Chris Cowie, Off The Hook
by Brett Abramson
In a day where most dance music artists adhere to one defined sound, Chris Cowie defies conventional boundaries. Even if you have not heard his name before, you have probably heard his production work under monikers such as X-Cabs, Vegas Soul, Deniro and several others. Cowie is the founder of world-renowned labels, Hook and Bellboy. DJs running the spectrum from Jeff Mills to Seb Fontaine site him as an influence. But Cowie does not seem content to simply ride the wave of his success thus far; rather, he is poised to continue making innovative music and push dance music forward in his own way.
Lunar: What projects do you currently have in the works? How is the album with Christopher Lawrence coming along?
Chris Cowie: I'm always working on stuff. At the moment I am working on my next album for release around May 2003. Christopher's album still needs a little work, but with his hectic DJ schedule, it can be difficult for us to get together. His album should be released around May/June 2003.
Lunar: You seem to be one of the few artists who do not limit themselves to genres or labels. Is this a conscious effort to try and be eclectic, or does it just come naturally?
Chris Cowie: It does come naturally. It's in my blood I guess. I started off at 14 playing guitar and went through all the motions of playing in a punk band, then a new romantic-type outfit, and then dance music came to my attention. I like all music. I find it very difficult to restrict myself to listening only to dance music. If Britney Spears does a tune that I like, then hell, it's a good tune. There's way too much snobbery with music in my opinion, particularly within the dance scene. I love Kylie and Madonna as well.
Lunar: Do you find that your sound as a DJ differs from your sound as a producer?
Chris Cowie: Yes. But I would like to do a six-hour set with only my own music, which I definitely have enough material for. But that would be rather selfish. My DJ style is tech house/techno. But I can turn up at a club and pretty much play anything from electro to deep house.
Lunar: Why was the decision made to drop your numerous monikers, such as X-Cabs and Vegas Soul, and go by your real name now?
Chris Cowie: Vegas Soul and X-Cabs haven't actually been dropped. They're on hold at the moment I guess. I had too many monikers and I see now that it hindered my career, although at the time it was necessary. At the moment I am concentrating on my real name. Glamorous it isn't, but its real.
Lunar: It seems that Hook has strayed from the classic sound for which it became so notorious in past years. Why is this, and do you foresee a resurgence in the older "Hook sound" in the future?
Chris Cowie: Hook has changed. We have been around for nearly 12 years, and if a label can only stick to one sound, they will eventually find themselves in trouble. Hook's trademark was easily identifiable because I made around 90% of the music under various monikers for the first 6 years or so. I couldn't release a record every month on Hook with the same name. I had to make it look like there were other artists on the label, which is a bit cheeky I suppose, but there was no other option. The sound of the label has changed now because we do have other artists on the label. It would be unfair of me to try and get them all to sound like me. It's easy to spot a successful label. They usually have the same guy doing nearly all the music and many of the records sound the same. This is good because the DJs know what to expect when they pick up the record in the store. DJs like familiarity. On the other hand, its negative point is that your label doesn't have real people to promote.
Lunar: Where do you see the ever-evolving sound of dance music heading right now?
Chris Cowie: That's a difficult question. I have never seen the dance scene in such a bad state as it is in at the moment. There are many reasons for this, but I do believe the proggy scene has caused the industry a lot of problems. I won't mention them by name, but there are two DJs that every young producer seems to make records for. This is not those two DJ's faults. They are good DJs, but if every young producer's dream is to have their record played by those two DJs, it will, and has led, to a slightly stale and uninspiring scene. Technology is also allowing more and more people to write dance music. I used to think this was a good thing; however, I'm not so sure now. There are so many records that just sound exactly the same and the reason for this is because of the software that is available with ready made drum loops, etc. There is very little actual barrier-pushing going on at the moment. Something needs to give. A good clean out is desperately needed. Labels are dropping like flies, but as soon as one drops another immediately starts up. This would be great if they were all good, original-sounding labels, but the fact is: they are not. It's too easy to start a label, in my opinion. Everyone wants to get a record out and if they are determined enough they can, but they should realize that there is a lot more to it than just releasing a record. Magazines and distributors also have a responsibility. Magazines in particular are too quick to create new genres (that actually don't really exist). So in answer to your question where is it all heading: I really don't know to be honest. I just hope something happens soon.
Lunar: What producers are really on it at the moment?
Chris Cowie: Sorry, but I rarely hear a producer that's really on it, so to speak. I hear some wonderful tracks from some guys but then the next track isn't so good. For consistently good material I tend to lean towards the big boys like Fatboy Slim, Timo Maas (and his engineer), and The Chemical Brothers. When I listen to their stuff there has been a lot of heart and soul put into their records. I know they may not be "underground fashionable" but to me they are all excellent. I listen to records from all angles. For production I like Jeff Mills, John Creamer, Ben Simms, and all the Player stuff. I hear so much about "some dude is hot" and then I hear his stuff and tend to be disappointed. I don't believe hype. I trust my ears. At the end of the day, I do tend to lean toward preferring techno producers.
Lunar: Do you find producing or DJing more fulfilling?
Chris Cowie: They are different. When DJing, I get a completely different buzz than what I get in the studio. DJing is like the equivalent of driving fast on the motorway (on a good night) where as producing in the studio can be like playing "The Sims" or some other strategy game. Sometimes however I do get that "fast car driving" feeling in the studio. Usually when I'm doing a hefty techno track. I love doing both at the end of the day
Lunar: What is your favorite track produced to date?
Chris Cowie: I don't really have one. I have recorded around 500 tracks and I like most of them. But since you ask it would have to be between "Time Flies" and "Dominica". "Neuro" has a special place in my heart also, but it has dated a little now. I can't deny, however, it has been my most successful track sales-wise.
Lunar: What studio equipment (both hardware and software) do you use the most?
Chris Cowie: Too much, really, to list. But I use Pro Tools, and Logic for sequencing and recording audio. My favorite bits of hardware gear is still my 8 year-old Roland S750 sampler, my Ensoniq DP4 FX unit, and of course my TR909. I am trying to use virtual synths. I really like Steinberg's Halion software sampler but it just doesn't quite cut it for me sound-wise at the moment. The Emagic ESX24 that I have is a better sounding sampler, but in usual Logic style it isn't particularly intuitive. I also like NI battery. I am slowly beginning to use virtual instruments and perhaps someday my studio will consist of a computer and a couple of rack units only. Right now I have too much equipment, which can slow me down at times. I come from the old skool of recording, so the change over to computer-based recording and producing is an ongoing and sometimes painful process for me. I can remember recording stuff to analog tape, using noise gates, splicing tape. I'm really showing my age here.
Lunar: What is right/wrong with the dance music industry right now?
Chris Cowie: Something that is wrong I have noticed is an element of selfishness and greed that is spreading like a virus. I know some people that have gone on to become very successful and all they care about is their image and how much money they can make. Some of these people won't give me the time of day now, which I find particularly disgusting. dance music and DJing used to be about having a good time. Now its all about money, jealousy and greed. No matter how successful I ever become I would always have time for my friends. It's very dangerous to believe one's own hype. As for what's right, all I can say is that there are still many people in this game for the love of music. Those are the people I like and want to know. Of course I need money to be able to continue to do this job. But I have never, and would never, use, or step on people to further my career. It's cool to be ambitious but be nice
Lunar: What is something we may not know about you?
Chris Cowie: I would really like to be porn actor. What a superb job that would be. In reality, however, I have as much chance of being able to do that as landing on Mars. Still, even if I could do the sound on the set I would be a happy man. Any porn filmmakers reading this: let me know I would score original music for your film and would do it cheap . And I live in Spain that's another thing that very few people know. Oh, and one of my favorite films of all time are Toy Story 1 and 2. I have watched them at least 20 times. The casting for the voices were brilliant. I also like Shrek. Mike Myers does a very good Scottish accent. Mike is a top geezer.
Much thanks to Chris Cowie and Jennifer Kim with Propulsion-Media for making this interview possible.
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