Ahead of his third full-length album, on his own RF imprint, we sat down with one of North America's finest...Rennie Foster!
Hello Rennie! Thanks for chatting to Loose Lips today. We’re on a slightly different schedule here. 10am vs. 2am. Are you normally a late night worker?
Yup, a night raven. I work anytime, but creativity is most alive late at night for me.
One of your team who set this interview up joked that “Rennie's a musician, he's never up before 1300”. Why do you think your creativity is sparked in these early hours?
All the artwork I have been most involved in - such as graffiti, b-boying, DJing - takes place at night and off the radar of mainstream society. Most of my life I have been living a lot at night. A nocturnal animal.
Makes sense, I'm looking forward to discussing some of that with you today! On September 12th, your Game of 100 Ghosts album is coming out on your own RF imprint - tell us about the concept of this label...
The main concepts are independence, a return to the DIY ethos I had when I first started in this game, and a healthy dose of dissent. I have worked with many labels over the years and have learned a lot. I wanted to put this study into practice and build something I can control to counter the elements I can not.
credit to mood.berlin
That definitely comes across. I remember my first impression of this new release when I pressed play on the opener, 'Conscious Basics'. Having such a direct chant looping throughout the opener of the album sends a strong message. Do you feel that that this almost political aspect of your music is a necessity?
My music, and motivation for doing art, has always had an aspect to it that could be described as political, in that the subject matter is often about social or economic topics. Even when it's not, it is about other things like the very meaning of reality and things. There is plenty of great dance music that is just about escape or getting off. I like to see the dance floor as a place of ritual, not just to escape life, but to explore it. Peoples' minds can become very open in this situation, and as the body moves naturally and instinctively, and the hypnosis of music and movement takes hold, we can mentally explore and feel things quite deeply. Not all dance music with intent and lyrical or thematic weight needs to be obvious though, like with 'Conscious Basics'. Sometimes the meanings are hidden, more for the subconscious.
Mind, Body, Soul as they say.
I am a dance music producer, but nothing like a hedonist.
It's this approach which seems to foster such storytelling in your tracks, both in the musical production itself but also the backstories which the tracks evolve from. As you said, its "the interconnected role that music, the shaman, and the dance ritual, continue to play in the shaping of reality over time". Could you shed light on a particularly meaningful narrative which inspires one of the tracks on Game of 100 Ghosts?
Can you pick a particular track? Each one has a narrative really.
There is a sort of story, or several, attached to each track on the album. It's sort of what this collection is. A bunch of stories.
‘The Way Out (w/ Skyla J and Oz)’…
Well that particular song is, more than any other on the album, someone else's story. Skyla wrote the lyrics and much of the melodies and music concepts came from Oz's fingers as well as my studio alchemy. I have known Skyla and Oz since the 90s and we come from the small music scene of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
The meaning of that song can be understood from an artists' perspective in the music industry - all three of us are really dedicated to that path. It can also be understood on a more universal level - who hasn't looked around at their circumstances at some point in their life and asked "how did I get here?".
You've preceded my next question there slightly! I'm interested to know more about those who you've collaborated with on the album...
Why Skyla J, Oz and Moka?
Skyla J and Oz…check em out!
The first time I was ever in a studio was with Moka.
We had written a rap ‘routine’ (now THAT'S real old school) over a record we had found at a thrift store called ‘Intergalactic Funk’ and recorded it (in the late 80s). Moka has had a very prolific and successful career in underground Hip Hop and has done records since with Sadat X, MF Doom etc… We have done a few records together over the years including ‘Connect Like Four’ on Rebirth in 2010 that did really well, especially the Samuel L Session remix. Moka and I have both never had any rules on the music we do other than being real about it. Genres mean nothing to artists like us.
That background in hip-hop and your general genre-crossing approach is a passion we share and it really interests me. I often feel like lots of house & techno can become, almost unintentionally, quite inward-looking these days. But your story preaches the connectedness of music for music's sake. How do you feel like your tastes have evolved since the early days of your involvement in Sound Advice…through to now, September 2017, with the release of your third full-length album Game of 100 Ghosts? Are there any noticeable changes?
I'm not sure my taste has changed much, although definitely I have heard loads of influential music since then. I am always looking for the same elements though. Like authenticity, intent, uniqueness, boldness, fierceness, real depth, real exploration. I have never connected to demonstrative or academic music, especially with dance music. I think, essentially, I am trying to do the same thing as I have been since I left Sound Advice and set out on a solo mission directed at the dance floor. It's very hard for me to put that in a few words, but sometimes it really amazes me how much my original vision has remained until now. It's grown for sure, but easily recognizable to me as the same essential concepts musically.
It sounds corny to say it I know, but I have always been motivated by the party underground.
credit to mood.berlin
That's amazing, to feel connected to past and future. Too many artists are embarrassed of their early productions! Do you still listen and engage with a lot of hip-hop? What's the current Canadian scene like?
Oh yes. I live hip-hop 100%. I sometimes I have very little in common with much of the modern dance music industry because of this. But many techno and house music DJs are also like this and from a similar background. Sometimes it's startling how different heads who are not from a hip-hop or punk background think, compared with the ones who are. I don't engage much with the modern hip-hop industry beyond artists though, like I have not remixed or produced music for any hip-hop labels…that's not my thing.
To me it's more about a way of life, and that was shown to me through dance. I was a b-boy before anything and I am loyal to the dance floor and party situation, or the ritual as I refer to it usually. I do not care about radio play or big sales or any of the things that motivate the rap-star-hit-song sort of thing that seems to drive that train now. I am currently working with a Canadian MC Justin Brave on a new track btw…for release on RF next year.
I love all my old music btw, I know several artists who can't stand their old work, I think that is unusual. It's another reason I created RF - to re-release older work that was previously only on vinyl.
There is nothing I've released that I'm not proud of.
I don't even like perfect things.
Refreshing to hear! So how does Canada treat you musically? What's Vancouver's current scene like? Do you play a lot there?
I play quite a bit actually. Some promoters here support me and make a point of knowing what I'm doing. I am a resident at a very special after-hours club here in Van, Gorg-O-Mish, probably the best one in Canada. Really serious sound system and long set times, proper. I am also a resident at a great yearly festival called Rifflandia that I will play later this month. And a resident for MEME festival in Winnipeg, Canada. Like everywhere really, the local DJ scene has elements of scenesterism that just has very little to do with music and more to do with social popularity and then also has a community of serious artists as well. I try to ignore the one and support the other. Somehow I manage to play out a few times a month which is really fine at this point for me. I need time to create, plan, and work on my label and music. It's definitely not about playing as many gigs as I can for whoever I can politic though. I am busy building.
Are there any noticeable contrasts between this and the vibe abroad in places you play regularly?
I was in Japan for many years and played a lot all over the country. Definitely many differences…
North American people are incredibly concerned with popularity of things. And “genre”. Promoters and clubs really focus on doing things that people know about already and have been approved by some sort of signifier, like media or someone they perceive as famous. The Japanese house music and techno scene is not really like this at all, or perhaps the population is just so dense that the niche market for what I am into is just more developed, and I just didn't encounter the more commercial, or less musically motivated, sort of scene.
I am used to playing to people who do not need to be persuaded to dance to great music, certainly not by placating them with familiarity. I want to bring some of the vibe of Tokyo's club scene to the clubs I play at here, where knowing about the music and respecting the art form and culture of it is standard. I never had to encounter EDM or any of that garbage in Japan and still played out all the time. Also, I really make a point of letting that element in the industry here know they are wrong. People actually love good music, and don't want cheese as much as they think they do in my opinion.
You're making me want to book a flight to Japan right now!! Been eager to go for a while.
The name - Game of 100 Ghosts - where does this come from? A Japanese link?
Hyakumonagatari Kaidankai - an ancient Japanese game of 100 ghost stories…it's a game but also an occult sort of ritual that will summon powerful entities. Samurai did this to test courage.
The artwork is designed by Abdul Qadim Haqq, a man who I know from his involvement in Underground Resistance's visual portrayal. How did the connection work between Abdul and this Japanese game theme?
Haqq did a lot of research on the game, and was already familiar with it. He knows a lot about a lot of things, including Samurai and Japanese folklore. Haqq also has his own connections to Japan. I used to play a lot at this small but great club, Rajishan, in Shizuoaka City and the back wall was a huge Haqq painting…that was before I met him even.
Sweet, it's great to hear about all the collaborators on the album. In a way though, we haven't discussed the most important collaborators...the people who funded it!! You funded this album via a GoFundMe campaign right? What brought you to this crowd-funding motivation?
I have a really powerful support system for my art. It's really no joke. I saw this in action a couple times when I have faced situations like someone ripping off my song - through the reaction of my fan base on social media, who rose to my defence all over their promotions, which had many thousands of plays and views but seemingly no counter support. I might not be the biggest artist in the game, and the part of the industry that is focused on numbers certainly doesn't value what I do…but that is sort of the point, and I feel crowdfunding is one way to positively demonstrate that. The people engaged with my music are often very engaged. I have always felt it was better to make a deeper connection with fewer people than a fleeting connection with many.
Over many years I have built a small but strong base that knows what I'm about and will support it. I made a point of doing the GoFundMe campaign totally organically as well - I didn't sponsor the posts about it and did not spam about it. I love social media to be honest, and the people who follow and engage with my music in this way are actual people to me, not just numbers. I really value the grass roots, direct, communication. I should mention also that many of the people who supported the campaign are people I know, and work with, in real life. Artists, promoters, club owners, all kinds of people showed love. It was really a highlight of my career to me.
I was confident going into the campaign that I was going to reach the goal, but I was very surprised to do it in just less than a month. Blew my mind. Super thankful.
That's amazing. Would you recommend it to others? Sometimes people seem to be slightly sceptical of the process or maybe uneducated on it. It's a democratising force though!
There are artists I would recommend it to, and others I wouldn't.
There is a lot of disparaging disinformation about it, mostly from people who have been unsuccessful.
Undeniably, there is a clear connection between your music and the community/world around you. Last night, a friend and I were listening to 'Pavilion', one of our favourite tracks of yours. It reminded me of the great work done with the Pacific Technics label, raising money for Amnesty International. Big props for keeping the music-charity-community links alive! The creative sectors have so much to give here…
That project was put together by Noah Pred, also from BC Canada and now living in Berlin. He put out my first piece of vinyl when he was just a teenager!
We still work together often and the alias Mad Science on my RF label is myself and Noah.
BOOM! Thanks so much for chatting to us Rennie, its been engaging to say the least! To wrap things off, tell us what else you've got planned musically over the coming months...and give another shout out to the album!
I have a vinyl EP coming up on a Depth audio called Witch Hazel that features a remix by Dex Nomadico (UR). I just dropped a remix on the new Satoshi Fumi release Echo…and before the end of the year will release an Orlando Voorn track on RF called ‘Fix Is Back’.
Please also support the new album Game of 100 Ghosts...peace!
Bigups man! Thanks so much for that.