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Baker's Dozen

Raw Takes: Richard Fearless's Favourite Tracks
Joe Clay , May 25th, 2016 08:24

Before the release of their sixth album this week and appearance at Atonal in Berlin this August, the Death In Vegas head honcho, producer and DJ scours the fruits of his record-collecting history and picks 13 tracks that have informed Transmission for Joe Clay

Even though he is suffering with a heavy cold, it is still possible to detect a mood of ebullience from Richard Fearless when he talks about his new album, Transmission, the sixth under the Death In Vegas moniker. And not just because he overcame the odds of losing an entire album's worth of material when two laptops were stolen from the converted shipping container on Trinity Buoy Wharf, where the River Lea meets the Thames, that serves as his studio. The real sense you get is that he is now, after more than two decades in the industry, making the kind of music that he has always wanted to make – the sound of his soul.

That's not to say that his previous work has been of low quality. The second Death In Vegas album, 1999's Mercury prize-nominated, Iggy Pop-starring The Contino Sessions is one of the last great records of the millennium, a riot of krautrock and sleazy Velvets rock. In fact, there is something to be said for every album released under the DIV moniker – 2011's Trans-Love Energies fused disco kosmische, minimal techno and early Warp bleeps and contained the modern classic 'Your Loft My Acid', a mesmerising acid-house wig out. You could even make a case for his 1997 debut Dead Elvis, one of the few long-players to emerge from the much-maligned big beat scene with any credit.

Fearless has always been a man of exquisite musical taste, as anyone peeking into his record box over the past few decades could attest, turning out DJ sets built on underground and rare techno corkers, much of it culled from frequent record shopping trips to Detroit during the 1990s. (Check his mix for Heavenly Presents Live At The Social Volume 3, released on React in 1999, for proof.) But for the masses, it is his collaboration with Liam Gallagher on the title track of Scorpio Rising from 2002 (and the Modfather Paul Weller on 'So You Say You Lost Your Baby' to a lesser extent) for which he will always be best known, leading to frustration every time DIV played live and a lairy crowd clamoured for the 'hits'.

Born Richard Maguire in Chingola, northern Zambia, on the border of the Belgian Congo, Fearless and his sister were raised in a house with no television, but where music was pivotal. His parents – a Catholic father and Scottish Protestant mother – had fled the Troubles in Belfast, arriving in Africa with their record collection and not much else. Before his escape, Fearless's father had been into the big band scene and dancing, entering lots of dance competitions. "I found out much later that he was known as the Ice Cream Man, which is pretty hysterical," Fearless chuckles over the phone when we speak to discuss his Baker's Dozen, 13 tracks that have influenced Transmission.

His dad's record collection was mostly jazz and classical, but his mum was an art teacher, and the friends she met in Zambia were into Congolese music. "It was pretty amazing in the 1970s. W.I.T.C.H. were the big one that everyone's heard of, but my mum and her friends were into this more melodic, obscure Congolese thing," he explains.

During all the Maguire family meals there would be a record playing and from an early age Fearless and his sister were encouraged to choose what to play. "That taught me about the power of selection and winning people's approval. You know, 'that's my choice' kind of thing. That was my first powerful musical feeling – you want people to hear the music you're into."

A career as a DJ beckoned. After returning to the UK to study at Camberwell College of Arts, Fearless split his time between working in record shops and running club nights. A residency at the Job Club saw him sharing deck duties with techno pioneers like Claude Young and Derrick May before moving on to the Heavenly Social during its heyday. Like most DJs of the era, the DJ'ing led to production, and four albums in seven fruitful years as Death In Vegas. After Satan's Circus in 2004, Fearless unofficially quit the business and moved to New York, where he studied photography and formed a more straightforward rock outfit, Black Acid, as well as dabbling in fashion and direction.

Following the release of Trans-Love Energies in 2011, Fearless decided to change tack. Rather than making another band record, bringing in musicians, layering things up and working with an engineer, he wanted to get his studio to run live and start making music that reflected the techno records he'd always loved. A couple of 12" singles ('Higher Electronic States' and 'Gamma Ray') under his own name emerged on his Drone imprint. But then the thieves struck.

"It was pretty dark, so I went away to LA, where my wife's from," he reveals. "I decided I was going to remake the album, but in a different way. I'd been working with a few singers, mainly as a producer, and I'd got very much into the role of direction and working with artists. I really enjoyed that whole part of the recording process, and then developing the performance aspect – that's something that really appealed to me. And I was watching an interview on the TV with [the former porn star] Sasha Grey, and she got asked some question about, y'know, 'Why do you blah blah blah with 15 dudes', and her answer was so powerful – she came across as really strong and in control of the situation. I didn't really know anything about her at that point. And then I read something where she said how much she loved Chris & Cosey and Throbbing Gristle and I was like, 'Wow!' I thought it would be good to do something with her. I had this spoken-word track ['Mind Control'] that I thought might be good for her and that's how it started."

Fearless wrote Grey a letter outlining his idea and they spent a year developing ideas and then did some recording together. As well as contributing vocals to Transmission, Grey has collaborated with Fearless on a live A/V performance that will be premièred at the Berlin Atonal festival in August. "I really wanted to work with a performer. For once, I want the band to not be as important as the visual element, a bit like what Charles Atlas did with Antony And The Johnsons – I think they even toured the artwork separately without the band. I loved that concept, pushing the idea on that level. I hated touring Trans-Love Energies – going out with a band and feeling pressured to play songs that I hate. It's taken me a long time to learn the ropes and get confident with my ideas – and stand by them."

Transmission is out on May 27 via Drone. Death In Vegas will perform with Sasha Grey at Atonal festival in Berlin, which runs from August 24-28; for full details and tickets, head here. Click on Richard's image below to begin scrolling through his choices, which run in no particular order

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