Switch: Artist of the Year

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Switch is not what you think he is. You might even say he’s double-sided.

There’s one Switch who never wants the party to end, a prankster who dreads being bored. Then there’s another–Dave Taylor–who is low-key and understated, owns a farmhouse in Cheshire, and has a few carefully plotted plans to turn pop music on its ear.

It’s 7 p.m. on a rainy Friday night. The lychee martinis are starting to flow and that means I’ve got the mellow Switch sitting across from me. We’re in a noisy Thai restaurant in Echo Park, a few minutes’ drive away from The Echo where, just hours from now, Switch’s mix of choppy, eccentric, bassline-driven house will confuse the L.A. kids who’ve come to hear Diplo rock hits from the blog and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Where Diplo is known for mixing up styles from record to record, Switch mixes up styles within individual tracks, piling bizarre elements upon a 4/4 framework until each song is a crazy stew of references and sounds. It ain’t jock house–it’s jocular house, with plenty of fun samples (guns cocking, whistles) and more pitch-shifted, cut-up vocals than a Best of Freestyle compilation. And then there’s that signature Switch bass–buzzy and synthetic, careening up and down the scale to create a propulsive wave that’s maddening in the headphones and devastating on the dancefloor. Switch puts the fun back into house with an absolute disregard for purity and the element of surprise shows up everywhere; this is best illustrated in his remixes, such as his take on P. Diddy’s “Tell Me,” a carnival ride whose breakdown consists of a full minute of Christina Aguilera’s acapella backed by... nothing.

“I love doing that crazy, crazy breakdown where you think it’s going to go off and go somewhere and it doesn’t; instead it comes back real minimal,” says Taylor between bites of spring rolls and satay. Having already added his own trademarks to dance music, and even spearheaded his own genre–more on the aptly named fidget house later–Taylor continues to muse about how to do things differently. Currently, he’s thinking about making three-minute bangers.

“I’m definitely learning to hear my music in a different way right now,” explains Taylor of touring the U.S. with Diplo. “In Europe, I’m the one that’s crazy when I come on [to DJ]. Playing with [Diplo] I feel like the tame one. And the amount of music that people consume right now, they don’t want to listen to the same record for six minutes. People want records that get in, do something dramatic, and make you throw your hands in the air. If you look at the way hip-hop DJs work stuff, you could do that with house music. I think that would make house more appealing on a bigger scale. Let’s make it a little more short, sharp, sweet, and… rubbish!”

Switch Stance
Taylor doesn’t actually want to make rubbish–it’s just that he says that word a lot, and it often interrupts a sentence when he feels like he’s getting too deep or serious or silly-sounding. He’s self-deprecating, and speaks fondly of friends back home who tease him for what he does. Though he would love to be part of a groundbreaking music movement–and is presently amassing a stable of collaborators to help make it happen–he doesn’t want to be the center of attention.

“I don’t even usually do interviews and stuff,” says Taylor. “If I’m working with [someone], it’s about producing [them] and I’m not even bothered if my name’s not on it. It’s not like I’m shy. It’s just not me. I don’t really want to be like a Timbaland or Pharrell, where they’re almost like artists themselves. It just isn’t my nature to be like, ‘Look at me!’ I love seeing people that have that quality, and I just see myself as a facilitator of people that want to do that.”

Flipping Out
Growing up in an old section of Harlow, Essex, about 30 miles East of London, Taylor has always been looking for something different. “When all my mates wanted to stay in the pub, I’d be up in London on my own, going to clubs and stuff,” he recalls. “I was really into soul and R&B, like all those early Teddy Riley records, new jack swing. Everybody would be listening to crazy rock records and I’d be trying to sell my mixtapes that I made off the radio with Soul II Soul on them.”

Luckily, Taylor had older friends he had met through a shared love of Man Parrish, Bambaataa, and breakdancing. “When [the local breakdancing crews] were having burns against different schools, I’d be the little mincer that they’d bring in at the end to do a backflip,” he explains. A few years later, the same dudes started producing early jungle tracks for the Labello Blanco label and Taylor would often hang around their studio. “The first time I saw someone using a mixing desk and soloing the drums–actually deconstructing records that I was already familiar with as a whole record and me hearing it in different parts–I was about 15 or 16,” recalls Taylor. “And that was it. I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world.”

Taylor messed around a bit with early drum & bass–appearing with Paradox on Mixrace’s seminal 180-bpm release “Too Bad For Ya” (Moving Shadow) in 1992–but soon tired of the scene, and nearly abandoned production entirely until he saw U.S. house maestros Todd Terry and Kenny Dope spin at a London warehouse party. “I remember thinking, ‘Shit! This is it,’” recalls Taylor with a grin. “My girlfriend was studying in the South of France, so I gave up my job, bought a computer and a sampler and went and lived with her for a year.”

House Calls
By the 2000s, Taylor was recording for the likes of Slip ‘N’ Slide, Freerange, and his own Dubsided imprint under the name Solid Groove. He and Jesse Rose teamed up to form Induceve, and with Trevor Loveys he created the first incarnation of Switch, releasing Freerange classics like “Get Ya Dub On” and “Just Bounce 2 This” that prefigured his current sound.

But perhaps the most important indicator of big things to follow came in 2005. Both M.I.A.’s “Pull Up the People”–co-produced by Taylor (under the name A. Brucker)–and “Love Guide” (a collabo with Miss Thing for Wall of Sound’s Two Culture Clash) were busting out of stereos from U.K. to the U.S.A. DJs from all genres were obsessing over surprise banger “This Is Sick” and “A Bit Patchy,” a bootleg that twisted Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” into a perfect fusion of hip-hop and house. Taylor and Rose had begun seeding the media with the name “fidget house,” to see if the press would make a movement out of the music that their crew–which also includes Loveys, Sinden, Herve, and Duke Dumont–was producing.

On The Move
While Switch’s name was quickly becoming a mantra for some, few outside the club world or the MP3 blogosphere were accessing his sound. Not that Switch was too concerned with promo; he was busy traveling across the globe in search of new inspiration. A brief residency in New York brought him closer to American underground genres like Baltimore club, ghetto-tech, and juke. Then he was jetting off with M.I.A. to work on Kala, journeying to Southern India to record temple drummers for “Bird Flu,” to Trinidad to channel soca’s energy for “Boyz,” and to St. Lucia (presumably to chill out).

All the while, he ran Dubsided and sparked two new endeavors with Sinden–the Counterfeet label and their Get Familiar party at Fabric in London. He found some new vocalists (he’s currently working with Santi White of Santogold and a Swedish singer and rapper called Mapei) and worked on beats for a dancehall album with Diplo in Jamaica. When we spoke, he had just returned from a crazy few weeks in Kingston, recording the genre’s top shottas (Turbulence, Elephant Man, Lexxus, Gyptian, Leftside & Esco) for a double-disc to be released in spring or summer of 2008.

Rebel Yell
And yet, Switch remains restless. “I’m moving to L.A. because I’m bored,” he exclaims, not quite joking. Taylor has been spending more and more time in the City of Angels as he works on a new album for Tricky, hoping to restore electronica’s Basquiat to his moody hip-hop roots. (Switch also produced a track for Britney Spears–it didn’t work out–and is rumored to be working on stuff for Missy Elliott’s new record.) He plans to move to California next year, and, with his fidgety friends, start a full-service production house for artists.

“I think club music’s been kind of dormant for a few years and it’s finally coming back around again,” he enthuses. “There’s a really healthy movement going on in the States. Hip-hop is at an interesting point where people have grown out of what it has been. It seems like there’s a big hole in the market for something fresh and exciting–a different presentation, a different mood. I don’t know what’s next, but I can hear something for a second and know if I want to fuck with it. That’s my gauge.”

Smash Hits
Switch’s Top Ten of 2007

1. Mapei
You have to check for this girl. She’s so stupid-good. Her rapping is the shit, her singing is the shit, she makes her own videos, and live she be on that crazeee shit.

2. Drop the Lime
Possibly the most original new club shit coming out of NYC at the moment. Word up, Luca.

3. Duke Dumont
He is gonna bang! His ideas bang! His productions bang and his DJ sets bang.

4. DJs Customizing Tracks
This is making DJs interesting again. The element of surprise returns to the ones and twos.

5. Erol Alkan
Possibly my favorite DJ on the planet at the moment. This dude is so studied… He’s so sure of what he’s doing it makes me want to give up.

6. Jamaica
No dickheads. The most musically raw place I’ve ever been to. The relationship people have with music across the board there is so inspiring.

7. Feist
Something I didn’t expect to like. My favorite cool female pop voice this year.

8. Australia
The most responsive club crowds I’ve witnessed in a while.

9. Fabric
They kicked me off the decks at me and Sinden’s own Get Familiar night because I might have had one too many and played the same Herve remix three times in a row.

10. Justice
I wasn’t with it! It was Diplo that made me listen to the album properly... It’s a boring choice but they smashed that shat with a bat. Splat.

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