Switch Stance

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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.

Below is Vivian Host's recent interview with Switch. To continue reading the Switch cover story from XLR8R 113 (December 2007), download a pdf of that issue or click here.

XLR8R: What are some strong memories of making the M.I.A. album?

We went to Chennai in India, and to St. Lucia, a little island called Bequia. We went to Trinidad, which featured quite heavily in the influence side of things. There’s this cool stuff out there called chutney soca, which is sort of like Indian kids fucking with soca. It’s more dancehall, but with this mad Bollywood energy. It’s really crazy. That was where we did the majority of the “Boyz” single–that’s why it has that up-tempo feel.

Do you feel like different things came out of you creatively once you were not in London?

Totally. When you go to a really foreign place, it puts your head in a different place. You start thinking and soaking up. India especially. The colors and the vibrancy. They had all these mad political slogans painted up on the walls and everything is really dirty and dusty and a real mess. Then you have these beautiful luminous murals on the wall.

What was working in Jamaica like?

It was really systematic. We worked out of Tuff Gong, for starters, which is Bob Marley’s place. It’s a bit of a hustle to try and get people to a place at the right time. People joke on the Jamaican time and I can vouch for it that it’s pretty true. Number one, you have this logistical thing that you have to kind of get ahold of. But then basically once people are there and they walk in and hear the beat, if they like it, they’re done. They’re so well rehearsed. In Jamaica, music’s a way of life. Since these dudes have been kids they’ve been in front of a virtual microphone, so when they hit the studio it’s like “Bang, bang, bang!” It’s done.

Was there one person who blew you away?

Leftside and Esco are incredible. The Dr. Evil stuff is really, really interesting. As a producer, those dudes are the closest to what me and Wes [Pentz a.k.a. Diplo] do. They’re new kids that are messing with technology and they do their own vocals, so they produce their own vocals so it’s just really twisted and really good fun. Instead of everything being too serious, they’re just throwing really crazy ideas around. We worked with Lexxus. He was really into the house beats that we were playing him and stuff like that. He was really naturally intrigued. Some people were like, “Really? You’re coming here and you’re playing us this?” One CD will be straight-up our take on dancehall, CD two will be the same songs but flipped in our kind of normal production roles. We want it to stand up in Jamaica. We don’t want it to be like, “We went to Jamaica and we had a go at making a Jamaican record.” We have some pretty cool people on there like Turbulence and Gyptian.

Which person, when their appearance was confirmed, felt like it was a victory?

For me it was Turbulence; he ended up doing two tracks. He did one one-drop rhythm and he sang and he was brilliant, and then we played him this real crazy-tough thing and he just went in the room and spat all over it. That was a real highlight. Elephant Man coming through was also a bit of a special moment. We wanted to get with Beenie Man but it was drama with him; he was in the press a lot. We might go back and spend a week and get done some bits and bobs. Trying to get us two together at the moment is proving to be really hard. The whole album won’t be until early next year.

In dancehall, is there a particular artist or era or producer that’s really your shit?

It’s the new stuff. That’s where me and Wes kind of come together. Stephen MacGregor, who’s Freddy MacGregor’s son, is making the craziest rhythms out there. He’s killing it, full stop. And the parties! We went to this place called Wetty Wetty. There’s some kind of crazy punk dancehall thing going on. All the kids are dressed mad and crazy rave clothes and stupid glasses and doing these mad dances. Those are the best clubs I’ve been to in the world. You got kids crawling along the floor. We went to this club called Passa Passa. It’s in the marketplace and literally it doesn’t start until six in the morning. So you have a road with people going to and from work and you got kids laying on the floor dancing and stuff and the traffic just has to stop because they won’t stop dancing. It’s electric.

I imagine it would be kind of intimidating being in the studio in Jamaica.

It kind of can be slightly intimidating. These guys roll with the whole neighborhood. They turn up at the studio and it’s like all of a sudden it’s just a cloud of smoke. As soon as we started playing people music and they hear what we’re about and they see that we’re genuine fans of that scene it kind of helps out a little bit I think.

What’s one musical time period that you fetishize?

The one scene that I would have loved to have been a part of is the mods in London between, like, the ’60s and ’70s. Those kids were, like, pure ravers. It was tribal. Everyone had the uniform, they were all driving scooters up and down the country, going to raves. A load of the rave scene in the U.K. was kind of like that, but it wasn’t uniform like that. It sounds a bit daft going around going, “I’m a raver,” whereas if you’re a mod, it’s cool.

At the same time, you being into so much different stuff, you probably would have rebelled against it.

Yeah that probably would have been the case. That’s probably why I like it–because I can’t get it. But it’s already done. I just loved the way that everyone looked, and the attitude. It was like a controlled punk rock.

And it was super-violent.

Yes, us Brits have a stupid reputation for doing stupid fighting things, for being hooligans. I don’t know why that is. I think it’s the amount that everyone drinks in the U.K. People like to get drunk and if there’s no women around then everyone fights. It was always around, especially in Essex. A weekend wasn’t really a weekend unless you’ had a good fight, but I was always too small and scrawny and scared.

Who do you really respect as a producer?

Timbaland. He’s challenging himself on a sort of different level, it seems. He conquered what he did and no one touched it. For me, the way that Kenny Dope works the beats in the studio is incredible. Again, I think it’s the hip-hop ethic. It’s coming back down to that grassroots sound. The sound that makes hip-hop work is what people like Todd Terry and Kenny Dope were doing in their house records. Because it’s house, it obviously has a different type of energy but it has a hip-hop sound. The drum sounds that he uses, they have that feel; the way he mixes them together and the patterns that he uses are hip-hop. In drum & bass, I always liked Danny Breaks and Hype. Again, hip-hop guys. Hype is incredible, man. I remember going to Boogie Times [a famous jungle record shop] and Hype turning up just to buy records and ending up being there for like three hours. They just closed the doors and he ended up doing loads of crazy, crazy shit. That was one of the best experiences of my life.

How do you feel about fidget house?

Jesse loves that term. There was actually a beat that me and Trevor [Loveys] had done called “Fidget”–I actually really like that word, I think the word is wicked. Jesse and I were walking to the post office to pick up our records one day and we were probably hungover from a heavy night before and we were on about how with tech-house or drum & bass, as soon as there was a tag for it, there were a few people whose names became synonymous with it. And we were taking the piss about how everyone calls everything house, like happy house or hard house. So we thought, “Okay, let’s call it ‘fidget house’ and see how many people we can get calling it that.” We started putting it on a few press releases and then the next thing you know there’s a fidget house website and a night called Fidget. It was actually aimed at journalists. Like, “Can we feed them something and secretly have a little laugh?” But it was more Jesse’s thing because we were trying to push him as an artist on Dubsided.