Music: Samurai of Harpenden
Photek has hit the big money. So what of his junglist roots? Anthony Clavane reports
Friday 20 March 1998
In a star-free scene like drum'n'bass, such diffidence may be the norm, but his record company is desperate to promote him and everyone, from Bowie to Bjork, wants a piece of him. It must be a bit frustrating for Virgin, who signed him up last year; here is one of their major young talents, on the cusp of stardom, agreeing to only two interviews - with this paper and with the NME - to plug his newly-released single "Modus Operandi".
He even views a live performance as "a compromise", which is strange for a DJ whose drum loops are the toast of the dance floor. "I'm not into doing the clubs," he sighs. "I'm just happy doing stuff in my studio."
On the rare occasions he does venture out, he says, "I attract attention from trainspotters, who want to know the inside story, what I was thinking about when I put down a track. Bad news." Sometimes these obsessives slag him off, but he just nods his head and smiles. "If someone says my music's rubbish and I'm a total sell-out, that I've turned my back on the underground or something, I just say: `Good, fine.' No point arguing."
To his mates in Ipswich, who still call him Rupert, he may drive a silver- grey Porsche, earn loadsamoney, turn down offers of work from David Bowie and do mixes for Harvey Keitel films, but he remains king of the jungle. Only 25, he is old and suburban before his time. His main form of relaxation is no longer all-night warehouse-partying but "taking the dog for a walk", and he would rather watch telly in his detached cottage than blast out subversive breakbeats from a pirate radio station.
"I was struggling for years to pay the rent and I suppose I went off the rails a bit ..." He hints at sub-criminal activities in his misspent youth, doing a lot of ducking and diving, "but I'd be silly to confess to a load of ..." His voice trails off. In an hour's time he will be driving off to his parents'; they worried about him when he first got into hardcore but now feel proud he's channelled his energies into such a lucrative career. "I have only been earning for the past two years, but it really is silly money," he smiles.
And to those who accuse him of betraying the roots of techno: "It's between you and your own conscience whether you've sold out. But I'm still doing what I want to do." The carrot-topped, pipecleaner-thin junglist now lives in Harpenden, near St Albans. Although he admits to mellowing in his mid-twenties, he still prefers a Porsche to a Mondeo and, if his home is anything to go by, appears to live by the Japanese code of the lone swordsman: a pair of Samurai swords is prominently displayed in his cottage window, a Japanese fan hangs from the wall and Kurosawa's epic Ran lies on the VCR.
Nobody considers Photek a "Judas" at Red Eye Records, the centre of Ipswich's thriving drum'n'bass scene. They're obviously chuffed the suburban Samurai has finally made it. DJ Freedom bounces up to enthuse about the previous night's Photek mix on Radio 1, and Tom, the shop's owner, points out the new 12-in single on his wall-mounted display. "It's just as obscure and abstract as the stuff Rupert used to do," he insists.
Hardcore is no longer the preserve of the looting, free-for-all, street- rioting classes. These days, it provides the mood music for Match of the Day trailers and blockbuster film scores - even carpet freshener ads.
Although he dislikes being harassed by intense, obsessive fans, there's no doubting the intense, obsessive nature of his work. A self-confessed studio hermit, he can spend up to a week creating intricate breakbeats and moody techno-loops. He watched Ran over and over while making Modus Operandi, an album that has sold more than 100,000 copies. "There were little touches you could only notice after watching it for a fourth time. For example, a character being in slow-motion for five or ten seconds."
Tom wonders if he's turning Japanese - but Photek doesn't really think so. True, he is a judo and karate expert, and interested in Eastern ways of thinking, but as with his UFO and conspiracy-theory phases, he has moved on from Nippon-philia. What about the swords, then? "A souvenir from Japan. If I came back with a sombrero from Mexico, would that make me a Sergio Leone freak?"
He decides it's time to speed over to Mum and Dad's. Although giving up most of the illicit pleasures of rave culture, he's still into petrol- burning, performance cars; in three years, he's gone through a Carrera S, a Lotus, a BMW and a Ferrari.
"I never really expected to have a car like this," he apologises, in a soft, barely-discernible south London accent. Hopping into the Porsche, he recalls people laughing at him in the Eighties for listening to "that weird music". "But now it's a billion-dollar industry in the States. I really enjoy driving a Porsche. I mean, I may be bankrupt in a couple of years' time ..."
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