Yam, Who, Who?, Jon, Freer
“You can get a groove going at any BPM”.
Now that they’ve been commissioned for a deluge of legitimate revisions, will they still be rubbing artists up the right way without their permission? Will there be future offerings from their notorious ‘Yam Who’ imprint? Why haven’t they been sued yet? I decided it was time to find out the answers to these burning questions and discover a little more, by chatting with Yam (not Who), over a plate of oriental cuisine…
An unassuming and quiet guy, Yam is clearly driven by music. Any thoughts of trepidation regarding interviewing such an enigmatic figure vanished, once I started the conversation with him. The mysteriousness and the relative anonymity born out of illegitimacy of their initial re-rubs seems to suit Yam well.
The Yam Who approach to remixing has shown that there is still an art to the reinterpretation of records. Yam agrees that many people commissioned for remixes seem to be motivated by the money waved at them. However, as the ‘Yam Who Reworks’ on their own imprint were not commissioned, Yam feels they were able to do what they wanted with the tracks. The fact that producers and DJs alike have been blown away by these mixes, means they may come to question how they themselves approach remixes. There is no doubt that this is a good thing, and it could help improve remixes in general. The reason they titled their revisions as reworks as apposed to remixes, was to make people sit up and take notice of what they were doing. This conscious change in terminology was part of the self-generated intrigue they created, which bred the hype that has surrounded the mysterious duo. Yam says the difference between the words is “4 letters”. The artists that they’ve revisited cover broad musical angles, and the reason behind this was to give them more flexibility. It is a testament to their production skills that they’ve manage to re-touch them all with stunning results. It is the complementary flavours of soul-drenched vocals and exquisite understanding instrumentation, which is why their versions of the tracks have succeeded. Spirituality and soulfulness have always been happy bedfellows, so it’s not really a surprise that their revisions work.
Asked whether he expected the frenzy that their remixes invoked, Yam said “not really”. He feels the remix of Raphael Saadiq, his favourite of the material released so far, was “the one that made people start to notice”. However, a shrewd salesman and someone who prefers to live in the present, Yam counters that their “new stuff is much better”, and is a truer reflection of their musical identity. He believes the diversity of the material that they’ve put out has led to a situation where “people don’t know what to expect” from them. Regarding the potential audience for their bootlegs, I asked Yam if he agrees that people are more receptive to rejigs of tracks by artists they are familiar with, as opposed to those of unknowns. Yam says yes, likening their musical approach to that of Hip Hop producers “looping up fragments from different sources” and the fact that bootlegs often succeed because they work with tracks that people already know.
Yam believes the success they achieved last year was “all about the timing”. As well as making records for a long time, the reason he got into the process of making music was down to DJing, since 1988. The Balearic approach to selecting music has certainly influenced Yam’s own mixing style, and his production ethos, bringing different musical vibes together. With the success of open-minded club nights like Manchester’s Electric Chair and Sheffield’s Lights Down Low amongst others, we thankfully seem to be returning a less musically intolerant period of time. This could also be reaction against superclubs championing one trendy bastardised sub-genre and cold-hearted DJs who see spinning records merely as a money making venture. This ruthless and cynical approach is opposite to the philosophy of Yam Who and countless other true musical soldiers who “live music”. Unsurprisingly, Yam’s favourite DJs are those with a similar outlook to him, who “know their music and don’t just play large records”. The ‘Who’s production (or should that be rework) style sets them apart from the majority of other artists. Yam stated that his favourite are mostly people from West London. He feels that as producers, people like the Bugz and IG Culture are “as good as you can get”. From Yam’s DJing, it is apparent that he admires many other producers, too!
Yam finds it difficult to pin point steps in their creative process. He feels that because they spend so long in the studio, sometimes they “don’t know what was there when they started” when they arrive at the penultimate stage of remixing tracks. He also feels it can be “hard to detach yourself from what you are doing”. Most of the Yam Who remixes operate within relatively narrow tempo boundaries. Whilst Yam believes “you can get a groove going at any BPM”, there was a decision to speed up the tracks “to at least dancing tempo”. The fact that they like to keep their audience guessing and broaden their appeal means that their recent Joe Claussell-esque epically fluted version of a Lizz Fields track was not a change in direction. It was merely the duo expressing their respect for the more spiritually aware side of the music.
It was inevitable that the issue of legality would come up in conversation. It seems that the labels that have had their music misappropriated have taken a sensible approach with regards to Yam Who. Their ‘bootlegs’ are creative works of art, which would have been unlikely to have seen the light of day, was it not for the pair’s cottage industry approach to releasing music. They are not recordings of tracks yet to see the light of day that sounds like it was recorded in a studio with the acoustics of a toilet or unreleased material, which record companies would surely object to. Yam says he feels that label bosses “understand about what we are doing”, and can therefore appreciate the benefits of a non-commissioned and therefore free re-rub from the ‘Who.
Reaching places that conventional PR tools could never penetrate, Yam Who are promoting the label’s artists to musical ears who may not have otherwise come across them or heard them in those musical surroundings previously. When picking tracks to revisit from the copious remix offers they are now receiving, Yam admits it’s “usually the vocal” that makes them pick one from the glut of tracks “people are throwing at us”. If the right track pricks their ears, you can be sure they’ll give it the Yam Who treatment, whether invited to, or not! Excitingly, Yam Who do not want to just be known for their astounding remixes.
Their plan for this year is to put out an album of their own compositions and “build the concept”. However, they are conscious not to “aim to far”. Asked about potential vocalists for this LP and future projects, Yam admits he “wants to get his own singer”, as this is the “right way to do things”! This may be a surprising admission from someone who’s worked with a variety of top-class vocals, often without the singer’s knowledge, but Yam feels this approach is vital for them to establish their own identity as a production duo. If they choose to work with established artists, names like Raphael Saadiq and Amp Fiddler crop up as definite possibilities. It is likely that other vocalists who they aspire to working with will go the way of Pharrell, Little Brother, N’Dambi et al. I asked Yam if there were any special tracks from the past that he’d like to revisit. His answer was that “all your favourite tunes are perfect”, and so would find it difficult to meddle with them. When pushed to identify an artist from history who he would like to give the Yam Who medicine to, Grace Jones was named.
I decided the final question to be asked, was ‘how did you decide on the name ‘Yam Who?’’. Yam says it was in part down to the name of Chinese Dentist in the Jerky Boys cartoons, whose name was Nam Who. This was combined with the fact that ‘Yam’ was his nickname, due to his surname. They decided Yam Who would also fit in with the mysterious vibe they were creating, and so the moniker was born.