Darren Williams has managed to come along way in a little bit of time, producing under the increasingly popular Star Slinger moniker for roughly two years now. In that brief span of time he managed to accrue a fair amount of impressive collaborations with Reggie B and Juicy J. During SXSW we sat down to talk with him about his beginnings in trance music, and his forthcoming album featuring collaboration with Lil B among other things. By Ali Breland.
You went to Leeds Metropolitan University for music technology. Do you feel like having a formal background with music helped you develop your sound?
I was always self-taught, and then when it came to uni[versity], I just honed in on a few things. I honed in on things like how to make sounds fit together when you’re mixing a record in a studio and make everything more professional. On the other hand, I haven’t learned much about music theory or anything like that. I guess that’s why I make dance music – it’s fun and you don’t need to be super clever with it.
Would your sound have been different had you not gone to Leeds?
No, I had always been into music before that. I’ve always bought a lot of different types of records. When I was in college I would buy punk records but I would still buy dance records, and house records. I guess that’s because I always wanted to fit in with different people and not just the same crowd. I just feel more eclectic than some people.
Your music seems pretty technically adept. Despite that, you’ve only been active with the Star Slinger project since 2010 and only gained notoriety in 2011. What were you doing by the way of music before then?
Before that I actually made a lot of house music, and made a lot of trance as well. One of my records was played by Paul van Dyk while I was still [studying] at university. I sort of got a glimpse of what could be with that, but I was always wanted to make more fun music, not stuff like that. Trance really bores me now. I’ve always liked other music. I used to go clubbing quick a lot. I’m glad I’ve matured and I’m not still making trance music.
Most of the music you make is under the Star Slinger moniker for your own project. Do you have plans to do more projects with other electronic artists or produce for rappers?
My main goal is to eventually make hits for myself. My new album has a lot of features on it. It’s not released yet, and it’s not entirely finished either. It’s going well though. Some of the people on there are like Buraka Som Sistama from Portugal. There’s a dancer in that group who sings live and she’s singing on the record in Portuguese. We’ve also got Juicy J, and Project Pat as well as Lil B, and Stunnaman from The Pack. We also have Paris Grey from Inner City; she did “Good Life,” that big Detroit house track. I made a house record for her. She sang on it and it sounds amazing.
If you could have any producer’s connections or power in the industry, who would you pick, or are you happy where you’re at?
I’m happy making my own future. I wouldn’t say I want to be like anybody, because that would just be defeating me. I’m really inspired by Diplo though. It’s kind of hard not be. He’s with all the right people. The whole baile funk thing and M.I.A. changed the way people looked at world music. Before that it was a little bit cheesy to put another culture into your own music. A lot of people think he stole it, and he did, which is what’s good about it. You wouldn’t have heard of favela rave music in the UK before, but now you can because of Diplo.
You’ve talked about how De La Soul’s “3 Feet High And Rising” really got you into music. You originally just listened to it, but then went back and started excavating it for samples. At what point did you cross over from being a passive listener to actively going back and
manipulating the record for your own art?
I had a top 1000 album book, published by Virgin, Richard Branson’s company. Everything in there was voted for by readers of some magazine. It’s a fucking great book. Up towards the top it has stuff from like The Beatles and Lou Reed, but if you look back at like 900, it could be like a shoegaze band or it could be something like trip-hop. I just looked through all of that and from that you get into a lot of classic stuff, and time-defying music. That helped me grow past just being a passive listener.
Who would your ideal collaboration be with?
Fuck, I don’t know man. It’s hard now. It would have been Juicy J, but I’ve collaborated with him. As far as rappers go, if I worked with Kanye that would be insane. I think we both have this childish, creative vibe going on. He can be really silly, and that’s projected in some of his music as well. His view of the world is so grandiose too, it’s a very ego thing, and I love that. I think it’s real.
How do you feel about a lot of the recent music copyright issues in America, especially when your music uses sampling which falls into a legal grey area?
A lot of artists get away with it, because their stuff doesn’t sell over 50,000 [copies] or whatever. Some times I want to stop sampling because I know I can’t get any bigger if I keep sampling. You just have to keep putting out records for free your whole life. I’m working on music I wanted to make. I don’t want to just keep sampling for the rest of my life, I think that’s boring if you stick to one trick. I’ve got more than one trick up my sleeve. You can sound a lot more organic without sampling as well. That’s something I learned at the university, so I’m gonna be doing that.
You cite J Dilla as one of your biggest influences. He’s a massive influence for a lot of people, how did you interpret his music differently from everyone else to get to your unique sound?
The thing is with Dilla, is that I was pretty late. I had heard records he put out before without knowing it. I listened to Slum Village and I didn’t know what it was until I looked back at it. The first thing with him that really blew me away was Donuts. I’ve always been really into this technique he used on Donuts called side chain compression. The same technique is used in house music as well, and a lot of dance music. I would say Dilla drew me into that album because of the technique he used on that album which sounds amazing. And then of course the stories, he’s writing in the hospital when he’s fucking dying. That really inspired me, he made something timeless and then he left. That got me to look more into his stuff. He’s not a key influence though. I think my sample chops are a little different. Mine are a lot more silly. I don’t use only three seconds, I’ll use a chorus as well like in “Morning.” I never wanted to be a carbon copy of Dilla or anyone like that. There’s definite similarities on that first record for sure.
Manchester, UK at least from my American perspective, is a unique spot for music and it’s not massively on the map like New York, LA, or London. How has being in this different spot affected your music?
I would say that Manchester is very influential in music as well [as the UK]. We’ve got New Order, The Joy Division, The Smiths and bands like that. It’s unavoidable. I arrived in Vancouver, got on a shuttle and the first thing I heard was a New Order track. Manchester is everywhere in that respect. It’s got a lot of classic indie attached with it. It’s got more music than that. We don’t have much of a hip-hop scene. I love coming out here, people embrace my music more over here. In a way Manchester doesn’t have that much of an influence [on me], but the record shops are amazing. There’s actually a soul scene that developed in Manchester in the ’70s, and we call it Northern Soul. It’s basically where record stores would get imports of records from the U.S., like really rare soul records, and they would sell them
at fairs. People would buy them and basically rave to soul records. They were just basically white kids in Manchester, raving to this stuff. It’s very historic, there’s a lot of passion in the city for music.
All of your music is free which you mentioned earlier. Is that solely because of your sampling on them or do you just feel like that’s how it needs to be done?
The reason it’s been like that, is because I never really expected people to buy my records in the beginning. I didn’t even expect it to get past blogs or anything. I didn’t think people would like it in real life. I thought the blog thing would only get me like 10 fans or something, as opposed to a few thousand. That’s what it’s been free up until now. When I make something of quality that I think is sellable, then I’ll charge.