‘Special Request AKA Paul Woolford’ may well be one of the most overused and well-worn phrases in global electronic music diction, but taking into account how one can rise to the helm of one genre, prove their consistency then go back and do it again, to an almost larger scale with a far less accessible sound is something worth marveling about. That’s exactly what we’ve got with the Leeds native, who we thought had pushed the boat out enough already after his side project that spawned into an artist that’s about as in demand as any of the in-vogue names across any genre right now. Things are seemingly not busy enough in the Woolford world so he elected to announce four Special Request albums to be released this year, all containing different sounding material and each to be dropped on wax via London’s Houndstooth label.
Four EPs alone are a big undertaking for any artist in today’s endless scrolling dome of content; things are easily lost in the cloud, but being the ever-pioneering force he is, conventions and rules aren’t necessarily the norm for the hardcore revivalist. At a time when all we associate hard work in music with are manipulation and exhaustion, it’s refreshing to see someone still at the height of the game working arguably harder than ever and loving every minute, rather than saving every second Instagram post to rant about their touring schedule.
With so many things to take into consideration, including his continued success as Paul Woolford, his BBC radio residency and tonnes more, it was hard to know where to start, bar the obvious question…..
So let’s start with an obvious question; what was the thinking behind the 4 albums in one year? I feel like lots of people try to stagger EPs and albums a lot more given that things can get so easily lost in the never ending stream of content we have for ourselves right now.
It was purely an in-the-moment thing – full disclosure, Houndstooth had no idea about it and I was in Denver for a gig and thinking about what I wanted to say with the music. It goes in cycles, and for those of us that do not have huge marketing machines behind us, we have to take hold of this thing and bend it to our will. I have my archive of tracks going back years, and I have ideas on a daily basis, so it was a case of deciding on what becomes of it all.
If you pass away and your legacy is an unreleased archive left to lawyers to release however they see fit – what the fuck is that about? I love Prince, but what they are doing is criminal. And I’m obviously not comparing myself to the purple one, but the point is that I’m not interested in doing any of this by halves.
Nor do I care for the traditional ways of doing things – one album and then tour the songs for over a year like the old rock bands did – that works for some people, but I need more stimulation, and that’s another reason why the sound of SR has continously widened. The only constant is myself in the middle of it.
‘Bedroom Tapes’ definitely veers left of what we’ve heard on previous Special Request EPs, it wasn’t necessarily Paul Woolford nor Special Request (despite hinging on sounds we’d more likely hear on disc 2 of Belief System). Is there space for another alias or are we REALLY pushing it then?
There’s other aliases already out there that people have not clocked are me, so it’s already happened. But I wanted to draw the lines between things, and also establish Bedroom Tapes as a series, because there’s fuckloads more.
How did it feel to be included on that upcoming Metalheadz lineup alongside people like DJ Storm. Despite the fact that it seems like you’ve been around forever, Special Request’s success has definitely been rooted in its adoration by fans that’re predominantly into more techno orientated sounds, what was it like to get the nod from the legends that are sharing that lineup with you?
That will be the 4th time I’ve played for Metalheadz on one of their own lineups, and I don’t take it lightly at all, it’s great to be considered worthy of it and it is a family. There’s quite a wide range of listeners into SR coming from so many different backgrounds so it keeps things fresh for me to be able to nip in and out of these things and contribute in any way. Goldie has been a huge inspiration to me for years not only in music, but just in the way he cut across culture in various ways, so it all makes perfect sense.
Your freedom to experiment from the get go and the early age you started off at granted you a bit more patience than people seem to now. People see the next DJ on Instagram and automatically want to be at that level, which can kind of lead them to making a lot of badly timed decisions like handing tracks into radio/DJs/labels like you did to Crash records (as you mentioned in your RA interview), but with worse consequences for their reputation. Do you see a point where people start to slow down and trust the process, or do you think more and more people are going to get caught in the trap of feeling their every move is being surveyed.
I think there are many people that see music as a device to a lifestyle, luckily there are still plenty that don’t, of course. What happened with me was purely childlike inquisitiveness in continuation, and all I did was fed it and nurtured it almost by default, accidentally. I followed my interest ruthlessly, and here’s where it led. It was never really “OK there’s a career”, whereas so many people think music equates to 2 hours work a week DJing, or whatever, which is just laughable!
Technology is both a blessing and a curse, as we see underlined nearly every day. I do think there are new levels of artist insecurity that have come from social networking, so there’s a good case to keep a healthy balance with it all. But the worst thing to do is to endlessly compare yourself to others, that’s where things go wrong, and I see it often.
Similar to that, what was it like releasing as Special Request for the first time after all the attention you’d garnered as Paul Woolford before then? Your work was obviously going to be that bit more scrutinised than a normal emerging producer, were you hesitant at all or were you fully sure once you’d let the tracks ‘incubate’?
By that point, I was sick of the standard industry ways of doing things and it was pretty much a case of “I’ll put these out and say what I want to say” and I partnered up with Simon Rigg at Phonica who believed in it and we made an impact immediately. What was silly about this, was that I could have done that all along.
We all have the power to do what we want, all the time, but we have to believe this in itself. We don’t need anyone’s approval. Just go ahead and do it. Have an idea, then actually make it. Don’t leave it as pub-talk or something you come up with on the session and never do.
From Jonny Banger to Virgil Abloh, to Albert Einstein, all these people actually DO the thing, and that is how you get on in life. Fuck what people have to say about it. You’re doing it anyway. This is my entire thing these days. I’m going to do what I do, and it doesn’t matter if you are with me or not, because it’s happening anyway. If you are with me, great, welcome, and if not, it makes no difference.
In terms of DJing, your SR sets seem to be dominated by your own tracks, you can hear those well-layered synths throughout and of course the pulsating kicks and hypnotic breaks. What is it that makes you stick to your own sound in sets, and has your BBC residency strengthened that or pushed you to other artists’ sounds?
It’s happened across both aliases; I play tons of my own material nowadays, from edits to version of remixes that were never released to originals. I never used to because I never felt confident enough in them. Of course a lot of the time I’m checking how a mixdown sounds, or seeing how the energy alters with things, it’s not always for the pure effect of the piece of music.
I’m glad you asked me about the Radio, because that’s definitely enhanced everything. They had to talk me into it, I turned it down twice, thinking that it wouldn’t balance with my studio work and various other excuses. The day I did the pilot, it was clear, this was a third way. You get one thing from DJing, you get another from the studio and you get a third thing that is different and special in it’s own way, from the radio. I fucking love doing it.
If anything, it’s galvanised my attachment to the music that I play. I’ve always been a trainspotter with names and all the rest of it, but now I have an even bigger excuse to wallow in it all. It’s another world opening up.
How was it playing for the Warp special on NTS? You mentioned Mark Bell from LFO in your interview with RA so it must’ve been a huge honor to play a tribute set for the label he worked with so closely?
Of course and Warp were really respectful about it as well, which is why I did it. I get a lot of offers for all sorts, and sometimes you know people are just asking because you have a hot record or whatever, but with Warp it was clear they know exactly what my connection is, and they did it in the right way.
Sometimes you get so-called “cool” outfits getting in touch, expecting you to shoot your load just because they look in your direction. It’s funny, they forget that you are doing them a favour if you give them a biscuit, but Warp were sound.
It was done properly from the beginning. Great fun to roll about in that incredible catalogue for a couple of days.
How is your relationship with Houndstooth and how did they react to your four album announcement?
Fucking great, we’re in a good place. Obviously they shat themselves when I put that tweet up, and it took a few meetings and scratched heads for them to truly get it, but ultimately it’s simple stuff. 4 albums. All different.
What can we expect from the forthcoming two albums?
Album 3 is called Offworld. Album 4 is called Obliteration. Offworld started off with the question what if Jam & Lewis signed to Metroplex?
Obliteration – you’re just going to have to wait and see….
Bedroom Tapes is out now on Houndstooth, you can listen and buy the record on their bandcamp now!