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Return of an old school legend

2018 Sep 15     
2 Bit Thugs

His 90s work is enjoying a revival right now, but as he explains to Matt Anniss, Lee Renacre is much more interested in focusing on the future

Success early in your career can be both a blessing and a curse. Just ask 100Hz producer Lee Renacre, whose 1990s house, techno, tech-house and breakbeat hardcore productions have recently become in-demand records among a whole new generation of DJs and electronic music enthusiasts.

"I'm flattered, of course, but when I go out and play, I'm being invited on the pretence that I'm still making jazzy, melodious house and techno - that 100Hz 90s sound - but that's not what they're getting any more," he says, frustrated about the box some labels and promoters have put him in. "I've got to move on for my own personal sanity. Sure, it's classic music, but for me, I can't do that any more. I need to be moving forwards."

While it may be frustrating to Renacre that more attention isn't being paid by labels to what he calls his "A" productions – twisted, off-kilter techno cuts that bristle with moodiness and, on occasions, psychedelic intent – demand to release his music has grown exponentially over the last three years. It's due, in part, to an appreciation for a gaggle of 100Hz singles Renacre made alongside original studio partner (and still best friend) James Chapman, occasionally with the assistance of another friend, Doran Walker.

It was Chapman, a keen teenage record collector and wannabe DJ with a passion for hip-hop, house and early techno, who first turned Renacre on to making music. They first began jamming together on cheap music-making hardware as fresh-faced 17-year-olds in 1989, clubbing enough money together to book a day in a London studio with an experienced engineer. The result was Low Frequency Overload, an unlikely underground anthem released in autumn 1989 that fixed the colourful melodiousness of Italian deep house to the sub-heavy weight of early UK bleep techno.

"It was a bass war!" Renacre laughs. "You had to have the biggest bass, and we always tried to make sure that we did. We'd tell the engineer, 'No, we want it really bass heavy,' and he'd say, 'It's already way too much,' but we'd say, 'No, just a bit more please'. Because you were paying for it, you could tell the engineer to do anything you liked!"

A handful of similarly inspired records followed throughout the 90s, including the spacey deep house/bleep and bass fusion of Catching Spiders (reissued last year by Subwax offshoot Curated By Time), the hardcore-era melodious techno of Progress, and a trio of warm, jazzy and spacey EPs on Pacific Records that mixed locked-in techno cuts with influential early tech-house jams. By now a confident producer in his own right with a small bedroom studio - "I was unemployed for years, so had time to make music, but very little money to buy gear," he admits - Renacre entered the new millennium as a solo artist, following Chapman's decision to step back from 100Hz.

"We did some tracks together later, but James is doing his own thing now and not really pushing his music," Renacre says. "He's still my best mate though. When we were working together, I was the guy with a lot of the ideas, and James was a lot more technical. His production was just top class. He would spend hours on a kick-drum, but all that paid off in some really well produced music."

Renacre - with the occasional contribution from Chapman - continued releasing music as 100Hz up until the birth of his daughter in 2009, then packed up his equipment and left it to gather dust in the attic. "I just had no time to make music," he says. "I was constantly waking up in the middle of the night and helping her through teething and so on. I also started my own business, because I had responsibilities and a family to feed."

Inevitably, the lure of making electronic music eventually drew him back, with the desire of labels to release 100Hz material offering continual encouragement throughout the process.

"Bosconi Records has been very supportive, as has Imprints Records," Renacre says in his distinctive southeast London accent. "I wouldn't choose to release some of the material of mine they've chosen, as some are archive tracks from when I was making music in the 90s, but I'm always getting emails from people telling me how much they love those tracks. Who am I to question anyone's taste?"

Renacre had originally established a label to release his more techno-leaning outings, Format, in the mid-1990s. Last year he established a new imprint, Modugroove, to release the heavier and darker end of his output. It's clear that it's this project that gives him most pleasure.

"I've had two releases on that so far, and that's my style and what I really want to put out," he asserts. "I've also been collaborating with old friends, doing a lot of improvised sessions. They're very special to me because it's just a one-take scenario. It's very satisfying to make and even more so being able to get them out on vinyl. Modugroove is a really nice vehicle to get that out."

Renacre reveals that there's another new label on the way, too, which he has set up in collaboration with Subwax to release his dirtiest, darkest techno productions. At the same time, he's focusing on creating a trademark 100Hz style far removed from the records that made the project famous at the turn of the 90s.

"I've actually banned myself from using claps and straight hi-hat patterns," he reveals. "I've done that now for three or four years. I'm actually getting a little pissed off with hearing people putting in standard patterns - kickdrum, clap and hi-hat. It's such a formula. It's almost like the drum and bass scene, where they all used the same breaks. People are doing that with techno. It's just a bit annoying for me now and I do want to move on from it. That's why I've banned myself from doing anything too obvious."

Words: Matt Anniss

Klon is out now on Modugroove

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Tags: Lee Renacre, 100Hz, Format, Modugroove, Subwax, techno, bleep, deep house, Curated By Time, Pacific Records, Bosconi Records, Imprint Records