Paul Woolford shot by Steve Gullick
D: How the hell are ya? Promise I’m not gonna ask you anything about jungle today.
P: You can ask me whatever you like, D! I’m completely buzzing, thanks. All is well here. Been having a ball getting stuck into a set of mixes on a pretty obscure, but excellent house record. It’s feeling like one of those old double-pack 12” promo situations, where you get 2 dubs, bonus beats, various different versions and you can mix them all together. When it’s like this I never want it to end. I couldn’t be happier.
D: Congratulations on the monumental work you’ve just self-released. My first thought upon processing what you’ve done was that there’s no one else who could or should take on this particular project.
P: Well, I sincerely appreciate that. It’s been quite cosmic how it happened. However, I should mention that back when The KLF were having huge hit singles in the early ’90s, I was a snotty-nosed teenager. Even then, I was mixing all the different versions into each other (notice a theme here?) at home on belt-drive decks. Obsession. Nothing has really changed. This is an itch that I’ve longed to scratch for many years.
D: Since this was a total surprise, I imagine every writer on the planet is currently asking you about your own history and personal connection with the JAMs.
P: Yeah, I’m being bombarded, but I’m holding off most of them until January or February, as it’s part of a longer-term campaign. What you’ve seen is the grassroots first emission. But yeah, I bought the KLF’s early releases just before they blew up, and I was obsessed (still am) with ‘Chill Out’ in particular. It’s one of my most-listened-to albums of all time, probably the most, in fact. But beyond the music itself, I think their way of presenting it all, the attitude of it all, has been their lasting legacy. They are both music industry insiders in many ways; Bill from his A&R and management days, and Jimmy from being in bands and working with Stock, Aitken & Waterman (bizarrely). This enabled them to navigate into becoming the biggest selling singles act in the world for a year in 1992 (I think it was ’92), an insane achievement. All of this from basically remixing themselves. They are a case study in combining art with commerce without sacrificing either. It’s like they were too arch for the art world but too proper for the music biz, so they bailed on it. Deleting their entire catalogue at the height of their powers is as hardcore as it gets. Nobody really does that.
D: When did you have the idea for this album? How the hell did this all even happen?
P: This all happened merely eight weeks ago. I was working on a big pop artist’s project (not a dance music thing), and there were some things I had reservations about during that process. So, I removed myself from it. I said no and walked away. Later that same day, I found myself talking to Jimmy Cauty. Bizarre in itself, but our conversation ended up at a point where he said, ‘Do what you want, sample what you want, and then send us it when you’ve made it.’ This, in itself, is a surreal event. I took it as the cosmic hand directing things because I’d decided to say no to a situation that my gut instinct flagged. Saying no to anything can be the most empowering thing anyone can do. Our choices illuminate our path, and in this case, it was like the Universe said, ‘That was right, now this is what you should REALLY be doing.’ Or at least, that’s how I chose to interpret it. And during that time, we lost my father-in-law, which was obviously a harrowing thing for the whole family. This made me absolutely determined to do everything without any consideration for outside labels or the A&R nonsense. Death allows us the clearest perspective on life, which is a wild concept in itself.
D: Whoa, what a serendipitous sequence. And just eight weeks ago?! I would have guessed this was conspired for years. How did you arrange for the prophetic timing of the release date? How was all of this kept secret?
P: It was almost by coincidence, although I don’t really believe in coincidences. It wasn’t a planned thing at all. The date was just getting closer and closer, and then I found myself a couple of weeks away from the 23rd, saying, ‘I’d better crack on and finish the thing,’ because releasing it on the 23rd was simply too perfect to miss. It presented itself, almost as though this had all been cosmically organized many moons ago. There were only about six people who knew about this, including Jimmy and Bill, right up until organizing it with the vinyl production team. I can tell you it was hard keeping it under wraps, but I’m also someone who much prefers to do things and then talk about them, even though that’s a tricky way to promote your work in the year 2023…
D: Where does this rank among personally gratifying accomplishments in your already ridiculous career?
P: It’s probably one of my wildest dreams realised. To be able to say that in itself is quite astonishing. I feel like it all just appeared, it wasn’t a “job” or a task. It’s like it was always going to happen. Wild.
D: Did they (Cauty and Drummond) listen to it? how did they react? Did they have any input?
P: I sent it to them about 20 mins after wrapping it up, and Jimmy was like “thanks, we’ll check it tomorrow on some decent monitors” — I thought I’d be lucky to hear anything back. Then he pinged me about an hour or 2 later saying he’d had a little listen and he was into it, especially the ambient stuff, but that “it’s all great” — I mean, I was fucking staggered. It’s come full circle from my childhood. Simultaneously, a good friend of mine has been working with them on some of their other projects. He was sending me some little snippets, photos, and things of what he was doing, but he had no idea this was going on at the same time. Totally in tandem, yet completely unaware. So, somehow, the tentacles of Mu are extending in our combined direction, which makes perfect (yet insane) sense.
D: What can you tell us about the forthcoming albums you’ve teased? Do they include the next volume of Bedroom Tapes? can you tell us if there will be more KLF?
P: There are currently three more in progress, although it may end up being three and a half. Bedroom Tapes 2 was originally in the plan, but I’m too deep into all the new stuff to be looking back right now. One of them is all insane jungle, with some really soulful setups within the tracks. Then, I’ve been stretching the limits of how tracks can morph and develop. They start out almost pretty basic, and then begin to alter and change/destroy themselves over the running time. I’ve been testing a lot of this stuff out in sets, but the ones that destroy themselves cannot be left playing too long as they are quite extreme. There’s also a whole other bunch of stuff that is pure lush electronics — proper heartbreaking stuff. I’m just indulging every impulse here, purely seeing how much I can make myself buzz. There’s no reason not to. There’s no point in dedicating your life to something and not going all-in, all the way. It’s a mission.
D: You’ve talked about growing up clubbing at Back To Basics and the pivotal experiences you had there, listening to major influences like Murk and Andy Weatherall. For the younger heads and those unaware, could you say a few words about that atmosphere, from your perspective today?
P: Imagine you are in a room at 10:30 PM, where the atmosphere is electric. The music is a subtle, sophisticated house music but also diverse, so a combination of deep instrumentals, gospel house, intense percussive workouts, camp queeny New York dubs, vocals once every 3-4 records or so, and also sometimes pitched-down techno, but always with soul. Add to this the third wave of ecstasy hitting the UK, and people cannot believe what this combination of music, drugs, fashion, camaraderie, pure passion is helping to usher in. It was a revelation. Plus, nobody — NOBODY — gave a fuck about looking at the DJ; everyone is dancing with each other. The whole thing is completely about the people on the floor. That was the middle floor at Back To Basics in Leeds in 1992. On the bottom floor, you’d get a similar thing, but the music was throbbing techno from all the best European imports to Detroit/Chicago/Amsterdam/Ghent bangers of all persuasions, with Weatherall playing regularly, as well as a revolving cast of the finest exponents of high-grade machine funk. The intensity of this cannot be compared to today’s mainstream version of clubbing that we are spoon-fed today, sponsored up and watered down to fuck. Those experiences are burned into my synapses, and I’m always consciously trying to summon something from them when I play. It’s almost abstract, but for those that are really discerning about all the elements for a real party, you KNOW when it’s right… and it is rare.
D: You’re about 25 years in as a working artist, plus your early years as a punter. You’ve always been positively energetic, and today, you remain as spirited as ever. Given the massive workload you take on and the intensity of touring, how do you maintain your vitality? Is there anything you would advise younger artists to practice for their mental and physical wellness?
P: Sleep! I mean, I’ve missed a lot of it over the years, but these days I’m in a pretty strict routine. So, when I’m not playing, I’m usually in bed by 9:30 PM. My studio sessions are mainly from 10 AM to 7 PM at the latest, unless it’s in a collaborative setting elsewhere, in which case it could be anything. Also, exercise first thing in the morning with the sun on your face, anything from swimming to a decent long walk works. This sets everything up. But something I never hear any artist say is this: we are all told by people in the business that we have to fulfill various obligations with social networking. I’m telling you here and now, you don’t need to do any of this bollocks. If you are dedicated to your craft, and making great music, then your focus should be on developing it all and learning how to sign your records. Because it only takes one to change your life. And you can make a record in three hours. Time is precious. It can all change so rapidly. Only do EXACTLY what you want to do and build your own methods constantly, for all aspects of it all. Over time, the stress will slowly disappear and people will recognize you for YOU.
D: You mentioned your upcoming set with us at The Atrium will likely stem from a core of deep house. Anything inspiring that? And, how often do you get to do more intimate settings these days, in which you could explore deeper tempos and ranges?
P: Yes indeed, New York has such an illustrious and pivotal place within dance culture, and every time I go there I find some way to pay tribute to its history in some way. Sunday’s set will reflect this, both in some of the song choices and also in the method. One of my first experiences as a clubber over there was at Body & Soul at Vinyl in about 1995, and seeing and hearing François K, Joe Claussell, and Danny Krivit working their records into a frenzy was a key thing for me, as much as hearing Danny Tenaglia do the same but in a totally different manner. These things have never left me, and small environments are the correct way to lock into this. On Sunday, I’m going to draw from this but also use both old and new music to build on that legacy. I try to do more and more of this type of thing these days, although it’s still a rarity as there’s only so much time. The fact that this is going to be on your birthday, Ramon’s and Vic’s as well is kind of a perfect situation overall… !
Nico Tobón + Diego Andrés
D: Can you give the good people an indispensable book recommendation?
P: Yes, absolutely. Paul Arden was an advertising guru who wrote a small book called ‘Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite.’ It’s a pocket-sized book you can devour in 45 minutes, with each page having a few sentences and then an image. It’s primarily for creatives looking to switch up their ideas, but I used it to change my life many years back, using a lot of its wisdom as methods to handle stress of various types. I can say it enabled me to completely alter nearly everything about my perspective. It’s so simple it’s almost TOO easy, but also life can be daunting, and sometimes we all just need some really basic advice but unshackled from the complexity of listening to a friend. I can’t recommend it enough.
D: Thanks Wooly, it’s always excellent to chat with you.
P: Thanks, Diego, see you very soon!
Grab your tix now to catch Paul, Diego + Nico
in The Atrium this Sun [12.03]