Quell is one of those characters who can easily flit from one style to another with ease, still in keeping with his sound ethic and also maintaining a high level of quality without tarnishing his identity – which is not easy in this business. With a killer album on Jerome Sydenham’s Ibadan label last year plus a slew of bumping club-focused EPs in recent months, Quell’s a man who we here at Deep House London have utmost respect for. So we decided to drop him a line for a quick chat and get him involved in our weekly mix series – have a read of the interview while listening to his excellent podcast, they make perfect companions to one another…
Firstly, can you just briefly introduce yourself – in case anyone reading is not aware of you…
I am an expatriate recording artist/DJ living in Berlin, Germany with my girlfriend and our dog. I’m originally from Athens, Greece, but have now spent half my life living abroad, England for 8 years, then Berlin from 2007-as we speak. I have worked with labels like Ibadan, Tsuba, 2020Vision, Skylax, Shabby Doll and others as a producer plus I DJ regularly, which is one of the many perks of what I do for a living.
Summer is always a busy time in this business, what have you been up to gig-wise over the last few months?
Recently, I traveled to Italy, where I played for the lovely Extravaganza crew and had an unforgettable time, then went on to play at the amazing Sub Club in Glasgow and I finally returned to Tresor for my kind-of residency there twice this summer. I always have a blast there, Tresor, to me, is one of the places where I can really stretch my legs and dig in DJ-wise.
Any new territories/clubs that have really impressed you?
Anyone who knows me even a little bit, will tell you that I have always had a soft spot for the UK, so without wanting to segregate. I think England, Scotland etc. are some of my absolute favorite locations to perform in. Very close second are France and Italy, I think that’s where I come closer to my Mediterranean roots, so it’s always lovely traveling there to perform and spend time as well. I don’t want to sound like a walking cliché, but I’ve hardly had any “bad gigs” these past few years I’ve been traveling the world around to DJ professionally. As I said it’s one of the perks of writing and releasing music. And I love it, all of it. I’ve even made good friends along the way because of it! I’m generally very thankful to whomever decided to say, ‘Right, let’s book Quell’ and went ahead with it, and as much as I get given something I always want to give it back tenfold.
And what have you been doing studio/release-wise?
Well it’s a pretty exciting time for me as I have quite a few things coming up. First off, I’ve just done a remix on Shabby Doll for Montel and Sean Grieves’ ‘South West Seven’ outfit on their track called ‘Angel’ which is out now on vinyl for those interested. Then I finally managed to put together a four-track EP on Huxley and Jimmy’s label Saints & Sonnets entitled ‘Perth & Kinross’ EP. I say finally because Michael (Huxley) had approached me for music even before he started this awesome label. I was just busy with LP work, but I never forgot the offer and I hope my coming back to the guys will do the label justice. Furthermore, Jacques Renault and Nik Mercer from the very prolific Let’s Play House are starting a brand new LPH offshoot label called ‘Room Service’ on which the first release will be another four-track EP of mine called ‘The Middle Class’ EP. Lastly, and what has been in the works for some time now, I’ll be putting out ‘Desdemona’ EP on the Parisian Skylax Records sometime in 2014.
You released an album a little while ago with Ibadan, can you tell us a bit about that; how long did it take to make it? Did it have a theme? How difficult was it to make an entire album? Will there be more Quell albums?
I’d worked and hung out with Jerome Sydenham for a while and we always saw eye to eye on certain things. I’d already released a split single on the label previously called ‘Alsos’ and helped J out with studio work/keyboard playing and helping out as a consultant/engineer on several of his tracks, so the more time passed, the closer we grew together as artists and friends. So he started thinking that there was no need to beat around the bush and that it would be to our best interest to hit hard with a full length LP of mine, which sounded pretty great to me.
The concept behind the LP was basically to write a “love note” to all the great artists that passed through Ibadan, and who influenced my work immensely, from Vince Watson and Slam Mode to Kerri Chandler, Dennis Ferrer and Joe Claussell, but the idea was to put my own fresh touch on it and make it mine. It wasn’t a hard process per se, the way I work usually is I’ll finish a large body of work quickly and then just spend large amounts of time reviewing the music again and again and spending time with it, living with it.
As for another upcoming album I have all the appetite in the world to delve into a big project like that and many ideas, but I think at the moment, I need to be hitting the public, aka my fans and music lovers, more often with a bunch of carefully selected EPs, showcasing all the different styles of tracks I have been and still working on in my studio.
How did you make the connection with Jerome Sydenham?
I’d been in Berlin already for a year before Jerome moved here too by way of New York and Denmark briefly, a mutual friend of ours, and one of my close friends, Argy, was playing at a club here one evening and told me he’d had a surprise guest that I’d be very happy to meet. Well needless to say Jerome and I were drinking and talking about music and everything else an hour after he arrived. We hit it off immediately and became friends first and then, later on, co-workers too.
Let’s talk about DJing, as you’re known to be someone who takes the artform very seriously… what do you think are the main problems that face the world of DJing in the 21st Century?
Derrick May once said if you stop a random person on the street and you tell them you are a dance music DJ, there’s a great chance they’ll either think you play wedding parties/birthdays or that you’re a David Guetta stadium kinda guy. What we fail to understand oftentimes is that we, who are in this thing, live in is a microcosm of pretty specific taste, different norms than the “normal” world etc. I’ve always been fascinated by sub-cultures, from my teenage years (Punks, Goths, Indie/Twee kids etc.), so I am very happy to be part of one more sub-culture, such as dance music/DJing as an active member and also have that be my main occupation and means of expression.
That being said, I think some of what I said is the “problem” with many aspiring DJs nowadays. When I was younger we used to live with the music that DJs before us played, and there also not that many of us, which was good and bad in equal measures I think. We spent time with the records/tracks/songs, tried to understand them, they were also intricately linked with life memories. I feel like someone who wanted to pursue a career as a DJ had to think about it more than twice, and then face all the difficulties that come with the territory. I feel like today a lot of people who decide to start DJing either choose or just simply bypass the whole experience of starting out all the way to ‘getting there’.
Maybe DJing is not an art form itself, but the DJ sure as hell is a curator and presenter of other peoples’ art, and in many cases (also in mine) their own. The ‘no big deal’ approach that I see too much of around today results in very underwhelming results/nights out when people have to stand in front of audiences and entertain them. Nowadays, anyone can have access to the means required to perform as DJs, therefore playing music out to people has become a sort of light-hearted pastime for pretty much anybody, a little like vaguely watching football in the kitchen. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me as though there’s less real, in-depth investment in DJing compared to, say, 15 years ago, generally speaking.
Last thing I want to do is sound pessimistic or like a bitter older man though, it’s just something I notice, that I find to be an important issue; at the same time there are plenty of new DJs in clubs and otherwise who are mind-blowing or at the very least very interesting.
How do you think these problems could be dealt with? Do you think it’s maybe something to with the education of young people/wannabe DJs?
I don’t see them as problems per se, it’s just the way things have become, some more signs of our times. The technology available when I was starting out (aka CDJs) was considered groundbreaking, but also unacceptable to a lot of people back then and it was viewed as a problem too. DJs before my time seemed to fear that us youngsters were going to steal their ‘Technics Holy Grail’ from their hands or something like that, when it really was just technological advance. It’s always the same story, about different means/tools each time. Another thing is that DJing, in a way, has become too available these days, and anything that becomes too available and has a certain factor of interest about it, just ends up becoming a watered-down version of itself.
I don’t want to condemn anything though; What I do has never had more exposure before in all its years of existence and that, no matter what anyone says, is a great thing. What really matters is what we DJs do with that exposure. There will always be things you can look at, that are way more important, and not affected by the passing of time or any technological achievements, such as maintaining a thorough/critical way of thinking about music, being respectful and knowing that although one might have tons of talent, it takes a long time to hone in.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start DJing?
I am not qualified to give anyone advice I don’t think, I can only make remarks and people make of them what they will. So, the things I have been noticing lately, as I mentioned previously, is that people decide to be DJs overnight and have a kind of cavalier ‘who cares’ attitude about it. I always say, we don’t all have to become DJs just because we can buy DJing equipment from the store!
Which DJs, new or old, really inspire you?
There are lots of them, some of them friends, some other people I’ve followed over the years like the Weatherall/Smagghe/Trevor Jackson spectrum and now I guess, Daniel Avery, Intergalactic Gary, Traxx, Addison Groove and Tessela are some names who come to mind. Then there are the more classic house/techno guys like Chez/Kerri/Joe/Derrick Carter/Derrick May/Jeff Mills/Robert Hood etc. and I’m sure I’ve forgotten many more.
You DJ all over the world, where do you always really look forward to playing?
As I said earlier, each gig has its own vibes and value and I really treasure every place I’ve been to and performed at, in or on! I would be lying to myself though, if I didn’t say I’ll always have a soft spot for the UK, in terms of DJing and in general. I guess that’s where my special/spiritual home was all along and where I’d like to spend the rest of my life in the future, so every time I get the chance to play in the UK, I get pretty excited.
If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?
This is a great question. I guess looking back at it now there are a couple of things I’d change, but then again I can’t help but think that everything that happened has brought me here, and here isn’t that bad. One thing I’d change is that I recently tried to shake things up a great deal in the studio and spent more time than I should have pursuing a different angle at electronic music, when I sensed that the people who have been supporting me might have wanted more of what I’d already given them, which made me feel like it wasn’t the right time for experimentations. That premature shift I tried to make also resulted in taking up most of last year, hence my brief “silence” on the releases’ front.
What do you have forthcoming music-wise? Any big plans for next year and beyond?
Well, I have been very active and creative in the studio lately, so managing and arranging how I can get this music released is a big plan itself! Other than that I am looking forward to a time where I will have more freedom to do ‘my own thing’ i.e. starting my label, which has been a plan of mine for sometime now but have had to put in the backburner, as other things are higher priority.
Also diversifying as much as I can in music, and with good sense is another thing I always strive for. I feel very inspired right now, people have started to blend styles and genres again some of which result in very exciting new paths to tread on; New Wave/EBM blended with Chicago house and acid and the stone-like dry “Berghain” type techno sound crossed with urban UK styles are some of my favorite blends of late.
Lastly, as I am human too, I am focusing on getting to a certain next level in my personal life, which is also quite a challenging task.