BURROWING INTO THE FARRINGDON UNDERGROUND TO FACE DJ LUMINARY CRAIG RICHARDS ON HIS HOME TURF
Crack has always harboured a desire to run around a desolate fabric. Wandering around the rooms that have shaped formative clubbing memories for so many isn’t the eerie experience you might expect. It’s more of a total unmasking. The rooms look clean, varnished and pristine, as does the upstairs Room One bar that serves as our interview area with the man responsible for shaping London’s most consistent clubbing venue.
There’s a serenity about Craig Richards that belies the weeks after weeks of late nights, the searing techno and the discerning house. His softly spoken Cockney inflections offer a rewarding vocabulary and his wonderfully debonair vintage dress sense demands respect. This is a man who has been on top of his game and – due to the nature of those who have passed through these doors over the years – on top of everyone else’s game for 14 years. So how do you assess a record collection that has formed the fabric of this iconic club?
The synonymy of Richards with the UK’s premier nightspot is now engrained to a level that goes beyond mere association. Richards has never sought to move too far away, and while a somewhat belated discovery of his talents by some has increased his demand, he’s never looked too much further than the iconic exposed brickwork and a Room One DJ booth to die for (that on current inspection contains seven CDJs). It’s a club that continues to thrive and as resident, Richards’ ability to adapt to those he plays before or after is at the core to its success.
So what of Richards the DJ, the vinyl specialist, the techno student and collector of unheralded oddities? One of Crack’s favourite pastimes when watching Richards used to be trying to identify any of the music we were presented with on any given evening. It was a near-fruitless, but ultimately edifying challenge. Craig Richards plays records you’ve never heard and, in many cases, are never likely to hear again. It’s this commitment to the canon to which he has devoted so much of his professional life that means he can frequently be seen on any given Saturday going from room to room exploring new music, even when he’s not DJing.
His dedication to the fabric institution has seen him share stages with every major name in techno and house. Late morning back-to-back sessions with Ricardo Villalobos have become the stuff of legend, and fabric’s 30-hour birthday marathons have continued to be the clubbing highlight of the year for the more devoted electronic music enthusiast – many of them shared with the Chilean master himself.
Richards’ commitment to innovation has seen his bespoke night and label, The Nothing Special, take on a much greater significance in his life. With his paintings forming the cover of each release and a strong grounding in previously unheard gems, the releases serve to frame Richards as much as an artist in the traditional sense as well as a selector of the highest order. With his production work also moving further into the foreground, he’s in a rich vein of creativity at the present time, where we catch up with him, live from the establishment embroiled in his success.
First and foremost are you looking forward to another year at fabric?
I haven’t ever seen it in terms of years, really. If I ever properly thought about it I could get worried. It’s been 14 years now, I don’t know, I’m not really thinking of it like that.
Do you put any timescales on it?
No. I’m 47 years-old or I’m three years off 50 y’know? Or maybe I’m 53 away from 100. I think it’s important to still be really into it. It will carry on, as long as I’m into it and that would be true of anything I would have done in my life. I’ve got quite a short attention span, and I don’t really see the point of continuing with things that aren’t working.
Does being here still retain your attention?
It does actually and I like it a lot. In many ways traveling around has become more precarious for someone who plays records. Obviously I play CDs and memory sticks as well and that’s a wonderfully exciting development.
I don’t know about ‘exciting’…
Well I think it is actually. Especially considering my back hurts more and more when I’m lifting vinyl into the back of a taxi, a memory stick seems more and more appealing. But really, I like playing vinyl and we have an awesome set-up with a soundsystem designed for vinyl and a rotary mixer, which is a nice combination. I buy records during the week to play in clubs on the weekend, that’s all I’ve ever done really. Also, I have no idea how they’d sack me. It couldn’t be for bad behaviour.
Do you feel that your increase in popularity has been reflected in a swathe of bookings away from fabric?
I don’t think so, because in the past I’ve had periods of being as busy as I can cope with and I’ve had periods when I’ve concentrated on just playing here.
I’m spoiled in that having a residency like this means every Saturday is taken care of if I want it to be, which is good because I’m not necessarily the best traveller and I also I don’t really see the point of being on tour. I’m not a tour guy really. Travelling can be hard on the mind and hard on the soul and with the luxury of a residency that is really amazing every week, I don’t travel as much as I should. It’s a constant battle of how much I should push myself. Sometimes I think you go in and out of fashion.
Has adaptation ever been an issue for you? With so many characters passing through the door on a weekly basis, has the switch between playing after a house producer or a harder techno DJ ever been an issue? Or is that half the challenge for you?
I think that’s the fun. Certainly I’ve been on before or after all kinds of people in three different rooms and the resident can be the most awful person to come on after in any club. I like playing after people who’ve banged the fuck out of it but I don’t think I’ve spent any time consciously thinking about adapting, one adapts with the music you buy in the shop and you keep moving along that way.
Do you think these things can be overthought?
I think it depends what your aim is? I love DJing and I love collecting music and I’m very serious about it and it’s a big part of my life, as are other genres of music and also painting. If you’re so focused on something the mind can take you to all sorts of different places, but for me it’s simple. I buy records that I like and play them to friends or the public. That’s what I do and it’s only ever been a reflection of what I’m buying and I don’t tend to ever buy things I don’t like. Someone gave me a piece of advice years ago and said ‘don’t ever play anything you don’t like.’ This is good advice if you’re intending to burrow under slightly or take it a different way. If you become a jukebox or buy things you don’t like you become creatively knackered. So for the most part I buy what I like and I just play it. It seems a bit simple the way I’m trying to say it, but it really is that simple.
There is a tendency to over intellectualise these things then if it’s that straight forward?
Well it’s easy to when you have all this information at your disposal. It used to be record shop – records – club. That was before we started Googling things. It was when we started Googling things that we ended up entering the era of too much information in the form of a flood. Now the most important word is filter. You just have to filter. If you don’t filter, you’re fucked. You have to work out what’s good for you and the people that seem the most appealing in life right now are the ones who have this amazing filter system and know who they are, what they want and what they need from what is an enormous quantity of information.
That’s always been your skill in the musical sphere. When Crack used to come here a lot, one of our favourite things would be try and identify more than one track that you played over the course of the evening. It was borderline impossible.
A lot of it has only come into its own in recent times, because in doing this for so long I have a huge mixture of old and new records and there is a distance and some range within that. A lot of what I’m playing is old and it’s very similar to what is being made now, and the combination of that is very interesting in that there is a common thread running through our record collection. It also makes some difference as some of the records were never put on the internet. They aren’t available. If it’s a record from 1994, there is something undiscovered about it – in a way. B2 is always good. It’s the one they really wanted to put on the A-Side, but it was a bit too quirky and ended up being lobbed in at the end.
You could do a Craig Richards presents B2 set?
Could be good. That’s what ends up happening quite often anyway. I’ve been buying records for over 32 years, since I was like 14 or 15 years-old. I’ve had different areas where it’s been fever pitch and other times where I haven’t had much money so I couldn’t feed my addiction. When I first moved to London in 1987 and was at college for five or six years I didn’t really have much money at all and in that sense there is a hole in my record collection that I’ve subsequently attacked and try to fill. But I’ve generally just bought as many records as I could afford. Now, if you’ve had half a bottle of wine you can get frisky on Discogs you can spend a bit more money on music than you perhaps wanted to. There were a lot of times when I was in a record shop in the afternoon listening to tunes in my early 20s and being so excited by having ten tunes that you wanted to buy and knowing you could only afford two. Each week there were eight you couldn’t buy. I used to list them.
I want to talk a bit about The Nothing Special. As a label and a night it’s always going to have a rooting here in London, but you’ve been in New York with it right?
It’s growing very, very slowly. Obviously I can do it here in the UK quite easily and straightforwardly. I’m happy to have done a label and set sail with a label and get it together to make it happen and now it’s afloat and moving. The idea is to release different types of music and some music that will require more patience to establish itself. It’s nice the way it’s rolling so far, it’s good and I’m happy with it. I don’t have any big plans or ambitions for it right now, other than to release music with my drawings and painting on the cover and sell as many as we can. It is available digitally as I don’t think a vinyl-only release was the right thing for it, even though initially that would be the way forward. I don’t see the point of it really. So many people don’t want records. There are lots that do, but so many that don’t.
There is a certain amount of skepticism from these quarters about vinyl-only releases.
I think vinyl-only is the new mp3, it’s a load of old shit! I don’t understand it. I’m a massive vinyl collector but I don’t understand why you don’t want it in as many households as possible. If you’re making fringe music with a limited appeal anyway, why limit it any further? If anyone who could, or would like it should own it in the format they want. As long as they pay for it that’s fine. Who gives a fuck? It’s just being snobby about a format because there are a few new formats on the block. It’s not that important.
So do you go from room to room over the course of a night at fabric?
Well we’re booking the people and I’m really interested to hear them. But some people you become more friendly with than others, people you can play back-to-back with and you can have fun with. Ivan Smagghe is a good friend and an amazing DJ. Andrew Weatherall is an amazing DJ, and there are lost of other people I don’t know so well that I hear and think are great. Everyone’s got a different energy now. I’m looking for personality I suppose. If there is personality within someone’s DJing that’s the key to it really. Because everyone’s good and everyone’s got access to the music, the only thing you can’t replicate or re-create to a certain extent is personality, so whoever it is, whether that’s Levon Vincent, who has a lot of personality, or Carl Craig who is very good, that’s the thing that shines I think.
Some of the most interesting parties we’ve enjoyed at fabric have been the ones when you’re partying with Villalobos. Those late-morning early-afternoon sessions or the birthdays have been very special. Considering he’s a DJ that plays such strange music at times, I’ve always been so impressed that you’ve managed to keep pace with his oddities. Do you record shop together?
There was a period where we certainly bought the same records and there’s a common understanding. It’s nice. He’s very different to me. He’s tall I’m short. He’s a Chilean that grew up in Germany and I’m a Welsh cockney that grew up in the New Forest. It’s such a nice thing with him and he’s very inspiring. He’s very loose and unpredictable and I love that about him. I always walk away having heard music I’ve never heard before and later on when we play morning into the afternoon, you get to a point where the people in front of you aren’t going home and you can just put records on and let them play regardless of mixing and listen to them on the sound system. That’s the dream for me in this club. You’ve got enough people on the dance floor who can groove at that time in the day, when your mind is at that strange time. It’s wonderful and special and to be able to play at that time with him is such an enormous pleasure and privilege because it’s not possible unless the crowd stays. If everyone buggers off home then there’s no point. It’s special times for the crowd as well, when a few people have gone home and you have no one around you, you can be a bit freer in your personal space. It’s great fun and there’s not many clubs in the world where you can do that.
What is on the horizon for you?
I’m going to start a radio show once a week. That was always the plan for The Nothing Special and I’m going play everything. I’m going to start a 7-inch singles label called Tuppence. I’m going to try and show my painting this year too. I’m just trying to hammer it now. I want to mesh all the things I’m doing. That’s the key I think, it’s trying to interweave and interlock all these ideas and make some sense as to why you’re into these things.
– – – – – – – – –
Words: Thomas Frost
Photos: Tom Weatherill
Craig Richards plays at fabric every Saturday
The next episode of Crosstown Rebels‘ Get Lost series is mixed by Craig Richards and released in May 2014