We spoke to Todd ‘The God’ Edwards to find out more about what is up with him right now: the status of his future album, his opinions about being increasingly worshipped by dubstep positions, and his memories of the early years. A privilege.
It’s impossible to entirely explain Todd Edwards’ importance to today’s dance music—there isn’t enough space in an introduction, however long it may be, to take a good look at the family tree running from his first beats, in the early 90s, to inevitable current figures like Burial, Joy Orbison and (if we go back in time a little) Daft Punk. All of what they are, and many more as well, wouldn’t have been possible if this New Jersey native, with an unfading smile and a sensitive soul, hadn’t started producing garage-house like he did: sculpting fragmented vocal lines with rising and falling pitch –which he says was inspired by MK’s art of sampling and Enya’s vocals– that create a kaleidoscopic illusion, a rollercoaster where the typical disco diva ends up sliced as thin and fine as a slice of ham shaved off by a master meat cutter.
Edwards’ vocal science, in which a melodic line was reduced to a handful of voices taken out of context—almost never a melody, always a sort of garage-style Morse code—was what inspired speed garage in England, and later 2step with a healthy resemblance to R&B, and the use of voices and rhythmic patterns that accelerate and distend in current post-dubstep owes everything to it. Burial spoke very well of “Odyssey” –Edwards’ 2006 album– as one of the best experiences in his life, and the recognition of the new generation, although late in coming, has given Todd Edwards a privileged position that he had been denied until recently: he is, over a period of 20 years, the most influential American house producer, objectively speaking. While current house can live without Todd Terry or Armand Van Helden, it’s impossible to interpret the last decade and a half of the British hardcore continuum without seeing his mark, influence, and inspiration. A mark that is becoming more deeply branded all the time, more frequently mentioned in the canon, fixed there forever.
Todd Edwards is a tireless producer who has been producing tracks since 1992, gathering them up on albums and remixing ceaselessly –from Robin S to St. Germain, from TLC to Daft Punk, from Beyoncé to Enya, many titles are spurious remixes, but they are as basic to his work as any official record– except at those times when, as he admits during this interview, he was overcome by reality and had to set music aside to focus on more conventional jobs in order to survive. But since he went back to producing, cheered on by the heroes of dubstep and UK garage, his life has turned around, and he has overcome the stage fright that kept him away from DJ booths. He has entered a second youth in which life has smiled at him (settled now in sunny California, having left New Jersey behind), and recognition and the affections of the younger crowd are raining down on him. Right now he is planning the continuation of “Odyssey”, a new album that we will have to place next to house masterpieces like the two volumes of “Full On” –which brought together various songs that had appeared on 12”s– or the mix “Tales From The Underground part 1”, which as early as 1998 exemplified his way of doing things: an exultant combination of hard, jumping basslines playing a counterpart to his usual chains of vocal plays.
This weekend we’ll have Todd Edwards DJing close by: two dates in the UK –today, Friday, at the club Life in Brixton, and Sunday at Parklife Weekender in Manchester, with a stop along the way Saturday night in Barcelona, where he will be blandishing his songs and refixes in the club Nitsa– and we thought it would be the perfect time to talk to him and find out more about his immediate future and more-than-illustrious past. It’s an honour because, although he might not like to hear it—he is a devout Christian and the Third Commandment says not to take the name of the Lord in vain—the god of house isn’t Todd Terry. The real Todd the God is him, Edwards, today and forever.
art till the
day I die"
You’re from Jersey, and Jersey is acknowledged to be the birth place of garage in the late 80s, at the Zanzibar club where old school masters such as Tony Humphries used to play. Did you have the chance to visit Zanzibar in your teenage years? If so, what do you recall of it, how was the atmosphere?
I did go to Zanzibar once when I was around 18 years old. The club had a good vibe, but it was actually listening to the great DJs like Tony Humphries on the radio that had the bigger impact. Radio stations like Kiss FM and WBLS always played house music on Friday and Saturday nights. The shows would last for hours. I would stay up and tape them on cassettes and then listen to them non-stop. I still have a lot of those cassettes sitting in my garage.
It’s been 20 years since you started making beats and playing out, and it’s in 2012 when you’re stronger than ever with your music, lots of praising from artists all around the world. I wouldn’t say you’re a late bloomer because obviously that’s not true, but aren’t you thrilled about this second youth? Did you ever imagine your career would be so strong and lengthy?
I feel very blessed to have a following after almost 20 years. There have been many high and low points over the years, but I have never lost the desire for creating and composing. If anything, it's stronger now than it was when I was younger. I agree with you 100% about the late bloomer comment. My creativity was paired with a great emotional immaturity that made it difficult to do face challenges that others might have found to be easy to deal with. However now with this “second youth” I'm facing similar situations but with a wisdom that comes with maturity and growing up. It feels like I'm re-taking a test. In any case, I intend to continue the pursuit of creating art till the day I die.
Were where you, back in 1997, when you first learnt that some young kids in London were making beats and chopping voices in a similar way you were practicing? How was your reaction?
At the time I had moved on from the cut up style and was attempting to create music that sounded like a full disco band with the use of samples. I was evolving into this different direction so, revisiting this sound at first seemed redundant to me. I actually had to relearn a sound I came up with. The first of the revisited tracks was “Never Far From You.” After that, I embraced the sound again, and the rest is history.
At that moment in history, you were in a similar position to other house acts in the US, like Deep Dish: strong in the underground, very well known to the connoisseurs, and about to break out and gain new audiences. How do you recall those times before “fame”, was it a good era, or was it painful in any sense?
I was a very insecure producer, and questioned myself every step of the way, but every time I had a thought about quitting, something positive happened. It was very uncanny, but it happened all the time. After a while I just looked at it as God telling me to stop with the self-doubting nonsense, and do what I'm meant to do. Even after that though, I still wasn't that confident. The heart of my fan base was 3000 miles away from where I lived. Though I was getting a lot of remix work, I didn't DJ at the time so, I wasn't connecting with the fans. I dealt with bouts of depression in my 20's as well. It was a hell of a time. The tortured artist... how cliche.
"If any producer is
inspired by what I
have done, and if
they can take it,
add their essence
to it, and become
successful doing it,
they have my
Do you think British house, as made back in the day by Tuff Jam, MJ Cole, The Dreem Team, Architex and the like, made a significant difference compared to US garage? Where they revolutionizing something, in your opinion, or just stretching a branch you and other producers started to cultivate a few years back?
The UK Garage scene became its own entity. The artists that you mentioned helped it to grow into a large movement. It was different from what was going on in the US. I recall some drama between UK Garage and US House. I didn't really follow what the conflict was about. I was doing my own thing.
You’re one of the most influential producers I can recall in recent years, so for me it was quite shocking reading Burial saying –when he was doing interviews– that “Odyssey” was his favorite album of 2006, and a complete open-minder. Then, one year later, he was pitching the voices even higher and lower in “Untrue”, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. What happens when you think about this?
Honestly, I didn't know that he said that about my album. It's a really honor to hear that coming from him! That album has all of me in it, and became a bit autobiographical. If any producer is inspired by what I have done, and if they can take it, add their essence to it, and become successful doing it, they have my complete support. I'm happy to be a part in a much greater machine.
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