The Brothers In Rhythm veteran and progressive house hero on how he's worked hard to keep up with the times
It's interesting to look back to the glory days of rave in the late 80s/early 90s and think, 'Where are those people now?'. There's no one answer, of course. Some have dropped out of music entirely, some earn a crust on the nostalgia circuit; others, sadly, are no longer with us. And then there are those who, one way or another, have managed to keep themselves at the forefront of dance music ever since. From Carl Cox to the Ragga Twins, from The Prodigy to Sasha, quite a lot of the original purveyors of all that flash-in-the-pan boom-tish nonsense have proven themselves to have remarkable staying power - a quarter-century's worth and counting.
Another name which definitely belongs on that list is that of Dave Seaman. First coming to prominence as one-half (alongside Steve Anderson) of rave duo Brothers In Rhythm, Seaman became a champion of the then-emerging sound of 'progressive house' in the early 90s, a position he maintained for many years via his Audio Therapy imprint and his many mix albums for the likes of Global Underground, Renaissance and Stress Records.
In more recent times, though, he's been treading a more straight-up house path, ramping up the release pressure with a string of singles and EPs for labels like Noir, Suara Music and Sudbeat - not to mention Selador Recordings, the label he set up with Steve Parry in 2013.
His most recent offering, The Palindrome People EP, drops today on Yousef's Carioca label. The EP's two tracks are called Do Geese See God and Devil Never Even Lived, and word buffs among you will have already spotted that the two titles are indeed palindromic - that is, they read the same backwards as forwards.
Intrigued, we got Dave on the phone to find out more...
Let's start with The Palindrome People EP… it's all a bit high concept! What was the story behind that?
"The idea of palindromes was something I'd had in the back of my mind for a while. And then I had these two tracks that I kept going backwards and forwards on, and it just clicked. So I put them together on an EP and came up with titles that were palindromes themselves. It was just a quirky little idea, really."
Looking back over your discography, it's actually fairly sparse... you seem to have done a lot more remixes and mix albums over the years than actual productions.
"I think that's probably very true, or at least it was until the last year or so. Even back to the Brothers In Rhythm days, we were much more about remixes than originals - we only did half a dozen tracks, really! But over the last 18 months or so I've started doing a lot more."
Was there a reason you didn't do more original productions before - a lack of time, for instance, or a lack of confidence?
"I think a lot of was down to time, because remixes kind of fall in your lap - you're given the parts and you either decide you can do something with it or you don't, whereas with originals you have to generate that yourself, and with so many other things going on – running a label, DJing week in week out, and having a family now – it's hard to find time. But about 18 months, two years ago I started making a concerted effort to do more, partly because it means you can work with different labels.
"We started Selador three years ago, and I needed to kind of rebrand myself a little bit. I was always seen as the Renaissance/Global Underground guy, and progressive house had become such a dirty word, I needed to put my flag in the sand again and show I wasn't just playing records from 1999! So that's why I did the track that came out on Noir and the track that came out on Suara, which were much housier affairs rather than old school progressive. Just to remind people that, okay, the last time you saw me play I might have been playing those records but that doesn't mean I'm still playing them now!
"We're all guilty of that, I think - the last time you see someone is what you think they play, even when you don't know what they're up to currently and it might be very different. I have my radio show once a month, so that's one way of letting people know what I'm playing currently, but there's no better way than making your own singles and getting them out there on new labels. So that's why I started concentrating on my own productions. And I'm actually enjoying it more than remixing at the moment, so now I've got the bit between my teeth I'm just cracking on with it, really."
You mentioned Selador, which has been pretty prolific...
"Yeah, we've worked pretty hard at it! Again, we wanted to show that we weren't just an old school progressive label, because people do love to pigeonhole you. So we stayed a long way from that and the first releases were very house-y, with remixes from people like Shall Ocin and Piemont and so on, really just to show the range of sounds and styles that Stephen and I are into. And from there we've really worked hard to put out a lot of stuff. We're releasing every fortnight at the moment because we've just been inundated with music, basically - we could be releasing two or three singles a week! Obviously we're not going to, but that's how much good music we're getting.
"So we're up to our 53rd release now, in the space of just over three years. It's been hard work, but we didn't want to just chuck music at the wall and see what sticks, so we've made sure to get the right remixes, we've done individual artwork for every release... really we've just tried to present the music in the best way we can, and to stand out from the crowd a little bit."
There are labels that do put out several releases a week, of course... and there's others that put out two or three 12-inch singles a year. So is it about balance?
"Yeah, because you want to be fresh in people's minds, but at the same time you don't want to overdo stuff. You get labels where it seems like they're doing a compilation album every two weeks, and it's too much - they end up going to the bottom of the pile. So you don't want to over-kill it, and I think two a month is plenty. We might even go back to doing one release every three or four weeks, but right now we've just got so much good music to play with, we want to put it all out."
You used to run Audio Therapy as well... do you think that experience has helped you with running Selador? Have you learned from past mistakes?
"Yeah, for sure... although Audio Therapy was a very different beast. We had a label manager, we were doing vinyl, it was an old school record label. Things are very different now, the business model's completely changed. So yeah, you try and learn from your past but equally, it's a brave new world out there. It's not like I've got the hang of running a label now!"
You mentioned progressive house being a dirty word, but a lot of what's currently touted as house or deep house, especially the Berlin-type stuff, sounds a lot like prog to me...
"Oh, it is, totally! Anyone who's been around for a while will tell you that. But unfortunately the way things are marketed, the way things are sold... you can't really fight against the tide.
"I think we all know what happened with progressive house, which is that the big room EDM guys hijacked the genre on Beatport, and so all the cool kids stayed right away from it . Even though the music they were making was progressive house, as you or I understand it, they had to call it 'melodic techno' or whatever instead. It really made a farce of all the genres for a while. Deep house had the same problem - the term got hijacked by another sound and became meaningless.
"So I think it's good that Beatport are trying to address that and get back to the original meaning of the different genres. At the same time, it is difficult because as a label, with each release you have to decide what genre it goes in. And sometimes it can be a bit deep, it can be a bit techy, it can be a bit of all sorts. So it's not easy for Beatport either, but now they're taking back a bit of control and deciding where they're going to put stuff, rather than letting the labels decide. So we'll see how it all pans out.
"I actually had a discussion about this with Beatport recently, because we put out my single Night Falls and it had four different mixes. There was my original, a Lee Van Dowski mix, a Chymera mix and an OC & Verde mix, and Beatport wanted to put all four of them in tech-house! And I was like, they're all such different-sounding tracks, how can you put them all in the same genre? In the end one of them went in techno. So it remains to be see how this attempt to take back control of the genres pans out for them, but good for them for trying because it had become a bit of a mess."
You talked about Audio Therapy being dead and gone, but are there any plans to bring it back at any point?
"I don't think so. I laid it to rest in 2011 because, while I never got into running a label to make a ton of money, I didn't go into it to lose a ton of money either! So it was time to move on... but I soon found I was missing running a label. So when I was on the phone to Steve one day and he mentioned he'd always wanted to run a label, we put two and two together, came up with five and we had Selador up and running within six months. I was glad to get back into it, but I don't think there's any need to go back to Audio Therapy - I'm really pleased with how Selador is going and that takes up all my time to be honest, so I can't imagine setting up another one."
And going even further back, what about Brothers In Rhythm? After all, there's a lot of interest in 90s house sounds at the moment, and you've never really done the revival circuit thing much...
"Well, it's something we've talked about. I'm actually doing a gig with Steve [Anderson] on Saturday at Lush in Northern Ireland: it's their 20th anniversary, and off the back of what Radio 1 did with the Ibiza Proms - and Cream and the Hacienda have done similar things as well - we're doing a classical show at the SSE Arena in Belfast. 20 years of dance classics done with a full 70-piece orchestra.
"It's been really good fun, because you basically take all these classic tracks from the past 20 years, rescore them and remake them. You can't use any of the original parts, so it's been a big old project, but it's been really exciting as well. And it's 90 per cent sold out a 5,000-capacity venue already, so it looks like being a big night!
"Basically that's what Steve's been doing since Brothers In Rhythm - he's musical director for Kylie, so putting on big arena shows and scoring tracks for orchestras has been his bread and butter for the past 15 years. So yeah, I'm working with Steve again, but we don't have any plans to make any new music under the Brothers In Rhythm banner right now."
It's interesting that since Brothers In Rhythm, you've been a stalwart of the underground club scene and Steve's gone off into the pop world. Was that the secret of your success all along - underground credibility plus pop appeal?
"I think it was, yeah. Definitely when we started, I came from the club side of things and Steve came more from the pop side, and I think that's why we ended up doing a lot of club mixes of mainstream pop acts. But I think it was of its time - the scene's very different now so I don't think we could just drop back in where we were. Never say never though! Within this show, it's certainly been nice to go back and revisit a few of our own old tracks."
And assuming all goes well, are there any plans to tour the orchestral project?
"Well, it's Lush that are funding it, so you'd have to ask them! But obviously people know we're doing it and that's led to us being approached about one or two other things, so who knows where it will lead?"
Words: Russell Deeks Pic: Alan Bremner
Dave Seaman presents The Palindrome People EP is out now on Carioca Recordings