Mr. C, one of dance music’s most iconic figures, stopped by for a chat with The Waveform Transmitter to discuss techno, two-tone fashion, and his connection with The Absolute. Enjoy.
To many, including us here at The Waveform Transmitter, Richard West, or Mr. C to his army of fans, has been one of the most influential figures on the electronic sound for decades. From his humble beginnings as an MC in his home city of London, right through to present-day and his position at the head of Superfreq – one of dance’s most innovative labels – Mr. C has consistently pushed the envelope to give us some of the finest electronic music of the past thirty years.
The Shamen – for whom Mr.C performed as frontman – will be recognised by practically everyone who will read this, and rightly so. Tracks like Move Any Mountain, Boss Drum, L.S.I (Love, Sex, Intelligence), and, of course, that one – Ebeneezer Goode – have cemented themselves in the minds and hearts of so many who, for whom, electronic music makes up a huge part of their lives. One only needs to hear the opening bars of Move Any Mountain in a club and you know the party is going to be a good one.
Alongside running his label Superfreq, Richard spends a lot of time on the road. He regularly plays sets across the globe and country-hops like nobody’s business. To celebrate the launch of his new album, Incidents, he is set to embark on a world tour, which kicks off in South America in February. This is around the same time that the first single from the album, Stand Up, will be released, which is due to drop on the 6th of March.
From South America, the tour will take Mr.C to the UK in March, North America in April, Europe in May, and South East Asia and Australia in June. Be sure to catch him if you can – he’s well worth a trek to somewhere further afield if you’ve got to make a journey.
West is just as busy in the studio as he is out of it. In addition to recording the album, Mr. C has seen releases Soulfuric and Liquid Acid released on the Circles In Everything and DJ Pierre‘s Acid 88 albums respectively. With several new remixes expected in early 2017, this year is set to further bolster Richard’s position as one of dance music’s leading figures.
The new album is a genuine case of all killer no filler. It is the kind of album that takes the listener full circle, starting out with tracks that build the tempo slowly, tweaking the central nervous system and by the time we’re halfway through we’re releasing endorphins like a motherfucker. As the album draws to a close, the tempo drops back down and acid-y goodness trickles down the back of your neck, so that the hairs on your neck will be sat bolt upright in supplication.
Our current favourite is Disco Rebellion which starts out as you may expect from the title, the wonderfully dissonant anti-disco vocal striking out against the syncopated drums before a Moroder-esque bassline kicks in with more cowbell than you could shake a cattle prod at. All of this is pre-punctuated by a flurry of claves that sends the mind into hypnotic overdrive. The album is due for release on the 10th of April, with two more singles to follow – Ripple Effect on the 8th of May, and Shape Your Dreams on the 12th of June.
Aaaaanyway, it wouldn’t be right to bang on about Mr.C without hearing from the man himself. Thankfully for you, he was kind enough to give us quite the insight into what he’s all about. So, without hesitation, let’s hear what our man had to say in our first interview. We promised you a big deal, so we’ve delivered one. Have at it, then!
Waveform: Mr. C, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat to The Waveform Transmitter. First things first – what’s in a name? How did Mr. C come to be your persona? Or is that a closely guarded secret?
Mr. C: I’m a Chelsea fan. In the late 70s, CB radio was a new trend that I got into; you have to have a handle (silly name) and living in Islington North London I decided to call myself ‘Chelsea Boy’ to wind up the local Gooners.
At 16 I became a rapper (who also have silly names), and there was me thinking I was all grown up, so I went from ‘Chelsea Boy’ to ‘Mr.C’. From then it stuck as a DJ and producer. Funny, I’m now 51 and still haven’t grown up, and they say if you haven’t grown up by the age of 50 that you don’t have to. Happy days.
Waveform: You’ve seen a lot of success from a very early age, what gave you the push to start MCing? How did that then develop into production and DJing?
Mr. C: In 1979 Rappers Delight by The Sugarhill Gang became a huge hit. I was 13 and loved it, and was immediately hooked. By 1982, I was writing my own lyrics, and by 1984 was already becoming known on the London club circuit as a rapper.
I switched from Hip-Hop to House in early 1986 as the attitude of Hip Hop became a little too aggressive for my taste – for me, rap was all about fun. Later that year I made my first deep house track with Eddie Richards called Page 67 by Myster-E, aged 20, which was released in August 1987 on Eddie’s Baad imprint. After that, I decided I needed to become a DJ to really learn more about the house and techno music that I’d fallen in love with.
So, I quit my job in September 1987 and became a DJ and promoter. From that point forward I was addicted to taking people on a magical journey on the decks and wanted to express both my vocal talents and attitude to house music on record, so started producing more music in 1990.
Waveform: Speaking of production, do you have a particular routine when you come to produce a track? Are there any rituals you like to carry out to assist in the creative process?
Mr. C: I always meditate before going into the studio, as meditation connects me as One with the Creative Source, which always gets my creative juices flowing. Once I get into the studio, I allow the Absolute to take over and simply follow the arrow.
Most of the time it’s quite effortless writing music, almost as though it’s not me playing all the lines and programming the drums. I also always use an engineer, which makes creating music very quick, creative and fun and really allows me to be a writer and artist as I don’t have to worry about driving and can navigate very quickly.
Waveform: Your sound has spanned several decades of dance music, and your sets can often take twists and turns in any direction (Beatherder 2016 being a case in point – you started off with ‘modern’ dance music then went into full-pelt classics). What do you feel defines the golden era in dance music? Were The Shaman an influential part of dance’s golden age?
Mr. C: I’ve always loved new music, as it’s exciting and fresh. I also have a low boredom threshold. I do however have a very fond place in my heart for mid to late 80s house and techno as the music was so fresh, innovative and innocent back then and therefore extremely creative and artistic. There was none of this copying bullshit that most of the kids do today; it was original, so when I play extended sets of 3-hours or more, I’m likely to start to dip into underground classics from the 80s which was, for me, the golden era.
Of course, The Shamen were a huge influence on dance music in the 90s but that influence came directly from American House, Acid House and Techno, mixed with The Shamen’s original psychedelic Indie Rock beginnings. This hybrid was a synergy that was original and unique and what I believe propelled the band to the next level to be able to be the huge influence that it was on early 90s dance music.
Waveform: What artists have influenced you most over the years? Or, like us, do you feel that the Mr.C and Superfreq sound are influencers in their own right?
Mr. C: The musical roots seriously influence me from my youth. Ska, Reggae, Soul, Funk and Disco are all very obvious influences in my production sound. Musical artists that were an early inspiration to me with making music were mostly the 80s Americans with the exception of Kraftwerk, Visage, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the likes.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5, Nucleus, Egyptian Lover from the early 80s, Mantronix and Arthur Baker from the mid-80s, The Belleville Three (aka Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson) were all huge inspirations as was Carl Craig, all from Detroit.
The early Chicago guys like Chip-E, DJ Pierre, Jamie Principal, Adonis, Tyree Cooper, and others were also a huge influence.
Since the early 90s, of course, the genius that is Colin Angus was a huge influence on me, but most of my influence for my music comes from within and from my life experiences. Nowadays I know Superfreq is a very influential label within certain circles and I’m always having DJs and producers tell me what a huge influence I’ve been on them, but I try not to take any of that too seriously as we all have to take our influences from somewhere. It is, however, flattering.
Waveform: You’re one stylish man. Do you think your move to LA has influenced your style or have you always been so avant-garde in your dress sense? You seem to wear a lot of Vivien Westwood clobber!
Mr. C: I don’t think moving to LA has influenced my style, and I was always ahead of my mates with fashion as a kid. I’d say it’s more forward-thinking fashion that influences me. I also don’t think I’ve worn more Vivien Westwood than I have other designers like Alexander McQueen or Hedi Slimane for Dior. I’ve always loved fashion.
At 14 and 15 I was a rude boy wearing two-tone suits, stay press trousers, Ben Sherman originals, a Crombie coat, a pork pie hat and Doc Martin shoes. At 16 I then switched to casual wear, wearing Lacoste, Pringle sweaters, faded Lois jeans, and Burberry jackets as well as sportswear like Fila and Sergio Tacchini.
Then in 1985 I became a little trendier, wearing Benetton baggy jeans, baggy shirts and jam shoes, very Wham style. My mates were all ripping into my “gay” look, as they were all still casuals. A year or so later in 1986 I’d gone all black. Black jeans, black bomber jackets with fur lined hood and back to the black Doc Martin shoes.
In the early 90s, I was wearing Issey Miyake, Dexter Wong, Maurice Francois Girbaud and also streetwear from Daniel Poole, which I loved. This futuristic Space stuff was great for my Shamen years.
By the late 90s and early 00s, my style went more punk as I was getting more influenced by the best designer that ever lived, Alexander McQueen and also that was when Westwood really rocked my fashion world. I was also digging a lot of the Italian gay stuff like ‘D2’ around that time.
In the mid-00s it was the Belgians like Raf Simons and Lieve Van Gorp that rocked me. In the late 00s, the black layered look took my attention. Early Rick Owens was big for me. This decade fashion has been moving so fast, which I love.
My favourites now are the Japanese designers like Undercover, Comme Des Garcons, Yamamoto, Julius and I absolutely love Walter Van Beirondonk, and Raf Simons is so back with a vengeance. The Belgians along with the English have always rocked it for Europe. Way more than France and Italy for me.
Like my music, I like my fashion forward thinking and innovative. I’ve always had my mates taking the piss out of my clobber, but that’s a small price to pay for being fashion forward and it’s not their fault that they don’t get it. Bless.
It’s great that in the last decade and especially since the turn of this decade that DJs and dance music fans have got more into fashion. However, the black layered look or the ‘techno uniform’ that everyone is wearing is sooooooo over and has been for a good couple of years. Get a grip guys.
Waveform: For some time, you owned London club The End, which also proved very successful and featured artists from across the globe behind the wheels. Do you miss the club now it has come to a close?
Mr. C: The End was the best club in the world from when we opened in late 1995 until we closed in early 2009. We hosted the very best DJs from the house and techno world with residencies from Laurent Garnier, Derrick Carter, Sven Vath, and of course myself, Layo and Bushwacka!
We pioneered Drum and Bass and also the more fashionable and Indie side of dance with ‘Trash’ and Erol Alkan. I do look back with fond memories but don’t miss it, though. I have to keep looking forward or, like many DJs from the last three decades will get stuck in a time warp.
Waveform: We see a lot of clubs closing now due to development. We suspect this was the ‘real’ reason for Fabric’s misfortune with Islington Council in 2016, and the same can be seen happening in creative spaces in Liverpool, such as the Baltic Triangle area – some of our best independent clubs are now facing council backlash. Do you think this poses a grim future for the underground scene?
Mr. C: My new single ‘Stand Up’ is exactly about this subject. The greed of property developers and the rich moving into central areas of the world’s big cities is a real affront to our community. We’re in the way of them making money, and local councils and their greed are the main reason for many clubs closing down.
This stuff started happening years ago when ‘Buzz’ in Washington DC closed down, and it’s been happening ever since, but so much more today. Losing ‘The Arches’ in Glasgow was just criminal. Of course, we’ve seen the loss of ‘The End’, ‘The Cross’, ‘Bagleys’, ‘Turnmills’ and many others in London, and it’s down to pounds, shilling and pence. The authorities are trying to use drug culture as a scapegoat and an excuse to close our beloved clubs down.
It’s great that Fabric has got its licence back. I think the council bottled it as if that case had gone to court, for sure Fabric would’ve won, which would have set a new precedent in law and seriously put a halt to the authorities being arseholes and closing clubs down willy-nilly. As it didn’t go to court, the police and councils still have the upper hand, which kind of sucks.
Waveform: Your new single ‘Stand Up’ is due for release on 20th February, with the album ‘Incidents’ to follow on 3rd April. How do you feel your sound has matured over time?
Mr. C: This album is my best work to date. I really dug deep into all of my roots from my youth and you can really hear the influences from Ska, dub, disco, old school electro, 80s house and techno. It’s an acid album with serious retro influences, yet it sounds like the future. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning or that my sound will stop evolving. It can always be better.
Waveform: How does the process of putting together an album differ from putting together a DJ mix, for you?
Mr. C: They’re very different things as a DJ set, especially an extended one, should be a journey and very much off the cuff (depending on the crowd and how they’re reacting to the journey). An album, however, can be anything that you want it to be. But with my ‘Incidents’ album I really did want to arrange the tracks, so it feels like a DJ set – starting slow, building gradually, peaking and then finishing off with a slower track, which sets the listener up for playing the entire album again.
When I made the tracks, I knew I wanted to have 4 or 5 slow numbers in there but only when the album tracks were complete did I think about the arrangement of the tracks.
Waveform: You kick off your ‘Incidents’ tour in South America in February. Are there any countries or specific venues you always look forward to playing when you tour?
Mr. C: Not really. I like going to new clubs as much as I like playing in clubs again. Of course, London and Los Angeles are home for ‘Superfreq’, so I’m looking forward to those immensely. I’m doing South America in February, The UK the first three weeks of March, North America the end of March and through April, Europe in May and Australia and SE Asia in June and I’m looking forward to all of it, no matter where it takes me.
Waveform: You interact a lot with fans through social networking. Do you feel that social media is a positive thing or can it be more of a curse at times – a bit of an albatross around your neck, so to speak? How important is it to be able to interact with fans in this way? Do you think artists should try and remain enigmatic, to a degree?
Mr. C: I love interacting with my fans because they’re all as mad as I am. I like to take the piss, have a laugh, and because of that, I like to promote my label and myself as a DJ in a very hands-on manner with my fans. Most DJs don’t and have people do their social networks for them, but I believe my fans really do appreciate the way I interact and have a laugh with them.
Of course, it is different for different artists. The huge names don’t have to have any interaction with their fans, which is enigmatic and in some cases, as when the artist is a real artist, it does create some wonderful mystery about them.
For me, I’m not a huge DJ due to being unapologetically cutting edge. I don’t copy others, so my sound and the sound of ‘Superfreq’ is not the norm and does slip under the radar. So, I do have to keep pushing heavily across my social networks simply to retain visibility, as I don’t hype ‘Superfreq’.
For me, it’s about having a core of loyal followers around the world who trust in me and what I’m doing with the label to keep pushing boundaries, keep having fun and not sell out.
Waveform: You extol the virtues of clean living and a healthy mind nowadays. Do you think all artists, particularly those on the dance scene, should be following suit and looking after themselves before their brands?
Mr. C: Hahahahahaha, have you seen what I look like on a Sunday afternoon lately?! I do try to retain a balance with an organic vegetarian diet, vegan where possible and due to cancer in my family and try to keep my body PH levels in check with a good alkaline diet.
I drink lots of water, and I do eat well. However, I could be in much better shape and intend really working on that this year. As for what other artists do, I really don’t care. To each their own.
Waveform: You recently started meditation workshops in LA. What brought that about?
Mr. C: I’ve been doing Meditation and Creative Visualisation workshops for over five years now. It was a calling. I was experimenting with DMT one time, and The Absolute kicked my arse and told me that if I didn’t perform my duty to share the Universal information that I’d gathered, that I’d have my powers taken away.
I’ve been meditating since I was 17 and since then have been intrigued with psychology and how the subconscious mind works. It was then that I started to use the power of positive thinking, now known as the law of attraction, along with meditation to push myself artistically and also to find inner happiness.
I studied the ‘Spiritual Psychology of Acting’ with John Osborne Hughes from 2002 to 2008, which reignited my passion for meditation. Even though I’ve always experimented with psychedelics as a way of growth, working with John really gave me a good kick up the arse to get back into meditation.
The workshops that I do are based on my life experiences and the workshops that John does. I highly recommend everyone to take one of John’s workshops; they’re a game changer.
Waveform: Can you give us any pointers as regards up-coming artists we should certainly be keeping an eye on?
Mr. C: All the Superfreq artists. David Scuba is awesome, Dance Spirit are dope, Noël Jackson is amazing. Of course, Jay Tripwire is amazing as are Lo, Stark, Delecate Droids, Jonra and e:machinery, and all the artists on the roster.
I’m constantly on the lookout for new talent and have just found a kid from Mexico called Niño Arbol, who’s a 21-year-old genius. He’s going to be huge.
Waveform: Final question. Were the E’s good(e)?!
Mr. C: What’s all this “were” business?