Interview with Carl Craig: ‘Anything that’s called Masterpiece… you’re putting yourself on a dartboard’
Two years ago I travelled to Amsterdam’s annual electronic music conference ADE for my very first full-on visit. I’d been the previous year but just for a whirlwind 24-hour trip in 2011 – it was a lot more involved.
One of my main tasks while at ADE was to interview one of techno’s most well-respected and innovative artists, Mr Carl Craig. I met Carl, who appeared with a glass of red wine in hand and immediately made me realise everything was going to be just fine.
It was an interview I still rate as one of my favourites (read it here) – we spent three hours together, in fact, towards the end I turned off my dictaphone deciding that we’d gone beyond the point of ‘interview mode’ and were now in comfortable, casual conversation territory.
Two years on I’m about to embark on a return trip to ADE and will hopefully see Carl again. Most recently I caught up with him at one of his ‘Bar Talk’ sessions – a novel concept, initiated by Carl himself, whereby he invites a select group of writers to hang out with him in a bar.
A simple concept that offered up the chance to speak to Carl (and other journalists) about anything in a relaxed environment with drinks flowing. It sounded great, so off I went to Plastic People, where the London edition of Bar Talk took place.
Carl was, of course, fashionably late – but it was all good, the laughs started pretty much immediately. “I’m like my grandfather,” he tells us as he explains the concept behind Bar Talk. “I like to talk, talking s**t!” At the time the release of Carl’s Masterpiece compilation for Ministry Of Sound was imminent, so of course the subject moved towards the collection (after touching on a few near-the-knuckle topics, which I won’t repeat).
Across three CDs Carl was asked to compile a selection of music relating to one of three different topics; ‘Aspiration’, ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Meditation’. Asked how long it took him to put the comp together, Carl was typically frank and open, “Well, that’s a loaded ass project. Anything that’s called Masterpiece… you’re putting yourself on a dartboard so people can go ‘Masterpiece?! This ain’t no masterpiece!’. It’s also a headf***, because you’re thinking, ‘How am I going to put something together that is actually a masterpiece?’”
With licensing laws holding a tight grip over so many music publishers, Carl’s choices as to which tracks he used – on ‘Inspiration’ in particular – were limited, in fact more than half of his original choices didn’t make the final cut. However, it must be said that the final result was, unsurprisingly, of a high standard and most impressive of all was his Meditation CD. Comprised a collection of six meditative, ambient compositions, it is the most significant body of work he has put together in a little while. Moody, immersive and full of subtle nuances, Carl’s six meditation ‘movements’ really demonstrate his prowess with electronic music, delicate, expertly produced and fascinating – they really take you away to another dimension.
Other notable topics included the decreasing quality and integrity of radio, and the way in which the dynamics surrounding the media have changed. As many of us will acknowledge, we now live in a time where broadcasters are less daring and are more focused on the commercial aspects of the music business, rather than giving room to independent music publishers and shining a light on lesser known music.
Hearing this from the perspective of someone who discovered much of the music that inspired them to become a musician whose influence has been so widespread was fascinating. Radio was once a vehicle for experimentation and it still is, but nowadays we find this is less and less apparent on the stations that dominate the airwaves.
Carl explained: “In Detroit with the Electrifying Mojo, he would say, ‘Okay, this track, which on the B-side of a Prince record called Irresistable B**ch. I’m gonna play this because it’s hot! And he would have to edit out the word b**ch…”.
“It’s really unfortunate because now you really do hear the same record three or four times in an hour,” he concluded.
One of the most poignant moments came when Carl was talking about his tinnitus. Having been afflicted by the condition for a number of years, he spoke about the way in which he now deals with it and what caused it in the first place.
“I have these recordings of Tibetan bowls that I listen to, to retune my mind as well as my ears, it’s a spiritual thing,” he reveals. “I take it very seriously when I’m in the studio, I want it to be the best that I can do… with these meditation pieces, they’re geared to be a retuning, similar to how I retune myself.”
“I always listened to music loud. I have a brother whose nine years older than I am and he used to listen to P-Funk as loud as he could and he used to listen to Zeppelin, and he used to listen to Black Sabbath and all that. But tinnitus I think of as being system noise, you turn on a power amp there’s going to be a hum. We all have this tone that our body resonates…” he says. “You’ll never get rid of it, so you have to train your brain to ignore it.”
As someone whose sonic experimentation and diversity pretty much defines his career, it’s amazing to hear that he suffers with the condition but has adapted to it and continues to produce music as moving as his Meditation mix for Ministry Of Sound. By the end of the chat most of us no doubt felt as though we could have spent the rest of the evening chatting with Carl – after the Bar Talk Plastic People opens up to the general public with Carl Craig playing a five-hour set. Such a fantastic way to end a great evening, which was further proof of what a true gent and inspirational musician Carl really is. Alcohol seems to have been the common thread connecting our meetings so far, long may that continue.
Carl Craig Masterpiece is out now, pick it up hereCarl Craig
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter