Magnetic Chats With House Music Legend Ian Pooley

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We caught up with Ian Pooley a few weeks back while he was in town playing an Incognito party. For those unfamiliar, Ian Pooley has quite the catalog and history within the dance music world. He has worked with or remixed what seems like everyone in the house game. Gene Farris, DJ Sneak, Funk D’Void, Mousse T., Boris Dlugosch, Green Velvet and Derrick Carter are but a few that jump to mind. It’s not just the classic house side of things; the German-based producer gets down with new school talent as well. Simply put, Ian Pooley has been actively involved in dance music since the early ‘90s, so we jumped at the chance for a chat. Enjoy…

I think that people who don’t know who Derrick Carter or Sneak is, well…It’s like someone claiming to be a wine connoisseur and not knowing it comes from a grape.

You’ve had quite the career. I’m curious how you began, what prompted you to make your first EP? Were you a DJ first then producer or was it the other way around? Any formal musical education to speak of?

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photo by Marie Staggat

I started both DJing and producing around 1990, my first release was in 1991, it was a T’NI “Low Mass” EP I did with my then partner in crime DJ Tonka. My mother always tells the story of when I was about 10 years old, my dad had Kraftwerk's “Autobahn” record and how it listened to it obsessively until my dad got so annoyed he broke the record. Then when I was about 16-17 I got heavily into stuff that was coming out of Detroit at the time. All we did, Tonka and I, was save money to buy machines and travel to record shops in Frankfurt to buy vinyl. We set up a studio in his parents house and this is pretty much all we did, every day.

Were there any local DJs influencing you? How was the scene when you first started?

I was mainly influenced by music that was coming out of Detroit, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins…the first few shows I did were part of the tour I did with Force Inc. I was still in high school at the time and remember playing at the venue in Paris with Tonka, we were 16 at the time and played a hard techno set to the crowd of people that were in their late 20s or 30s. Of course we thought it was the most amazing thing ever. Looking back it was a very special time indeed. We played and made music we loved, music we felt connected to on an instinctive level. It was beginning of something new, something special.

When did you feel that your productions were a significant part of the scene? You had obviously come into contact with a lot of international producers, with the lack of today’s bustling social media, how did you keep in contact, what about collaborations?

Pretty quickly. For me the biggest thing was making music, I didn’t really care about much else. It was quite simple, you’d tour, do gigs and sooner or later you’d meet more or less everyone. With collaborations it was the same. You’d either meet by chance and had the idea to do something together, or you’d just call up people you wanted to work with.

With Daft Punk providing a remix of "Chord Memory" for you, at the time did that have any significance? What was the perception of your music and Daft Punk’s music at the time? Does it have significance to you now?

They weren’t as big at the time and I really liked the stuff they were doing so I asked them to do a remix for me. Then, when Homework came out, they returned the favor and asked me for a remix for their track. Yes, it does, it’s one of my favourite remixes of my tracks.

In terms of your production routine, do you have one, how do you get in creative mode? Is there a difference in approach from early on to now?

No, not really. I spend every free day in my studio, I have a lunch break, meet friends for coffee and go back and work. It’s not as if there is some magic moment where I have a flash of creativity and go… "Oh I have to go to studio now because I’m inspired beyond belief." Not at all. For me, creativity comes from discipline. I do it the same way like people that go to the office and work from 9-5. The only thing is I still enjoy it immensely so I probably shouldn’t call it work exactly.

No there isn’t much difference; I still use all of my analog machines. It’s more fun and… they sound better. I do use Logic nowadays, which is maybe the only difference.

What would you say your DJ-style is like? Has much changed since the beginning?

I do quite a bit of edits of tracks I like for my gigs but besides that I pretty much decide spontaneously on what I play. I like to mix different styles so it really depends on the crowd and my own mood. It’s a joint effort, so to speak. You bounce off each other.

How do you feel about the changing music scene?

Change is what keep things interesting and maybe what you are into is not necessarily the flavor of the day, and sometimes certain styles of music that can easily bore the hell out of 85 year old retired librarian seem to reign for what seems like a decade, but there is always good music to be found and people who do interesting things regardless of what the trend is. In the end, things always come in full circle.

What do you think about the Soundcloud/blog generation? Do you feel that guys like Sneak and Derrick Carter for example, aren’t getting their credit? How do you feel about the digital age of DJing?

Well it’s good in the sense that it gives some talented people a platform to get noticed. Unfortunately, at the same time it makes it harder because of the sea of less than underwhelming music out there, to be polite. I think that people who don’t know who Derrick Carter or Sneak is, well…it really says all about their level of commitment or passion for this music. It’s like someone claiming to be a wine connoisseur and not knowing it comes from a grape. I know quite a few new kids in Berlin that are the opposite example of that, young people that are really serious about what they do. You can always hear the difference.

What else do you listen to outside the realm of dance music? Are there any specific releases that you’ve put out that you consider a favorite?

I listen to a lot of Bossa Nova, Jobim and Getz in particular, jazz, 70’s funk, some rare groove and disco stuff, indie, all kinds of things actually—too many to mention.

Working in the studio with Yello and being asked by Derrick May to do an EP on Transmat I consider to be the absolute highlights of my career.

For Pooled Music, what do you look for in terms of releases? What do I say to my house producer friends about what Ian Pooley wants on his label?

I wanted to be able to put music out in a more relaxed way. When there is a track I like or want to release something I'll do it under my terms. To me, the only thing that matters is that I like the track and that’s it.

Are there any upcoming releases that you’re excited about?

We are just releasing an EP by Mitja Prinz. I’m excited about this one. Mitja has been a staple in the Berlin music scene since I can remember, I was really happy to get him on board do an EP for the label.

Is there ever a time where you'd put your foot down and quit?

Hahaha…no. I am very lucky to have been able to do what I love for such a long time, I’m very aware of that. Not making music …that’s hard to imagine.

 Thank you Ian Pooley for your time...

It's been a pleasure, thank you.