There are some artists for whom the phrase ‘needs no introduction’ is particularly apt, and Dave Angel is one of those individuals.
Since bursting onto the pirate radio scene in the late 80s, Angel has been there, done that – born into a music-loving family, his cheeky bootleg of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams in 1989 kickstarted a production career that includes seminal EPs such as 1st Voyage, The Family, In-Flight Entertainment, Seas of Tranquility and Tokyo Stealth Fighter, not to mention remixes for everyone from Echobelly to Orbital, and from James to Model 500.
His Rotation Records label, founded in 1994, provided a platform for artists such as Adam Beyer, Deetron, Cisco Ferreira, Vince Watson, Laidback Luke, Samuel L. Session and Steve Rachmad to hone their craft, and is arguably one of the most influential labels of the past 30 years. His mix albums, including X-Mix-4 – Beyond The Heavens and 39 Flavours of Tech Funk – the latter encapsulating the genre most associated with him – still hold up as examples of a master craftsman at work.
Most of all, he’s renowned for being a one of dance music’s proper nice people – embodying the creative spirit of acid house and bringing a wave of positive energy with him everywhere he goes.
He’s just released a new EP on Radio Slave’s Rekids imprint, Glide/Peekaboo, which bears the hallmarks of his trademark sound, and can be streamed/downloaded here.
909originals had the chance to catch up with him.
Hi Dave, great chatting with you. I reached out to people before the interview on social media to see if they had any questions to ask you, and people were full of appreciation for you. We’re based in Dublin, Ireland. It seemed like you used to be quite regular here, visiting every month for a while.
It’s always always good to go to Ireland. I love Irish people. As a child growing up in London, I saw Irish people and black people get treated like shit, so I feel I’ve always had a connection with the Irish, you know? My next door neighbour to the left was Irish, as well as the next door neighbour to the right. They’ve always been close to my family.
There’s a photo that has been doing the rounds for some time, which you recently shared on your Facebook page. It’s of yourself on the decks and Green Velvet asleep on the sofa from a house party in the mid-90s. I think Eamonn Doyle from D1 took it. Do you know the context of that photo and when it was taken?
I know it was the late 90s, but I don’t know much more than that [laughs]. I always used to see Green Velvet in Scotland, Ireland, England, and what people maybe don’t understand is that when he plays over here, he’s travelled across the Atlantic, a completely different time zone, so he’s knackered. And then he has to work!
It’s the same for me, vice versa, when I go over the pond. I try to get there if I can a day earlier, so that I can get into the time zone and get over the jet lag, but it’s not always possible, I certainly understand how he must have been feeling in that photo.
Are you still in touch with the promoters that used to bring you over to Ireland back then?
Not really, because a lot of that used to go through the agencies, you know?
Over the years, I’ve met so many beautiful people all over the world, and people say to me now and again, ‘remember when you played here and did that’, and to be honest, I can’t f**king remember [laughs]. I can’t remember what I’ve done last week!
But when I get in there and I see familiar faces around, I’m like ‘yeah, man, I remember now’. I remember you and I remember this and I remember that. It just takes something to jog my memory. I’m an old man now.
How did the new EP come together? Have you worked with Radio Slave before, or released on Rekids in the past?
No, this is my first release on the label. The thing is, when I work in the studio, I don’t make tracks for specific labels unless I’m making an album. Normally, I just make tracks and then submit them to my manager, who goes through them and decides which labels they would be suited to. That’s the way we work, and that’s how this came about.
I knew about the label though, because I’ve been playing their tracks. So when my manager said that it was a good label to put the EP out on, it made sense.
I think I made Glide during lockdown, or just straight after we came out of lockdown. I started to play it out, and every time I dropped it, there was a great response, and people coming up to me saying ‘What is this?’ So I was like, ‘We’ve gotta put this track out’. So we sent it off to Rekids, and they loved it.
Is there much new music on the horizon? Obviously the releases have haven’t been as as regular in the most recent years as they were maybe 20-odd years ago and. Are you sitting on lots of stuff?
There’s a lot of reasons for that. I mean, there have been a lot of personal issues in my life, and health problems. I suffer from Crohn’s disease, and I had two major surgeries. I just wasn’t strong enough to do what I used to do.
Plus, there was the whole changeover from analogue to digital, so I spent a lot of time in the studio just learning the whole digital workflow, because coming from an analogue workflow, it’s completely different.
The thing is, for me making music is almost like therapy. It is therapeutic for me to sit in the studio alone, listen to frequencies, play with grooves, and have fun. It is a paramount thing for me. Now, I am back in the studio every day. I have bought new equipment and am about to buy a new computer. This is all I do, I come in and go through my promos, get vibed up, go for a walk, take my dog for a walk, check out some music, and make music.
Back in the day I was just constantly in the studio. I would work at the weekend, so come Thursday I would start working. I would be out on the road, DJing, and as soon as I came back Sunday night or Monday morning, I’d be in the studio. I wouldn’t leave the house. I wouldn’t even get dressed sometimes.
Some weeks I’d have two remixes to do, some weeks I might have more – I was doing a lot of remixes back then. And then I signed a deal with Island Records and started making albums and things like that. So I was constantly in the studio. You know, your friends would come round and they’re like ‘yo Dave, don’t you do anything else?’ I’m like, ‘hmm, well, not really’.
So when creating a track, you are 100% in the moment?
Absolutely. I mean, now, today, with technology and everything, you can make things sound real sweet and tight, with the right compression, the right EQ’s. Whereas back in the day, everything was more fluid.
I try to make things organic. I’d call my kids in and say ‘at this moment, when the track kicks in there, I want you to press that button, because I haven’t got enough fingers to do it’. You know what I mean?
Also, now, I can save things as I go along. I can save all the plugins – everything there is all locked in nicely so when I come back in tomorrow I can just fire up the project. Bosh, there it is. Everything just as I left it. And then I can continue working on it with fresh ears.
It’s easy to sit in the studio and just bash it out constantly, constantly. But today you can go back and listen to a track again, and think ‘you know, the claps are it a bit too loud’ or ‘I wish I didn’t bring the strings in at that particular moment’.
Back in the day, you couldn’t do that. You would go off trying to chase a particular sound, and if you were lucky, you might come up with something completely different which sounds even better than the original.
For some producers, the fact that everything is now available to them, digitally, means they feel obligated to use everything. In the past, less was more as producers only had a few drum machines and synthesizers to work with.
And a sampler. And that was it, man, you know? I had one compressor that I would put over the whole mix. I didn’t know anything about compression and I was just tweaking it and tweaking it. And that was giving me sounds that I had never heard before. It was all about the gating and stuff like that, and it just gave it a real kind of energetic, swinging feel, which I really loved.
But before that, you’re right, it was just straight up drum machines. It wasn’t until I started doing so many remixes that I had to invest in getting a sampler. You know, I didn’t even have a turntable in my studio. I refused to put a turntable in my studio. because I didn’t want to listen to anybody else’s music to get into their sound. I just wanted to do my own thing.
If anybody listened to it, that would be a bonus, but I didn’t actually think about that. It was just about making music. And then once it’s done, it’s done. It’s not yours any more. It’s for everybody else, to listen to and to share and to enjoy. The beautiful thing was that people actually liked my music – I was like ‘wow’! I couldn’t believe it.
For me, music is a way of life. My dad was a jazz musician. So I was playing drums at 8 years old, you know? My dad would be getting ready to do a session – he was a session musician – and he would say to me, ‘I want you to play this beat’. It would become a normal part of my life.
Myself and my mates used to speak about this years ago, about when we were in our teenage years and they were all getting into women – I didn’t get into women until I was in my 20s, because in a way, music was my woman. She made me feel good, she was my girl, you know? And our relationship with never die.
As far as I can go back, I think my first kind of introduction to music was in in the crib. I was a baby and there was a piece of music that my dad used to play for me – Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis. I was a baby that used to cry a lot apparently, but when this piece of music came on, it just put me in a in a zone. My mum and dad said that when I heard that that music my legs would start kicking and my eyes would start fluttering – I would just be engrossed in it.
Even today, if I listen to that piece of music, it just calms me. If I’m having a bad day, or I’m stressed out, or I have no ideas in the studio or whatever, I put that piece of music on. It just makes me feel good. It’s a weird feeling that you just can’t explain.
I want to talk about Rotation. What is the current status of Rotation? Is there new music being released or just remixes and reworkings of old tracks?
We were quite a strong label back in the day, but we only ever came out on vinyl. And a lot of the kids these days don’t know the tracks, because they don’t have access to the vinyl.
At the same time, I played one time with a kid who was using his parents’ vinyl selection, and he was showing me what he had, and there was some Rotation stuff in there, and and some of my tracks. It felt so good to see this kid bashing out all these tracks on vinyl. But at the same time, not all the kids are going to be doing that, because it’s all gone digital.
So we thought it would be a good thing to digitise the releases. The plan is to get the back catalogue out digitally so the kids can learn about Rotation and see what was going on. Some of the tunes are timeless – even today you can still play them and they sound better than a lot of the tunes that were made last week.
Before chatting to you I was listening to some old tracks like Subjective – Tremmer from 1997 and Space Cruising, which was recently remixed, of course.
Yeah, this kid Webbha loved the track, and wanted to do a remix. I agreed and wanted to hear what he had to offer. The track is such a classic that I consider his work more of a re-edit than a remix. It’s still cool, but at the same time, you don’t want to mess with the key elements. I was so happy that he was into it and coming from a younger generation of producers and DJ’s.
We’ve got some new stuff lined up from a few artists. But first, we want to go through the whole catalogue and decide those first before moving on to the new stuff.
I’m not sure about doing a vinyl release again as I don’t have any more space for records, and my wife is limiting the space I have [laughs]. I have records in the dining room, studio, loft and even at my mum’s house. I have a vocal booth that I can’t even open the door to because it’s full. I recently gave Billy Nasty 1,800 records for record store.
Vinyl is not the way forward for me, I’ve got too much.
I saw that 1st Voyage was recently released digitally by R&S. That was from way back, when you were just starting out as a producer. Is this one of your first productions?
Yeah, that was actually my very first production on on R&S. My studio back then was very very basic. It was a a small Yamaha Portastudio, and I would program it up and then wrap it up in a black plastic bag to keep it safe. I had a little drum machine as well, and a speaker that only played in mono, you know, one speaker. That was my studio back in 1990.
I had been doing some stuff for a label called Outer Rhythm – I had just done an EP called Rolling Thunder for them. Renaat [Vandepapeliere, from R&S] liked it and wanted to meet the artist. So we set up a meeting in Belgium. I went there with my Yamahaporta studio and drum machine, met CJ Bolland and some of the other artists, and was welcomed in like part of the family. That was such a good feeling for me, because I had so much respect for R&S. It was the Rolls Royce of labels.
Plus, at that time, R&S had all these beautiful pieces of art on the sleeves, 17th century paintings and things like that. My release had a jewelled hammer, which was beautiful. It was just really special – the whole vibe about R&S was unique.
That must have been a big impact on your career. As your first production being released by one of the major dance labels, it set you up well from the start.
I had already done Sweet Dreams, which was probably my first big production. Before that, I had done some recordings in the studio, but nothing got released. I was still learning. Then I did the Sweet Dreams remix and everything just opened up for me, I became a remixer overnight and worked with the likes of Dave Dorrrell.
The Rolling Thunder release on Outer Rhythm, connected me with R&S, about four releases in. I’d say 1st Voyage was probably my fifth release.
And now it’s been released. It’s great that some of the stuff you thought was forgotten gets rereleased by these labels. It’s amazing to hear it again.
It seems a shame for it to be forgotten. It’s a perfect opportunity to put it out, and there’s other stuff coming as well, tonnes of remixes I have done for R&S over the years. Let’s see how that turns out.
On a purely personal level, I have to ask about 39 Flavours of Tech Funk, it’s a personal favourite mix CD of mine, and a bit of a go-to over the years. Also when I first got my decks 20 years ago, it was one of the first records I got, though it’s probably scratched to f**k now. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the compilation. Did it cement you as the key custodian of ‘tech funk’ – was it the zenith of that sort of sound?
I don’t know whether that was the plan. I was just being true to myself – that’s what I was in to, and that’s what I was known for. I just played what I liked. I’ve always stayed true to my sound, or what I feel is my sound – it’s a reflection of me.
It was such a joyous mix, though. You had a lot of seminal techno mixes coming out at that time, Jeff Mills Liquid Room and Richie Hawtin Decks, FX and a 909, and then you had this. Tracks like Discotamination, the Kamaflage track. That is just joyous disco techno. You could play that now, and people would be like ‘what the hell, this is brilliant!’. As you say, I guess it’s reflective of our personality?
Yeah, absolutely, it’s definitely a reflection of my personality. As I said, I’ll always try to be true to myself.
You know, you can’t fake it. You know what I mean? My son was just showing me some videos of some fake DJ’s and it was just not right. You could see that the system hadn’t even been turned on. I guess technology has brought us to this position right now.
All of those those mixed CD’s back then were mixed with vinyl, you know, and they were mixed live. So you might be an hour and 35 minutes into the mix and you f**k it up. What do you do? You’ve got to start again. And then you think to yourself, ‘there’s no way I’m going to f**k this up again’, the next one is going to be tighter. DJing with vinyl is an art, and it’s a dying art.
Now you’ve got this sync button, and everything’s connected up. You know, even my granny could DJ, God bless her. She could do it a two-hour set.
At the same time, though, Dave, tune selection is key, regardless of the platform, right? The goal is to bring people on a journey, rather than just play the classics or go down an introspective rabbit hole. Ok, the sync button may be a cop-out, but tune selection remains important.
Absolutely. I think you can’t teach that – you either have it or you don’t. It’s difficult to explain. My friends always say I don’t just listen to a track, I strip it down, dissect it, and go into every detail. It’s something that I can’t explain, how I listen to music.
What does the rest of the year have in store for you, Dave, are we going to see new tracks or tracks or re-releases of old tracks?
Yeah, there are more releases coming out, and there’s going to be more Rotation stuff coming out.
Also, I’ve been working on this jazz funk album, this retro sort of thing, for a few years now, and hopefully I’ll be able to wrap that up. It’s a total reflection of where I am. It’s very mature, and it’s something that you can listen to now and for many decades to come, hopefully.
Right, a different side of your personality, I guess?
Yeah. More musical and and more mature, and not restricted to any particular genre. Just good music.
Thanks Dave for the interview. Dave Angel’s new EP, Glide/Peekaboo, is out now on Rekids, and can be streamed/downloaded here.