Special Request interview: "It just needs to feel illicit." Paul Woolford on his life-long love of pirate radio and the explosive sounds of his new project Special Request.
Lolita (Warehouse Mix), the first track from Paul Woolford’s new project Special Request, combusts with the kind of energy that makes a lot of club music sound terribly polite and dainty. It starts off with a galloping kick, before a fizzling synth line comes in and really tears things up. On the flip_ Alone_ is equally deranged, old skool breakbeats, grainy drums and a frenetic pace.
Paul Woolford has been around for about a decade now, with recent releases on Carl Craig’s Planet E and Scuba’s Hotflush. He’s also no stranger to releasing under an alternate guise, producing, amongst a string of other releases, the still vital and visceral Erotic Discourse as Bobby Peru back in 2006. Special Request, while carrying the same energy and charisma as his earlier work, seems a thrillingly lawless project without ties or obligation to a single sound. However, the spontaneity and rugged feel of the tracks betrays the starting inspiration point for this new project – pirate radio of the ’90s. Woolford has a long-held interest in radio, and to this day sings the praises of DJs such as Ben UFO and Loefah loud and clear. We asked him a few questions about this passion, and how it has influenced the music of Special Request.
Has radio, whether pirate or not, always been important to you?
It’s been one of the most wide-ranging influences – I can say with certainty that the exposure I had to dance music began firstly on the radio. My Dad always played records at home and I was interested in some of them, but I would go to bed and put my little stereo on with earphones and fall asleep with Radio 1 on when I was about 8 years old, and I didn’t realise at the time how much of an effect John Peel’s voice would have until later on. I can hear clearly in my head now his pronunciation of ‘Ali Farka Toure’. I always found his voice soothing, but then you could guarantee after playing something quite serene there would be a firm jolt in the form of a new Extreme Noise Terror or Napalm Death record that would wake me up sharply. I carried on listening to Radio 1 and discovered Jeff Young’s friday night show, the precursor to Pete Tong basically, and then Pete’s show, and once I was in my mid-teens I started to explore the frequencies.
How did you first get into pirate radio?
Purely from turning the dial, and stumbling across something that sounded incredible, and I remember frantically running round the house to try and find a blank TDK tape to record it. That was PCR which broadcasted from Bradford, and it completely blew my mind. It was the first place I heard Nu Groove records and this almost second layer of underground music. At that time there were many underground records crossing over and charting in the UK, and then Pete Tong would play a great cross-section of other things from all different areas, but what I heard on the pirates were the dubs, the B-sides, the real hardcore TRACKS, and all mixed together with so much energy – there’s a running joke among record shop counter staff about pirate-radio-style mixing, but you can boil it down to energy. Quite often you could find yourself listening to someone who had just borrowed their friends’ records, so there would be no concession given to any perceived “right way” of doing things. Even when you’d hear something that you weren’t quite into, you could feel that it was coming from an illicit place, and that was always attractive. It fed into itself and there was no going back.
Any stations that were and still are particularly important to you?
PCR, Energy FM, Dream FM and People’s FM were the stations that I listened to back then, and I have fondness for all of them for different reasons. There’s a guy from Leeds called DJ Shock that has been involved with it for about 20 years and I have tuned in to countless broadcasts from him, I have a box full of tapes of his jungle sets on Dream and Energy, and recently spoke with him about getting hold of a load more. This guy has devoted his life to other people – community service basically – that’s what “pirate” radio is, for the community. Those tapes hold more than just the recordings on there, to me they are cultural documents. This scene in the UK relates to Jamaican sound system culture in effect, and the edges of it are everywhere now, even in social networking – it’s plain to see where some of the language comes from in the way people are communicating. It’s tangible. I saw a tweet the other day; “Out to my laptop for wasting 10 blank CDs”. It’s in the air.
What lessons have you taken from pirate radio and applied to Special Request?
People are always trying to define each project you do and with Special Request I wanted to do something that held the energy but was harder to pin down, basically there’s no rules, it can be anything that I feel has the right atmosphere, be it a rugged techno thing, a frantic jungle tearout, some ambience, whatever, it doesn’t even matter. It just needs to feel illicit.
Are there any radio stations or shows today that you’re a regular listener of?
Rinse FM is the one I pay the most attention to, I’ve spoken many a time about the Hessle show. I’m sure Ben doesn’t need me to say it again but I will anyway, his programming on there is just killer, essential listening. Loefah’s Swamp show, Steve Braiden, the Night Slugs boys, T Williams – what I love about Rinse is that they adapt and roll with the times but you can count on the quality. Benji B’s show on Radio 1 is required listening, I’ve just nearly snapped my neck listening to a new Nas record he’s just played as I’ve been typing. BBC Radio 6 has some excellent stuff on, mainly in the form of Andrew Weatherall who’s always worth a listen. I dip in and out of Radio 1’s program on a friday night from time to time… of which there can never be enough.
What’s next for Special Request?
More of the same but different…