Ray Okpara has been a key member of Anja Schneider's mobilee crew for a while now, with his first release on the label coming back in 2011. After spending a chunk of his youth in Nigeria, he's had itchy feet - moving back and forth between his hometown Mannheim and Berlin numerous times. He's now based in Mannheim again and he spared some time with us to chat on Skype - our lengthy conversation covered highlife music, Michael Jackson, Craig David, Charles Bukowski, analogue gear and everything in between.
You spent a lot of your childhood in Nigeria ? was music a big part of your life at that stage? Actually it was because in Nigeria Michael Jackson was like the superstar, just like everywhere else in the world of course. I grew up in ?80s Nigeria and music was always around us somehow. Michael Jackson, some awesome traditional music too like highlife, which had some afro-beat and calypso influences. This was around us constantly. Music has been a part of my life forever, from pop to Michael Jackson to drum & bass, hip-hop, house, country [laughs], I?m open to all different types of music.
When you moved back to Mannheim you were listening to a lot of hip-hop initially. What were your first introductions to electronic music? The first introductions were times when we were teenagers heading out to hip-hop parties. It was west coast oriented hip-hop from the ?90s and then as we grew older the hip-hop clubs always closed early and the techno and house clubs were still open. They were the first steps into going out clubbing and these clubs were the only alternative until we didn?t like going to the hip-hop club anymore.
What kind of music were they playing at the time? What kind of parties were you going to?When I first started to go out it was a little bit more commercial I would say because I don?t think you could go to a deep underground techno club from a hip-hop club! We saw people like Tom Novy, Pete Heller and George Morel ? all these famous late ?90s house stars. Also Loco Dice around 2000, we went partying to him and other people like Romanthony. They were old house heads, but in a more commercial and vocal direction. During 2000, when Ibiza was also super-hyped ? they were the first experiences. In the end we got a little bit more educated in electronic music.
What inspired you to start playing records then? Actually it was very funny. Coincidentally, I started playing records at a friend?s house, Johnny D. I was playing hip-hop and drum & bass, so I was playing around a little bit. Then he went on this house mission, playing more electronic and house stuff. He said, ?I?m going to start buying some house records? so he started playing house music at these house parties and then we went to Ibiza and had a crazy summer there. We came back and we had to do our own parties ? what we saw in Ibiza we had to bring back home. When I got back I started buying records and said, ?I?m going to be a DJ, I?m going to play records, I?m going to do it?. I think I was about 20.
Do you think Ibiza had just as big an influence as Germany? Yes, for sure. Ibiza was definitely the catalyst to where we are now. If we didn?t go to Ibiza it would?ve been different. We went to Ibiza and it was crazy, when we got back we had depression! We just wanted to have the same feeling and to go back. The good thing is that we combined, because we knew some drum & bass heads, house heads and hip-hop heads. Everybody knew if Ray and Johnny were throwing a party, it?s going to be a little bit crazy.
I also read that you played a bit of UK garage back in the day. Yes! I started off with bits of Craig David, Stanton Warriors, Sidewinder. I started off with that because that was the bridge to the hip-hop, you know? I didn?t play that for so long, I got maybe 300 or 400 records. I continued to just buy house records and I stopped buying garage and 2-step stuff.
Does none of that see the light of day now? Not really! I tried to sample some stuff, but it hadn?t really worked out. I?m having a party in Mannheim, I?m also starting my own small party brand call It?s Ours. It?s our music, it?s our time, it?s our life, it?s our podcast ? you know? It also has some philosophy with it ? there?s a poem from Charles Bukowski called ?It?s Ours? ? so there?s quite an artistic philosophy as well. This first party we?re having in Mannheim on the 28th November, we?re going to have a drum & bass floor as well. So we?re combining again, like back in the day, with the house floor and the drum & bass floor. I haven?t been to a party that had house and drum & bass for about 10 or 15 years. It should be something fresh.
What?s the scene like in Mannheim today? It?s interesting. All the people who did Oslo and Cecille aren?t active in Mannheim anymore really, we?re all gone and travelling every weekend. We?re a part of the scene, but we?re old-timers [laughs]. There?s a new good scene going on in Mannheim though, there are some good residents from the small clubs round here and some good after parties. There?s still something going on in Mannheim definitely, but I wouldn?t say any more than in any other middle class city in Germany. It?s not a huge scene, but it?s good.
When you went to Berlin for the first time how did it change things in terms of music? It changed things big time, suddenly you have influences every day! In Berlin you?re influenced every day, every day, every day! I wouldn?t say special scene ? when you want to hear the good music, you hear it everywhere. You can find everything in Berlin ? everything has its own scene.
There?s certainly creativity coming from all angles. All angles, all the time! Everybody is somehow creative in Berlin. That makes the pace of the city, everybody is doing stuff, you don?t get more or less that?s for sure. Sometimes it?s too much [laughs].
When did you start producing? This was 2002 or 2003. I started to produce, but very simple stuff on FruityLoops and Reason. I didn?t know how to do anything so it was a long process. Then I started a course at an audio engineering school called SAE and I did that for half a year, but then I quit. Around the time I quit was the explosion of Oslo and Cecille. It was going off the hook for us. I was wondering whether I should stay or follow the dream ? I decided to follow the dream!
How did it develop? Were you still using software or did you start introducing hardware? I started off with only software and hardware came along years later. I?m getting more and more hardware now. Now I have the Jomox 999 drum machine, the 303 bass I love to use, I?ve got a Moog Minitaur ? I?ve got a lot of analogue effects as well. Slowly but surely I?m getting more analogue stuff. With computers you have nothing to touch, but now I feel more active whilst producing than before.
I suppose you can play around more. Yes, you can play around. I?ve been practising guitar for three years now ? I?m constantly doing something somehow. I?m never resting. I?m always doing something. Like my new party series which I?m going to launch in 2015. I thought maybe I?d organise my own party and to try to promote it worldwide and try to take my friends along with me!
Do you know who?s going to be playing with you? People like Federico Molinari, Okain, DJ W!LD, Chris Carrier, Julietta ? they are friends doing good music. The cool thing as well is that it?s no problem with playing back-to-back. Sometimes if you?re at a party with your friends you can do what you like. You can relax and you don?t have any pressure! You have different possibility to get the groove together.
Has mobilee played a really important part in your career? Yes, Oslo and Cecille as well. Everybody played a part. Everything is connected somehow ? mobilee can give me the platform so more people get to know me. Since I?ve been with mobilee more people have got to know me. I can also help the profile of mobilee, going around the world and playing a bit of a deeper sound. It?s fun as well. If I play a party with Anja Schneider let?s say, she plays a little more techno and after that I play ? everybody is satisfied. People can go totally crazy and people can go a little deeper with more hypnotic percussion and beats.
You started your own label back in 2010 as well ? how is that going? It?s good ? it?s like a small baby. Like I said before, I?m restless and I always need something to do. I can give artists, either known or unknown, platforms to release good music. It could be deeper, dubby, techno ? if I like it and I could play it I?ll release it. It?s good for my profile as well.
Ray Okpara?s ?Sugar Feel? EP is out now on mobilee. Stream here:https://soundcloud.com/mobilee-records/sets/ray-okpara-sugar-feel
Buy here: http://www.beatport.com/release/sugar-feel/1404826
Listen to Ray Okpara on Pulse Radio.
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