to mind.

Yeah, it’s just like that! [Laughs] I’ve gotten a bunch of crazy offers that I just can’t believe and I’d hate to give leftovers from one session to another label. I want to start over with everything.

Where’s the bulk of the interest originating? The UK?

Yeah, the UK. There’s a lot of people in the States, too, but those are all labels that are just sort of starting up. If I don’t know the person personally, I don’t see why… you’re just releasing a bunch of records for the sake of releasing a bunch of records. It’s like putting out a bunch of records on the same wavelength and having them go to the same outlets.

I wanted to ask you about this whole “EDM” thing, which is kind of bizarre and frustrating. What I ideally see happening is you’re introducing people to the most visible dance music first, which then, hopefully, sucks them into it in a bigger way and they start digging and finding cooler shit. Hopefully that stokes curiosity. Look at rock and indie. When you’re younger, you’re listening to the radio, getting off on the Top 40 stuff. And as you get older, you start exploring what’s behind that more and more. I think everyone’s capable of that… it’s just a matter of easing them into it.

Yeah, that’s what it is. People look at what they’re given. [The dance music scene] is going in a weird direction, but, at the same time, I’m glad that it’s sort of coming to New York and there’re more labels like 100% Silk and Future Times popping up. Those people are doing something really cool here. But it’s still not popular in the way that it is over in Europe and the UK. Some of the DJs I really like―like Mosca―they have their own BBC 1 shows.

The UK also benefits from the geographic size of the country. And, also, NYC in particular… it’s not only really difficult to put on events―everyone bitches about that!―and put out records… it’s also just, across the board, really expensive. That’s not the same with Europe―at least not all of it.

It seems like it’s easier to live off of it over there.

And the market is more vital. It seems like there’re more jobs within the industry over there.

Things are more widespread in Europe. There’s a pocket in New York, a little one in D.C., a little tiny one in Detroit and Chicago, one in San Francisco… and none of it is united. None of those cities are close, really, so it’s not easy to travel around and get your name out there in the first place.

One of the things that’s sort of a surprise, at least in New York, is that, despite its rep for being a creative hub and having a rich history, there’s this perception that there’s not much nightlife activity. That’s not true. Go to RA any given week and your jaw drops when you see how many parties are happening, and how many of them feature recognizable―if not flat-out big―names.

Yeah, when I played on Friday [recently], there were [three crazy parties in one night] followed by yours on Saturday and another Mister Saturday Night. And then Secret Sundaze had a boat party on Sunday. And Mister Sunday happened, too.

I feel like we’re not at that critical mass point, though, because the fanbase is still not super widespread.

Yeah, people who see a flyer on the street and think, “Oh, that looks interesting!” And if you’re coming from Skrillex or Deadmau5 or something, you’ll be underwhelmed at these things [we’re talking about] because there’s no distortion and there’s no “drop”.

I hope that, with age, that changes, though. You don’t need that adrenaline rush… you don’t need the machine gun attack.

I was talking to Kieran [Hebden] of Four Tet and he told me he went to a Skrillex show. He said it’s a movie; it’s entertainment. In a sense, it’s just like a rock show too. He never saw so many people taking photos of themselves with the stage behind them. I don’t think people go home and listen to his records, you know? Does he even have one?

Yeah, I think he has a few EPs… and he’s done a lot of remixes. But he sells a lot. I know he’s gone gold.

That’s crazy! He’s like a pop star.

I was going to ask about Kieran. How did the remix that you did for him come about?

It’s another one of those things where I got really lucky. He was at one of the Mister Saturday Night parties, DJ’ing or whatever. Beforehand, they had a dinner, and I’d been hanging out with him and a few other people. I guess he was under the impression that I was a journalist because I was just asking him all these questions, nerding out. Three hours into the party, [Justin and Eamon] played [one of my songs] because they’d just gotten it mastered. And Kieran said, do you know who made this? I pretended I didn’t―I thought he was going to say it sucks! Then this guy came over and was like, “He made this! He made it!”, pointing at me. So Kieran said, “you have to send these to me”. I sent him the EP and some stuff I was working on. He asked me to remix one of his tracks. I worked on that the hardest I’ve worked on something. I’d work on [a draft] and it would just suck. And I kept doing that for a month. I think I had 14 versions of it in the end. The version I thought was finally good enough to send over to him only took me an hour and a half to put together. I’ve been contacted over the Internet [regarding remixes] a few times now, and… I’m not used to it. The weirdest was when a record label asked me on behalf of an artist I knew online. I feel like it’s easier when you know the person because you know what they want―sort of. You want to make something good, which means it’s made with your taste as well as theirs in mind. Remixing is just a really hard thing for me to do, I guess.

Well, remixing is general is just sort of a strange art.

I think Levon Vincent said something to RA recently, it’s kind of spot-on, but sad if you think about it… [the original artist] attaches his brand to [the remixer’s artist]’s brand. With certain people, like Four Tet, you don’t want to deny that―when you’re an equal… that’s a nice split. But I was offered to remix something on a digital compilation and, there, they were literally just pitching all these names together to attach to their thing and send off to all these different sites. [The label] will get their name attached to a scene or whatever, and I understand that, but… it’s like making a song. You’re giving someone else a song. I don’t know how long I can do that before I start selling myself short.

You work at Captured Tracks, is that right?

Yeah. I started interning there as soon as I got here. I was interning for, like, a year, which is kind of long. Now, I do all the distribution and stuff. I think there’s a general understanding there that it’s not that I’m not as invested, but they know I do this kind of stuff. This kind of music is more what I’m into now. I’m very disconnected from that world, really. We share offices with Sacred Bones, Rvng Intl, Mexican Summer… it’s like a little Brooklyn hub. It’s funny, the Fresh & Onlys are kind of a shared band: they’ve put something out on Mexican Summer, Sacred Bones, and Captured Tracks. I like it all a lot, but I wish there was a little more distance between [creating] music and the music industry. I didn’t go to school, as you know, so I don’t really have that other route to go in right now, but I’d like to find something else, just to keep it interesting. I’m finishing something up and then I have a remix that I’m super excited to do, but then I kind of want to stop and feel it out, I guess.

What are your goals, broadly speaking?

I dunno. I’m not really sure about the whole DJ’ing/live thing. I haven’t done it enough yet. I buy records, constantly, so I have enough to do it… it’s just that I haven’t been in a situation yet where I’ve been able to enjoy it. And there’s a lot of politics!

Also, with DJ’ing, I feel like you need to spend years accruing―

– records and tastes. I think Theo Parrish was talking about how,  first you can be a DJ and beat-match, but then you can become a selector, which is someone who changes people’s moods and lives, I guess. It’s a really arduous thing. My focus is really making records. I want to do the music more than I do the live thing. Also, naturally, I’m not much of a showman. I find it really difficult to please people!

Interview: Nik Mercer