We catch up with the Disco Don as his new compilation 'Le Freak: Music inspired By Chic' hits stores
a discography stretching back over 25 years, as a DJ, producer and
label owner Dave Lee is an elder statesman of the UK house scene. In
recent years, he's also taken on another mantle, becoming a prolific
curator of soul, funk and disco compilations on his Z Records label.
As well as three volumes in the Soul
series, there've been compilations dedicated to funk, 80s boogie,
Brit funk, go-go, Italo house, 90s garage and probably others we've
forgotten, all refreshingly free of big, obvious tunes and packed
with rare gems.
latest collection is Le
Freak: Music Inspired By Chic.
It gathers together tracks that - in Dave's opinion, at least - owe a
clear debt to the polished disco sound of Nile Rodgers, Bernard
Edwards and co, whether from contemporaries like Firefly, Change and
the Michael Zager Band, or from more recent artists like Ultra Nate
and Lee's own Sunburst Band. And it's a stormer.
the album in stores now,
thought we'd get Dave on the phone to find out more...
Dave - what can you tell us about the new album then?
was just an idea I had a couple of years ago. I was talking to
someone about Chic and how, as well as making a lot of great records
themselves, they inspired almost a whole style of music, with bands
like Change and quite a few others, mostly from Europe, people that
were copying Chic because they were so successful, both on a pop
level and in the clubs. And then of course there's the Good
bassline that spawned so many copies, from Another
One Bites The Dust
I was first getting into music in a big way - when I got fed-up with
Scalextric cars and skateboarding - it was around the time Chic were
at their height, and their stuff was just everywhere - you'd turn on
Radio 1 and hear a couple of Chic records or Chic-produced records in
an hour. Whether it was Sister Sledge or Diana Ross or Debbie Harry,
they had a very distinct style, and you'd know right away it was a
Chic production. So it's not really surprising that other people
copied that, even if they weren't doing so on purpose.
I just thought this album would be an interesting thing to do,
because there are albums of people that sound like the Beatles or the
Rolling Stones, but I wasn't aware of anyone doing anything like that
with an influential black music act. Cover version albums maybe, but
these aren't cover versions - there's one cover but generally it's
just songs that have Chic reference points in terms of the style of
playing, the basslines, the phrasing of the vocals and so on."
you put these albums together, is there a lot of research involved or
is it just a case of walking into the record room and pulling things
off the shelves?
I'll start with a list on my phone, and I'll write down tracks as
they occur to me. And then I'll talk to other friends, people like
Luke from Horse Meat Disco or Sean P, and I'll say 'I'm thinking of
doing a go-go comp, have a look at this tracklist and tell me if
there's anything you think I've missed off, or anything you wouldn't
put on there'.
what happens then is, you have a list of 10 or 15 tracks but some of
them you can't license. Some companies just don't want to license
their material, which can be frustrating; or the terms they want are
just so bad that we can't agree to them. Often we license things on
what's called a 'favoured nations' agreement, where a label will
license something to us for X amount on the condition that we don't
pay anyone else any more, and if we do, we up their royalties to the
same. So if you've agreed things on those terms, sometimes you can't
license something elsebecause it means paying over the odds for six
other tracks just to get that one track on there.
quite a lot of politics to it all, or people wanting stupid amounts
of money, or someone says, 'You can have the track for the CD but not
for digital downloads or vinyl,' stuff like that. Or with older
tracks, sometimes just *finding the publisher is tricky and you end
up having to track down someone's daughter or something. You can even
get tracks where it's a major label but they can't confirm they own
it, even though you know damn well they do and they know damn well
they do, because the contract's been misplaced over the years!
it's not just a case of going in the record room and coming out an
hour later saying, 'Here's the next album' - there's quite a lot of
work involved. We usually start on the licensing about a year and a
half before the album comes out."
apart from the work involved in licensing, there's no 'musical'
research, so to speak?
for a comp like this I guess you could say the research has been done
over a period of years and decades! It's different if we were doing,
say, a new Soul
Of Discowhere it's more about rare records - then I'd be spending more time
on eBay and rare record websites, hunting down things that haven't
been licensed before. But for something like this, it's really just a
case of remembering the records, seeing which ones still sound good
and which ones you can license.
then I always try and have a balance between male vocals and female
vocals, uptempo and downtempo, so it's a bit more of a mixture: you
don't want 10 tracks that all sound exactly the same. So you might
want to get an instrumental on there, or a foreign language track or
something. There was one track we really wanted for this album which
was like a really raw funk version of Freak
but again it turned out we weren't able to license it. Maybe we'll do
a volume two in a few years' time and ask them again then!"
Rodgers has been working with lots of different people lately"¦
ever thought of approaching him?
did send him a Facebook message once, but nothing came of it. To be
honest, I get the feeling he's more interested in working with higher
profile, more contemporary acts - people like Daft Punk and Aviici,
people that will introduce him to a younger audience that might not
know him. I'm probably a bit too niche and a bit too similar to his
existing fanbase, albeit a lot smaller!
it's his guitar and he can do what he likes, and working with those
sort of artists can get him places working with me never could. I
mean, it'd be great if it ever happened - one for the bucket list,
maybe, but it's not something I've actively pursued."
have become an increasingly important part of the Z catalogue"¦
does it get harder to come up with ideas for them?
guess it does to some extent"¦ and also, there's only a finite
amount of tracks out there. Although that's one of the great things
about the internet: it's unearthed a whole world of 'new' old music
we never knew about. In the 80s and 90s I thought I had all the best
70s-80s disco records, and then the internet came along and you find
a whole load of records that never made it out of Milwaukee or
wherever. But even that's starting to dry up a bit - it's not a
far I've done a go-go one, a Brit-funk one, three Soul
a boogie one, Dave Hill did the gospel one, an Italo one, and then we
do the Under
ones compiled by my record collector friends as well. So we've done
quite a lot, and yes, it is a challenge to come up with fresh ideas
to some extent. But I think there's life in the format yet. I've
certainly got a few ideas up my sleeve still - but then of course
you're back to the licensing hassles again!"
you did another Inspired
comp, who would it be about?
don't know"¦ Earth Wind & Fire, possibly? They were another
act that were much mimicked. Geordio Moroder... James Brown you could
easily do... there's probably a few you could do but I think you'd
need to start putting together a tracklist. And then if you can only
get to five tracks, it's probably not that great an idea - but if you
can get to 20 tracks, maybe it's a goer."
apart from the album, what else is going on with Z Records at the
last album release was Opolopo's debut a few months ago, he's a
Hungarian guy based in Sweden who does sort of nu-boogie, synth-y
house stuff. Since then, we did the 90s garage compilation, I've had
a couple of singles out and we've had a single out from Sean McCabe,
some Pezzner remixes of a track from the Opolopo album, and the next
single is a Sunburst Band remix set, and then we've got a single from
Rhemi, which is Neil Pierce and Ziggy Funk.
sound of the singles is still house, disco house, soulful house"¦
we're not releasing any 'new deep house' kinda stuff, that Duke
Dumont-type sound. We're sticking with the sounds we're known for. We
did do a couple of more big room things a couple of years ago that
did quite well on Beatport, so you can see why people go for that
more commercial vibe because you can make money! But basically we
just put out music I like, and I find a lot of that 'Beatport house'
stuff a bit"¦ obvious.
often you can look at the charts on there, and there'll be a track
and you just know
it's going to be a Loleatta Holloway vocal. There's nothing wrong
with that kind of regurgitation, I've done it myself, but now people
are regurgitating ideas that have been regurgitated 100 times
already. For me, it's boring -
I'm sure if you're 22 then it's all fresh and exciting, but
personally I don't really need to hear Teddy Pendergrass You
Can't Hide From Yourself sampled
for the 50th time."
Freak: Music Inspired By Chic
is out now on Z Records