Fred P. On New Ground


Fred P. in Japan. All photos by Albert Freeman

It is fall 2011, the busiest year yet of Fred Peterkin’s growing career as one of deep house’s most watched producers. In the past 12 months the producer also known as Black Jazz Consortium has circled most of the globe on tour and in the process taken his sound in new directions as well as forged relationships in previously unvisited corners of the world. He’d just played Labyrinth festival a few days before, a first for him even though it was his third career appearance in Japan, all of them in the last few months. Now back in Tokyo just two days after the festival, we strolled around the Imperial Gardens in the center of the city within steps from the residence of the imperial family, absorbing the remnants of 400 years of Japanese history, and our minds both wandered towards reflection on the long road that had brought us here. Amidst the beginnings of a typhoon, the wind is gusting, and bouts of rain force us under shelter to look at exhibits that show what had once stood in the place of the sprawling open garden we have been circling.

With the backdrop precisely set, the conversation begins, “Could you tell me a little about how you got started with music?” I’ve known Fred for more than two years now, but he’s not the easiest person to get to open up. “I had heard you started off with hip-hop way back.” “Yeah, it was like ’82,” he says, “One day I watched this movie called ‘Beat Street,’ and the guy was making beats with all of these tape decks just stacked up. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea about generational loss or any of that. I thought I could just make stuff like that, so I went around finding tape decks people had thrown out. After I collected a few of these, I started to experiment with making sounds. It wasn’t really music… you couldn’t call it music. I was just fascinated by how the tape decks changed the sounds and brought out new things that you couldn’t hear before.”

In this early period, Fred experimented with making beats as well as DJing for family and small parties in the neighborhood. When he heard house music in clubs while in high school his interests began to shift towards these contemporary sounds. After finishing high school, he slowly stopped going to clubs, but by now Fred had begun buying records and absorbing the music at home. The two common currencies of mid-1990s New York: hip-hop and house music. I’m already scratching my head and wondering how he moved forward from such humble beginnings. He offers, “I have this cousin, and one day he found this ad in the Village Voice where we could get studio time at a real studio. We didn’t have a studio or anything, it was all a hustle, but in this time record companies were just giving away money to try to bring up new talent. We didn’t even have a demo or a finished song….” Amazingly, they were accepted, and after a few sessions the engineer in charge was impressed with Fred’s dedication. “He liked that I had this kind of passion for it. Even if I didn’t know the rules, I was really trying to learn them and make something.”


Fred P. playing Labyrinth festival

It turned out to be the winning point for his character because shortly afterwards the engineer took the young initiate under his wing. “He taught me how to put things together: chords, how to build a song, how to structure it, how to make it sound good when you recorded it.” Finally with this background in place, Fred was ready to give it a try on his own. He bought his first studio equipment: a TASCAM Portastudio, a Korg 01/W, an old 12-track mixing board, a Sony DAT machine, and a beat machine. By 1993, he had earned his first credit for rhythm programming on an album for jazz violinist Noel Pointer; it would be his only credit for years to come. Back in the studio with the cousin that had started things off, it had taken time to get things together, but by 1994 the duo had assembled a demo and were shopping it around to labels. “There was this one label, they were ready to sign us. Remember, this was back in the day when there was money in the industry. We were offered a quarter of a million dollars… we couldn’t believe it. To two dudes from Brooklyn then, that was a lot of money on the table. I had no real idea what I was going to do with it. I thought I would build a proper studio and then use the rest to help my family.”

He continues, “Long story short, the deal fell through”, says Fred. “I was devastated. I sold all of my studio gear, my turntables. I didn’t want to have anything to do with music after that. I got a job working security, and I spent the time not working partying.” After years of inactivity, Fred’s demons began to get the best of him. Not taking care of himself and not suited for the kind of work he was doing, depression began to set in; although he kept his records and continued to listen to them, the bitterness of his first experiences in the music industry kept him from trying that route again. By 1998, things had reached a critical point, and a chance encounter with friend Jay Locke on his way to work began a series of events that would produce dramatic changes. “He could see that I was really depressed. Things weren’t good. Jay has been a DJ for more than 20 years, and he had just come back from Paris with all of these new tracks of broken beat and that early nu jazz. He’d come to my work every week and bring me mixtapes. That’s a true friend right there. It really saved me. It was the most beautiful music I ever remembered hearing then.”


Part of the garden in which the interview took place

Inspired again by these new sounds, Fred decided to buckle down and rebuild his studio, but this time around he chose to work entirely on his own. He also took up DJing once a week just for practice and fun at Jungle Sky in West Village. “I’d come around on my nights off. I think it started on Thursdays first, then I moved it to Tuesdays.” It was 1999 when he finally made the beginnings towards the new studio. It took time to get it going with the immense expense of outboard gear, but eventually he managed to collect an Akai S2000 sampler, a Boss DR-202 beat machine, and a Roland 840 hard disk recorder. It wasn’t much, but after refreshing on what he had learned the first time around and taking inspiration from the music Locke had been giving him, Fred decided to take another chance at producing dance music. “I was trying to do something between nu jazz and house. I liked the simplicity and the straightforwardness of house, how it has that hi-hat that keeps it moving. But I also liked the looseness and swing of the nu jazz stuff, and how it was more musical. So I tried to make a combination of these two things.”

After starting to show his new work around in 2002, he again began to get some positive feedback from labels, but at the same time other situations conspired to keep things from going smoothly. Now burning his candle at both ends with work and production, as well as continuing to party harder than he could maintain, Fred began to fray around the edges. Again a label showed interest and coached him towards release on one of their sub-labels, but again the deal fell through at the last minute. Although it didn’t have anything directly to do with the loss of the record deal, a lull between surges in the underground dance scene in New York added inertia to the situation. “Nu jazz never took off in New York. It should have been the same as house, just as big as that, but the people controlling the parties didn’t want it and the promoters didn’t know how to sell it.” With no way to press forward in music and with pressure bearing down from all directions, he decided to quit his job. “I couldn’t take it anymore, but really things got even worse then. I was temping, and the rest of the time I spent trying to make music but now had no hope of ever trying to put it out. I was just doing it for me at this point. I had given up.”


Fred P at Labyrinth festival

His new situation eventually disintegrated, and soon enough Fred found himself living at home, drinking heavily and without steady work or horizons for his music. Simply out of frustration he began to release the new tracks on go-nowhere Internet labels out of some form of masochism and in full awareness he was making no progress towards proper releases. In spite of this, he kept recording entire albums that he kept solely for himself and upgraded his studio gear when possible. Finally in 2007 Fred decided he’d make one final stab at getting out of the rut that had been haunting him for years. This would prove to be his breakout a few months later, but at the time he imagined it entirely differently, “I was giving up. I’d had enough.” Fred laughs as he speaks about it now, but it’s clear that the situation was grave. “I took the best tracks from these three different albums I had done; that was RE:Actions of Light,” Soul People Music’s first physical release and a CD album originally intended to be his farewell to the music making business. Rather than vanishing without a trace like his previous efforts, it earned him his first professional DJ spot in New York playing for E-Man’s Deep See night, as well as attracting the attention of underground house figure Jenifa Mayanja, who soon asked Fred for a remix. “Jenifa was a resident of a party called Hamsa I used to attend religiously back in 2002. I would not go anywhere, but I would go there. The best party ever, and nothing else since then has even come close!”

It was also around this time that Jus-Ed came into the picture. Fred had met Ed through Jenifa, Ed’s wife, after doing the remix for her, and when Ed heard Fred’s music he enthusiastically began playing tracks on his radio show. With Underground Quality already receiving some notice in New York and his radio show having earned a worldwide audience, it did not take long for word to spread. The heat was finally on in some small way, and taking his cue Fred assembled the first vinyl release for his label, God’s Promise, featuring remix work from Jus-Ed and Mayanja. It turned out to be an underground hit record of sorts and subtly steered the course for the future. Fred emphasizes Ed’s importance in the equation, “I owe Ed big time… he set me straight. He’s like the big brother I never had and never met until I was grown. He helped me put my life in order, encouraged me to continue, and showed me what it takes to be a professional touring DJ.” Fred’s debut solo 12″, the aptly titled No Looking Back EP, received airtime through Ed and thereby picked up support from a radio DJ in Germany named Tanja Harde, who offered to bring him over the Atlantic to DJ a party in Offenbach. “I’d only played one professional gig in New York,” Fred attests, “and here I was in Germany all of the sudden.” Move D also heard the EP from one of the radio shows, and the noted underground producer was influential in earning Fred another date in Germany in Moufang’s own hometown of Heidelburg.


Part of the garden in which the interview took place

Although things were by now looking up, Fred hadn’t moved past the darkness that had been lurking inside him, and he admits to making a considerable misstep with his follow up, the 4th Dimension EP. “It was an egotistical record, ” he says. “Right now, people want it, but at the time they didn’t get it. They sent me back half of the boxes from the distributor. That was bad — I hadn’t made anything on the record.” He hadn’t helped himself by leaving off all of his contact information from the releases and thereby preventing people from getting in touch for bookings. With the records originally meant to be last-ditch gasps before throwing in the towel, the accidental discovery of an audience for the music was an eventuality Fred had not planned for. With additional pressures building now that there was actually a demand for new music from him, the party lifestyle that had hung in the background for so long during these developments began to catch up with him.

Feeling himself unraveling and needing more clarity to deal with the increasing pace of events, Fred finally decided that sobriety was the next step and discarded the unnecessary baggage. He also made a record that expressed the pain of going through these trials, and if the New Horizon EP still stuck closely to the sound his audience had come to expect from him, the thematic titles on it dealt bluntly with pulling back from the edge and his new vision for his future. It was also his next success, and according to Fred there’s been no looking back since then. While he confesses to being a “workaholic,” in his words, it’s likely that the load he took on himself since 2008 would be enough to keep anyone busy: two more acclaimed full albums released on his own label plus more EPs, a continuing series of compilation EPs featuring acclaimed friends like Levon Vincent, Move D, DJ Qu, and more, a growing number of remixes for other artists spread across many other imprints, and of course all of the mixes, podcasts, and other promotional work that keep touring DJs busy.


Fred P. in the garden

Coinciding with the release of his most recent album last year he’s also spent much of his time on the road, and it was only this past spring and summer in between consecutive trips abroad that he found time to put out the long-delayed Structures EP on his label as well as strengthening his relationship with Japan’s Mule Musiq with the release of a rare solo EP not on his own label, an honor he’d previously reserved only for Hamburg’s Laid. While it seems like a big step for him, Fred insists that it developed naturally, and he’s taken his recent successes in stride while continuing to release some of his strongest material to date.

With Fred P’s sound now firmly in place for his expectant audience, he feels it’s time to shake things up a bit. His DJ sets, very notably the one at Labyrinth, have certainly begun to look further afield, and he says it’s time to branch out in the studio as well. “First is going to be Earth Tones 3. I’m also going to keep the Fred P thing going,” he says, “but there’s going to be other different stuff too. The next project as Black Jazz Consortium is a mostly vocal house record with singers. I’ve always wanted to do it but never found the chance until now. It just came together finally and I had the chance to get it done and get it out.” It’s a theme that repeats itself in Fred’s way of looking at things.

He suggests that afterwards listeners will hear a purely techno project from him; it’s not completely a surprise considering it’s so frequently found in his recent sets. “There’s also going to be other new projects and releases by other artists on the label.” If his recent C.O.M.E. compilation is any indication, these ideas are off to a promising start. Featuring talent both new and known, a collaboration with Aybee of Deepblak, and an undisclosed number of new aliases for Fred, it follows up other recent co-productions with Jonah Sharp and Move D and finds him broadening his base with a list of names old and new. With a full slate of releases for his label as well as more of the familiar “Fred P Reshapes” set to surface, the future continues to look up for one of New York’s brightest current stars. Stay focused, act natural, and go with the flow: it’s an approach that has served him well, and we can look forward to more as Fred P continues to move forward onto new ground.

stu  on October 19, 2011 at 1:40 PM

The first 30-40min of fred’s freerotation set were my highlight of the weekend; the way the he left a 4 or 5min gap after soulphiction finished, then just developed slowly with such patience and care, through records such as BJC – Mind in Flight and Move D – Aspiration. as a lesson in djing it was very inspirational for me.

@Albert: ‘His DJ sets, very notably the one at Labyrinth, have certainly begun to look further afield’ what sort of influences do you mean? and what was the labyrinth set like? i was very curious as to how fred would play.

Jim BobMcSlaughterhouse  on October 19, 2011 at 3:44 PM

‘It is what it is’ is vastly underrated, needs way more props.

Its an undisputed all time house classic in waiting.

aybee  on October 19, 2011 at 11:55 PM

…my Brother…

lerato  on October 20, 2011 at 3:18 AM

go fred !!!!

Chicago Skyway  on October 20, 2011 at 7:38 AM

Alright! Alright! Fred, Do that shit!

DJ JUS-ED  on October 20, 2011 at 9:16 AM

Sup bro! very proud of you!

gema lopez  on October 20, 2011 at 11:28 AM

You are now…listening…to…………Soul People Music………

Amir Alexander  on October 20, 2011 at 2:31 PM

Great interview! It helps to know that with hard work, and a little luck here and there, that sometimes unknown artists who are completely dedicated to their craft(s) get the opportunity they deserve to help enrich the culture we all love. On the flip, it’s very sad that many artists quit, and or become suicidal (many times) before they achieve any notoriety (most never do). Who is anyone to say that the unknown you just met won’t be the next Ron Hardy.
Keep it up Fred. The streets is watching.
Peace

peter  on October 21, 2011 at 2:34 AM

great story of a great guy, thanks, LWE

Andrey Radovski  on October 21, 2011 at 9:16 PM

Wow this is a great inspiration – NY style. Glad you made it through, Fred!

nubian mindz  on October 22, 2011 at 12:52 PM

A legend in the making. Keep up the great work and it’s inspiring to hear someone perservering against the trials and tribulations of everyday life to come out the other end with a very bright future ahead.
Much respects due.

Yuval  on October 22, 2011 at 1:35 PM

thank you for the inspiring story Fred, I really didnt know the hill was full of wrong paths and sand minds when you visited here.

Lola  on October 22, 2011 at 5:37 PM

wonderful interview…keep building fred

Scotty F  on October 23, 2011 at 7:19 AM

SUPER SOLID!

BSU  on October 23, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Inspirational read Fred. Onwards and upwards!

Peter Skovgaard  on October 23, 2011 at 12:46 PM

I have to agree with “It is what is it” – it certainly is a very good track. A Fred P favorite for me.

Thanks for the interview – good read.

nilmmns  on October 23, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Freds one of the best producers around.

Florent  on October 24, 2011 at 3:34 AM

Very inspirational interview! Much love and respect!!!

Jonas Edenbrandt  on October 24, 2011 at 7:42 AM

Wow that was inspiring!
Keep making that music!

Blaktony  on October 24, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Indeed Inspiring; so glad your dreams came true. Proud of you,Bruh….i feel ya’….but you stuck 2 your game & we’re all better 4 it.

Ruari  on October 24, 2011 at 9:28 PM

Just like a Fred P set, this was a journey.

Bill Cartwright  on October 25, 2011 at 4:02 AM

Don’t have anything to say that’s not been said already, so I’d just like to add that this was a great article.

boe  on October 25, 2011 at 7:16 AM

great interview, a humbling read and a true legend. inspiration for everyone!

caseroc  on October 25, 2011 at 10:44 AM

very inspiring and super motivating. love fred’s music.

Biggie  on October 26, 2011 at 6:40 AM

an awesome read, much respect.

Michael Zucker  on October 27, 2011 at 8:53 AM

Fred is one of the nicest fella’s out there also! Beyond that he is one the best producers I know and he is class act.. Thanks Fred

Mistor  on October 27, 2011 at 5:03 PM

Very very inspirational story ! It goes to show that you should never give up on your dreams ! Legend in the making – Fred P.

Anthony David  on October 29, 2011 at 8:29 AM

Keep building…

blub  on November 1, 2011 at 12:13 PM

KEEP BUILDING

ALL THE TIME

PeteBlas  on November 2, 2011 at 5:17 PM

Real great interview! In this one i can know more about Fred P. REAL DEEP!!

Read this its an inspiration for me!! Thx for that!! Big love to Fred and LWE!!

al blayney  on November 8, 2011 at 9:02 AM

This is Freds Time. Easily one of my favourite producers in the last few years. Delighted hes got the limelight…..at last : )

Lenny Posso  on July 26, 2012 at 8:54 AM

Rock on Fred! Mad respect!

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(TAL080) Fred P. aka Black Jazz Consortium - Trace A Line  on April 13, 2012 at 5:54 AM

[…] et son imposante discographie ne semblent plus nécessiter aucune présentation, on vous conseille cet article fleuve de LWE consacré aux vingt dernières années de sa carrière, qui nous permet d’en savoir un […]

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