In Conversation: Chloe Harris
Chloe Harris has been a permanent fixture on the electronic music scene since the late nineties. Although you may not have heard the name, you may well have unknowingly enjoyed the fruits of her labour, via the trailblazing Further Records label, or the online shop of the same name she runs from her Seattle base. Now with a new LP in the pipeline under her Raica alias we caught up with Chloe to hear the compelling story of her life in music.
Semtek: You were a DJ for some years before you began playing live. How did you start out?
Chloe Harris: I was working at record stores, but I’d been DJing for two and a half years, just in my bedroom and not actually DJing out. And then, in 1999, I actually started playing out, and I think in 2003 I played in Mexico for the first time, and that’s where I started. I got booked and went on tour, and then I was like, “OK, I’ll try to do more.” There was a place called Groovetech in Seattle which was like Boiler Room before Boiler Room. It was an online radio station and record store. I worked there, and I had a radio show. That’s where I met other people who were connected to the scene in Europe and in the UK. We partnered with the people that are now The Vinyl Factory, and we had a London branch with guests like Andrew Weatherall, Craig Richards, James Zabiela, just when people were learning about him, and then young underground DJs that nobody had heard of.
When people came to play here, they could come to Groovetech. I had Tipper on my show, that was really cool for me. I was really into weird breaks and IDM, and he’s really into cars, so we had a lot to talk about. That was 2004. Then I went on tour with John Digweed, I was his warm-up DJ for three years basically. That was a really awesome experience, and John is a brilliant human being. You wouldn’t think that he’s funny, but he’s hella funny, and a very good person. He’s very respectful and he’s very helpful to younger people. He was nice, but he was also real, and didn’t sugarcoat the shit.
S: So you were living in London between 2005 and 2007 and touring with John Digweed and Bedrock?
CH: My Mom got sick with cancer in 2005 and then died real quick. I just couldn’t be here so I just left and went to London, because that was where I’d always wanted to live. And then I came back here because I owned my house and was basically paying rent for no reason. I’d not been musically trained or anything, but that’s why I learned to DJ, so I could eventually learn to make tracks but I started off using the computer and I missed the tactileness. I was a vinyl DJ, then I went to CD. I was actually one of the first people to use CDs fully, which is kind of weird as now CDJs are a big thing, but I was doing that in 2002, 2003. Even though I have loads of records, it was easier to travel with, and people didn’t stop me coming through different countries as they might have with vinyl.
I miss London. I lived there for four years and I really loved it and I didn’t like it at the same time, but certain things, I really miss. Night time, wandering around with hardly anybody about and looking at the sights. And Fabric, and Corsica.
S: So you went from touring with John to remixing? When did you first put out a record of your own?
CH: I think the first one was 2007. Mashtronic offered to put it out, and I said, “Yes please!” Then, Sasha played it at Fabric and that was amazing, I couldn’t believe it. But I got really scared about making another one. You might think this is corny, but because I was DJing with John, people started pigeonholing me. I started to get weird about the scene, and I didn’t like that. I had another radio show, called B-Sides, and that was the music I actually listened to: weird space stuff, trippy ambient, IDM. Things that were different, I guess? So I became very frustrated. I just decided to stop making music, really. Also, I didn’t really find it as fun as doing it on Pro-Tools, which wasn’t at all physical. I was travelling a lot, DJing like two or three times every weekend, and I wasn’t able to make music unless it was on the computer, so I just did remixes. But you know, you have those moments where you think, “I have to change everything in my life right now.” That happened to me around 2009, and I basically stopped DJing. I wasn’t interested in big drops or big buildups any more.
S: In a way then you parted company with the scene you were a part of, and branching out into more experimental, less generic sounds. Was that when you started Further?
CH: Basically, yes. Because I wanted to find my own thing, my own place, to celebrate the weird music I enjoyed but also meet other people who were interested in weirder music.
S: Can you give me an idea as to some of the other labels and acts that you maybe wanted to work with at that time?
CH: Spectrum Spools was pretty cool, but outside of the dance world, there was a label here called Debacle who were doing really interesting stuff, weird electronics. Digitalis, that was another. And there were definitely people out there who are less, regular? And at shows out here, I was noticing people were doing live electronics, not DJing so I thought, “yes, that’s exactly what I want to do, I want to connect with people this way.” We knew people like Donato Dozzy, and obviously Dozzy is huge, he’s an underground techno DJ and he is incredible. He helped me a lot, and not just with the record label, but with my project. He made that come out, when otherwise it wouldn’t have. It’s nice when you’re trying to do something and people see they can help you, people you can connect with well.
S: Let me ask you, where you are today, compared to where you were then?
CH: One thing I really like is that a lot of these people championed a deeper, more thoughtful, spaced out sound rather than just a thump in your face. When you listen to Dozzy, he’s playing techno, but it’s so heady and so deep. There are so many layers and textures. It’s not just drum sounds. It’s the weird synths that are behind it and stuff. I think people are a little bit more open-minded to a longer journey. I like that you don’t have to play one style of music for all of your set now. You can do your own thing, whereas there were years when you couldn’t do that. Being a DJ, you want to show people different sounds, maybe sounds they’re not used to. Or sounds they are used to, but mixed in a different way. I feel like Dozzy does that really well with techno, electro and ambient. He mixes really well in a way that you’re not expecting and people aren’t scared of that. I’ve no idea about a club atmosphere, but I know at the shows I go to I feel it.
S: Do you think that idea of Seattle as being a rock city is overplayed compared to what’s going on in electronic music?
CH: Yeah, and I’ve always felt that way. We’ve always had this really cool, crazy, bubbling underground and I’ve been part of it so long, that I’ve always felt like, “well, your loss”, when nobody pays attention. And I like that now people are paying attention to some Seattle artists, I think that’s awesome. And it’s hard, being the furthest place in the North, away from everything. Now, people are recognising that we have probably one of the biggest hardware techno and electronic music scenes. I can’t think of any other city that has four producers, not DJs, on a night at a local show. We have that twice a week, and it’s always different. There’s this one guy, Chris Davis, and he goes under PLL, and the dude is just so, so good at his modular techno, it’s ridiculous, but he doesn’t record or play out of the city. We have people not looking for the fame. People don’t pay attention to that here.
S: The label you run, Further, has a DIY ethos which feels like it reflects that atmosphere. In keeping with other diy scenes you were an early champion of the cassette as a legitimate format for techno, what was the thinking behind that?
CH: I think at the end of 2000 and whatever I was struggling with the fact that everything went super digital. So I went to the polar opposite and decided to do tapes and made a CD. I wanted to do it because I wanted to do physical objects, and explore the idea of making tapes again. I used to make mixtapes, and that’s where Aybee’s tape came from, and you know, Dozzy’s album first came out on a tape. And I like the raw, fuzzy tone to it. It changes your music, and I like that. Whereas, I feel like a lot of things are starting to feel very sterile. Then I started noticing there was a lot of labels doing lo-fi techno and lo-fi stuff, going back to tapes. And then it got huge, didn’t it? So, for a while, I was kind of mean about digital stuff.
S: I guess net labels had a sort of obscurist cache but they also were just digital services. Did you feel like stuff existing on the internet was a bit basic?
CH: It was just a file. There was nothing to hold. And it’s funny, because my favourite people, Autechre, are really into their digital stuff. All the stuff they put out digitally only though, I don’t have, whereas otherwise, I have everything and I mean everything, I’m not joking. I listen to their live shows, but I don’t have any attachment to them, because I don’t have anything to hold or to touch. Like, “I was in my car, when I did so and so, with this”. You know what it’s like, them holding it, you holding it, and yes, it costs money, but that’s because you believe in the product. Putting out music on digital platforms is really good, but it doesn’t afford any validity as anyone can do it. I think putting out music in any way shape or form is awesome, but for me, I need people to hold something they wanted to have, although I also think we’re approaching an ethical crisis with regards to vinyl as it isn’t sustainable, and I know there are other things you can make as a label or artist.
S: Talking of the shop, the Further store, it seems to be going from strength to strength. Do you feel like your customer base is drawn to the same sounds that are fashionable in Europe?
CH: I would say that Americans dislike tech-house in comparison to Europeans. People like Raresh, we don’t seem to really do much with that but we can sell Omar S, Mr. Fingers, Ron Trent… we sell those things constantly, plus stuff like D. Tiffany, Mall Grab, DJ Sotofett and DJ Python, the more underground weirder side of house and techno. People seem to be really interested in different countries and their various styles, learning about different places that they don’t know about. We’re doing a lot of Latin stuff at the moment, and also stuff like Blawan and Skee Mask… I think Americans like a little less sexy and a little more rough and tough. I know people here like Dirtybird and stuff, but we don’t sell any of that. It feels like EDM-lite. Whenever we get old Jeff Mills or Laurent Garnier, it goes so quick.
S: Does the store deal second-hand records?
CH: We do sell second-hand records. Sometimes somebody will ask us to take a look at their collection, the last one we had was a load of IDM from 1998, so we took that.
S: Tell us about the project as Raica?
CH: I used to go by DJ Chloe and then I went as DJ Chloe Harris for a long time. I think people get tired of a name and the association with it and I think I wanted to create a new name, and I always liked the name Raica. It’s Portugese, you’re actually meant to say it ‘Rise-a’, but I think Raica sounds a bit more tough. I got a dope sequencer, a Dark Time and a Dark Energy. I already had my Waldorf Q, and I just started making music with it. And I didn’t really think I was going to do too much with it, as I didn’t really think people would be interested in what I was doing, but then I started getting booked to play hardware sets, and I was kind of one of the people that opens and plays with other artists more often than a lot of people, which I really am thankful for.
S: What’s coming up for you in terms of shows or anything specific that comes to mind?
CH: Well, I’ve made an album. I basically played all of those songs at the last show that I did. I’m actually really scared to put out a second LP of Raica stuff. I know most people don’t even remember who I am, which is totally fine. But I think it might be taken more as a statement of intent as compared to the first stuff. You always want people to get something from your music whether you love it, hate it or something else. I guess that’s what I worry about; putting my heart and soul into something and then having it just disappear. I’ve put myself in this little square box about being scared and nervous about that, but I really shouldn’t be, because who gives a fuck, and it doesn’t matter in the long run. I have so many songs, I can’t explain how much music I have. From breaks to full-on, proper weird techno. I play a lot of house parties here and when I play a house party, I do a lot of acid house, because it’s so fucking fun. So I have an entire album’s worth of acid house. But it doesn’t sound like other people’s acid house… It’s much looser, more weird and chunky, but quite minimal music.
I have a hard time recording as it doesn’t have the same energy as being in a room full of people who are giving me their feedback as I’m doing it. Everything I do is improv. So as I’m creating, I’m watching what people are reacting to, just like I did when I DJed. I would never put my sets together like some people do. I’d just take a bunch of records that I loved and hope that I connect with the people. And I’ll watch what they do, pay really close attention to it, which I try and do now with the gear. Not try and play for myself. So to recreate that energy at home is really hard.
One thing I will say, from my twenty or twenty-five years in music working with people who are making records or running labels, and I’m not talking about super famous people, but the people who are bubbling are really cool. They are intelligent about what they’re doing, and they have desire to do it, and they love what they’re doing. And there’s been a nice transition with that happening.
Shop Chloe’s label and more at Further Records.
Photographs: Ceci Corsano-Leopizzi and Valerie Calano