Born in Minneapolis USA, The legendary International artist Freddy Fresh is one of the most respected leading male DJ’s and Electronic Music Producers. He has recorded for over 100 independent labels worldwide and for Major labels Sony UK, Virgin, BMG UK, and Harthouse Germany.
Ranked number 46 of all world’s best DJ’s by DJ Magazine UK, performing in Clubs & Festivals worldwide including Glastonbury Festival England, Moscow Olympic Stadium Russia, Creamfields Festival UK, Reading-Leeds Fests England, Jazz and Groove Festival Germany.
Freddy has shared stages with artists such as Bjork, Violent Femmes, Grandmaster Flash, Eminem, Metallica, Blink 182, Travis, and Bob Dylan. He has performed over 200 radio shows worldwide, has appeared on over 25 worldwide music television programs, has produced the famed Essential Mix for Radio 1 BBC UK, as well as several Ministry Of Sound Sessions and hosted the late John Peel’s famed program twice on BBC as well as Annie Nightingale’s program.
Decoded Magazine sat down with Freddy to talk Synths, Fatboy Slim, and mouldy gems born anew, on a very cold day…
It’s another cold night in the mid-west when I finally catch Fred bunkered down at home in St. Paul. “St. Paul has been super cold -29 below Celsius (yes Celsius) and just frigid temperatures, you can actually see my breath in the studio. It’s that bad (not my breath, but my studio)”
Freddy Fresh is a name that shouldn’t require an introduction. From the vast output of his multiple genre-spanning labels; Analog USA, Electric Music Foundation and Howlin’ Records, to winning the ARSC Journalism Award for cataloguing every hip-hop release ever made in a single book, crafting timeless acid and electro under over 15 aliases with the likes of Thomas Heckmann, Woody McBride, Tim Taylor and Paul Birkin, and the rest, big beat with Fat Boy Slim, his soundtrack work…it goes on… yet ironically, in my experience anyway, Freddy Fresh seems to be so often underrated, unconsciously ignored, or even completely unknown in the modern electronic world. But with his legendary acid label, Analog USA back, up and running, and reissues and remixes of his classic tracks ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Return to Phantasia’ about to drop as a double pack for Record Store Day on French label Toolbox Killerz this could all change.
It was during his first visit to a record shop in South Bronx in 1984, that Fred became instantly obsessed with hip-hop music and its culture. Still based in Minnesota at the time, Fred made a yearly pilgrimage back to New York, a 17-hour drive from his home in St. Paul. Returning to NYC over the years, Fred slowly began meeting and pestering the right people before he got connected with the crew from Adrenalin Records “they did my very first full-length album called D.W.F.S. – Higher Consciousness in 1992. I also managed to do a 12” on the revered Nu Groove House label with all Hip Hop cut and paste tunes; B.O.O.M. (Brothers of Objective Music), which was named after a radio show I was doing back in Minnesota at the time. But my very first appearance on wax was a remix for the sacred B-Boy Records,1988 in the South Bronx where I was a rep’ for the label. Sadly it appeared to commemorate the untimely killing of DJ Scott La Rock of Boogie Down Productions.”
Slowly Fred began to make more and more connections, even working as a grassroots rep for Dave “Funken” Klein of Def Jam Records for a time. Around 1990, after warming his hand with hip-hop and electro records, Fred began searching for synths, but like the rest of us, he too had no real money. So doing the best with what he had, he began peppering labels with demos.
“I sent demos to Strictly Rhythm and various labels and was always rejected. It was years later that labels like Adrenalin and Experimental stood up and took me under their wings. My first techno 12 inch was on Experimental, under my Modulator name. Maximum Pulse / Timmy’s Trance in 1992, that got me into the techno scene and also got me my first international DJ gig in Paris 1993 where I played with Jeff Mills, Joey Beltram and Damon Wild.”
“Damon Wild was the man mainly responsible for my early techno career, God Bless Him.”
Fred started his label Analog USA in 1992 and got deeply involved with the German scene via Ingmar Koch (aka Dr. Walker and one half of Air Liquide). He began travelling extensively throughout Germany, and the rest of Europe while working with Brixton, Dr. Walker, Biochip C and many others. “From there my techno career really took off with constant gigs at Tresor, et cetera, but when Sven Vath signed me to his label, Harthouse Records well the rest became history.” By now Fred’s thirst for analog gear really became unquenchable, discovering the likes of the Arp 2600, Moog Modular, Jupiter 8, VCS3 et al. All the same synths he still uses today. Although he still is happy to experiment with the latest wears, “I tried to use Maschine and go full on digital, but I was frightened when I started sounding like other people so I ran sheepishly back to my Jupiter 8.”
“My current set up is: Boutique TR-08 / TR-09 / TB-03 / SH-01 / Acidlab.De 303 / Twisted Electrons Acid 8 / Arp 2600 (Orange and Black) / Jupiter 8 / Roland System 100M (5 modules) / Roland System 101 Module, Korg ER-1, Aira TR-08 / Metropolis Sequencer / BASTL Soft Pop / Electro Harmonix Space Drum / Crash Pad) Sonic Potion LXR Drum (an absolute essential in my set up) / SY-1 Syncussion (Another Killer) / Roland System 1 / Synthesis E-950 Speak Module / Clouds Module / Plaits Module, Ghost Mixing Console / Watkins Digital Copycat / Boss Space Echo Pedal and various pedals and Effects. I record everything LIVE various passes into a Tascam Flash Recorder and at times direct into Ableton, but usually, I do live jam sessions, then record them live and transfer via flash card to Mac and toss back into Ableton. Oh, and the hardware brain sequencer command center is my beloved MPC 4000 which drives virtually my entire rig… (I have an MPC 1000 as well to take on trips).”
Then at the peak of his powers in 1998, Fred found himself alongside Fat Boy Slim with a top 40, commercial hit, ‘Badder Badder Schwing’. The tune was everywhere from television screens to clubs, even featuring in an Austin Powers movie. He then backed it up with another hit, ‘What It Is’. Also off his much applauded LP, ‘The Last True Family Man’.
“I did have 90% of that track finished when Norman joined in and took it from a 7 to a 10 with his sheer genius. Most of my syncs and film work has been with my Breaks and Big Beat stuff, I’ve recorded loads of music for films, several commercials as well, etc. I’m quite lucky to have had that action. I’ve got to work with some amazing people. I’d still like to collaborate with Richard as in Aphex Twin… but he won’t take my calls anymore.”
Following the growth of his breaks label, Howlin Records, plus his collaborative work with UK breaks producer and deejay, Krafty Kuts the techno focus seemed to drift away from Freddy Fresh as Analog USA fell into temporary hibernation. His success cast Fred into a whole new focus. Into breaks and big beat and out of techno and electro. The rhythm of the times made it difficult to be both. I wondered, with the release of both new and old material lately whether he still felt relevant in the techno/electro landscape, and if that concept had even entered his orbit at all? “To me being an artist is just that. Trying to be creative and make art. The problem is that to me exploring and creating means doing exactly 100% what I want to do, which is absurd and only seems to slow my career process down in the long run. I release partial songs, experiment with genres and just basically have fun. Also I am in a unique position in regards to other genres of music, like Breaks and Big Beat. I had Top 40 success so in fact techno “purists” often will not have any interest at all in my techno or electro stuff solely based on that, which is strange. So relevant, well yes I feel relevant to myself, but at the end of the day passionate people continue to do their thing whether it is in fashion or not, and will continue to do so long after the cool people have moved onto the next thing.”
All of this esoteric wind about relevance feels rather moot as I’m writing this. Like Q-Tip says, things move in cycles Daddy, and with the current resurgence of electro, acid and trance infused techno, people are starting to redevelop a taste for the kind of magic Fred provides. His flagship label, Analog USA has just picked up a P&D deal with Juno Distributions, with the next release to feature the 1996 classic track, Gates; a rare gem that Fred produced with longtime friend and collaborator, Paul Mix. Plus, Return to Phantazia (which currently goes for about 100 bucks on Discogs) is also about to be repressed by the French label, Toolbox Killers. “I’m quite pleased to know people are now discovering my music and loads of my old tracks are getting appreciated, like Return to Phantazia (the 12” of which I threw away like 200 copies as they were rotting in my basement). Ironically the people who have given me a nod in this industry are true blue dedicated supporters like Christophe at Toolbox or JUNO Distribution. I’d much rather give my music to someone who believes in it like Christophe or Sunil from Earwiggle, Jerome Hill or Al Ferox. Nowadays if someone wants to release an old project I usually insist on new stuff coming out as well.”
Unfortunately though don’t expect to see Fred in your town anytime soon. The sound may be back but alas it’s not 1995 anymore, and still being the true family man that he is, Fred has no desire to hit the road again, being more than content to stay at home with his wife and daughters after pretty well consistently touring from 1993 to 2006. “At the moment I’m relatively healthy and getting older by the second. I need to survive a few more years and traveling on the circuit will ruin anyone’s health. Having said all of this I’m still a kick-ass DJ and I’m quite frankly embarrassed by what passes off as actual deejaying nowadays.”
For those who are unaware Fred’s deejay skills are legendary, naturally, his passions for hip-hop culture lead him first and foremost to deejaying. His ability to weave so many different styles from Techno, Electro, Funk, Breaks, Disco and of course hip-hop is spoken of in hushed tones by those who know. Even holding the record for the most tracks seamlessly crammed into the 2 hours of his BBC1 Essential Mix back in 1998. Ahead of Jeff Mills no less! Fred personally addressed these concerns about modern deejaying in 2014 when he began teaching DJ techniques at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota. And although he’s loathed to tour anymore he’s never left the fold and does still play gigs in the USA.
“I still make Big Beat and Breaks as I sell rare records for a living and am constantly finding breakbeats and funky riffs on vinyl, which I collect. I’m actually working on my 3rd book at the moment, it’s a book that catalogues breakbeats and Riffs and has the source, B.P.M. etc… I’ve Got some new 12” Singles coming out in Italy (Where We Met Records), Ya Ya Records, Berlin, Riot Records and of course my Analog and Electric Music Foundation labels. I’m trying to do limited runs of new Techno and Electro on vinyl (100 copies) in the near future”
Some people just don’t have a choice, they’re in this game for life.