Thursday, 30 May 2013

Pitch & Scratch [Interview]

Written by Imran Mirza

Following on from the release of The Impellers’ 'This Is Not A Drill', Legere Recordings show no signs of offering fans a respite and look set in aiming to label this, their funkiest summer yet, as they release the brand new album by German duo, Pitch & Scratch, ‘Together’.

If you were unlucky enough to have the group’s first album, ‘Hamburg Hustle’ (2009), pass you by, it’s Liberation Frequency’s sole aim that such a crime doesn’t befall this excellent return for the group.

Pitch & Scratch comprise of music aficionados, DJ Suro and Mzuzu, both bringing such a vast amount of experience to the project.  Mzuzu, who plays bass, guitar and the cello, is also a DJ with well over a thousand DJ sets in his resume, along with affiliations to additional bands, Superbad and K & The Offbeats.  DJ Suro, a hip-hop DJ who boasts residency and regular appearances at festivals and clubs all over Germany, has performed with hip-hop luminaries including Talib Kweli, Grandmaster Flash, Dilated Peoples and Biz Markie, along with funk-soul singer, Marva Whitney.

While ‘Hamburg Hustle’ was an instrumental release, ‘Together’ embraces an interesting array of vocalists, including New Orleans blues singer, Wayne Martin, who appears on the Latin-esque 'Papa Never Was A Genius'; Brazilian singer, Leila Pantel, who graces 'Maculele' and 'Vem Meu Bem' with her sultry vocal; and Alex Prince who more than keeps up with the music on the self-explanatory 'Funk Is Ruling My Head'.  UK hip-hop is also well-represented with an appearance from Seanie T, who provides an apt conduit for the duo's rap credentials.  Fans of Pitch & Scratch's earlier instrumental efforts also have plenty to be excited about it here with the futuristic sonic-soundscapes of 'Road To Saturn', the horn-heavy (and glorious vocoder-heavy) 'What You Wanna Do', and the rousing hand-clapping and foot-stomping thunder of 'Roll 'n' Rock'.

The best thing about this record is that, although a funk album, it doesn’t root itself, or restrict itself, solely to a singular sound and it enthusiastically embraces more far-reaching genres and styles, like hip-hop and Latin rhythms.  This is new millennium funk in the best sense – respectful and aware of the music’s heritage and history, but also progressive and ambitious, trying things you wish more bands would try.  Not just a good record... this is a great record and one that'll be rocking our speakers for some time to come!

How did the two of you come together to form Pitch & Scratch?
MZUZU: We knew each other from school – Suro was already DJing while I was playing cello and guitar. Since then we have both had our own experiences in music. We really started making music together when Suro joined our funk band, Superbad!. Since then we made music both live and in the studio.
Our first release was called ‘Music’, a track we produced for Felonious, a rap group from California. Loco Dante was the third composer and producer of this track and we called ourselves Whatmindzdo. When Dante left Hamburg to go to Spain, Suro and I started to produce our music as Pitch & Scratch.

SURO: I built up the Freiland-Studio with a friend of mine in 2004.  Later it came to the point where Julian and I took the studio in our own hands and found out we shared many interests in music. We already knew each other well from playing in Superbad! and it was obvious that funk was the music which connected us the most. Soon we started working on our first album.

Were you happy with how 'Hamburg Hustle' was received?
MZUZU: ‘Hamburg Hustle’ was well-received in the funk scene around us. We got really good reviews and it gave us confidence to know that we could combine digital and the analog ways of making music to create something new and yet keep some of the original funky feeling.

SURO: We also got good feedback from people from countries like England, France and Australia. It feels great when you know people all over the planet feel your music.

How did the association with Legere Recordings come about?
SURO: Our publisher, Ale Dumbsky, led us to Légère Recordings. Throughout the work on ‘Hamburg Hustle’ we were looking for a label who could represent the spirit of that album. For a good collaboration, we thought it could be a good idea to work with a label from our city and Légère Recordings is established in the funk scene for two decades now.

'Together' seems to draw from so many different genres – can you tell us a little about the influences that shape the music on this album?
SURO: I like mixing different music styles in a DJ set. There are so many connections between the different genres, and I find that inspiring. Sometimes when I´m at home after spinning at a party, my brain keeps going through the grooves and melodies I played. And that brings me to new ideas. Then I record them to my phone. On another day, I might have a great melody or groove idea when I am totally chilled and it comes with anything that inspires me in that moment. That´s how I got some of the melodies of the album. The studio is where we work out our ideas and visions for each song. Sometimes I know I´m working on a hip-hop or funk song and another track can develop totally freely and reach a new style I never thought of.
I also like straightness very much. When I work on drums I always want to have that bounce that keeps the head nodding. I enjoy working on programmed loops which feel organic, kind of handmade.

MZUZU: I grew up with classical music and jazz. And there was always a guitar, drums and percussions in the house. I started with cello at the age of seven playing classical for twelve years. During that time I taught myself bass and guitar, which allowed me to play the music I really loved, which was always funk, soul,  jazz and a lot of reggae during that time. That was around ‘94.
After school I started DJing, and I studied musical science in Hamburg, with African drumming, soul music in Brazil or the history and musical development in Salsa music as class topics. For my personal studies, and for my DJing, I looked for ‘groove’ music in all kinds of genres. If you play the music yourself or in a band, and if you DJ twice a week, you inevitably learn something about it. These are some of the influences that led to the music we make.

There's also been the decision to introduce vocalists on to this release as well - were you familiar with the names you worked with beforehand?
SURO: For me, it was important to work with vocalists on the second album. So I started giving our funk instrumentals to artists that I knew from my surroundings. We featured Alex Prince on a Superbad! gig which showed me her strong vocal power. When I went to her studio to show her our tracks, she picked the one which was very straight and convincing, and she made a great funky dance track out of it that became ‘Funk is Ruling My Head’.
Wayne Martin is the lead singer from the band Brixton Boogie where I am the live DJ since 2010. I showed him a bluesy instrumental we did. He is at the age of 69, born in New Orleans, and for sure he knows what blues is all about! That ended up being ‘Papa Never Was A Genius’.
And then there is Seanie T on ‘Pitch Me & Scratch Me’.  He got some beats from us after he played at a party  in 2009 which I had going on with some friends. Seanie is an excellent performer, we are also working with him on an album.

MZUZU: I knew Alex Prince from ‘Urban Organic’, a club-night, where I played in the band to back up different vocal artists, like Samy Deluxe or D-Flame. She was one of them, and she blew me away right from the first time. She is a great singer.
Leila Pantel is the other singer I knew before. She was always around when there were jam sessions or samba-concerts in Hamburg.  She already released some great material with different projects and we were really happy to feature her on ‘Maculele’ and ‘Vem Meu Bem’.

Can you tell us a little about some of the other collaborations on the album?
SURO: I love making music with great artists, whether they are friends or new connections. Lack Of Afro, who already did a remix of ‘Everybody Move’ from our first album, was spinning at a party in Hamburg in 2011, where I was DJing as well. The location was in the area of our studio, so after the sound check, I showed him some work Julian and I did for ‘Together’ and he asked me if he could add some percussion to ‘Papa Never Was A Genius’. So I started recording and the track got pimped out by him with a nice LOA feeling.
With the Boxhorns, I had worked together on some live gigs. When I showed Mat, the saxophone player some of our music, he liked it and I invited him to the studio and recorded some tracks with him. I knew a sax solo would be good for ‘Get Down’. On some other tracks he jammed to the instrumental. Then he picked another song to take home with him, which came out to be ‘Maculele’. I already had an idea of the melody of the horns and he worked it out and recorded it with the fantastic Boxhorns.

MZUZU: There are many beautiful people involved in this album. All the super horn sections from Hamburg! There are many funky people in Hamburg we have known for a long time. All the great moments we shared with these musicians made it possible to produce this album.

How does the music from 'Together' transfer to a live stage?
MZUZU: When we perform at a club, we spin our favourite tunes, and combine them with our productions. Suro will start to scratch and play with the accapellas and I take my guitar and play rhythms and solos to the music.

SURO:  Sometimes we feature a guest. There are different ways to play our music live. As a DJ from Superbad!, I am used to working with different instruments and vocals placed in the music alongside the turntables.

Who would be a dream collaborator for an album or a live performance?
MZUZU: I would love to play with Fred Wesley or Wayne Henderson. I just love funky trombones. On the vocal-side I would say Robert Moore, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones are great. Amp Fiddler would be another choice. I met him once in Hamburg, where he did a great show at the Mandarin Kasino. The same with Joe Bataan. There are many great artists out there, but we cannot really complain about lack of collaborations, can we?

SURO: I have a special connection to music coming from England. Working together with Seanie T from London was great. I organized some events in Germany, so we had the possibility of working with him in the studio. We created some tracks as a trio, meaning him, Julian [Mzuzu] and me. And some other tracks were already produced by me, or Pitch & Scratch, and Seanie laid his vocals over them. On two songs, he recorded in London and sent us the tracks. Working with people together in one room can be very inspiring. Also it´s great to have the possibility of working via the internet.
There are a few artists I would like to work together with. One of them is definitely soul singer Alice Russell. Over the years, some of her tracks have become favourite funk tunes of mine.

Are there any thoughts as to how a follow-up release would go?
MZUZU: We already got something, but it’s gonna be a surprise!

SURO: ...and our hard drives are full of ideas!

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