The technoid splinter-group from the dubstep family tree – that stuff that sits somewhere between Basic Channel and El-B – has been a source of some of the most got-to-tell-your-friends-about-it exciting and innovative music of the past 18 months. And although he’s only a few years out of high school, David Kennedy, aka Ramadanman, has somehow found time to be involved in much of it.
As a producer, he puts out slinky and stark tunes that point towards a new, futurist take on techno; Ricardo Villalobos duly started opening his sets with Ramadanman’s ‘Blimey’, and we made it FACT’s track of the issue earlier this year. Together with Pangaea and Ben UFO, Ramadanman/David runs Hessle Audio, whose discography, while still in its infancy, is a remorselessly great roll-call of crucial tracks; TRG’s ‘Broken Heart’, the Martyn mix of same, Untold’s ‘Purify’ and, of course, ‘Blimey’. So, this music’s great, and this guy David Kennedy’s a big deal in it; time, thought FACT, for a chat…
What were your early musical influences?
“When I was really young, like about 10, I did a couple of music lessons; piano and stuff. But I wasn’t really in to it. About that age I started wandering into record shops, and I was into some kind of embarrassing stuff, like really euphoric commercial trance. But I was also into hip hop; stuff like KRS1 and Beastie Boys. Then when I was about 14 or 15, I was in Virgin Megastores, and they played this tune over the PA that just blew me away. I asked what it was, and it was an LTJ Bukem tune, so I bought his Producer 01 album, and that was the start of me getting into jungle and drum n bass.
“Also when I was 14 – but I looked about 8 – I used to go down to Vinyl Junkies in Soho. They were really friendly, and started recommending me loads of US House stuff. That’s where I started to learn about that style of music. I’ve been going to that shop ever since.”
And when did you start producing?
“In about 2002 or 2003, I started making tunes on Fruity Loops. They were like grimey instrumentals. I started posting them on Rwd.com’s forum- you know the production page that they used to have on there?- to get feedback on them. The name, Ramadanman, comes from round that time; I was 13 and it was just something I liked the sound of. I keep considering changing it, because people might get the wrong idea; like, the name doesn’t point to any religious beliefs that I have…
“Anyway, Plastician, or Plasticman as he was called then, used to go on the forum loads, and he gave me advice on the tunes, and some help and tips on the production. When I was posting them on the forum, quite a few people were responding to say that the tunes sounded more like dubstep than grime, so that was what really spurred me on to checking out dubstep.”
Were you going out to dubstep clubs then?
“I was pretty young, still; only about 16. So I couldn’t really go out that much. But I started going to FWD in about April 2006. That was when it was still on Thursdays, and it was a smaller, more intimate thing. It was an incredible line up the first time I went; Mala, N-Type and Geeneus played. The crowd and the DJs, and Crazy D, who was MCing, were so welcoming, that it really felt like being part of something special – something really innovative and exciting, but approachable.
“I think it was it a quite a ballsy decision for Sarah and FWD to move their slot to Sunday, moving to a smaller crowd when they could have packed it out every Friday. But it’s now more of an intimate crowd again, which I like. And some of the line-ups have been incredible; the Ikonika set earlier this summer was amazing. FWD feels like its branching out into so many different styles, but every one’s still working together.”
You’ve DJed at FWD yourself…how did you find it?
“It was a really big deal, after going as a paying customer, to be behind the decks. It was such a bizarre feeling. I’ve played twice now, and the first time I played was when FWD was still on a Friday. It was a really ravey, really busy crowd. So there was definitely some pressure! But I guess you just have to do your own thing, and show case the sounds that you’re enjoying at that moment. I wouldn’t like to be stereotyped as just a ‘deep’ dubstep DJ. I really don’t think that many dubstep DJs can be classified as just playing one style…like N-Type might be called a ‘wobble’ DJ, but he plays a lot more than just that. And it’s similar with me when I DJ; I’ll play 2562 stuff, Peverelist stuff, lots of Hessle stuff obviously, but I also love playing things like Coki tracks. The really hard, bassy side of dubstep.”
‘Blimey’ has been picked up by techno DJs, most notably Ricardo Villalobos. Is techno important to you?
“It was a quite a shock when some one told me that Villalobos was playing my tracks. I think I first found out when some one showed me this minimal techno message board – I think it was mnml.nl – and there was a clip of Villalobos opening his set with ‘Blimey’. Obviously it’s really flattering, because he’s so well respected. But I hadn’t really heard much of his stuff before that, actually. So, it’s not like I come from much of a minimal techno background. But when I was making ‘Blimey’ I did think that, yeah, it would sound nice if some one played it out with a big 4/4 beat underneath. So, I could kind of imagine techno DJs being receptive to it, but I didn’t imagine it’d be Villalobos!
“I only got into US house and techno stuff in around 2002, so I really don’t know that much about the history of it. But recently Martyn’s has been sending me MP3s of early techno and house – kind of educating me! So, I’ve been getting into early electro stuff recently…Juan Atkins and Model 500.
“When I’ve seen techno DJs, one of the really eye-opening things for me is the length of time that they play. You know, you might see someone do an 8 hour set. And to see how the DJs build a set like that is really interesting. I saw Francois K recently, and – this is quite an arcane point, really! – one of the cool things about watching him DJ was seeing how he’d take the bass out slightly at the start of a new track, and then slowly bring it back up, to increase the intensity. The really experienced techno DJs have so many little skills and tricks like that to learn from.
“In the last few years I’ve definitely utilised ideas from techno in my own productions, but I’ve never been trying to make a techno track. It’s more that the influence of techno comes through in a subtle way, particularly with all the repetition and arpeggios in my music. But, saying that, I’m thinking that I should probably change styles. I’ve taken a bit of a break from production recently, and I’ve mainly been focusing on remixes- the last production I did from scratch was about 3 months ago. I’ve been thinking abut shifting tempos; may be making some slower, more hip hop based stuff.”
So, how closely aligned do you feel to dubstep, as a scene, or even as a sound?
“I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently, and I think that only in the last few months has the word ‘dubstep’ really come to mean something. Before, it was just a group of people, based around a few clubs like FWD or DMZ, and part of what made it so exciting was that it was so new that it hadn’t really become a fixed genre yet.
“And now, although dubstep is recognised as a scene, it’s still really exciting because there’s so many people within the scene, playing at the same clubs, and playing each others’ records, who are doing really different stuff from each other; like stuff at completely different tempos. So, within the scene there’s everyone from Coki to more deep house stuff like Beat Pharmacy, to even people like Flying Lotus. And I think that more and more there’s a feeling that having these contrasts actually makes the music more effective; people don’t want to just go to a ‘deep’ dubstep night anymore. They want to hear a load of different styles. To me, that’s a really important thing, and something that I like being part of. If dubstep split into one-track minded little scenes, it’d be my worst nightmare.
“I think there’s always a danger to kind of ‘coining a style’. Like, I love 2562’s stuff, and Martyn’s stuff. But the danger is that all these great tracks lead to loads of boring copies from other people. That the sound becomes just half-arsed, average House music. So, the varied sounds in dubstep at the moment is one of the most positive and exciting things about it for me.”
Can you tell us a little bit about your label, Hessle Audio?
“Yeah, the label is run by me, Pangaea and Ben UFO. I guess I tend to do more of the admin side of things, but all of us are completely involved with all aspects of the label. I actually met Ben in the queue for FWD, the very first time I went. We kept in touch, and I ended up going to uni in Leeds, where Ben’s studying as well. We were getting e-mails of some music that really impressed us, from people off dubstep internet forums. TRG in particular had been sending us stuff for a long time. So we decided to start a label to release some of the stuff that we were getting sent.
“At first, we didn’t really think all that much about the ethos behind the label, but just recently we’ve been having debates over this tune that we might be releasing, and that’s made us think a bit more about what we trying to do with the label. To us, the label has to be a personal thing, in that every tune we release, we’ve known the producer for a long time, either through meeting them, or being in touch over the internet; like I’ve never actually met Untold, but I’ve had a lot of contact with him. With Hessle, we try and make releasing records a two-way process, involving the producers in the process all the way. One thing that comes out of that is we learn about how to do this together. When we started, none of us knew how to any of the stuff involved in running a label, and we try and take away some of that mystery for the artists that we’re involved with. You can’t find out from the internet, or from a book, how to do something like run a label. You’ve just got to do it.”