Although it’s hard to confirm he’s performed full-fledged miracles, St. Plomb certainly has traits we consider saintly in producers: His releases for Mental Groove Records, Viking Music and Brut! are sure remedies for the easily bored, cutting across funk, house, techno and jazz aesthetics, sometimes in the span of a single record. Together with Crowdpleaser he wrote the album 2006, one of that year’s defining points which managed to be oblivious to the surrounding trends. And rather than burn himself out after exhaustive tours, St. Plomb wisely took time off to care for his family and refocus his musical approach. Now, three years later, he’s recharged and ready to show the world the sort of grooves he’s always wanted to produce. For LWE’s 34th podcast, St. Plomb strings together an intoxicating and exclusive blend of house sounds that would soundtrack his ideal night out. He also kindly spoke to LWE in a rare interview, discussing his musical origins, the back story of his conspicuous absence, and the self-critical approach which hangs halos on his tunes.
Download: LWE Podcast 34: St. Plomb (87:21)
01. Outernational Meltdown, “Marimba Song” [B&W Music]
01.5 John “Julius” Knight & Roland Clark, “This Is House” (This Is House-A-Pella) [Soulfuric Trax]
02. Ekkohaus, “The Healer” (Kreon’s Lindermann Remix) [Morris/Audio]
03. Glenn Underground, “Negro Music” [Unified Records]
04. Leon ft. Corrina Joseph, “I Follow You” (Deetron’s Springtime Leaves Remix) [Rebirth]
05. Spencer Parker, “The Beginning” (Michel Cleis Remix) [Buzzin’ Fly Records]
06. Men With Sticks, “3rd Eye” (Dixon’s Mash Up Edit) [Junior Boy’s Own]
07. St. Plomb, “Escape Run” [Brut! Records]
08. Marlon D., “Deep Drum” (Underground Collective Mix) [Jellybean Soul]
09. James Teej, “Spending Life” (Affkt & Danny Fiddo Remix) [Rebirth]
10. DJ Pierre & Marshall Jefferson, “Clap Your Hands” (Soulsonik Dubstrumental St. Plombified) [*]
11. Free Chicago Movement, “Recognize” [Nuphonic]
12. Abacus, “The Answer” [Room With A View]
13. Terry Hunter presents Kgosi, “Advice From Father” (Africa Hi-Fi Vocal Mix) [T’s Box]
14. Wbeeza, “He So Crazy” [Third Ear Recordings]
15. Peven Everett, “Got 2 Get Down” [Unified Records]
16. Âme, “Sarari” [Sonar Kollektiv]
* denotes unreleased tracks
I know you started out with funk and hip-hop; how did you get into house and techno from there?
St. Plomb: I actually started with jazz even before that. When all my mates were into Duran Duran, I was into Omar Hakim, I was learning drums in the local jazz school. In fact, I hated house when it first appeared in the clubs. In a matter of weeks, the four-to-the-floor beat had replaced the eclectic mixture of funk, disco, punk, rock, ska, pop and whatnot. I remember sitting in the middle of the dance floor to show my disapproval at the MAD club in Lausanne, in ’88, as acid-house had just hit the turntables. Young and not yet famous Laurent Garnier was playing and I stupidly sat! The first electronic music to blow my mind was jungle in ’94 — it wasn’t kick-based! Drum’n’bass made me want to start DJing seriously and producing. It’s only around 98 that I was introduced in a very pedagogical way to American and German techno by my friend Gregor (Crowdpleaser). Two DJs then had a great impact on me: Kevin Saunderson, because he made me feel the link between soul and techno, and Rolando because he played it the hip-hop way.
How did you meet Gregor? Did you have any preconceived notions for what you wanted to do together?
We’re coming from the same art school in Lausanne (ECAL). He’s a graphic designer now and I’m an art teacher. I helped him produce his first 12″ in my home studio, ten years ago. We quickly realized that we could get along very well in the working process without having to explain too much. So we started co-producing on Rather Be, sharing ideas 50/50, and it was like magic. I’ve been trying with lots of other people, and he’s the only one I keep collaborating with so far with great satisfaction.
Your music varies greatly from release to release. Are you always looking forward to trying new sounds? What is one underlying quality you believe exists in all your music?
As a matter of fact, I feel I’m finally settling down into something recently. Indeed, I got bored with styles, but I also have the feeling I was trying new things. You might call the resulting versatility a quality, but this has made my “career” very complicated so far, because I suppose it was a tad confusing for labels and promoters. It appears now that I’m naturally narrowing things down a bit. Not I don’t try anything anymore, I just do it… which sounds a bit Russ Meyer, though.
It seems that electro has had a big impact on your style, is that true? What does electro bring to the table for you?
Not at all. First of all, I’m an old schooler, so for me electro means 808 and break-dancing, the soundtrack of my early hip-hop days. I loved it, but hip-hop really hit me later when it started sampling the music I loved, jazz and 70’s funk. There you have the holy trinity of my early influences. Then there is the new “electro” and I have no idea what it’s about. Sounds to me like techno made by people with a pop-rock background. I don’t relate. My releases featuring Detroit Grand Pubahs and/or TTC have been tagged electro, but I’ve never liked anything else called that, so I can’t explain. Maybe because of gritty and rough bass lines, but I had funk in my mind doing so. It got lost at some point, probably, which happens when you’re zigzagging like I did.
There are some electronica moments in your discography as well. How important is writing for the dance floor?
Sometimes I wish there was more of these “electronica” moments. I have lots of ideas for downtempo or beatless music, but when I start working I always end up making a club track. I guess that’s what I love doing most, simply. Nothing’s more rewarding than a packed dance floor moving to my beat. Even when I performed music for dance-theater shows, it was not club music but it was still meant to drive moving bodies, and it was still based on (very) repetitive loops and grooves.
A lot of your timbres and sounds are anything but out of the box, with even the more simple sounds taking unexpected and complex turns.” Where does this approach come from and why is it important to you?
There’s a famous Swiss clock maker whose slogan is “Masters Of Complications.” It’s true that when I compose, it’s always as if the ultimate gem was deep into the forest, so I go on searching and rarely keep first finds. With electronic music, sound design is interwoven with the composition. So unless you’re damn lazy, you can’t help but twiddle and fiddle until you get that very sound that’s gonna be a vehicle for your melody, rhythm, etc. Basically we all use the same equipment, and if you don’t make a minimum of effort most of the production sounds the same. This is not new, think of the DX-7 days. I for one would usually blend three different types of sources in my tracks to avoid that: Real machines first, old ones mostly, 808, Juno 60, Minimoog, etc., and also some forgotten synth expanders. Then I would play and record drums, percussion, voices, and basically anything that my mic stumbles upon. And eventually I use carefully selected plug-ins. All of those have their strong and weak points, but altogether they allow to create a more subtle material, bringing depth in the mix, background noise, warmth, flaws, life. Now I don’t want to talk like I am an authority, I have more to learn than to teach.
Tell me a bit about making 2006. Did you know at the time of its creation that it would be as big as it ended up being? Did you see 2006 as your survey on the sounds of that year?
We actually worked for two years on this album. After one year we had 10 tracks ready, but we weren’t fully satisfied so we re-worked them for another 12 months. We didn’t want to give ourselves excuses of any kind. We worked it the Kubrick way, in every detail. So we had immodest expectations indeed. We called it 2006 only because it was a milestone for us. In the making, we had no consideration for what other people did at the time. The period was all minimal, bleeps and blurps, but we were playing lots of old-school, funky American techno in our sets. It was more for us a digest of our various influences, our own Homework in the form of something that wasn’t supposed to be trendy. It wasn’t up-to-date, so we named it the current date.
It seemed like you sort of disappeared after 2006, only to reappear this year. What were you up to in the meantime? Were you producing at all or keeping up with records?
The main reason is that the day the album was released, my son was born! Busy year! Those of you with kids at home know what I mean, especially if you have modern views on how the father should get involved.
The other reason is that after those two years of production I was exhausted, dried out. After the release we also toured in Europe and incidentally in Japan, which took most of my time and energy left. On top of that, the album had great reviews everywhere but it didn’t sell, which became very depressing. Then by and by, the creativity came back. I accepted the fact that I had less time due to family life, thus had to get organized instead of complaining. And at the end of the day, I’m much more effective now than before. I also took this time to reconsider which direction I wanted to take and went back to my musical roots, jazz and funk. Now I even got myself a guitar and started learning last month.
What’s changed for you in the meantime? Do you still enjoy the clubbing atmosphere?
Actually I had an epiphany in January 2008 at the Zukunft club in Zurich. Moodymann was playing, a glass of cognac in one hand, turning plates with the other, hosting the night like a radio-show, mixing down-tempo soulful tunes with disco bombs, Latin house, jazz-funk, you name it. All the music I always loved. To hear psychedelic-disco-funk at peaktime hour in the best club in town, I was literally in tears. I thought I was done with techno. It was like a baadaaaass angel slapping me in the face, saying: “I do my thing, why don’t you?” For years, I had been fighting my jazz-funk influences, thinking they were unwelcome on the dance floor, too much cliché or whatever. I suppose I also had the typical complex of the white guy educated in black music. But in the end, all this is a part of me, no matter what. I believe in the disco utopia: breaking boundaries, bringing people together. I feel now much more confident in the studio, I still produce a kind of house but I don’t refrain from my deep influences.
Tell me about the new records you have coming out in the next six months.
In October, I released two tracks on Brut! Records, “Escape Run” and “Saturnic Night Access.” I love this label, so I’m very happy about this release. It’s gonna be the first plate reflecting clearly the new turn in my production. It’s available on digital and as a very limited vinyl edition. Then comes “Niki,” another two tracker on the new Swiss label Saint-Vitus on digital, in fact two versions of a same track with my son babbling on it — it’s my take on classic house. Then Ripperton’s label Perspectiv will release “Precious Soul,” the most musical stuff I’ve ever done so far, with remixes about which I can’t speak yet. And Third Ear Recordings will release the next Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb EP.
I see there’s a new record coming from you and Crowdpleaser. What was it like getting back together after time apart? Has much changed for you two?
We’re good friends so we’ve kept seeing each other and DJing together in the meantime. And as I said before, it’s always been sort of easy to work together. Now I wouldn’t say that our four new tracks were quickly done; far from it, there’s again a lot of deep diggin’ involved. But I feel we’ve achieved keeping it fresh, and it should hopefully reflect the fun we had doing it. This 12″ will also feature guest producer Emilie Nana, from which I’m sure you’ll hear a lot in the future.
When/where was the mix made? What was the concept behind your choices?
The mix was made end of August in my studio on a pair of CD mixers, with the idea to make a mix that is for once representative of what I would actually and ideally do in a club. Sometimes you have to adapt and play differently: On the main floor in Ageha, Tokyo, you don’t want to play deep jazzy minimal stuff. I also played at the Hive club in Zurich recently, I just couldn’t go funky — people were clearly expecting darker and deeper beats. Fair enough, I can adapt to some extent. But here is what I’d like to be booked for. What I wish people would expect from me.
Who are a few of your favorite DJs, past and present, and why?
Of course Moodymann, for all the reasons mentioned above, plus his charisma, his voice. The man just does what he wants. The DJs who impressed me the most weren’t necessarily the ones proposing a perfect mix and letting people go nuts, but the ones who surprised me. I’ve seen François K and Danny Krivit in quite small venues, all legends apart, they was just magical moments of music. In an other genre, James Holden made a huge impression on me, a few years ago, mixing CDs so smoothly, he was the first to make me consider dropping vinyl. But mostly his selection was surprisingly wide, quite unexpected. And finally, the ones I know only on tape, such as David Mancuso whom I hope I’ll manage to go and see once, Larry Levan and Ron Hardy, all founding fathers of the disco dream, synonyms of liberty, sound quality, challenging uncompromising selection, and free love for all.
Download: LWE Podcast 34: St. Plomb (87:21)