Interview: Derrick Carter

The legend grants Time Out a rare interview ahead of his Lola show

What can be said about Derrick Carter? One of the original house music legends from Chicago, the music he and his peers made changed the course of music history. From when he started on his journey in 1988 to the present day, he has had an undeniable influence on music and culture the world over. This month, in one of the greatest booking feats ever achieved in this city, he will be performing at Lola - a club with a capacity of only around 300. House music legends simply do not play clubs that small. 

As a man Derrick Carter is incredibly media-shy and uninterested in the trappings of fame. Only granting four or five interviews per year, Time Out Shanghai has been lucky enough to land one of them. Ahead of his appearance at Lola on November 28, Derrick Carter talks to us about love, refrigerators and beating the odds. 

What do you look for in a good tune?
It’s really hard to describe. It’s just something I feel. And it has to be the perfect feeling as well. It can’t be 70%, 80%, 90% there. It has to be 100% or better. If I’m out there operating at volumes nearly equal to that of jets taking off, you’d better know that what I’m playing has been vetted and is ready for prime time.

What’s the most important thing house music has done for you?
It’s given me a lot of things. Good times, great friends, personal freedom, a means to live a decent life. All of these are the most important. 'The most important' is a tier, more than a single spot.

A lot’s changed since you started DJing – what does it mean to be a DJ to Derrick Carter today?
Lots of things. Being responsible for the torch I carry, being concerned about the legacy I’m creating, being a mentor at times, flying around and trying to kick off parties all over the world, juggling my work and personal lives. It’s a lot sometimes but mostly, I think I do OK.

Do you agree that the only important thing is what is coming out the speakers, not whether the DJ is syncing in Ableton or spinning vinyl?
It depends on your own code. Your own operating system. And, what is in play within that set of personal rules at any given time. I do not prefer to use Ableton or the sync button when I play. Mostly because of the way I mix and do my thing. I need that roughness and that “NOW” action. Having the program do the beat matching for me takes the fun that I like to have, out of the set. Though, there have been plenty of times where I didn't have great monitors and sorely wished I had a sync feature so I could appear to do my job better.

Has it been easy adapting to changes in technology?
What I take on board, yeah. I’m not a luddite. I embrace a ton of tech but I like to think that I use it in my own way.

Should we mourn vinyl then?
Why would you? Do you mourn the 8-Track tape? Do you mourn the reel-to-reel? The compact disc? Mourn the times maybe and feel the nostalgia, but I feel that I can do SO much more now than I used to be able to do. I make edits, and tracks, and little DJ tools in my studio and I can rock them later on that evening. I used to have to book time at a mastering place, go there, and have dub plates/acetates cut, which only lasted 20 plays at max. My music world is open and shiny with no mourning in the picture.

You’re a global house music legend, but it’s often said that you get more love in Europe than the US – is this something you notice?
What is love? Is love work? Is love money? Is love opportunity? I mean, I get as much 'love' in Chicago as anywhere else on the planet. I’m no exotic there, though. I am a homegrown kid who’s done alright for himself in a world that eats people alive and spits them out. That is respected locally. I had a lady stop me in the supermarket because she recognized me, and asked for help in deciding on a gift for her boyfriend. The guy that works on my car told me that his nephew was totally blown away because he knew me and I’ve somehow made him the cool uncle now. Somehow, for some reason, there is this effect here which allows me to be approachable and lets me be a person. Not a brand name, not a manufactured superstar, not an unintentional outcast. That’s a mighty kind of love to be accepted and taken into peoples daily lives. Don’t get me wrong at all though. I get a ton of 'love' in Europe and the UK.  And I love it and love that people appreciate what I do. It’s just on a different level.

Do you ever worry about the music not translating in new places?
I don’t play the same set every outing. There are some records which get more air than others but I feel as if I've been doing this for a long enough time where I can make, and then string, enough executive decisions together, to create something that will translate.  Sometimes, I’m wrong.  But I always have faith that inside of me, there exists an applicable translation.

It seems like you don’t really like to play the games to make yourself totally famous – does something put you off?
Yeah, playing the games that make people famous. I’m not a child in school. I’m an adult. I have bigger concerns than trying to be the cool kid or the hot kid, or the kid with something to prove. I am the adult that goes out and tries to do his job, awesomely. Because THAT’S what is required.

Have you ever considered packing the music in? 
Sometimes I do. Just because I have other interests and ideas that aren't music related. But I’m trying to walk that fine line and still be me.

How do you stay motivated?
Among other things, having a home with working heat and food in the fridge can be one heck of a motivator.

You’re an animal lover, right? 
I have seven dogs and I love them more than I could convey. I wouldn't necessarily say that I’m an animal lover though. I love my animals. Yours? Maybe not as much. All? Definitely, probably not.

Looking back on your career so far are you happy how it’s gone? Any regrets?
I am quite happy. I've learned a lot about life. I've made some mistakes and made some magic. I can’t regret any of it.

And what about the future – what do you hope to achieve yet?
Another 25 years of beating the odds.

Derrick Carter: 3 songs that shaped my life. Listen below: 

Derrick Carter: 3 songs that shaped me by TimeOutShanghai on Grooveshark

Derrick Carter plays Lola on November 28. See full event details.