Rhode Island, USA’s DJ Richard has spent the past five years between Berlin and New York. Rising to prominence in 2012 through his co-founded ‘outsider house’ label White Material, DJ Richard quickly gained the attention of the international dance music community. He followed his introduction with a phoenominal debut Grind which was met to much critical acclaim. Since then, DJ Richard released his sophomore album Dies Iræ Xerox and most recently an EP on Flexxseal. We got to speak to the producer about his journey so far.
Hi DJ Richard, thanks for taking the time to speak with me on behalf of Monument. We’re really happy to speak with you. Since you formed White Material, you’ve been in the eyes of the global electronic music scene. Your first album Grind was released in 2015 to widespread acclaim. Did you know it was going to do well when you were making it?
Thanks for inviting me to chat with you! If there is anything I learned from the early attention that White Material received, it’s that I am horrible at predicting outcomes. None of us has any expectations for success (we thought that pressing 300 copies of each record was about 150 too many), so the amount of hype was a complete shock to us all. When I began working on Grind, I understood that LPs, especially debut ones, tend to gain some extra attention from the media, but other than that I really didn’t have any expectations for success. I lost the first version of the album to a burglary when it was about 80% completed, so in the frenzy of recording new material, I barely had time to step back and think about whether it would be received well. I feel really lucky and humbled by the way the album seems to have connected to an audience and am thankful for everyone who bought or supported it.
Grind set the bar high. Do you find that being held to a high standard is something that has encouraged you creatively in your career?
What “Grind” taught me was that people were open and interested in hearing me step away from the club-focused output I had done with White Material. The positive response to the LP definitely encouraged me to push my sound into new directions that weren’t so chained to DJ-playability. I’m not sure if I would consider myself “held to a high standard” but I guess that’s up to other people to decide. As long as there are people out there listening to my music and getting something personal out of it, I’m happy.
You took a very big creative change when you released your second record, Dies Iræ Xerox. Was the style of that record something you always wanted to create, or did you naturally find yourself in that position through musical progression as a producer?
It’s funny, because to me the records aren’t all that different. But when you’re working alone over long periods of time, stylistic shifts can be gradual and almost go unnoticed. With Grind I definitely wanted to strike a balance between exploring and developing my own sound while also referencing the aspects of Dial’s output that had drawn me to collecting their records well before I had met anyone from the label. With Dies Iræ Xerox the inspiration was coming to me from period of extreme insularity and isolation in my life. I was living in Providence, Rhode Island, again, and touring less constantly than I had been while living in Berlin. I think this distance from the techno-club-circuit allowed me to stop thinking about the context that the album would be released under, and instead create in a more purely expressionistic way.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have dance floors in mind, but that I became more focused on considering whether or not the tracks would be something I would play in my sets, rather than wondering if other DJs would. In doing so I felt like my production style became more focused and distinctly my own. Another thing i noticed during this period of time was that I pretty much stopped listening to dance music at home. In doing so I think other unexpected styles and influences were able to creep into my music.
Your work is very versatile, in that it is suitable for dancefloors as much as it is home listening or through headphones on the go. Do you have a certain space in mind that your music would be played in when you are in the creative process?
Honestly it just depends on my mood that day when I’m in the studio. I mean if a track has the buildings of a dance floor track, its hard not to imagine how it would function there. Similarly: it is hard not imagine how an ambient track would sound on headphones while alone. I try not to start a session with one or the other in mind, and instead just whatever happens happens. Trying to bend or force a track one way or the other often ends with me just deleting the whole session. I will say that while working on Dies Iræ Xerox I often imagined and listened to the works in progress as soundtracks to driving through desolate landscapes. I think a common thread through my productions is that I often have visual or scenic associations with each track, often of places that carry emotional weight for me, whether nostalgic or somber or something else. My truck has a horrible, blown out sound system in it, but I would demo a lot of the tracks to myself on night drives through the woods or up into the mountains, to check that the mood resonated with the landscapes, more than the actual mix downs.
When you are in the creative process, do you have a particular goal in mine(such as an EP or album), or do you make songs one by one and then piece them together into a project?
At the beginning of my career, I definitely would record with a release in mind, like “OK I am sitting now and beginning to work on a 4 track EP.” But as time has gone on, this has become less and less of a concern to me. I have lots of unreleased material that’s just waiting for some thread to emerge between a couple tracks and then get released in a way that works for those specific tracks. That being said, I feel like I am shuffling tracks around for a few 12”s. I have been getting the urge new material that would really step away from purely electronic and incorporate a lot of other different instruments and sounds. We’ll see.
Your new record, Eraser, is fantastic. There are noticeable EBM and electro influences heard throughout. Do you find that the music you are currently creating your influences your DJ sets, and vice versa?
Thanks! I would say its a constant back and forth, although since I haven’t been touring much at all lately, it’s more about what has been cathartic or satisfying for me to make. I feel like that EP was the most me focused release of my career, and I am interested in seeing how this internalized focus carries forward. In terms of the influence on or from my DJ sets, I think that as time has gone one, I’ve been able to hone in on and reconcile the sounds that give me the greatest pleasure, both in terms of Djing and producing. Electro, EBM/industrial, dark Acid, wave, drone and ambient etc. Currently I’m pretty much only interested in grim, tripped out moods and sounds.
Do you prefer to use hardware, or software, or a combination of both?
I use both. I’ve never been a gear freak to be honest. I think that coming from a punk/noise background, I just never cared about having nice instruments. I always used the cheapest shit possible and tried to make it work for me, whether that be some busted up ancient hardware sampler or GarageBand. Today I would say my setup is about 50/50 between computer and analog gear. I try to keep my setup extremely minimal, so the computer gives me some extra options that would require a lot of additional hardware components, and allows for to work and record very quickly. On the other side of things, there are certain hardware aspects that you simply can’t get from the computer, so it’s important for me to have a hardware synth and processing equipment/effects.
If you were to have one element of your setup that you couldn’t part with, what would it be, and why?
Very difficult question, but i would say my Juno-106. It’s the piece of gear that I have had for the longest, and every time that I’ve considered selling it, I have found some reason to fall in love with it again. Pretty much every non-drum sound in my music is made with this synth.
Do you have any plans for further releases in the near future?
Currently I am just putting tracks together and seeing what emerges. But yes, probably some 12”s will come out in the next year.
Who do you particularly enjoy within the global techno scene at the moment?
Hmm. To be honest, I feel almost completely detached from it at this point. There are a few labels that I try to keep up with (Knekelhuis, Neubau, Offen Music as examples) because i love what they are doing, and of course whatever music friends of mine are releasing. But aside from that, I really don’t pay attention to or care about what is going on in the scene, at all. I am so out of the loop at this point and honestly couldn’t be happier.
If you had to pick one record that you had to have(vinyl or usb) on you at all times for your DJ sets, what would it be?
VILLan X feat. Kold – Fk 3d20
I can’t imagine there is a record that I have played remotely as many times as this track. Hugely influential to me as a DJ, I feel like I can associate this record with my discovering of what I truly wanted to do as a DJ. Insanely dark, jacking, menacing acid-not-acid track that perfectly slots into the New Beat/Slow Electro/Chicago/EBM/freaky 80s/chugging techno that I love to play. This record always gets a huge reaction from the crowd. I also have immense respect for Traxx as a disk technician. My mind was completely blown the first time I listened to Melvin behind the decks; there was no going back.