England’s favourite Russian after that linesman that won us the World Cup in ’66, when Vadim Peare/Andre Gurov asks ‘Don’t Be Scared’, all fears are eased.
Declaring himself as an instructional mid 90s hip-hop toolmaker dredging up the most obscure of vocal samples, on his own Jazz Fudge label (“Haha wow! That’s a lifetime ago... nice memories though...”) and with great rapport with Ninja Tune, he of the Russian Percussion has grown and grown into a patent of open-minded instrumentalism and vocalism that has spawned two concurrent projects in the same-but-different The Electric (with Pugz Atomz and Sabira Jade) and One Self (featuring Blu Rum13 and spouse Yarah Bravo).
‘Don’t Be Scared’ is his usual elevated brand of hip-hop, broken beat soul and now with added grime interjections: just to show he can master that as well. DJ Vadim continues to fine-tune and re-brand his art – still hip-hop, but with an ever-burgeoning world vision thanks in no small part to a passport surely on the verge of the knackered. Always into something, Clash pressed record and listened to the quote-ready Daddy Vad on the difficulties of artist evolution, new stuff that’s already ready and waiting to be unleashed, and how racking up those air miles is very necessary when it comes to the creative process.
So DJ Vadim – ‘Don’t Be Scared’ – what do we have to be afraid of?
“It’s about all types of fears - fears of expression, speech, freedom and ourselves. As children we are born with hate, racism, fear, anxiety, depression. We are open to everything but as adults we are programmed to be this fearing person and this inhibits us.“
What’s with the gang member styling on the sleeve as well?
“The gun to the head represents killing off the old and bringing the new, because the new cannot come until the old dies. I like the cover and the title because it gives the viewer the ability to go deeper if they so wish.”
You keep shifting your focus in sound bit by bit, album by album; is there any musical genre that you won’t turn to, whether that be because you respect it too much or because you can’t stand it?
“The problem with releasing music as an artist is that the lead times for releasing something are so far ahead of completing it, that by the time the thing comes out, one has already moved on so many steps. Right now I’m actually into contemporary classical music, mixing it with electronics. Sounds weird, contemporary classical mixed with beats, but I think it’s beautiful. I just made a song for a Polish festival around the composer Krzysztof Penderecki. I’d never heard of him until I did some research - he did the music for The Shining, The Exorcist etc, so he’s a bona fide OG. Anyway I did something very special just in the last week and that’s a direction I want to pursue, and I would never have said that two weeks ago.”
Are you still a B-boy at heart, despite all these variations in sound that you consistently stir up?
“Once a B-boy always a B-boy! Just my knees aren’t what they used to be!”
How’d do you go about picking your vocalists for each project? Social networking, auditioning, word of mouth...?
“All of that. Basically by being out and about. By accident, bumping into people, recommendations, friends of friends... a long time ago I didn’t know any vocalists but now I have so many coming out of the woodwork.”
And how about the vocal samples? Do you pick them up as you go along or do you have some vast mine of dialogues, monologues etc that you can access at any time when the time’s right?
“I have so many spoken word records. Tons. I used to go crazy for that, buying everything I could find.”
What’s easiest then, making an instrumental or a vocal track? And if you can answer, why is one easier/harder than the other?
“It really depends. There is no formula. Sometimes I can crack an idea in 20 minutes, other times I’m working on something for weeks... and it still ain’t working and then I have to give up. Having vocals or not doesn’t make a difference. It’s about ambiance and space, and having the vocals as an instrument.”
What with you heading The Electric and One Self, where do those projects end and your solo work begin? Are all three separate assignments or do they interconnect alongside one another?
“Musically speaking it’s all the same thing. I make beats; some of them end up being the basis of a remix for someone, some for other people who buy beats , some for a group project and some for me. Also when I’m in a certain mood - like finishing The Electric album - I’ll create specific tracks for that, but the initial tracks at least all come from the same pool. ‘Life is Moving’ could easily have been a DJ Vadim album.”
Are you a slave to the studio then, or are you always producing on the go?
“I have to create on the fly because I’m away for so long. Right now, I’m away for two weeks in Poland, Switzerland, Spain, Romania...if I didn’t create on the road, I would never finish anything.”
With so many albums in your back pocket right now, are difficulties when making a new LP a thing of the past?
“There are always obstacles with albums. Creating the correct sequence, sound, balance, aesthetic...the important thing is to work through them.”
Are you big on using/accumulating new technology, do you have your tried-n-tested equipment that never leaves your side, or do you mix up old and new?
“It’s a mix of analogue and digital. I always used Cubase but have meddled with Ableton and other new formats for sequencing. It keeps you on your toes. It’s plug n play all day. With every release there is new technology which helps the work flow, what you do and how you make it.”
Is it difficult to sustain a continued evolution? Are you a producer who puts fans first, or who prioritises his own needs? Or is this in itself difficult to manage/gotten any easier over the years?
“It’s nearly impossible. One cannot continually improve. Sometimes you back slide or side step, however hard you try, so I sincerely hope this is a forward thinking album. It’s important to challenge listeners as well as yourself, because if you don’t, you become irrelevant.”
Has the evolution been natural and your intention all along, or have you kind of gone along for the ride in places and seen where it can take you?
“Nothing is planned. It’s all based on what is around and the flavour of the moment. It depends on technology and which way that is going. If it wasn’t for certain technological advancements in recent years, the music would be quite different. That brings me to an interesting quote that Strictly Kev (DJ Food) told me – ‘it’s easier to hear what a producer is using to make music, than who it is’. Like you can hear Ableton all over certain producer records because they are doing all the pan and stutter stuff.”
Not that we’re suggesting you take up the pipe and slippers, but what would it take for you to consider retirement? Your workload and globetrotting suggests it won’t be anytime soon...
“Well I’ve got the next two LPs mixed, and just need to do post production on them. And the one after that I’m like 70% through, and I have another on top of that. And now, like I said, I want to do something with classical music.”
Any fears or phobias that you have yourself? Do you scare easily at anything?
“Well not anything crazy. I’m not big on creepy crawlies but I’m not scared shitless either. I think I’m quite level in terms of that stuff.”
And who’s the scariest artist in music right now?
“Krzysztof Penderecki – you listen to his compositions in a darkened room, things may start moving.... honestly. Incredible stuff.”
Words by Matt Oliver
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'Don't Be Scared' is out now.