INTERVIEW: Underworld’s Karl Hyde (2003)

Dance artists rarely make it past one album, much less to a greatest hits album. Underworld is not a typical dance artist and Anthology 1992-2002 is not a greatest hits album, but rather a collection of songs that document ten years of music from white labels to major soundtracks by one of the most important electronic music artists. Karl Hyde spoke to us about the progression of Underworld through their unique live shows and creative visions that keep us all jumping on the dancefloor. Continue reading INTERVIEW: Underworld’s Karl Hyde (2003)

INTERVIEW: Ultra Nate (2003)

DJ Ron Slomowicz: Growing up, who was your most favorite artist? When you were out driving around town, who did you want to listen to and sing along with the most?
Ultra Nate: I loved a wide range of artists as a kid. Everyone from Marvin Gaye to Boy George. Anyone with a soulful vibe, it didn’t really matter what the genre or style. I was pretty much a sponge when it came to music.

RS: How, if at all, have they influenced your career?
Ultra: I think it’s definately made me more open to be experimental with style and production.

RS: Did you desire to be a top 40 mainstream crossover artist?
Ultra: Absolutely! But on my own terms of course.

RS: The reason I asked is recalling the hit “Desire” from 2000, it gives a feeling of wanting more. Is there more of a personal meaning to that song?
Ultra: It’s actually speaking of wanting the greatest love of all. And not being afraid to shout it out loud. Many people think it’s hot to say ‘f*** the world! I don’t need anyone or anything.’ But that’s not my reality. I’m very clear, I need a mighty love!

RS: How much ability and freedom do you have to write your own songs, and could this be the reason the messages are bounced all over?
Ultra: I’ve always had the freedom to write what I want. Sometimes it may be focused to something specific like a TV show, a movie or an album concept. But it’s all my personal take coupled with the producer.
I’m not sure what you mean by “bounced all over” but if you mean that subjects vary greatly, I see that as a good thing. Things don’t become “cookiecutter” that way. That predictability happens to much in the dance genre as it is.

RS: Which producer have you enjoyed working with the most?
Ultra: Most people I’ve worked with have been very cool and there’s something to take away from every experience. I’ve had more concentrated periods with Basement Boys early in my career and Mood II Swing later. So those 2 teams are definite standouts for the considerable amount of growth during those years.

RS: When you wrote “Free,” did you have any idea it would become as big as it did?
Ultra: No. I don’t think you every really know. I was completely on the floor when it started to blow.

RS: What’s the story on your song “Ain’t Lookin’ for Nothin'”?
Ultra: It’s actually pretty autobiographical. I met a guy who was really diggin’ me but he was freaked by my career/star thing. He was a state trooper (a very meat and potatoes, everything is black-or-white type of person). I think he really didn’t know how to be with me and “Ain’t Lookin” was just saying RELAX!!!! this ain’t rocket science dude. We’re either gonna work and figure it out as we go or we’re not and we’ll still be cool.

RS: “Grime Silk & Thunder,” sounds like a dark title, what should we look forward to with regards to the songs?
Ultra: Yea, so was “Situation Critical”. I’m a very melancholic writer and singer so it reflects that vibe. The music is more experimental in an edgey and electronic direction while maintaining the warmth and depth of my vocal and writing stylings.

RS: How does your personal spirituality guide your musical artistry?
Ultra: It’s a constant influence, whether subtle or overt. Not that I’m all holy roller but my just my basic make-up.

RS: You’re well known in the gay community. Any reasons why you think that is, and, does it affect you at all when recording something new?
Ultra: I’ ve been fortunate to be embraced early in my career by the gay community. They’ve been very educational and supportive. I don’t really consider the gay community specifically when writing because their tastes are as varied as anyone elses.

RS: Can you name anything about the business that is just apalling to you that you would love to get off your chest?
Ultra: The way artists signed to label deals are nickel-and-dimed to death. Everything comes out of the artist pocket so in the end your being prostituted. The system is designed to keep the artist as an indentured servant. Obviously in order to make an artist happen the label is incurring all the financial risks, but there are ways to spend the money smarter so the bills are not so through-the-roof. The splits also could be light years better. Artist are given such a small percentage of the profits when they do happen that after all the chargebacks do they even have enough to live off of? Meanwhile the record label takes the lion’s share. It’s disgusting.

RS: You’ve been on a major label and an independent dance labels, what inspired you to start your own label – BluFire?
Ultra: Cause I’m freeee to do what I want to do! Just kidding. I wanted to take some chances and really harness my career from all angles. It would be nice to reap ALL of the rewards of my hard work. And believe me, a sister works hard!

RS: What experiences from your previous label do you bring to BluFire?
Ultra: My manager and I have always been at the helm of things when it came to my prior records; the biggest difference now is that I have to be on top of every detail and pay all the bills.

RS: Is there any coincidence that BluFire shares the same color as BlueChip?
Ultra: I named mine first. Actually I have no idea how that came to be..? Mine speaks of depth, intensity and passion. Bluechip is not so esoteric, as in a bluechip stock, I believe.

Image Courtesy of Dennis Petkovsek

RS: Do you prefer performing in front of an audience or working in the studio?

Ultra: I’ll take the stage anytime over the studio.

RS: What inspired you to cover “Brass in Pocket”?
Ultra: I loved it as a kid and it came to me in brainstorm out of the blue. My instinct said go with it. My manager thought it was an excellent idea. The rest is history.

RS: Is there a video for “Brass in Pocket?”
Ultra: I’m putting “Brass” out myself on my own label, so unfortunately we don’t have the budget for videos (yet).

RS: With club mixes by Junior Vasquez of the new Pretenders song “Time” doing well in the clubs, have you heard of any DJs mixing the songs together?
Ultra: I’m not out enough to catch it. Most of the time if I’m giggin’, I’m in and out. But I hope the DJs like the track and it would be dope if they did something like that. I think it’s a great confirmation that the “Pretenders” are back in the mix.

RS: Remixers often drop a vocal over the trendy, big room sound of the moment. The remixes of “Brass in Pocket” instead emphasize the soul and sensuality of your voice, did you choose remixers with this in mind?
Ultra: Yes. it’s very important to maintain the integrity of the song. It’s really important that remixers realize that to give a song and even this genre in general more credibility and longevity they have to give the music substance. So many nameless and faceless records out there continue to be the stumbling block of this genre. Obviously not all tracks are created equal. There are some killer tracks out there that are not vocal records. I’m speaking of artist based material solely.

RS: The b-side of “Brass in Pocket” is the live version of “It’s Over Now,” what was the inspiration in the unique rendition for the live show?
Ultra: I was doing a whole featured night of performance with my band. Doing that cut with the human beat box was another context of presentation and just basically having fun with it and catching the heads off guard. That’s the beauty of the dance music genre. You can just go all over the place with it.

RS: Was it harder to perform to a human beat box than a backing track or live band?
Ultra: Absolutely not. Because weren’t trying to be perfect. We just wanted to be spontaneous and fun. So no one cared if we made mistake. Mistakes are a lot more human and interesting.

RS: How did you choose the producers for your new album?
Ultra: I write to whatever inspires me. People send me stuff and my manager solicits stuff from various people. It usually happens pretty organically like that.

RS: You have worked with lots of clubland’s best producers, is there anyone out there that you would like to work with but haven’t?
Ultra: Daft Punk or Basement Jaxx. But there’s a host of others who may not be dance specific.

RS: You work with a lot of great singers on this new album – N’Dea Davenport, Jody Watley, Jill Jones, Lisa Shaw, Renee Neufville (formerly of Zhane’), Rachid, Jay Williams, McKay and Elisa (formerly of Basscut) – what about them have inspired you?
Ultra: They’re all dope artists in their own right yet very giving as creative people. That can be a rarity these days. Everyone wants to be the “star”. They’re all amazing vocalists and writers, and I’m so flattered and grateful that they have worked on this record.

RS: 14 years in the dance music world has probably left you with a lot of stories, what is the strangest situation you have found yourself in?
Ultra: I’m not sure I have one, or maybe it’s not strange to me because it’s just my life. I think being home with my family and friends one minute and the next being on stage in Slovenia singing to a crowd of 2000 people who know every song and love the fact that I’m there. Is one of the strangest yet happiest moments I’ve experienced.

RS: Dance artists come and go, yet your fifth album is about to be released; how
have you managed to stay on the forefront of dance music?
Ultra: I have a lot of people around me who soulfully care about me.

RS: What advice would you share with the up-and-coming dance artists seeking to follow in your footsteps?
Ultra:You’ve gotta work harder than the average bear. Don’t be afraid of change and maintain your integrity

Special thanks to Claudia Cuseta of Maxi Promotion and Bill Coleman of Peace Bisquit Productions for arranging this interview. Special thanks to Dennis Petkosek for inspiration.

Interview originally posted October 2003.

REVIEW: Donna Summer – The Journey

By: Jason Shawhan


It was about time for another Donna Summer compilation anyway. Periodically, the hits get remastered and bumped up with a new song or two, and there’s a new way to look at Donna’s collected work. 1979’s On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volume I & II was an innovative, sorta continuously mixed effort that turned her then four year reign over pop and dance music into a cohesive experience. The Dance Collection, from the early eighties, compiled all her extended version takes of some of the big hits (including the epic 17-minute MacArthur Park Suite), as well as spotlighting non-radio faves like Walk Away (which, for some reason, is not considered to be one of her hits anymore, which is a damned shame). The 1993 Donna Summer Anthology is still the definitive compilation of Summer’s work, featuring the hits that are on all of the other comps as well as several album tracks that deserved more attention (Love’s Unkind, There Goes My Baby). 1995’s Endless Summer was almost a single-disc highlights version of the anthology, and the less said about the chintzy 1998 Greatest Hits and 2003 Millennium Collection, the better.

So what does The Journey offer us? First and foremost are the two new songs she recorded with Giorgio Moroder.

“That’s the Way” is kind of sultry and midtempo-ish, but certainly interesting, even recalling aspects of “If You’ve Got, Flaunt It” from 1977’s Once Upon A Time album (still Summer’s best album and the most essential recording she ever made). And then there’s “Dream-A-Lot’s Theme (I Will Live For Love).” It’s fabulous. It is a hands-in-the-air Hi-NRG anthem that demonstrates the throughline from Verdi to Almighty, and it is certainly the finest new Summer track in some time.The rest of the collection is the hits you know and love, mastered impeccably (though space limitations require a few slightly sketchy fades). “Con Te Partiro” appears to be a rerecording (which makes sense, since Sony still owns the original version), and I still don’t understand why “State of Independence” is considered so damned essential. Don’t get me wrong, I love Donna’s work, but I think that particular song was done much better by Chryssie Hynde and Moodswings back in the early nineties.

There’s also a bonus disc of five extended tracks (damned mechanical royalties), two of which are new songs (You’re so Beautiful, a marginal track Donna did with Tony Moran, and a 12″ mix of Dream-a-Lot’s Theme (I Will Live For Love)), two of which (extended versions of Hot Stuff and I Feel Love) have been available on previous compilations, and, with no fanfare, the 12″ PWL Mix of “This Time I Know It’s For Real,” which has NEVER been released on CD in the U.S. As always with mainstream-directed remix selections, there are some favorites that I wish could have been on this disc. The unreleased Trouser Enthusiasts’ mix of “Con Te Partiro” and the full eleven-minute (Whoever actually did the mix for) Junior Vasquez DMC Mix of “Melody of Love” would have nicely replaced the two previously available mixes, and fans would be just a little more excited, I think.

Like I did with the Dead or Alive Greatest Hits record (and because I’m a passive-aggressive music critic), I also want to draw attention to some other material that should be addressed.

Try Me I Know We Can Make It, I Remember Yesterday, Love’s Unkind, Dance Into My Life, Working The Midnight Shift, Queen For A Day, Now I Need You, Sweet Romance, Theme from The Deep, Love Will Always Find You, Walk Away, Our Love, Lucky, Sunset People, Melanie, Highway Runner, Who Do You Think You’re Fooling, Unconditional Love, There Goes My Baby, I Don’t Wanna Get Hurt, Carry On, and Whenever There Is Love.

That’s twenty-two tracks that you rarely see on any of the compilations, and all of them are classics. If Casablanca/Mercury/Universal (and spiritually Atlantic and Geffen) enjoy compiling Donna’s work so often, why not change the mix up a little bit…? It’s incredibly rare to have an artist with that kind of body of work over the course of twenty some-odd years, so why not explore that catalog creatively?

It’s good to have Donna back and making dance anthems with Giorgio Moroder. No, let me rephrase that: It’s great to have Donna back and making dance anthems with Giorgio Moroder. “Dream-a-Lot’s Theme (I Will Live For Love)” ranks up there with “Melanie,” “Working The Midnight Shift,” and “Love Will Always Find You” among the finest work that the Moroder/Summer team have come up with. Here’s hoping for more.

If you don’t have any Donna Summer compilations – *****
If you have all the classics already – ***1/2

Image Courtesy of UTV