Slow To Speak is the DJing duo made up of Francis Englehardt and Paul Nickerson, two ex-New Yorkers who run the famed record store Dope Jams. After seven years of trading, they closed in Jan 2013, only to reopened in a small town upstate, with a population of just 376 (circa the 2000 cencus). Not the best environment to run a record store you might think, but that would both be underestimating the high esteem in which Dope Jams is held and, also, how little Francis and Paul care about convention. A life in music spent setting their own agenda has won them a few enemies, but also marked them out as respected opinion-makers, at a time when people all too readily tell others only what they want to hear. In a characteristically forthright interview, we talked to Francis and Paul about the temporary nature of music consumption today, how country life is treating them, the decline of proper music journalism and lots more. They also put together a mix for us, which we’re told, involved a bubbling cauldron and sacrificing seven virgin sheep.
Dowload Mix (right click and save as)
1. What producers and DJs have excited you this year?
2. What records do you guys feel have been unfairly slept on this year?
I can’t think of one record I feel like was slept on this year. I’m not even sure what overhyped means anymore because everything moves so fast. Records aren’t given the time they need to grow and mature in our minds these days because everyone only has a ten second attention span. Its always on to the next, a constant search for instant gratification as opposed to sitting and living with a song and developing a real attachment to it. If you look at a record like Kings Of Tomorrow – ‘Finally’, which became a massive record, that song was out for two years before it became huge, it quietly bubbled in the underground, people became attached to it and it simmered till the fucking lid blew off! Nothing happens organically anymore and the music you hear these days is reflective of that.
3. What records have been overhyped this year?
4. In your interview with RA for the Real Scenes documentary, you said that closing the store was the best thing that could have happened to you. How’s upstate life been treating you?
Fucking Great! We were broke in the city and we are broke up here. The difference is here a major dilemma is deciding which swimming hole to go to, not how to navigate the three hours of traffic on Canal St. We got exactly what we sought, creative insane people with no agenda in a forest in the mountains. It has been said “it’s aspiring grandeur to take art more seriously and daily obligations much less so” and while we have subscribed to this philosophy from the beginning, Oak Hill has been a hell of a lot more receptive to it then New York City.
5. What’s it like running a record store and putting on parties in a town with such a population smaller than the capacity of most New York clubs?
We have always seemed to attract a very interesting cliental. There are some real characters up here which is the main reason we left the city. The city filled up with a bunch of forgettable ordinary people. We wanted to be amongst the freaks, dreamers and drop-outs. In case you ever wondered, they are hiding in the woods!
6. When you closed the store in 2013, you listed some releases that come to embody your time in the Brooklyn location. Can you name some songs that have come to represent the new life of Dope Jams?
D’Marc Cantu – Taken
The Knife – A Tooth For An Eye
Anette Party & Anita Coke – Moreno
Lancelot, Antony & Cleopatra – Givin’ It Up (MK Remix)
Roman Flugel – O.T.H
AFX – VBS.Redlof.B
Kate Bush – James & The Cold Gun (Live)
7. For many, part of Dope Jams’s notoriety can be linked to your tendency for provocative opinions on dance music culture. Looking back at some of your more notorious takedowns, do you regret picking fights with anyone? Has your outspokenness ever come back to bite you?
“Losers always whine about whatever, winners go home and fuck the prom queen” – Sean Connery
No, we don’t regret being honest. I think the first thing you have to understand is we come from a time before the onslaught of internet incestry, a time when music critics opinions actually meant something. Before Youtube, MP3s and Pitchfork, your only source of information for new music was the Radio, MTV and Magazines. All these formats held incredible weight, and the people in charge of them knew that, so they hired people who actually knew what the fuck they were talking about. It wasn’t some dip shit graphic designer on his blog regurgitating whatever spew he read on Resident Advisor earlier that afternoon. These real critics, like Jimmy Johnson from Forced Exposure or Tim Haslett from DMR, could essentially make or break an artist and both artist and critic knew it. It created a system of checks and balances where the artist knew they couldn’t dribble out a pile of shit for an album because they would be annihilated by the critics, and in turn the critics knew they couldn’t be the labels bitch by writing favorable reviews of bad albums because the critics reputation would be shot.
Critics were people who actually were into music, they had no allegiance to anyone, their loyalty was to good music. You did good, you were praised — you half-assed it and put it on auto-pilot, you were punished. We never veered from this mentality, unfortunately the rest of the world has. The funny thing is, we have come to find it is a remarkably good filtering system. By being honest, you attract honest interesting people who want you to be honest with them. No one grows by just telling them what they want to hear, which is why music is sooooo stagnant right now. If you really love someone or something you need to tell them they are fucking up as emphatically as you tell them they are doing well. So, amidst this vicious circle we dance…
8. Away from the record store, and looking at your parties, you’re about to bring Celebrate Life to London for the first time with Black Atlantic. For most people present, it will be their first Slow To Speak / Celebrate Life experience. What should they expect, and what lasting impression would you like to leave on the people who are there?
Hopefully the night will be a perfect disaster. That is when we seem to be at our best. We blew the sound system in the store at the party this month (special thanks to D’Marc Cantu’s ‘Taken’ for that) yet somehow managed to play for a couple more hours with the just the booth monitors and that was when the party really got going. Usually when the mixes start falling apart, the system blows or something else ridiculous happens you know we are getting somewhere!
9. You spoke to Black Atlantic about the magical feeling of partying in New York in the 90s. What do you see as the biggest differences between now and then? Is there any hope left for New York party culture?
The only hope for that city becoming funky again is a complete financial collapse.
10. Could you tell us a bit about the mix you made for us?
We struggled like hell to put this thing together. The hardest part was finding new music we were excited about or that we haven’t used on a mix already. Shit, this thing almost didn’t get done! We struggled mightily! Fortunately we found a few gems we hadn’t found a place for yet on previous mixes – we took those tracks and placed them in a bubbling cauldron, we went on to sacrifice seven virgin sheep, then waited 420 minutes and walked 69 steps backwards. Behold the aforementioned mix…
11. Finally, are there any Dope Jams releases on the horizon you’d like to give us a heads up about?
There is always plenty on the horizon, finding that pot of gold to get them to the horizon is another story. Here’s a few we are really excited about..
DG9 – Mis.Interpretations (2xLP): This is a live recordings from DG9, all recorded at the store when we first opened. We had a series of live music events and DG9 did five infamous shows with us. One that included a three hour Power-Point presentation on Discrete Mathematics that most people who were in attendance are still trying to figure out. Unfortunately this will not be included on the LP. It will however include some of our favorite recordings from these parties. One of my favorites being ‘G.I.L.Y.A’ (God I Love Your Anus) where he calls me out for laughing at everything he’s saying. What he doesn’t realize is that night Paul and I ate a wonderful little batch of mushrooms just before he went on. Hopefully we can set up a tour of the Power-Point presentation at some of the best clubs and festivals in the world. I think it would be huge in Germany.
Dope Jams NYC – 2005-2012 (3XLP/2XCD): We have been working on this compilation and licensing music for it for about six years now. It’s has some of out favorite tracks throughout the life of the shop in Brooklyn and will come in extremely elaborate packaging. However, it will probably be another 6 years before it comes out!
Slow To Speak – An Atheist’s Guide To Gospel Music (2XLP/CD): This CD is a mix of all Gospel Music that we just finished. The vinyl will be a un-mixed double LP of some of the baddest Gospel Music on this side of the heavens. As above, so below.