now that i’m collecting vinyl, i’m discovering a lot more music than i ever did before. one such treasure is greg stewart aka dj aakmael, the us based producer who has a background in hip hop, r&B, has played with big, jazz and classical bands and has a famed radio show on wdce 90.1 fm. over the years he has released on imprints like morris audio and uzuri, remixed for leeds label illusion recordings, but most frequently appears on his own unxpozd. it’s an outlet, thus far, that has only offered up release from the boss himself.
as you’ll learn in the interview, though, that’s set to change, but you can sure as hell expect anything that does appear will continue in the fine tradition aakmael has already started: deep, roughshod house with plummeting basslines, grainy synths and with, quite often, alien sounding vocals lurking in the shadows left behind (check out samples of the man’s upcoming breathe deeper ep on juno). it’s refreshingly fresh and happily doesn’t draw too heavily on the chicago template we all know well, but of which we are starting to grow tired. as such i tracked him down to talk radio, virginia, sampling and more besides.
how are you? what’s been keeping you busy?
i’m good, chillin’, busy with new tracks, remixes and dj mixes.
what have been some of the highlights of 2012 for you so far?
2012 has been great, releases and remixes on quite a few labels, and the vinyl imprint for my label, unxpozd.
there’s very little information/few interviews with you online – is that a conscious thing? do you prefer to stay in the shadows a little?
well the fact that i like to be up at night could kinda make me part-vampire, so yea you could say i tend to shy away from sunlight.
you’re from virginia, right?
i’m not sure i’ve ever heard of a house/techno producer from there! was there a scene?
there was kind of a scene back in the late 80’s and early to mid-90’s, but clubs closed and radio stations became blind and deaf so it was up to a few folks to keep it movin’ here somehow. doug smith (95 north) resides here, and we’ve been good friends for years. there are also other djs that spin house/club, but very far and few between.
were you hearing house music back there and back then as a youth?
yea. the tracks that got my into house heavy was inner city’s “big fun”, todd terry’s “to the batmobile” tape and a few mix tapes i had heard from some fraternity kats. since then i’ve been on a journey to listen to and collect what i feel is some of the best underground music ever.
i understand you’re from a musical family, too, and played many instruments as a child – are those skills you put to use in your music now, do you play all your own stuff or sample lots?
i play my own keys, solos and such, make my own drums – 100% of production on my tracks. i’ve always had a musical ear and always wanted to play the piano/keyboard as a child. being involved with the bands (marching, concert, jazz) helped me to have a better appreciation and understanding for all types of different musical genres. as far as sampling, i’m a fan of it as long as something creative is being done with it. i grew up in the beginnings of the sample-craze era, and the art of noise and mantronik are still a couple of my favorite groups/artists of all time.
and is it your voice we hear on your records?
the deep talking evil alien-style voice is me, not the singing.
so how is it you ended up coming to electronic music and house at all?
i played all the electro stuff in the 80’s, art of noise, kraftwerk, etc., and i guess the next natural direction along with hip hop was to keep listening to electronic.
how/why did you make the switch from hip-hop?
i still do hip hop tracks, and in the early 2000’s i produced for a group that fell apart due to “creative differences”.
was there any one catalyst or party or record or was it a gradual thing?
gradual, but i’ve always listened to both.
how important is your r&b and hip hop background on the house sound you have fomented?
very important, as they are cousins in this musical spectrum. i like my hip hop to be raw, so i am an avid fan of rza, wu, dilla, madlib, doom, alchemist, tribe, just-ice, the list goes on and on.
do you still listen to those sounds and do they feed into your house-y stuff?
i listen to them all the time, and yes the feeling bleeds over into my house tracks because i still like to keep it raw and not too over-produced. sometimes you can confuse a listener by trying to do too much. keep it simple, keep it deep.
and you had a long running and famed radio show for a decade, right?
i think that show ran for about 22 years.
yikes! a lot of early us djs and producers seem to have been inspired by such radio shows – do you think that’s something we miss in the modern age – one or two really discerning outlets for good music instead of now, where every ass hole has an opinion and voice because of the internet?
yup, at one time there was consistency. now shit is all over the place.
aside from the house eps we know you from, you do various other production jobs, right? can you tell us about these?
i’ve done remixes for mateo & matos, eman & doc link, illusions records, tomson, projects for vialocal, uzuri, earthrumental, etc. there are others, but it’s been a long day…
are they a way of earning an income so you can do what you love?
somewhat, the industry is to up and down for me to depend on that solely.
and tell us about unxpozd entertainment, your label – only you have released on it so far – did you start it just with the intention of getting your stuff out there?
i did, because i felt that was the best way i could express myself thru my sound/vision.
will you ever release the music of anyone else on the imprint? why not if the answer is no!?
well, i do plan on releasing material from other producers, but at this point the label is still young. i’ve been sent some really good music from producers, however i’m looking for that particular sound, that sound that doesn’t sound like a lot of what’s already out there. i try to keep unxpozd deep, raw and groovy for the headnoddas.
what else you got coming up/are you looking forward to?
i have a bunch of unfinished tracks, and also dj mixes that i am planning to do. also i’m looking forward to perhaps do a little more traveling, giving people the same experience “live” as they express to me about the mixes. check them out here
anyone you’d like to big up or shout out to?
aw man, too too many to name. i’m feeling a bunch of kats out there right now, but particularly alex agore (nmw), nicholas, underground paris (mliu), the list goes on. there’s a lot of talent out here in the deeper realms.
finally, what do you like to do away from music? what makes you happy?
watching classic kung fu flicks and munching on crab legs make me happy