This rising star counts the likes of Todd Terry and Kenny Dope as buddies. It seems you CAN judge a house producer by the company he keeps...
With his first single released just two years ago, Ant LaRock is one of the fastest-rising stars of the house scene. Of course, the fact that said first single came on Todd Terry's InHouse label won't have hurt any...
Since then, the Connecticut-born but now UK-based producer has had tracks out on respected, long-standing imprints such as Nervous and Spinnin', while his current single, Sanctuary, comes on Kenny Dope's Dopewax label, who we're reliably informed have a stack more LaRock material waiting in the wings. And that's not to mention work with the likes of Armand Van Helden, Junior Sanchez and Michael Moog.
Well, call us old-fashioned but when the likes of Todd and Kenny say a producer's one to watch, we take notice! So with Sanctuary rocking the soulful floors over the Xmas/NYE party season, we tracked Ant down to find out more...
First off, tell us a bit about your musical background and how you came to be making house music in the first place...
"I'm Ant LaRock, house music producer and DJ. I grew up on the east coast of the States. Picked up a bass guitar at 14 and pretty much knew I wanted to be a musician from that point on. I was so obsessed with funk music and the backbeat that by the time I found house music, in my late teens, I was in love!
"I'd always been in bands and produced some hip-hop and rudimentary house stuff, until I eventually just stopped making music all together for around seven or eight years. When I got to a good place in life and was ready to really pour myself back into music, I took some time to think about what I loved the most... and house was the answer!"
InHouse, Nervous, Dopewax... it must feel pretty good to get recognition from such legendary labels, so early in your career?
"I've been asked this a lot lately and yes, it still feels really good! I'm so grateful to Todd, Kenny, Junior Sanchez, Michael Moog and Roland Clark. These guys are my friends. We make music together and hang out. I have these moments where I have to step back and laugh, because I'm at a grocery store joking around with guys I've looked up to since the 90s. On a musical level, I feel like they all respect me as an equal, and respect my input and taste. We all come from a pretty similar place musically.
"Releasing with Nervous Records was a dream, too, because I made those tracks relatively quickly and felt they were a bit too weird, but they wanted to put them out. It made me trust my gut a lot more, as far as making my own style of music and not someone else's."
I read somewhere that the Todd Terry connection came through a mutual friend... could you shed a little more light on that?
"I was making music but really only sharing it to friends, my sister and maybe posting it on Soundcloud. I finished a track and sent it to my sister to see if it sounded like shit. She loved it and sent it to her friend Marybeth, who worked for Todd's management, Xmix. Marybeth then called me back the next day and said that Todd wanted to release it!
"Marybeth has been my manager and I've been releasing with Todd since that day. Todd has gone above and beyond for me, giving me production advice and trying to put me in front of the right people."
And how did you come to hook up with Kenny?
"The legendary Michael Moog and Todd put me in front of Kenny. These guys are actual friends, like spend holidays together, know each others kids type of friends. So it's hard to hang out with one of them and not see them all.
"I lived in Ibiza this past summer and Moog knew me through Todd and heard some of my side projects, so he was hyping me up to Kenny. We'd met a couple times through Todd in the past but never really kicked it. Kenny invited me to the studio this summer to listen to some of my tracks and he picked up, like, seven tracks to release on Dopewax. Sanctuary was the first of many. His remix of it is bananas!"
Working with Todd vs working with Kenny - discuss...
"It's kinda similar - I do my own thing and they take what they like. Todd tends to like the driving, classic house stuff that I make and Kenny has been liking the left-of-centre stuff, from disco to tech. My taste is different every day because my musical background is quite diverse, so it's amazing to have a home for my music with these two legends."
Sanctuary is very much in a 'traditional', New York, soulful kinda vein. Which puts you in a different musical arena than a lot of your contemporaries...
"Ahh, you get me! I love this genre. It will always be pushed forward, it is the nature of the beast. It will be popular some years and not so popular others. Sub-genres will come and go. I look up to Todd and Kenny and Junior because this is a lifestyle to them. I want a career like them and to hopefully carry the torch. I want to be grouped in with people like Demuir, J Paul Getto and Eli Escobar - the guys who are true to the craft."
Talk us through the mixes of Sanctuary - how would you review the record if it wasn't yours?
"The Main Mix was first. [Sanctuary vocalist] Agency sent me over this amazing vocal and I had the vibe in my head from the jump. A club set doesn't always call for vocals, hence the Dub and Instrumental mixes. I knew Kenny was working on his remix but I wanted a different version to spin at this new club in San Francisco named Halcyon, so the day before the gig I made the Warehouse and Warehouse Dub. They're all centered around Agency's amazing vocal, apart from the Dubs.
"Then Kenny absolutely blew my mind with his remix! I was in Junior Sanchez's studio when he sent it over and I just sat there with the 'stink face' for six minutes as I listened. I mean, it's an honour just to have him work on anything with my name on it, but he really crushed it."
Do you think we're overdue a revival of more soulful styles of house? And/or, do you see any signs of that happening?
"I'm living in England currently and I feel that classic house was a lot less underground here. It seems to be a part of everyone's past! In the States, house is definitely on the upswing, and I think people are finally starting to look back to move forward... basically, remembering what house is all about and where it came from.
"That place is the place I try to come from when I make records and when I DJ. It doesn't necessarily have to sound 20 years old, it just has to have that original soul and intention."
Any plans for a full-length artist album any time soon?
"I think I might be doing one now! I was off for a week and when I finally sat down to work, I banged out three tracks in a matter of, like, nine hours. So it's coming. I'm really excited to make music at this point in my life... it's why I wake up and why I hate going to sleep. So an album is inevitable."
Finally, what else have you got going on right now/coming up that iDJ readers need to know about?
"The mix I did for iDJ is all original tunes, all unreleased except for one. I have a bunch of records in the queue that will be out in 2017, and I have to say they feel more true to me and to house music than any of my earlier work.
"Dopewax has some amazing stuff coming out as well as InHouse. Some collaborations with Roland Clark and Junior Sanchez to look out for, too. And I plan on gigging more around the world - it's the yin to my production yang. I'm really enthusiastic about my music in 2017."
Words: Russell Deeks Pic: JoJo Walker Photography
Kenny Dope pres Ant LaRock feat Agency's Sanctuary is out now on Dopewax. Below, exclusively for iDJ readers, is Ant's mix of some of his unreleased productions. Enjoy!