Published Apr 26, 2013Felix Manuel is DjRum, prodigal DJ and producer of music that transcends any notion of genre, his musical palette taking in as many techno as jazz and dub influences. He is an enigma of sorts, in a scene where omnipresence and periodically shifting musical focus is the norm, DJrum readily admits that he is a meticulous perfectionist, honing his craft on turntables and radio stations across England. Releasing his debut EP Mountains just last year on London's 2nd Drop Records, he quickly rose to prominence, with his ethereal and primal jams finding their way onto playlists of tastemakers such as Gilles Peterson and Mary-Anne Hobbs. Ahead of the release of his debut LP Seven Lies, we sat down with Felix to discuss his musical career thus far.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you started out?
DJing came first for me, I started making music at quite a young age, playing jazz piano. But then I got into DJing and that completely took over. So I was DJing for a long time without producing anything new and I found that I couldn't find the tunes that I wanted to play out, so I made them.
Jazz — how influenced are you by it? The time signatures in the music change drastically and possess jazz elements; is this a conscious or subconscious decision?
Definitely, I collect jazz records, I've always been into jazz records more than jazz music. I don't go out to see it live or anything.
The thrill of buying records is powerful.
Certainly, I'm interested in records and recorded music more than live music, I've always been like that. So going from playing jazz to buying it on record was natural. I still collect records of all kinds, but jazz takes up a fair amount of my collection. It's just records, I'm obsessed with records.
Would you say you were still a crate digger?
Absolutely. There are a lot of samples in the music I make. A lot of those samples come from vinyl, some from films and I also still DJ with vinyl whenever I can. Crate digging is part of being a DJ, but it is also part of being a producer.
You're well known as a DJ, do your sets influence your productions or vice versa?
I think you'd be hard-pushed to find producers that aren't influenced by their DJing. The first tracks I ever made were not that different to the tracks I was playing out, they were made on two turntables, a little hardware sampler and an eight-track tape machine — those tracks were an extension of my DJing. Now I use synths, I program drums and things like that but there is still an element of assemblage through sampling that comes from DJing, and particularly the hip-hop style of DJing, which is something I'm really into.
You're a firm proponent of Ableton. What is it about it that you like? Have you tried DJing with it yet?
I'm obsessed with Ableton, before I started using it I couldn't make music, really. Before I started using Ableton to produce I used Cubase, which is quite complicated. I found that the time between having an idea and listening to that idea was just too long for me, but with Ableton it's a lot quicker, it speeds up the creative process and keeps ideas fresh. Plus DJing with it I can test newer tracks and dubs that people send me. No one sends dubs on vinyl anymore.
I guess it is a monetary issue. Why pay money for a white label when you can send your music for free to anyone on Soundcloud?
It's true, sad though. So that has definitely affected the way I DJ on a laptop, there is a more of a focus on the precision of the mix. There is a completely open approach to DJing on Ableton; everyone I know who uses it has a totally different set up.
Can you take us through your new record Seven Lies a little? Is there a theme or consistency with the tracks? On your Mountains EP there was a cohesiveness with your tracks "Mountains 1" and "2," with the third instalment of the track creating a kind of operatic suite, three movements so to speak, is this continued on Seven Lies?
I'd like to think so. It wasn't composed as a concept album, so there isn't one source of inspiration. Some of the tracks were produced at the same time, so they share elements and then some were produced in isolation and were slotted in, so there's a mixture, really. In the same way, with the Mountains EP, the tracks "Mountains 1," "2" and "3" were composed all together and then the last track "Turiya" was put in at the end. So with the new record, I had a collection of tracks that I wanted to compile as an album and then I worked around those tracks filling in the gaps to create a cohesive whole that I felt touched on enough different styles that it represented my sound.
I've seen some mixes that you have produced as "soundtracks for a non-existent film." Is this something you consider often when producing? There is a very cinematic quality to your tracks.
I'm really interested in movie soundtracks, but not just that, also the incidental sound in movies. That's partly to do with being inspired by film but also me trying to create an atmosphere, which is one of the most important things about music. Film music creates atmosphere in a similar way, so that is why there is this cinematic quality to my tracks. I like the idea of giving the listener the impression of something without actually making it implicit, just like soundtracks, where you know what is going on in the film just from hearing the audio.