Ferrispark Records, has been a household that curated us with a distinct groove that moved our bodies and souls, a sound that we feel real close to. In an attempt to get a glimpse into this world, its founder Scott Ferguson took some time to answer some questions. He also selected some records that he gathered in a mix for us. You’re in for a treat !
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Attached to Ferrispark, « Independent music for freethinking minds » seems like a strong statement. Can you elaborate on this and the vision you had in mind when first starting this project?
I was around 19 or 20 years old when I first envisioned my record label and thought of the slogan ‘Independent Music for Freethinking Minds’, At that time in my life I was already very confident in my take on music and how I wanted to express my political views through my music. The slogan was perfect in the sense that I was going to independently self release my music so I would not be tied down by any sort of outside control and I wanted to use my record label to talk about the things that I saw as injustices, mostly within the United States. It became a way for me to feel like I was contributing to what I saw as positive change.
Obviously sampling has played a central part in the label’s identity and particularly in your own work. Vocals especially often focus on Black Music (for example the Introduction of I am the worst thing on your Wood Six EP) and everyday struggles for the weakest. How important is it for you to push forward this message for the community? To what extent does your music carry social/political statements?
My samples are very often linked with the extremely positive experiences I have throughout my life connected to Detroit, and black American music. The sample you reference above is from a track entitled ‘I Am the Worst Thing’ which is actually about myself. Later in the track the sample states, « I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley, to do black music so selfishly » It is me acknowledging that I am basically stealing black American music and calling it my own. In my defence, my music honestly does come from my heart but also it is a mimic of the honesty and positivity that I feel comes from the black American music I love. My music has always been a way for me to release feelings and I often have strong feelings about injustices in the world, especially injustices directly connected to the United States and especially within certain communities in Detroit or within the U.S. I am an American who has prospered greatly from other people’s suffering and I struggle with that notion everyday of my life. In order to keep all these feeling from getting bottled up inside, I use my music as a positive outlet of release. So, yes, it is very, very important for me to convey political statements within my music. I feel like I would be a different person if not, it helps me to feel I’m always continuing in a positive direction.
Ferrispark has released a handful of records from Marvin Belton of Joy of Sound. How do you guys work together? Are you always behind the production of the tracks that he sings to?
I have know all the guys in J.O.S. for years. I’ve known Marvin Belton and Vincent Halliburton the longest. In the early years of Ferrispark, Marvin and Vincent would come by my studio in Highland Park and just hang out. We would listen to new house & techno records or tracks I or Vincent were working on. One of those evenings I played Marvin a simple and minimal beat with a 2 chord piano sample over the top, he said he had recently written a poem that might fit with it. A couple of days later he came back by the studio and sang his poem in one take in the middle of my bedroom into an old Sure SM58 microphone. ‘Bleed to be Free’ was born and also a long standing friendship. Since then we have pretty much always worked that way together. Marvin has sung over tracks produced by Vincent Halliburton and James Thomas, Theo Parrish, and DJ Genesis but almost everything on Ferrispark Records under the name Marvin Belton was produced by myself. One of the proudest moments of my life was when Kenny Dixon released a 4 track EP on Mahogani Music that Marvin and I made together. It made me extremely happy that someone like Kenny acknowledged that what Marvin and I had done musically was honest and worthy of release on such a highly respected label.
Can you also talk to us about your relationship with Jitterbug on the JBSF alias?
‘JBSF’ simply stands for ‘Jitterbug / Scott Ferguson’. My booking agent Lerato runs the Uzuri label and in 2009 she had given me the first Jitterbug 12″ release with the track ‘No Pressure’ on it. I immediately took a liking to his production style. Later Lerato introduced me to him in person and we decided we would try getting together and laying down some tracks as a joint effort. It just clicked, we had similar ideas about what we deem good music and good production and we both really enjoy using hardware and the Akai MPC as a main sequencer. Also we both love sitting in a studio for hours upon hours consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes while pushing buttons and twisting knobs. It was perfect.
Lately you’ve been focusing a lot on pushing the Black Boxx project forward. This alias seems to be a pretty big step for you musically compared to the slower, sample-based grooves Ferrispark has been mainly releasing so far. Can you tell us a bit about this evolution and how your message translates in this new project?
I’m pushing the Black Boxx as much as I push anything I’m doing. Media wise, not that much but personally a lot. I’ve been producing music since 1998 and it was time for me to find new inspiration, that inspiration came in the form of a concept. I love much more than just slow chuggy house so I decided to expand on that. To me, the most important thing is, wether it be today or 20 years from now, for my music to still have meaning. I want Ferrispark to release records that are meaningful, and honest, and have longevity, not just what is trendy at the moment. When you finally hear the Black Boxx LP you will find that it differs from the 12″ releases and is closer in sound to the music from my past, so by no means is the slower sample based music over with.
You’ve also recently started touring live as Black Boxx. How has it been going for you? Do you mainly play music that has previously been released or do you leave some room for unreleased material to experiment?
Playing live was another part of the Black Boxx concept as well as another challenge to keep things exciting. The Black Boxx live set has been well received, so I’m happy about that. I was lucky enough to perform at the Weather Festival in Paris and Panorama Bar in Berlin, which were two bigger shows that have helped get the word out. None of the tracks in my live set have been released on any format thus far, so in other words, it is still all new. The live show is more or less based on Booty from Detroit and Ghetto House from Chicago combined with Rap records that I loved since my late teens. Believe it or not, those records were being played at parties and on Detroit radio every Friday and Saturday night during my youth. The tracks are based on what I like about the sound of those records and the energetic structure. In the future I will release some of these tracks on vinyl through my Ferrispark label under the moniker, DJ AKSHUN.
Your first live gig (if we’re not mistaken) was at the BASTION party for the Weather festival kick-off. How was it? What did you think about the local vibe?
You are correct, and it was excellent. At the moment Paris seems to be the place for the sort of music that I make and play. That was my second time playing for Alex and Martin from Bastion and each time it was an amazing experience. They are well organised, very professional, they draw a great crowd, and on top of that they are super nice dudes. I hope to work with them more in the future. Also at the Weather Festival I was able to have a long and amazing conversation with Detroit’s DJ Stingray, that was the icing on the cake.
While talking about this interview with Toni Be, he told us that he’s been exchanging with you around production. And when we asked him about a topic that might be interesting to ask you about, he told us that you had a special relation with Ensoniq hardware. How would you describe the way you’re using the hardware and why Ensoniq especially? What makes it sound like you want it to sound?
Toni Be was right! When I first wanted to start producing I had a conversation with Mad Mike Banks from UR. I explained to him that I was obsessed with sample based music and that I wanted one sampler that was cost effective and that I could get the most out of. Mike recommended the ASR-10 workstation. He explained to me that it was a powerful sampler/sequencer with warm D/A converters that could be expanded with extra outputs and memory, that it had amazing analogue like filters, Ensoniq DP effects, loaded a series of Ensoniq sounds, and that you could use it to create Transwaves. Basically you could use one sampler to make every drum machine, synth, or unique sound you could conjure up. It meant that with enough effort I could make one sampler become an entire studio. You could say that the ASR, is my sound. To me, one of the most important things on a sampler is the D/A converters and I’m absolutely in love with the warm sound that comes from the converters in the ASR series. Top that with the Ensoniq effects and filters and you have a very destructive (in a good way) machine. If you know anything about the ASR-10, you would know that a sample is laid out automatically across the keyboard by pitch and that you shorten and lengthen audio by samples and not by visual waveforms, this can cause very interesting things to happen in a very short span of time. I bought my first ASR in 1998 and never looked back. The sampling power of the Ensoniq is much more then almost any other sampler you can buy, the problem was it was complex and not promoted very well so it failed in comparison to the Akai MPC, for example. The only other sampler I would consider besides the ASR is an EMU SP-1200, its not as powerful but in my opinion, you just can’t get any better then those D/A converters.
Going back to what you mentioned in a former interview about the underground scene and the younger generation that becomes more and more interested in “classics”, what did you mean when you said that hopefully these young people will become “lifers”?
« lifers » simply means someone who will stick with it for their entire life. I found this music when I was 17 and have been dancing to it, buying records, making music, and running a label ever since. You need younger generations to keep the underground going, there will need to be people to take my place.
We’re interested in your take on all these reissues of “classic” sought after dance releases… Obviously these records can only be considered as classics by people who actually had the opportunity to experience this music being played over and over in clubs back in those days. Do you think it is still relevant/fair to talk about “classics” when the main target of these reissues are young people who were just kids when most of these records were first released?
As much as I can understand how you would see it that way, I think that without a doubt there is a such thing as ‘Classics’. In all genres of music there are songs that people for the most part, universally agree had a major impact on a specific genre or standout compared to other releases of that time. It would be hard to ague that ‘Can You Feel It’ by Larry Heard is not a ‘Classic’ simply because you were unaware that it existed. That track, without a doubt, helped to define what people now call ‘deep house’ (amongst other things). I think that it is great that a younger generation is now able to get their hands on reissue records of this type, my real complaint is how it has become a race amongst the few distributors left to get control of as many of these reissues as possible. In a perfect world there would be 5 or 6 or maybe 7 or 8, big reissues a year, not 2 or 3 a week. The reissue race is just getting a bit out of control as far as I’m concerned. Some of these reissues are just sitting on shelves for months and months, I’m not sure what the point of that is. That simply says to me that maybe the people pressing these records believe that there is more of a demand then actually exists. I would rather see it slower with more longevity then trying to hurry and repress everything before the market slows down again, and in my opinion, the market will slow down again. Its just that in my personal opinion the underground dance music market is way too small to be flooded, I feel its actually self defeating to have too many new releases fighting against too many old reissues. Of course this is all only my opinion, I have a limited understanding of what real shops and online stores are selling. If I was to take a guess though, at this moment in time, reissues of ‘Classics’ might very well be their lifeblood.
Can you talk to us a bit about the “death of the diggers” series? We’re especially intrigued by the name of those two records.
That is a bit of a long story but I will try and compress it some. I love to have some general knowledge on just about anything but all my life I have studied a few subjects more then any others and those are… Black American History, Native American History, American Imperialism, The Cuban Revolution, and Hippies. The name of those EPs comes from my studies of the Hippies. There were sort of 3 groups that relate often to the Hippies; The Beatniks, The Diggers, & The Hipsters. On the first of the ‘Death of the Diggers’ series, printed on the label of the 12″ record is the following, ‘Did you see that? They gave it away- back to the people!’ That statement was a direct reference to the way the Diggers lived life. They gave free concerts, free food, free theatre performances, and basically would give people the clothes off their backs. They wanted a society free of Capitalism (whatever that means). One of their famous performances in Haight-Ashbury was called ‘The Death of Hippies’. I called my 12″ series ‘Death of the Diggers’ because it was Disco infused. Disco marked the end of the era of the Diggers and the Hippies. It has nothing to do with crate digging for records at all but more of a reference to the end of the 60’s and start of the 70’s and the massive change that was taking place within the American society amongst the younger generations.
Finally, what can you tell us about the mix you’ve kindly sent us? From the intro song until the end there are a lot of variations…
When I play records I like to play many styles together but not just thrown together. One of the most important things to me when I Deejay is that I get from one style to another as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. I put a lot of thought into choosing records that connect the different styles I play. When I was listening to the radio, and going out to clubs and parties in Detroit there were a lot of Deejays who played the way I’m talking about and I often found those Deejays the most appealing. For example, the really good Ghetto Tech Deejays played Jungle with R&B records at 45 instead of 33 1/3 mixed with Ghetto Tech & Chicago Ghetto House, sped up house records, techno records played at 45 instead of 33 1/3, etc… on top of that they beat juggled and scratched like DMC Champions. To this day I still love it when Deejays have there own style and really work the decks, to me, it was important to find my own style, and then constantly work on improving it. I like to make sure people have fun, so I offer up something I consider some serious dance and party music, technically mixed to the best of my ability. Hopefully by listening to the mix what I am saying will make more sense.