DJ Food Q&A

In advance of his headlining DJ Food set at Emotion Wave, I asked multi-disciplinary polymath Kevin Foakes a few questions on his illustrious career…

Kevin Foakes / DJ Food — photo by Mike Oscar

In your 25+ years of experience as a DJ/producer/graphic designer/promoter, is there anything which stands out to you that you’re proud of?

Plenty of things — designing the second generation of the Ninja Tune logo, watching the label grow and being a part of it during its first surge of success during the 90s — from both the music and design side. Seeing the 10th anniversary in 2000 and the 20th a decade later after designing the huge Ninja Tune XX boxset and book.

Seeing my 360 degree dome show to launch The Search Engine album in 2012 at the London Planetarium and later the SAT in Montreal.

Working with musical heroes like Coldcut, Ken Nordine, Steinski, Matt Johnson and JG Thirlwell and being given access to the Sesame Street archive. Being given a private dig through Trevor Horn’s ZTT master tape cupboard before co-designing a lavish box set for the 25th anniversary of Frankie’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ album.

Issuing The Dragons’ ‘BFI’ album in 2008 — a story that continues to unfold with each year that passes. Meeting artists of all kinds all over the world and making collaborations and genuine friendships that still endure through the music. More recently, starting Further with my friend Pete Williams, something that will grow and evolve over the next few years I hope.

I know artists who have packed in altogether for various reasons of frustration/exhaustion etc. Do you think having multiple creative outlets has helped your career at all in terms of longevity?

Yes, definitely, both in terms of financially and in keeping a healthy balance in both the music and design sides, there’s always something to do in one or the other area and they frequently cross over.

You’re a busy lad, looking at your gig schedule, it looks like you’re on a permanent tour of the world. Is there an end in sight to this or are you happy to carry on indefinitely?

I gig fairly regularly, there’s no world tour, I just go where I’m wanted with whatever set I’m asked for — club, AV, kids raves, 360 dome sets, 45-only or something specialised like Further that requires more set up. I’m lucky in that I don’t specialise in one style and can quite easily adapt my sets to most required scenarios, in fact I like those sorts of gigs more.

“The dance floor isn’t a concern but creating an environment to get lost in is.”
Further at the Portico Gallery — photo by Martin LeSanto-Smith

Describe the perfect gig environment. Is this the goal of your Further nights?

A seated venue with bar and food, several hundred capacity, multiple visual areas (not screens, I’m into projecting across surfaces and seeing what happens rather than looking into a rectangle) and an anything goes music policy. This is absolutely the goal for Further, it takes a huge effort to achieve the visual side because we use many analogue projectors for our nights which give us some amazing results. The dance floor isn’t a concern but creating an environment to get lost in is.

How are your Aphex Twin sets going down? Have you heard the new stuff that went up on the Warp site recently?

They’re interesting because his music has many sides and people respond differently to different styles so you get the people who want the classic techno of the early 90s, the ambient side or the full on drill n bass / acid bangers. But you can stop everything and drop something like ‘Avril 14th’ in the middle and people will love it.

I did hear some of the new stuff and there were some fantastic new bits as well as better quality versions of some of the soundcloud tracks. I think his new business model of releasing records at gigs is great, extremely frustrating for collectors of course but it does the distribution and promo all in one go.

What’s your usual creative process for making music — are there any patterns or tried and tested methods you’ve picked up, or is it more spontaneous than that?

Very spontaneous, I’ll usually start with a sample that will be pivotal to the idea behind the track, I tend to start with a direction in my head, but once things start to stack up they inevitably change the nature and course of things. I’ll usually build around the initial sample or samples and go from there, there’s always a point, on a successful track, where you can start to hear it come together and it almost starts to write itself.

Talk us through your live AV setup, in excruciating detail please.

Oh god, it’s so simple, I use Serato VSL (Video Scratch Live) which enables me to mix video files (mp4s, .movs etc.) in real time so I’m DJing with films basically. This runs out of the laptop through the Thunderbolt port to a VGA adaptor and then into the projector. The decks act as a controller for the audio and video simultaneously. The hard work mostly takes place beforehand where I edit stuff to the songs if there isn’t a video and I like to source obscure film clips for that in the same way you would dig for obscure samples.

Photo by Martin LeSanto-Smith

What can we expect at Emotion Wave?

Lights, turntables, action! I have no idea actually, I think it will be electronic, ambient, percussive, analog. I’m working on a new loop/delay thing for some of my DJ sets where I build up beds of sounds and play with that but it’s taking some practice to get right.