Outtakes: Black Ghosts Part 2

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Excerpts from an interview with the Black Ghosts’ Theo Keating. To read the full feature, download a pdf of XLR8R 119.

XLR8R: You began DJing at a very young age. What did you spin at first?

Theo Keating: What got me to DJ was hip-hop, scratching, all that stuff. Even when I first started, it was acid and rave sort of stuff that was big over here. I played some of that stuff as well. Even though I learned to be a hip-hop DJ at parties, I’d drop other stuff as well.

Who inspired you to DJ?

There’s so many, as far as people, like Cash Money and Jazzy Jeff, both from Philly. All the best DJs would come from Philly in those days. As far as playing in clubs, I was too young. I had never really seen a DJ play in a club. The thing that really inspired me that was very influential over here was pirate radio. Even though I was too young to go to clubs and hear a lot of this music I could listen to it. In the same way people say John Peel got rock kids to listen to other music like hip-hop and vice versa, pirate radio for a lot of people was as important. If I went home from school, even though I was a little hip-hop kid, someone would play an acid house record that came out that week that was brand new. That was really inspiring, that late '80s London pirate thing. It’s sort of the way London’s always been, a mixed up thing. It’s just about the party. There’s nothing equivalent now on the radio where you can hear that range of music. The repercussions of that are still around today, a lot the people who make music today who are DJs had a formative experience listening to those stations and going to those parties.

What was your songwriting process like for the Black Ghosts album?

I would come up with basic tracks, instrumentals. I wouldn’t make them too melodic or too complex so there was room for someone to write on top. I’d give Simon a batch of them and he picked the ones he liked. So it was always songs he really wanted to write to; everything on there is something we both were into. Then he would write a song to it and sing and send me that back, and then I would add more music around to compliment what he’d written. A few songs we did the other way around, where he’d write a song playing a basic guitar part or bass part, and then I would almost remix that song. The very first song was “It’s Your Touch;” that was the first of the short clips he sent back. “Face” came quickly after that, and it just picked up momentum.

What was the recording process like?

It was done in two separate places, so it was very simple. It was good in that we didn’t try and second-guess each other. We had clear-cut roles. No time was wasted sitting around in studios while one guy is programming and the other is bored. It was probably the most painless way to make a record.

How often do you DJ now versus perform with Simon?

There’s a lot of Black Ghosts stuff obviously and it’s gotten more intensive leading up to album time. But I still do my own stuff as Touché. I think once the album is out, we’ll go into another phase, maybe go back into writing, and my solo DJ stuff will pick up more there. As one goes into a quieter period, another goes up. That’s the good thing about having several projects–they naturally go into different phases so you can alternate them and you’re always doing stuff. That’s why I’d hate to be in a band, because if it’s writing time, you just spend several months just not stimulated.

You do tons of remixes. What do you look for in a song that you might want to rework?

Obviously the first thing is the vocals. If they’re really rubbish, I tend not to go near it. As a remixer what I like is to take as much as possible out of the original, and not make it sound exactly like the original. But I really like to take all the parts and mangle them; have as much to play with as possible. Sometimes you get these tracks and there’s nothing to them, and that is the hardest thing.

What is your favorite scary movie or ghost story?

I do like that stuff. I find it quite hard to be scared by a movie–I think I’m desensitized. That’s why I like if a film can get a reaction out of me it’s a thrill. I crave it. That’s probably why I sit through so many hours of garbage ones. There are obvious ones like The Shining, The Ring (the Japanese one), The Grudge. As far as actually chilling films, The Haunting from the early ’60s, the Robert Wise film, is really creepy. I also love Italian ’70s and ’80s horror, which is more gory and freaky: Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento films.

He’s got a new one coming out…

Yeah, Mother of Tears. I’ve heard it’s… I don’t know. I’ll reserve judgment until I see it, but I don’t know if it could live up to Inferno or Suspiria. I don’t know if it has that visual thing, that beautiful color he has, like in Profondo Rosso. It’s like watching a painting. Fingers crossed.

How do you find new music?

Simon and I love to introduce each other to new music. That was one of the great things about collaborating with someone again, there’s a common area but we’re always putting each other up on new stuff. I’m constantly looking for new stuff, and he is as well. People tend to have a habit of getting into a rut of like, ‘I know what I like and I like what I know.’ I can’t keep still in that way. I never listen to the radio for one thing. It usually comes from recommendations. I’m not a huge Internet guy either, I’m not scouring Last.fm or Internet radio. I do get sent music, but then I’m constantly asking people I know who are into interesting stuff that isn’t always the same taste as me. With one particular friend of mine who I’ve known since school, I was the hip-hop kid and he was the John Peel kid. He’d play me weird Cocteau Twins records and then I’d play him EPMD records. Even now we kind of do that still. It just comes from all angles. It’s a hunger, I want to hear new things, I want to hear surprising things. I don’t want to keep listening to the same stuff. I’ll always have that Hoover-like mentality.

Who are you listening to right now?

I don’t really listen to whole albums. I listen to tracks because of my DJ mentality and also being into digging. It’s about picking those jewels, a weird collection of individual songs. Albums I’ve liked recently are Lykke Li’s album, the Burial album. And then picking out individual tracks by people like the Bloody Beetroots or Flying Lotus or Ghostface Killah, Sebastian, friends of ours like Boy 8-Bit. I’ve also been listening to Michael Nyman soundtracks and old library records from France from the ’60s. Stephan Bodzin.

What is your favorite place to party in London?

A really good night here is not often based around any particular club. It’s usually the best bit ends up at someone’s house at god knows what hour. It’s wherever the planets align and the right gathering of people are and summer’s in the air and the next thing you know its 24 hours later and you’re in a heap. There’s one party at [Notting Hill] Carnival that happens in one place, it’s not a street party. That usually ends up being mental and hilarious. My big party at the end of each summer is going to Bestival–which isn’t in London, obviously. That’s my big blowout.

There are rumors you have a side project called Fake Blood. Do you care to address these allegations?

This is a weird thing that keeps cropping up. People are convinced it's me, or are convinced its Boy 8-Bit. We’re both spending time trying to tell people it’s not us. The sooner that Sang puts a fucking photograph of himself on his MySpace page or goes to a gig or even just goes to a party and shakes someone’s hand will make my life and Dave’s a lot easier. People know he’s come through from knowing me. They think 'We’ve not met him, so it’s got to be Theo,’ it’s got to be someone else. I’m just gonna give him loads of abuse. Please, please can you just come out for a drink just once? He seems to be doing well for himself, it’s fun to watch him weave and stumble his way around the maze that is the music business.

Black Ghosts Part 1 with Simon Lord