Interview with ERIC POWELL – Part 2
Eric Powell first started his long career in Manchester playing at church discos and after-hours at Man Alive where the older generation would play dominos and worked his way up quickly through the ranks to become one of UK’s most sought-after DJs.
Karen Lowe spoke to Eric about Carl Cox and their Mobile Disco, Bush Records, Georgio Armani and some of his most memorable gigs. This is part 2 of a 2 part interview (part 1 can be found HERE).
You have a successful record label, Bush Records. What made you decide to start your own label? Who are some of your favourite artists that you have signed up?
This was back in ’94, so we’ve been through new approaches to making music, that’s how I’ve moved from soul; Stax; Motown; reggae; hip-hop; techno; house and techno. I love the toughness of techno but I’m still a lover of funk and soul.
With the label, so what I found was that I couldn’t find all the records – the types of records that I wanted to play in particular, at the time but when I started to release stuff, it was about being selfish because I wanted to release stuff that I can play and I can’t buy. That’s how I started and that’s the reason why I started the record label, not being selfish and getting those tracks and as it turned out these other people out there had similar taste to me so it became quite a successful label.
To pick a favourite artist is kind of hard because we’ve been going since 1994 now and even to pick a favourite track, which can change almost daily. I’ll listen to something and think fuck! That is unbelievable and the next day I’ll listen to something else, so I don’t really know.
I get my buzz from trying to develop artists and build artists and give them the opportunity to put it out there and then put those tracks in the hands of people that can give them exposure. We’ve never had loads and loads of releases so when people get our tracks and we send them out, at least they listen to it. Whether they like it or not that’s up to them.
I have another thing, I have no problem with people that don’t like my music, the tracks because if everybody likes a track and if everybody likes what you’re doing, well then it has to kind of be pretty commercial for everybody to like it at the same time. So, I have no problem with people saying to me, you know, I’m not into that. And that’s fine. I have no problems.
If some heavy metal guy came up to me and he was just into thrash metal and then I put a soul track out and he says “I like that” well then I’m doing something wrong because it’s not meant for him to like it and vice versa. If he does something because I’m not…I can appreciate good stuff but if somebody did some, I don’t know, thrash technical metal thing and I went “I think that’s quite good! I might play it!” it’s probably not getting to the place that it needs to get to if I think it’s alright.
I try and say that if people come to me for advice – go with your gut feeling. If you like it and you can stand next to it, it doesn’t matter if other people don’t like it. In fact, I do a little bit of teaching and I kind of say to the kids, if your gran who has a purple rinse likes your track…if you’ve got some hard-core punk track and your gran says she likes it, she’s either being really, really nice or your track is not a hard-core punk track.
You would have played in many places now. What’s the one place that you have never had the chance to go to and why?
I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve been to Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan has just never, you know it’s a place that I’d like to go. Lots of my friends have been and they say it’s a great place and I almost went for business in 2 weeks time and then I didn’t need to go because we sorted everything out. So, it’s just never been on the radar.
I’ve never been to Africa, or Egypt. The history and just going and checking out those countries that have been around forever, you know, I’d love to do that but I have been fortunate to have been to most countries. I’m from a pretty working-class family and one idea, I always thought that I had never seen DJ’ing as a career and I always thought I’d be doing this for this year and then I’d have to find a new job. My dad is still waiting for me to find a new job so when I used to go to different places in Europe, I used to ask for a couple of days so I could go and check out whatever the city was about because I didn’t think that I would be able to get back to that.
But what I used to do, when it was vinyl, I’d take a bunch of Bush records with me and then go and check out the local record shops. I’m such a geek really. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. Egypt, Africa and in Asia, probably Japan, I’d like to check out.
You land in a country where hardly anybody speaks a European language other than English on a day-to-day basis and then all of the shop signs are completely different so it’s almost like an alien world. People look a little bit different and there’s something about the alien world that is the same you know you’re in a parallel universe and I quite like the idea of going to Japan and experiencing all that.
What are some of your most memorable shows? And what are some of the worst shows that you have played?
I did the Millennium Party on Bondi Beach going into 2000. That might’ve been the first party on Bondi Beach. We were expecting only to stay in Australia for a year and that was the year we were supposed to go back. With all the Y2K and all the crap that was going on – is the world gonna still be around and being there on Bondi Beach which is an iconic location. That was just incredible and something quite special. I did some touring and the other one that really does stand out is in Sydney again; I toured with Chic when they came out, with Nile Rodgers. Nile Rodgers and Chic are absolute heroes of mine from a production and song writing point of view, it was amazing.
It really took all my strength not to kind of lose my shit and just to remain professional with Nile Rodgers, it really did. You know, they aren’t saying your music is the soundtrack to my life…so cheesy but you wanna say it anyway. So, they played, they headlined Meredith which is incredible but, the thing for me is we did a sold-out show at the Sydney Opera House and again, something as a kid, you know about the Sydney Opera House. It’s iconic, the architecture and I mean looking in from the UK and I come here and I tour probably with my favourite artists – in my top 5 favourite artists and playing…that was a very, very special moment.
This year, fast-forward into this year, Carl and myself started a brand called Pure, which is a techno brand. It’s an Australian brand. It was started in Australia, it has an Australian ethos and it’s an Australian brand as far as we are concerned. We had the opportunity to take that Australian brand to Ibiza and we did two nights, two Tuesday’s – one after the other and at Privilege.
Privilege is the biggest club in the world apparently. Ten thousand people and we sold-out both shows. So, we took two English guys that love Australia and got Australian Citizenship, taken something that we developed in Australia and took it to Ibiza and sold out those two shows at ten thousand. I think it was probably the most successful two events in Ibiza for this year; for this season.
So there’s that, 1999 into 2000 and then fast-forward today in 2017. There’s still stuff that I wanna do and there’s still stuff that I enjoy and still stuff that that blows me away. And the mobile disco – how it’s developed. The mobile disco is developed from two hundred people to us still trying to keep it at a level where it doesn’t lose its integrity because we’ve had offers to take it to the eight thousand and ten thousand people. But then it will just stop being the event that we want it to be. When I look back in history, when I started I was playing at a venue called Man Alive which was for three hundred people.
It had a sound system and a strobe and that was it. Everybody in there had the best time, none of us knew what was happening and I probably couldn’t even really DJ at the time. I was still learning and in that particular club, it was a West Indian social club and they used to play domino’s. Domino’s is a popular game for older West Indians and they get quite aggressive. They slam the Domino, it’s quite funny to watch. The guy that owned the venue; they would play different things in different parts of the country (this is in England) so if they had a domino competition going on, there were all these ravers outside and they wouldn’t open the club until the domino competition had finished.
He had a big fish tank between the speakers – reggae sound system speakers. Those fish must’ve had the best time or completely hated it. So, there’s good memories there and there’s another one where I played in the Channel Islands, Jersey. Jersey was the only part of the UK that was invaded by the Germans in World War Two and the Germans built all of these underground bunkers that went for kilometres and kilometres. So you’d go into the bunker and there’d be a generator at the top and you would walk; it’d be pitch black and there would be an after party going on and you’d come out and then you’re right at the edge of the cliff. It’s some really special stuff – connecting to music and just connecting to people and the passion and just having a great time.
Music is what brings people together
It really does. I used to play in Ireland and this was when the troubles was on and you would have people from both sides in the same venue and for that moment in time; they were all together. I’ve played in Croatia, Serbia when all those troubles was on and there was like a ceasefire for four weeks and in that four weeks you managed to go over and play at a venue and again music is a great leveller and a great way of people coming together.
You have worked alongside Giorgio Armani (as well as Gucci and Franck Muller) to produce music for them. How did you get involved with that? Are there any other designers that you would love to work with?
If an opportunity comes up, I try and take it. There was no master plan. That all happened from Australia for me, I think I played somewhere. Actually, it was before they were The Bamboos so it was with Lance Ferguson. Somebody had booked to go and play a gig, I think it was the watch one, and it was Lance and what’s the girl called? Kylie Auldist. It was a whole bunch of people together and I went and did it – somebody had booked me and the guy from Asia, I think that was Hong Kong, it was; the guy who put it together liked what I did and then he just started to book me.
So the Giorgio Armani one, he’d opened the first shop up in China so I did Hong Kong and China. The first shop was huge, large and Giorgio Armani was there. He’d never refer to me by my name – it was always the DJ and it was in a different world. I was the DJ and you had all the Giorgio Armani models stood around me and it was heroin chic at the time and all skinny – their mascara was meant to run. It was just amazing. I did that a while ago.
I haven’t spoken about it for ages but it was just really, really amazing and something that I never expected. I like a little bit of fashion but at that stage I’d probably moved on to jeans and a black t-shirt so it was kind of a little bit out of the box and I was uncomfortable but at the same time recognised what it was all about. Again when people ask for advice, take the opportunities! If you do as well as you can, it doesn’t matter whether there’s two people in front of you or twenty thousand people in front of you.
You don’t know. Those two people might be the two people that you try to get to and if you just dismiss them because it’s not very busy or whatever it is; it’s an opportunity gone. You deliver and that’s what I did and you deliver the best music, the best way you can. Very rarely does that happen now but back in the day, well from that, opportunities have come up and the career has moved forward.
If you could collaborate with any musician, any genre, who would you love to work with?
We did some stuff with Nile when he was out here, and I’d love to do some more stuff with Nile Rodgers again. You know, I do stuff with Carl, so already I kind of collaborate. I’d love to do something with Nile Rodgers and I’d love it to be so Chic-like that people would think it people would think it was Chic. So, doing collaborations with Nile Rodgers is probably the person. You learn so much – an unbelievable musician.
Sometimes you think, if I could travel in time, I’d love to be able to go back and go into the studio with The Temptations and the OJ’s when they’re at the peak and the creativity that’s going on. When The Temptations and the OJ’s and stuff when I was growing up, I was seeing that kinda stuff as quite cheesy. It’s only as my musical tastes matured that I got it.
Also, their fashion sense – even with the Frank Sinatras’ and The Brat Pack, I’d just seen it all as a bit cheap but when you look back, you think wow! That must have just been an incredible time when it comes to music and fashion. I’d just love to be an observer – to just stand back and see how the music was created and the dancing – the cheesy dance moves and all that stuff.
You would have seen a lot of things over the years. What are some of the good things you have seen that may have restored your faith in humanity?
That’s a good question! Nothing is springing to mind but I’ve not seen any really mean stuff either. I think in general people just want to help each other out and in the environment that we’re in is that everybody wants to have a good time and most people are quite welcoming and if they can help each other out; they will.
If I think about Carl; Carl as a person is the most generous people I know. It’s not a facade. It’s what he’s like. What you see when you interview him, what you see when you are out for dinner and with my kids; it’s the same person. He’s got time for everybody and if he can, he’ll help anybody and everybody out. Not just saying it because it’s Carl. He’s just one of the most generous, open, warm person that you are ever likely to come across. He’s not got any agenda. It’s just amazing that someone like that has achieved so much success as he has because, in any creative business – it kind of attracts sharks. It attracts people that are so focused that they forget about the humanity whether it’s sports, arts, music and all that stuff.
But as long as I’ve known Carl (and I’ve known Carl since 1986) he’s just been the same generous and just unbelievable person really.
What was the best advice that you were given when you first started out? And what advice would you give to someone who was starting out now?
Keep your integrity; keep true to whatever that music is that you like and don’t try and do what everybody else does. Don’t something because you think…if it goes against everything that you feel but that it would be great for your career well don’t because that catches up with you. Just be really, really honest with yourself and take opportunities. Take an opportunity and look after yourself as well.
Party hard but look after yourself and don’t party so hard that it has a negative affect on where you want to get to – whatever it is. Stay focused, never take anything for granted; enjoy yourself and stand next to any decision that you make. Stand next to it. If it’s wrong – you’re still standing next to it but saying if you had known, you would have made a different decision but stand next to it – with the music you put out, the way you DJ and just in life because if you can stand next to it, you know you are being honest with yourself.