Richard Norris

Dance music veteran Richard Norris tells us how he joins the dots between psychedelia and filthy ‘basement music’…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 15 Jul 2014
  • min read
Richard Norris could be labelled as electronic music’s jack of all trades.

Just take a look at his current ‘to do’ list. Production sparring with the Beta Band’s Steve Mason. Remixing NME darlings Temples as one half of Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve (alongside Erol Alkan). Further experimental collaborations with Robert Fripp and a classical record with orchestrator Steve Sharples. It’s a busy and varied set of projects and shows offs both the esteem in with which Richard’s talents are held in as well as his uniquely eclectic taste - as he says, he loves banging filthy basement records as much as classical compositions and film scores.

We caught up with Richard to get to the bottom of his musical taste, his chart flirtations as the Grid (with Soft Cell's Dave Ball) and how, alongside Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge he helped bring acid house to the masses…

How did you first get into music?

I was 11 and remember buying a Sex Pistols single with great glee. The lady at the counter was like ‘I hope it’s not by those horrible punks?’ She was shocked when she found it was.

That was my way into music. I ended up making my first record when I was about 14 back in 1979/80. I took some copies to Rough Trade with my dad and they bought the entire pressing. We went to the BBC and asked for John Peel. He came down, made a few jokes with my dad and played it the next night. Those two things together just decided that music was for me.

How does the creative process work across so many different guises?

There’s always a strong atmosphere and various melodic aspects regardless of genre. It could be a very filthy dance record or a more chilled balearic or soundtrack work - whatever, there’s always melody and atmosphere. I do like looking at the moods of records. I also like to have an overview of where a song is going before getting into it. I’m ideas driven but always leave some space for other things to develop.

Do you find collaboration integral to each project?

It’s weird because about 80 percent of my time is spent alone either remixing, or composing soundtrack music. So I always find collaborating really refreshing. Mainly I live a monk-like existence sitting in front of analogue synths and computer.

It’s always more exciting with someone else in the room. I’ve always gravitated towards a duo with the Dave in the Grid and Erol in Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve. I like sparring off people to create this third thing.

How did you find working with Genesis P-Orridge on the Jack the Tab LP (a record largely seen as one of the first acid house albums)?

That was interesting. I went to interview him when I was writing for this magazine Strange Things. He asked me whether I’d heard anything about acid house. This was summer 1987 so no one had at that point. But both of us loved the idea of psychedelic dance music, dance music that’s got a trancey, hypnotic element. Straight away we went to a tiny studio in Chiswick and gathered up 15 people to work with us. We had this live room, engineer with Richard Evans, and a video room where we’d look for samples. He did everything so quickly – each track took an hour. When they took any longer, Genesis would be like ‘come on, what you’re doing!’

For me, he was a real mind opener. He had really interesting ideas and was very humorous which you don’t get from thinking about Throbbing Gristle or Psychic TV. It all suggested that there was a world of possibility where, no matter how outlandish your ideas, anything could happen. I wouldn’t be making today without having worked with Genesis.

So that LP led to getting the deal with the Grid?

The Grid was initially going to be me and Genesis. But Genesis met the label and backed off so they just signed me on a solo deal. The idea was to do this ‘United Nations of House’ type of idea - working with producers with a Brazilian or New York feel to the tracks. Unfortunately someone else came out with a very similar record first. Me and Dave started working together and got on so well, he instantly joined the band.

Was it surreal to enjoy such great success with the Grid?

We bonded over Suicide, Throbbing Gristle so fairly avant garde and art school ideas. To go from that to Top of the Pops was strange as we made Swamp Thing as a joke just to annoy techno purists. There was a point where various techno folk were being really elitist. We were like ‘dance music should be for everyone’ and fun - we never plotted to do a massive record. We were aiming to be somewhere between John Waters and Divine, high NRG records and Throbbing Gristle.

We did a gig at Ministry of Sound with Derrick May on afterwards. It was extreme techno so seeing a guy with a banjo horrified the crowd. By the first big break down, they crowd had kind of got it really. We never thought it would be big.

You’ve worked on so many remixes over the years - what do you think needs to be in place for them to work?

My main rule of thumb is listening to it once. If I don’t have an idea by the end then I don’t do it as it doesn’t really work if there’s only a large bank of cash behind it. You will come a cropper half way through if it doesn’t move you.

With Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve, we heighten certain aspects and stay true to the original. We go for quite melodic tracks and only very occasionally, do we kind of stray too far away from the original. We generally like to just shine the light on the best bits rather than completely deconstruct something.

Have you any advice for new producers?

The main thing is to keep going. I’ve been making records for decades now and you do have a few lean periods but then suddenly things turn around. There was a Friday a few months ago and I hadn’t been offered anything for some time. Then I got six offers that afternoon – it just goes like that. If you really understand the area of music you’re into and learn your craft, you’ll never stop learning. Some days will be worse than others. I couldn’t get anything going today. Yesterday I finished a remix in three hours. So keep at it. Something will eventually emerge.

Check out our interview with Erol Alkan and part one and part two of our chat with Genesis P-Orridge.

Visit Richard’s website to find out more about him and his music.