Interview: Dave Lee aka Joey Negro

We were lucky enough to catch up with one of dance music’s longest serving producers and DJs just before Christmas… We then went off to eat and drink for 2 weeks. But the transcript of our chat is now beautifully typed up and relayed in full below. The hat loving Londoner, and moniker aficionado has a lot to say!

KMG – What’s your ideal breakfast?

DL – Serious answer? I love a soft boiled egg with soldiers and avocado…then a coffee.

KMG – Originally from the Isle of Wight, How was the music scene on the isle growing up?

DL – Though born there, I moved by the age of two so I didn’t get to experience much of it. I actually grew up in Essex after my dad got a job at the university and we were living in a village called Thorpe-le-soken near Clacton on Sea. I stayed there till the age of 18/19 before moving to London. In the early 80s there were still a couple of decent clubs nearby that were playing interesting music. However, the main source of music at the time for me, was Radio. Iit was the disco era and every local radio show had soul/disco type shows on weekend evenings. I tended to hear more records I liked through radio as opposed to clubs; it was after hearing the records on the radio that made me want to find them, and learn more about the acts.

KMG – Would you say that your principal musical influence growing up was the radio then?

DL – Yeah I guess, and TV as well. I can remember hearing music I really liked and then have no real way of being able to track it down afterwards, it was frustrating. I’d watch Top of the Pops every week without fail. You’d hear a song on there once, but if the record didn’t keep going up the chart then that was usually it, you’d never hear it again. Sometimes you’d not be sure of the act name and there was no shazam or internet to search on. I remember once there was a cartoon Chivers Jelly advert that had a song I really liked, which I worked out was always in the ad break before the ITN news so I used to make sure I switched over to ITV just to hear the ad. I also love lots of TV themes – Weekend World, Starsky & Hutch. Man alive, the Fleetwood Mac track used on formula 1 (which I only found out years later was them). So effectively you’d hear scraps here and there with no real way to track it down. I started buying singles by the age of 10 though, and the first music I can remember getting properly excited about was glam rock!

KMG – You mentioned Top of the Pops, which of course you would later go on to appear on a
number of times. What was that experience like?

DL – Having watched it so many times I did feel like I had achieved something when I appeared.
Obviously with so many of these types of things, the experience is completely different than how you would imagine it. You have to run through the song a few times whilst they get the camera angles they want, so there’s not quite the same sense of fun as when you’re viewing it on TV, as it’s filmed over a whole day. Then for large portions of it you’re just waiting back stage. You might bump into the act on before, or after you, but you don’t generally all hang around together. Most of all I wasn’t wearing a blue satin jump suit or holding a silver star shaped guitar as I always thought I would be :-)

KMG – It must be slightly strange to play dance music on a format as orchestrated as a TV show, when principally the context it’s designed for is a sweaty club, …

DL – A lot of disco music and the like was made for use in clubs, and it enjoyed good success on the TV, and of course then crossed over into the mainstream. So once that crossover has happened it’ll end up in a lot of places it perhaps wasn’t originally intended. I think some of the best cross over dance records, say for example Voodoo Ray, were made to be nothing more than an underground club record, yet you end up hearing it at the local service station.

KMG – Jakatta could be perceived as your most successful alias, commercially speaking. When you
set about making those records was it a conscious decision to try and cross over? Or was it just a
happy accident?

DL – For the first record, American Dream, I loved the film American Beauty and I bought Thomas Newman’s original score because I enjoyed the atmospheric music. I listened to it a lot at home and I thought the marimba riff in one of the songs would be good to sample, and that it might sound interesting over a house beat. So in the some studio downtime I did it and I put it out as a sort of white label type release as “American Beauty”. The initial track without the Indian vocal was quite easy to make as it was pretty basic and it did ok without going crazy. Over the course of the following months DJ friends were telling me that they were playing it every week, and that the barman always asked what it was, or the security guy kept bugging him to play it. So it became apparent that it had some sort of appeal beyond that of a normal club record. After a while I thought “why don’t I try and do a mix of it and make it a little bit more accessible?”…So I recorded the Swati Natekar vocals and spent a bit more time on the drums. Paul Byrne from JBO was managing me at the time so I sent it to him, as he had Pete Tong’s ear, and I thought it might be something of interest to Pete. He really liked it and played it on his Radio One show. Almost immediately lots of labels were interested in signing it. I’ve been involved in a few tracks that got signed onto majors, and often they have a big club buzz but that doesn’t sustain or transfer over to the pop audience. American Dream was one of the few that didn’t plateau and kept building until the final release. Once I’d had the hit then there was some pressure to have more hits, but it was cool. The A&R at Ministry (who signed it) Ric Salmon was really hands on and helped me enormously making the album ‘Visions’.

KMG – You’ve collaborated with a whole host of people over the years… who has been the most
inspiring to work alongside?

DL – One of the people I really enjoyed working with was Thelma Houston. She was one of the first
really amazing diva type singers I had in my studio and it was just like wow! This is somebody whose records I bought! She had this most incredible voice, and it was exciting to hear her when she went into the booth and let rip with the ad-libs – almost everyone was a winner. It was a pleasure to work with someone a talented as that, it made my bit so easy. Another vocalist who made working together a dream was Diane Charlemagne. I loved her song “Inspired” on Satoshie Tomie’s album. We ‘ve written quite a lot together for Sunburst and other projects, and it’s an unmatchable feeling when you’re working on the creative aspect of making music, and you know something has that magic you need for a great record. However, I can’t leave out Taka Boom Seal, Pete Simpson the Chic girls, Debbie French….there’s been too many!

KMG – I find it interesting that you mention a pair of vocalists. From the production side of things it’s more straightforward to produce a drum/sample led track, particularly if you spend time and care on it.
To use a vocal artist is a different kettle of fish however, how do you go about making that work?

DL – It’s entirely dependent on the vocalist, and if you’re working with good people it’s not actually difficult at all and can be a very natural thing. Though it’s never an exact science and sometimes it doesn’t come together as you’d like, no matter how hard you try. I’ve come to accept that is just part of the creative process. Thankfully over the years I’ve been fortunate to work with a host of talented people, and if I need a brass section, or a good bass player, I can call on the right person. However, it doesn’t matter how good your musicians are if the song they are playing isn’t any good to begin with. When you go into the studio it’s also important to keep an open mind, especially when working with musicians, as they may elaborate on your idea and improve it…or come up with something completely different which is better. And above all else, it’s important to be critical of your own work. If you don’t love something, it’s probable no one else will either…

KMG – Over the years you’ve produced programmed tracks, and also with live musicians as The Sunburst Band. Do you have a preference for working one way or the other?

DL – Whatever I’ve just been doing, I tend to want to move onto something different, particularly if I’ve just done a whole album. For example, if I’ve just done a Sunburst album I’ll look to do
something electronic thereafter. It’s also important to break your own rules, and try and do things you wouldn’t normally do, as it helps stimulate new ideas.

KMG – Which boundaries are you looking to break down at the moment?

DL – For the last six months I’ve been doing remixes of these old disco and soul records I’ve managed to get the parts for. A few years ago I decided it would be really good fun if I could remix some of my old favourites from the 70/80’s but from the multitracks – not just sampling them. A friend at Warner Brothers helped me get hold of some and last year I released the first volume of REMIXED WITH LOVE. I had to pay out my own pocket to get the 2 inch tapes transferred, and some were incredibly hard to track down… one even being under the original producers bed! That’s the thing with this project, acquiring the multi tracks, and getting the artists to agree to let you remix their song is often the hardest part. A lot of the time you’re dealing with major labels and they’re just not used to letting their multi-tracks leave the tape library with an independent label releasing remixes. Then you’ve actually got to do the remix which can be a lot of pressure if you’re dealing with a classic song that’s never been touched before. After that it’s back to the label to get approval on the new version. Which can take forever sometimes! So it’s more a labour of love than a big money spinner, but it’s a great way to spend your time, and I love the buzz of hearing the 24 track on a favourite tune for the first time.

KMG – If these are some of your favourite records do you feel the need to raise your game further as a result?

DL – Or course, but it’s a double edge sword… on the one hand you have dynamite material, live strings, brilliant performances, so you don’t want to do a perfunctory remix. But on the other hand, the original version was pretty good to start with, so on occasion it’s hard to manipulate it for the better. Ok you can make it more dj friendly, but that’s not enough. Also, some multi’s can be quite messy with lots of bleed from other instruments. You might have ideas about strings being used on their own or starting the song with just the piano, then you get it and find there’s no way you can do that. There can be lots of headphone spill on the strings, bleed from other instruments all over the drums. The nicest surprised is to play a new multi-track and there are lots of extra parts which weren’t used – like the end of Kleeer “I love to dance” from volume 1. Normally once I start playing around with something I can come up with some ideas, but it’s a slow honing process. I can get a track to the point where it’s ready to play out, and I do so, and of course I’ll
realise there’s a few aspects which aren’t sounding quite right. So I’m constantly revisiting them until they sound as good as I think I’ll ever get them…. The best thing about it though, is that it gives me the opportunity to keep these brilliant songs alive.

KMG – When will you be in a position to release these tracks you think?

DL – Probably June 2015 depending on how long they take to clear.

KMG – We’ve seen studio technology advance considerably during the last 20 years. Is there anything you think we’re losing during the production process? And conversely, is there anything you think we’re gaining?

DL – back in the 90s when I was making tracks, unless you mixed something and it was tragically wrong, that was it… it often went off to get pressed almost immediately. Today I can play something out, and the bass is slightly quiet. I’ll then revisit it in the studio and sort the bass. You now have the ability to tweak and tweak and tweak things forever… Personally I think that’s for the better, but in other ways you lose a bit of the spontaneity. It can be the same for any era though… we’re hearing music that’s limited and compressed in the computer into this solid block of sound, and I don’t know if years from now people are going to say, “oh that sounds so squashed” or they might just say “well, that sounds of that era”… I do think that the shift we’ve seen recently away from the computer, back to real synths and reverbs in the studio is for the better though. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you use… if you’ve got a good track, you’ve got a good track…. And it doesn’t matter how much gear you have, if you’re tracks not happening… it won’t become great because you mixed on an analogue desk!

Dave’s latest compilation offering, Defected presents House Masters Joey Negro‏, is out next week

If you want even more chat with Dave then checkout the little video he did recently with the Defected crew below:

Interview & Mix : Daniel T (Cosmic Kids)

Check out Daniel T’s first bit of solo output in the form of a lovely chilled mix and a free download whilst getting to know him a little better below…

Growing up, what kind of music was being played around the house? Did you parents introduce you to any records that you consider influential?
Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, The Cars Greatest Hits, and Paul Simon’s Graceland stand out to me when I look back to my early childhood. Those albums really resonated with me for some reason. It totally makes sense if you look at my record collection today.

What did you consider to be your first real true introduction to dance music / electronic music?
I went through a long “drum machines have no soul” phase in middle school and high school. I was pretty fixated on classic rock for a long time. I remember taking a liking to The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack later on in high school, but I don’t think I understood dance music until The DFA came around. The things those guys were doing in the early 2000s completely changed everything for me.

Did you have many friends into the same music when you were first getting into dance music? Or were you kind of on your own until you met like-minded people through DJing?
Ron, the other guy in Cosmic Kids, was always introducing me to great music, and still does to this day. I 100% credit him with turning me on to dance music. My other close friend Aaron Castle was into a lot of the same stuff as well. Aaron and I carpooled to Santa Monica College, so we’d listen to KCRW and whatever new DFA music was out that month (and other music in that vein).

You weren’t living super close to the city when you were first getting started, but were you driving out to a lot of shows and parties when you became old enough? Do you remember any parties or sets in particular around that era that really blew you away?
Going to parties in general blew me away because I never did any of that in high-school, so once I got a taste of the LA music scene, I was pretty hooked. I was really blown away when I went to the afterparty for Franz Ferdinand’s first show in Los Angeles. They were DJing off their iPods. At the time I had no standard for DJing or warehouse parties, so I just thought the entire experience was mesmerizing. That was only 10 years ago, so that shows you how new I am to all of this.

Name five records that never left your bag when you were first playing regularly around LA.
At first, we didn’t have many records, so Ron and I shared our collections. I remember us playing these a lot early on.
In Flagranti – Genital Blue Room
Dance Reaction – Disco Train (Morgan Geist Caboose Mix)
Black Leotard Front – Casual Friday
Chic – Dance, Dance, Dance
Gwen Guthrie – Seventh Heaven

And how about five current records that you’re rinsing at the moment?
The Shunters – Since Morning
Hidden Fees – So What
Guillaume Des Bois – La Symphonie Des Rues
Will Powers – Adventures in Success
Phill & Friends Band – This Man

Most people know you for your work as Cosmic Kids, and now for the first time you’re releasing stuff by yourself in addition to your music with Ron. How would you consider your solo efforts different than your previous releases with Cosmic Kids? Does your solo project aim for a slightly alternative vibe than what most people expect from you?
With Cosmic Kids, Ron and I were always evolving. I don’t think that project ever had a definitive sound because we were always trying new things and learning along the way. For example I think our first single “Reginald’s Groove” sounds almost nothing like our Giselle Remix. I like that about Cosmic Kids, and I think its just the way Ron and I tend to work together. My solo stuff is a bit more focused. I’m deliberately using the same drums and synthesizers on a lot of my new material. I like the idea of limiting myself to specific sounds to create a more cohesive set of music; for the time being at least.

Tell me a bit about where you’re finding yourself musically these days. You’ve always maintained a specific vibe, but I feel like your selections and productions have matured in a new direction over the last couple years. What could this be a result of?
I’ve been bitten by the world music bug pretty hard. I don’t really like using the term “world music,” but that’s how they file it in the record stores, so I’m just going to roll with it. I’m not entirely sure what it’s a result of, but I think it has to with a personal backlash against rigid, stiff music. So much of the music I grew up loving, rhythmically chugs along like a train. By no means am I hating on chuggy music, I just think I needed to loosen up a bit. Some of the wonkiest stuff I have ever heard happens in African and Brazilian music, and that is inspiring to me because it is so counter-intuitive to my ears and body. I can’t seem to get enough of it lately.

“Resonant Places” is your new mixtape, which is almost entirely made up of your own material. Tell me a bit about the process of creating this and what you were setting out to achieve with this project. How long did it take?
I really want this mix to show people what I am all about as a producer and as a DJ. This is the music I’m interested in making right now and these are the labels and projects I’m currently working with. To tie everything together, I’ve mixed in records that I’m really digging lately. A normal DJ mix might take me a few hours to put together, but this one took me quite a bit longer because I chose to create some of the songs as I went along. The first track for example was designed to start the mix off. I tend to take my time making tracks, so I’d say it probably took me about a month to get this thing wrapped.

resonant places

The artwork really stands out as well, what’s the story behind it and does it reflect a certain era of music that you consider special? Or was it totally random?
The art was designed by my very talented friend, Evan Stalker. To be completely honest with you, it was designed for another producer, but was rejected. Haha. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure I guess. I love it because it reminds me of album artwork I noticed in my parents’ CD collection when I was little. There was this common trend of the artwork itself being in its own window, separate from the musician’s name and title. It’s kind of like they were saying “Here’s some music for you, and as an added bonus, here’s a pretty picture. Enjoy!”

A few of the tracks included in the mix aren’t yours though. Some are new and a few are from the past – you’ve been collecting records for many years now but how do you keep it fresh and stay motivated to continue doing so?
The key to keeping it fresh is to never worry about keeping it fresh. I do my best to only buy records that elicit a strong emotional or physical response from me. If I hear something and my first thought is “I must have this. I need to play it in my sets and hear it one thousand more times,” then I know its worthy of being purchased. I stay motivated to continue to collect because it has become an uncontrollable addiction, so I don’t really have much of a choice at this point.

Describe the perfect setting in which we should listen to this mix for the first time.
Its really hard for me to say. I think it depends on the person. I’m in my car a lot, so I tend to design my mixes for long drives, but my hope is that the mix works in many different settings.

Are any of these tracks seeing an official release anytime in the near future?
The Michael David tune is coming out soon on a new label I’m starting with Cooper Saver (aka you) called Distant Works. The Gravura edit will be released very soon on a label I run with my Tony Adams called Chit Chat Records. The Cosmic Kids rmix of Silva just came out this month. Other than that, the original tracks have no home yet.

Where can we find you online? is the best place to find me.
There you can find links to all my other internet stuffs.

Interview by Cooper Saver