Fresh from releasing his debut LP, Good Times on mobilee at the start of November, we caught up with Ray Okpara to talk about his hectic touring schedule, his production techniques, studio set up and Berlin.
What have you been up to? Still touring the album?
I’m still touring the album, yeah. All December and all January I’ll still be touring it. I’ll be going to South America, to Uruguay and also to Romania, which has a really strong scene at the moment so I’m looking forward to that.
So you’ve seen some cool places then?
Yeah actually. Last weekend in Malta was really, really super cool, the crowd, the club and the promoters. I just had a super good time, Maltese people are really sweet and they know how to party. That was my best stop, although I had a good start with a promoter in Brussels as well on the 1st November.
Are you pleased with the album?
Yes I’m pleased with the album I would say. I tried to satisfy more people than usual with it, so it’s a little more dupsteppy, little bit more oldskool, newer, loopy, there’s a few faster and slower tracks, so there’s more genres of electronic house music and everybody’s more or less happy with it. I also think it flows well, for almost every situation there’s something you can play. I tried to make it have that theme of “Good Times” run through it because I’m quite a relaxed guy and I have a lot of friends that I make music with. It’s got to have a story, you know? Otherwise it’s just a collection of tracks.
There’s a lot of collaborations on the album…
Yeah, Yeah, there were only meant to be a few collaborations on the album, with Nekes and with a good friend of mine from Costa Rica. But then when I came back to Berlin and I had friends visiting me, we’d jam, make music and we’d always start something most of the time. Sometimes I’d finish it and say “Okay let me take this to the album.”
Walk us through your studio set up.
I’m actually in my studio now, I’m living in it! I sample a lot. I use the electribe and play some sounds through it, also the Native Instruments machine for the drums, but mostly I’d say it’s a combination of searching for good samples and working them a bit through machines, making a good loop out of it. I just got this jomox 999 and the xoxbox 303 clone but these are new, I didn’t use them for the album. I used the real 303 and 909 a bit, especially for this track We Want Acid on the album. I’m actually getting into machines more and more.
I see you’ve been playing live a bit over the last year…
Yeah I’ve been playing live for about 2 years now, but not too much because I see myself more as a DJ than a live artist. Once in a while it’s cool though, it’s a good alternative to DJing but after an hour of playing live, I’m also happy for it to be over. There’s always something to do and somehow I can never practice enough! If I think about someone playing all day with only hardware, I think that’s a big time challenge.
You have to know what you’re doing.
You have to know exactly what you’re doing, you have to know 100% because one mistake will just fuck up everything.
Have you thought about taking your new machines down the next time you play live?
Yeah I’ve been thinking about taking this jomox. It’s really, really cool but I think I would only do it for 1 or 2 months. I think that it would be a good challenge, but I could only do it for a few months at most because I think it’s a bit repetitive. It’s not as versatile as playing records. You can’t respond to the crowd as well as you can when you DJ and at the end of the day you only have your tracks that you have, you don’t have a box of records which means you can switch it up, play a tune that some people will recognise…and play a record that works at that moment.
Tell us a little about Berlin. In the UK it’s portrayed as a mecca of House and Techno. Is there something in the water?
Haha, it is the mecca! You meet people from the music industry everywhere in Berlin. Every time you want, you can go to a party or an afterparty and they really don’t want you to leave, I mean it’s really hard to leave. When you come back from abroad, you hear there’s an afterparty at the Club der Visionäre and you know that 100% there’s people there. Everywhere they play electronic music, but you also have really cool parks, museums, galleries, all kinds of theatre and fashion. Also if you want to stay at home, just chill or be lazy and you come out a week later, everything’s still there. If you don’t go to a party today, you go tomorrow! There’s no end in sight.
What are your favourite record stores in Berlin?
I used to go to Freizeit Glauben but it’s closed now so these days I go to Musik Mitte, Rotation is really nice, in Space Hall you always find something really cool and there’s also Melting Point. Hard Wax is cool for something old that I don’t really know, a bit like Space Hall.
Tell us about Mannheim, where you grew up.
Mannheim is not too far from Frankfurt, so a lot of people go out there, to Robert Johnson or in the old days to U60. There used to be a lot of clubs in Frankfurt. But there were a lot of cool clubs back in the day in Mannheim as well, like Lagerhaus, or way back Milk. People used to come from other places to Mannheim. I’m not so familiar with the scene there right now because in the old days me and my friends used to put on nights there, now there’s younger people and people like me don’t really go out on the weekends so much anymore and a lot of people have moved away. But there is still a small scene…we used to be the scene, you know? Nekes, Nick Curly, Johnny D, Federico…we used to put on parties and we used to play alongside Villalobos, play the music we like. We used to be residents in this club called the Loft, which actually is still making good bookings like Loco Dice, stuff like that but it’s not super underground anymore, you know what I mean? I haven’t been there in a long, long time, so I don’t really know how it’s going. They’re still working with Time Warp, but I don’t feel like there’s that much of a scene there. I think it’s very small. I don’t know. Maybe we just all got old.
You’ve released on quite a few labels over the years. Do you save certain tracks for certain labels or adapt your productions depending on the label?
No not really, I have a lot of tracks that I can release and I wait till the time is right, I send it to some friends who have a label and I see what they say, if they want to release it on their label or not. I never really produce for labels specifically, I just produce and if they like it they like it, if they don’t they don’t.
When are you next in the UK?
I don’t play that often in the UK, that’s true. I’m coming back in April I think for an Oslo records showcase at Fabric, which is a really cool club. Last time I was there was in January and you know, I had a great time. Only good stuff from Fabric.
What does the future hold for you?
I don’t know, you tell me. Are you a fortune teller? Hahaha I always say, if everything stays as it is, then I’m happy.
Ray Okpara 'Good Times' is out now. You can check our review of the album here.
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