Interview: Delroy Edwards on Bootleg Tapes, Ron Morelli, and Keeping It Underground

The elusive techno producer and label head opens up about his passion for ‘90s rap.

Since his head-turning debut on NY label L.I.E.S. in 2012, 4 Club Use Only, Delroy Edwards has been making some of the rawest club jams in the current US techno scene. Besides running one of the West Coast’s most exciting new labels, L.A. Club Resource, Edwards has dropped an EP of noisy, corporeal techno under his DJ Punisher alias, a raw minimal wave album on Boomkat sub-label The Death of Rave, and an acid-laced split 12-inch with Funkineven in less than a year. More recently, though, Edwards has put his love for underground hip hop, R&B and boogie front and center, with the release of his three Slowed Down Funk mixtapes. The newest LACR record, Comin’ Real Wit’ It (by Memphis producer Shawty Pimp, and with Red Dog on rapping duties), continues on a similar path. We were eager to find out more about Delroy Edwards’ connection to ‘90s rap and bootleg tapes, and how it all fits into his productions.

Tell me about the Shawty Pimp record you’re putting out on L.A. Club Resource.

Yeah, Shawty Pimp. Comin’ Real Wit’ It. I was super hyped for that. It’s a Memphis underground tape from ‘95. I got in touch with Shawty Pimp, whose real name is Malik, and he was super cool. So we worked something out for us to press it. It’s kind of like the first Memphis rap record to be pressed, so that’s big. It’s a really musical one, too.

Yeah, that’s something that instantly struck me about the record. It sounds surprisingly light for a ‘90s Memphis underground tape. It’s not like on the horrorcore kind of tip but more on a light, relaxed, melodic tip.

Yeah, yeah, definitely. With him and Red Dog… The connection that we found with them is that they were on the same tip that we’re on now. Speaking with them it’s evident that they’re listening to the same records that we listen to. So that’s why that record struck such a core with us because it’s so smooth and out here in LA that’s like the shit that we identify the most with. We were blessed to come up on this piece.

How did you come across their music in the first place though?

Well, actually I had a bootleg tape of that. I’ve got a few of these old bootlegs, so I’ve been listening to that one for a while. It’s been steady in my car for a while, so I was always into that one. Just because it’s so complex. It’s a rap record, straight up. Every track is on point. So we figured it would be a good one to cut as an introduction to the whole movement for people who aren’t necessarily up on it. The thing with the Memphis shit is that lots of people bootleg the stuff online. The rips go around and stuff like that. So we kind of want to bring it back to that actual physical representation of the music – be it tape or wax or whatever. I think it’s important for people to realize that this music isn’t just completely... it shouldn’t just be internet music. You know what I mean? It should be treated how it is, because it’s just straight up ahead of its time.

So how did you go from hearing this bootleg tape and putting it out as a record on LACR?

I had the bootleg, I found out some information about Shawty Pimp, I looked him up and got in touch with him and that was just it. He still had some copies of the tape. Also, this record is special because it does have a couple bonus tracks on it that weren’t on the original tape, that he blessed us with. So we’re super hyped to have those on there as well. We worked very close together, us and him, trying to get the best product out. We pretty much did everything our-selves. We mastered it, we cut the plates here in LA. This whole project’s pretty close to the chest because it hasn’t really ever been done before. So something like that is up to us. There’s no record from this shit yet.

Was it hard to get in touch with him?

It was pretty difficult. I had to ask around with a few people I know out in Memphis who are in that scene, or were back in the day. He’s a really great guy, and he’s still on his music, and his music is still very, very next level. Still. He’s just on his shit. The whole group of cats out there were so ahead of their time, like I said. Just so true to the music itself. But once we found out how to get in touch with him he was super accessible. Because that shit means as much to him as it did to us, if not more. It was real cool to be able to meet him and kind of pick his brain and be like, “Yo, man. Tell me about Memphis in ‘95.” You know what I mean? And hear him explain that shit for me. That’s the kind of stuff that inspires me the most. Just hearing, “Yeah, man, I had a drum machine, I had a sampler, like, that’s it. We got into the fucking bedroom and made the shit happen.” That’s really inspiring.

So besides putting out his record, getting in touch with Shawty Pimp was also very much a learning experience for you?

Oh yeah, definitely. All of these guys, they keep their lips pretty tight. They don’t really say much. They’re pretty ... on their shit ... especially when I’m just this kid in LA hitting them up about a tape they did 25 years ago. So every time I got to talk to Malik and pick his brain, that was a blessing. I’m learning about something that a lot of cats don’t have the opportunity to learn about – getting a front row seat to look at something that was truly underground. You know what I mean? That shit was truly underground. You can’t call what we’re doing now, this whole house scene, this whole house movement, this shit isn’t as underground as that was. These cats had no pictures of themselves, no media. They’d go down to the liquor store and they’d sell their tapes. Put it in the bodegas and everything like that. To hear about that, that’s like the true, true, true meaning of underground music. You know? It’s really inspiring for me.

You’re bringing up the liquor store now, so I wanna ask you about the Gene’s Liquor online store, where you sell classic underground rap tapes next to LACR releases. You’re running that alongside the label, right?

We’re trying to make this an outlet for things that we like and present them to a different audience. Not at an inflated, bullshit Discogs price, you know?

Yeah, I run that together with my old buddies Jimmy and Henoch. We’ve been together from the start. Gene’s Liquor, LACR, it’s all operated under one roof. Henoch and Jimmy are masters at making shit happen. You can find the LACR records we put out on there, but also the stuff we’re passionate about like gangsta rap, underground rap, R&B and stuff like that. So we’re always on the lookout for these kinds of tapes. A lot of the stuff on there comes from Mobo Records, which for me was one of my favorite New Orleans labels. I got in touch with Death, who was the producer of a lot of that stuff back then, and he opened up the archives to us. He sent us a bunch of tapes and CDs that are very, very hard to find. We’re trying to make this an outlet for things that we like and present them to a different audience. Not at an inflated, bullshit Discogs price, you know? Not having people coming out their of pockets for cassettes. We’re trying to make it fair, but also have people understand that this is a little piece of American history.

What other sources do you have for the tapes? Does it also come from your personal collection sometimes?

There’s obviously a huge, huge scene of rap music out here in LA and we’re always on the hunt for tape collections. I can’t say exactly where we get our stuff from… but the stuff is out here. It just takes someone who knows exactly what they’re looking for, and some good connections and good friends. There’s a record store out in Atwater called Jacknife Records & Tapes, and they’re close with us and they’re a really good record store for rap tapes, all sorts of cassettes. We’re definitely tight with them.

How far does your passion for these old school underground tapes go back?

Oh, I grew up listening to tapes. My mom had boxes and boxes of them. That’s how I got interested in it first. She was big into rap music. She was big into gangsta rap music, too. And dancehall. So she had some tapes. I got into it from there. I realized that most of the good stuff wasn’t on CD.

Ruthless Juveniles - Intro

What are some of your personal favorites from what you’re selling at Gene’s Liquor?

From Gene’s Liquor... I mean, man, a lot of the Mobo stuff. Ruthless Juveniles’ Hard As Tha' F**k definitely always stays in my car, at all times. The second volume is definitely banging as well. All that stuff is so pure and so good. All the Mobo stuff. Dog House Posse. We’ve got some stuff up there from Long Beach that we recently found in Long Beach. So we got a few tapes there. Indie R&B from Long Beach. Rap and stuff like that. So, that stuff is definitely, definitely good to play.

In a sense you’re also making a statement of sorts by putting the LACR music that is straight up underground techno next to the underground hip hop stuff and selling it all in one place. Is there a motivation behind that to actively say this is all kind of on a similar vibe? It’s sharing a similar approach to music, even though it’s completely different genres?

Yeah. I mean, definitely. We’re always trying to get that point across. For us they’re all really the same thing, you know? If it’s a techno record, if it’s some rap shit, if it’s some boogie shit, it’s all the same for us. But mainly, it was kind of less about making shit that’s known to our fans and more about for us to last long in this game and to really, really, really be happy with what we’re doing. We’ve got to stay true to what we do the best and what we know. You know what I mean? So when I got my start in this, a lot of people knew me for the 4 Club Use Only record that I made. That was very much a small part of who I am musically. As soon as we got to the point of where we got our own platform, it was more about just staying true to who we are and what we like and the city that we’re from and how it breeds different environments, different types of music. So that’s pretty much it. Everything else is just a blessing, for cats to be able to understand the connection we’re trying to show.

Delroy Edwards - 4 Club Use Only

Tell me a little bit about some of the artists you’re putting out on LACR. DJ Harlow, Delivery, Skander, they’ve all had their only releases so far on your label. Who are they? How do they fit into the picture?

They’re pretty much no different from me, you know what I mean? Delivery, Skander, those guys are all dudes that are homies of mine. Skander runs the record shop up in the Bay, RS94109. Which is definitely by far the best record store out there in the Bay, in my opinion. I’ve known him for a while and he’s just raw. He’s truly underground. He just does this shit for him, you know what I mean? I was lucky that he let me be the first cat to put out his shit, because he’s a beast, man. That record that we made with him is like four hard cuts, but homeboy sent me like 70 tracks. They’re all just homies of ours that were waiting for the right chance to put their shit out. We’re just lucky that we have the platform to be able to do that. Delivery is also a close friend of all of ours. He actually lives right down the street from me. So it’s all close in the family.

On the other end of the spectrum you also have Gene Hunt, a true veteran from Chicago. How did you link up with him?

Yeah, that’s super random. Gene Hunt for me was my favorite. There’s definitely so many dope house producers from Chicago, don’t get me wrong. The Dance Mania catalog is full of so many dudes who were thinking so far ahead. Ron Morelli showed me Gene Hunt’s stuff one day when we were working at the shop. I just had such a strong connection to it. He was just so on point with his stuff. He was raw and hard. He was Ron Hardy’s apprentice back in the day. Learned from the best, you know what I mean? I had a buddy out here in LA who happened to have grown up together with Gene and he connected us.

Gene Hunt - Pandemonium

How long were you working with Ron Morelli at A-1?

I worked with him there for about a year and a half, I think. It was kind of right around the time when Ron started to go out to Europe to play a lot more. He brought me on to work with him just as someone to help him with the house shit. That’s how I met him. I wasn’t really into any dance music too much at the time. I knew about it but he definitely guided me in all that shit. Taught me what was what. So I definitely have a lot of respect for him.

He’s a G.

He is, man.

He’s been putting on so many people in his circle and I feel like he’s definitely a sort of leading figure for the new underground techno and house generation.

Yeah, definitely. He’s one of a kind, man. His whole personality is like a blast from the past, you know what I mean? He’s so straightforward. He’s all about making this shit happen. He’s not about fucking around. He’s honest. True. He’s funny as fuck. He’s a great guy. He definitely put a lot of cats on. He put me on, he put so many other dudes on who are doing their own thing now.

Delroy Edwards - Slowed Down Funk Vol. I

Well, let’s get into Slowed Down Funk for a bit. How did you approach those tapes on a technical level? The songs all kind of sound like they come straight from cassette or does the sound come from you recording them onto cassette?

It’s pretty simple and straightforward. They’re all just remixes mainly, and then also just some tracks I think are tight. A lot of stuff was already from cassettes, from tapes that I had. So I was just sampling little parts, putting some drum beats on them. I would always hook it up to my drum machine, bump it up a little bit, then put it on tape. It was pretty much just making a mixtape. Sometimes I did my own versions, sometimes I’d leave the tracks as they are or maybe just slow them down a little bit. It’s less about a showcase, because a lot of times I feel people are making music to show what they’re about, what things they can do. For me this is just trying to join the dots, you know? Just making it so that people can enjoy listening to it. Keep it simple. That’s it.

What draws you to tape as a medium?

The sound. Nostalgia and the sound. The fact that it’s cheap and the fact that my computer’s always crashing so I can’t really be recording on it. If I didn’t have my tapes then I’d be lost. I’d lose so much music. The fact that I can have a hard copy version and go to someone else’s house and play it for them, and not risk closing my computer or unplugging that shit and everything being gone is definitely a big reason why I’m still on that shit.

You were talking about the kind of ideological connection between old school underground hip hop stuff and the stuff that you’re putting out on LACR. Do you also see a connection in the sound? In the kind of grainy, hypnotic strand of hip hop and your own techno and industrial productions?

Yeah. I mean, definitely. I feel like that has to do a lot with just the tapes, the tape aesthetic. And the fact that I don’t really record on the best gear. So it’s always going to sound pretty cruddy unless I just go straight up digital. I’ve designed my own style, so that sound comes from the music that I grew up listening to and the music that has inspired me. A lot of that is growing up in the car with my mom and my dad and listening to tapes. Tapes for me have a warm sound, like I said earlier, the nostalgia that really makes me feel good about it. When you listen to a rap tape on cassette, you kind of get that feeling of like, “Man, this is how this shit should be sounding.”

By Anthony Obst on November 11, 2014

On a different note