Pearson Sound – ‘Blanked’ (2010)
In one sense, there’s not a lot to ask David Kennedy, the artist known primarily as Pearson Sound and formerly as Ramadanman. In another sense, there’s everything to ask him.
2010 was, undoubtedly, Kennedy’s biggest year to date. It was the year that the drum machine returned to UK dance music – specifically, this healthily category-shy dance scene that came from a love of, and then later, a dissatisfaction with dubstep – and even more so than his peers Addison Groove and Girl Unit, Kennedy found a bountiful niche for himself in amongst the circuitry of 808s and 909s (or 808 and 909 plug-ins); ‘Work Them’, ‘Glut’ and ‘Blanked’ three of his finest singles to date, and tracks that found almost as many fans in the European house and techno hierarchy as they did the UK scene that he still holds very dear.
But as you might imagine, stylistically his music is already somewhere else. Kennedy’s career to date, for this writer at least, has been defined by his working process; the way he takes a specific vibe or set of sounds, and hammers them to the point of a logical conclusion (for the drum machines, ‘Blanked’; for the woodblocks, ‘Wad’, and so forth) before moving on. Of course, things aren’t that linear, and the reason I say that in one sense there’s nothing to ask Kennedy, is because you only need to meet him once to know that he doesn’t think of his music in that way. For him, these stages of his musical development are simply natural processes of exploration, and tellingly, he’s far more comfortable when taking about his record label, Hessle Audio, or memories of producing and DJing with friends than he is the intricacies of his sound. This natural approach is one of the reasons his music always sounds so personal, even at its most dancefloor-focussed (‘Work Them’).
This month, Kennedy will release his second official mix CD, as Pearson Sound, for Fabric. FACT took the opportunity to catch up with him in an interview about trust, anonymity, experimenting and, naturally, woodblocks.
“I find all of these names a bit of a distraction really. That’s part of the reason I’m changing it.”
First off, does the Fabric CD mark the start of Pearson [Sound] becoming your main musical project?
“Well I originally wanted to do the mix just as Pearson, but understandably Fabric didn’t want that – Pearson doesn’t have the same back catalogue as Rama, the bigger tunes I’ve made have been as Rama… so understandably they wanted him present. But yeah, I do want to start focussing on Pearson, and there’s a lot of Pearson tunes on [the CD]… it kind of makes sense. But it has made the title a bit long.”
It would’ve been late ’08/early ’09 that you started using the Pearson name.
“Yeah, some people think I started it really recently but it was around that time. At first I started it because I wanted to see how people would react when they didn’t know who was behind the tunes. And it’s not like it was top secret, but most people genuinely didn’t know who Pearson was when these tunes started appearing – it was good. Eventually it transpired it was me, I mean I wasn’t trying too hard to keep it anonymous, I think if you do that you just have to tell no one, really [laughs]. There’s no point being anonymous and being casual about it.”
Was there any element of freedom in using a new name?
“Freedom, hmm, yeah there was… Though I don’t know if it was so much that people thought Rama sounded a certain way, musically or whatever, it was more just fun really. Though retrospectively people have applied some element of sonic differentiation between the two names, which was never my intention but it’s quite nice, sometimes to see how people interpret it… like, ‘that’s the housey name!’, and it’s like ‘well, I did do a drum’n’bass tune as it…’ But it’s fine, that’s what music journalists do.”
Which leads me quite nicely to something I’m about to say…
“Well the change to Pearson… it’s not like with Redlight, when he went from Clipz to Redlight, and totally changed his sound [from drum’n’bass], I’m not doing that. My process is more gradual, that’s why the CD has two names, that’s why bookings right now are as both names, but eventually they’ll be just Pearson. Plus I haven’t done that many tunes as Pearson still, so I want to get more out there… I figure that’s the best way to do it.”
When you do a track, do you think ‘well, this is more of a Pearson tune’, or ‘this is more of a Ramadanman tune’?
“Well now it’s everything as Pearson, but before it was more just a case of ‘well, I haven’t done one as Rama in a while’… I dunno, I find all of these names a bit of a distraction really. That’s part of the reason I’m changing it. Like if I did an album or whatever, the first thing people would ask is what name.
“I know how the music… well, not necessarily the music industry, but it’s all about branding now. You need a name, a logo, a concept, and I can understand how Rama might seem more of a brand, but I’m not interested in any of that really. I just want to write more music as Pearson and let people judge it on [the music].”
“I love white labels. I think they set a level playing field.”
Personally I think an element of anonymity, or a lack of branding seems to be creeping back in to this scene, with stuff like the Objekt 12” and ‘Sicko Cell’, and I quite like that.
“Well ‘Sicko Cell’’s sent people nuts. I mean it’s a good tune, it’s not the best tune in the world. But the minute people don’t know who it is, it drives them crazy. I think we’re so used to… well, I was with my friend in the car the other day, and we heard this tune on radio, we didn’t know what it was… and within a minute, he’d Shazammed it, and he’d downloaded it on iTunes. [laughs] We’re so used to that instantaneous culture, like you go to a club night, see a DJ play a tune, you record it, and the next day someone’s told you what it is. And that’s cool, to an extent, but I think sometimes that should make you question what you’re enjoying this music for.
“Part of the danger with this anonymous thing… Well I think the ‘Sicko Cell’ thing’s getting a bit out of hand, that was never [the producer]’s intention to have it happen this way, they just wanted to put it out there and see what people’s reaction was.”
It’s not like it’s the first time there’s been an anonymous track on a mix tracklist.
“Yeah, well it’s nice sometimes you know? There are some people who… well I guess we’re all guilty of it; there are moments where you won’t listen to a tune because say, ‘this guy, he’s a drum’n’bass producer, so I already know what it’s gonna sound like’. So in those cases, it does give a certain amount of freedom… and as you say, with the Objekt thing, it still shows that music’s the main focus. It’s done amazingly, and he’s pretty much unknown. Like it’s had a bit of DJ support, but that’s it. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the record, but it’s just a white label with a stamp. I like that.
“There was a stage in like 2008, 2009 where… I think it was mainly Pinch and Peverelist, they didn’t put names on their dubs. I just like the idea of these great, black discs, completely anonymous. I love white labels. I think they set a level playing field, like it’s not about design, it’s not about the label, it’s just about what’s on it.”
I’ve started to like it a lot when people don’t give tracklists for their mixes.
“Well we [Hessle] used to provide tracklists for everything, but we just kind of stopped. There’s been a lot of people nicking other people’s selections… not so much me, but like Ben [UFO], who’s not a producer, his pure appeal is in his selection, and he’s put a lot of hours, and sweat, and love into finding these records, only so someone can read his tracklists, and buy them in five minutes on Discogs… I mean why does he have to give a tracklist? If you ask Ben what a track is, most of the time he’ll tell you anyway. But again, we’re all guilty of it – if we see a mix with no tracklist, we’re less likely to download it. But then again, as soon as you see the tracklist, is there any point in downloading it? You already know how it’s going to sound. So yeah… I think mystery, mystery is good.”