Armand Van Helden is the latest dance music legend to add to our iconic Masterpiece series, he gave us a disc by disc breakdown of the release
Hi Armand! So you've just finished off the latest in our Masterpiece series, it's certainly one of the most unique editions we've put out, could you talk us through the process of compiling it and maybe run us through each disc?
AVH: Well let me start off by saying it was an honour to be asked to do the Masterpiece series on Ministry. When you start out on something like this, the first thing you do is you have to get your songs together. So you get the laptop out and look over your music collection. I asked myself “What do I want to do? What do I want to present for this series?” About a half a year prior I had made this mix for me and my friends – a Yacht Rock mix. It was a late 70s, early 80s blue-eyed soul mix. It was sort of a mix comp. Some of the songs weren’t mixed that well, because when you’re working with live drums you tend to just throw in the song and hope it works. Others worked really well, though, and it got us through a lot of summers on the beach.
So when Ministry called and asked me to do this I was like, “I’ve just made a mix comp”. So, you know, that was one CD down already! All I had to do was list the tracks from that mix and then add in some others and rearrange them so they all worked. Then for the other two discs, I wasn’t sure what to do, but I thought I should make them totally different from each other. The only theme I wanted to follow was that each disc would exist in it’s own bubble.
Armand's visual representation of Yacht Rock
Ok so disc two - Yacht Rock Don't Stop - was already in the bag, can you talk us through disc one - The Loft, Boston?
So the next disc, I thought that I should do something from the time of when I was starting out. My history had never really been put out there correctly for most of my career - maybe it just wasn’t that interesting, or maybe I was never asked, but I figured this would be a good way to tell people about the early years. Before I started producing, when I first got into house music, it was very, very deep. This is when it was switching over from the Chicago sound to the New York sound, around ’88, ’89.
So I thought for that disc, I should expose that timeframe in house that I remember from my youth, where I’d be going out to these clubs and dancing to extremely deep house. About a year or two after I got into house, I finally had my own club, The Loft, in Boston and not a lot of people know that either, so I thought why don't I called disc one The Loft, Boston. The tracks on here are generally what we would play at the Loft.
About half that disc were big, big records at The Loft and the other half are either from a little bit before The Loft or a little bit after. So basically with this disc I just wanted to encapsulate that part of my history. And the funny thing about The Loft disc is that I'd already done it as well. Back then I was doing these mixes on a weekly basis, so I already knew what songs go together, which made it a little bit easier for me.
Armand's visual representation of Loft-era deep house.
Haha I guess when you're picking genres, the one from your debut residency is a no-brainer! And finally, what about Freestyle? I know Todd Terry started out in Freestyle, but apart from that I'm at a loss as to what it is?
For the last disc I thought, I’ve done the Yacht Rock thing, which not a lot of people know that I’m a super-fan of that music. And then my deep house history, which probably not a lot of people know about because my later career became more like Fatboy Slim, to a degree. You know, the more fun thing and not the deep thing, so I wanted to show I had a very spiritual connection to the deep side of house music. Then the third disc is freestyle, which again nobody’s ever asked about because, well number one, Freestyle music was never anything in the UK. I think the closest thing the UK came to Freestyle was maybe Lisa Lisa.
It never became a thing in the UK, but it was a huge thing in the US. [At the time] It was the biggest music, much bigger than house music. The thing to understand about Freestyle is that it dominated in the 80s. The nightclubs had a certain sound back then, now when you go out you hear a whole mix of music - house, techno, RnB, hip hop, classics, it's a big mix. It wasn't like that back then, first of all you didn’t have any hip hop, they would not play it in nightclubs back then. You would get soul and funk to a degree, but generally it was just filled up with this music, they called Freestyle.
Basically what it was, was up-tempo RnB, but that’s what was big in the states. This isn’t the uber cool underground clubs by the way, this is the mainstream clubs. So that was the gist with Freestyle. I grew up with it, it was a huge part of my teenage years and I wanted to put it out there and I guess educate people about that music.
Armand's visual representation of Freestyle.
Ok so you've got the themes together for each disc, what's next?
I know that with a lot of these compilations, artists come up with the theme, draw up the tracklist, send it off and call it a day. But I thought with these thematic discs - I have to mix these. So the deep house one was generally the easiest, and the freestyle wasn’t hard either, but the yacht rock one, man that was not easy. Once you’re working with live drums it becomes tough.
And if Masterpiece was a four disc collection, what would the theme of the fourth disc be?
I have no idea! I think that the overall message to take away from the Masterpiece is that I am a music lover and a collector of all music. I’m not a person with an ideology based on separation. My ideology is based on bridge-building. So when I put this project together, it is reflective of my personality, so I want people to come together, not to be purists. So the fourth disc for me would have to be something that was completely non-related. You know what would be a good one actually, I’ve come across a lot of these strange European releases. Because I think in America, the people who do all the crate-digging, they’ve kind of been exposed to everything, but these weird - almost Italo-disco, but slower than that, funkier stuff – there’s just some great stuff there that’s really unknown.
So Disco 4 - Euro Funk?
Yes! I can totally go for that.
Armand Van Helden: Masterpiece is out now