Richard West aka Mr.C was born in London in the late 60’s. He started MCing in London clubs aged 16 & soon earned a reputation as a fast talking vivacious rapper working with LWR radio’s Ron Tom, Jasper the Vinyl Junkie & Jazzy M. Mr.C then hooked up with Colin Faver & Evil Eddie Richards to became resident rapper at the legendary Camden Palace in London, going on to MC for Colin Faver on the then illegal pirate radio station Kiss FM. Mr.C went into the studio to record his 1st house track with Eddie Richards as Myster-E which was released in August 1987. This inspired Mr.C to become a DJ to learn more about his beloved House & Techno music so in September 1987 Richard took to the decks. Mr.C has since organised, promoted & been resident DJ at: Fantasy (’88), Base (Dungeons ’89), Release (91), Harmony (92), Drop (93), Cyclone (94), Vapourspace (94 & 95), Flavour (The End 95 & 96), Subterrain (The End 95 – 2002), Superfreq (Worldwide 2002 – Present), Super Disco Freq (LA 2010 – present). Mr.C was also resident DJ every weekend (Friday & Saturday nights) at the legendary RIP parties at Clink Street in London throughout 1988. It was here that Rave Culture as we know it was truly born, inspiring all London raves that were to follow in 88, 89 & 90.
When did you start DJing – and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started DJing in the autumn of 1987 after releasing my first deep house record in August 1987 called “Page 76” by Myster-E on Eddie Richards’ Baad imprint. It was then that I realised I wanted to do more than just vocals and thought the best way to really learn about production was to become a DJ. My early passions in music were Elvis as a little kid and after he died when I was 11, I got into Abba for a short time (still a guilty pleasure), which soon led me onto Disco. Then the 2nd wave of Ska hit in the late 70’s so I was listening to bands like the Specials and Madness, which then got me into 1st wave Ska like Prince Buster, the Skatalites and the Harry J Allstars. Ska introduced me to Reggae and Soul and in the early 80s I got much more heavily into disco, rap and funk and then old school electro, which was probably my heaviest influence in becoming a rapper, which I did in 1982. I started clubbing in 1980 so I was a fan of all of the disco and electro that followed and house before it was called house. Things like Russ Brown on Jump Street, early Easy Street releases and the second wave of Disco and Italo Disco, which was very synth led like D-Train, Greg Henderson and Klein and MBO etc.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own style?
I was always into what was new and have always had a real hunger for fresh music although Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force, Jeckyll and Hyde, Newcleus and Egyptian Lover etc heavily influenced my rap. When house first started coming through in the mid 80s, I was already into it under its then-name “Dance Music” so was hooked immediately and in early 86 switched my rap style to House, rapping about Jackin’ your body. As a DJ and producer, I was never interested in following the crowd or being like anyone else. I’ve never sampled and always been into writing my own rhythms, synth lines and music. Sounding like anyone else was always a turn off for me so emulating others was only in my formative years as a rapper when I was 13.
Do you have a sense, given that you’ve organised and promoted club nights, of what the new strategies are for creating spaces for people to enjoy electronic music, dance, and raves?
Once these central city areas become gentrified, which is happening as it’s all about pounds, shillings, and pence, we have to move a little bit further out and look to industrial zones to set up new event spaces. That’s all we can do. There is no other choice for ravers.
You were around at the birth and early development of rave culture and have worn a lot of hats from being a DJ, music producer, organiser and so on. How would you compare contemporary club culture with that early creative ferment surrounding rave culture?
It’s like night and day! [Laughs]
Back when we started putting on illegal parties in 1986 and 1987 around London, there were so many warehouse spaces and empty studio spaces where we could just go in, kick off the doors, set up a generator system and throw events. It was small and it was underground. Now, people are dancing in festivals with thousands of thousands of people, like Movement, BPM, ADE, Time Warp…I could go on forever. We’ve gone from very small underground events, 200 to 400 people spaces, to huge festivals. It’s gone from being inside, nighttime parties for like minded, innovative people to lowest common denominator crowds, 90 percent of whom have no clue about music. They’re just going to huge festivals to dance and have fun. It couldn’t be any more different.
Were there a certain set of sounds you were after when assembling the collectives for the lineup?
Absolutely, yes. I’ve been in this scene from the very beginning. I made my first deep house track at the end of 1986 with Eddie Richards. It was after that release that I started to DJ, and I’ve always been into very good, high quality underground dance music. In the 80s, I was into soul, r&b, funk, disco, old school electro; I was into robot dancing, pop locking and stuff like that. And then house music came along and I hopped on that immediately. New York house and garage, Chicago house and acid, Detroit House and Techno, Old school Electro and European Electro, Acid House that was coming out of Holland, England and Germany all became the backdrop for the birth of underground rave culture in London which went on to proliferate across the world.
How would you describe your approach to building a set? What are some of the characteristics that define who you are as a DJ?
I like to get people into a fun party mood and then get more twisted from there. Never knowing what’s about to come next definitely defines me, being a master of trepidation and whatever I do being very trippy; yet very sexy. These things define my style. I do have my own sound but that comes from deep house, house, lots of acid, tech house, techno and proper electro and I do like to drop classics and disco very late in the morning when doing extended sets. Whatever I play there will be no cheese.
It has today almost become customary to radically change pieces in the act of mixing and to increase the creative input of the DJ even to the level of the actual composition. What’s your take on that and in how much do you make use of these possibilities yourself? Is there such a thing as ‘disrespectful mixing’?
Playing lots of loops can get a bit boring as I do like proper compositions, but I’ve heard some pretty amazing edits of tracks getting thrown down. I play tracks as they were intended to be played for the most part, but I also do very long and drawn out mixes and use FX in the mix. However I rarely do my own edits, but that could change in the near future now that Record Box and Pioneer Nexus equipment is so versatile. I don’t think there’s such a thing as disrespectful mixing but there is self-indulgent mixing to try to get brownie points, which I find quite annoying.
One of the most important aspects of a DJ set is the transition from one track to the next. What makes a transition successful from your perspective? What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next – are these purely subjective to you or are there objective things that work or don’t work?
For me simply good, honest long mixing works best. Transitions are important and it’s nice to delay tracks out or use filters and other effects to complete a mix. For me, the Universe decides which tune to play next. The tracks make themselves obvious as the crowd and unified atmosphere is leading the way. Mixing should be subjective because doing things on the fly is usually more exciting. Of course there are tricks and more objective techniques that work, but in my humble opinion these can get a little tired. Follow the arrow and take risks I say.
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What’s your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?
Reaching people doesn’t always mean working with a PR company. I didn’t use a PR company from the mid 90s, right up until two years ago when I re-launched my Superfreq imprint and it didn’t stop me getting noticed. If you make good music, get it out there by sending your material to all the good working DJs who play your style of music and play amazing sets. These things very much speak for themselves. There are many DJs that are promoted heavily by publicists who are pretty obvious and commercial DJs. These “hyped” DJs are usually not that good. They’re cheesy, have huge egos and DJ only for fame and money. However, I do think good DJs and producers should market themselves properly to their audience and use decent PR companies. They deserve to be heard and they do have to cut through all the bullshit somehow, which sadly means sometimes playing these marketed “hyped” DJs a little at their own game. It’s a sad thing because heavily marketed DJs who are rubbish are tricking lazy journalists who feed from PR companies like parasites and are holding back real talent. Shame.
It is remarkable, in a way, that DJing has remained relevant for such a long time. Do you nonetheless have a vision of DJing, an idea of what it could be beyond its current form?
I don’t know that it is remarkable. People have been dancing to percussive sound as a part of human evolution for over 50,000 years so that’s not about to stop any time soon. In my eyes there will always be people who want to dance in large groups to great music to enjoy the music, socialise, have fun, get laid and celebrate life. There are also many sheeple who will simply follow whatever’s trendy and rammed down their throats by heavy marketing. There will always also be people who love playing other peoples records (and their own records) to the said large groups of people. I’d like to see more live acts performing personally and I’d also like to see more real DJs that don’t make music get a look in, the later of which I don’t see happening any time soon due to media hype and the marketing of the copyists.