Soak up 80-minutes of disco (not disco) and house music from the fabled UK producer and DJ.
“I’ve been playing house and techno since the late ‘80s so I thought that it was about time I tried to make some house music.” That’s what Richard Sen tells us below and it sums up succinctly both his stature within electronic music and the current direction of his productions. Right now you can find Sen putting out his most forthright house music through [Emotional] Especial, the sub-label of Stuart ‘Chuggy’ Leath’s Emotional-themed empire that has lived up to the towering figure’s somewhat vague description as “not nu-disco in anyway, or house, but something in between.”
After collaborating with Body Hammer and Crimes of the Future man Scott Fraser on an early [Emotional] Especial 12″, Sen has gone on to record three further singles for the label with his latest, Resistance Through Rituals, due imminently. Beyond that, Sen has a storied past in various collaborative projects such as Padded Cell and Bronx Dogs that have seen him release music on the likes of DFA, DC Recordings and Heavenly in addition to turning in some high-profile remixes.
His involvement in the UK scene over this time gave him the unique placing to work with arch compilers Strut on the self-explanatory This Ain’t Chicago: The Sound Of Underground UK House & Acid 1987-1991. Issued back in 2013, Matt Anniss summed up the compilation as “a fascinating collection” in his review and the chance to quiz Sen on how he approached the project was among the questions we posed to him.
As for the mix, it perfectly sums up Sen’s current tastes with cuts from Marcus Mixx. The Magrebahn and A Band Called Flash featuring alongside some of his own remixes. There is also a really creepy intro speech.
Hi Richard, how are things?
All good, thanks. I’ve just returned from a holiday in India to learn about my heritage and discover the cultural delights. I know this sounds cliché but it really sorted my head out and put things into perspective. Therefore, I’m enjoying life at the moment.
Thanks a lot for this mix, what was your intention when putting it together?
I wanted to do a mix that represents what I play in clubs – dark and funky disco (not disco) and house music. I’m inspired by black American dance and white European electronic music and like to explore the grey area where white boys get funky or black boys rock out. Ron Hardy and his DJ sets are a big influence; he would play Ann Clarke’s “Our Darkness” alongside the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes track “Bad Luck”. I’ve also included a few of my new productions in there.
Where was it recorded and what did you use?
I recorded it at home using 2 x Technics 1210 decks and 2 x Pioneer CDJ 800s and a Pioneer mixer with effects. I recorded it in one take and would never use a computer to do a DJ mix. Bad mixes, skips, bass and key clashes are part of the necessary ruffness; I like to capture the moment – mistakes and imperfections included. Anyone can programme a mix on a computer and present a perfect blend of tracks but most of these mixes sound really sterile and bland and lose any human or DJ element.
Where does that vaguely creepy intro speech come from?
Yes, I wanted it to sound creepy! It’s from a record I have featuring the recordings of a religious cult preacher, Elizabeth Clare Prophet from The Church Universal and Triumphant Inc. At one point she goes on about the evil of the 4/4 beat. Her voice is so weird, it sounds like an alien.
You’ve become aligned with the [Emotional] Especial label these past few years, how did you meet Stuart Leath?
I honestly can’t remember. I think he must have asked me if I wanted to do a single for Especial.
What attracted you to working within the confines of this part of Emotional Empire in particular?
They were attracted to me! I didn’t start making music to do admin and marketing so I need someone else to do all that stuff.
You’ve been involved in production for two decades now, how would you describe your current sound?
See my answer to your second question. I like a broad range of music crossing many genres – dub, rock, soul, disco, new wave, post-punk, industrial, electro, techno and house, so all of these influences feed into my sound. I guess, dark and funky dance music with melancholy key sounds. The Bronx Dogs stuff I did in the late-‘90s, early-‘00s was influenced by B-boy breaks – disco, electro and post-punk.
The Padded Cell influences were disco, post-punk and horror soundtracks and my current solo productions are inspired by disco and early house music. Basslines have always been a starting point for me and the bass usually drives the tune. I’ve been playing house and techno since the late-‘80s so I thought that it was about time I tried to make some house music.
Back in 2013 you worked with Strut on the compilation This Ain’t Chicago: The Underground Sound Of UK House & Acid 1987-1991. What was that experience like for you?
I don’t think any of the obscure early UK stuff had been compiled before so it was great to get that music out there to a new generation. Strut produce such high quality compilations and I’ve known and worked with Quinton (who runs Strut) for many years; it was an honour to be asked to do a comp for them. However, they are part of !K7 so there is a big machine that oversees every stage of production which can be quite testing.
Did it make you feel quite nostalgic for this period documented?
Yes, I don’t mind a bit of sentimentality and it was nice going through my old flyers and recalling memories of raves and gigs from the period. Sorting out records that I hadn’t listened to for 20 years also brought back some memories and I tried to include the tracks that stood the test of time and still sounded good.
Any more plans for compilations?
I’d like to do a second part but need to compile it and then punt it to various labels.
There’s quite a storied list of labels you have done remixes for (Junior Boys Own, DFA, Tirk, Smalltown Supersound, I’m A Cliché) Do you have any remixes you are especially proud of?
Being asked to remix Bryan Ferry was a great privilege and I think I did a good job. Our Padded Cell remix of LCD Soundsystem is a particular fave of mine. Also, my mix of Hedford Vachal on Tirk is one of my best in my opinion. This mix got so overlooked but was played by DJs such as Weatherall and Harvey which means more to me than sales or any other attention.
You’re regarded as one of the UK’s original taggers, is graffiti something you still do?
No, I haven’t touched a spray can or marker pen for 20 years. I don’t have the time as any spare time is spent on music. I keep saying that I’ll do a comeback piece on a wall with my graff buddies in the summer. However, it won’t be the same without the threat of death by electrocution, arrest and the buzz that goes with illegality and train writing. Graffiti, like other forms of culture, has become gentrified by the middle-classes.
All the dangerous elements have been airbrushed out and what’s left is this homogenised version renamed ‘street art’ – charming, inoffensive paintings on walls painted by privileged art students. I’d rather see something like ‘Cameron is a cunt’ scratched into a bus window than pretty animals and flowers painted in Shoreditch. Graffiti used to be a voice for the ‘other’ – a symbol of rebellion and anarchy. Street art is a symbol of gentrification – a place for moneyed idiots to live and invest in.
From reading up on you, it seems a visit to New York in the mid-‘80s was quite influential on your subsequent music endeavours – have you returned there many times since?
My first trip was in 1985 and it blew my teenage mind; I came back to London and started writing on trains. The late-‘70s, early-‘80s NYC mix of punk, disco and hip-hop has been a huge musical influence; the creativity of the period and fusion of musical styles has been unmatched since. I last went there in 2013 and it was nice to hang out with friends and family and eat good food etc. but I didn’t really see much of the city.
How do you feel it has changed over time?
I think it has become a bit of a neo-liberal prison for the wealthy. Investment, property and privilege dominate any kind of creativity or culture. My good friend Dennis Kane, a native New Yorker, can describe the change perfectly. He’s told me, “NY used to be the Paradise Garage and The Choice, great underground parties, a nexus of black, Latino, working class and gay culture, it was street and sophisticated and unlike anything else. Now it’s some upper middle class kid from Calabasas playing his laptop in a horrible corporate hotel lounge, or some overpriced club that looks to Resident Advisor for guidance. More than ever NYC is about money, in all the arts what you have now are the progeny of the rich simulating what was a great and complex culture. Too much entitlement, too little soul.”
I guess a similar question could be asked regarding London too….
Yes, it is hard to stay positive about this. London always changes but the last five or so years has seen the physical appearance of London change at a shocking rate. I’m one of the few real Londoners; born in Ladbroke Grove and grew up in Wembley. I’ve lived here all my life and don’t think I could (or would want to) live anywhere else. It’s the most multicultural city in the world and I still love the place; immigrants bring an important cultural (and economic) value to the city.
My school was in a nice middle-class Jewish area of North London but consisted of black, white and Asian pupils of all classes and faiths – this is London to me. I have friends from all ethnic backgrounds and social classes but what I find really distressing is how segregated and ghettoised London is becoming. I was in that awful Brixton ‘village’ recently and couldn’t see one black person; it is like we are living in a voluntary apartheid.
Of course, this is not intentional and most people are drawn to mix with people like themselves but I think there are many people who have no knowledge of foreign cultures who are colonising London, forcing the house prices up and driving the local community out. I know of people who won’t send their kids to schools that have too many immigrant kids in them. These are the people ruining London, not the immigrants!
(Hold on a minute, as I’m writing this in a library in Hackney I’ve just looked around and it’s a very multi-cultural atmosphere – half the people are black and half the people are white so maybe it is not as bad as I imagine!)
To end on a more positive note, what music do you have planned for the coming months?
I have a new single Resistance Through Rituals out on Especial in the next few weeks. Also, remixes I’ve done for John Grant, Gemini and Plus Instruments will be out over the next few months. I’m also going to put up some new DJ mixes on to my SoundCloud page soon. Myself and my mate Cazbee are also preparing a 6 hour DJ mix – one tune each, back to back recorded live.
1. John Grant – Disappointing (Richard Sen Remix)
2. Phil Weeks – Live At Palladium
3. Nese Karaboicek – Yali Yali (Todd Terje Edit)
4. Plus Instruments – Love Is Enough (Richard Sen Remix)
5. Cliff Lothar – Dro Friday
6. The Maghreban – Amok Time
7. Marcus Mixx – Lp007
8. Richard Sen – Resistance Through Rituals
9. Gemini – How Can I (Richard Sen Old School Mix)
10. E. Myers – Home
11. Liberty City – That’s What I Got
12. Slok – Dreamachine
13. A Band Called Flash – Mother Confessor
14. Justin V – Trocin’
15. Lola Dee – For Your Love (Cazbee Edit)