It's been 25 years since Edward Upton made his first record. With a new DMX Krew album in stores, now seemed like a good time to get his thoughts on a career spent mostly in the shadows...
"I'm old and have been around forever," Edward Upton jokes when iDJ asks about his 25-year career. "I'm lucky in that I started out at a point when it was a boom time for dance music. It was hard to start because you had to save up loads of money, but if you made some decent music and got it released, there wasn't a million other people with a Bandcamp page, or several thousand people pressing up 300 copies of a 12-inch single. If your record came out it was probably going to sell a couple of thousand copies just by being out."
Upton is the epitome of what some would call a cult artist: a popular underground producer whose music is always of a sufficiently high standard to warrant further investigation. Under a dizzying array of aliases – most notably Ed DMX, DMX Krew and EDMX – Upton has amassed a vast discography over the last quarter of a century, regularly mixing and matching elements of Detroit techno, beatbox electro, IDM, Italo-disco, jacking acid house and 1980s synth-pop.
"I'm still just as excited about making music as I ever was," he enthuses. "Some producers or musicians just like one thing and they know what they like, so they spend time trying to perfect that sound. I've never been like that – I'll never be perfect at anything. I just want to bosh out tunes and do something I've not thought of yet. I don't just keep doing the same thing. Online stores keep putting my releases in the electro section, but most of my records aren't electro!"
It's clear that this is one source of frustration, but in general Upton seems remarkably happy. He claims not to care about record sales or hype, and it's clear that he's one of those people who's happiest when he's sat in a room full of synthesizers and drum machines, creating new music.
In the studio
"We moved from London to recently and I've just finished setting up the studio at home," he enthuses. "I'm sat in it now and out of the window I can see across the valley to the Severn Estuary, where the sun is going down. I've got all of my gear in here, including some hardware I've had for 25 years. It's inspiring and it's fun. All the things in here I can touch and play with, so it's conducive to expressing myself."
Remarkably, Upton still makes music in almost exactly the same way he did at the turn of the ‘90s, when he'd save up for months in order to buy a second-hand drum machine or synthesizer. "I'd work, eat baked beans and not go out in order to scrape enough money together to buy some gear," he reminisces. "The things I'd buy were bits that had been in high-end recording studios but were now 10 years out of date and nobody wanted them, so you could get them cheap."
Back then, he couldn't afford to buy an Atari ST on which to record and arrange his tracks. Ever since, he's shied away from using computers, instead preferring to record live run-throughs of tracks that he's played, arranged and sequenced in real time.
"Computers don't interest me," Upton asserts. "Music is about communicating emotions and feelings. Personally, I can't see a way to do that while staring at a screen or pointing a mouse. What feelings am I going to have? They'll mostly be boredom and frustration".
The idea of infusing his music with emotions and feelings is something that Upton returns to on numerous occasions during our conversation. "One of my favourite types of music is what I call ‘dancing with tears in your eyes'," he says. "By that I mean the vibe of a song that you can dance to but which makes you feel melancholy or nostalgic. That's a vibe I really like. A lot of early Detroit techno was like that."
The human touch
He goes on to name a string of early Motor City techno records as examples, before imparting the view that the more "human" an electronic record sounds, the better it is.
"I used to make tracks with Grant Wilson-Claridge from Rephlex, just for fun, and when we listened back I'd point out the mistakes," he reveals. "Grant would say, ‘No, that's the only bit of music in the whole thing'. I really get that now. The bits where you can hear that a human has done something, even if it's a slight error, are the bits that are good. I think it was Cylob who said to me ‘mistakes add flavour'. They really do."
While it's hard to detect these kind of ‘human errors' on Upton's latest DMX Krew album, the superb Glad To Be Sad on Hypercolour, it certainly bristles with human emotion. Melodious, far-sighted and deeply emotive, the set's 12 tracks are devilishly difficult to pigeonhole and as wonderfully bittersweet as the title suggests.
"For the albums I go further away from dance music, as I think an album should be more thoughtful," he says. "I want to express the emotions I feel and not just do a cartoon. I've done ‘cartoon' records but it's not what I'm doing at the moment. Thankfully Jamie Russell at Hypercolour told me he was up for doing a more downbeat or downtempo album. One of the reasons I love working with Jamie is because he genuinely does A&R – I can send him 50 tracks and he'll choose the best and work out how to arrange them to make a coherent album."
Upton is wary of the music industry and many of those within it, so this is high praise indeed. He says he's been careful about who he works with and has managed to get this far without playing the game – something younger artists sadly often feel the need to do.
"I'm really happy to have had a career in music while avoiding the music industry completely," he says. "I've never had a publishing deal, I don't have a manager or agent and I've never dealt with anyone I don't like. I've also never taken Ecstasy. In a way I've always been an outsider because I'm just here for the music."
Words: Matt Anniss
Glad To Be Sad is out now on Hypercolour