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Miguel Campbell: Digital funk for the 21st Century

Marcus Barnes

MCCL 300x225 Miguel Campbell: Digital funk for the 21st CenturyMiguel Campbell may have risen to fame quite recently, but he’s been dedicated to his sound for a long time now. Having been toiling away on his productions for eight years, he has remained loyal to a heavily funk and disco-influenced sound even though he was often scorned for it when he first started.

Now one of the shining lights at Hot Creations (he is the first producer to release a full artist album on the label) as well as running his own successful label, Outcross Recordings, Miguel is a regular globetrotter, though he remains loyal to his Leeds roots. I sat down for a chat with him to get the lowdown on his recent goings-on.

So Miguel, everything seems to be going really well for you at the moment.

It’s been amazing, I just had the album release and that’s been a massive thing. From before I had any high-profile remixes I knew this album project was something that I had on the cards. In 2012, when I was asked to write this album, I knew it was going to be something quite important but I also knew it wouldn’t be happening for a year, a year and a half at least – after the success of the last EP it was like, “This is going to be pretty cool”. Then it all boiled down to the release, it’s exciting times.

It was signed quite a while ago then?

Yeah, I was asked to produce the album at the end of March 2010, so I started throwing ideas around at that time but I went to Ibiza that year and very minimal work gets done there – it’s all ideas, planning and preparation. I started working on it when I got home, more or less finished it around a year ago but because of how big the EP was I had to revise it a bit and make sure everything fits. The most important thing was coming up with another song for the album, which turned out to be Not That Kind Of Girl. I got one of my friends from London up to Leeds and she re-sang a song I’d made six months prior and it worked perfectly on the album. As soon as that was boxed off it was like, “Let’s get this out there”. Now it’s out I feel like I’ve had a big weight lifted off my shoulders, it feels great.

The title is a bit of a giveaway, but can you tell me more about theme behind the album Back In Flight School?

It’s that old funk ethos of ‘in flight’, various artists have used the same principles – Aeroplane based his band name on it. You have artists like An-2 and Flight Facilities for instance… a lot of it boils down to Stevie Wonder’s Love Light In Flight as well, funk music that gives you this flying kind of vibe. It was a theme that was apt with the amount of travelling I’ve been doing as well. A lot of the tracks that are on there have that funk sound to them.

Funk seems to be quite a big influence on your music, where does that come from?

We listen to a lot of funk and disco tracks, the old Eighties and Seventies funk is the main inspiration for the sound we work on. A lot of the French touch was based on funk and disco too. I think there are two definite types of disco, you have the real disco stuff and you have the funk disco – it’s more the funk side of things we’re into. It’s a case of replacing the disco sounds with more electro sounds, Zapp & Roger and people like that have been a big influence.

In fact, I’ve actually just done a remix of SKYY – the old Eighties band I think we’ve misused samples from a few times in the past. There’s a US label that’s just bought the rights to West End and Salsoul, they asked me if I’d do this re-edit and I was like, “I’m sure I’ve already got a track that I’ve ripped off sometime in the past”. But I got sent all the parts to it and it was a real moment where I’ve actually got the parts and officially producing this instead of ripping off the sample. It’s amazing, after years of sampling without permission, to get the parts and being requested to do it. I looked at Matt Hughes when we were in the studio and I was like, “Damn! We’re producing SKYY here!”. It was an amazing time for us.

It goes to show how far hard work can take you. So was all the funk and disco stuff around when you were a child?

My mum and pops listened to a variety of music when I was young, mainly Lovers Rock and roots rock reggae. At the same time, there was all the Motown stuff, which evolved into funk itself. Funk also has a massive influence on hip-hop, so many hip-hop tracks are based on old funk loops which people have sampled in an Akai and rhymed over. Before I was into house, I was primarily a hip-hop guy and funk was massively influential – when I first started DJing, it was at my local youth club and it was all about making the other kids dance. The tracks that worked best were the ones that were based on old funk tracks, so when I started producing it made sense for my to source some of these tracks and take influence from them. Even now, when I’m listening to funk albums from the eighties, I’ll spot something and I’ll be like, “Yo, that’s Busta Rhymes!”.

I have the same thing sometimes, mistakenly thinking the hip-hop track was the first to do it, then you hear where it was sampled from and it blows your mind.

It kind of happened with house music as well, some of my favourite-ever house tracks I used to sit there, before I started producing, and think, “How have these guys come up with this man? They must have had an orchestra in the studio,” and later on down the line I’d hear the original and it was almost heartbreaking to know they hadn’t done it themselves. It’s an amazing artform sampling because it’s about spotting things that are emotional to yourself and reappropriating that in your own music.

The whole funk thing has been really influential in what I do from the hip-hop times. For me dance music was born out of hip-hop too so it’s been a real cool progression. I would never change my listening habits, and it all goes back to the roots and reggae that my parents used to listen to – it all had emotional content, which is very important to me – when I stopped listening to hip-hop and started listening to dance music it was all piano house, very emotional. When I started producing I didn’t find any pleasure in producing techno or what was ‘deep house’, I found fun in the French touch side of things where there was real emotional content. There’s something about having a four-bar loop where, every time it repeats, it’s saying something new to you and the longer it goes on, the more it says to you. That’s where Daft Punk came in and smashed it, that same style – small changes over the course of five minutes – and that’s what inspired us to do what we do now.

There’s a lot of repetition in what we do, and in the songs on the album, but at the same time they move and they flow. It’s a case of producing that sound and making it sound cool… hopefully it sounds cool.

I think it does, I really like The Avenger.

That’s my favourite song on there, it’s one of the most intricate ones on there too. I had it for a while, one of my friends, Ollie, he came to my house one day and I had this beat and this bassline – actually a different bassline to what’s on there now – Ollie was like, “I wanna make a track with you mate”. So I opened up this project and he was playing his guitar… so when I was working on the album about a year ago I was like, “Right, let me open up this tune and see what’s happening”. When I heard the guitar I thought it sounded wicked, so I added the keys and some effects, changed the beats and bassline and that’s how it turned out. It’s cool because I think it’s got a very ‘Lee Foss’ sound to it, it’s the kind of thing Lee would support and play. The whole crew has been a big influence on what I produce, with that track I knew it had a Daft Punk-y sound to it because of the wailing of the guitars, it really tells a story from beginning to end and it’s my favourite track on the album so thanks man, you know your stuff!

How did you make the connection with Lee and Jamie and the Hot Creations crew?

I met Richy [Ahmed] one summer when I was away on holiday, a few months later I posted a few tracks on my social networks and Richy rang me up and was like, “Mate, have you got any more of these tunes? I’m really into this sound at the moment.” So I made up a pack and sent it to Richy and Rob James and a couple of other friends, like Death On The Balcony. Richy and Rob went to Miami in 2010 and they were playing a few of my tunes, one of the tracks on the album Beams Of Light caught Jamie’s ear and they introduced him to my music. Richy actually rang me while he was at a party in Miami and I was the back garden at a club in Leeds at the time, it was raining, I wasn’t having a good time, just watching everyone having fun – he was like, “Jamie wants to sign this tune to Hot Creations”. So I said, “Yeah of course”. Hot Creations was still just a concept at the time. When everyone got back from Miami, Jamie rang me up and asked me to do an album because he was really digging the sound, he thought it would be a good idea… 18 months later I had the Baby I Got It EP out, with Something Special on the B-side and that did really well.

It would have been easy to change the album to cater for that success, but I had to stay true to what I originally started with. You’re always your own worst critic, certainly now I feel like I have tracks that are really strong but it wouldn’t be right for me to integrate those into the album. It tells a tale and it wouldn’t be right to just add some random tracks in there. The best is yet to come, I’m in it for the long haul, I’ve been at it for eight years with no one listening to my music at all and some real big criticisms of my music, so for this to finally start evolving there’s no rush… it’s like my career has to tell a tale, not just the album.

The worst thing you can do is burn yourself out or dilute the music to cater for an audience.

Whenever I make a tune I always think, “Does it sound cool or does it sound cool for today?”. I always like to think: “If something sounds cool, it sounds cool forever.” I always try to impose that ethos on my music and, if it doesn’t work, I put it to one side and one day, a year or two year’s time, I might have an idea that I can bring back. There’s a small number of tracks on the album that I’ve had for a number of years and I’ve pulled them out of my hard drive just for this particular project. This is what I did with Something Special, I wrote that song in 2007 and, after I began to make my album, I noticed Lee was into lots of the RnB vocals – I realised I had that track and thought it would be pretty cool. I reproduced it and you saw the result!

What part of Leeds are you from?

Moortown, just a bit further up from Chapel Allerton. I grew up in Chapeltown, I lived in the ghetto until I was about eight or nine – my parents always strived to do better in life, and that’s been a big influence on me. My dad’s not with us anymore but whenever I do things, I do things in his way. My parents have always strived for things and never looked at things on a short-term basis, if you’re gonna do something, do it right. It was a slow progression from when we left the ghetto, moving into a smaller yard, but slowly the yards got bigger and we moved quite a lot when I was younger. They just wanted to do things properly and that’s how I do things now.

Are you still in Leeds now then?

Yeah back at my mum’s! I had to sell my apartment just before I went to Ibiza this year, so when I got back from Ibiza my mum was like, “Your room is still here,” it made sense, I don’t know where I’m going to be next so it’s nice to be with my family and take it easy for a bit.

Bit of an odd question but I was wondering if you think being mixed race has had much of an effect on your approach to music?

It’s funny because, when I’m in the clubs, people always ask me if I’ve got ’something’ for sale. It’s like, “Nah mate, I’ve got nothing for sale apart from music”. Then they’re like, “You do music? You must be an MC. Are you into grime, hip-hop?” When I tell them I’m into house, they can’t comprehend that. But, I wouldn’t change it for the world, I like to be unique in what I do and slowly but surely I’m seeing more of the homies into the dance music. It’s good to see that the music has reached into the ghetto and that they’re actually listening to other stuff, and it’s nice to know it’s a universal vibe that’s being pushed right now, it means a lot. It’s nice to think that we’re uniting people, from the posh white kids to the broke Chinese kids and all the mixtures of different people. It’s amazing to be a part of that. The way my tracks appeal to people of all different races and ages, it’s a real benefit to what we’ve done. It’s something that came natural to me, I didn’t set out to do it and I think because I’ve taken influence from music that smashed it years ago, it’s helped me smash it today.

Does your mum listen to your music at all?

She listens to the radio shows and things like that, she still considers it, “Bang, bang, bang, bang”. But I can remember about four or five years ago and she walked into my room and said, “Have you made this? It’s quite groovy, I quite like this one.” I can see the transition in my music from being an amateur, to being a bit more pro. She actually caught that vibe. Of course though, when she’s downstairs all she can hear is, “DOOF, DOOF DOOF!”.

She can see it’s a viable career path for me now though. I’ve left my job a few times to pursue this and it got to a point where she was worrying about what I was doing with my life. It’s great that she can see that I can set us up for the future, not just me but all my family.

Miguel Campbell’s album Back In Flight School is out now. For more information on the man himself, visit his Facebook page HERE.

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