Roy Davis Jr: In Conversation
We caught up with House pioneer Roy Davis Jr. to talk dream line-ups, differences between playing in the UK and the US, and producing material with MNEK.
When I last saw you Roy, you were tearing up Manchester's Warehouse Project. I think it took me about a week to recover. How did you find the experience?
Awe... man! The Warehouse Project was sick! It was really cool to play with some of my old buddies like Cajmere and Todd Edwards. Also, the Hospitality was A+, I truly enjoyed myself.
You've recently performed in Manchester, Glasgow, and at Fabric in London amongst others, but have you got a favourite place to play in the UK?
I really dig playing at Fabric a lot, it has the perfect DJ booth for a DJ such as myself with 6 CDJs and turntables that are actually working which allows me to be as free as possible and have options on the decks, to do what I do best.
'Gabriel' is probably your best-known track and is virtually synonymous with the UK garage scene, but apparently the specific version of the track had a rather unusual release?
Well, it was on Large Music out of Chicago originally, and broke the UK market from the pirate radio stations back in the day. But the mix that broke was not the original, it was my Live Garage mix that broke the actual song. The original mix was more of a Chicago meets Philadelphia sounding record. But Large needed remixes to complete the deal, so I did three more mixes and that's how it all went down.
That track for a lot of people is a timeless garage tune, and helped instigate parts of the style of UK garage - but how do you feel about the kind of garage revival we're experiencing in the UK currently?
I'm digging the fact that there has been a huge revival of people going back and checking out some of the classic tunes such as 'Gabriel' and a few others gems from back in the day, it makes me feel very proud that I had something to do with helping a genre get to where it should be, I feel very blessed!
You mentioned a while back that you felt in the US that there isn't necessarily that much freedom in terms of playing house music, that it's either straightforward Chicago house or techno - do you think that's still the case? And, that you can experiment more abroad?
I think the states is moving forward now these days. I try to do my best as a DJ to spread as many different sounds and elements that I can now by doing longer sets, from old to current house music. Playing abroad, it's truly an open-minded attack of the decks for me. I just breeze through, however, I'm feeling Europe has totally embraced me in that way, to just bring the heat of emotions to the decks! Some days I may feel on a deeper love vibe, some days tracky in a Chicago traxx kind of way with a taste of disco or ragga house to get my point across where I am spiritually. When you're playing as open as I get a chance to play these days, the fans really let you know how they feel about it, so as long as they're feeling what I have to dish out, I will continue to spread the love and wisdom of my journey.
Would you say that you have a preference for playing outside of the US or is that still where you feel most comfortable performing?
I'm still very passionate about playing abroad as much as possible while I still can, but will never give up on where I'm from to keep the fire burning.
Having played at the Warehouse Project and a host of festivals in the last few years - if you were curating your own event, or a stage at a festival, who are the first artists you'd book to play alongside you?
If it was my dream line up for me to play with at one stage it would be Kaytranada opening up then Todd Edwards, Marshall Jefferson, Mike Dunn, DJ Pierre, Myself & Lil' Louis to bring it home! With a surprise guest of Daft Punk rocking out a live performance of 'Teachers' from their Homework album!
With a lot of (slightly) more seasoned heads still dominating the house scene in the UK, like DJ EZ, Todd Edwards, Cajmere, and yourself included - is there a certain desire for you to educate crowds with older house music? Or is that just me picturing you as some kind of ridiculous house monk passing on wisdom to a younger generation?
It's always a must for me to take them where they have never been before with such a generational gap, but just as it is important for me to share my knowledge and wisdom of past joints, it is just important for me to play new music as well to let them know that we are still moving forward in what we originally set out to do with the sound and keep you dancing!
If that is the case, what are the kind of 'gateway' house tracks you'd play to the new school to get them into the Chicago sound?
Anything from Larry Heard, he's one of the guys that I have always truly admired for his class and creative flow of melodies with electronics.
In a previous interview you mentioned that your next album has branched off in a few different ways. Have you found it rewarding to explore some different sub-genres and styles?
Yes, always. It keeps me fresh... and not bored to death. I'm always crate-digging and music searching to inspire where I might go next. I'm actually redoing my entire studio to mix my analog again with my digital just to get the sound that I am looking to get again.
Do you think it will be a conventional record? Certainly, there are some well-known struggles to create a more traditional album filled with house tunes.
I think it will always have house involved most definitely! We will just have to see which tracks will make the cut when I'm done.
You've been playing a few new tracks live which have gone down really well, are there any in particular that you're really excited about to release?
I'm really excited to release a couple of tracks that I been playing created by MNEK and myself. Every time I drop one of our tunes someone runs up and ask me for the song title or even to give them a copy. So that lets me know that what I'm doing currently still pulls their attention.