One of the biggest names in 90sChicago house music, Carter was described by Richie Hawtin as 'America's last true underground DJ' in 1994. That seemed likely to change with his debut release, The Sound Patrol EP, on the local Organico label, which attracted rave reviews. A second EP, The Music, was another slice of pure house. It included excellent cuts such as 'An Open Secret', which utilized Chaka Khan 's 'Ain't Nobody' at its base. Carter continues to work in a 'DJ commune' near the downtown skyscraper precincts of Chicago, equipped with a built-in studio. He had started life as part of the experimental outfit Symbols and Instruments, who scored an underground techno success for Network. He was only 16 at the time, and went on to a scholarship at engineering college MIT. Following the EPs he embarked on a project for David Holmes' Exploding Plastic Inevitable label. He also founded two labels, Blue Cucaracha and Classic, and performed live with the Sound Patrol Orchestra.
The Early Days
In the early eighties in Broadview, twenty miles west of Chicago, the thirteen year old Derrick Carter is swanning about on his five-speed schwing stingray gear-shift-on-the-downbar bike, with a radio wrapped around the handlebars. It is the business; flag on
the back, mudflaps and straws on the spokes. He's cruising 'round the coolest
spots, turning the radio up, and blasting out disco. It's pre-house, "It
was the Eighties" Carter recounts. "Everyone was getting over the
Seventies, and there was all this madness going on, even in Broadview. I was
playing records, hanging out, having fun and being a weirdo." Luke Solomon,
at his tender adolescence, was on the other side of the world, living in Cyprus. He'd left Bristol at an early age, lived in the seaside town of
Weston-Super-Mare, and was presently spending all his money on bootleg tapes or
messing around with the new and ultra high-tec VCR his Dad had bought. Luke and
Derrick. Derrick and Luke. Little did they know, but these two were to grow and
mutate into a pair of party animals, whose premier mission was fun and secondary mission was oblivion. Not forgetting of course, the music. Ah, the music.
Imagine the scene. You hear 'Tripping Among The Stars' for the first time and
your head hits the ceiling. Or you see Carter's pierced tongue shining out like
like a siren's beacon from behind the DJ booth, and it calls you to dance.
Imagine someone who, when talking about DJing says, "You have to put a
bunch of images together and hope they all don't see demons and dragons. It's
half butterflies and half bogey-men" Yup. It's Derrick Carter. And like the
chant that floats off the terraces, there's only one Derrick Carter.
Luke Solomon is Derrick Carter's partner in Classic Records, but he comes from
Bristol. He records as Heaven and Earth on Prescription with Robert Mello, and he used to be a fishmonger. He's making beautiful house music as Purple Haze, House Of Whacks, and Freaks, and an aborted remix of the Salon Selectives jingle has formed the backbone of the new Heaven and Earth track. He's mild mannered,
and he laughs alot. Carter is a Libra ("Libra with Scorpio rising. So I'm
an unbalanced sex maniac" he says dryly), but he doesn't celebrate his
birthday. He was born on a Tuesday. It was October 21st 1969, just outside LA.
Around the time of Derrick's birth, Solomon was conceived, and entered the
planet Earth on July 22nd 1970, the day after a baby blonde called Pamela
As a kid, Derrick would recognise records he wanted by the sleeve. He liked
Aretha, and he knew if the record was red and had a big 'A' on it, it'd be Ms
Franklin. "That's how I knew all the Atlantic stuff" he chortles.
"Kids will always find a way." His mother was a teacher, and brought
home huge open-cast reel to reel tape recorders from school to keep him amused.
"It was a matter of entertaining myself, because I was quite a hyperactive
child, and there was nothing anyone could do to make me sit down. I was doing my
By the time he was 13
he had been DJing for a few years and was getting up to undisclosed mischief.
"It was not really like DJing, but I'd rock the parties. I had my little
crates and turntables and tape decks." He crinkles his eyes when I ask if
he had to stand on boxes to reach the decks." "No" he says
slowly, "I wasn't a short child. At 13 I was probably the same size I am
now. I was huge as a child. I hit puberty at 8 1/2 at Boy Scout camp. freaked
the fuck out, and just sprouted. When I was 11, I was 5'8." He'd do
anything to buy records; mow grass, shovel snow, deliever papers, and run
errands for old ladies. "I would clean gutters", he explains,
"anything to buy records. I meet people who have this one glorious shining
moment. It's always this great epiphany that's happened. "I heard House
Nation' and it turned my life around - that shit never happened to me! I had all
the records. People made me be the DJ." In a parallel world, Luke was
falling into the role of natural entertainer and obsessive collector. "I
was always the person that would go out and do tapes. I always try and be
surrounded by friends. Everyone used to come round to my house and listen to my
tapes and records. It was a natural progression. I'm not from a musical family,
my Dad's got horrendous taste in music, so I had to be introduced at school.
Dexy's Midnight Runners is my earliest musical memory." Like many
people, both Carter and Solomon found their way into the studio by accident. In
retrospect the paths are clear, but at the time it was just about partying, and
about having the best records. Partying is a word that comes up frequently, and
on either side of the pond the pair were doing the party thing and doing it
hard. Derrick ran parties in a ballroom under an old people's residential hotel,
and later Luke was to run Jelly parties in a rickety loft in Kings Cross. He met
up with Femi B at the parties, with whom he did one of his first remixes; of JD
Braithwaite on Black Sunshine. Meanwhile, back in the States, Steve Hurley
and all the cool up and coming Chicago heads would come down to the North Lake
hotel and play. They'd send round whispers of the parties, and hand out index
cards with details on them to friends and friends of friends. At this point in
his life, Derrick, like the common perception of American DJ's, could count his
intoxicating vices on the fingers of a clenched fist. "I didn't drink or do
any drugs until I was 18 or maybe 19. I drank a bit, but I wasn't too keen on
that because I did a couple, of times and got sick. I'm still developing my
vices" he grins.
Compared to Britain, where most high profile DJs come from a wasted youth on the E trail, America has a reputation of spawning DJs who don't drink, don't smoke and have fewer stims in their blood than nuns at a donor centre. This, it seems is a myth. They both laugh uproriously at the suggestion that DJs Stateside 'just say no'. "That's not true!" shouts Luke. "That's really a
New York thing. In Detroit they just keep quiet about it. They don't tell anyone they've been partying. In Chicago, everyone parties. They party hard, man. Derrick takes up the trail: "I think a lot of you would feel at home in
Chicago. You can hit the bar and drink till five. Chicago is a big Irish town,
so you can drink and you can drink, and you can keep on drinking." By
1986, Derrick had found a friend of a friend of a friend with some equipment and he started to make "these really horrible records that my mom liked because
I was singing on them. She'd give me the money to go and do these tracks."
He took the tapes shopping to various labels, and rang up Derrick May. He
recounts the conversation. Carter: "Hi. I've got a track called
'Alkaline' that you should put out on your label." May: "Who is
this?" Carter:"Derrick Carter." May: "That's funny. My name
is Derrick and my roommate is Michael Carter."
"I was like, Oh. That's funny." Finally SRO records, who were riding
high on Pierre and Felix's Phantasy Girl', arranged a meeting. One of the
partners, who Carter describes as a "Don King meets Al Sharpton type",
ran a veterinary surgery, and Carter played his demos in an animal clinic
surrounded by rabbits, birds and dogs, and a turtle on the table. They hated his records, but spotted his talent and put him in the studio with his friend Kim Simms, resulting in 'Love Me Right'. "It was really bad, but we sold 8,000.
I got an old piece of ugly shit drum machine and that was it. 'It' being my
first business rip off scenario."
From there he moved on to KMS, where he put out a cut as 24-7-365, before
bringing his friend Mark Farina, and his friend, Chris Nazuka, together as
Symbols and Instruments ("our magic triumvirate"). Again, the
experience didn't pay financial or emotional dividends and Carter went to
college. As a member of the National Honours Society (an American system where
the kids with the highest grade point average get nominated by their teachers
and then attract funding for college), Carter was offered 30 scholarships and,
under pressure, went. Soon after, he got himself kicked out, and went back to
managing Chicago's record shops.
Luke's party initiations occurred in the fields of the West Country, in the
Glastonbury by-product rave scene. They'd roll about in the mud, get dirty, and
follow where the drugs went. Clubs, and their adjacent chemicals brought him
into the house fold, and it's somewhere he's stayed ever since. From working for Freetown records, and DJing in Chicago, to DJing on Girls FM and running
London's Space night at Bar Rhumba, Solomon is the perfect example of how the UK absorbed the house ethic relentlessly, and has merged with the original sounds from Chicago. He's also found that people think he's American. "When
I say that I did that record on Prescription (Heaven and Earth's 'Space and
Time') they're surprised because they thought it was American. It's that whole
UK thing where people think the best music comes out of America. It may have
done in the past, but the scene in the UK is about to explode. We've got more of a history now, and more of a culture." It's only when Solomon talks
about British house that he does a Clarke Kent and goes off on one.
"There's too many fucking people in Engand that refuse to recognise that
there is good music being made here. That's not speculation, I can prove it with sales. I did 1500 records with the Acid Green thing. 1300 went to export and 200 went to the UK." "I'm sorry" he adds later. "It's just something I'm quite passionate about, and it makes me quite angry sometimes."
Solomon met Derrick Carter through DJing in Chicago. "It's a totally
different vibe out there. People are a lot more educated and emotional. It's
just the history, all the kids have lived it, and there's more of a
community." He had been working for Freetown records, and met up with Ron Trent and Chez Damier (who he describes as "a master of disguise". Carter in his infinitely colourful vocabulary, calls Damier a "smoking mirror"), when Ron Trent did an EP for their Sub-Woofer label. He met up with the heads at Cajual, and was invited over to DJ in Chicago for two weeks. It was a move that was to endear him to the place, and kept him on a yo-yo string between London and the American mid-west. "It's totally different to DJing here" he says. "It's the same anywhere you DJ abroad. I've got my little fans and following. It's mad. I love it out there." They had mutual friends and had talked a lot on the 'phone, but finally met up one day in Chicago. "Derrick was living at Rednail" Luke recalls, "and he
picked us up in a van with a Chaka Khan tape on. We had been up for a few days,
going mental in Chicago, and we went back to Derrick's place. That was the
begining of the end." "I rendered him useless" deadpans Derrick.
They went to a club, carried on drinking, until Luke found himself asleep in the toilets. " I knew we'd get on well" says Solomon. "Derrick
parties, and it's the same for me. We party well together." The connections
that have been made between Chicago, and the satelites that picked up the bleeps and bass vibrations of that city's musical heritage can only be positive. "It's nice that it (Classic) has brought the two places together. So many people have got to know people in Chicago, and I think that can only be for the better." Separately, the troika of Solomon, Carter and Chez Damier
were planning to start their own labels. One day, Solomon got a call from Damier, suggesting they work with Derrick who was starting a label provisionally called Yellow Appalucia (it's telling of Carter's colourful view on the world that he names his labels so; Solomon's involvement with Acid Green is just another example of the paralells between the two). Damier will be taking a more covert role in the label. Luke explains: "He's more reserved. He likes to surprise." "We're Tasmanian Devils putting out house music"
sneers Derrick. We're loud and obnoxious" says Luke. They both laugh.
Classic, according to Carter, is all about dreams.
"It is!" he insists. "That may sound sad, but it's more about
dreams than anything else. People set up label and they don't have any other
agenda apart from making money. If they're in aposition where they've got a
little light on them, they're looking to turn that light into cash. Later, he
adds: : Our dream is to have fun. All I ever wanted was to be cool and get
records in the mail. I'm fine." "Classic has turned into a real
media hype," Luke explains, "and that's not a bad thing. We're not
fussed that it's got the hype, because we know that we can live up to the
Prescription Underground is probably Classic's nearest relative, and like
Prescription, much of Classic's output will be made up of the same people
working under different guises. Seasons, Classic's opening long-player, has
Carter in no less than four forms (Rednail, Symbols and Instruments, Oneiro,
Tone Theory), and Solomon appearing under two (Freaks and Purple Haze). There's
the older school such as Chris Nazuka, Carter, Damier and Mark Farina (who
should soon be showcasing his rumoured explosive DJing talent over here soon)
and newer apostles such as Solomon and John Griffin, an 18 year old Chicago
newcomer who Carter has taken under his wing. Characters apart, Seasons is full
to the brim of late night dancefloors, of music that bounces but reeks of
injured souls. The deepest house music that carries soft acid lines and
plaintive vocals, following in the house tradition set by Marshall Jefferson and Robert Owens, but adding the spice of time and experience to its contents. There's a remix of Carter and Nazuka's sensual meander, 'Limbo in Slo Mo', a track that Carter describes as being about vanishing possibilites; a tune that
hangs in the air like a half-forgtten perfume. Freaks' (Solomon and Sound
Industries) 'In The Beginning' lopes around gentle guitars and a pentatonik
intensity. Ludovic Navarre, after the critical and public success of his
Boulevard series, loops like crazy on a classy mix of Rednail's 'Never'. Classic
is music to die to.
The usual suspects will be appearing, but the label is fully behind the home team, as Luke explains. "We're making it our job to blow up people that deserve to be blown up. The main person we're trying to set up in a big way is Matthew Herbert (Dr Rockitt, Herbert and Wishmountain). We'll put out things from Ralph and Huggy, and DIY. We're trying to get people involved that need to be more recognised than they are."
From the UK, Derrick mentions Elliot Eastwick and Miles Hollway's Paper Recordings ("an excellent label") Matt Herbert ("he's fucking crazy")
and Nail from Nottingham. His next comment is classic Carter. "If there are
these odd pockets of realism within the hype and the fluff and the fanfare, I
like to sit in these little pockets and get trashed." If there is any
one high point on Seasons, it has to be Rednail + 1's 'I Think Of You'. Luke
describes it as something that sends a shiver down his spine. "It goes
right though you. There are house records that make me cry" he says.
"I think it (house) has become more emotional in a lot of ways...there's
millions of stuff that sends me through millions of emotions. It's music you can relate to certain things happening in your life."
I Think of You
In many ways, you can see 'I Think Of You' as a reference point to everything
house has been and all that it is. It harks back to Marshall Jefferson's Jungle
Wonz, to Knuckles' 'The Whistle Song' to Adonis, and Larry Heards' 'Sceneries
Not Songs' LPs. It goes further back to BB King, Chicago's master of the
electric blues, Kraftwerk's 'Numbers' and Francois Kervorkian. It takes in
shades of Robert Owens and Blaze, Mike Banks, and now Norma Jean Bell. It goes forwards to Alex Reece and Bukem, and Paper recordings. It's the connection between Ludovic Navarre and Marvin Gaye. It to house what Galaxy 2 Galaxy's Hi Tech Jazz is to techno. And although he emphatically denies it, it sounds like Derrick singing. "It's not me!" he exclaims. "I sing, but not on that." As we were walking down Manchester's golden 200 yards of record shops, to the cafe where we talk, he sings it to himself. I think he protests too much. Like Romanthony's 'The Wanderer', 'I Think Of You' drips with emotion even if the subject matter is less twisted than the former. If house is the current incarnation of the blues, Romanthony's tale of a man who left his wife for a 'jezebel', only to kill her and be tormented by the sound of her wandering soul, is the definitive example. In the same way that Jamie Principle surveyed the dark side of the genre, the content and context of house has always had a dark and melancholic aspect. Someone once described 'Tripping Among The Stars' as 'sacred', and Carter tells me that a few people have told him that they want his apology to a failed relationship, 'I'm Sorry', to be played at their funeral.
"It freaks me out" he says. "Words like 'sacred', and such deep
emotional sensibilites coupled with the emanations from my spare room is really
strange. As an artist, I've always wanted some kind of recognition for my art,
but it still freaks me out." Usually, dance music is associated with
just that; dancing, or a Barry White music-to-have sex to appeal, but there's
something about Carter that has inspired people, as he recounts, to have his
music played at their death. "I don't know how to make happy
records." He pauses. "Everything I've done is tinged with a bit of
sadness. I'm usually more on the reflective, introspective tip." "Oh
well" he sighs. "I haven't cut off my ear or gone through my blue
period, or gone mad....I'm just good at making sad songs, that's the emotion I
identify with most." He goes on to joke, "I'm not trying to make some
Morrisey comparisons. I don't walk round with a silly half-cocked smile and a
crap haircut. I'm just trying to entertain and be all I purport to be."
Luke's comment that Classic was a lot more than music rings true. "I'm into
building relationships with people that I've always be into, and music I've
always loved. We've built relationships through it." Classic is Derrick and
Luke and much more. Derrick Carter once described Blue Cucaracha as a 'summer
label', and as Terry Jacks once sang, in a tear-jerking moment: we had joy, we
had fun, we had seasons in the sun.... Here though, it is all weather fun.
Squaredancing in a Roundhouse (2002) - Derrick L Carter [1 CD, Amazon US]
1. Boompty Boomp Theme
2. Hollow Clash of Marionettes
3. Do You Believe?
4. If I
5. Birthday Song
6. Cats Paws
7. Friends Talk
8. Where You at?
9. New Wave Punk Out
10. All Dreams Collide
11. While Corey Slept
13. Rhythm Machine
15. Squaredancing in a Roundhouse
For those who might not know, Derrick Carter is a true superstar DJ. He swans around the globe, jet-setting from five-star hotels to designer boutiques to the most exclusive clubs and parties to play records for the world's most beautiful people, all because his mixing skills are akin to Michael Jordan's basketball abilities at his prime. Stories of Carter slaying crowds with his Jedi-like DJ powers are legendary, with tales of impossibly long mixes being flawlessly executed passed around the underground like candy. Like the time in college when a friend dragged me out of a club to sit in his car and listen to a jaw-dropping mix of Plastikman's "Spastik" under Sheila E.'s "Glamorous Life" that Carter had just pulled off in Toronto. He's got it like that.
Then he has the audacity, the unmitigated gall to be just as brutal in the recording studio, knocking out red-hot tracks and remixes like nobody's business. So unlike the legions of great producers who can't spin their laundry dry to strong DJs whose tracks, well, suck, Carter can do it both ways — and well. Perpetuating his signature juxtaposition of banging, bottom-heavy bass bounce with spacey effects and trippy vocals (and yes, the boy can sing, too), DJs get ugly like fashionistas at a Diesel half-off sale to get his wax in their bags. I still get misty at the memory of finding a mint copy of his remix for the Beloved's "Ease the Pressure" at a ridiculously low price at the store across the street from MTV's "Real World 11" pad in Chicago over on North Avenue. Sigh.
But I digress. We're here to announce the arrival of the long-awaited debut artist outing from our hero, an album that's been in the making long enough for fans and critics alike to wonder if it would ever see the light of day. Now that it's here, everyone can exhale and let the celebrations begin: It's the bomb, kids.
Opening with the disco dissertation "Boompty Boomp Theme," Squaredancing in a Roundhouse is the rare house long-player that actually lives up to the title of being an album, not just a collection of tracks (or even worse, a sleepy, sloppy mess of "experimentation"). Without betraying the dance floor (or your nerves), Carter exploits his panoramic range of influences, where Prince, Jamie Principle and Psychic TV all happily run rampant. He plays the BPMs like a stick shift in a tricked-out sports car, going from zero to "Oh shit!" in no time at all. Even seemingly simple dance tracks like "Do You Believe?" come loaded with extras, like chicken-picked guitar lines that should have those glittery cowboy hats flying all over the club. Yeee-ha! He makes Principle proud with lots of heartfelt and effective vocals, like on the existentially groovy "If I." By the time the raucous "Where You At?" rolls around, the party's definitely on, and there's still the sexy "All Dreams Collide" and a bumping "Rhythm Machine" on deck. Boompty boomp indeed. --Scott Sterling for m URB Magazine [...]