New York: nowhere else in the world is multiculturalism more on display than the city where over 130 languages are spoken. The musical landscape of the city is no less diverse, and the duo of Runaway (Marcos Cabral and Jacques Renault) could easily be one example of the “melting pot” theory. Cabral is a longtime fixture of New York’s techno scene, working at both Sonic Groove and Satellite Records (both sadly long since closed) and getting his production start on Traum’s Trapez sub-label. Jacques Renault meanwhile cut his dance music chops in Chicago as a drum and bass DJ and buyer for Gramaphone Records before relocating to New York and meeting Cabral. The two distill their diverse musical lineages into house tracks as Runaway, producing hits such as 2008’s piano-led “Brooklyn Club Jam” and last year’s “Indoor Pool.” The latter launched Throne of Blood sub-label Let’s Play House, the new label arm of Renault’s series of parties thrown with Nik Mercer, and as a pair, Cabral and Renault run On The Prowl, a platform for both themselves and friends, as well as the edits label Party Breaks. LWE caught up with the Runaway boys to talk about their individual projects, New York’s party landscape, and dude apartments filled to the brim with records and drum machines. Cabral also contributed our 117th podcast, a sterling hour of analog house both new and old.
LWE Podcast 117: Marcos Cabral (55:00)
01. Jack-Tronic, “Windy City” [Peacefrog]
02. Blue Maxx, “Smooth Landing” [Synewave]
03. Skudge, “Man On Wire” [Skudge]
04. MRSK, “Close To Me” [Rush Hour Recordings]
05. Rok & Jonzon, “The Lure” [Space Teddy]
06. B-Tracks, “The Next Step” [Supply Records]
07. Ingram & Wesley, “Sans Snare” [Hamilton Dance Records]
08. Rob Lenarduzzi, “Basement” [Jack]
09. Baby Pop, “Deep Techno” [Relief Records]
10. DX, “House Night” [Reflection Music]
11. James Duncan, “Shades Of House (A1)” [Real Soon]
How did you each get into house music originally?
Jacques Renault: I first started music playing classical music. I grew up playing the violin and then the viola, then started getting into jazz and punk rock. I always recorded with the four-track, playing all the instruments, and then it wasn’t until 1997 that I discovered dance music. I saw DJing as something I could do on my own and I dabbled with recording dance music throughout college. I didn’t really get into it until I bought Ableton. I knew Marcos [Cabral] from the record shop; we met at Sonic Groove, and I’d go to his shop every week. I knew he had done a couple techno records, and I knew he knew the program, and I was like, “Hey, I bought Ableton. Let’s work on a couple things.” And the first couple songs were our first couple records. Then it just kind of went from there.
How about you, Marcos?
Marcos Cabral: I started collecting records when I was a kid. My father’s a record collector, and he would take me to buy records like once a week. So I started probably when I was, like, seven or eight, going to the store and picking out a record once a week. And then by the time I was 14 or 15, I had a summer job at a Catskill resort, and I started DJing there at the teen disco. It was maybe 40 people in a tiny room. I would play hip-hop, house, and freestyle — like New York Latin freestyle — and from there, I guess by the time 1991 came around, we started going to parties in the city. We started going to raves: Limelight, N.A.S.A. (which was The Shelter). For those couple years, I was super into raves, you know, raving on the weekends, going to the Manhattan clubs during the midweek. So going out a lot. And then I started getting more serious about DJing. Up until that point, I never had turntables at home, aside from one turntable. But I think a bought a turntable — a pair of [Technic] 1200s — in maybe ’93? And even when I bought them in ’93 I felt like I was too late. [laughs] But I was like, “Ah, I’ll just buy it anyway. I’ll play around at home.” From there I eventually moved to the city and started working on music, working on techno. I produced some records for the German label Trapez, which is in Cologne. And then from there my tastes started changing, and I became more into house, disco, and became a little more open-minded, musically. I’ve always wanted to work on music since I was in high school. I think back then I thought about hip-hop and sampling. And then it became more dance oriented later on.
So then the two of you met at the record store.
MC: Yeah, I was working at Sonic Groove, and Jacques was a customer.
JR: We were friends for years, and then we didn’t start producing until 2007.
MC: Yeah, it’s like common interest in music.
So it’s safe to say that vinyl seems to be pretty important for you guys.
MC: Yeah, definitely.
JR: Oh yeah, definitely.
What are the particular reasons that makes you so drawn to it?
MC: For me, it sounds better. That’s the biggest thing. I mean it is a pain in the ass to carry, compared to a USB stick or CDs, but it does sound better, and since I’ve been playing records for so long, I’m super comfortable with it.
JR: For me, records are a timeline of my life. With pretty much every record I’ve ever bought, I remember where I was, what was happening. So I like it — it’s like an archive too. It’s not a file that you put on your desktop. You’re constantly collecting — and I was in denial for years about being a record collector. When you’re in art school you have to sell something to get something. But then you don’t want to lose things; you want to archive everything. It really is a timeline of you life.
MC: You have quite a bit of records.
JR: I have too many.
MC: I think you have more than I do.
JR: I got rid of some too.
MC: Yeah, I’ve gotten rid of a lot. When I worked at Sonic Groove I got rid of all my gabber and hardcore. [laughs] I was like, “Eh.”
You don’t think you’re going to be playing that out too much?
MC: But I almost regret it, just for, like, being nostalgic, you know?
JR: Well, I boxed up all my drum and bass records. Because I started off playing drum and bass. And I literally just boxed them up — didn’t get rid of them. What am I going to do? But one of these days, I’ll bring them out.
MC: We sampled —
JR: One, actually. We did for one of our biggest records, actually, which is pretty funny. But we won’t say.
It seems like you guys started out with very diverse interests. Jacques, you started playing classical stuff, you also mentioned punk rock; Marcos you mentioned hip-hop: do you think these things inform your productions today?
MC: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve always thought about sampling, since I was a teenager. You know, the idea of cutting themes up and looping them and rearranging them. So I mean, I think about it now too when I work on music. It’s not so different.
Well, and with the “Party Breaks” series, it’s very much about –
MC: Yeah, it’s sample based.
JR: Party Breaks was just meant to be another outlet, and then it turned into it’s own thing. It’s sample based, but instruments are played, and a lot’s going on.
How did your label On The Prowl start?
MC: Well, we started building up tracks that we didn’t really know what to do with: didn’t know what labels to give to, or whatever. I’ve always wanted my own record label. We wanted to give it a shot, and it came together pretty easily because we had all these extra tracks that we were working on, and we approached Above Board Distribution to help us out, and we just hit it off with them, and now we have our own label.
JR: Yeah, it was kind of like our own outlet for our own sound. And then it turned into us getting demos and getting excited about music and having our friends involved.
MC: I mean at first we were just like, “We’ll just put out our own tracks only.” Just as, like, an extra outlet, you know? But then we started getting demos from a lot of people. We get demos every single day.
JR: Yeah, SoundCloud really changed a lot of the approach.
MC: It makes it easy for people to just give you a link to their SoundCloud page. “Look at it. We like your label. What do you think?”
Do you like breaking new artists?
MC: It’s hard. You know what I mean? Like, if you have a new artist that nobody’s heard of, it is hard to sell, but I think in the grand scheme of things, if the music is good, it’ll reflect on the label as a whole. So even if it doesn’t sell well and the next release does, I think it’s OK.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how vinyl is in a resurgence. People talk about it in more mainstream, like, rock culture, but then also in dance music you see more people enjoying vinyl again. Have you seen that with your label?
JR: With every crowd it’s different. Like you said, with the rock stuff. People physically want a rock LP or a 7″. In dance music, I don’t know.
MC: In dance music, I would honestly say no. I hate to say no, but — but I do feel like the vinyl sales have leveled. Do you know what I mean? They’re not still plummeting; they’ve leveled off. But that’s for dance music. I would say for rock and other genres, it’s gone up because of the death of the CD. Now there’s really no more CDs — so people are like, “Oh, you know, the vinyl for Abbey Road is more tangible and better sounding. I’ll buy that, now that I’ve sold my CDs.” I even heard that Best Buy has a vinyl section now. But it’s for popular indie rock and back catalog of popular stuff.
You two also seem to have a love for analog gear. I hear it in your productions as a duo; I definitely heard it on [Marcos’] Long Island Electrical Systems record. The 707 really was very tangible.
MC: Yeah. Super analog record, yeah.
Do you guys really have this love for the analog gear? Or is it just a means to an end?
MC: Well, first we started off sampling a lot. We had close to no gear at all. I mean Jacques, I think, had, like, a keyboard or two?
JR: I had a 106 and an Alpha Juno, and we didn’t even use the Alpha Juno. [laughs]
MC: Yeah, but — so it was mostly sampling. And then all of a sudden, I don’t know what happened, but —
JR: It clicked.
MC: Something clicked with buying old gear, and I was totally obsessed for a while. Like, checking Craigslist every single day. And now, between the two of us, both of our studios at our house are just filled. You know, I probably have, like, a dozen keyboards in my apartment.
JR: And he lives with Ron Morelli.
MC: And I live with Ron Morelli, who also has another dozen synths in our apartment. So my apartment is, like, 20,000 records —
JR: Total dude apartment.
MC: And over 20 vintage synthesizers.
And in New York I’m surprised that you’re able to have the space for that.
MC: I have a big apartment. [laughs]
Runaway: Marcos Cabral and Jacques Renault. Photo by Jenny Mortsell
I want to talk a little bit about New York. You guys are still here. Which, in dance music, is almost odd because everyone seems to eventually go to Berlin or go elsewhere. What keeps you here?
MC: My cat. [laughs]
JR: I love New York; I don’t want to live anywhere else. We travel a lot, and we’ll have a month in Europe to travel around, be based in Berlin or London, whatever. But it’s tough: I don’t want to live anywhere else. I love it that it’s crappy and snowing outside.
MC: I stay because I like New York. I’ve lived my entire life in New York.
JR: Our friends are here. I like our shitty clubs. [laughs]
MC: But I do joke around [that] when my cat passes away, maybe I’ll move to Europe. But now, as long as she’s alive, I’ll keep her in Brooklyn.
Jacques, how did the Let’s Play House parties get started?
JR: Nik [Mercer] and I are friends. He’s an enthusiast; he’s not a DJ, and he’s just amped about bringing talent in. I was excited about getting our friends involved. I’ve done parties with Marcos, I’ve done parties with Justin Miller, but honestly, Nik really took it full throttle. We had a warehouse space, we brought Morgan Geist, we brought Mugwump, we brought Tiger & Woods. It’s been a crazy ride. After all the traveling and going to all these places and seeing how people work we want to do something in New York — to contribute to New York. You know, when you’re down about something, you want to bring it back up. You want to tell people when you’re out that New York’s awesome. And it is.
MC: It’s pretty charming to try to contribute to New York.
JR: Exactly. Why not try it out? And it’s going really well. It’s a moving party, which is extra challenging, but it keeps it exciting.
Do you approach each party with a different idea in mind? Do you book artists according to where you’re going to be? How do you adapt?
JR: Back when we had a warehouse space with our friends, it was super easy just to plan ahead because — like our demos, we get tons of promoter emails just saying, “Hey, I’m going to be in town.” You know, back to our 205 days, friends would always come in and play every week. I was just talking about this with Miller — we had, like, Horse Meat Disco on a Tuesday night, or Heidi; I mean the list goes on. People want to come to New York. And people stay for a week or so, and they can do a big party as well as a little party. It’s more about just planning ahead, and if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But there’s never anything really set.
And then what about the label? How did that come about?
JR: The label just started because James Friedman from Throne of Blood approached us about Kompakt Distribution, and just as a fun thing to do, we were like, “Let’s do a Runaway record for Let’s Play House.” And I joked about it: “I really don’t want to do another record label. I want to just do On The Prowl.” So that’s kind of like a Nik Mercer thing. We’ve got some things coming up that are cool — and again, it’s just about incorporating our friends. And I’m really happy “Indoor Pool” is out there. People love it, and I’m excited about that.
It seemed to have sold out really quickly.
MC: Yeah, it did well. It did a lot better than I thought it would.
JR: Yeah. I had no idea. It’s, you know, trying to do a full-cover sleeve, distribution. It was a venture.
MC: It was a fun project, really. We did that photo shoot at Le Bain, you know, for the cover. We got a lot of friends involved, and it was a fun little record to do.
So what’s in the future?
JR: We’ve got some cool stuff coming up. 2012 is going to be great. We have three more releases and three parties already planned that are going to be really good. And still doing Le Bain, but we have a new venue. Yeah, it’s going to be good. 2012 will be good.
MC: I started another label called Hamilton Dance Records. The second one just came out, and so far the first two releases were sample-based productions by me, and for the third one I have some other friends working on it. I know artists from Boston, I know artists from Philly, and two separate projects from me also on record. And that one’s going to be all original music — not sample based. But it’s born out of me working on music a lot. For the past three years, working on music has been a full-time job, you know, like, every single day in the studio. If you work every day in the studio, your music’s going to pile up. But it’s good — it makes me more visible, and people ask me to do stuff.
JR: That and you did the L.I.E.S. record.
MC: Yeah, I did the L.I.E.S. record recently, which I would say is one of the most personal records I’ve ever made. I was going through a break up. And I mean it’s true, you know? It became very personal. It was, like, a weird moment in my life. I worked on it throughout the summer, and I was getting my life back on track and also making this record at the same time. But it’s also a reflection of the gear in my studio. There’s no samples or anything on it, other than my drum machines and some synths.
As a duo, is there anything in the pipeline?
JR: Yeah, what do we got coming up? We’re doing a remix for SAM Records.
MC: The old disco label. From, like, the 70s.
JR: Old disco label. We remixed K.I.D. “Don’t Stop,” which is pretty cool, actually. We did an upcoming remix for Compost Records, for Pitchben.
JR: Yeah, and working on the label. On The Prowl has, like, five things. We’ve got new stuff from Andy Ash, a new artist, Epitaph, with a Roberto Rodriguez remix, which is really good. And we have a couple new artists. New Party Breaks, it’s going to be me this time. And it’ll be good.
Is there anything you can tell us about the mix you’re going to do?
MC: We’re doing a mix? [laughs]
JR: We tried to do it the other week, right?
MC: We were pulling records the other week, and then I think we got lazy.
JR: Got to get our act together. I just got a bunch of new records so I’m excited.
MC: I was in Berlin recently, and I definitely splurged and bought some extra records.
JR: I just splurged on the Internet, which I hadn’t done in a while.
Do you guys find that you’re doing a lot of record shopping still in New York? Or are you waiting until you get to Europe to do a lot of shopping?
MC: For me it’s both. I go to Dope Jams, I go to Halcyon, I go to Academy, I go to A-1. You know, it all averages out a little bit. And then let’s say if I’m in Europe once every four or six months, I come back with, like, a dozen records, or so.
JR: I buy online. I just like going to the record store. I buy used records all the time. I probably shouldn’t.
MC: We both like Discogs.
JR: Yeah, Discogs. I have no idea how other people learn about music. I look at LWE, or Resident Advisor. There’s very few Internet-based places I learn about music because I’m used to going to the record store and learning about music. Like, I’m the guy that picks up the stack of records yea high and listens to everything until I find what I want. That’s the way I grew up, so —
MC: Academy’s great for that.
JR: Academy across the street, awesome. Even the one in the city is pretty good. It’s smaller, but I still find stuff all the time.
MC: And it’s cheap. You’re finding great records for three dollars.
JR: A-1’s great too. Just because it’s like — A-1’s the place where you go to — you’ll find a record you’ve always been looking for. You’ll pay for it, but you’ll find that track you’ve been looking for for years. It’s great. And Ron’s there. [laughs]
MC: And my roommate works there.