[tabs tab1=”Intro” tab2=”Japan” tab3=”Career” tab4=”Manchester” tab5=”Industry & Message” count=”5″]
SHATTERJAPAN met up with Darren Williams, aka British producer and DJ STAR SLINGER, in the offices of major entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo in Shinjuku. After waiting in the massive cement hall with the rest of the press for 20 minutes, I was lead into a tiny conference room where a very tired-looking Darren was waiting, and after a quick chat about the best places to go shopping in Tokyo we discussed touring, Japan and the state of the music industry.
First of all, welcome to Japan! Is it your first time here?
Yeah, it’s my first time in Japan, second time in Asia – the first time was Singapore, I went there just before I went to Australia. I prefer Japan a lot more – it’s got more of an identity. I just think it’s more vibrant, but at the same time it’s quite welcoming, the food’s amazing, the architecture’s nuts, it’s just like a massive metropolis, so it’s good!
You arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday – have you had a chance to see the city?
So far, I’ve been doing a lot of press. Yesterday, I did like 8 interviews, coz I’ve got this album coming out soon, and then today the same thing. Also last night, I did a live stream in a department store, Parco, at 2.5D studios – it’s hidden away. I wish it’d been recorded, but it was just a live stream. I think only 1000 people tuned in, but that’s quite a lot.
I wish I’d known about it! So you’re supporting Gold Panda on this current tour – how did you guys meet?
I’ve known GOLD PANDA for a while – we have the same manager and I remixed his track “Marriage” a couple of years back, so we’ve seen each other a lot since then. He needed a support act to take with him and I just said, “Yeah, I’m keen!” I’m just here for the Japan leg of the tour because I’ve never been before – seemed like a good opportunity. It’s good to be here, for sure.
When is the new album coming out?
The new album should be out in the UK this summer, and in the US… maybe Japan, depending on what the label want to do here – I have to ask them…
How did you get into music in the first place?
By being around it. I guess it depends what sort of music, but I think I got most of it from the radio, even the dancier stuff. I would hear it on late night radio, like Pete Tong’s Essential Selection. There were a lot of dance DJs on UK radio, so thank you to the BBC for exposing me at a young age!
What were you doing before your music took off?
I was working in an art house cinema when I got spotted by my manager, and I had to give that up because I was playing so many shows and eventually made a living out of this. I’d just finished my degree in music technology. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this. I’d probably still be at the art house watching films every day, getting paid really badly for it.
As a producer and DJ, what does your work involve?
It’s hard to explain what a producer does. “Producer” can be quite a broad term, but I think it’s someone who can make a track from scratch. A lot of people claim to be producers. And some producers don’t play instruments, but most of us – the hip hop guys – play instruments. So we are musicians in our own right, but we also record and know how to structure a song. Rick Rubin would have session musicians, the same with Mark Ronson, but I’m sure he can play one or two instruments…
What’s the process of remixing for bands?
If you do it without permission, it’s a bit of a rogue thing – I still do that if I like a song – but for the most part now, I do official remixes where they contact me. Now I’m actively getting requests each week and it’s quite cool. I don’t say yes to everything and obviously we work out fees, but sometimes I do favours so it’s quite an open thing. I just do what I want and sometimes remix for money.
So, how did the Childish Gambino remix come about?
CHILDISH GAMBINO followed me on Twitter and posted something on his blog about one of my tunes – he said something like “It’s so dope, I wanna kiss it.” I thought it was cool because this dude was a big hipster at the time and wrote for “30 Rock” so it was a big deal for me. I even met the guy recently in Chicago and warmed up for him – I got to meet him and say thank you… he’s so cool.
What stands out as your favourite show to have played?
In terms of crazy and silly good, it was Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York. I think 800 people turned up which isn’t that many, but it looked really big and a hundred people got up from the crowd and got on the stage – it was insane. There’s a video on YouTube of everyone on stage dancing, some of them pretty badly. They were dancing around me, and this is when I used to use an MPD for live performances so I’m just there hoping nobody knocks my equipment over. It went really well, I’ll always remember that show.
Last year you toured the US with Shlohmo – how do you know him?
I know SHLOHMO just because I was a fan and I asked him to come on tour with me, and he said yes! We met him at the airport… we hadn’t even met before that point. This is the great thing about music – when you’re a fan of someone, you can curate your own tour. If you’re headlining, it’s like a dream because you can take who you want on tour with you. You spend a lot of time in the van together and get to know each other.
How do you feel about the Manchester music scene?
The Manchester scene is not so much a scene as a few cliques – a few club nights that are doing their own thing. Like HOYA:HOYA has two great DJs working for them: Krystal Klear and Illum Sphere. Also, we have a lot of people rolling through from everywhere, because from September until New Year we have the huge warehouse event THE WAREHOUSE PROJECT. The lineup seems to change every year so it’s a different vibe each time, and the artists are always A-listers so you do see quite a lot of big names rolling through.
Who played the last Warehouse Project you went to?
The last one I went to had a lot of older people like Basement Jaxx and Todd Edwards in the smaller rooms, then Madeon in the big room, and lots of big EDM stuff. That’s a good thing I think. There are three different rooms so you can see whoever you want, but I spent my time in the small room.
So, tell me about Jet Jam, the club night that you organise…
JET JAM is something I kind of started by accident. I met some people in Slovenia, at my second ever show in Europe – they were both visual artists and booked me to play a party they were throwing and playing visuals at. I made friends with them and came back to meet them just for a mini-holiday. We all love travelling so we wanted a party we could throw anywhere we go. So far we’ve done five Jet Jams so far in Lubiana, Seattle, New York, LA and London, but we plan on doing more this summer. And I’ve released two mix tapes to promote Jet Jam parties.
What is the best thing about what you do?
It’s quite simple and obvious, but the best thing is you make a living doing what you enjoy. But because I can be grumpy just like anybody else, I have to stop a minute and think about how good my life is, how amazing it is that I can travel and it doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore – coming to Japan for work didn’t seem like a big deal and I’m just really thankful.
How do you think the music industry is doing, with the collapse of major labels and saturation of Internet artists?
I think it’s definitely suffering a little bit, but it’s just changing. There’s so much new stuff that people are obsessed with, like iTunes and Spotify, and I’m no different – I’m obsessed with technology so I listen to it – but it’s pretty sad for physical sales. But the truth of the matter is people still want to see live music.
For a few years, your music was available online for free – is that still the case?
There was a link to it on my website but not anymore, because people have been buying it and I’ve been making a decent income just from being on iTunes. But, you can still get it for free and I’m not taking that down. I put some of the later stuff on labels, but you don’t get as much money from that because they have to cover costs. So before you get signed to a label, I think it’s good as a producer to put out your own music, put it on iTunes via a distribution service like Tunecore. You don’t need a label to be on iTunes now, so you should do that. I think you get the majority of the royalties – you get like 70% of each track. I think I sold 200,000 on iTunes, which is good.
So what other advice do you have for budding DJs and producers?
Just put out as much music as you can to gain attention, because essentially you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want attention – you want to seek it. I watched a documentary on a guy, a photographer, who’s only just becoming popular and he’s now 80 or so. He doesn’t regret it, but I would totally regret it. He let his flat become cluttered with paintings and someone discovered it. I think he was also the first colour photographer, so he had photos and negatives up to the ceiling. I would totally go mental with that lifestyle. Don’t become old and jaded and forget what you wanted – I think you should definitely go for everything while you can.