The veteran vocalist and former Moloko frontwoman on how everything she does is inspired and influenced by club culture
The last time iDJ interviewed Roisin Murphy, way back in 2005, she turned up at our meeting point - Matthew Herbert's studio in Brixton - looking more than a little hungover. "I think I'd been raving the night before," she laughs. "Old habits die hard!"
Murphy, now approaching veteran artist status after 23 years in the business, has always been something of an over-enthusiastic clubber. She started frequenting nightclubs aged 14, attended her first rave at legendary Stoke nightspot Shelley's during the acid house era, and claims to have been to "every different type of club imaginable" over the last three decades.
"I come from club culture," she asserts. "That's where I learnt about music. In my music, dance music is present even when I'm not making dance anthems, which is really very rare anyway. Even if I make pop, or avant-garde music, or whatever it is I've done, it's always infused with dance music. I've grown up with club culture in this country as we know it today since its inception."
While Murphy's work with long-time partner Mark Brydon as Moloko largely steered clear of peaktime dance music, the duo's best-known hit, Sing It Back, was inspired by the clubs of New York, most notably Body & Soul. "I was totally reinvigorated by the experience," she enthuses in her familiar Irish burr. "I began to understand dance music and club culture from another angle - a much wider angle which was almost quasi-religious, in a way. You know, that there was more to dance music than just easy pleasure. It's more elevated than that."
The version of Sing It Back that we know and love was actually a remix by Boris Dlugosch, but Murphy claims it was far closer to her original vision than the version Moloko originally recorded. "We recorded it on a 4/4 house beat, but then Mark remixed it so it sounded a bit more jazz-funk," she remembers. "But it was like a child that didn't get the right education or something. I just couldn't let it go - that's why I had to get this remix done!"
Since parting ways with Brydon, Murphy has enjoyed a successful solo career based on working with producers that inspire her, mostly from the world of dance/electronic music. Her debut solo album, 2005's Ruby Blue, was produced in cahoots with Matthew Herbert, while 2007 follow-up Overpowered included collaborations with, and contributions from, Bugz In The Attic man Seiji, Richard X, Groove Armada's Andy Cato, and former All Seeing I members Dean Honer and DJ Parrot.
She's at it again on her latest project, a series of four AA-side singles created in collaboration with one of underground electronic music's most unique producers, the genius-like enigma that is Maurice Fulton. Murphy has long been a fan of the Sheffield-based Chicagoan's peculiar brand of distinctive dancefloor fusion and tried - unsuccessfully - to work with him in the mid-00s. Eventually, she managed to persuade him to remix a track of his choosing from 2015's Hairless Toys album - he opted for House of Glass - after refusing to rework any of the album's singles.
"He did such a beautiful job that I made a video for his remix, even though it wasn't a single," she says. "I think that charmed him, because after that we opened up lines of communication and began talking about working together."
Murphy was particularly inspired by Fulton's work with another former Sheffield-based singer, Kathy Diamond. "That's the sound I wanted," she enthuses. "It's great for me because it's punk, it's disco, it's authentic and it's real. Of course, Maurice says what he does isn't disco. The first day I spent with him in the studio, I said, ‘We're going to make some disco and it will be amazing!' He said, ‘What are you talking about? I don't make disco. No, it's R&B!' So I shut up about disco after that and just did what I was told basically."
The results are, to say the least, hugely impressive. Fulton's backing tracks are every bit as wonderful and eccentric as you'd expect, fusing familiar musical trademarks from his many projects - crunchy Clavinet riffs, rubbery bass guitar lines, fizzing electronics, Syclops-style slipped acid house basslines, dexterous jazz drums, bouncy Latin pianos, mutant funk flourishes and much more besides - in inventive and hugely entertaining new ways. On top of all this madness you'll find Muprhy's brilliant vocals, now sounding more soulful and powerful than ever before.
"The journey for me as a singer has been a weird one - everybody said I couldn't sing to begin with, and over the years I've moved closer to being a soul singer," she says, adding that her vocal on Sing It Back was partly inspired by Shirley Bassey. "With this project, I just wanted something really soulful to sing on top of. Maurice doesn't just do that - he also produces from his gut. Then you play the tracks in a club and they work. It's got everything for me in terms of what I want when making dance music."
After finishing the songs with Fulton, Murphy came up with the idea of releasing a quartet of 12-inch singles - "It's the right format for these tracks and I didn't want to release them as an album," she says - in consecutive months. So far, two have been released, Plaything/Like and All My Dreams/Innocence, with the others now set for release in the autumn.
"I had to put them back because I'm exhausted," Murphy admits. "I've done so much on this project. I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but it's been a real labour of love. I've been involved in every aspect of it, including the mastering, artwork and vinyl pressings. I've also made videos for every song."
Interestingly, these videos were inspired by Murphy's friend and music documentarian Elaine Consntatine (most famous for her 2014 documentary Northern Soul) and contain rare VHS footage of vintage clubs and parties that Murphy has been to over the years.
"It became a very personal project for me," she admits. "I can tell these stories about British club culture in an authentic way, because that's where I come from. I'm a 45-year-old woman, but I still go to clubs sometimes and I need that part of myself. That desire to go dancing doesn't die when you hit 35. It keeps going."
Words: Matt Anniss Pics: Nicola Nodland
Plaything/Like and All My Dreams/Innocence are out now on Vinyl Factory. Jacuzzi Rollercoaster/Can't Hang On will be released in September
Tags: Roisin Murphy, Moloko, Maurice Fulton, Matthew Herbert, Mark Brydon, Kathy Diamond, All Seeing I, Elaine Constantine, Shelley's, Boris Dlugosch, Seiji, Andy Cato, Bugz In The Attic, Body & Soul, Shirley Bassey