Rennie Foster is a musician with an interesting back-story. A native of Canada, he grew up with b-boy culture before be became more renowned for his work within house and techno, a musical inclination that’s pretty much defined him ever since. Having spent some living in Japan, he’s also one of very few western DJs and producers who can give an adequate and in-depth insight into Japan’s electronic music community. If you’ve checked out his recent productions (especially his collaboration with emerging Mahogani producer, Dan Shake) then you’ll know what he’s all about. If not, read on for an intriguing insight into the world of one of Canada’s finest purveyors of the underground…
So, can you tell us a bit about your relationship with electronic music. How did it all start?
It started for me, really, with b-boying, in 1982. I found it like many kids at the time, but for me it didn’t fade away when the breakfast cereal commercials stopped featuring the “electric boogaloo”. I was deeply influenced by hip hop and new wave culture. I was in a rap group whose members went on to much acclaim in the hip hop world. I found “house” from hip hop, early mix tapes, often taped from the radio in NYC or Toronto, and passed around. There was no difference for a while, the lines were very blurred. Artists like Bomb The Bass, Native Tongues, Renegade Soundwave, Twin Hype, were my everyday music. I distinctly fell in love with “house” when i heard Fast Eddie’s “Hip House”. It confirmed everything I was already thinking. It was, literally, the music in my head. I have been a devoted disciple of the underground ever since.
Am I correct in thinking that you’re a hip-hop head, an electronic music producer and a DJ? Do you prefer one over the other? Do you almost see them as one in a way?
There is no difference to me. I don’t play “house music”, I AM house. Everything I play is house, in the way I play it. House was a thing long before there was actual house records. I am into house in that way. Hip hop is how I live, and how I grew up. It is also me, so it’s in everything I do. I have no interest in “genre”. It is a distraction to me, fine for others maybe. I am interested in subcultural communication through participation in art as ritual, not Beatport charts. I am making tracks like code, for people who speak a certain language. Trying to “prefer” hip hop, house, techno, jazz, skateboarding, graffiti etc., feels like trying to deny different parts of who I am. I have always felt pressure to prefer different things other people have created. ..But I am not into cults.. I am into religion, and my religion is house.
Why do you reckon so many hip-hop fans graduate to electronic music?
Graduate? I can not even process that question. I have never had much interest in “graduating”, I didn’t even finish High School. I certainly would never want to “graduate” hip hop out of my life. Anyway, isn’t it “electronic music” anyway? Listen to Man Parrish, Mantronix, Cybotron. Even throughout the nineties I thought nothing of making house tracks with the same gear and methodology as stuff for the homies to rap on. Anyway, I don’t think making music that is defined by what other people have already made, just faster, is much of a graduation. I would think of growing to level where you are making your original music, that is influenced by your experiences within both hip hop and “electronic” music culture, as a real graduation
Have you ever rapped over one of your own house tracks? How would that sound?
I have been rapping over tracks since I have been making music, in fact, for many years it was the sole reason I made tracks, to rap over them. There is even some wax out there. Check out “Codebreaker” on the Japanese vinyl-only label “Bear Knuckle”. I have been making music under the radar for years, there is all kinds of stuff out there. I am going to drop a release in a couple weeks actually on Seattle techno label “Urban Kickz” that has a track “Drama” with my vocals on it and a single coming up called “Exchange Something” on EastVan Digital that features Winnipeg based emcee Birdapres. Check it out!
Can you give us an example of one of your rhymes?
Sure, why not?…
I know I’m vintage, but don’t sweat it, I’ll probably have to die before you get it.
Let’s get lost, then found underground, My name is RF, now just jack to the sound.
And my whole team is genius, I got the decks sewn up with a mix that’s seamless.
Soul music for the damned, and you better cram, yes, it’s on the exam.
Emcees who use big words don’t make it mad harder –
Welcome to chemistry class, I’ll fail you and plus your lab partner.
I b-boy like Lee and DJ like Kenny, my homies call me Dub, but my mom calls me Rennie.
[Laughs] I’m no Pharaohe Monch I know.. but I’ve been known to bless the mic a bit. I write a lot more thoughtful stuff as well, but that is an example of some straight up hip house style.
So now that we’re finished with talking hip-hop, lets talk your latest EP. It’s quite different, with both you and JGarrett supplying a track each and then having your music remixed. Whose idea was that?
I don’t know who’s idea it was, we were just in collaborative flow. It’s sort of common for punk rock 7” records to be split between a couple small labels. Why not do it with small labels like ours?
Was it an economical idea too? i.e. To split the costs?
We both wanted to press up some wax for Movement in May, and times are tight, know what I mean? This is just some real underground folks cooperating on getting some music out there. Plus, Josh and I have different “circles” you could say. But comparable, so showing some of his folks what I’m up to, and vice versa, is a good thing. Communication is what I am talking about, and you can dance to it too.
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So how long have you known JGarrett? Is this the first time you’ve released music together?
I have known Josh since moving back to Canada from Tokyo in 2011. He is from Detroit, so we are connected through a bunch of folks. He was doing techno stuff in Vancouver, so we crossed paths and identified ourselves as being members of the same tribe. Collaborations were imminent.
And can you tell us a bit more about the release? The Amir Alexander remix was out before I believe. Why did you want to release it again?
Well, the Amir Alexander remix of “Call The Sun” was previously released on RF, but only digitally. The original version was released on vinyl through Soiree Records, a label from Detroit that has been releasing top quality work for 25 years. Amir and I both agreed that his mix needed to be on wax too, so this was done. Josh also has an original, and a serious remix from Sean Deason on his side. So there is a good balance to the release.
And have you many tracks like that of your own? That you feel would benefit from a re-release?
Sure, tons. That is one of the things I am doing with the RF label, digitally re-releasing some of my work that was previously available vinyl only, and also making sure that some of the best of the digital only work I’ve done, gets on vinyl too. I am no purist to any format. Nor do I think one is definitively any better than the other for everyone. I just want to get the music to the heads in the way they prefer it in their life. I am constantly releasing material, both new and old, on that label, and with new remixes, artwork, mastering etc.
Your own track “Soda Cracker” is more indicative of your soulful side. What inspired that one?
The main vocal loop was sampled from a song in a movie. It’s a bluesy sort of folk song. I am always sampling stuff from everywhere. I love samples, but I don’t use sample packs and stuff. I know sample packs sound great, and are OK for other people, but for myself I just can’t stand using a vocal snippet or something that I didn’t “find”. Mostly because I don’t want to use the same sounds other people already use. Like the loop in “Soda Cracker”, the track is really just built around it. I meant it more as a DJ tool than anything else. I will release the digital version on RF in May and include some tools, like just the beats, and just the vocal loop acapella for DJs who like to go in on the mix like I do. You can mix it with anything really. The weird organ sounding pads give it an eerie sort of vibe too, along with the treatment of the sample. Like I said before, it’s sort of code, or a language.
Did it end up as you envisaged it to? Or did you change a lot of it during the production process?
I am in a constant process of making music, so I never really “envision” tracks. I just start going in and see where I end up.
Personally speaking, what do you think makes it stand out from other tracks out there?
Hmmm, well, I think that is more of a question someone else beside myself would have to answer. I am so close to my own music that it is hard to have a perspective like that on it for me. For me, the differences are obvious, but I don’t know how most people will hear it. That is why I think of it as coded communication, some people will hear it, and know it’s my stuff right away I think. Maybe just a few people. Anyway, it’s a track.
What did you learn about yourself from a personal and musical perspective after this release?
That is an interesting question. This release is part of a larger project to me, the project of RF. So I am definitely learning things, both musically, and personally, through this whole era of my life. It’s very hard for me to describe how I change or grow from each individual step in the process, like this record, but it’s happening for sure. One thing I can tell you about this particular release, is it’s a return to working with Prime Direct Distribution, from the UK, since the first RF vinyl singles in 2010/11 and I am very thankful for that. I didn’t do such a good job promoting those two records, in fact I totally blew it I think. I understand now a lot more about the current state of the vinyl DJ industry. I didn’t even consider that many people buy records online in the modern world, not in the record shop always, like we used to. Big up to Spencer at Prime Direct, and much respect.
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What are your top three memories in electronic music so far?
Honestly, I really find it weird that people now are so OCD about ranking everything in lists and stuff. It’s very hard for me to think like that. I don’t have any “top 3” memories, but I can tell you about three, of many, many, good memories…
1. 2006, When Laurent Garnier called a guy’s studio I was staying at in Paris looking for me, in order to ask me to do a record for F-Com. That blew my mind. It’s a funny story too, because I ended up telling him a little lie. He asked if I had any available demo tracks that were like the stuff I had done for Subject Detroit, and of course I said yes. I hate lying, so I felt horrible too. I had no free demo tracks in reality. I quickly (but passionately) made something using that fellow’s studio space and my laptop, and that became the “La Defense” record. I was lucky he liked the track! I called it “La Defense” so he would figure out that I made it there, that was where I was staying when he called me, in the La Defense area of Paris. Sorry for lying to you Laurent, but I had to do it!
2. Last weekend I played in Brooklyn for a really cool crew of very young Dominican guys, called ID NY. It was a great party, but that is not why it was such a special memory. At the end, when we were sorting money, I realised that what they had given me was a bit short, not from anything shady, just a misunderstanding with the breakdown of expenses. When I brought it to their attention, they didn’t make any excuse, they started to put the money together, and I could see that it was stressful for them, and they were putting it together from their own money. I said, ‘Hey, it’s OK!’ The amount they had given me already was enough (and it was). They could have made an excuse, like so many other promoters would have, even “professional” promoters who are my age, but they didn’t. Instead they chose honour and integrity, and it gave me an incredible feeling of hope for this next generation of underground dance music. They were obviously operating by the seat of their pants, and not the most organised guys ever, but they handled their business with real perspective, and passion for what they are doing. These are the kind of promoters I am really loyal to.
3. A third cherished memory might be this: Some years ago, I was playing this outdoor rave deep in the forest of British Columbia, and two of my very good local DJ friends, Brent Carmichael and Scotty Stylus happened to be playing different stages, but our set times overlapped. So we synchronized our watches, and organized to play “Zombie Nation” all at exactly the same time on all three stages of the event. Just to fuck with people. It worked. Mayhem ensued across the entire party, which was pretty vast, and minds were lost (but found again soon afterward). Brent C was a major influence and mentor to me who was a truly great DJ, he passed away some years ago, which makes the memory of that night even more special.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve over the years as a DJ and producer?
One thing I have learned is that nothing is as essential and important as doing good work. Trying to get famous or getting into marketing yourself and all that means nothing if you are not doing incredible stuff. The work is what matters. Your music doesn’t “owe” you anything as an artist. You owe it. I have always been devoted, but my devotion has changed into something altogether less selfish, and yet more fierce, than it was, even recently.
Do you think the best is yet to come from you? What else have you got lined up?
I can promise 100% that the best is yet to come. I feel really inspired recently, and my creative powers grow. If you don’t like what I do now, I can’t imagine you will like the new work much, as the original vision is still there. If you are feeling it though, even just a little bit, I am sure you will hear a new clarity and focus to the work. I am going to be around doing this for a very long time still, even if it’s just for myself and a few heads out there. I am working with some great labels, and have many things lined up already for 2015, such as a vocal cut “The Way Out” with Skylab Sounds, releases with Ornaments and Soiree, and some remix/collabs with artists like Dan Shake, Myles Serge and rappers Moka Only and Birdapres. I’m working hard over here every day and loving it.
Words: Ian Fleming