Producer and DJ Arthur Baker helped change the sound of New York in the early ’80s, producing the pioneering Kraftwerk electro-twurk of Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 single “Planet Rock” and running early hip-hop label Streetwise. He was ready to spout about all this stuff at the M for Montreal Festival this weekend, a nifty showcase for 30 Canadian bands–and a festival kind enough to fly the Village Voice out for a sneak peek at this year’s crop of poutine-eating popsters. Baker was booked to chat at Friday’s producer’s panel alongside Bjork wrangler Valgier Sigurdsson, Arcade Fire knob-twiddler Howard Bilerman, and a few other esteemed headphone jockeys. However, dude got crazy stomach flu and did the whole damn thing from his bed in England via Skype. In between bloops, blips, dropped calls and static, the New York dance legend dropped some science about getting New Order to play nice, cracked wise about turning down the Happy Mondays, and announced an upcoming collaboration with Cold Cave.
Here’s Arthur Baker…
…on his career arc
I started off as a DJ… and I sort of ended up as a DJ.
…on “Planet Rock”
We didn’t realize we were being experimental. We just had pieces of new equipment, and we just went into the studio and made records.
…on the producer/band relationship
I’ve been in situations where you have to be almost a therapist or a referee. Depending on the bands you work with. You work with a band like New Order, you have to just get in between band members sometimes. So, you have to know how to deal with different people in different situations…. With different bands you have to use different parts of your talent. I wasn’t a trained musician, but I was pretty musical. I wasn’t a trained engineer, but I had decent instincts. So a lot of times you just become a band member. For me, that’s the magic of producing, is how much you can become one with the band and integrate yourself to that.
…on the current state of dance remixes
The remixes that I did that ended up being used for singles kept the essence of the song. That’s what’s missing a lot in remixes nowadays, especially club mixes where there’s really nothing to do with the song. Going back to things like “She-Bop,” by Cyndi Lauper, where my mix was used, there are elements of dance production, but I kept the basic thought. For a remix to be successful, you should keep the song.
…On the current state of Arthur Baker, and his newfound love of Cold Cave
The reason I haven’t been doing a lot of remixes in the past few years is because I was being presented with songs I couldn’t do anything with, because the songs weren’t any good. I’m not saying there aren’t good songs out there, but I wasn’t getting them. Recently, I’ve been doing a remix for a group called Hurts, a UK band I think are really gonna take off. They’ve got a song that I thought was really good. I was able to add a little bit to it, and they’re using mine as the 7″ mix. If I can get more projects like that, I’d probably be more active. I did something like that with Interpol. I’m working with this group Cold Cave. I really love to experiment, and I love to boldy rip apart a track, but I really like to start with something that’s good. I passed up the Happy Mondays’ first record because I just thought the songs were shit. As it turned out, they’re a really good band, but the songs weren’t good. With me, it’s my personal taste. I’m sure I’ve passed on things that have become hits. But to hit the studio and work on things I don’t like? You can’t polish shit. I think that’s really true.