Silky: ‘I knew that this was me, it was my sound’
At some point last year I was talking to my friend Matt Hardinge about music, as per usual, and he put me on to an up-and-coming artist called Silky. Recommendations from friends and associates are the best way to find new artists and music I usually find, so I went straight to Silky’s Soundcloud page and I liked what I heard. Just a few weeks later, we met and I stayed in touch with him, with the aim of getting an interview sorted at some point. But with a packed tour schedule, releases on My Favorite Robot, Nurvous, Alola and the launch of his own record label (with my friends the Climbers and Nelski/Neil Barber) it took quite a while to arrange. However, we got there in the end and here it is at last…
So tell me, how did it all start for you? Can you recall an early memory of music and how it inspired you to become a musician yourself?
My earliest memories of music are my parents playing songs by The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, The Beach Boys and many others, when I was very young. Obviously they had these on vinyl and I think that’s why I seem to know most of the songs by these artists. Besides the enjoyment of listening to music, my family were not musically gifted, however they made my younger brother, sister and I all take piano lessons when we were young. At the time, it was nothing more than a hobby and a chance to learn something constructive. I never for once thought I would need it later on in life.
I do remember one particular instance when, after learning music theory and practicing on the piano, I was constructing a song completely of my own. This was the moment when I became fascinated by music, and especially the piano.
What’s your family background? Would you say your heritage/ancestry has had any influence on your approach to music?
I was born and raised in London, my family are Indian by race but came from Kenya in Africa. I don’t feel as though my heritage or ancestry has had any influence on me really, however, both Indian and African cultures participated in tribal gatherings where the music performed was drum related. Maybe this is ingrained into my roots. Also, I really use the Phrygian scale a lot when writing music, which gives the dark feeling – common in Middle Eastern/Asian music, so maybe I do have some influences from my heritage!
Have your family always supported your musical career or did they oppose it at any point?
My parents are amazing. They have been super supportive of my path in music, and it’s definitely been a rollercoaster ride. I mean, my Father bought me my first decks as a birthday present, and they are always to first to tell people that they have a son who works in music! I did actually have a proper full-time job before I decided to take the plunge into music and yes, at times, it has been hard, but they have always remained supportive regardless.
Do you play them the music you make? What do they think of it?
When I’m writing music, I have a tendency not to play it to anyone for a while, until I’m at a position where the idea in my head is fully conveyed sonically. For example, when I’m at the beginnings of a track/song and I play it to someone, they cannot hear the journey or the idea of the song because it’s still in my head. I can hear it, but for someone else to understand where I’m going with it can be difficult. I do however, play them new stuff when it’s finished. Sometimes I’ll be speaking to my parents and they’ll mention my latest mix CD they’ve been listening to whilst on a road trip around France!
What kind of music were you into when you first got serious about it?
Actually, in my younger days, I was really into hip hop. I was completely influenced by the kids around me at school and what they were listening to, but I was never just satisfied with listening to music. I wanted to learn about the artists, their history, their inspirations, where they came from, basically their stories. In doing so, I began to really learn not just about the music, but the history of popular music. So from early hip-hop, I was led into electro-funk and then from there into disco, rare groove, US garage, house and techno.
I was the same, always wanting to know more about the musicians – learning their musical style and being able to identify their music even when it was made under an alias. Can you recall some of the first house/techno artists you were into?
Oh wow. This is a question indeed, I mean my vinyl collection goes back quite a stretch, before even house and techno really. But talking about some of the artists that influenced me back in the day and that I listened to a lot were the likes of Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Moodyman, Masters at Work, Chris Lum, Miguel Migs, Octave One, Carl Craig, Laurent Garnier, Jeff Mills and new wave and dance bands like Talking Heads, Kraftwerk etc. I think it’s really important to know about the history and roots of the music you are into. Even now I’m still learning every day.
Yeah, there’s always something new to discover isn’t there, it’s endless! Were you the same at school? In terms of being inquisitive?
I’m the kind of person that has to find out how or why it works or I can’t understand it. I broke at least four of the computers my Father bought when I was young because I had to figure out what was inside and how it works. That didn’t go down so great then, but now it’s great as I can pretty much fix most problems!
Where did you grow up? What effect do you think your upbringing had on your musical tastes?
I grew up in Ilford which is on the border of East London and Essex. Probably not the area which has any form of rich music culture, in fact, going there now and listening to what people play driving in their cars makes me feel grateful that Ilford had no effect on my music taste! Jokes aside, like I mentioned just now, I learned a great deal about music on my own. I definitely wasn’t a sheep following the crowd. I remember being at school, where everyone was either into hip hop or jungle/drum ‘n bass, and feeling completely alienated because I didn’t really dig that kind of music. It was towards the end of high school when I truly discovered house and techno and really understood what it meant to me. I can safely say that, out of the whole school, I was probably the only kid into this music. Others either didn’t like it or understand it, but I knew that this was me, it was my sound.
When did you first get into DJing and electronic music? What triggered your fascination with electronic music and DJing?
My first encounter with a set of turntables was at the age of 14 or 15. It was at one of my friend’s houses, he had a pair of Technics 1210’s and a Vestax mixer. I had seen people DJ on TV but I never really knew what it was about, so after school one day I went to his house and he explained it to me. He used to collect drum ‘n bass and early house music so I began to go to his as often as I can to learn and practice. I was terrible, but it fascinated me. I was totally hooked in learning the art of mixing and turntablism. From there, I started buying the music I was into on vinyl, visiting my local specialist record shop and HMV (they sold vinyl back then) as often as I could. On my 16th birthday my father bought me my own pair of Technics and a mixer. For me it was a hobby. I loved it. I would come straight home from college and get straight onto the decks.
How did you manage to get your first DJ gigs? Can you remember what it was like playing in a club for the first time?
This is a funny one. My first ever gig, like probably many DJ’s, was a complete nightmare. So, I had my turntables and I was practicing every day, bearing in mind I had no intention of ever playing out. But one day, when I was 16 I think, a friend from school was throwing this party at a local club. It was a daytime thing I think as we were all underage, but he found out that I had a pair of decks and was DJing, so he offered me a set. I thought, ‘Why not?! It will probably be dead and it will be fun to see what playing in a nightclub booth will be like’, so I accepted. I got to this club on the day and it was packed! Everyone from school was there, I was so nervous. When it was my time to play, first I stopped the wrong record, then as I picked up the other needle, I knocked the one that was playing and everyone was just staring at me. Then I did the most horrendous mix ever. I played for about 10 minutes before I decided to pack up and never do it again!
Did it take you a while to really ‘get it’ as far as DJing goes?
After that incident I continued to just play records at home. I loved music, so I just enjoyed buying records and playing them. Messing about with mixing and tricks by myself and with my friends. I didn’t really have to ‘get it’ because I always thought of it as a hobby. It was at University when I got a job playing house music in our student union bar when I really understood what I was doing in terms of DJing. I’ve always played what gets me going, and I feel that that projects outwards. Also, with my piano background mixing in key seems to come naturally.
Who are your DJ inspirations?
There are a lot from different genres, but my favourites in terms of music and making people dance are Greg Wilson and DJ Harvey. I mean, I wish I could have seen the way people like Larry Leven controlled rooms, but I was still riding a bicycle at that time. People like Q-bert, Yoda, etc completely blow me away, what they can do is obscene. But contemporary inspirations I must say come from all my friends I’ve been lucky enough to meet along the way who are all becoming very successful DJs and producers… and people like Dixon who take me to another level, musically.
At what point did you decide to start making music?
I did a course at University called Creative Visualisation. It was predominately 3D-animation for movies and computer games, but we had one module where we had to create music for our own animation. I remember we used Sonic Foundry Acid. This was my first encounter with attempting to produce music. I then started to learn of my own accord. I got hold of Acid, Fruity Loops and Reason and began to learn. Around 2000 I met my now long-term friend Jim Sykes who was also producing music, he introduced me to Ableton Live (at the time it was version 2, I believe) and we started to produce together. I learned a lot from him, and now, I’m so grateful to have gained the musical knowledge I picked up when I was younger in being able to construct songs/melodies.
Wicked, so did you consider moving into video game production at all? I always wanted to move to Japan and become a games designer…
Hahaha, me and you both buddy. Actually, I always wanted to move to Japan as I thought it was the first country that would have Hover Boards (Back To The Future 2), but I actually really wanted to do animation CGI for either Disney or Marvel, mainly specialising in films. But then I realised I was rubbish at it!
Haha, that’s a shame. Would you be interested in composing music for games and maybe even films one day? If so, what kind of games/films would you like to soundtrack?
This is something that does appeal to me as something to work on in the future. It would be great to be able to compose audio with the feeling created via a motion sequence. However, at the moment, I want to just focus purely on my music and my sound and really taking that somewhere. If the opportunity did arise at a later date, I think something like the movie DRIVE would be something that would appeal to me – completely eclectic with a lot of emotion.
You have a connection with the mighty Frankie Knuckles, how did that come about?
Frankie and I go back a very long time. At University I was lucky enough to land myself a residency at a club called The Empire. They held a night every week called Sugarshack which back then was one of the top five house/techno nights in the country. Frankie was one of numerous big name guests to pass through there and we became friends right away. Over the years we kept in touch and now he is like part of my family. I learnt a lot from him when staying with him in Chicago, how to operate and conduct myself in this business the right way, I can definitely say he is one of the nicest people in this game. We worked together on some edits for his shows and now we are extremely fortunate that he did the first remix for us on our new label.
Amazing, and so how did you go from making tunes at home on Ableton 2 to releasing for labels like My Favorite Robot?
Well, I released on quite a few labels prior to My Favorite Robot Records, but that particular release was a collaborative effort and resulted in something quite special. James Teej, Voytek Korab and Jared Simms are the three robots behind MFR. They are all really good friends of mine, we all go back a long way, so Voytek and I were together in my studio in London and we were listening to Tears for Fears while on a little break. Instantly we both had the same idea of doing a dark cover of the song ‘Shout’, just for a laugh, basically to see how it would sound. We ended up recording and nailing a first version of the track within four hours! Teej and Jared, who were back in Canada at the time, heard the track and wanted to add some more layers to it, resulting in how it sounds now. I mean, it’s not a track that you could play in every set, but it’s certainly one that goes off at early hours and the end of a heavy night and definitely has held some special memories for all of us.
How long did it take for you to get to a point where you were happy with the music you were making and had found your own style?
Like I mentioned earlier, I have had singles/remixes released on various other labels, some under different names etc, but I’ve always been at the deeper end of house/techno. But it’s only been in the last few years where I’ve really become comfortable with my sound and making what I want to hear.
Your stuff has a real dark-tinge, as you’ve mentioned. How would you describe your style to the unitiated? Which track would you recommend someone to listen to as a good example of your current production style?
Hmm..this is a difficult one. My roots and influences in this music are so diverse, I mean I used to listen to soul stuff on labels like West End and Salsoul and then at the same time to people like Juan Atkins, Moodyman, Nine Inch Nails etc. All of this has had an influence on my sound and pushed it to where it’s at now. I still enjoy making records that are either down-tempo, soulful or acid and techno. Either way, my music is quite dark, so that is always the common thread. In terms of a track that would be the best example, would possibly be my latest remix on Louie Fresco’s and Alex Rubio’s Mexa Records. I did a remix of Augusta St. for artists DJ Glen & Vitor Munhoz and I think this showcases my sound pretty well.
So now you’re keeping pretty busy with your own label, international DJ gigs and so on… at what point did you feel as though music was a worthwhile career choice?
Looking back on it now, it seems like it was the only choice. I’ve made money, I’ve lost money, but in music I’ve always been completely happy. This is what I do and, after so many years of work, it seems I’m heading in the right direction.
When did you decide to start up your own label?
I’d been thinking about that for a while, but when this idea grew completely organically I was having dinner with my buddies Climbers and Barber, and we were talking about it… next thing you know we have artwork, distribution, PR, a single and Faceless Recordings was born! I think the timing is perfect for us to do this right now.
How easy/difficult was it to get it all off the ground?
To be honest, it was fairly easy. There are four of us involved so we all have our duties. The first release was a single from Climbers featuring Yasmine Azaiez. It’s a summery, deep vocal song and the remixes are from us label heads, i.e. myself and Barber, and we called up Frankie Knuckles and Eric Kupper to deliver their classic take on it. We have a great team of people around us, Nervous are looking after the label distribution and have helped along every step of the way, and Dean, Julian and Jordan at Dispersion PR have been super helpful. We also have an exclusive edit we are giving away via DJ Mag for the launch. So support has been great really in getting this project launched.
What releases do you have coming up on Faceless?
We have a release from Moonwalk which is up next and then another one from Bambook and Netzell (who have just signed with Get Physical) which I think could be a big one over the summer. In terms of the remixes, just count on the fact that we are getting all our friends and family involved so expect some quality names in there.
And what does the future hold for yourself?
Well one thing that’s for certain is that I won’t live forever! Haha, well, I’m hoping I can continue to grow in this industry. Keep learning, keep bettering myself as an artist and a DJ and hopefully be at the point next year where I can start working on a solo album.
What’s your ultimate dream within music? Where would you like to be when you eventually retire?
Somewhere with a beach and a warm climate! My dream would be to fulfill all of my goals within music and within life, but I think even if I retired from DJing at some point I would still be writing and producing music and playing on my decks at home!
For more information on Silky, head over to his Soundcloud page here – also check out his recent mix for DJ Mag below.dj silky, Faceless Recordings, Silky
Recent Posts on Arts
- Friday Book Design Blog: Here
- A shouting economic adviser, a Nobel Laureate and a rock star scientist on stage at the Jaipur lit fest
- Children’s book blog – the last post!
- Children’s books for December: Herman’s Letter, The Yeti Files, Greenglass House and Winter Damage
- Friday Book Design Blog: The Ariel Poems, and other seasonal pamphlets
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter