Ahead of his headline set for Zutekh on New Year's Day, we talked to the veteran selector about the modern role of the deep digging DJ, his turnaround in popularity, and the perfect festival.
Last updated: 22nd Dec 2016. Originally published: 20th Dec 2016
Photo: Felix Dickinson
Felix Dickinson has been a man on the peripheries of the clubbing scene for a long time. Inspired by visits to the Tonka soundsystem in the early 90s where he would hear people like future friend DJ Harvey play, Felix began collecting records.
He lived in Brighton for a while, including with DJ and rare record dealer Nick The Record and counts the Horse Meat Disco crew and Idjut Boys also as friends. The former he would play for several times, especially while living in their Brixton locale, the latter he would share a studio with for some time, until his relatively recent move to Bristol.
Felix's studio efforts began in the mid 90s, a time when he also set up his first label Ugly Music. Since that time he has run two other labels, the re-edit imprint Bastedosand Cynic and recorded for the likes of Eskimo Recordings, Futureboogie, International Feel, Rush Hour and DFA.
It was on the latter that he had perhaps his most successful release, with his Dedication project, but he has also appeared in many other collaborative music projects including alongside many aforementioned friends and with Jamie Read as L.H.A.S. Inc, with Pete Z as Das Etwas and with Toby Tobias as The Mythical Beasts. Felix also contributed to the limited compilation series Originals, published by Claremont 56.
An increasingly popular inclusion on festival line ups, Felix is already confirmed for the Love International Festival and the Craig Richards curated Houghton Festival in 2017 and regularly plays at Glastonbury. But prior to his date for Zutekh in Manchester on New Year's Day, Marko Kutlesa caught up with Felix to ask him a bit about where he's at.
Yeah, it's great. I've been here a couple of years now, I feel very settled.
Do you have a quiet life there, after coming back from being on the road, or do you go out on the local scene, to clubs?
Not to clubs, to be honest. If I'm not working I try and stay away from them. We've lots of friends here so it's more going out for dinners.
Where else have you lived apart from Bristol, Brighton and London?
Those are the main places. I was born in the North East of England, in a little town called Hexham. My father lived there all his life. My mum left there when I was very young and we moved around a lot, to London, to Northampton, East Sussex. I think Brighton and Brixton are the places I've lived the longest, everywhere else I was only there for a little time.
Do you miss the inspiration of no longer sharing a studio with Idjut Boys?
Not really, I had Conrad come up to my studio to work with me not long ago. Even though we shared a studio we never actually made a track together. We were both really busy and we tended to work on alternate days. It was a well setup studio and it was nice to be able to use their toys, but there was very little cross fertilisation.
Dan Idjut has now moved to Norway, so they've had to give up their studio. With Conrad coming up here last week I'm actually collaborating more since I stopped sharing a studio with them.
The Originals series on Claremont 56 had boasted some really deep diggers on the instalments prior to yours. Did you ever feel, for that reason, that it was an intimidating series to contribute to?
I don't think I quite understood the brief with that. I didn't really feel intimidated. I've got quite a lot of records. I'm not sure I looked at it as a diggers compilation as such. With hindsight I think maybe I should have. It is a diggers thing. But some of the records I put on mine were quite obvious, quite cheap.
I looked at it more as selecting some things you might have forgotten about rather than something that was super obscure and expensive. If I had looked at it as a more diggers thing maybe I would have felt more intimidated.
If you were programming a festival, like the Houghton one you've been announced for or one in Tisno, Croatia, which DJs would you invite to play? Which live acts would play?
Haha! I think it'd be quite similar to Craig (Richards) of Houghton and Dave (Harvey) who does Love International, I think their secret is to surround themselves with their mates, so it's kind of like a top down vibes fest. All of the DJs are good friends and get on socially so that makes for a good party. So I'd probably go for a load of my mates likeDJ Harvey, Eric Duncan, Craig, Idjut Boys, Horse Meat Disco. Is that quite a good start?
Yeah. Lots of people playing rare disco there though, not much for the techno fan. Ha!
Yeah, well we'd have to have Paranoid London on there somewhere too. Craig's on there, he likes a bit of techno. So do I. But I guess I wouldn't want to invite someone who makes good music, who I don't know, and then find out they're no fun to hang out with for a week. Ha!
Do you think the shared knowledge enabled by the internet and maybe even long lost internet forums, helped to catalyse an interest in leftfield, cosmic and mid tempo disco sounds that seems only to be progressing and getting more popular today?
Interesting question. Blog disco. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's a good thing, I suppose, for knowledge to be freely available and for people to come together over the internet. But I have felt a couple of times in the past, when I was perhaps more cynical, a little upset when something you cherished, that was previously little known, suddenly seems to be everywhere. But it's bullshit to think like that, music should be the ultimate shared art form, once it comes out the speakers it's there for all to enjoy.
I'm not sure if the internet really catalyses musical tastes as much as it shines a light on what is happening anyway. I think more influential to the changes you've highlighted are the drugs that are popular or available, or maybe the age of the people going to parties.
I wonder whether what you perceive as changing tastes due to the internet might just be a perfectly organic natural progression, if maybe it would have happened anyway as a reaction to what's gone before? Who knows.
I actually think the internet is possibly more damaging to the scene at a whole than a catalyst as some people these days are just as happy to stay in and trawl the internet for DJ sets than actually go out to a party.
To what extent do you think that mass availability of instant knowledge has demystified the efforts of revered, deep digging DJs?
Yeah, you can now hear a record on a Saturday night and buy it the next day. I've actually seen people Shazam a tune on a dancefloor and then go straight to Discogs on their phone and order a copy before the record's even finished. In the old days you'd have to go up and ask the DJ and if you were lucky you'd find out what it was. Then it might take you a couple of years of digging before you found yourself a copy.
I can't say it's not great nowadays. It's still great it's easier to get the music. But now all you have to do is be able to pay for it. The price of a lot of stuff has gone up these days, because of the internet. So I guess the diggers job now is to stay ahead of the internet popularity curve and find the records that no-one is playing yet.
You used to live with Nick The Record. Can you compare the musical knowledge you had before then to what it became like after having shared a space with such a deeply knowledgeable enthusiast?
Nick definitely turned me on to some really good stuff, but we have got slightly different tastes. He's not the root of all my knowledge by any means. He didn't change my style. I used to deal a few records before living with him, but I soon gave up after we started living together because I just couldn't compete. I'm grateful for that.
Living with such a great record dealer made me realise I didn't want to be a record dealer and I started to concentrate more on running a record label and making music. I think he would say that my early frustrations in setting up a studio put him off making music as well!
Although he's been very popular in some territories for a long time, Nick is now experiencing a bit of a purple patch on home turf too. Is DJing a career where you get better as you get older?
Yeah, it's great, I'm really pleased for Nick. I think the depth of your knowledge and your collection definitely enriches your performance. It enables you to find the right record for the right time, the more you know gives you a broader spectrum of music to choose from and therefore enables you to program something more coherent.
I don't think you necessarily get better at mixing and it's not really about that anyway. But someone who's been DJing for as long as Nick and who has as many records, that's definitely going to make them a better DJ.
I've been aware of you for quite a long time but it only seems to have been in the last few years that you reached a more widespread acclaim. During the years you were plugging away at it, what career alternatives did you consider?
I never had a good one. I could never think of a good alternative. No, ha! I explored different areas of the scene, making records, running a record label, but I never thought maybe I should be a plumber or something like that.
What's the best aspect of this turnaround in popularity?
Meeting new people, young people, who are into what I'm playing. And I tell you what, when I had my own little niche, my own little groove that I had been furrowing for however long, I was almost reliant on playing records that I could find that week, because I was always playing to the same people.
Now I'm going to play for people that have never heard me before, young people, it's great to be able to still play records that I love, that in other circumstances I wouldn't feel able to. Records that I've been rinsing for 20 years. Playing what I consider to be Felix classics and play them to people who've never heard them before, that's really good.
Maybe you can name a couple of Felix classics to run alongside this interview?
Has this increase in popularity altered your sound, the kind of records you play?
It's given me the opportunity to play a wider selection of the records that I enjoy playing. There was a time I was labelled a 'disco' DJ, probably because I was known for doing the Bastedos edits, but I really don't like playing a set of just one kind, even though I do love disco. I don't like being categorised, put in a box.
Now I'm getting to play more free, I can play all the styles I like. I feel more confident that I can play any kind of music that I want.
What plans do you have on the immediate horizon?
I'm playing New Year in Lithuania and Manchester, then quite a few good festivals are being lined up for next year, so more of the same.
Musically I've got a few Dedication tracks coming out, one on Jazzy Sport so hopefully I'll get a trip out to Japan to promote that. Another one with Danielle Moore from Crazy P that's coming out on the newly created Adventures In Paradise label. Some other remixes. I have about half a dozen tracks ready to roll.
The thing I started with Conrad the other week, I don't know what's going to happen with that, but hopefully it will be good.