Interview: Imami

Every so often, here at Truants, we’ll receive something that stops us in our tracks. Most recently, that something came in the form of Imami’s debut EP. A continuation of the exciting, forward-thinking output from Apothecary Compositions, Madhouse caught us completely off guard. Taking pre-existing dancefloor formulas to task, we’ve treated you to five lots of Imami’s warped visions, all carried out with the panache of a seasoned pro. Here you’ll find spots of blissful sunshine-funk, you’ll find harrowing industrial techno, and you’ll find much more in between. There’s also a good chance you’ll find the most exciting piece of music you’ve heard in a while. Remixes of title track “Madhouse” come from young guns SCNTST and Visionist and are predictably excellent in their spinning of playful techno and paranoid grime, respectively.

Madhouse had such a resounding effect on us here that we caught ourselves searching for Imami’s back catalogue on Discogs. Nothing. We googled, we wiki-ed, we did everything in our power to find out anything we could about this producer. Nothing. Naturally then, we had to get in touch. The results are as engrossing as they are informative. Hang around to read about Imami’s twenty years of music making, his musical influences, his LuckyMe affiliation and his love for ginger beer!

Stream: Imami – Melted Love (Apothecary Compositions)

There isn’t too much information about you on the internet right now, which seems pretty strange in a time when you can more or less chronicle every meal that 2 Chainz has eaten for the past few years. For those that might not be so familiar, could you tell us a bit more about yourself? “I was born in the north east of England in an area that was considered the most polluted place in the UK at one point, maybe it still is. There’s a huge chemical factory there that you can see and smell for miles around. Awful place… Thankfully I spent a lot of time in France as a child because my dad got a job there as he couldn’t find work in the UK. We moved around a lot when I was young and we never lived in the same place for more than a few years at a time. I’m still like that now. We have itchy feet in my family. When I was 18 I moved to the USA and lived over there for quite a while; 8 years in Brooklyn, New York and 4 years in Baltimore. I moved back to Europe a few years ago, I was in Amsterdam for a little while and then I came back to the UK so I could get more involved in music stuff over here. The 8 year period that I lived in Brooklyn was the longest amount of time I’ve spent in one place…people say I have a bit of Brooklyn in my accent but I don’t know.

When I lived in New York I was heavily into clubbing. Every Friday night I went to see Danny Tenaglia at a club called Vinyl in Manhattan. He would usually play all night but sometimes he had friends hanging out with him in the booth like Francois K and people like that so they would take turns playing stuff. On Sunday afternoons at the same venue there was a fairly well known club called Body & Soul which had DJs Joe Claussell, Danny Krivit and Francois K as residents. The crowd was a mix of gay and straight people and they played deep house. Real deep house I mean. One of the promoters was an English guy actually. I would also go to a place called Shelter sometimes which is somewhat well known in the realm of house music.”

Some people might assume, with this being your debut EP, that you’re relatively new to the game but as we understand it this might not exactly be the case. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got started making music? “I started making music very early, when I was about 11 or 12. This was over 20 years ago. I was somewhat precocious due to having siblings who were much older than me. I didn’t have any equipment or money, and you couldn’t make music on a PC back then, so I was quite limited in what I could achieve. We had this electric organ thing that had little rhythms that you could play along with, like “bossa nova” and “foxtrot”, stuff like that. It sounded really cheesy but I opened it up and messed around with the parts inside, like potentiometers and stuff, and got it to make really weird sounds until one day I accidentally stuck my screwdriver between two wires and fried the whole thing. It never worked after that. I also had a PC with Windows 3.1 and I made crude gabba tunes using random .wav files in the sound editor. Then my uncle gave me an Atari ST and it came with some sequencer software. That was my first real foray into music composition in terms of what I do now with sequencers and stuff. I still didn’t have any synths but you could play samples through the internal Atari sound card. Then I saved up enough money for my first synth.

When I was 13 I used to skateboard quite a bit. One of the other skaters in my town was this older kid (he was about 19) and he got into wanting to make tunes. He was aware that I knew about producing music using midi equipment so we ended up making stuff together. His parents were quite well off and we had some pretty nice toys to play with, my favorite of which was a TR-909. We made industrial hardcore techno because that’s what the guy was into and it was mostly his equipment. My tastes were a bit more eclectic but I liked the stuff we were doing and was happy to go along with it. We performed live at some raves despite the fact that i was so young. When I was 14 I moved away from that town so that came to an end, but by that time I’d scraped together enough equipment to make some tunes on my own. I made everything from house to jungle through techno and ambient etc.. Even some dub (not dubstep, that wasn’t around then).

Later on I became obsessed with Goldie and Metalheadz so I made a lot of that kind of stuff for a while. I tried to copy a lot of production techniques from that first Goldie album, Timeless. To me that was the pinnacle of electronic music production at the time. The first time I listened to it I was just floored. I never sent any demos to anyone back then, even though I believed some of my tunes were on par with some of the stuff that was coming out on Metalheadz. This was in the dark ages before the internet so I didn’t know anything about how to get my music out there. I basically had no connections and no idea where to get the information that I needed. Not to mention that I was just a kid, who was going to give me the time of day?”

Stream: Imami – Panlight (Rinse FM clip) (Forthcoming LuckyMe)

“I know it’s kind of a massive cliché for me to say this but kids these days don’t know how good they have it with the internet, full production suites inside laptops etc.. Information on demand. Absolute luxury. I had to figure everything out on my own, no YouTube tutorials and message boards, just the occasional synth magazine. In some ways it was a disadvantage but in other ways I think it had a beneficial effect on the music I make. I think when you hear my music you can maybe tell that it’s coming from a different place than the music of someone who learned to produce in the last few years. Not that it’s necessarily better, just different. Maybe being forced to use whatever random weird equipment I could get my hands on has forced me to be more resourceful and maybe sent me on some weird tangents as far as the sounds I produce and the methods I use go. Or maybe I’m just trying to build some half baked romantic mythology about my origins.

In the early to mid 00’s, like a lot of people, I got bored and burned out on dance music. I got into producing more downtempo psychedelic indie-rock/electronic crossover type stuff and learned a lot about old-school 60’s and 70’s production techniques and equipment and started lusting over old Neve’s and Api’s and things like that. I made a vacuum tube mic pre-amp based on a schematic for an old RCA broadcasting console from the 50s, which took me about a year because I had no knowledge of electronic engineering before I started. A guy I used to talk to on an audio electronics mailing list had some of the original audio transformers from that console and he let me borrow them for a while to use in my pre-amp. They were great monolithic metal hunks of cold war technology, they felt indestructible.

One day I accidentally erased my hard drive and lost everything I had ever worked on. I was so upset that I ended up taking a break from producing and kind of forgot about it for 5 years. During that time I opened a home made ice cream shop but that’s a whole other story. Around 2010 I sold the business and had started to feel excited about electronic music again so I got back into producing. I have spent the last few years synthesizing all this knowledge and these unique experiences into a sound that I hope is equally unique and specific to me. I will leave it to others to decide whether the fruits born of this synthesis are worth their valuable time.”

Stream: Imami – Ambulate

We think we’ve managed to track you down to Leeds, how do you feel about the scene there at the moment? “Well I did live in Leeds for a bit when I first moved back to the UK but I’m not from there and I have since moved to another city. I moved to Leeds because I have some connections in the scene there and I have some family and friends in York which is just down the road. It also seemed like the most cosmopolitan of northern cities and I was considering studying science at the university. There are a lot of good producers who come from Leeds and there’s a fairly active scene there but to be honest I was never particularly involved in the local scene.

When it comes down to it, I have always been kind of an outsider. I think it’s from moving around so much and living in foreign countries for most of my life. There is no place that I could say that I ‘belong’ but I’m fine with it because I’ve never known anything else and it’s just who I am. I have a tendency to isolate myself from people but I’m trying to change that.”

Now, let’s talk about the release. First off, congratulations! It’s been on heavy rotation here at Truants and I know we’re all digging it. It’s out on Apothecary Productions, how did you first connect with Druid Cloak“Thanks! As far as I know he first became aware of me through the LuckyMe radio show on RinseFM and then he contacted me and said he was interested in releasing some of my music. His label was brand new at the time and had not released anything but I had no qualms about working with him as he is also a talented, well respected producer in his own right and is very passionate about the whole thing. I knew that he would run a serious operation and that I would not be disappointed in the outcome. I think he wants to make his label something special and he has the vision and determination to see it through.”

How’s the reaction been so far? “The reaction has been very good so far and I feel very blessed that there are people who appreciate my music so much. After all this time, it’s nice to be putting stuff out there and to be getting some good reactions from it.”

What’s your recording process like and what set up are you using at the moment? “All the tunes on the Madhouse EP were made in the box, in Ableton with only a keyboard in terms of external hardware. I’ve recently moved into a bigger apartment so now that I have extra space I’ve started to acquire equipment to build a more traditional studio with samplers and synths etc.. I’m trying to find some unusual sounding stuff. I like a certain gritty character to my sound that is easier to achieve with external hardware, so I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun with that in the future. I look for the kind of old equipment that might have been used on my favourite records from the 80s.”

It’s fair to say that each track on Madhouse is markedly different, did you sit down and specifically write an EP as a cohesive unit or was there another intention to it? “No, the EP wasn’t written as a cohesive unit and the tunes were made at different times. I guess Druid Cloak just picked the ones he liked the most and thought would make a good EP. I realize it’s quite varied compared to most records but I think it works. There’s a sense of fun to it and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s a certain characteristic I like to have in my music.”

With that in mind, I’d imagine you take inspiration from a wide cross-section of artists. Who are some of the people you take inspiration from and can you remember what, in particular, you were listening to when you made Madhouse? “Yes, I’ve always had very eclectic tastes in terms of music and love a lot of different kinds of music. Not to be cliché, but I take a fair bit of inspiration from Prince. The name Madhouse came from a side project that Prince had going on in the 80’s with Eric Leeds. So I was listening to a lot of that around the time when I made Madhouse and obviously the tune is inspired by it. There’s also this band from the 80’s called The Family which was formed by Prince and he wrote all the music and songs etc.. I was listening to that a fair bit at the time. Besides Prince I listen to a lot of other 80’s stuff too; Tears for Fears, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Art of Noise… All kinds of stuff.”

“I love Sonic Youth, The Cure… The list goes on. This is stuff I’ve always listened to so it’s sort of ingrained in my psyche. Not that I think it’s particularly ground-breaking that I listen to that stuff and take inspiration from it. I don’t think I’m the first or anything. Of course, all the electronic music from my youth is also a big inspiration. I had a friend who was obsessed with Strictly Rhythm so we used to listen to that stuff a lot and that’s kind of where “Melted Love” came from.”

When I hear “Ghost2Ghost”, I always think that it would fit perfectly over an old-school driving game like OutRun and you’ve got some other stuff on your Soundcloud like “Orion Part 1” which I hear a lot of “Golden Age” platformer influence in… Would you say you’re also influenced by video game soundtracks? “That’s interesting, I can’t really picture that tune being in a video game for some reason. I used to play OutRun like mad but I don’t remember the music. Like a lot of my peers, I grew up playing all those old-school games to the point of impairing my vision, so I’m sure those soundtracks and sounds are a big part of my psyche now too. I think it has been done a lot at this point though so I don’t really use those kinds of sounds these days. I would rather try to come up with something new.”

Stream: Imami – Orion Part 1

We recently interviewed The Range who said he discovers a lot of his samples in the depths of YouTube; where do you gather your samples, or inspiration for your samples from? “I like using acapellas for vocal samples… Yeah, I can definitely say there have been moments of inspiration brought on by watching random weird videos on YouTube and hearing a sound or something. I remember getting samples from a YouTube video once or twice in the past but I can’t remember specifically what they were. I’ll take samples from anywhere really, I don’t care. If I think it’s right for what I’m doing I will use it. I sample records that I like… Anything really.”

You’ve got remixes of Madhouse on the EP from SCNTST  and Visionist, what can you tell us about these? “I became acquainted with SCNTST online through Soundcloud about a year ago and we send each other tunes. Visionist, same thing, but I think I’ve been in touch with him a bit longer. He is involved with the label/collective 92 Points and I know a couple of the other people who run it with him. I respect them both as producers and they are very talented so I knew they would provide some interesting remixes, and their styles are quite different so I figured it would add some interesting variety.”

Can you talk to us about your LuckyMe affiliation? Obey City recently put Ghost2Ghost in his Fader mix and it seems there’s always something new from you on the label’s RinseFm show. From what we understand you’ve got a forthcoming release with them, is that right? How did that come about and what does it mean for you to have their support going forward? “Yes, I will be releasing on LuckyMe in the future. Basically, the way that came about is that I sent some tunes to Eclair Fifi and she ended up playing some stuff on their RinseFM show. I just kept sending stuff and they would play it on the show. After a few months of doing this they got in touch with me to see if I would be interested in doing an EP for them.”

A lot of the artists on LuckyMe’s roster tend to do some work with rappers/vocalists. You’ve obviously got HudMo doing his thing. Rustie’s on the new Danny Brown album. Obey City’s done some beats for Flatbush Zombies…the list goes on! With versatility being one of your strong suits, is this something you’ve got any interest in dabbling in? “That’s not necessarily what I’m aiming for personally, but it’s not something that I would rule out. If someone approached me and I liked what they had going on I would give it a shot. Why not? I like to try new things. Actually, for a long time when I lived in Brooklyn I was just making hip hop beats all the time and using acapellas on top, so you could say I’ve dabbled in that kind of stuff before.”

So other than the aforementioned, what else is on the horizon for you? We’d imagine you’d want to get out and play some of these tracks! Are you working on a live show? “Yes, I’d like to start playing a lot more gigs in the near future so I’m looking forward to that. As far as a live show, I have thought about it and I’m quite interested in the prospect of doing that. I wouldn’t want to half-ass it though. I will only do it if I can make it interesting and not just play a bunch of pre-programmed sequences otherwise I don’t think there’s much point. I do have some experience of performing live with a 909 and some synths years ago and it was a lot of fun so I would probably go that route again if I did. I’m already buying synths and studio hardware so it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. I’d want to make sure it’s different every time by not preparing stuff ahead of time and just seeing what I come up with on the spot.”

If I may I’d like to end with some Truants classics! What is your drink of choice and when was the last time you danced? “My favorite drink is ginger beer. I love it! I sometimes make my own… I dance all the time, around the house and stuff. I dance for my cats, they’re a tough crowd though. It’s OK, it just makes me want to push myself harder and be the best dancer I can be!”

Stream: Imami – Madhouse (Apothecary Compositions)

Imami – Madhouse is out now on Apothecary Compositions.

Matt Coombs