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David Morales: On remixing

The history, art and business of the remix

2021 Jun 23     
2 Bit Thugs

With his remix of Dino MFU's 'Not True' out this Friday, we talk to a man who's forgotten more about remixing than most producers will ever know…

Remixing has always been central to dance music culture. Arguably, it's where it all began: few musical historians would dispute that it was the 'live remixing' of old disco records by the likes of Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan and Ron Hardy, who took drum machines and eight-track reels into the DJ booth, that birthed house music and its countless offspring in the first place.

And one man that knows more about remixing than most is David Morales, the former Loft baby who began his remixing career way back in 1986. His rerubs of tracks like Mariah Carey's Dreamlover and Jamiroquai's Space Cowboy (to name but two) are stone cold classics; his Red Zone dubs are the stuff of legend, while along the way he's sprinkled his magic remix dust over everyone from the Spice Girls, Ace Of Base and Whigfield to U2 and Eric Clapton – not to mention the likes of Chaka Khan, Ce Ce Peniston, Ultra Naté, Janet Jackson, Kym Mazelle, Whitney Houston and the late, great Aretha Franklin.

The most recent artist to benefit from the Morales Touch is US-born but Greek-based producer Dino MFU, whose new single Not True – out on King Sreet this Friday, and featuring a vocal from Alxndra Good – features both a David Morales Remix and an accompanying Dub.

He's also, of course, a highly accomplished producer and DJ in his own right – indeed, as he tells us below, he has a new long-player coming very soon on Nervous, while this week saw him announced as a fortnightly resident DJ at brand new Shoreditch nightspot Glam, where he'll be playing every other Saturday from 31 July.

But when we called him up at his home in Italy the other week, it was remixing that we wanted to talk about. And here's what he had to say…

Can you actually put a figure on how many remixes you've done over the years? Discogs lists 1,904 – but is that even complete?

“Oh, I'm sure it's more than that. But I don't really know. I don't even have my whole catalogue, because in the beginning, back in the 80s, everything was on multi-track. There were no DAT copies, so you handed over the multitracks and that was that. Then when DAT came along, I was able to keep copies of the catalogue, but I don't have everything. 

“I have one or two fans that, when I hear something I don't have, I ask them for a fucking copy! How sad is that? [laughs] People will say, 'Remember when you did this one?' and I'm like, I did that? Really? And I'm like, shit, I'm gonna have to bust this out… there's just been so many."

The term remixing can mean a lot of different things, of course. At one end of the scale, it can mean simply rearranging elements of the original track; at the other end of the scale, some remixers will use nothing but the vocal. How do you generally go about things?

“You mean now, or back in the day? Because remixing has come a long way from the 80s. I started remixing records in 1986, and back then you had to remix the original multi-tracks, or stems as they call them today. The original would be four or five minutes long, so the idea for us – whether it was Tom Moulton, Shep Pettibone, Larry Levan or whoever – was to make it danceable. Really to extend the record, to add an intro, to add a break, to add an outro. Maybe we added some percussion or a solo, but the integrity of the song was always kept intact.

“Then the credit became 'Remix & Additional Production', and that meant you added something to the remix. But the song still belonged to the artist, it never lost its identity. The thing that really changed remixing was when it became 'Remix produced by'. If you take what I did with Mariah Carey, Dreamlover, that was the first time that a remix became a re-production in a sense, because she resang that record. Because by then, we'd started adding more and more things to the track.”

How come you asked her to resing it?

“When they sent me the original, I was like “I can't do nothing. It's too pop, the only way I can do this is if she resang it.” I really just threw that out there, because at that time I'd never worked with a singer in my life. But then they called me and said, 'Okay, she'll come resing it'. And I'm like, oh shit… so the first artist I ever went into the studio to do vocals with, was fucking Mariah Carey! [laughs]

“But before that, I did Shabba Ranks, Mr Loverman. I think that was 1991… at the time I was playing a lot of reggae and dancehall at the Red Zone but they said I needed to make this an American pop record… it was like, unreggae it. So I took a James Brown beat, y'know, a hip-hop beat, and I took a Maxi Priest bit from Housecall. The original name of the track was actually Champion Lover but after I did the remix they changed the title. 

“And then I watched Shabba Ranks on Arsenio Hall and he thanked everyone but me! I was like, 'What the fuck?'. I made a lot of people rich in my day, because those mixes went multi-platinum, and I just got my fee. Ce Ce Peniston Finally… that was another one. Okay, I was making good money, but what I got was chicken scratch when these people made millions of fucking dollars.

"But anyway, that was the evolution: first it was remixing the original tracks, then it was 'remix and additional production', and then it was 'remixed produced by'."

So how do you approach a remix today?

“These days, honestly, I'd rather spend my time making my own records. I'm tired of giving my music away. Because that's what we were doing for many years. We really deserved publishing on those records, we deserved royalties, because we were changing all the music. It came to the point where we were just keeping the vocal stems and reworking the track entirely, so would you say it was unfair that we didn't get our due back then? Fuck yeah! But that was the game. 

“But if I do get given a remix today, thanks to Ableton and things like that, I'm able to spend time and totally reconstruct something now. I'll even add background vocals to a remix if I feel like it, because a lot of guys who are doing remixes today, they don't have that experience of working with singers, or even writing vocal songs. So now if I do a remix, I want 50% of the publishing, and royalties. Otherwise, I take a walk.” 

You're a bit more choosy about the remixes that you do these days, then?

"Yeah. Back in the day, I was the go-to guy for remixes, it was my job. And it was a whole different quality of song, back then – you're talking about major labels that signed quality stuff. Today, there's so much music out there, it's like an infestation… there's so much crap out there, unfiltered, and there's so many people in the game,…

"Sometimes people ask me to do things, and when they ask how much I charge I say, 'let me hear the record first'. That's number one, because if I don't like it, I don't fuck around it with it… listen, I was asked to do the Rolling Stones, but I heard the song and I said no!"

Not many people would turn down the Rolling Stones…

"I've said no lots of times. But there are some nice things out there, and look, I'm a DJ at heart and it's nice to get something that's interesting and that I feel I can take to another place. But not to do it because I want to be a hooker like I was back in the day! But then back in the day, you know, one day it's Whitney Houston, one day it's Seal, one day it's Donna Summer or Mariah Carey. That's another game."

Is there anyone out there now you'd like to remix – or any big-name artists you've never remixed that you'd like to?

"Sure, there are some young artists out there. When Billy Eilish came out with that first record, I was like, 'This is the next girl I want to remix'. Justin Timberlake, Dua Lipa… but really you'd have to go back to the old school folks, you know? Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle… I did remix Aretha Franklin though, and it doesn't get any better than the Queen of Soul."

What about remixes that aren't for release? Lots of DJs make their own remixes of classic tracks, just to play out – do you still do that?

"Oh my God, absolutely. I'm the fucking king of that shit, baby! I've got reworks of disco records, of this, of that… I have fun doing those things. But what I think is wrong is people using samples of these records, releasing them under their own name and taking the publishing credit or whatever. Not giving credit to the people who invested their time and their money and their creativity.

"You know, you get people putting out edits, selling them on Bandcamp under the radar, but it's wrong. Because they're not songwriter producers, they're not artists, they don't know what it feels like for somebody to take your thing and rip you off. It's just wrong."

Does that depend on the scale, though? A lot of producers have told me over the years that if some kid in his bedroom has done a cheeky remix of their tune and knocked out 500 white labels, they're not that bothered because they've done it themselves…

"Hell fucking no! I never did that, it's wrong, it's flat out wrong. I don't care if you sold 10 copies – where's my share? Because without my record, you don't have anything.

"Otherwise, if you did, you can just do it yourself. You can pay the budget that I paid, for the strings, the bass player, the piano player, the recording engineer, everything that went with that. That all cost money… and we're not talking $500. But then here comes this kid, and he's like, 'Fuck it, I'm gonna sample this shit'. Nah."

Coming back to your own work, thendo you have any personal favourites out of all the remixes you've done?

“I have to say my three most proud mixes of all time are Shabba Ranks because that was something different, Mariah Carey of course because it was the first time that a vocalist came into the studio and did something completely different, and the third one is Jamiroquai, Space Cowboy. Because if you take the original Space Cowboy, that remix doesn't relate to the original at all. I created a song structure for it, because the original is a jam session – the dots don't connect.”

And are there any you listen back to now and think, I wish I hadn't done that?

"Oh for sure, are you kidding me?! [laughs] Out of the hundreds and hundreds of remixes I've done, there's more than just a few. But that was my job, you know what I'm saying? And when you're getting paid 25 or 30 grand to remix a record, damn right you're gonna do it."

Care to name any of them?

"Nah man, I can't do that. I'd have to go away and look them up anyway – I've blocked that shit from my head!"

Okay, let's come right up to date and talk about the remix you've just done for Dino MFU. You've taken that in quite an Afro-y direction. Is that where your heart is at musically at the moment?

"Yeah, well if you notice what Diridim is about, I love Afro-house. See, I like rhythm. For me there's so much you can do with Afro-house, with percussion… if you go back to the mid-90s, when every record had to be a standard four on the floor house beat, for me the rhythm got boring, you know what I'm saying?

"So with Diridim, everything we've tried to do is about the rhythm. And Afro-house is big right now, so when I do some remixes I'll try to add an element of that. I mean, I'll still do my house-y things, don't get me wrong, but that's where my head is at."

Yet when Diridim launched four years ago, you told us it would be house music right across the board, "whether it’s Red Zone-style records or soulful or tribal or tech". As it's panned out, though, it seems to have been mostly on the Afro side…

"Well when I said across the board… it's not for me to make what I did yesterday. It's got to be what I'm all about right now, and right now that's Afro-house or Afro-tech, or something interesting. You know, some labels are known for soulful house per se, and that's not where I want Diridim to be. I know there's a lot of that music out there but I want to Diridim to be on an edgier tip.

"And when you hear my new album that's coming out… I don't think anyone's gonna be ready for that."

You've got a new album coming? What can tell us about that?

"Man, I got records… I think I'm about to blitz the world. I have so much stuff made during the pandemic. I mean, my studio's down at the moment because I'm moving it, but normally I'm in the studio every day, whether it's a mash-up or there's new tracks, I keep musicians busy! They love me because I support people right now.

"So yeah, I have a new album… well, first I have a new instrumental coming out on Diridim, it's called Parkside Avenue, that's coming out soon. That's all underground, instrumental stuff… I won't say Afro but maybe Afro-jazz, some really cool instrumental kinda things. 

"Then my artist album is coming out on Nervous Records. That's the one where I've got people like Blakkat, Mr V, Joi Cardwell, Joe Roberts, Mike Dunn… there's going to be about 20 tracks, and it's like my evolution. I'm almost finished, I'm just working on one more track with Mr V and this toaster kid, Scotti P, and I'm putting another vocal on there as well but I can't really say nothing about that until it's done. But that's the last thing I've got to finish, and then we're wrapping it up.

"The first single is going to be one with Mr V, Every Day Of My Life, and then I'm hoping to have the album out in July."

Does that depend to some extent on lockdown, as well, and whether you can get out there gigging to promote it?

"Yeah, the pandemic has delayed everything I do, because there was no way for any DJ to go out and promote. There was no vehicle. But then now we have streaming, we have Twitch, so I'm on Twitch and I can use that as a vehicle to promote my music and create hype."

It's not quite the same though, is it? Because house music for me is all about that sense of community on the dancefloor and you just don't get that if you're just watching it on your screen in your living room, however good the DJ is…

"You're absolutely right, but at the same time, it's also the evolution, and I've always been ahead of the curve when it comes to the evolution.

"The thing with streaming is that you have… because not everybody is in tune with every song that's being played when they're in a club, fucked up, talking to their friends… it's the big tunes that stand out, the anthems. But as far as tuning in to every thing, that's what streaming has done, because you have the listeners' 100% attention. That's the difference.

"So now when I'm streaming, I play for six hours. Every Sunday, I do this show called Sunday Mass and it's a minimum six hours, sometimes it can be eight. Playing virtually, but that's the new community – because people don't have the clubs right now, so this is the new community, everybody's in the chat. I have anywhere between 800 and 1200 people every Sunday, so look at that as 800 or 1200 in a club. 

"It's funny, but it's what people have at the moment, and it's working. And it's helping some of us DJs, and some of those people, keep our sanity!"

So overall you're feeling pretty happy with things right now?

"I'm actually having the most amazing time in my life musically right now. That's as a DJ, and as a producer. And I never thought I'd be saying that. 

"The one thing I've learned… a friend of mine said, 'You're a legend, why are these young guys getting paid more than you?'. But I don't have a problem with that, because at least I can say 'I was a king once'. You know, I was one of the leaders of the new school… but there was a generation before me of big DJs and trendsetters, and there's gonna be some coming up behind me as well. And then there'll be another generation, and another generation…

"You can't be a king forever. I'm just grateful that I'm still in the game, I'm still recognised and I'm making a living doing what I love to do. That's enough for me. I can't complain, because when I started it was just a hobby – I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be travelling all over the world, playing in some of the best clubs in the world. So it's all relative. It's not a case of, 'I'm not No 1 any more, I must be losing it'. Nah man… losing what? If you love music, it's all good."

Words: Russell Deeks

Dino MFU ft Alxndra Good's Not True [David Morales Remix] is out on King Street on 25 June. Catch David playing at Glam in London every other Saturday from 31 July.

Follow David Morales: Soundcloud / Facebook / Twitter / website / Twitch






Tags: David Morales, remixing, Red Zone, Mariah Carey, Shabba Ranks, Jamiroquai, re-edits, bootlegs, streaming, Nervous Records, Diridim, Twitch, Dino MFU, King Street, Glam