An interview with DJ Aakmael

Over the past few years the label of Deep House has become somewhat of a misnomer. From EDM cuts to techno, what began as a subgenre merging Chicago house with jazz and soul music has had its reputation muddied by media outlets and management agencies utilising the buzzword it has now become. But the sound that first emerged from the productions of Larry Heard is still a revered genre by those that appreciate its history and look through the corporate veneer shrouding the deep house name.
 
American DJ Aakmael basks in the very musical authenticity that made Deep House what it is. Hailing from Richmond in Virginia, Aakmael’s soft and percussive style reflects his humble nature and wisdom behind the decks, attributes synonymous with the DNA of real Deep House. Having released on labels such as Scissor & Thread, Freerange Records, Axe On Wax and Seb Wildblood’s Church, Aakmael is dropping a lusciously playful four tracker ‘Luv & Possibilities‘ for Flumo and Anma Records. Ahead of its release, the man for Virginia let us in on everything from tinnitus to sampling…
 
I’d like to start with your own interpretation of deep house. It’s certainly undergone somewhat of a misbranding in the UK over the last few years. What does it mean to you?

I think some music download sites kinda categorise too many things under the Deep House label, when it’s not.  To me this messes with the branding and have people thinking all kinds of stuff is to be considered  “Deep”.  I think producers need to listen to older music, the roots, the original vibes that started the genre and pay attention. It’s similar to “mumble rap” being classified as Hip Hop – it’s not lol.
 
At what stage did you realize that deep house was the sound for you?
 
It was around 1988, I was about 16 or so.
 
 
Was there a eureka moment or do you remember the first time you heard a deep house track?

One of the first House tracks I heard was Inner City’s ‘Big Fun’, then Todd Terry‘s ‘To the Batmobile’ album, and I also heard a really dope Deep House mix tape from my friend who came back from her first year in college.
 
Did it resonate with you?
 
Yes, it did resonate with me because I was already djing and playing Hip Hop, RnB and other electronic music.  I was into The Art of Noise heavily, as well as Electro Pop among other things.  So House music just expanded my range musically and introduced me to a new world of music!
 
Your music has often been described as deep and raw. I’d have to admit that your new EP Luv & Possibilities lives up to that description. Where did your inspiration come from when you were producing this one?
 
Well to me, this EP was more jazzy than dark so I must have been in a good mood when creating lol. I usually create tracks based on what I’m going thru at the time, or how I’m feeling, etc.
 
Where do you tend to get your samples from?
 
I get sample inspiration from many things, mainly old music from many genres. Just depending on the sound and how it makes me feel. But one thing is some folks get it twisted about my sampling. I rarely ever take a sample and just loop.  I sample and chop. Chopping, rearranging, reversing stuff, pitch changes, I do lots of original shit to the stuff I may sample to completely change it.
 
House has its roots in jazz but certainly recently, we are seeing more and more jazz-infused tracks hit the shelves. Just look at Rhythm Section’s output or Church, a label you’ve previously released on. Some people say everything is cyclical, but what’s your take on the prevalence of jazz with today’s producers?
 
I think it’s a great thing. I mean, I love jazz and my all-time favourite Jazz artist is John Coltrane so hearing dirty, crackly and dusty Jazz influenced House to me is dope!
 
What was the music scene like in Richmond when you grew up?
 
When I grew up, the music scene here was great. You had House spots, Hip Hop, Reggae, Rock, Jazz and other venues.  Also at the time our radio stations were a lot better, playing quality music across the spectrum. Recently though in the last few years, I understand the music is starting to get back to the way it was. We’re hearing more House, Classic Hip Hop and lots more people that are open to new and unheard music. I’ve been out of the Richmond music scene for some years but looking to start doing more things here again very soon.
 
How did you come to cut your teeth djing?
 
The long and hard way lol. I was in the 7th grade and never forgot what made me want to DJ. I was at an after-school party and our main DJ was a kat named Tommy Paige, after I saw him play the tables and mix/scratch I said to myself “THAT is what I wanna do!”.  So naturally I went to my parents with the idea in hopes that one day I can get help to obtain turntables and a mixer. I had already had a Realistic stereo that had turntable (I was already collecting records), radio and cassette but I wanted and needed more.  Eventually I got one turntable as a gift along with my first mixer and an echo chamber lol. I’m laughing because I think I still have that old echo chamber somewhere.  But through the years I obtained more turntables (Technics SL-BD22, Technics 1500’s and lastly Technics 1200MK2s) and bunches of mixers. Since those early years teaching myself how to scratch, I’ve pushed to become the DJ that I am today 🙂
 
Are you still on the radio?
 
No. With so much accessible music everywhere online these days, do you think radio still holds its own as a unique voice that pushes news tastes to people? Hell no lol.  Radio has become a joke (to me), and it’s nothing compared to what you can hear and learn online. Radio is a fossil.
 
Tinnitus especially, is a problem a lot of producers and DJs have to come to terms with and we’re keen to raise awareness on. Have you managed to avoid any problems with your hearing?
 
I take my hearing very seriously, as I use my ears not only for djing but also for studio work and production. I encourage the use of earplugs, because some sound systems may or may not be tuned correctly and you’ll end up with crazy ear fatigue.  Sometimes friends don’t understand if I ask them to turn the loud TV down a little, or blaring music when we’re right in front of it.  So I find myself explaining about how important my hearing is.
 
What has summer got lined up for you?
 
Actually more and more production. I’ve started redoing old Hip-Hop tracks that I’m about to bring into the light, and also working on establishing better working relationships with industry people for gigs and appearances.  I also plan on releasing a new EP on my label Unxpozd, t-shirts and other stuff.  So, I have lots going on at the moment!
 
You can pick up a copy of ‘Luv & Possibilities’ here.