- Sat, 2004-05-22 16:53
Arthur Baker: 70s DJ, Pioneer of dance music, Production guru, Groundbreaker. His musical style has spanned across soul, blues, hip hop, rap, old skool, dance and indie and he can put his name to any of the above descriptions.
Known for his seminal productions such as Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force - Planet Rock, (awesome) Rocker's Revenge - Walking on Sunshine, New Order - Confusion, and Criminal Element Orchestra –“Put the Needle on the Record,” Arthur’s list of collaborations reads like a who’s who of top quality artists, from Bob Dylan, Al Green and Billy Ray Martin, Babylon Zoo and Robbie Williams, to U2, Bruce Springsteen, Afrika Bambaataa, Lou Reed and Diana Ross. Arthur Baker: Dude, speaks to I Like Music about his music and his future plans.
“I like music…. because it makes me feel alive.” Arthur Baker
ILM: You’ve worked with some amazing artists. What’s been your favourite collaboration so far and who would you most like to collaborate with?
Arthur: Working with Bob Dylan and Al Green was great because these are guys I grew up on as a kid, so to get to work with them was really a special thing.
Working with Mogwai was great, and with New Order. I’d like to go into the studio with Bobby Gillespie. I really like his vibe. And I’ve recently gone into the studio with Alan Vega from the band Suicide. We’ve known each other for about 15 years but never got into the studio together, so it was about time.
To be honest it depends on where my heads at. I’d really like to work with someone like Mary J Blige, or someone like that who can really sing. There aren’t many great singers around now, but I think she’s one of them. I was in the studio with her when I did a charity record a few years ago and she’s great.
ILM: What were the biggest obstacles you faced when you first started out and do you have any tips for aspiring artists on making it?
Arthur: Stay true to the music that you’re into, because there’s room for every type of music. Don’t be afraid of starting small. In dance music people are always looking for tracks from unknown people, and it can be a lot easier to break into dance music if you have a good track. Most DJs I know, if you were to give them a CD and talk to them, they’ll listen to it, like most record labels do, especially on a dance tip, because you never know where the good stuff is gonna come from.
When I first got my studio together I gave people shots if they came and gave me tapes. I actually signed a lot of stuff from kids giving me tapes. It is possible, so you just got to keep plugging away.
ILM: How did school effect you? Did you study music there or did you bunk off school to buy records?
Arthur: I didn’t study music at school at all. I went to an alternative high school that let me do work-study. So I was able to work in a record shop and, as soon as I graduated high school and went to college, I started DJing at clubs. When I moved back to Boston I took a sound engineering course and persuaded the owner of the studio into giving me time to produce a record. So I know it’s possible, because my first break came from a guy who owned a studio, he gave me a shot and put up some money for recording.
ILM: Tell us about the Arthur Baker process of making fine music.
Arthur: There’s no one process. The good tracks came from a combination of really diverse people coming together with diverse ideas, and I think most great music comes from collaboration with diverse ideas coming together. That’s really the only way you can make new kinds of music. So with me, I’m always trying to put old ideas into a new context – seeing ideas that I like and turning them around or working with people who have different talents to me. Collaboration is the way that the really good stuff happens.
ILM: How does it feel to be referred to as a musical pioneer?
Arthur: Obviously it’s a bit of an ego boost. But I think some of things I did way back were interesting and helped move music into a different direction, definitely. But that was built upon by others. It was me and people I was working with like John Robie, and we just filled a space in that time.
We were out at clubs all the time and knew what people wanted. And new technology helped too. That always has a lot to do with new developments in music. The technology now is amazing, so that anyone now can be home and make records. I feel proud, but no matter what I do it’s never going to outweigh Planet Rock really. I’ll always be the guy who did Planet Rock, which is cool as at least I’ve got that one. But that’s why I wanted to do new stuff on the latest album.
ILM: What’s your take on today’s dance culture?
Arthur: I still enjoy going out and hearing a great DJ play music and I still get turned on when I hear a track that has a great bassline, and still run up to ask the DJ what it was. I’m still a trainspotter at heart.
But the amount of money DJs make I think is outrageous. I mean DJs and remixers make more money than record producers, the people actually producing the records that DJs play, so it’s a bit weird now. So if I’d kept on DJing I would have made more cash. (laughs) I respect great DJs like Roger Sanchez and Oakenfold who can get a crowd of thousands of people going and keep them going, but that was never my motivation to do that.
ILM: Who’s your favourite DJ?
Arthur: From the past, there was a guy called T-Scott who was amazing. He was one of the great ones in New York. He used to play at this club, Better Days and he did some remixes for me earlier on back in1979, stuff that still gets played now. I think he’s hot! I think Richard Fearless is a great DJ, Felix and Roger Sanchez – they’re all good DJs.
ILM: Have you noticed any up and coming acts that we should watch out for?
Arthur: Peaches. I don’t think there’s just one person controlling the scene right now. There’s no one band that’s just totally blown me away, although Peaches is really great and she’s one to watch.
ILM: Who are your main influences?
Arthur: I listen to a lot of breakbeat stuff, people like Rennie Pilgrem, Mark Pember, a lot of the guys on my album, I like Timbaland’s stuff. I just listen to 12” records which is what’s been my influences all the way through. There are hundreds of records coming out each week and a lot of them are good. I like the Doves and some of the stuff they’ve done. I really like Ash too.
ILM: What is in your CD player right now?
Arthur: A track I arranged with Mogwai, My Father My King, an old Jewish song we did. Steve Albini produced it and I arranged it with a band, and we recorded it a couple of times and that’s in my CD right now.
ILM: Describe BREAKIN…
Arthur: CD2 has my back catalogue of things I did in the early 80s and there are probably six or seven other tracks I could have put in there so it would be like a greatest hits package, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted people to see me as someone who’s still vital to making music, so that’s why there’s new stuff on there.
I didn’t want to be seen as someone from the past. I mean, it probably would’ve been easier to do a Greatest Hits album, because putting together 12 or 13 new collaborations took a lot of time and effort. And some reviews have been like ‘he should quit while he’s ahead with the old stuff’, but if that’d been the case I would’ve retired. I’ll keep making music forever.
ILM: Future plans for Arthur Baker?
Arthur: I’ve been finishing up this other album I’ve been working on, which is mainly collaborations but more on a rock tip. It’s more stuff I’ve written and had other people singing and playing on. Alabama 3, Ash, Mani from Primal Scream, Alan Vega from Suicide, Fridge, it’s a very eclectic album which I’ll have out next Spring.