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Digging Deep: Brett Johnson

Digging Deep: Brett Johnson
Adam Tiran

For the best part of two decades, Brett Johnson has been a pivotal part of the US’ electronic output. Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Brett burst onto the scene back in 1999 via the now defunct Aesoteric with his bumpy, widescreen and occasionally acid-inflected take on Detroit house and minimal.

Though rarely straying far from soul and melody in his productions, Brett’s knack for skilfully traversing the lines between trippy club cuts and dreamy atmospheres has aided the development of a truly individual style and sound which tends to light up the dancefloors he graces in special ways. Brett may not always be lauded with the same acclaim that heads from New York or Chicago might command, but with a monumental 100+ releases under his belt across some of the most respected imprints around (Classic, Visionquest, Freerange, Housewax to name a few) it’s safe to say he’s prolific and hugely dexterous.

As a DJ, he’s garnered a reputation as a considered selector with eyes aimed squarely at high octane grooves, with a little bit of weird thrown in for good measure. He’s traversed the globe bringing his unique style to the dancefloors of Europe, Asia, the Americas and beyond, and the early part of 2016 has seen him grace Berlin, Belgium and Chicago, along with a busy release schedule that’s taken in music on Delve Deeper, Etcetc and Holic Trax.

With a multitude of influences present in his productions, we asked Brett to pick a few of the records that have inspired his bumpy, playful output. Reaching for seminal hip hop from De La Soul and Slick Rick, dubbed out electro from Convektion‘s E.R.P. project and a Chez Damier-inspired selection in the shape of Imagination, it’s a blissfully souled up selection. Sample watchers, keep your ears open!

Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band LP
Ever since I was a kid I loved big band swing music from the 20’s, so when I discovered Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band I was blown away. I’ve always liked fun music, something playful that makes you want to dance and sing. Blending big band swing and disco into a perfect mixture of upbeat rhythms, infectious melodies and playful lyrics is exactly what they created. Some of the members of the group would go on to record as Kid Creole and The Coconuts, another group I love very much for their playful sound. At home, my family and I still put this LP on and dance around the house, all singing along together.

De La Soul – 3ft High And Rising
My mother bought this LP for me along with NWA’s Straight Out Of Compton (LOL) for Christmas when it first came out, apparently it was recommended to her by someone at the record store. Once again, I was drawn to this LP for it’s fun and very infectious songs. De La Soul was a departure from a lot of rap music I was listening to at the time, the whole daisy age concept was refreshing. A lot of rap lyrics at that time were centered around dissing other rappers, partying or other typical themes for the day. Their lyrics were about being silly and having fun, same could be said for the music, their choice of samples was different than many rap records at the time, it gave the entire LP a very playful feeling.

Imagination – So Good So Right
When I was 17 or 18 I had the pleasure of having house music legend, Chez Damier as a house guest for a week. He had played a party with me in Dallas and wanted to hang out afterward, we ended up having so much fun he kept missing his flight home. We spent the week going through and listening to his records, it was at this time that I got turned on to groups like Liquid Liquid and Imagination. I’ve been a massive fan of all the Prescription records since the beginning so getting to hear one of its creator’s favorite records gave me deeper insight on where he drew his inspiration. If you listen to So Good So Right you can hear the influence, it’s basically deep house but made with live instruments.

Peter Godwin – Dance Emotions
When I was 19/20 I was lucky enough to walk into a record store in Dallas called VVV that sold mainly European dance imports. The store was closing for good and was selling 5 records for a $1, I ended up taking home around 20 crates of records that day. In the collection was lots of Italo disco and many other great records. One of them was Peter Godwin’s – Dance Emotions LP. Growing up in 80’s I’ve always been crazy for synths and this LP is full of them. The song “Emotional Disguise” is still a favorite, very powerful.

E.R.P. ‎– Event Related Potential
I’m happy to say E.R.P. is a friend from Dallas, he also records as Convextion. This LP (on blue vinyl no less) was given to me by Downlow Music owner and friend, Minto George. Growing up in East Dallas I was exposed to some early electro records, it’s safe to say I’ve always loved the sound. Many of the DJs around me would mix them in along with their primary musical diet of rap, Miami bass, latin hip-hop and freestyle. Records like Hashim “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)”, Afrika Bambaataa and even Jive Scratch Traxs were a huge influence on me. When I first heard E.R.P.’s “Event Related Potential” I was in love, it’s the perfect blend of electro and Detroit techno.

Slick Rick – The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
This is not obscure by any means but fantastic nonetheless. Slick Rick’s debut LP, released in 1988, is fun and full of storytelling. I cannot remember how or where I first heard it, only that it grabbed me from the first listen. Aside from the storytelling, it was the infectious swing of the SP-1200 drum machine that caught my ear. It’s impossible for me to listen to this and not think of the Summer of 88′. Riding around my neighborhood on my bike, listening to this and other songs on mixtapes I made. Happy and innocent times.

Kraftwerk – Computer World
Another record that is not obscure but should be mentioned here is Computer World. My mother had this on cassette when I was 4 or 5 and it made a huge impression on me. To this day I thank my mother for introducing me to electronic music. I have many memories of us driving around in her car, unable to see over the dashboard I liked to look at the artwork and liner notes. It wasn’t till much later that I realized that she had been pretty cool to own this cassette. I’ve never asked her about it though, I should, I’m very curious about the how and why she owned it. Probably heard it at some club she used to go to.

Brett’s “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” EP is out now on Holic Trax.