Tuesday, June 01, 2004

chris wren

Interview by Staci Morgan ~ Photos by ChadWick Cipiti & ChrisWren.com ~ He's artist in an environment prone to "crazes". Yet his ability to create amazing sounds is matched only by his enthusiasm. From coast to coast, Chris Wren has shared his zest for everything from naughtie beats to club classics. Chris' style is so diverse that to categorize him as "loungy" or "main hall" is impossible. His music mirrors his life with passions that are creative and diverse enough in nature to keep him exactly where he wants to be...all over the place.

Springtime in Washington means Cherry! While the line-up was packed with circuit superstars, rising star DJs offer a glimpse to the future. Anxiously awaiting his arrival, I wanted to have Chris share his thoughts on opening Cherry and his DC debut before the big weekend….which is where we begin…

Chris, I know this is your first time spinning in Washington, DC. You're opening for Chad Jack, and clearly your styles are very different which should make for an amazing party. Are there any nerves or added pressure knowing that you're setting the tone for the weekend event? (I suspected but had no proof until we met that he; indeed, never stop smiling when he talks)

Of course there is a bit of pressure, because there are many ways to go... do I start with some classic Chicago house track, do I do something really easy and laid back, do I start it up with a dramatic tribal track? Each of those can set a very different tone... but rest assured, whatever the starting point... the night will be full of twists! I Iike to know at least the first four or so tracks I’m going to throw down before I start the night. It’s kind of like my own anchor, I’m usually pretty psyched up when I start, so its nice to have a launching point laid out so I can relax a bit and get a feel for what the night wants to be. Oh, and I always talk to Miss Cleo and Dionne Warwick and all the psychic friends before every gig.

Okay, During this year’s Winter Party (Winter Music Conference - Miami), you played the Lime Bar at Maze. So, Cherry will be your second circuit party of the year. Do you feel that playing for circuit events provides a healthy environment to showcase your talents? As in, compared to playing clubs, what draws you to events like these?

I love charity events. I love knowing that people are coming together to create a fun weekend with the mindset of supporting charities within a city. For me, it just feels good knowing that the weekend has an overriding purpose of helping people who really need our help. I think any event geared towards helping people is an event that is healthy to be associated with. Names like Cherry, Motorball, The Winter Party, White Party Miami, Freedom Party South Carolina, Black and Blue, Purple Party, Blue Ball... those names mean something I think because of the quality of people involved in putting on the events.

You have only been DJing for only four years, yet you already are part of a production team with veteran Kio Kio, produced a wildly successful remix for Disney with Scotty K, and have an impressive and diverse event calendar. Are you ready to settle in to the aspects of the business that make you the happiest?

I love to play live for people. I say this a lot, but I am just as happy spinning for someone alone in my apartment, as I am spinning for 3000 people at a massive. (laughs) Okay, maybe a little happier with throngs of people screaming. But really they are both the same thing: Me sharing wonderful tracks I have found, with people who have come together with their friends, to hear something, and experience something they can't at home or in their car. Part of that is just the environment of the club, but part of that is me too. Knowing that people come to hear what I have to play is a truly amazing feeling. There will always be growing pains, hopefully! This industry is so diverse, that styles and tastes and trends evolve so quickly. The day this becomes "work" is the day I think I’ll stop.

On your website, you mention that you don't think your parents know how much you appreciate them making you practice the piano all the time as a child. Back then, when you were playing classical music, did you one day think you would be writing for dancefloors instead of concert halls?

HAHA, no I did not. I don’t think I know what I thought back then. I probably had a mindset towards film scoring, as back then I hadn’t really acquired a taste for modern classical music. There are many similarities as the music is generally structured in layers and patterns. Having all that training behind me, plus actually working everyday in a studio, gave me a leg up in transitioning into electronic music production.

When you go to a new city, you, no doubt, intend on bringing something new to the crowd. Are you more excited to be in front of a new crowd?

Oh I am looking forward to the crowd at Cherry. Of course I've got some new stuff to bring to the crowd. I think a major trend in dance music production is going to see the incorporation of 80's and electroclash elements laid over a house tempo and groove. I have been hearing the big mainstream global DJs playing with this kind of stuff like Roger Sanchez and Henry Romero, so I am going to have some of that mixed in there. Of course, along with some other stuff!

Okay, in the most Chris Wren way possible, can you describe your music and what you love about music in general and your particular tastes?

My tastes in music tend to skew towards inventive and creative production. i love percussion, new and interesting sounds... especially those indefinable sounds that kind of come out of nowhere. Despite the rumors, I love a little vocal sample every now and then too. I do like kind of more intense tracks, maybe a little on the dark side of things... but not in a spooky way, just kind of in a deeper emotional sense. But every once in a while I cross into the light!

And come in the light he did during Cherry! Meeting Chris was incredible, and realizing that he really does smile all the time and witnessing his gracious spirit all weekend long made the rest of the interview a breeze. Once Chris had a chance to recuperate back in Los Angeles, we caught up…

You were like a ball of energy from the moment you stepped off the plane. Can you describe what it was like when you finally had the "all systems go" cue and you started the evening?

I had been playing some fun filtered disco Kid Creme type stuff prior to the club opening, just to give everyone something to groove too while putting the finishing touches on the space, and to get me comfortable with the way they had the equipment setup, and had kept reminding people to let me know when we were "on" because I did not plan to play a funky classic house type of set... so when they have me the green light, I was very much ready to go. I get very anxious prior to the start of a show. I have been that way since I was a child -- and I love that feeling, kind of like getting ready to jump, unlike a studio set or session, playing live means once you start, there's no stopping it and no do-overs! I am a huge fan of Bjork -- and decided to launch the night off by playing "Big Time Sensuality" which is a mood I hope and try to create wherever I play... which can be summed up by her delicious and evocative lyrics, "I don't know my future after this weekend, And I don't want to. It takes courage to enjoy it, the hardcore and the gentle, Big time sensuality".

You played a set that was unlike any other last weekend. You were the ONLY DJ who did not play either "Cha Cha Heels" or “Heart Attack". Did you sense that it was hard to keep a "vocal-circuit" crowd on the dancefloor?

Saying my set was unlike any other during the weekend is such a fine compliment, so I thank you and others for taking notice. I was unusually apprehensive about opening up the Cherry weekend, because I knew my set would be a harder, darker, more percussive sound than I have typically heard, at least in the earlier hours of a weekend event. I was worried at first, and for about the first 45 minutes (grins) after the lovely Bjork! I had trouble starting the story, because I kept thinking, "they’re going to hate me for not playing Vocals!" So I found another fave vocal of mine "Who is he and what is he to you?", and it brought me back to the type of sound that makes me stand out.

I did find my own pair of Cha Cha Heels this weekend. What a fun song that is! In my observation, the "vocal-circuit" crowd isn’t so different from the mainstream crowd -- they are looking for a story and an experience. Yes, I don’t think Ferry Corsten would go over too well at the White Party -- the trance is too hard. But there are plenty of boys who spend an afternoon shaking their biscuits at a fun pool party with Lydia Prim, who also do back flips to see DJs like Steve Lawler, Danny Tenaglia, Chus & Ceballos, Creamer & Stephane K, and that is just the top of a very long list of people. So, I think the kind of set I played had a much better chance of acceptance than it would have several years ago, and I'm very much relieved to know they enjoyed it! I had such a great time.

Personally, what was the best moment of your set?

That's tough. I think I was so relieved when I punched in a CD, and because I’m a bit on the short side – read: Hobbit! (laughs) I had trouble seeing the CD players. I had received this remix of "The Drill" by Greg O., and the Vinyl pressing somehow got all fucked up, so they had to send me a CD. I first heard the mix in November while in New York, and flipped for it. I hardly ever use the CD's, and don’t have the best experience in operating them, which is really silly, I need to remedy that, since most of my samples are on CD. Anyway, I did one of those "close your eyes and hope for the best" and it worked, and I was able to play just a big bomby track and the crowd responded very well to that track.

You arrived with a case full of vinyl and less than 10 CDs, and you were so in to your set that it was impossible not to watch you. Though when it was over, you looked like you just finished a triathlon. What is going thru your mind when you're so intense like that? Does time fly by or are you very aware of every second?

I do get very focused. I even forget to pee or drink or anything, especially when it is going really well! The booth was very hot, and because the equipment was not an installation (as with a typical nightclub) the gear was in racks and cases, which isn’t the most ergonomically way to do things, and it was probably the most physical set I’ve ever done, I had to keep jumping around and standing on my tippitoes to see things, or to watch one turntable while sampling from a cd... I laughed so hard about that. When I’m in super-concentration mode, I’m just trying to hear everything that is happening. I can hardly put a record on anymore without trying to tweak it someway, laying additional percussion, throwing a sample or two, maybe making it better, sometimes a little worse. Each night is totally different, but that’s how it should be.

You spent the whole weekend going from party to party and taking in everything on the other side of the booth. What was the most memorable part of Cherry for you as a spectator?

I know many of the DJs, and they are all phenomenal. Most memorable? Well musically speaking, Eddie X played a haunting vocal harmony track that arrested me right in the middle of his floor, and it was dark and mysterious, and then busted into some sexy Latin-tribal stomper that blew my mind sideways. Then again, Eddie X is one of the most amazing DJs I have ever heard. I'd watch him spin old Disney records with my sister’s old Fisher-Price toy record player.

What stands out in a vocal that would make you want to take the acapella and produce your own mix?

I like vocals that people don’t expect. I like them to have a lot of strength but I rarely like a big belter, with a big chorus and super-fast words. I like moods that are mysterious, sexy, determined and passionate. And I rarely want it to feel like the vocal is satisfied or has resolution; I like it when the vocal draws you into the lyrics, because it needs you. That for me creates magnetism on the dancefloor that goes beyond that hottie standing one foot away from you.... I'll take both please.

Speaking of mysterious vocals…tell me the story of your most recent original production O Som...

Well somehow this bell-tree pattern got into my head, and it had a Latin flavor to it, kind of cha cha, so I built this track with Brazil in mind. I don’t speak Portuguese but I think it is one of the most lyrical languages, almost like Castilian Spanish and Italian with lyrical embellishments (did i just say that?), and using a Brazillian-Portugese vocalist to read the samples came out perfectly. "O Som" in Portuguese means "the sound". I was going to use Spanish but the translation to Portuguese sounded so much more exotic and sexy than it did in Spanish.

When you tell a story thru your music, is it easier to tell the story of falling in love or the story o heartbreak?

I think it is easy for me to tell a story of desire. Maybe its desire as in pursuing someone and falling in love, maybe its desire for a feeling you used to have as in heartbreak. Either way its that force that pulls you in and pushes you away that I like to play with. The forces of desire I think are a powerful emotional center with me, and I could hear "desire" in my sets where someone else might hear "sleaze" Maybe I desire sleaze? Oh wow, I think I need my therapist for this one.

If you could work with any producer on a dream project, who would you work with?

That's tough to say. There are so many dream projects. It would be a hard tossup between Chus, Satoshi Tomiie, Armin van Buuren, Stephane K, and maybe Berhouz from San Francisco. Even though I am a huge fan of Danny Tenaglia -- I might find myself in a perpetual state of jaw-dropping.

How do you see the evolution of DJ from “club necessity" to “SUPERSTAR"? Meaning...DJs now have publicity photos that accompany their promos and recording artists request certain remixers exclusively. Do you think this is a positive direction for the industry or does it detract from the art?

I think the superstar age is in a bit of a contraction. We built so many clubs, or repurposed them for dance music, that I think things are going to get smaller or more concentrated in the future. It is very difficult in mainstream clubland to book gigs unless you are a producer with label credits and affiliations. You can't really be a superstar these days, unless your stuff is being picked up and played all over the world. That’s where the public appeal and publicity comes from. I think it is great mainstream pop artists are looking to DJs to expand their sound, and sometimes collaborate on new stuff. It is just more interpretations from which to choose. I think overall it is a positive direction for the industry. Music production has never been easier or cheaper to do than it is today, which is why so many people are doing it, and why turntables now outsell guitars across the country. At the same time, it raises the bar... people become more educated and sophisticated in their exposure to electronic music, and that forces those of us who do this, to push further and harder, and take chances in order to keep the element of surprise in our live shows.

It sounds like exciting times, what is the single biggest obstacle facing nightlife right now?

I think general public opinion is not leaning in our favor. Cities are examining tighter restrictions on liquor licenses, times clubs must close, if after-hours is officially authorized, perhaps even having uniformed officers patrolling dancefloors, to supplement that nonuniformed officers already in our clubs. They are looking for even the tiniest reason to close our clubs down one by one, and for no other reason then we are easy to put blame on. Not everyone does drugs in clubs, but there are many who do. I think now more than ever discretion is a must. If you want to get so messy you can’t walk around, you should stay at home and put on XM radio. Your brain might even think you’re at a club. If you want to come hear amazing music and spend time with your friends, and are capable of handling your shit.... then you are welcome on my dancefloor anytime.

What is next on your plate? Any new production projects or big events you're working on?

I open a new after-hours in Vancouver at the end of May. It is called "SCANDAL" and is to be held at Gorgomish which is an outstanding club with one of the best sound systems in Canada. As far as new productions, my remix partner DJ Kio Kio and I are getting our shit together to commence work on an aggressive new track. In this business you can’t think about tomorrow or next week, you've already got to be forecasting what people will be playing a year from now. You would be amazed how long it takes some tracks to finally get pressed to vinyl.

What is the one piece of advice that you are thankful someone gave you when you were starting out?

Patti Razetto once complimented me on being "old school" and she told me to stay that way. I hope that I have.

Finally, Music and DJing aside, what would people reading this be shocked to know about you?

Classical Pipe Organ Music is my favorite type of music.

From his beaming personality to his style and grace as a composer turned DJ, his dedication and passion is endless. Chris lives in West Hollywood. To find out where you can hear Chris spin, check his website.

More information about Cherry can be found at their web site www.cherryfund.org.

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