Just Good Music — The Disco Love of Al Kent and the Million Dollar Orchestra
Disco gets a rebirthing from Scotland’s Prolific DJ and Producer, Al Kent. John C. Tripp Interviews Al Kent on his long history in dance music and his groundbreaking disco recordings and his “Disco Love” series on BBE
Disco never died. Some 40 years after its ascent up the charts its DNA is all over the myriad of dance music genres that keep us grooving, bumping and grinding. Without disco there would be no dance music as we know it today. It is disco that fused soul music with a booty-inducing groove, so infectious that it reached the far corners of the planet with its life-affirming sound.
One person who felt the earth move under the disco groove was Scotland’s Al Kent who, at an early age, had begun collecting rare soul and disco records (thanks to a dad who’s eclectic record purchases influenced Kent in a profound way). With the Northern Soul scene in full swing, Kent found himself immersed in a fervent and vibrant music culture. With this as his foundation he ventured deep into collecting vinyl, amassing a collection of rare grooves that would serve as his inspiration and sound library for years to come.
With the explosive arrival of house music, Kent began to experiment with music production and launched his musical career producing house tracks alongside Darrell Banks and a young Milton Jackson, but the turn of the decade saw him refocus his attentions to one of his earlier musical loves: Disco.
Using his house production skills, Kent launched his Million Dollar Disco label, featuring his unique re-edits of classic disco, pulling sounds from his now enviable collection of vintage disco and obscurities. These nuggets were well received but Kent wanted more: he wanted to create real disco and not just sample it. Kent formed his own disco band — The Million Dollar Orchestra — and proceeded to record a disco record so convincing that purists thought it was a long lost treasure from the disco vaults. “Better Days” was recorded in the traditional way, mostly one take, in an analogue studio. The sound is rich, lush, string laden, beautiful disco music, full of joy with phenomenal musicianship.
Not one to rest, Kent followed up “Better Days” with the equally lush “Secret Sounds”, all mixed by engineer Marco Rea in his analogue throughout studio, The Barn, with final production done by Kent his home studio (christened “The Disco Room” by his 4-year-old daughter). The results are pure disco heaven.
In addition to Million Dollar Orchestra, Al Kent has numerous compilations of his mixes, edits and even the sleeve artwork to his credit. It seems a natural that Kent would connect with London’s disco-loving BBE Records and his two Disco Love compilations and mixes for the label are must haves for disco and dance music connoisseurs. On these releases Kent selects and mixes his favourite lesser known tracks from the heyday of disco, most of which are Kent’s own exclusive edits. Black Rock, Crosstown Traffic, Patricia White and Quinn Harris are amongst the artists that have gone under the knife.
Like such legendary DJs as John Morales and Producer/Remixers like Tom Moulton, Al Kent has kept the spirit of disco alive with his passion for the music. In this day of auto-tuning and instant dance tracks it’s rare to find someone so dedicated to staying true to its spirit and soul. Like that perennial disco classic, Al Kent is here to stay.
MundoVibe Editor John C. Tripp corresponded with Al Kent over two weeks for this in-depth and definitive interview on his musical journey and his love for all things disco and beyond.
MundoVibe: Here it is some 40 or so years since the advent of disco and it is still influencing and inspiring DJs, producers and listeners. What do you think it is about disco that has give it such staying power?
Al Kent: It’s just good music. If you asked a soul or rock or jazz fan the same question it would still be relevant to them, so I don’t think we can say only disco has staying power; good music transcends time. But from a dance music perspective, disco nailed it. There are so many elements in there that it’s hard for anyone to resist – if you like drums, or if you like percussion, or you’re into soul or whatever – you’ll surely find something that touches you in a decent disco record.
I believe music production peaked in the 1970s, again not just on disco records but in music generally. Cheap and easy took over in the ’80s and even more so in the ’90s. It feels like we’re at a point where no popular music is made in anything even resembling traditional ways. Maybe disco is still loved by people because it’s of a time when musicianship and production were so highly polished that it feels like something special. The biggest trend after disco was house and those records were being made almost solely for dance-floors. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general the producers weren’t making music to be listened to outside of clubs. Whereas disco was a progression from R&B and soul which was always danced to anyway. So I guess quality is a big factor. (It’s worth noting that the worst disco records are the ones that were clearly made just to make people dance and cash in on the craze.)
Having said all that, I’m not sure that disco always had this “staying power”. The big backlash at the end of the ’70s meant it was scorned by most people to the point where it was almost forgotten.. other than the kind of records people in afro wigs would dance to in ’70s theme bars. House producers sampling old disco records was probably the starting point of a revival, helping people to understand a bit more about the music. Then compilations like Dave Lee’s “Jumpin’” series or Nuphonic’s “Loft” albums were a real education, books like “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” and especially “Love Saves The Day” opened a lot of people’s eyes to what disco music was really all about. I think it’s fair to say that a hell of a lot of people would still think “Boogie Wonderland” was the Epitome of disco if it wasn’t for these things.
MundoVibe: The musicianship of that era has definitely stood the test of time and sadly much of today’s productions values pale in comparison. There’s also something about this music that expresses an unbridled emotion and feeling. What song or moment do you remember where the music really connected with you? What was it about it that spoke to you instead of, say, rock music?
Al Kent: That’s quite a tough question to answer because I got into disco gradually through soul music. So my eureka moment would’ve been hearing Marvin Gaye for the first time or something. To this day I can’t put my finger on why. I’ve always had a bit of the maverick in me so it’s possible I wanted to like something none of my peers liked, but there was definitely something in soul music that really touched me. It was all about the voice in those days though; Otis Redding became my idol. Then I discovered northern soul and the music itself became as important as the song, so that would be where my passion for “soulful dance music” came from.
I was such a music snob though (probably still am to a certain degree) – records had to be from the 1960s, had to be by black artists. But through exposure to later releases at northern soul events I slowly started to appreciate more “disco” records. No one over here really knew they were disco records at the time though. Curtis “How Can I Tell Her”, Anthony White “Hey Baby” or Rare Pleasure “Let Me Down Easy” were typical records that were played by people who’d turn their noses up at disco. It’s likely that the books and stuff mentioned above have actually influenced the way a lot of people now understand those records.
You mentioned emotion and feeling and I think in essence that’s the answer to the question. All the music I love has that quality, whether it’s the Teddy’s voice and the polished strings on a Philly record, or the passion of some unknown singer giving it everything he’s got because he only has the money for one day in the studio and his bus fare home!
MundoVibe: It seems you’ve had this driving love for this music since your youth in Scotland. What were your experiences and impressions then that gave you such a strong desire to be part of the disco/soul culture?
Al Kent: I think I partly answered that in the previous question.. I have a strong independent streak, especially when it comes to music. I’ve always avoided the mainstream and northern soul is probably the ultimate underground scene. It took quite a bit of dedication to be part of it, certainly in the 1980s when I was around it. The records were obscure and generally expensive, you couldn’t find them in your high street record shops. The venues were all miles away, always involving quite a journey. Some places were so hard to reach it’s a wonder anyone actually showed up! And of course the music was amazing.
All these things appealed to me greatly; I never had any interest in the music played in local clubs, or the people who frequented them. There was never any trouble at all-nighters, very little alcohol was consumed and there wasn’t a drunken mad dash at the end of the night to desperately try your luck with a girl, followed by some sort of street brawl.. which was pretty much what was going on in regular night clubs around me. There was a real sense of camaraderie and I quickly made hundreds of friends through this shared obsession with soul music. I could pretty much go to any northern soul event anywhere in the country and know I’d meet at least one group of friends. And I regularly did!
There was never a disco culture here in Scotland, even in its heyday. I’m too young to have visited clubs back then, but I’d be surprised if my local DJs had ever heard of Tom Moulton or Walter Gibbons, or if they’d played anything they couldn’t pick up in their nearest record shop. The records I mentioned above were examples of northern (or “modern”) soul records I’d hear at all-nighters, but they were always the 7″ versions and were played more because the tempo and/or rarity fitted the scene.
MundoVibe: The Northern Soul scene had a great impact on you then. Was it a big step to then begin amassing records and DJing or was it just a natural thing to do then? What was in your mind at that time, was it a sort of rebellious thing to do?
Al Kent: I never planned to be a DJ, or even to collect records actually.. amassed is probably quite a good word. I just bought records because I liked them and wanted to own them, but have never seen myself as a collector – collecting things seems a bit too nerdy, even for me. I bought records from a really young age so it wasn’t anything new to buy northern soul stuff. Just a lot more expensive!
I think it’s natural for anyone with a passion for something to want to share that somehow. So I guess it was natural to want to play my records to an audience. The first time I did it was just in a local community hall a few of us hired for the night. I played some records but I don’t remember thinking of myself as a DJ but I did enjoy it and we put on quite a few other events in various places. Looking back it was probably more about the event itself, a desire to put on a party, than about me being a DJ.
I’m not sure there’s actually such a thing as a professional northern soul DJ, it’s really just guys with good records who play for beer money and travel expenses. So it would be rare to find someone who describes himself as a DJ.
MundoVibe: Since there were no self-identified DJs in the Northern Soul scene, was the DJ culture and loft scene in places like New York City something that you were aware of? Were there other scenes or tends going on that gave you inspiration and guidance as you moved forward?
Al Kent: I’ve possibly misled you slightly – there were actually “name” DJs on the northern circuit, but what I mean is it wasn’t so much a career as it would be for a club DJ or for a mobile DJ. Of all the DJs we booked I don’t remember ever negotiating fees, it was all very much “whatever you can offer”. Generally the bigger names were also record dealers so had access to the best records and playing them at events was all just part of the obsession.
But to answer your question: no, I had no knowledge whatsoever of what had gone on in the states at that time. I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder though so would pick up old magazines or books if they looked interesting and I learned a little about disco that way. Then I came across some 12″ singles and started seeing the same names as remixers, or recognising certain labels and seeing things like “special disco mix” on the sleeves. Very slowly I started to paint a picture in my mind. I don’t remember consciously looking for information on disco music, but it did get into my subconscious.
It wasn’t until the house explosion at the end of the ’80s/early ’90s that I really started to DJ semi-regularly and I sort of moved away completely from the soul scene. That was where I learned a bit about mixing and started to pick up bits of information about people like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles and the roots of house music, which is obviously disco. That whole Chicago thing, and the NY scene that preceded it was something I was never aware of before house music.
MundoVibe: So how did the Northern Soul movement mesh with the house music scene in Scotland? Considering the production values of house music one might think there’d be a certain distaste for it from a purist perspective. What was your experience with house?
Al Kent: The crossover was minimal at that point.. not only based on the difference in music, but it was a completely different scene. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, northern soul really is an obsession to most people on the scene, so nothing else matters when you’re involved. House music got so big though that a few people did either move away from the soul scene altogether or would go to house music parties as well as soul events, but they were in the minority.
One of the most important people as far as introducing house music to Scotland was Yogi Haughton who also came from a northern soul background. It was at one of his events I first heard house music, and saw the effect it was having on people. There were two rooms in this venue, one playing northern soul, the other house and I met a friend on the stairs between the two rooms who was there for the house music. She dragged me into her room and to be honest it kind of freaked me out a bit.. northern soul events were always quite basic affairs – community halls or decrepit old ballrooms, primitive sound systems, dimmed lights. This room was full of smoke with a full light show, booming sound and it was packed shoulder to shoulder with people basically going crazy! I didn’t particularly get it, but was intrigued nonetheless. My next experience was at Southport weekender which was always quite big for northern soul fans but had recently branched out into clubbier stuff. A few of us ventured out of the soul room and spent some time listening to house music and this time i was less freaked out and more intrigued.
I found myself at a few more parties, bought a few of the records and slowly started to move more into that scene.
MundoVibe: House music seems to have spread in an almost viral manner, since I remember how huge it was in New York City and other cities in the States. This was also long before the internet could have any role in its dissemination. What do you think it was about house music that connected with so many people in so many places?
Al Kent: Because I came to house from a totally different place I wasn’t aware of it as early as those who were around when it first arrived over here. The first people to embrace it would have been DJs from the warehouse scene, or maybe into electro and so on as the first imports were sold in the same places they did their record shopping. By the time I got wind of it the party was in full swing so I can’t honestly say why the music took off like it did.
From my own experience it was the parties that got me, and I’m sure a lot of people would say the same. The atmosphere was incredible, and I know it’s not cool to say so, but ecstasy played a big part in that. As a music lover though I started buying some of the better records I was hearing.
MundoVibe: So true, I can’t remember a house music party during that time where ecstasy wasn’t being consumed, it seems that drugs have always been a factor in music scenes. With the scene blossoming with these huge parties and with house and disco as the template how did your DJing and production path develop from that point? When did it become full fledged?
Al Kent: My first “professional” gigs, as in being hired and paid, were in a local club. I guess much like the NY disco scene, when house hit everyone wanted a house night and a friend of mine knew a couple of guys who were looking for a DJ. I had some records so pretty much got the job for no other reason. I had no idea what I was doing in that environment – I didn’t even know what the pitch control on a turntable was for! But I bluffed it as best I could and over the weeks, through trial and error and watching DJs at other parties, taught myself to mix. That was at a time when you could fill a club all weekend every weekend if the music was right and the management and door staff were tolerant. So I was quite lucky to find myself in that position. That was probably when I started to take DJing more seriously because I was getting some money. I didn’t have a job so being paid to play records meant I could buy more records and blow the rest partying the rest of the weekend! But I was playing 100% new releases then. I didn’t see a place for disco at that point.
Production-wise, I think everyone who’s into music must have the urge to make some themselves, especially at that time when every DJ seemed to be releasing records. So I was always keen to try. I had a few false starts, paying an old rock engineer who happened to own a sampler but had no idea what house music was, trying to work with people who had conflicting ideas to mine and so on. I did produce a few records that I’m certainly not proud of now, but they started the ball rolling. Eventually I started doing some work with Glasgow’s Solemusic who were very supportive and put me into a decent studio which is when I would say I got more enthused about producing music. Without Stevie Middleton from Solemusic I would probably have given up and looked for a job!
MundoVibe: It seems we take a lot for granted with technology now. Having access to decent equipment has always been part of the challenge of creating music. How has your production (thus your music) evolved then as technology and your own experiences have matured?
Al Kent: Well, back when I first started I didn’t know anything about anything.. literally nothing. I’d show up at a studio with a bag of records and little more than an idea in my head. So the end result was always a bit hit and miss, and very very basic. Quite often I’d leave the studio with a cassette of my track and just feel I’d wasted a whole day because it was rubbish. But time is money. Then I got a decent Mac and a copy of Cubase VST and slowly taught myself to use that. So I could spend as long as I wanted on recording and editing, meaning I could take a completed track to the studio and spend a day mixing it instead of most of the day arranging and a quick mix before time was up. That was still pretty basic stuff though – a couple of samples over house drums.
Now I have an even more powerful Mac, but still use Cubase. I’ve never upgraded from version 2 of SX because it does what I need it to do. People ask me which I use; Logic or Pro Tools and I blush when I tell them Cubase. But I don’t use any plug-ins or virtual instruments or whatever, so I don’t see the point in spending a ton of money on something I then need to learn to use just to do the same thing I use Cubase for anyway.
I’m actually going in the opposite direction to everyone else now – I’ve got an old analogue mixing desk, some old keyboards and little bits of outboard gear that I’m adding to slowly. Because all my influences are old 1970s records that’s the sound I’m hoping to achieve, so digital doesn’t do it for me. The Mac’s really only for editing and arrangement, or I suppose I’ll use plug-ins for speed when writing or for knocking up a demo. So, to answer the question, my music hasn’t really evolved through technology, other than the ability to work on my own without the need for an engineer until the final stages.
It’s probably evolved through my experiences though. But that’s just natural for anything you spend a lot of time doing – instead of a couple of samples over house drums it’s a few musicians, or instead of a few hours arranging it’s a few days. I guess experience has given me more confidence to do more than just the basic stuff I started with.
MundoVibe: What productions did you release that you are most satisfied with?
Al Kent: From back then? Probably the first one is a song called “Good Inside” which was the first time I’d used vocals. It was just an accapella over some samples, very simple stuff, but it all worked really well together. “Love is Freedom” which I produced with Milton Jackson before he went all deep house and successful was along the same lines. Those samples worked incredibly well together. Even now I smile when I hear that one! The other one from that era is “Come Back Home” which again is the same idea - a nice vocal over some disco samples.
I guess it’s the “songs” I got satisfaction from. I realise it’s not particularly creative to lay a few samples on top of each other though and thousands of people have made thousands of similar records. It’s usually by accident you come across things that work so well, but that’s part of what makes it so satisfying.
The project I’m most satisfied with is easily the Million Dollar Orchestra album. There’s not a sample on there at all and it took about two years to get that together.
MundoVibe: Well, with the Million Dollar Orchestra you went all out and hired all live musicians for a full fledged disco production. How did you put this together and what were the challenges in doing this? Are you pleased with the results?
Al Kent: The initial idea was never to take it so far – I’d got really bored with just using samples and hadn’t actually had any interest in the type of music I was making for a number of years. I hadn’t bought a new release, didn’t play any new releases as a DJ and didn’t enjoy going to clubs and hearing new music. I was really just going through the motions because it was how I’d become comfortable working. It was laziness. And it was pointless; I got no satisfaction from it and certainly wasn’t getting any money from it. So I started toying with the idea of making some disco tracks, something more from the heart. The first step was “writing” which consisted of me creating some backing tracks from samples; bits of percussion and drum loops from disco records. Then I got a couple of friends to play keys and bass, just emulating records I played to them. I got maybe twelve or so rough ideas together and spent a bit of time editing and getting something coherent out of the few bits I had. I still didn’t have a plan at that point though.
Mark Robb, a good friend of mine who’s very involved in a lot of soul and jazz things that go on in Glasgow got quite interested in what I was doing and asked if I could do a live show for him. I’ve never been known to turn down a gig so Mark and I put together a band to perform some of the tracks I was writing plus a couple of covers. We had a few loose rehearsals normally with only a few people at a time turning up but the show went really well. That was when I started to think about scrapping all the stuff I’d been working on and recording it all live. It seemed weird to have met all these amazing musicians then to sit back down at my computer and start chopping up samples again.
So we did some more rehearsals to let everyone get a feel for the tracks and I booked a studio…
The challenges were really just the sheer number of musicians we had to work with… that and the amount of channels we needed to use on the desk! Thankfully Marco Rea, whose studio we used, is a fantastic engineer so he handled everything perfectly. Without him I don’t think we could’ve got anywhere near as good a result as we did. Editing was very time consuming. We were doing it together in the studio initially, but once I realised how long it was taking I brought everything home and worked on it here. That was kind of hard work.. I went from the couple of samples over house drums I was used to, to something like 56 tracks of strings, horns, percussion and so on.. I think we got carried away! But I loved every minute of it.
I’m really pleased with the results. It’s unusual because normally when I listen to something I’ve made all I can hear is what could’ve been better. My only regret is that we didn’t record any songs. Well, we actually did, but they didn’t make it onto the album. We’d come so far down the road producing the tracks as instrumentals that when we added vocals as an afterthought they just didn’t gel. Still, it means we have some lyrics already written for the next album!
MundoVibe: The result of that first recording from Million Dollar Orchestra was “Better Days”, which came out on BBE Records. How did you connect with BBE? What was the response to the release? How did people react knowing out that you’d gone to such efforts to record it?
Al Kent: I still didn’t have any solid plans when I finished the album, I just sent copies round a load of labels I thought might be interested. The loose idea I had was to put it out myself if need be but it would obviously be better to get somebody more experienced behind it. BBE is a label I’d always admired so they were one of the ones I approached. A few labels got back to me but I really liked BBE’s attitude to the album, and business in general, so happily went with them.
The response was good – I didn’t expect to make a fortune from it, so it came as no surprise when I didn’t, but the feedback I got was all very positive. Which is really all you can ask for if you’re involved in anything creative; that people you admire, or people who share your tastes appreciate something you’ve done. It’s always really difficult to judge your own music – when I listen I can hear each element and listen a lot more closely than a casual listener would, so I really have no idea how they sound as complete tracks, and especially have no idea if I got the recording and mixing process right for what I was hoping to achieve. Thankfully a lot of people were fooled into thinking it was recorded in the 1970s, so I guess it worked out.
I think people who know me, or know of me, were most impressed with what I’d done.. I was asked about samples and things like that when it was released, so I’m sure there are plenty of people who had no idea the lengths I’d gone to. But through the MDD site, mailing list and various interviews I did there were a lot of people who knew early on what I was up to. It was great to get feedback from those people because it was partly based on their appreciation of the work involved. But at the end of the day, no matter how long it took or how much work we’d put into it, it’s the finished product that counts. The tracks could’ve been rubbish after all that so any positive critiques were good, whether the person knew the background or not.
There were a couple of negative things – someone didn’t like it because it wasn’t as good as Tom Moulton or Patrick Adams! (must remember to record MFSB in Sigma Sounds next time then!) And one guy on a forum called it the worst most boring fake record of the year! That was a bit weird.
MundoVibe: “Better Days” not only fooled many into thinking it was the real thing, it also received accolades for its authenticity and for its modern sound. How did this release shape your next projects, did you apply a different methodology to what you did?
Al Kent: The next project was “Secret Sounds” which was a lot simpler than the Orchestra thing because there was very little recording involved. I would imagine most people who produce music have hard discs full of unfinished and forgotten tracks; I had tons – rough ideas, tracks I’d gone off, MDO sessions we hadn’t used. Better Days had taken so long and been really costly (I had to sell a lot of records to finance it) so I couldn’t just simply do a follow up until I’d had a rest and recouped some money. But I also couldn’t see myself taking an actual break. So I worked with what I had. As far as my part in producing that project there wasn’t really any comparison to the Million Dollar Orchestra. But when it came to mixing I made sure I went back to Marco and we treated those sessions much the same as we did the other ones.. everything went through the desk and analogue outboard gear again, we bounced it to tape and so on.
I think we both learned a lot from the MDO sessions and I guess I do have a different way of working now thanks to that. I know now how I want things to sound and have a fair idea of how to get it right whereas there was a lot of trial and error before. And I find it quite difficult now to work on anything as simple as what I had been doing which is a bit of a hindrance as it slows everything down, but it’s hopefully worth it.
MundoVibe: Considering the work you put into learning this process and its genuine nod to classic disco let’s hope there’s more of this to come. Do you see any connections of what you are doing to other artists and studios? For example, in Brooklyn is Daptone Studios which treats soul music in a similar fashion as you to disco. Do you want to expand what you’re doing and bring other artists into it?
Al Kent: I have to be honest and admit that I don’t really keep up to date with who’s doing what. Of course I know of Daptone and a few other names are familiar, but my time is taken up so much doing my own thing that it’s difficult to investigate much else. But I suppose we’re all trying to do similar things.. make the music we’re influenced by in a respectful way and in a way that allows us to get an authentic sound. As I hinted at before, there’s no point in using old equipment and traditional method’s if your music sucks, so the recording process is only part of the puzzle.. but for me it’s a big part!
I’d love to work with other artists. Vocalists in particular. That’s the one thing that’s missing from my music and it’s something I’m very keen to rectify. I’ve spoken to a few people about it recently so that’ll be happening soon. I’d also love to work with other producers, just to bring some fresh ideas in. But it’s genuinely hard to find anyone who fits the way I want to work or who has the same influences, or complimentary influences.
MundoVibe: One would certainly think there’d be vocalists eager to work with you. If you could work with any vocalists from the classic disco era who might they be?
Al Kent: Without question Chaka Khan. But that’s a dream that’ll never come true! There are people who I’ve been in touch with who maybe sang on some obscure old 45, or people who I’ve run into on the dreaded facebook that I’d happily work with. The difficulty is they’re all in New York or Detroit so it’s not easy to record them, and I’d be terrified to do it without being present to oversee things.
MundoVibe: Maybe one day Chaka Khan will knock at your door, one never knows! Apart from your recording projects you have gained a solid reputation as a re-editor and compiler of rare disco and soul tracks, released as “Disco Love” by BBE. How did this project arise? Are these tracks culled from your own collection or do you seek them out? How do you go about the re-editing process?
Well I’d been doing these small run CDs of rare disco tracks for a while – “Disco Demands”- which I sold through the MDD site. I sent some of them to BBE around the time we were talking about the Million Dollar Orchestra. Peter said “Pity you didn’t let us put these out” or something like that, I said I had plenty more if he was genuinely interested and so we started planning the first Disco Love. I was really surprised because obviously there are some pretty serious people on that label and I’m just this guy from Glasgow who likes records.
The Disco Love tracks are all records I already have.. but I’ve noticed recently that I’ve been justifying a few purchases with the excuse that I can use them for a future compilation!
I don’t really have a particular set process when I’m editing. I think it’s the same with producing; half the time the initial idea you had won’t work and at some point you’ll go off on a tangent. Or give up. I’ve pretty much stopped trying to work things out in advance because it’s invariably a waste of time.
I’ll edit almost everything that I buy – either because there are parts I don’t like or other parts I particularly like, or just to give it a unique twist. I’ve bought so many records over the years though specifically because I thought I could make a good edit that have just been a complete waste of money!
Anyway, a rough idea of my editing process: Record the audio first, of course, then start chopping.. Usually I’ll hack away at the audio as it plays, deleting anything I don’t like straight off, highlighting anything I think will work particularly well. Then it’s usually a case of trial and error, looping certain parts, moving things around until I find a groove I like. Things have to feel natural, but also a bit unnatural if possible! Once all that’s out of the way it’s plain sailing.. it becomes quite organic.. just listening to the track you know what should happen at certain points so it’s only a matter of making sure these things happen when you sense they should.
MundoVibe: So, in a sense you are re-defining what disco is for modern ears with your edits. Can you pinpoint what is different now in terms of what is appealing to you and to the listener/dance-floor?
Al Kent: I don’t know if I’m necessarily doing it for modern ears – there’s a very long history of editing in disco and I feel like I’m really just keeping up that tradition.
I can’t speak for the dance-floor; I can only do what I like and hope that it works for them too. One thing I do know though is that I’m tired of hearing the same few disco records played again and again. So that’s mainly what drives me – trying to find records that maybe aren’t so well known or are underplayed or forgotten, but also sound great in a club (there are plenty of records that are unknown because they’re awful!). And then I try to make them sound even better! I love the classics too but for me it’s much better to play a new version instead of boring people with “I Know You I Live You” or “Do What You Wanna Do” for the zillionth time. And I guess that’s perhaps what I’m aiming for when I edit – I don’t want to play the same records that any other DJs play. Or at least not in the way they play them. That appeals to me and it’s probably refreshing for the dance-floor too.
House music obviously had a massive impact on the dance-floor which changed the way music was played in clubs. So I always think it’s a good idea to construct an edit with that in mind. All those edits you hear where someone’s looped the intro and then it’s just the song confuse me. What’s the point in that? It seems a lot of people just want to be able to say they did an edit. What appeals to me is creating a whole new track from something – sometimes even completely changing the feeling of something just by emphasising certain parts and losing others.
MundoVibe: So not only do you select rare tracks for the “Disco Love” releases, they are also stamped with your re-edited sound style. What tracks are you featuring in the new “Disco Love” release and how does it differ from the first?
Al Kent: I didn’t think I’d been too radical with the editing on Disco Love (I didn’t know I had a style either!). Although looking at the track-list now I actually did completely restructure quite a few of them.. I can’t help myself sometimes!
Disco Love 2 doesn’t differ so much from the first one in that it’s simply a bunch of records I really like. I didn’t have a set path for the first but from reviews I’ve seen it seems like there is some sort of theme I didn’t consciously plan. I just hope it isn’t ruined by part 2 as I didn’t have that in mind when I was choosing those tracks. But they’re both a reflection of my taste in music with records chosen for their quality rather than value or scarcity, so I’m sure the “theme” will carry on.
The songs on part two that are getting the best reactions are Sandy Barber “I Think I’ll Do Some Stepping On My Own” and Elijah John Group “Keep a Little Love For Yourself”, neither of which are particularly difficult to track down, but are great examples of the type of music I love.
Both albums have one track I submitted then regretted when it was too late though.. I always seem to do something stupid!
MundoVibe: With the compilations and Million Dollar Orchestra you have a lot to handle. What can we expect for the future? A live tour perhaps or a reunion with some of disco’s best DJs? What do you have planned?
Al Kent: The comps and so on are only part of it.. I keep a lot of balls in the air!
Million Dollar Orchestra live is something I would love to do at some point. We had quite a few offers after the first album, but obviously with that giant band and everyone having other commitments etc., it was very difficult to get anything together. The next time we record I’ll make sure there are some songs that can easily be played live without having 20 people on stage.. unless of course anyone has the budget for the full band, then I’ll gladly do a full show!
I don’t really make plans.. I just do what I can from day to day. Right now I’m working on a latin-ish disco project with a few guys, running a monthly party in a warehouse in Glasgow, re-editing like crazy, negotiating a tour of Australia, possibly Japan, possibly USA and working on some remixes for Blue Note and Clone.
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