From spray cans to tough jams - Interview with Richard Sen

From spray cans to tough jams - Interview with Richard Sen

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

by Tat

When it comes down to street knowledge as an artist and DJ then few can go toe to toe with Richard Sen. With an old school mentality, an eye for the visual and an ear for great music on the fringes away from an ever-growing pool of OK sounds, Sen has stayed true to himself and his culture throughout his long career whilst remaining a keen advocate of new music. His artistic career began back in the 1980s as one of London’s graffiti fraternity under the guise of Coma. He later embraced acid house retaining what he had learned from tagging trains and listening to hip hop to carve out his own path. Several productions and compilations later we discussed his journey and plans going forward.

First of all, let’s talk about the Sounds From The Flightpath Estate compilation you have contributed a track to - Tough On Chug, Tough On The Causes Of Chug. It’s a killer track title alone, how did your inclusion on the release come about?

Adam (Turner) from The Flightpath Estate contacted me and asked if I would contribute a track to the comp. I’ve played at The Golden Lion and really like the place and crew there and was happy to help them out.

Richard Sen
Talking of compilations, you put together ‘Dream The Dream (UK Techno, House And Breakbeat 1990-1994). It’s full of forgotten classics that have stood the test of time. How enjoyable was it bringing that release together?

It was a follow up to my This Ain’t Chicago comp on Strut from 2012. I selected tracks that were personal to me and still sounded relevant now. It was great to be in touch with some of the artists who influenced me, musically, and they were all very easy to deal with and grateful for the inclusion on the comp. The admin side was laborious with contracts and licensing but the end result was worth it. Ransom Note was great to work with and we couldn’t have asked for a better response to the release.

Are there any plans for a second edition?

Nothing planned. The costs added up when you factor in licensing, production, artwork, press etc. So we’ll see how the sales go to decide whether it’s financially viable to do another one. Since my initial comp on Strut, there have been many other compilations of underground and obscure house music. I would have to develop another concept that’s both original and authentic. Never say never…

You also remixed some of the tracks from that release, which probably wasn't straight forward?

No. Because the tracks were so old there were no original parts available so I had to chop up the original audio almost like samples. They became more like reworks of the originals.

I really enjoyed your Powercuts compilation (The Essential B-Boy Classics). And there’s your This Ain’t Chicago compilation which explored UK house and acid. If you had the opportunity to curate another compilation of tracks, what genre and era would you love to cover?

As I mentioned, the whole compilation release thing has become a bit overdone, often by curators with no relevance or attachment to the tracks or genres they compile. Any rich kid can sit on Discogs and buy rare and expensive records and then put a compilation together.
There is so much information online that many of these comps have no authenticity or meaning behind them. This has made me a bit wary of doing another one because some smart arse will probably ‘know’ all the tracks anyway! Also, I don’t want to give my ideas away in this interview! Ha ha…

Coma Tag
You share a common background with a few graffiti artists that embraced acid house and have wholeheartedly. How much have those formative hip hop and graffiti years informed the music you have gone on to create?

I guess hip hop and graffiti are part of my cultural DNA and have an influence on what I do creatively. The roots of hip hop in early 80s New York have definitely influenced my music sound. I’m inspired by the breakbeats that Bambaataa used to cut up, which could be rock, funk, electro, new wave and disco. That fusion of punk, disco and hip hop can still be heard in my productions. The attitude of anything goes, in the right context, has also inspired my DJ Sets. I also still try to carry the same attitude of graffiti writing into the way I approach music. Like punk, I have autonomy and a DIY attitude that is outside the industry. Illegal graffiti writing on trains makes you realise that the impossible is possible. I risked death and liberty to carry out of my graffiti art; therefore, those experiences have benefited me so that I can create, produce and release work without relying on anyone else or any industry influence or motivations.

What made you turn your attention from a spray can to a turntable in the late eighties?

I naturally grew out of graffiti, which is predominantly a youth subculture. Also, I got sent to prison twice for graffiti. By the time my final court case was held, I had stopped graffiti writing and imprisonment was a complete waste of time. When ecstasy, acid house and rave music arrived, music became my passion and when I was released from prison in 1989, I got a job and was able to buy turntables and start buying records every week.

Your graffiti tag Coma returned in 2021 as part of a rare vinyl release on the Grafiti Tapes label. How did it feel to bring together those two identities as an artist and musician for this project?

I have a lot of respect for Luca Lozano (a former graffiti writer) so when he asked me to contribute to his Grafiti Tapes it felt a natural thing to do. As we now live in an audio-visual world, it’s more important these days to have a strong visual identity. I’m lucky to have my graffiti background to use which compliments my music and provides a good chapter to my history. I like to create, be it music production, DJ sets or painting, it’s all the same thing - sonically or visually. I think the Grafiti Tapes project inspired me to use my art background with my music. All the artwork for any future releases will feature an element of my painting, tagging or graffiti. I’ve just finished a painting for my forthcoming album cover. It’s not graffiti but I’ve incorporated spray paint and oil paints which I’ve never done before. I had such fun doing it, that I want to do some more paintings and possibly sell them.

Richard Sen
There’s a disco and post punk feel through a lot of your productions, very much noted in The Padded Cell releases. Where do those genres sit within your world?

As I mentioned before, I’m hugely influenced by 80s NYC where post-punk, disco and hip hop were all happening and cross-pollinating with each other.

80s hip hop, graffiti and illegal raves all have an edge about them and a defiance to authority. How important was that to their development and how crucial is that mindset today given what’s going on in the country?

Hip hop, graffiti and raves were all DIY subcultures that provided an alternative to the mainstream popular culture. They all developed from a need for identity, expression and community that wasn’t found elsewhere. I’m hoping there are still underground alternatives existing on the edges of culture but I’m too old to know what’s happening with the youth these days. There’s a huge resurgence of train graffiti at the moment and we’re witnessing a golden era. I’ve also heard that illegal warehouse parties and raves still go on in places like Hackney Wick, so it seems that an anti-authority mindset is still alive with certain sections of society. There will always be the underground. Dance music has become so homogenised and commodified that there is a need for freedom and excitement. It may be more difficult to find spaces and venues, especially in London, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. I have faith in the UK youth. We have a history of rebellion and youth culture and also getting seriously wasted!

You present a regular show on Do!! You!!! Radio. For people unaware of it, what kind of sounds can they expect to hear?

I do a show on Do!! You!!! Radio every Friday from 12-2pm. It’s great to have a weekly residency and build a following. Most of the listeners had never heard of me before so it’s great to introduce my music to a new audience. I usually like to mix up the old and new. The first hour is pretty eclectic, usually old stuff from the 1970s-2000s. I like to go through my record collection and dig out rock, disco, Italo, new wave, synth, electro and proto-house. In the second hour I usually play brand new music, tracks I’ve bought or been sent. Usually more dancefloor and club oriented electronic music with a few classics thrown in. Because of the sheer deluge of music (new and old) radio has become increasingly important for a lot of people trying to discover something different.

How important is that medium for you in terms of shaping your tastes but also sharing your discoveries?

There are so many radio stations around that there is too much choice. I only listen to Do!! You!!! because the music and attitude is better than the rest! I’ll always discover music from any of the DJs on there. Charlie Bones, O.G., Ajukaja & Ats, Natalie Shooter and Sinead’s shows are always inspirational. It’s a communal vibe where we all inspire and educate each other. There's some serious knowledge in the chat room too and many of the listeners will recommend tracks.

How often are you getting time in the studio to record?

I have quiet and busy periods depending on what other projects are going on. I try to get in the studio at least once a week or a few times a month, sometimes more.

Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I have my debut solo album out later this year so look out for that. It’s more of a listening album with some Indian influences related to disco and house. It’s quite melodic with slow and mid tempo tracks. I’m also working on some post-punk remixes for the mighty Backatcha Recs. I’ve also done a couple of remixes for Headman and Gus Patterson which should be out this year.

Where do you discover new music?

Many sources. I get sent quite a few promos every week. I also check Juno, Beatport and Bandcamp regularly. I get most of my second hand records from Music & Video Exchange and for any new vinyl, I’ll go into Phonica and Love Vinyl now and again.


Richard Sen on Mixcloud


https://doyou.world/ Discover new digital dance music with Trackhunter

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