Photography: Calli Higgins
New York’s longstanding rep as the leading decibel-pummeling nightlife wonderland is increasingly challenged by grown-up club kids who feel that “things just aren’t what they used to be.” One sprightly young producer paying no heed to such nostalgic whining is 24-year-old house prodigy Anthony Naples, a fast-rising talent from the Sunshine State who’s been adopted and embraced by a few key movers and shakers in the Big Apple.
Upon relocating to the East Coast, this sophisticated sculptor of stomping grooves swiftly connected with like-minded music lovers who share his enthusiasm for slow-burning synths. His debut single, “Mad Disrespect,” launched NYC party institution Mister Saturday Night’s eponymous label and piqued the curiosity of Kieran Hebden (AKA British electronic pillar Four Tet). Fast-forward a few years, and Naples now runs a burgeoning record label and finds himself at the receiving end of kudos-gorged write-ups for his recently released, restlessly moody debut, Body Pill. We caught up with the affable producer, who soundtracks many a memorable NY night out during a recent visit to Montreal’s MUTEK festival.
I find it fascinating that you steered clear of all the ubiquitous Miami bass anthems that scored your youth, turning instead to Aphex Twin as your electronic entry point.
“In the U.S., there’s not a lot of focus on electronic music. It’s not like in Belgium, which has New Beat, gabber in the Netherlands, techno in Germany or garage in the UK—these are things that were a part of youth culture in those countries. In the U.S., you only heard about the really broad electronic figures: Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and Daft Punk. Then, it was up to you to explore, especially with Daft Punk or Aphex Twin, because there’s so much history in their associations. Daft Punk did a song called, ‘Teachers,’ and it’s a list of names to check out, basically. Aphex Twin was on R&S Records, so you could go check out their roster. It wasn’t the same as in Europe, for example, where you’d go with a bunch of friends to a big warehouse rave, there’d be a local DJ spinning and then that would be your legend.”
Would you say that European club culture doesn’t really translate into the U.S.?
“Not really, because we can’t go out ‘tlll we’re 21. Being 18 years old in a club in New York is kind of odd because no one wants you there. You shouldn’t be there for three more years, so you stick out, and I got kicked out plenty of times. You get into the music way before you can even go out. But when I was 16, I would sneak into Winter Music Conference events—once, a security guard lifted a fence and just told my friends and I to walk in! All of us snuck into this crazy, bougie Stones Throw Records invitational party. But the drinking age in the U.S. definitely affects the way people approach it. People see nightclubs as something you do in your mid-twenties, whereas teenage years are when people are still obsessed with keg stands. In other places, by the time you reach your mid-twenties, there’s such a normalcy to clubs.”
In interviews, you often pay deference to a long lineage of New York dance music haunts, and you name-drop the seminal doc Maestro, which delves into the origin story of the New York house scene. I imagine moving there must have meant a great deal to you.
“What fascinated me right away about New York is that you still see these guys from the Maestro era—they hang around that street, talking about parties, throwing some from time to time. These people’s lives revolve around this place, and I was like, ‘wow, there is a place where it’s okay to be obsessed with music like that.’ I was in a small college town, it was not going to be a good future for me, so I was like, ‘I’m going there!’ Within a few months, I found all the coolest parties and DJs—it was amazing. At the same time, that’s one thing I would have as a critique of dance music as a whole: it places its values too much on how good things used to be: parties used to be better, clubs used to be better, no one is dancing anymore, etc.”
Did you encounter a lot of those patronizing remarks?
“Yeah, of course. A lot of people moved out of the city because they said that the best times are over. I always tend to think that the best time is now. I remember the parties I went to when I first moved there—the Mister Saturday Night parties, random people’s houses, Rubulad events, Tim Sweeney playing at this amazing loft party… It was all incredible. I mean, just the fact that I can be a traveling DJ now is great; I couldn’t have done that 30 years ago, I would have just been a producer. I would have never thought to a DJ. But now you have to DJ, to promote yourself, to put out your records as well as other people’s records. It’s more all-inclusive.”
Is that what prompted you to launch your own record label, Proibido?
“The reason I started my own label is because Moodymann and Theo Parrish had their own labels, and I was like, if they’re really popular and have sold a lot of records, then I should do that, because it’s obviously okay to do so. Thirty years ago, an 18-year-old kid wouldn’t have started his own record label. He’d be like, ‘I gotta get signed to Strictly Rhythm or Nervous Records, and then I’m gonna be huge and work with Madonna or Crystal Waters.’ It’s much better now, I think. Sure, sound systems are not as good, I can’t deny that, but overall, things are easier.”
Aside from producers’ more entrepreneurial spirit and sub-par sound systems, do you think making house music in 2015 is all that different from what it was 20 years ago?
“It’s interesting. I feel like house music doesn’t have to mean 303s and 808s. That feeling you get when you listen to house music – that could be just the bass line for 20 minutes. You could picture where a kick drum would be and that would be a song. I keep saying that house is so rooted in the past. I find that every other genre is trying so hard to push the limits: hip hop is traveling to bold, new directions, experimental and ambient music keep changing definitions, but house music still has to mean ‘jack your body’. But I don’t agree. I don’t think when they started making it 30 years ago, people thought that the records that would be the biggest now are the ones that sound like they were made 30 years ago.”
That’s a great point. Putting aside that self-contained world, what inspires you besides music? What feeds your creativity?
“Clearly, Alejandro Jodorowsky, because his films are just so absurd. One day, I hope to approach music like that. I always tell myself that I want to make The Holy Mountain of electronic records one day. It’s always on my mind. I also want to make the house version of Donuts, J Dilla’s record. Whatever that could mean. I also get really influenced by people who are my friends. Will Bankhead’s graphic design, for instance. I’ll look at a picture of a record cover he’s done—the way he frames what’s so normal to look so surreal. That’s my biggest influence on anything: giving something that’s pretty normal some kind of unusual glimmer.”
Peruse the catalog of Anthony Naples’ Proibito Records, here.