Some of the most exciting producers are those who manage time and again to deliver the unexpected. Andrew Field-Pickering under his Maxmillion Dunbar guise is one such producer, whose releases have ranged from abstract, spaced-out hip hop instrumentals to boogie infused 80′s new beat through to left-footed, analog house and many other stop-off points somewhere in between. Formerly known as emcee Vulture Voltaire while part of the Food For Animals hip hop crew, the Washington D.C. musician started making his own instrumentals, the first of which was issued on his Future Times label he set up with friend Mike Petillo in 2008. Subsequent releases came on Ramp Recordings, pre-empting his début long player for the same label, Cool Water. Keeping himself busy, he also has his Beautiful Swimmers project with Ari Goldman, who make authentic new beat and disco, sounding like it was beamed in direct from a time where pastel waist lines were high and hair even higher. LWE got in touch with Field-Pickering to find out more about his home town, how the Beautiful Swimmers work their magic in the studio and how making beats took over from writing rhymes. He also gave us our 130th exclusive podcast, a wonderfully eclectic and brand new-retro journey into sound and space.
LWE Podcast 130: Maxmillion Dunbar (54:41)
01. Witchdoctor, “Georgia Plains” (edit) [Interscope Records]
02. Morenas, “Somnambulism” [DFC]
03. Pittsburgh Track Authority, “Monongahela Rainforest” [Pittsburgh Tracks]
04. Specter, “Night Hawk” [Tetrode Music]
05. Maxmillion Dunbar, “Slave To The Vibe” [white*]
06. Jine, “Take It To The House” (Dub 2) [Supertronics]
07. Rocky Jones, “Choice of A New Generation” (Razormaid Mix)
08. Iueke, “Tape 2″ [Antinote]
09. Maxmillion Dunbar, “Woo” [RVNG Intl.*]
10. R.E., “Let’s Hold On” (edit) [Clubhouse Records]
11. Soft House Company, “…A Little Piano” [Irma CasaDiPrimordine]
12. J.D. Hall, “I Wanna Get Into You” (Johnathan Morning Mix) [Sunfire Records]
13. Actress, “Ascending” [Honest Jon's Records]
14. Funkinevil, “Intro” [Wild Oats*]
15. Mark Leckey, “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” [The Death Of Rave]
16. Unknown artist, “Journey 1″ [Long Island Electrical Systems]
17. Haruomi Hosono, “Platonic” [Yen Records]
18. Escape From NY, “Slow Beat” (Dance Mix) [Polydor]
19. NWAQ, “Kokoandleewho?” [Delsin]
20. AAO, “Clappin Song ’10″ [self-released]
* denotes tracks which, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased
So for you, musically, where did it all begin?
Andrew Field-Pickering: Back in the day, since we lived in the woods a little too far from a gym or the YMCA or whatever, my mom used to do these aerobic exercises (it was the 90′s), running around the house cranking Talking Heads, either Stop Making Sense, or Remain In Light, or Fear of Music. Talking Heads were a big thing for my parents. My brother and I used to run around behind her like a little parade, being like, “Some of you people just about missed it!” and acting the fool. That’s not exactly where it all began but I think back to that a lot.
Before being known as Maxmillion Dunbar you had been going by the name Vulture Voltaire as part of the experimental hip hop crew Food For Animals. When did you guys start FFA and is it still a going concern?
Yeah, in 2002 right after high school that seemed like a vicious name. I do fuck with Candide, though. Hahaha. There was a questionable animal thing going on with the names too. It became VV by the end, even had some rhymes about it or whatever. Man, we fuckin’ went for it, though. By the later Food For Animals (Belly-era and beyond) shows we were a full blown psychedelic machine; if we had a proper sound system we were gonna destroy. Shout out to HY and Rick Rab. Had so much fun up there with those dudes. And after the shows we were gonna listen to some funk, some house, techno, disco, usually anything but experimental hip-hop, you know?
I guess that surrounding music culture, and DJing with Ari before Beautiful Swimmers (we met not long after FFA started), making dance tracks in my spare time, and then starting Future Times, overtook rapping in my head. FFA is spiritually still going and I got lots of love for those dudes, but I don’t ever feel like rapping any more, haven’t even thought of raps in sooooo long. Maybe like hilarious little things, but yeah, I dunno, my brain doesn’t go that way right now. It’s crazy too, ‘cuz for years I was wired for it, obsessed. Stereotypical notepads in class, being the white kid who could actually rap at lunch type shit. Hahahaha. But yeah, now I’m stuck in a beat world. I can still bust a flow though.
Washington D.C. is not really known for its electronic music, apart, say from the nearby Baltimore scene. What’s going on there party and music wise that inspires you?
I’ve been in an inside/studio hermit/chilling with my girl vibe for a long time, and finally finishing a lot of long term projects means I’m probably going out more. Ari and I travel enough that I think of home as the chill zone, and I’ve been a little out of the DJ loop around here. As usual with D.C., there’s a lot going on and a small portion is pretty tight; I’m just happy people want to party. We’re doing an edition of The Whale, our party at U St Music Hall, in August, together with Andrew Morgan of Peoples Potential Unlimited. Should be nasty.
When did you meet Ari from Beautiful Swimmers and how long had you guys been making music together for before you started releasing it?
We did DJ nights together for years before we started making music, until we decided that we just needed to put together some shit for a 12″. We also just hung out all the time too; it grew naturally out of that. The first session became “Swimmers Groove” and “O Yea,” and then, boom, we had a little production thing going on. So yeah, the first thing we made was that, and then the Big Coast 12″. Ari had the idea for the name too, which was pretty golden.
Do you find you’re more in demand as a solo artist or as a Swimmer?
Sometimes people are trying to hook up one person’s travel instead of two, so there’s that hahaha. But I dunno, it seems about 50/50 to me. All the upcoming shit on my calender is Swimmers, now that I look at it. I’m getting more and more into playing Max live shows too, as opposed to just DJing, so there’s interest in that too. Being in demand in general is rewarding, so I’m happy however it goes down. Love to get out there and play.
How do you guys work together? Do you get together in the studio and work from scratch or do you each take bits of music you’ve worked on already and flesh them out?
I have the studio set-up going on at my place right now, so Ari comes over, we hang out for a while, smoke, chill, play each other new records we recently got, maybe take a drum sound from a record or something, and then hit the studio. Sometimes one of us will have more of an idea or something but it’s pretty consistently 100% collaborative.
On your solo releases there sounds like such a huge array of influences going on.
Do you ever set out to make a certain type of track or do you just let things happen as they happen in the studio?
I’m really a “let things happen” type of dude, above all, but sometimes I’ll have an approach. Sometimes I want to make something specifically to use while DJing and have it start with mixable drums and all that, and sometimes I don’t give a shit. Depends. I like to try my best to disassociate sometimes; I’ve gotten to a place with Ableton and my gear that I can improv, catch things I love, repeat ‘em, fuck with ‘em, get truly live with it. I play the drums too, so naturally I’m used to moving all my limbs at once, so now I’m digitally trying to have things hang in a delicate balance as I keep the rhythm and the vibe going. But I also edit and freak whole parts. There’s no overall rhyme or reason to it. For my next LP, which I just finished, I did a lot of sampling, but of my own tracks, or ideas that didn’t get finished, or ambient things I would zone out and make when a rhythm didn’t come to me etc.
You went under the name Max D for your recent Orgies of the Hemp Eaters release. Is this truncated version of your name the way forward?
I used Max D on Vibe 1 as well, though there’s no real thing to it. I like the way Max D rolls off the tongue these days. I like it the other way too. Its all good. I’ll probably use them interchangeably going forward.
How did your remix of Superlife’s “Go Bananas” come about? You must have felt quite honored to be given the chance to remix such a classic.
Andrew Morgan from Peoples Potential Unlimited was a big influence on me and the whole Future Times crew in general. He helped me distribute that first Max 7″ (and every release since, too) and was always around to talk shop and chill. DC, you knooooow. Ha. So he just naturally approached me and I banged it out. The remix came together in one session pretty much. I played the bass drum by hand for the whole song, hahaha. Andrew hits me up for remixes a lot. Maybe even more so than “Go Bananas,” I looooooved reworking The Solicitor’s “Joyce,” and my Geno Jordan remix for PPU is one of my favorite things I’ve done.
Are you currently working on another album or are you focusing on singles at the moment?
I just finished an LP, it’s gonna be released by RVNG with a 12″ single ahead of the LP too. The LP is called The House of Woo. We’re getting the art and the mastering sorted out in the next few weeks to have it start percolating with a single for “Woo.” I bet other singles will drop in the meantime too, I’m always making music. I’ve been collaborating with some fine folks as well, but more news on that as it develops.
If you could organize the house party of your dreams who would you have playing it?
I’ve thankfully already organized the house party of my dreams, they used to happen around my birthday every year. I grew up in the woods in PA and a whole slew of people would come up there to the house that my dad built and party. A lot of this East Coast dance music crew would be up there DJing or hanging out, tripping, whatever. Ron from L.I.E.S., Andrew Morgan, Jason [Letkiewicz], Aurora [Halal] from Innergaze, Daniel [Martin-McCormick] who does Ital and Mi Ami, Mike [Petillo] from Protect-U, a whole lot of consciousness came from those parties. My only regret is that we can’t do them as easily any more.
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve done for us?
I just turned on the recorder and went for it, one CDJ for the new shit and two turntables. This is definitely in the realm of something I would play live, maybe a little more freaky at the end. I definitely like the way you can get really bugged out on a mix or a podcast for people to listen to on the internet. It’s a little different from a club. So yeah, by the end, it sort of goes from a deep club type thing I would do, to some tunes for the freaks. That screwed NWAQ is rugged.
What can we expect from Future Times/Beautiful Swimmers over the next year?
An untitled-as-yet Beautiful Swimmers 2×12″, more Max D singles, Future Times 12:” singles from Huerco-S, Steve Moore, and a special remix project with DJ Sotofett, which will see him Sex Tagging a Max D tune and a Slava tune. Protect-U is going very deep on some new material too. A few of us out here DJing including Ron Morelli, Hunee, Swimmers, and more, are combining to work on something special too.