Medlar interview: Different corners of different genres
Marko Kutlesa sat down with Ned Pedlar aka Medlar to talk about his new found voyage into disco, his sublime debut album and stoner rock music.
Last updated: 12th Aug 2016. Originally published: 11th Aug 2016
Medlar, aka South East London resident Ned Pegler, has established himself in just over half a decade as one of the UK's most interesting producers operating in the field of house music.
One of the leading lights offered by the Wolf People label, he joined the imprint after serving time working for the Mr Bongo record label in Brighton, where he went to study. While at Mr Bongo he worked alongside Graham Luckhurst, who would also end up recording for Wolf Music (as Greymatter) and met Matt, one of Wolf Music's founders, who shared office space with Mr Bongo.
It wasn't, however, until Ned left Brighton and moved to London that his production career would start. Since that time he has produced and contributed to a series of EPs on Wolf Music and remixes for other labels that display an understanding and admiration of Chicago house, deep house and various strands of 70s and 80s disco music.
Perhaps somewhat lazily likened to Theo Parrish and Moodymann, his sound rather displays the ear of someone rummaging through similar, vintage vinyl racks as those producers, whilst also taking on board the more contemporary sounds of hip hop producers like Madlib and J Dilla.
Those hip hop influences were perhaps heard best on his debut album 2013's Sleep, which was a meandering collage of electronic deep house sounds, critically lauded for its cohesive feel and dense, engaging sounds.
His work since then has edged away from such dark electronics and instead indicated his further voyages into disco, at times melding these sounds with elements of the house music he still clearly loves. He has produced some fantastically diverse mixtapes, played many label showcases and is in his own right a sought after selector at some of the most musically discerning festivals and small clubs across Europe.
Marko Kutlesa caught up with him prior to a date at Inside Moves in Belfast for a talk about his influences and his work to date.
Whereabouts in Somerset are you actually from? What was it like going from living somewhere like that to moving to Brighton, where you went to university?
I was born in Wiltshire and then when I was four I moved to a little village between Bath and Bristol called Radstock, which is one of many insignificant villages in the UK, a pretty tiny place. When I moved out of my home at 18 I went to Brighton to do a course and stayed there for a bit. Then London after that.
Even though Brighton wasn't a big city I guess it was kind of a big jump. Before, my nearest village was a mile's walk away. It was a stepping stone for London, I guess.
Your debut album Sleep was lauded as hanging together really well cohesively as an album. That's not something many people have success in doing with dance music albums. Who else do you think has managed to do that in dance music and were there any particular albums that you wanted to try and emulate in doing so?
The album format's a tricky one, because in dance music generally you're making tracks that people will play out and, even though I'm really happy with it, there aren't that many club tracks on it.
There was a thing that the French producer I:Cube did for Versatile that was a mixtape thing and some of the stuff he did for that was quite inspirational. I guess that flow, it's more common in the hip hop sampling world. But I think I:Cube did it best in dance music.
Were there any particular hip hop albums that you wanted to use as an inspiration or to emulate?
I think I was listening to a lot of Stones Throw, Madlib and J Dilla, stuff like that, at the time. That whole mixtape format was really the inspiration for it.
The album has a very electronic sound, it's very much a house music based affair, not displaying much of the disco influence you've now moved into. Was that deliberate? Were you restricting yourself or was it just that some of it was older material?
No, not at all. I just think that, like all of us, I just go through phases of being really into certain sounds. At the time I was really into hip hop and wanted to make something that was a bit more listenable. It wasn't older material, in fact I didn't spend very long on it. I'd quite like to do something similar in the future, only do it better, spend more time on it.
I think the disco thing, a lot of that is because I'm buying records all the time, going through phases. I invariably end up in different corners of different kinds of genres. For a while the most interesting records I was finding, for me, were disco records.
What kind of disco records were you finding that were particularly interesting to you?
Generally at the moment it's just early 80s stuff. Lots of b side dub mixes are my current favourites. My taste in disco has changed quite a bit over the last 5 or 6 years, which isn't very long obviously. At first I was maybe going for more obvious Salsoul stuff and now I don't really play much of the orchestral things anymore, it's more the eyes down, dubby stuff.
Who has been your guide through that disco? Have you read stuff online, got it from other DJs or people you know or has it been a solo voyage of discovery?
Oh, not at all. Pretty much every time I play at a club I write down a track that someone else plays. Particularly by Stu and Matt who run the Wolf People label, who have released most of my records. We've played together a lot and I've discovered loads of tracks through them. I knew almost no disco before meeting those guys. I started discovering it through doing label shows with them.
The longplay video that accompanied the album (above) looked like it took a lot of work, over a long time. I don't get how an independent label could afford to pay someone to work for so long on something like that nor how they would hope to recoup anything from such a project. Am I missing something?
No, you're right, they couldn't really. It's lucky that it was a friend of mine, Letty, who made the video as a kind of favour, I guess. She was paid a bit, but she spent nine months on it, which was probably two or three months longer than I'd spent making it.
It was a labour of love, I guess. She's a friend of mine and we've helped each other out on different projects. I'm super grateful to her for giving up some of her other stuff to spend so long on it. I was super lucky. I don't think she'll do it again though.
In many of your productions I can hear the influence of several eras happening simultaneously. For instance in 'Body Action' (listen above) you have that Jammers disco sample and a disco kind of tempo, but when the hi hats come in they sound very much like primitive, raw Chicago house. Are you deliberately trying to make a fusion of these eras that inspire you?
Yeah, I think so. I spend a lot of time overanalysing and thinking about music and then when you sit down and it comes out, whatever happens just happens. I think it's more just a reflection of things that you're listening to. Most of my friends use different elements of different genres you're enjoying at the time.
It's the same as listening to loads of hip hop when I made Sleep. 'Body Action' is quite dubby as well, playing with broken tape delay. That kind of defined the track.
So, you're not someone who would set out to do something faithful to the era of inspiration? You wouldn't start making a disco track and say “I'm not gonna put that 808 or 909 in there because it's not faithful to the original era”?
I think you've got to keep it interesting for yourself. Sometimes I've got tracks on my hard drive that sound like a pastiche of something, but it won't be as good because I can't make a record that sounds as amazing as a 70s disco record without having musicians and loads of time.
So maybe it's about cherry picking things from different eras. I've being getting quite into electro recently, so maybe I'll be trying to do something more in that vein than house.
You listen to quite a few different styles of music. Are there any styles you like that just wouldn't work in the mix?
I still quite like listening to bands. Not a huge amount, but I hear stuff through friends like cool psych rock bands like Goat. Even some hardcore, post punk stuff I enjoy a lot, which definitely wouldn't fit into my music. Maybe some of the sonics you could take from there, but I don't think much else from those scenes would really work.
Yeah, I remember you mentioned in a previous interview that, amongst other things, you'd been enjoying some stoner rock/drone music. How did you get into that? Friends? Housemates? Has the interest persisted until now because you're still living with people like that or have you genuinely developed your own interest in it? What kind of bands from that field were you listening to?
It's hard because, as a DJ, whenever you go out looking for music you just end up looking for tools. You kind of forget that you can listen to music just to listen to it. I'm lucky that one of my housemates, Chris, works in the Rye Wax record shop and is bringing home records a couple of times a week that satisfies my need for discovering a lot of that stuff.
I've been pretty bad with spending time looking into those scenes just because I spend so much time on Discogs and on Youtube looking for tracks to play out. You can forget sometimes.
Of all the records that Chris has brought home what are your favourites?
Wow, that's a good question. Probably Parquet Courts. I'm quite feeling them at the moment. They're a Brooklyn band, I think they're pretty popular.
To what extent do KRL, Greymatter's and your own productions define Wolf Music?
I think it perhaps did more a couple of years ago. The roster's grown as the release schedule's got busier and Stu, one of the owners of the label, is now working at the distributors part time, so it speeds up that process. So I don't think it's as defined by us as it was 3 or 4 years ago when every second or third release was by or featured one of us.
I don't really think it's defined by anything at the moment. They're very picky with A+R, the two guys that run it. It's broadly house, which I realise is a bit of an ambiguous answer. But, yeah, definitely less defined than it was a few years ago.
As the most regular contributors to the label does their work have more effect on what you try to do yourself than the work of others, for instance, like setting a bar?
Yeah, definitely, especially for the first couple of years. None of us had really made that kind of music before, we were all still figuring it out really, borrowing from each other and we'd all feed back on each other's records quite extensively.
So, definitely we were collaborating, working together. I think by now we've all discovered what we like and don't like about house so we've got more focus making that kind of music. But at first it was definitely more of a collaborative thing.
You said in another interview that “I decided to leave the overtly 90s NJ-inspired stuff behind with ‘Can’t Stop’, which is my only original that really falls under that (90s house) sound.” I don't think you're the kind of artist that would try and follow any current trend, but based on that reply, would it be fair to say that you sometimes might do the opposite and actively dismiss travelling a particular path because it is overtly popular at that moment?
Yeah, I think so. And it's not just that it's popular to be edgey or whatever, I think it's just that I don't think that I could contribute that much. You can always still be surprised by hearing things really good things that you thought came from a tired format. That's the reason why you can still have a really great 12 bar blues.
But I just thought that I couldn't really come up with anything that original at the time, or some production techniques that I was using I just didn't feel that they were inspiring anymore. I think with anything creative you're going to do something more interesting if you're having fun, enjoying it while you're doing it and you're not starting to resent certain sounds.
I still have a lot of love for that sound, I still play a lot of records that fit into that sound, but I was having more fun doing other stuff so that seemed like the most sensible road to go down.
You mentioned Salsoul before. That's a big label, with a lot of releases, a voyage of discovery all of it's own. But you said your tastes in disco had changed and you've gone more into the 80s sound.
With a lot of the 80s stuff I've bought, there are a lot of one off releases, b sides and dubs. But are there any labels, producers or remixers that you've gotten to like over recent times who you've become excited enough by to want to track down more of their stuff to listen to?
Yeah, definitely Patrick Adams, Leroy Burgess and Peter Brown. Some people who did extended mixes like Shep Pettibone and Tom Moulton. In the 80s more producers like Boyd Jarvis.
It's more producers, like when you see a name on a record and if that person's involved you really want to listen to it. Again, like you say, so many of the 80s records it's just one record. There are not really many artists who I have a huge amount of stuff from.
Did you see that Bill Brewster had compiled two double CDs of the P+P (Patrick Adams and Peter Brown) stuff over the last 12 months, so there's a funk and rap one and a more disco and soul one?
Yeah, the Cloud One stuff, all of that. I think I bought both of those. There's been loads of reissue of that stuff recently. It's great. I got the Marta Acuna thing. I really like the wonkiness of it, there's bum notes in there. It's quite a fun sound, isn't it?
Yeah and not that intricate either, you're not talking about 25, 35 tracks like you might be on a Salsoul record. There's a lot less going on but it's got an edge.
I think that's the appeal. It sounds like just a few people having fun in a studio. You can hear a lot of freedom in there coming from people who had access to a studio and all this gear and they could pretty much do what they wanted. The best bit about it is that it's fun. That's quite hard to do with music.
Would you like to do something that was based more around live drums, live instruments or are you purely a man on his own in the studio?
Definitely, yeah. I'm lucky that I'm surrounded by a lot of wicked musicians at the moment in South East London. We've tried doing some little bis but I'd definitely like to try and do more. I don't think it would be to try and do a straight up or pastiche disco record, but I think it'd be interesting to try and do something a little bit different.
I'm not sure what exactly, but I would like to do something. I've got some friends who play horns who've recorded some little parts for tracks, but it'd be great to go into it more, especially with percussion. I've been looking for a great timbali player on and off for the last few months or so.