A true innovator in the scene, Charles Webster is one of the few real mould breakers in an increasingly predictable dance music world, and someone whose career has maintained an exceptionally high level for more than 20 years.
Hitting the shelves later this month, House Masters Charles Webster is an intimate collection detailing the exceptional artistic range of one of the UK’s most remarkable producers.
Ahead of its release, we caught up with Webster to discuss his focus on music production, the pros and cons of increased exposure and the potential pitfalls of having produced more than 500 records...
Back in the 80s when you were first getting into music, what made you follow the house path?
Well it was kind of all the same area, people just used to call it electro, hip hop, house, techno ... whatever. House was kind of what I was already doing but it wasn’t really called house, but I liked the electronic blend with the more ambient and soulful vibe. House for me was the perfect combination and mash-up of influences.
So was it always house rather than anything else? You’ve said previously that you would never do a drum n bass track because you hate it...
Yeah, I just don’t like it. It doesn’t work for me as a form of music. I could listen to drum n bass but not very often because I find it very samey. I find house less predictable because anything goes in house, whilst I find drum n bass very predictable because it was lead by its breaks and rhythms which everyone is using. It’s just a bit boring. I certainly don’t think drum n bass is good club music, I don’t think you can truly dance to it.
I’m sure some people might disagree. So although you moved to San Francisco in the early 90s it seems that the majority of successful electronic artists live in certain hubs like Berlin, London etc... Why did you decide against such a move?
Well I did live in New York for a while but I live here [in Nottingham] as I’ve got a nice studio. These days you don’t really need to live somewhere in particular because of the internet, all you need is some broadband and you’re in the same place as everyone else. I prefer to be on my own, I don’t like to play the networking and schmoozing. I just do my own thing and keep to myself. So really you could live anywhere.
Do you think that living outside of the hubs has allowed you to focus more on your productions rather than getting caught up in the other aspects of the industry?
Yeah I think so. I think you can just ignore all of that and do your own thing. For me it’s the music that’s important and I don’t think if I lived in London now I would get any inspiration from, let’s say Oxford Street, or something. However San Francisco was great and it’s such a beautiful city. Even though it’s not particularly known for electronic music it was still a very inspiring place to be. We chose that place because it was a blank canvas, whilst if you go to New York or Detroit or somewhere there was very much an established sound and scene. Back then in San Francisco there was none at all.
You’re often said to be a ‘DJ’s producer’ in that a lot of your peers play your records and find you an amazing source for material for their sets. What do you think it is about your productions that particularly appeals?
I think it’s that it’s always changing; I never make the same record twice. Every day I go to the studio I try to push hard to try and be imaginative and not just stuck in the past.
Has the way you make music changed over the last 20 plus years?
No it hasn’t changed at all. I started production work with sequencers and early computers so it’s not like I started in a rock band and had to evolve. So it hasn’t really changed, I’m still using a lot of the same equipment and my approach is still the same but its more focused on the music and melodic content rather than just beats and rhythms. I find that quite secondary really. A four-four rhythm is a four-four rhythm to a certain extent so I think the emotional content of music is really important, such as the harmony and melody for instance.
But surely there are new aspects of technology that you’ve incorporated into your studio...
Yeah I try to stay on top of technology and developments, for example things like Melodyne. I think this software is remarkable and the best thing in 10 years! I’m always interested in new things and its inspiring that you can get new ideas from new sounds and effects and things. It helps you to not get too bored. If you just work with an acoustic guitar you could get a little bored, but with electronic music it never ends.
In the last few years as house music has started to attract more attention from the mainstream and journalists. As a firmly ‘underground’ artist yourself, do you think this could be detrimental to the scene?
I think it’s good seeing in one way as some people then get the exposure that they might not have had before. But it can also attract people who would like to exploit it, or also to see what they can get out of it and to see if they can make a quick buck. It’s a serious business for a lot of people, it’s their life and how they express themselves so for it to be exploited or watered-down could be a worrying trend. So I suppose it’s a yes or no answer, I think it’s a good thing that you can get wider exposure but it’s often the wrong people who get the wider exposure, not the people who have been at it for a longer time. They can get forgotten sometimes.
Would you like to have any more exposure yourself?
I’d obviously love a wider audience, not the fame side of it, but most people who make music want people to listen to the end result, so the more people that hear it and can enjoy it the better. I think everyone would like a wider audience, because people can look at you and think ‘oh he does that kind of music’. This is the problem with some of the media because they like to pigeonhole things.
You new House Masters compilation is out late this month... did it take a while to decide what to include?
When I initially started putting the track list together I thought it would be easy. I knew that I would obviously use this and that, and I did use some of the tracks because I feel that they were important, but I realised a lot of the tracks had been used many times on different compilations. I just wanted to dig a little deeper for this so it was a bit of a challenge, especially because I’ve made about 500 records or so.
A lot of things on there have actually never been released. I just wanted to make the product a bit more interesting and exciting rather than just going through the motions of sending a bunch of tracks and that’s it, it’s finished. I wanted to show that it’s still moving forward and it’s not drawing a line under somebody’s career.
Are there any records on there that you had forgotten about?
Oh yeah, you can do a couple of remixes a day sometimes so some of them I had totally forgotten. When I had listened to some of the tracks I really could not imagine making those records. I’ve had that in clubs before where I’ve heard things and thought “god this sounds so familiar but I have no idea what it is” then I realise it’s one of my own records.
Yeah its one of those things, I’m not senile or anything, but you just forget after making records for 20 years! Sometimes you’ll do a main mix which will take you a week or something and then you do a dub which takes you an hour, so you obviously forget about that little dub mix because you’re so focused on the main mix. Then that’s the one you hear in a club. I’ve done that a few times and its really embarrassing ha-ha!
Have you ever asked the DJ what it was?
Yeah! And then they look at you like your having a laugh.
House Masters Charles Webster is out 26th August - order from iTunes