With what seems to be an infinity of indie rock bands popping out of Brooklyn these days, there's something refreshing and encouraging about Runaway, a house music revival―and reinvention―act from NYC's biggest borough. Comprised of Jacques Renault and Marcos Cabral―both NYC heavyweight producers and DJ's who have seen releases on numerous labels over the past decade or so―Runaway aims to merge the best traits of classic Chicago, Detroit, and New York house, modernizing the styles in the process. Before the ball dropped to usher in a new year and decade, the duo dished out their latest 12″, the infectious “The Fire Below,” through their own label On The Prowl. Read on for an in-depth Q&A with the guys about their pasts, their futures, how they make their tunes, what music inspires them the most, and a whole lot more, including some 2010 sneak peeks.
On The Prowl, which is your own label―tell me about it.
Jacques Renault: We talked about it with you for the first time at that Diesel thing.
Marcos Cabral: Yeah. All three releases so far have been by us. The first one was just us, the second one had a TBD remix on the b-side, and now the third one is us with a Cosmo Vitelli remix of the first release on the b-side.
“The Fire Below” is your third On The Prowl release then.
J.R.: Yeah. The remix is of “The Poltergeist.”
M.C.: We're going back and forth with the tracks. Like, a track from the second release will have a remix of it on a record further down the road.
Are you guys planning on doing stuff with other people through the label?
J.R.: We'd like to. There're a couple artists out there.
M.C.: Down the road. It'll probably be one of our remixers. Brenna Green is doing a remix for us right now. That'll be on the fourth release. If it is somebody, it might be one of the people we're already working with.
You do everything independently, right?
M.C.: We actually do the label with a distributor in the U.K. It's a pressing and distribution deal in the U.K., which is great because the U.K. presses really loud club records.
J.R.: It's less expensive. The bulk of our audience is in Europe, so it makes the records more accessible and it's cheaper for them to buy.
I heard that because of their higher voltage, the mastering process is different and louder.
J.R.: Wow―that's cool.
M.C.: Yeah, if you listen to a record in the U.K., it's, like, twice as loud as it is in the U.S.
Why'd you call it On The Prowl?
J.R.: That's a good joke.
M.C.: It came out of a joke… we'd say we were on the prowl while going out at night. The more we used that phrase the more it stuck. It's almost as if every title we have comes from an ongoing joke we have.
I really like “The Fire Below.” There's more stuff going on with it. It's more complex. How long have you been working on it?
J.R.: A long time [both laugh].
M.C.: It's something we've been chiseling away at for what seems like forever. When there's a lot going on there's a lot to mix down. For everything to sound like it has its own place in the mix… it took forever.
You work between your two apartments. Why do you choose one over the other on any given day?
M.C.: At this point it's just because we have different gear. Different keyboards.
J.R.: It's a nice variety for us.
M.C.: We also have different monitors… it's nice to hear stuff on different speakers to know what things sound like as a final product.
So you use all of these keyboards?
J.R.: Yeah, we use all three. This one I've had since high school. I lent it to a friend for a few years and finally got it back a year or so ago. I got it all fixed up and it's really good. It's an old Japanese organ.
I love the sax setting.
J.R.: It's really cheeky. This [other one] I acquired from a roommate in college. But this―this is what we've been using a lot: the Mu-Tron [effects box], which is the bomb. (I just said that.) We've been having fun with it. But yeah, the Alpha Juno I'd acquired from a roommate in college and it's been with me since then, but I only brought it out recently. Great strings. Late 80s. It's a great beat synth.
How much of your music do you record with these instruments?
M.C.: Everything's coming from keyboards―except for the drums. The drums are definitely a combination… half sampled, half synth.
How does this thing work?
J.R.: This is my DJ mixer. It's a reissue Urei. It came out in the 70s after Bozak―Bozak was the first rotary mixer. This is a reissue from 2002.
What's the advantage of using an analog mixer?
M.C.: Almost all mixers are digital. There are a few exceptions, but that's pretty much [the norm]. There's a big difference between analog and digital―analog is warm, digital is cold―and with analog… if you push past zero decibels you distort the music, and there's a beauty to that. If you're mixing two records together and you distort them, it almost gels the music together.
J.R.: This was the pioneer in the late 70s and 80s. Then the faders came in…
Shawn Brackbill: Is that more of a hip-hop thing?
M.C.: A lot of house guys still prefer rotary mixers because of the longer mixing. You're doing this [mimes turning knobs] instead of sliding a little fader over.
J.R.: A lot of those faders are really cheap. For whatever reason, Pioneer has become the club standard. Every DJ expects it because they know it.
M.C.: It's probably durable… it's cheap to fix… people like the cheap effects…
J.R.: I actually have the cheap effects [right here]. This is kind of a joke―it's the Pioneer effects without the mixer. It's kind of funny because I run this fancy mixer through this.
You were telling me about your compressor…
J.R.: It's not hooked up. It's of the same era, but it's original.
You use that for the mastering of whatever you make?
M.C.: You can compress different elements of a song―the drums or whatever. It basically squashes everything down so that everything's at the same level. If you're playing a melody and a couple of your keys are lightly hit when you play them, [the compressor] will push them up so you can hear them better.
In terms of equipment is that all? Is there anything worth mentioning?
M.C.: I have other keyboards. I have a Yamaha AN1X, which is a 90s virtual analog keyboard. A Casio CZ-101, which is kind of like the Yamaha DX-7. 80s digital. Like Hall and Oats… or pretty much any R&B record from the 80s has a digital keyboard on it.
You have so many goddamn records. Do you want to pull a few?
J.R.: Here's our latest record, [“The Fire Below”].
Who did the artwork?
J.R.: Marcos did. The logo, the script, and the sleeve.
Do you want us to talk about some records we like? Old? New?
M.C.: Let's each do one or two. Pull out some that were on recent DJ mixes.
J.R.: This is one that we both bonded on. It's the jam. [It's “Take A Stand For Love (Camacho & Shorty Remix)” by Gerideau.]
M.C.: Needless to say, we love gay, vocal house. We've been listening to a lot of 90s house. Late 80s, early 90s. This is definitely one of the most influential records for us.
People talk about house and acid house a lot these days, but people aren't really…
M.C.: Yeah, it's not so explored. Our stuff is a combination of classic New York, Chicago, and Detroit house and finding elements we like from all three and making it more modern.
The new Hercules and Love Affair stuff is interesting, though. They're definitely doing the acid house thing well. One of the new vocalists has this gay, vocal house thing going on. He looks like chubby Rick James. He's from Chicago and really young.
M.C.: Do they have dancers?
Yeah, a few voguers. Four or something.
J.R.: The horns are supposed to be amazing. It's great. I want people to see it! It's sort of been forgotten.
M.C.: There are niches of house music that aren't really explored anymore.
This is definitely the Chicago sound, but then there's also New York stuff like Masters At Work and that kind of house sound we really like. DJ Pierre's Wild Pitch stuff.
You didn't play with Pierre at the Rhonda gig in L.A., right? You came the following month…
J.R.: Yeah, but that was a great gig. People were naked.
M.C.: We got to hang out with Loren, [one of the founders of the event], for a while. Wild kid. He stripped in the car while driving us to the airport. Going down the highway at 100 mph… listening to NWA… We shouldn't really be talking about the story…
Anyway. Moving on. You just put out an edits record, Favicon, on Hole In the Sky. Tell me about those.
J.R.: [Well, they're old]. I started doing edits mostly to get more experience with Ableton Live. You can do them in a few hours and play them at a party later on that same night. So I had a ton of edits I'd done just for fun―
M.C.: Yeah―we started out by doing edits together. Jacques had just gotten Ableton and wanted to get more familiar with it. I had worked with it for a while before, so he'd keep coming by and I'd show him things on it. So I was like, Let's play around and make some edits!
Marcos was your DJ school!
J.R.: Yeah, totally. The first two songs we did together became our first Wurst Edits record. We still make edits, for our own use and others'. It's still fun.
M.C.: You're making yourself a tool.
J.R.: Our original work is taking up much more of our time and effort. But we both have more coming out in 2010.
There's a lot of criticism about edits these days…
M.C.: Yeah―all the re-edits. The reality is, though, that music comes from music. Whether you're editing a record or playing a guitar, it's all coming from somewhere else.
I like what Morgan Geist said to us in an old interview. Something like, “If you want to play disco, then learn how to fucking play disco. Don't edit that shit!”
M.C.: Our stance is definitely laid back. We're having fun. We're both working DJ's. We need things to play out.
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's totally opposed… especially when you're making stuff for private use.
M.C.: People that are making edits, there's no money to be made off it. You're pressing, like, 500 copies. Of course, there's the personal promotion thing… a lot of edits are DJ promotion. A lot of people started their career [with them].
I was reading an interview with DJ Harvey, and he was talking about how, when he started making digital edits, he had to use this janky Atari computer.
M.C.: Oh yeah―the Atari from the 80s. When I lived with Brennan [Green], he used an Atari.
J.R.: It would take months to make an edit. You can record nothing… [like, 4 MB at a time]. That's why you see so many edit records today―it's way easier.
What are you playing now?
J.R.: This is Barrabas' [Wild Safari].
Oh yeah―the proto disco group. This is from '72, right?
J.R.: Look at you! Yeah, it is. Good record. Good people. They had some pretty killer albums. This is definitely the most popular one, but they're all great.
Africa is the shit these days…
M.C.: There's definitely been a push towards all things tribal in the past year or two. Tribal house.
J.R.: The Germans are into it. Things are getting dirtier―you can really see that in music these days. Like, the minimal guys are looking more to house.
M.C.: It's like a pendulum effect. Things got so clean with the German minimal techno sound, which boomed across the planet. People got bored of that pristine sound, and now we're seeing samples coming back into the mix.
J.R.: Yeah―the minimal guys are playing disco now, for example.
I still love me some good minimal…
M.C.: I used to do minimal… for a label called Trapez Ltd. in Cologne. Riley Reinhold―he does My Best Friend and Traum [Schallplatten]. Three labels! It's based right across the street from Kompakt. Super German.
It's interesting how a lot of people your age started out doing some form of techno. Like John Selway from Neurotic Drum Band… he has CSM.
M.C.: At first, John was DJ Spy and he played serious hardcore techno. Him and Oliver Chesler were Disintegrator [in the 90s]. We all had this love for, like, super hard techno in the 90s… then [our interests] moved on to electro and then into Italo and then into disco…
It's cool how music tends to be cyclical like that.
M.C.: There's definitely a chain reaction. Like, someone will expose the world to Italo and then there's a ripple effect―
Right. From there you move to, like, Hi-NRG and house or whatever. It's cool, but no one really winds up reinventing the wheel.
M.C.: And people get tired of something like Hi-NRG because it's too fast, so, in response, they slow things down and you wind up with… cosmic disco or something. Then there's cosmic rock and then kraut rock and it keeps going…
I was talking to Matt Werth from Rvng Intl. and Viva Radio and he was joking about how a lot of people today, like NDB, are sort of “Med-NRG” in aesthetic.
J.R.: I love Matt. He has great tastes. Every Rvng release is something new and cool and unusual…
Oh! He gave me Pilooski's alleged final edit, but I haven't listened to it yet!
J.R.: It's great. I'll put it on.
M.C.: He's getting some great press these days. It's funny―how do you make money off records? The difference between us and him is that he's figured out how to [profit] from records and we haven't.
Oh! We need to listen to that record too! [The Peter Gordon & Love Of Life Orchestra 12″ that DFA's putting out.]
M.C.: I haven't even seen this yet. David Johansen and Arthur Russell [are featured on “That Hat”]!?
Anyway. Back to Pilooski.
J.R.: I don't know what this song is [that he edited]. I was bringing records over to Johnathan [Galkin of DFA] and Matt was at the office. He said not to give this to anyone since they're keeping it on the down-low until it's officially out. Galkin freaked out. I've never seen him so psyched. He can be really unpredictable, though…
He was freaking out about the new Hot Chip when I was over there last. Like, “This is so good!”
J.R.: We heard the new Hot Chip… the single that was exclusive to Phonica [Records]… “One Life Stand.”
Let's talk about your remixes. You've done quite a few already…
M.C.: Yeah, but I think our best remixes are, like, the last three or something like that. They're coming together better.
You guys seem to have figured out your trademark signature recently. Not to say you're formulaic…
J.R.: Yeah―that's what we're hearing. People like our sound. That makes me feel really happy… that we're coming across well and working on the general package [that is Runaway]. It's part of the reason we're going to start doing Runaway live. We're doing a sort of cut-and-paste with controllers and effects pedals and whatnot…
M.C.: Well, we're basically taking some of our tracks―like, let's say “Brooklyn Club Jam”―and breaking them down into 10 or 12 loops. With the controller, you trigger the loops and rearrange the song live, making every show sound completely different, despite the fact that we're playing the same songs.
J.R.: Almost like remixing our own material. We're still exploring [the setup].
M.C.: Of course there will be mistakes, some of which will be great, others of which won't. We're trying to make it as live as possible while still using samples.
What else are you guys doing in 2010?
M.C.: We're making a side edit label. OTP Party Breaks. OTP! DFA! TBD! The first one will be out around the end of January and I think we'll keep doing them on a monthly basis. As long as it pays for itself―which I think it will―we'll probably have it monthly.
J.R.: We did a remix for Da Hardy Boyz. We love it, but we only used… two words from it.
M.C.: We gave them an original track. Honestly, I don't mind giving people an original track if there are elements in the original that we don't like. It's kind of a weird thing… on one hand, it's like, Okay, you're giving someone an original track for a little bit of money. But at the same time, it's like, Okay, we have an outlet to put something out.
J.R.: It's fun. And it's for friends. And people hear your music. And then we get to do more things.
M.C.: It's fun to work on music for a living, so any chance we get [to do that], we'll take.