Deeptrak are a creative collective from Essex, England formed in 2011 and consisting of Tony Nicholls, Grant Richards and Emma Black. They have received big support from artists such as Roger Sanchez, Todd Terry, Mark Knight, Shapeshifters, Roland Clark, and Grant Nelson. The trio have had releases on labels including Form & Function, InHouse, Tropical Velvet, Conkrete Digital, and they have remixed tracks such as Todd Terry’s ‘Jumpin’, Victor Romero’s ‘Love Will Find A Way’, and NY’s Finest ‘Do You Feel Me’.
As DJs, Deeptrak have supported a whole host of well-known artists including Sandy Rivera, Full Intention’s Michael Grey and Low Steppa. Their recent remix of ‘Girls Like Us’ by B15 Project gained massive support and had over 1.6 million views on Facebook alone. Decoded Magazine caught up with the three members of Deeptrak to talk about the aforementioned release and what they have planned for 2017…
Firstly I would like to thank you all for taking the time to chat to Decoded Magazine today. Let’s kick things off by telling us about how you met each other.
Grant: Tony and I crossed paths a bit over the years playing at the same events and even on the same radio station, ‘House FM’ many moons ago, but it was actually Emma who suggested we all sit-down and work together the other year. Emma was singing with me at a Kinky Malinki gig at Ministry and once we were done she was talking about Tony and their work together, and maybe I should get involved. So we had a sit-down and here we are.
Tony, you were the original founder of Deeptrak and have been in the dance music world for some time now. Can you tell us a little bit about why you first began DJing, and why you decided to form Deeptrak?
Tony: I discovered my love of dance music in the early 90’s by listening to London’s pirate radio stations. I was still at school, so not old enough to actually go to a rave. I would listen to the radio all weekend and make tapes for my mates. This soon developed into a vinyl addiction where I would spend my school dinner money on records and often my bus fare home. Buying a US import double 12” was expensive back then for a school kid. By the time I got to college I was organising my own parties and earned a warm up residency at the local house music Friday night “Culture Shock’ which would have weekly guests including Paul Oakenfold, Jeremy Healy, Danny Rampling, Judge Jules, Boy George and Brandon Block. A year later I had played at Ministry of Sound, The Cross, Turnmills, Camden Palace, Hanover Grand and was soon discovered by Clockwork Orange. I then got my chance to play in Ibiza at Es Paradis aged 19. In my early production days, I had a track signed to Hed Kandi, a cover of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s “Let The Beat Hit’ Em” I then took a break from producing because I didn’t like the electro sound that had become popular. In 2010 I noticed that MK was making a comeback and realised his sound from the 90’s was back in clubland. It was this that gave me the catalyst to start producing again and form Deeptrak along with Emma Black.
Emma, you are the voice of Deeptrak. What first attracted you to join Deeptrak? Also, I believe you have been writing some music for other artists of late? Can you talk a little bit about your work outside of Deeptrak with other artists?
Emma: Tony and I actually go back a long way. I didn’t even know what House Music was until we met as 16-year-olds at college. He was DJing all over the place with quite a following, and you’d rarely bump into him where he didn’t have a flyer to stuff in your hand.
Deeptrak all happened very quick. After many years of Tony and I not being in regular contact I got a random phone call from him to say that he was back into making music and needed some vocals for some tracks he was taking to ADE in a weeks time. We met up and recorded some vocals and made 2 tracks and it felt very natural… those tracks went on to be signed by Simon Marlin from the Shapeshifters and subsequently went on to be signed to Nocturnal Groove.
I am very lucky to have been able to work with some amazing artists. Previously I have collaborated with Flashmob, Kort, and K&K. I’ve recently collaborated with The Deepshakerz and have a rather nice label that we are in the process of sealing the deal with, as the guys are finishing a second track as part of an EP. I’m going into the studio to record vocals for Pete Dorling this week and also recording for Karlos Cheadle. The cherry on the top is the uber talented Prok & Fitch who are working on an acapella I sent them. To say I nearly peed my pants when James Fitch called me to say he loved it, but if I didn’t mind they wanted to “f**k it up a bit”.
This is a question to all of you… Who have been some of your biggest influences over the years?
Tony: As a child growing up my mum’s love of Motown and Disco where thankfully forced up upon me, so I would say my early influences were Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons and Nile Rogers. Once I discovered House Music, as I mentioned earlier, MK was a real big influence, my DJ sets would always include 2 or 3 MK tracks and that is still the case today, as they all sound so current. Other early influences were Grant Nelson and Full Intention. A more recent influence for me are Disclosure, I love the sound they create & their live shows look great.
Emma: Well as a young kid in the 80’s my parents were music lovers and would blast the likes of Level42, UB40, Spandau Ballet, Chaka Kahn, so I guess that has an influence, my favs were Paul Young, Tears for Fears and 5star. When I got into my teens and discovered I could sing, I oddly listened to a lot of Motown, Aretha Franklin, Otis Reading and my favourite singer of all time is Ella Fitzgerald. House music vocal influences are easy because there’s not many of us! The iconic voice of India, powerhouses like Adeva, Michelle Weeks and Barbara Tucker are the ones that really stand out. But there’s one that is the queen in my eyes and who I have taken most inspiration and that’s the outstanding vocal magician Shawnee Taylor.
Grant: The majority of my influences aren’t really from the house world. You can list off the obvious like Stevie Wonder, but then I’ll go through a variety of artists from Hall & Oates, Kurt Elling, Level 42, Kenny Thomas, Fat Freddy’s Drop, De La Soul, Friendly Fires the list could go on. From the house world I think Ben Westbeech is super talented, Justin Martin makes really rather unique stuff and think Gorgon City and Disclosure have that accessible crossover sound nailed, and then you have the legends who’ve been so consistent over the years like the 2 Todd’s, Edwards and Terry, Roger Sanchez and Grant Nelson.
Deeptrak have remixed some damn fine classics like Todd Terry’s ‘Jumpin’, Victor Romero’s ‘Love Will Find A Way’ and NY’s Finest ‘Do You Feel Me’. How did you come to remix these absolute belters and what classics would you love to work on in the future?
Tony: The Todd Terry link was made when Emma shoved a demo CD in his face at the Ministry of Sound, a few days later we received an email, Todd signed one of our original tracks to IN House records and then allowed us to remix ‘Jumpin’. The NY Finest remix was done a few years before it was actually released, we emailed our version to Victor Simonelli and he replied saying that he really liked our mix and wanted to release it but we had to wait as he was waiting for a few other mixes to be done, the other mixes took about 3 years! The Victor Romero vocal was re-licensed to Red Rose Records and they contacted us to do a remix, which was great as I loved the original.
Grant: It’s a bit of a misconception that these remixes were bootlegs, even Soundcloud cockblocked us (that won’t surprise anyone though tbh) but these are legit remixes. All of these have come through Tony and Emma, and I personally feel they underpin what Deeptrak are about. These are tracks Tony and I played in their original guise back in the day and if you get opportunities to remix tracks you loved first time around, why would you say no?
Let’s talk about your recent remix of B15 Project ‘Girls Like Us’. I believe there is a bit of a story about how this got signed to Armada? Can you tell us a little about the story?
Grant: I was making some music with half of B15 Project and half of Soul Central and I really wanted to have a crack at giving Girls Like Us an update. Angus who is the B15 Project half, had explained there was some drama behind the initial release, but I was my usual nagging self and went with ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’. In a way, Angus was warning us off. I get that now, but I had no idea that we’d get a load of drama again 16 years later. A lot of that drama was linked to the tracks original roots back in Jamaica and some convoluted story linking back to UB40. I’d love to tell you the full story, buy I don’t even know the full story myself.
I believe you had a few big labels trying to sign your remix of B15 Project. Some people would think that is a great scenario but you found it quite stressful. Can you tell us about what happened and how Armada released the track in the end?
Grant: It was initially coming out on Hot Source, which is a sub-label of Circus Records (the D&B/Bass label, not Yousef’s label) and it was just sitting on ice. We knocked up a little video, as a teaser to stick on our FB page and that video went mental. It’s currently at 2.9 million views and that led to Azuli and Armada duking it out. It was stressful as we had no say really. When we did try and have any say, it became a stumbling block that just held everything up. Angus and I kinda fell out about the whole thing, but I don’t think it was intentional on any of our behalves? Just the way that the business part of making music can wobble you.
When in the studio who is the joker and who is the one who likes to just get down to the work? Have there been any memorable moments in the studio when forming a track or working on a remix?
Grant: We don’t really mess around that much. We definitely go off piste, just not on the piss. There’s only so long you can listen to the same WIP before you become numb to it and you need to just chat crap and have a joke/whinge/whatever to re-calibrate. As for memorable moments, we’ve been working with Paul Hardcastle Jr (his Dad had a UK No1 with 19 back in the day) on a few tracks and not only does he have a bundle of energy, but the guy is talented AF and actually getting together with him in the studio is a blast and gives Tony and I an extra dimension.
Grant, as the new member of the group how have you found fitting in with the other members? What do you think you bring to the group?
Grant: I guess I was a little apprehensive at first. It’s all well and good thinking you could work together, but it’s another actually trying to get some magic working in the studio. I’m full of ideas, maybe too many, but Tony has been great interpreting those ideas and we work together very easily. He’s quite chilled out and I’m pretty much the opposite so it’s good yin and yang. What do I actually bring? Mainly a headache for Tony, but I’m keen on the other side of being a production team and deal with most of the marketing stuff and getting ignored by record labels.
The London clubbing scene has taken a massive hit over the years and lost many legendary venues. However, in recent weeks we have seen Fabric re-open and Village Underground secure a 15 year lease at its current venue. Do you think we have turned a corner in London, and are councils finally starting to take note of the electronic music scene?
Tony: I don’t think we have turned a corner just yet, there are too many threats to London’s nightclub scene like:
1. Council – tougher restrictions
2. Residential development
3. Bars – with later licenses
4. Festivals – too many
When I first started clubbing, I would be out every weekend travelling all over the country to see different DJs. The youngsters of today don’t seem to have the same desire to go to night clubs; they can go to bars with DJs and 3am licenses, they are spoilt for choice with a festival or 2 on every weekend and they can now watch DJ’s on social media channels at home. The night-time economy is so important to London and the UK, not only financially but also on the future development of our culture. Something has to change! Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer and I can’t see things improving either, which is a real shame.
Grant: No not really. If they really had their own way they’d probably curb nightlife even more, but letting off steam from the 9-5, whilst listening to some great music, is and will always be, part of what makes the UK so musically relevant.
What kind of DJ setup do you like to use when playing out? How do you incorporate the vocals of Emma when playing out?
Tony: I’ve been playing off USB for a while now. Grant recently introduced me to Pioneer’s Rekordbox which has been a life saver, I was looking for a solution to re-organise my music collection and I just didn’t realise how good Rekordbox was.
Grant: Yeah nothing too complicated needed for us, we both embrace the USB life after years of lugging record boxes around. We have played out with Tony playing live keys over my set, which is something we’d like to do more and that too can easily incorporate Emma, who can freestyle vocally or actually sing some of the tracks we’ve done together.
Can you tell us about some of the gigs you have booked in over the next few months and what we might expect from Deeptrak in terms of releases?
Tony: In the next few months I’m playing at KOKO (Camden Palace), We Are Festival and in the summer we’ll be back in Ibiza for Clockwork Orange and Kinky Malinki. We are also in talks to sign up with an agency soon, hopefully in the next week or so.
Grant: We both have really long-term residencies that we’ve held for nearly 40 years between us with Clockwork Orange (Tony) and Kinky Malinki (Myself) so we’ll keep that work up, whilst taking on new exciting Deeptrak bookings.
As for new music, we have a remix coming out for Grammy Award-winning producing machine Dave Aude with Jamie Lee Wilson called ‘Back 2 Love’. We’ve finished a track with one-third of chart act WSTRN, we’ll continue working on some collabs with Paul Hardcastle Jr and we have a remix of another classic Xpansions ‘Move Your Body’ that’s imminent.
Finally, I would like to thank all three of you for your time today. Is there anything else you would like to add before we all depart?
Grant: Thanks for having us, it’s been fun being on the other side of the fence for a change. Obviously, I’d say to go follow us on the socials and if you’re feeling really crazy, buy or stream some of our music, oh and don’t think Essex is just about that TOWIE life. It really does have a strong heritage in dance music culture and we hope we can add our own little part to that.
To buy/stream Deeptrak’s remix of B15 Project click here