Interview: Hot Coins

We caught up with Hot Coins on the phone in Berlin to discuss his all vinyl disco Guest Groom and the creation of his forthcoming album ’The Damage Is Done' on Sonar Kollective

Posted on Jan 8th, 2013 in Features and Interviews / By Matthew Bayfield
Interview: Hot Coins Bearded: Many thanks for getting involved with the mix, particularly pleased it was an all vinyl affair.

Hot Coins: I haven't really done a mix like that for a good four years now. My Red Rack'em stuff is generally house and techno, I guess I streamlined what I did genre wise with that, so it was nice to do an all vinyl more old school thing with this mix. It felt like a challenge to do the mix, because it was sort of like going back to my old persona as Hot Coins and working with disco. It seemed respectful to do it with vinyl as I generally only play brand new music on CDs – it feels a bit wrong to play a vinyl rip of some old tune I couldn’t afford on CDR when someone worked hard to pay for the vinyl.

I noticed the majority of the mix is analogue instruments, and there's a lot of the colourful, synthetic George Clinton style.

My favourite aesthetic for disco, and the Hot Coins album, is really the early 80's sort of plastic electro/boogie, new wave melting pot approach. Like the stuff that I guess was coming out of places primarily like New York. I think you can take a lot of records from different sub genres of that area and it works really well, so that's what I aimed for with the mix. I like stuff that has real musicians in it playing really well, like for example the 'Operator' track by Midnight Star, which was played by incredibly classy musicians using the cutting edge technology of the time, or some of the more traditional stuff like 'I Don't Wanna Be A Freak But I Can't Help Myself'. That's what I class as proper musical disco; it's all played by bands and I don't hear any synths on it at all.

For me with disco I just don't want any flab, which is obviously the argument for edits, and I'm a bit ashamed I put a couple of edits in the mix. I wanted to do the whole thing with original 12's. Not because I'm some amazing crate digger, because I'm not, I can't afford to be. I paid at best probably five pounds per record for most of the music in the mix. Buying music doesn't need to be some expensive niche activity.

I know there's always the standardised DJ bollocks of "take the listener on a journey" with these sorts of things but how do you structure a mix like this?

I improvised the whole mix. When I DJ I improvise completely. For me the real job is getting the music right. DJing proficiently isn't such a concern at this stage in my career (although I still crunch the odd mix like everyone). Obviously with it being disco a lot of it is live, so it's harder to mix than house or techno, where everything is quantised, but it's finding and selecting the real good music which is the honest, hard work..

When I DJ I often play brand new stuff on CD's; the selection has technically already taken place because the physical bits will only be the cream of the promos I download for my radio shows burnt onto disc. So when I started this mix I literally grabbed a load of music I thought would sit well together, hit record and went into the mix and did the whole thing live.

What sort of setup do you use for these mixes?

My DJ set up at home isn't great, because I am a bit too lazy to DJ round the house these days. I've got two Technics from 1994 and a DJM 300 with no crossfader... And actually one of the upfader's plastic bits flew off in my room. So I've got an upfader that doesn't even have a plastic bit now.

I'm particularly feeling the opening to the mix, with the really colourful Bootsy Collins / George Clinton cuts.

Yeah I wanted to go in with more of the dodgy things that you "shouldn't play" because it's a lot more satisfying when you get that right. But I'd obviously never play anything you couldn't dance to...

So toying with it and just seeing how far you can take a listener almost?

Yeah exactly. The mediocrity and lack of innovation I see in some people's DJ sets can be upsetting. It's a really privileged position to be in as a DJ and you should always try and introduce people to as much good shit as you can. I try to play as much fresh stuff as I can these days and my mixing style is a lot more raw. I like being a bit more edgy and focus on impact. My DJing almost comes from a more drum & bass aesthetic of just banging them in and being very transparent with my mixing. I tend not to tease tracks in as such. I just like to get on with it. If you’re playing amazing records then why do you need to mix them for ages?

Is it the same in the studio, with the new album for example? How much of that is just your input?

Basically I made the album between 2008 and 2010, but I didn't have a chance to really do anything with it because I was focussing on Red Rack'em. I talked about the Hot Coins album in interviews and things and it was almost like I was trying to will myself into doing something with it. It was just sat on my hard drive doing nothing. I actually had my hard drive stolen in Auckland not so long ago, a lot of stuff on it wasn't backed up properly so I lost loads of shit, and that would have gone too but thankfully Sonar Kollectiv had picked it up and it was already mastered otherwise it might never have seen a release.

I wrote the whole thing when I was in Nottingham, teaching part-time at two local colleges and DJing. I was basically living the "dance music" lifestyle to the fullest, I was really pushing my life to the point where it felt like it was going to fall apart at any second. I was self destructive to a really high level. I suppose part of me was just seeing how far I could push that and essentially it became very difficult for me to live my life. But my way of processing all of that was this album I suppose, as I wrote the whole thing whilst I was pretty destroyed from the intense lifestyle.

Yeah I definitely found the contrast between the almost deadpan delivery of the lyrics and of the course the groove of the music an interesting one.

Yeah the lyrics are almost like me questioning myself and responding to the dance music lifestyle. When you are partying a lot and you don't ever sleep, you're in college on a Monday and the students can tell what you've been up to... They might have even seen you at the weekend you know? The outcome of the lifestyle is you end up with no confidence and you end up breaking yourself down.

The lyrics really jar with the music at first. It's an interesting contrast to get your head around.

I know yeah. It's a very happy, traditionally celebratory style of music and the lyrics are pretty depressing some people have said. And when I sang on the album when I was making it, it was essentially an experiment, I never thought it was going to get to this level with the release. Obviously I could have redone the vocals but I didn't, I just went with it. I can actually sing, especially now I've gotten past this first stage of making the record. Now I am rehearsing with a full band of pro session musicians I have no choice about singing! Take 'Freestyle Lover' for example: I recorded that in my bedroom on a Monday night on a handheld SM58 when I just wanted to cry or whatever and it's just really honest. I under mixed the vocals too because I was frightened to use them, it could have been delivered a lot more pop and upbeat but it's not meant to be that. I want to deliver a kind of left-field, post punk style of album.

Yeah that was kind of the vibe I got from it. At first it was such a strange thing to be confronted with, the contrast.

Yeah, I didn't want a record with that traditional style of singing. That classic pop delivery and singing about having a "good time", it's too much, it's too cliché. I mean, like it or not I think it's fair to say the vocal delivery on the album isn't clichéd. I’m influenced in that respect by people like James White & The Blacks, A Certain Ratio, Gang Of Four, who were all very punk influenced in their delivery. If you listen to Talking Heads for example, David Byrne is not really a very good singer, but the content is much richer because of this.

I wanted the delivery and the lyrics to reflect the content. It's about me being emotionally exhausted and having no energy to function in normal life and the cycle of this going out DJ style life being never ending. It's not soulful, I wanted it to sound stripped down and grey. If I was to compare to something I suppose it would be like a grey speed come down or similar haha.

Was all the instrumentation laid down by you then?

Yep, I played everything on it apart from the guitars and saxophone. The guitar was mainly played by Chris Todd from Crazy P, he came with this really nice kind of one chord Nile Rogers rhythm guitar. It's great too because he's such an amazing guitarist I could just direct him specifically with where I wanted to go with it and he could get it. I produced it in the proper sense, I was very specific but he was brilliant. He did like four or five tracks in maybe three hours. The other guitarist is a guy called Paul Johnston, he is a good friend of mine who used to produce house music under the name Peej on DIY, and he came in with this much more cosmic, kind of psychedelic style. It sounds a bit strange but because they are both producers too it meant I could give them very specific requests and they'd get exactly what I was aiming for and go along with it which just made it a much more responsive way to record. Saxophone was played by Pippa Marland who is the vocalist in a jazz/folk group called Carmina – she was a colleague of mine at college so probably recorded it on one of those hellish Mondays I used to have.

And you’re now rehearsing with a full live band to perform the album live right?

Yeah and it’s amazing how it all came together… my good friend Marcel Vogel introduced me to a friend of his called David Guenther who’s a really skilled classically trained musician and DJ. I can’t even remember how we got round to the Hot Coins album but he was basically the guitarist in the band from that day on. He then hooked me up with super drummer Jens Dohle who records as Ye Solar and ran a label called Vinyl Vibes in the early noughties – I bought stuff on his label in Nottingham years ago and now I am in a band with him – was a bit mad. Jens invited the Ye Solar bass player Steffen to join and all I can say is – I couldn’t have dreamed of a higher calibre of musicians to work with. We are rehearsing in Jens studio which is in the historic Funkhaus ex GDR national radio centre in East Berlin. It’s such a dream to come to Berlin and form a band and play edgy punk funk in an old communist monolithic building. I feel like Bowie doing Low or something! Our first gig is the album launch party which is at Wilden Renate in Berlin (along with an all star DJ cast) on February 16th 2013. We are going to do some low key gigs in Berlin first and then take it out on the road. What is really amazing is that all of the guys are really into dance music as well as live stuff and this is perfect for what I am trying to achieve with the Hot Coins sound. They are all accomplished jazz players yet are also DJs and run record labels etc so all I can say is bring on 2013!

Listen to Hot Coins Guest Groom Mix here