INTERVIEW: K-Klass (2012)
While techno/rave was one of the first genres that inspired me to follow EDM in the 90s, it was the happy house movement from the UK that really inspired me to start DJing. As easy as the alphabet, KLM, any release from K-Klass, Loveland, or M People would instantly light up my sets. So imagine the sheer delight last year at the Amsterdam Dance Event when I had the incredible honor of meeting K-Klass, producers of the house classics “Let Me Show You” and “Rhythm is a Mystery.” They recently played the thirtieth birthday party of legendary Manchester super club The Hacienda and continue to produce quality house music for their loyal fans and DJ following.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: K-Klass started back in the late eighties correct?
K-Klass: That’s right, we got together in 1989 but didn’t release our first record until 1990, although we were very much alive and running as a production outfit.
RS: How did you guys meet up? There were four of you guys back then right?
K-Klass: Yes, it is actually quite topical how we met up. The Hacienda celebrated their 30th birthday recently and we had a party back in the original location of the club. It is actually apartments now, but the residents were out and we moved all the cars out of the parking spots and got a license to actually put an event on at the same spot that it used to be. The Hacienda is actually where we all met. The two original members, Carl Thomas and Andrew Williams, from Wrexham are no longer with us. We had seen them play live in Chester for the previous incarnation, which was a band called Interstate who supported 808 State during the early tours. Russ and I had a little bit of equipment together and when we saw them live, we noticed that they had all the drum sounds that we wanted. About a week later, we saw them out in the Hacienda clubbing and enjoying themselves. We got to chatting and straight after that night we got to chatting and we went back to where they lived in Wrexham, North Wales, which is about forty miles away. Literally, that night we started laying down some tracks and by the end of that week, we had four tracks down. We had actually mastered the monster chrome cassette, if anyone remembers those. We took them into a record shop in Manchester called Eastern Bloc Records, which at the time was a very famous shop of independent records and about 90% dance music. They liked the sound of the four tracks and said that they were going to sign them and put them out right away. At that point, we didn’t even have any names for the tracks, just 1, 2, 3, and 4. We didn’t have any names for the songs or for the band. They wanted to cut the vinyl straight off a C90 cassette. There was no way that we could have done that. We went to the studio to get it all recorded properly rather than in our friends bedroom. It took about eight months; although we think still think that the original masters were the best. That came out as “Wildlife EP” in 1990.
We toured again supporting the 808 State on a tour that year; we weren’t touring as DJs but as a live act performing the tracks off of drum machines and sequencers. We got a great critical acclaim for that, a lot of people said that it was the highlight of the night when we performed. We were doing it live and going off the sequences, which was a little tricky. Sometimes the track would go on for about 12 minutes and we couldn’t think of an end for it. It was all very uplifting, very live and exciting.
From there we went for our second dance single and decided that we were going to do a vocal track. At the time we were very influenced by Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and the Detroit techno producers, they were the sounds that we tried to emulate. We did the version of “Rhythm Is A Mystery” with Bobby Depasois who is still our vocalist today. The first version of it was a very underground version and was released again by Eastern Bloc Records, hitting # 45 on the national charts. We sold literally tens of thousands of copies of it. The label asked that we come back and do more of an accessible commercial version of it that had more of a traditional song structure with verse, bridge, chorus, song structure. The big Italian piano sounds, like Cappella and FPI Project, were just starting to become very popular in Manchester at the time. We started to emulate that a little bit and started to shadow the vocal melody with a sax line and things like that, which led to the end results of the copy of “Rhythm Is A Mystery” that everybody knows. That was a promo on Eastern Bloc and before it got to the full release date, deConstruction records from London stepped in saying that they wanted to sign it. They released it, with EMI doing the distribution in November 1991- it went to # 3 in the national charts. That was a huge for us because at the time we were still doing our normal day jobs. Andy was a lab technician and had the most glamorous job of us all, Russ was a mailman, I worked for British Telecom, which is a telephone company, and Carl had the least glamorous job as a fish deliveryman. His social life improved tenfold when he decided to start making music full time.
RS: From the “Rhythm Is A Mystery” single, that brought the album Universal along, correct?
K-Klass: We had two follow up singles, “Don’t Stop” and “Let Me Show You” which turned out to be massive hits, and the album Universal came after that.
RS: I am holding in my hand the double CD, which is one of my all-time favorite; what was the logic with the dolphin on the cover? I never quite figured that out.
K-Klass: All the graphics that we did actually won a lot of awards. They were done by a guy named Mark Farrow who is part of the team who actually designed the Hacienda. We were very keen on having a strong graphic image on all of the releases. His philosophy behind the pictures was ground-breaking, nothing like that had been done in the past, and most of the covers had been informational based. The grid layout was very much his thing as well and we really liked his work. The images were meant to have absolutely nothing to do with the record; they were meant to be disconnected.
RS: That’s good, I always wondered that. Around that time you were also doing a lot of really big commercial remixes.
K-Klass: That actually came later. It was quite a strange transition the way that it came about, we never really thought of ourselves as remixers. We were just a live act that produced our own records. We saw the New Order, which goes back to the Hacienda connection. New Order had signed with London records and they had a new album out that they were looking to get remixes of. We saw the lineup of remixers that they had and noticed that they had nothing to do with New Order or their heritage. We thought that we should be doing the remixes. We decided to call London Records one afternoon while we were drinking and give them grief until they let us do the remix on it. It really doesn’t work like that anymore but we got on the phone and told them that we needed to remix it and they let us. We did a remix on spec and they said if they liked it, they’d paid us for it. That was on World, and it wasn’t released right away but they liked it so much that they wanted us to do another track called “Ruined in a Day” which is a more downtempo track. They liked that as well and used our mix for the A side instead of New Order’s mix. New Order had to go on Top of the Pops on TV and do performances and mime to our mix. As a child and a huge New Order fan that used to travel all over the country, sleep in railway stations, and hitchhike to see them, it was quite an honor for us. People really picked up on those couple of mixes and we ended up doing Joe Roberts “Lover” from London Records, which was massively successful. From there Janet Jackson, Bobby Brown, Luther Vandross, and the really big guns like them started coming on board. We were starting to get a lot of the projects and it seemed to be the same caliber of remixes that Def Mix in New York and Judy Weinsten were getting. At the time that was a huge honor because they were a really big influence to us as well.
RS: I noticed after that, you seemed to go away for a while, what caused the slowdown of that?
K-Klass: Again, it was the late nineties and we moved into doing a lot more of the production things, and producing album tracks for people like the Pet Shop Boys and Rebekah Ryan, we produced the album for Candi Staton in the late nineties. Producing whole albums for people was taking up a lot of time, we probably spent too much time doing that rather than spending time on our own material. That slowed down things and we went crazy with the record label doing things like trying new vocalists and things like that that never really worked out. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the big European dance people would talk to me. In 2002, we got nominated for a Grammy which was quite an experience seeing that very few British dance artists have been nominated, that was another very big thing that happened. For a couple of years we did slightly more underground stuff on labels like Junior Boys Own and things like that. We completely turned our back on full vocal songs and started making more tracky things and stuff that we liked. That moved us through over the last couple of years and redeveloped and redefined ours sound again. We like to stay more current but we still have some outside influences today. We love what Prok and Fitch and other UK producers like Sonny Wharton have done. It is slightly more tech house sounding at the moment with vocals right where we can fit them in and make them sound relevant.
RS: Right now there are two of you, what happened to the other two?
K-Klass: Both of the others left in the early 2000s. Carl went off to work at a normal day job and Andy, who was our main engineer, left and went to the Middle East selling Funktion One sound systems. It was a huge loss when he actually decided to leave. He is still involved with music to an extent but unfortunately, they are no longer involved with us.
RS: You just mentioned Sonny Wharton; you have a song coming up called “Strung Up” right?
K-Klass: We are actually part of the way through and it follows “Rush Hour” that we did about 15 months ago with Sonny. It did really well on Beatport. With this one, we have some live orchestra strings and things like that which is the concept behind the track. It is a mixture of some real organic sounds over a quite mechanical tech house beat.
RS: That is a nice combination because there aren’t too many people using real instruments with their productions, it is all done through their computer, are you finding it challenging to incorporate it that way?
K-Klass: Not really, it is easier to do it that way nowadays as long as you have a good recorder. We use string writer. You import the audio sections that they give you on the audio computer environment and they slot in quite nicely. Obviously, the whole music making production scene has gotten so much easier over the years. We used to have to take the time stretching the vocals or doing line by line on a sampler, sitting back all day placing MIDI dots on a screen. All that would have taken us two working days to complete one strike, now with a push of a button you can get it done in three or four seconds. Now with Abelton and things like that it just loads in no time for you. There have been so many advances and everything has improved massively.
RS: With the production, what software and gear are you using?
K-Klass: We still use some tube compressors and a nice sound card, but it is pretty much all in the box now. To me it’s just about getting a nice, simple clean mix. Good monitoring is very important and we use a 3A monitor in the studio here. We are not totting around a lot of gear and the sad factor in that is that we had a huge collection of analogue gear they broadcasted us with. They had the compressors and hues on board but when we sold the studio rather than fighting about who took which pieces of equipment we just sold all of it, a lot of class analogue gear. Just after the year 2000, we pretty much went with the flow, used what we had, and forgot the rest. Obviously now the old analogue gear is worth a fortune. Software wise as well, we still use Logic audio and always have, we did use to use a sequencer called Voyatra a long, long time ago. We tried Cubase for a while but never settled on it. We have always been using Logic audio.
RS: For your DJ sets are you using laptops or CD?
K-Klass: We are not playing off of laptops, although we can. We use Pioneer CD 2000 and play off of USB. We use tracks that are processed through Pioneer RecordBox software, it is by far the most efficient and effective way. I don’t like to carry around laptops. I am probably going to cause a lot of controversy saying this, but I think that laptop DJs are quite a nuisance. There are so many of them that set the gear up and don’t know how to set up or change over properly between a straightforward format like CD or USB. We encounter so many problems, especially with Traktor, they don’t know how to set things up properly and you get a really dreadful, plastic, overcompressed sound that just loses all kind of dynamic. We have always tried to play .wav files as best as we can and where we can using Y-Files from official outlets. It does make a difference in the sounds; there are no two ways about it, especially if you are playing on a decent system. We are not fans of laptop DJs, to be honest with you. Not so much for the reason of taking the art out of it, but for the fact that the sound is affected. Don’t get me wrong, some people know exactly how to make it sound great, but there are a lot of DJs out there that end up with a truly dreadful sound.
RS: How was the gig at The Hacienda?
K-Klass: It went incredibly, probably partially me being sentimental. We were talking about it this afternoon, we went out on Monday night for the party and it finished at 5 pm the next day. I think it was the old Happy Monday, 24 hour party people and we are just coming back to life; we are all getting a bit old. I think the local news reports handled it quite well. The Hacienda used to be about expanded minds, but with the kind of people that showed up, I think that it was more about expanded waistlines. It was invite only and it was brilliant because it was people that we hadn’t seen in years. It was nice to come back out and party again. It was in the actual location of the old club, not the old club itself but it still had a really special feel. We came on and did a live PA of “Rhythm is a Mystery” and “Let Me Show You,” it was unannounced and the crowd went absolutely wild. It was as good as some of the nights that we had in the clubs years ago. The only way to describe The Hacienda to people in America is to imagine all the best bits of the Sound Factory, Studio 54, and Paradise Garage all rolled into one club. It is where the Haciendas took their influences from, the New York club scene in the mid to late ’80s. For at least four precious hours that night we were brought back to where we were back in those days. It was very special.
RS: You have a 25-year anniversary coming up in a couple years, what can you imagine your 25th anniversary being?
K-Klass: I think that we will probably look at reissuing some of our old tracks and making remixes of some older material to celebrate it. You have actually just put the idea in my head; I haven’t really started to plan it. Something like a 25-year anniversary album would be a really nice thing. It would be a mixture of old and new, quarter of a century dance music. Our music philosophy is pretty much the same as it was on day one; we make music that we liked to dance to ourselves.
RS: What other upcoming releases are in the pipeline?
K-Klass: We have Klass Action, that is like our sub-brand that we use for all things K-Klass, including our podcasts and club nights that we promote in the name of Klass Action. We are launching a record label under the name of Klass Action. We have our first single which just came out, which is called “Rock the House” featuring Bobby Depasois. That is the first release on Klass Action. We have got remixes from Benny Royal and Sonny Wharton, it’s a very strong release, and we are very excited about it. We also did a record with fellow Manchesters Triple Dee, the classic “So in Love” by Duke. You can actually check that out on our soundcloud page, it is getting an awful lot of love at the moment.
RS: If people want to follow you, are you Facebook, Twitter; how do they follow you on line?
K-Klass: Yes, absoulutely we are Facebook and Twitter addicts unfortunately. The twitter address is Kklass @kklassuk. The facebook is facebook.com/officialkklass. If anyone wants to follow mine and Russ’s personal accounts, I think that there are some spaces left that we can squeeze people on. Mine is Paulrobertskklass and Russ’s is Rumomorgankklass.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
K-Klass: Thank you so much for supporting our work for so long. We still love what we do, every bit as much as when we started. We are house music enthusiasts, it’s in our blood, we know nothing else now and we will carry on doing it until we go deaf or are wheeling around in wheelchairs. We are still every bit as enthusiastic. There are people from back in our eras that say the music isn’t as good as it used to be. I say that in a lot of cases the music is better and better produced than it used to be. I think that it is the way that the music is perceived and people’s opinions of it aren’t as healthy as they used to be. Obviously, in the States now the electronic dance music scene is bigger than it’s ever been. With the UK and European market, I don’t think that it is as big or as openminded as it used to be. To all of our fans who have supported us long and hard, thank you very much. We have had and are having a wonderful and enjoyable career.
Check out a preview of their new single “Rock the House”
Interview conducted June 2012. Special thanks to Bas Jansen of Get Real! for arranging the interview. Images courtesy of K-Klass.