In a city full of musical heroes, Andres is one of Detroit’s greatest.
A former DJ in Slum Village (as DJ Dez), he’s been releasing some of the funkiest house music around since the late ’90s; music where every lick seems to drip with golden soul. But Andres doesn’t just make house, as his seminal Andres II album and subsequent releases prove, he’s just as adept making hip-hop, downtempo boogie and more. He’s worked with Theo Parrish, Moodymann, J Dilla and more in his time, and recently started a new record label to reissue some of his lost classics.
Andres was in London recently to DJ at Eglo Recordings’ party at Fabric, where FACT’s Tom Lea caught up with him to talk about the new label, his memories of J Dilla, and how it felt to move to Detroit in the late ’80s when the city was on the verge of history. If video’s more your thing, you can watch FACT TV’s episode on Andres here, which features a condensed version of this interview.
“Thing with Jay Dee, even if he wasn’t masterful on an instrument, he had the ability to make something with it, just make something dope. I never met nobody like that.”
When you started DJing, I’m guessing you were playing hip-hop? How old were you?
“Yeah, I was heavily influenced by hip-hop at the beginning. I grew up on a lot of Egyptian Lover… I started DJing when I was in California, so I was listening to a lot of West Coast hip-hop. I remember the first hip-hop video I seen was ‘Buffalo Girls’, you know, Malcolm McClaren, The World Famous Supreme Team, and of course, on a large scale… Jam Master Jay, of course.”
“I learned how to scratch before I learnt how to mix [beat-match], and being a percussionist I take great pride in my scratching [laughs], I tell people I’m a hip-hop DJ but I don’t just play hip-hop.”
I think whenever anybody starts DJing, they have certain DJs they look up to, and think ‘that’s where I wanna be’. Who are yours?
“Well the gentleman whose style I definitely adapted was Joe Cooley. He had stuff out on Egyptian Empire, which was Egyptian Lover’s label… him and guys like DJ Aladdin, who to me is like the second coming of Joe Cooley. Then [DJ] Cash Money of course, DJ Miggs, a lot of Philly DJs, Jazzy Jeff… a lot of New York DJs also.”
“When I started getting deeper into electronic music, I realised that a lot of [electronic] DJs weren’t necessarily doing as many complicated things as what the hip-hop DJs were doing, but they were more into the music. More into messing with the EQs, things like that. One of my favourite DJs to watch DJing, because he gets so into the music… [laughs] is a friend of mine, Theo Parrish.”
I thought you’d say Theo. That passion translates into the crowd too, it’s great.
“I have to say as well, my big brother Moodymann, Kenny [Dixon Jnr.] he has a… let’s say, different approach. I get something different from watching him spin as I do Theo, he’s got a rebellious style of DJing. If he’s in a James Brown mood, then that’s what you’re gonna hear. He might not even mix, he might just play the songs. Just a different approach.”
“Well from 1980 to ’88 I lived in California, then moved. I worked at a legendary record store called Buy Rite Records, Cliff [Thomas] from Buy Rite, he distributed the first Cybotron 45… There’s a lot of history there, DJ Assault worked there for some time, DJ Stingray worked there when I worked there. Rick Wilhite worked there, I met Kenny there.”
“They find the first piece of the record they like, sample that, and then just throw it to the side. Just raping the record.”
What was the vibe like, at a record store like that in the late ’80s? Did it feel like you were on the cusp of something?
“Well, I didn’t work there in ’89, I worked there in like ’94. But I always liked around the corner from it. So I used to go there, I used to see them there – I used to take Jay Dee [Dilla]’s beat tapes up there to play ’em and stuff. There was this big space in the middle, and I used to dare Moodymann to bust a windmill there. We would have free time, and he would just do it… [laughs] He had his trademark suede Pumas still, but he used to break ’em… You know, 20 years old, still had the fat laces on ’em. Buy Right gave me my education, not in terms of hip-hop but in terms of what real house was, real techno was, DJing with no headphones, stuff like that. It was a priceless education.”
I suppose you met a lot of people there who’re still firm friends, too. Was it around that time that you met J Dilla?
“I met J Dilla in ’92, at Amp Fiddler’s house. When I met him, he was already special. Amp Fiddler showed me how to work the MPC-60, which… well, I don’t use the 60 anymore, but I still use the MPC. He opened up his house to us, the studio to us, so we could use his equipment. It was like shifts, I’d be coming in and J Dilla would be finishing what he was doing… I’d be coming in to put in my time. And sometimes we’d share, chop it up… There was a lot of magic over there, you know. About ’92 though, ’92.”
“I wish more people danced to hip-hop stuff, as opposed to nodding their head. That’s cool, but I don’t DJ to see people do that.”
Do you have any memories of Dilla that still stand out today?
“He used to come pick me up… Like he was funny sometimes about answering his phone, and I’d be like ‘yo this guy’s being funny’, you know, funny style… You know, you would call him, he’d be like ‘call me back’. And you’d call him back, two minutes later, and someone would answer, like ‘he’s not here?’. Like I just talked to him!
“But then, just when you thought something was one way, he’d always show me different… not really saying anything, but through actions. Like he would take me record shopping, like treat me record shopping. And that’s how I learnt to look at different kind of records – not just like funky records, the regular stuff you’d expect, some James Brown or old r’n’b stuff… I learnt from him to look for different kind of stuff. Until I met Dilla, I’d have never checked out a Sergio Mendes record, for instance. But he taught me to really listen to records, to be open.
“Jammin’ at Amp Fiddler’s house, sometimes it’d be hard to find drumsticks, but he would just play the drums with pencils. There was always instruments in the house, and Dilla would get on those, and sometimes I’d just put the mic in the middle of the room, and plus record… I’ve still got some of those tapes, they got a lot of air in them, but you know, good times.
“Dilla was the only person I knew who wore as many hats as I did… You know, I rapped, I DJed, I made beats, played various musical instruments. Thing with Jay Dee, even if he wasn’t masterful on an instrument, he had the ability to make something with it, just make something dope. I never met nobody like that.”
Something you said which struck me there, and I’ve heard you say it before in interviews, is about the importance of actually listening to a record. What do you mean by that?
“Well for people who… Well, I like to call it raping the record. They find the first piece of the record they like, sample that, and then just throw it to the side. Like ‘you useless whore’, or something. Just raping the record. Dilla used to lend me records, and I’d be like ‘what’s on it?’ And he’d be like ‘man, you gotta listen to the record.” Most people, they’ll listen to the start, and the end, or skip through the record. There are still samples I find to this day, on records I own, that Dilla had used, and I hadn’t noticed it before because I hadn’t listened to the record in its entirety. When you’re skipping through it, you’re potentially skipping over some nice little pieces, and you don’t know, ’cause you’re not just listening.”
Is samples chopped up on an MPC still your main method for making records?
“It’s my main one, but it’s not my only one. I’m a musician first and foremost, I can get in a room with people and make some magic happen, easily, but I do like chopping up samples. I try not to let sampling laws and stuff like that stifle my creativity – I like to just create. If the track [doesn’t get cleared and] ends up being something I just give away, so be it.”
Have you encountered much problems with sample clearance in the past?
“I’d rather not say… [laughs]”
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We talked earlier about hip-hop crowds not being as open to other kinds of music as electronic music fans maybe are. Something that always strikes me – and I say this from an outsider’s perspective, having never been to Detroit – when I listen to artists like yourself, Omar-S’s Sidetrakx stuff, Theo Parrish and your other peers from the city, is that the lines between house, hip-hop, soul, boogie and so forth seem pretty blurred. Do you think that’s the case?
“Well I would say, with myself it is kinda blurred… When I’m making dance music, I do try to keep that in mind – maybe tempo-wise, at least – but it’s kind of all the same to me. I wish more people danced to hip-hop stuff, as opposed to nodding their head. That’s cool, but I don’t DJ to see people do that, I wanna see them dance. Look at dub and reggae, clearly their tempo has nothing to do with people actually dancing. I wish people danced to everything. But I guess when I make dance music, sure, I like it more up-tempo.
“Around the time of Andres II, Kenny was always like ‘man, you should put some of your other [non-house] stuff in there.’ He always liked my other stuff as well. And I was like cool, you know, I was always a big fan of Kenny Dope, who does hip-hop stuff as well as dance stuff, and both are respectable. Not everybody can pull that off.”
Lastly, after releasing records on Mahogani and KDJ for a long time, you’ve finally started your own label. Why do it now, and how’s it going?
“Well my first release was supposed to be on my own label. We sent out the promos for distributors, to see if they wanted to carry it, and we didn’t get any calls back. So, we did it on Kenny’s label, and sent that out, and guess what, we start getting calls back. And people, for a while, thought Andres was a KDJ alias. He told me that, like ‘you know some people are gonna think you’re me’. But from the start, he was always like ‘come on, you need to start your own shit man’.
“Recently though, for different reasons I decided to give it a try. One of the reasons is Ebay cats. You got a group of people, they sit around, they know there’s gonna be a certain amount [of records] that come out, and they buy ’em all up. And then they wait for the drought, and they appear on Ebay, selling my shit at three, four times the original price. They make more money off my stuff than I do.
“I was out on the road one time, and this young kid comes up, like ‘man I love your records, I love your music, but I can’t afford to pay 80 dollars for them’. And he didn’t put none of his buddies on blast, you know, but he told me ‘man, I have friends who buy your shit, like 10 copies, and by the time I get my money up, I can’t afford these Ebay prices. So I was like, ‘I need to re-release some of these joints.’ So that’s what I started my label. And that’s what I’m working on now.
“But you know, you can’t stop that. Cats are always… It’s like [Nike] Jordans, when they sell out. I have a friend, he was at the movie theatre wearing some Jordans that just sold out, and a guy bought them straight off his feet for $400. He’d paid like $150 for ’em. Just bought them right off his feet. He’s probably selling them now.”