For a man commanding a giddily elastic sound, Rennie Pilgrem is surprisingly reserved. But he is far from distant. Pilgrem is a consummate professional who is concerned with punctuality and putting a sound system through its proper paces, and he's also the first to notice an empty hand and fill it with a handshake or a drink.
More often than not, however, Pilgrem's hands are filled with records and CDs — be they tracks for his DJ sets or from his label, TCR (aka Thursday Club Recordings), which he founded in 1993. It's also home to Pilgrem's first artist album in more than four years, Pilgremage (2004).
Despite being constantly consumed in new music, however, Pilgrem admits that he doesn't make it out to record stores all that often. Being both a renowned DJ and label head, he is inundated with tracks. Still, only an hour after landing in Atlanta, Pilgrem makes himself available to sift through the bins at Satellite Records in the city's Little Five Points community. Upon entering the sleeve-lined storefront, he offers a tour of both the moment's top choons and his personal history in dance music, all the while preparing for a packed schedule of phone interviews and an appearance at club eleven50.
Along with DJs Adam Freeland, Tayo and Ian Williams, Pilgrem coined and defined the nu-skool genre of breakbeat music — a style that has stepped back from the filthy drum 'n' bass breaks for a more moderate bpm forged with techno's efficiency. Pilgrem began his career in the postacid, hardcore/guerrilla-house scene band Rhythm Section. But as the scene became increasingly insular, paranoid and aggressive, Rhythm Section pulled back, finally splintering in 1993. Pilgrem then launched into an exploration of the spectra of breaks, thriving through the scene as it progressed from the days when it was in backrooms. “Winning people from different scenes and crafting timeless tracks by moving between influences is the goal of breaks,” Pilgrem says. Even what he calls the “vodka cranberry” crowd, the more fickle and pretentious socializing set of dance fans, has taken notice.
Piquing that interest, recent tracks that never leave Pilgrem's crates include his own “2Freaks” and his remixes of Zero's “Emit/Collect” and Ferry Corsten's “Rock Your Body.” Pilgrem also pairs hand-selected, well-known material with unreleased cuts from TCR and friends' labels — his “insurance” against overlap with other DJs' sets — as well as catchy bootlegs.
“You've got tunes where you gravitate towards the most obvious mix, but you get bored with them faster,” Pilgrem says. “The ones with longevity are the ones that are a little less obvious.” Pilgrem then takes these strains and crossbreeds them during his travels in his Mac PowerBook through Apple Logic, GarageBand and Soundtrack, among other tools.
From his past in Rhythm Section, in addition to being the son of a jazz trumpeter, Pilgrem is prone to incorporating live bass, keys and sax. Pilgremage packs in more genre hallmarks than your average breaks album: tenor sax and classical measure; gritty guitar riffs; darting funk bass lines; yawning, filter-reinforced synths; cascading squalls; and possessed vocals. As it turns out, it's a good indicator of Pilgrem's predilections in the record store, which register all over the map, from punky to peak-hour.
The A-side is kind-of-good minimal breakbeat with James Brown samples; I'd say it's probably a good mix tool. It's quite minimal, but it has nice old-school breaks, and it's not bad, actually. I think I'd probably play that in a mix, maybe with a tune that's a little more programmed that could do with a real loop of something; this could be a good one to play underneath it. The other side is a house mix that wouldn't be for me but would probably serve the same purpose for others.
DJ TAL VS. TIEFSCHWARZ
“Digital World” (Art of Disco)
There's a really big buzz about these Germans in London. Their remixes are quite edgy; they're not afraid to have some riffy synths going on. This is the kind of thing — if I was playing a set where I didn't just have to play breaks — I'd probably be interested in playing.
“Punk or Funk” (Rhythm Syndicate)
So this is JDS' “Punk or Funk,” and even though they're soon to be doing stuff for my label, I've been trying to get this record for ages — since I heard it in Spain one New Year's Eve. There's actually a bootleg of this with Missy Elliott about that's much easier to find; JDS don't even have copies of the original. I think like anyone, they've moved on a bit, but I think they've still got a good raw sound.
RHYTHIM IS RHYTHIM
“Strings of Life” (Transmat)
I've wanted this for ages, but it's hard to get in England. This is where my roots are from, and I know it originally because it was sampled in lots of hardcore records. Same as [how] breaks is going through a state now where it's thieving everything, back in the hardcore days, it was the same deal. We do a TCR once-a-year party playing classic tunes, really strong stuff rather than the latest CD-R, and this will be perfect for the next.
“Try to Burn” (Mob)
This one is wicked, really hooky, like it's influenced by some of the '80s electroclash stuff. It's between house, breaks and funk. The JDS mix is just pumped up a bit, a bit more havin' it, so it could play to two different times of night. I like to have a 12-inch where you've got two different flavors. I think you have to give people consistent quality these days, and if you can give people two reasons to want something, all the better.
SLY FIDELITY & CLUBFOOT FEAT. AFRIKA ISLAM
“4 the White Knight” (Lot 49)
So this is Lot 49, Meat Katie's new label. And the track features Afrika Bambaataa's spiritual son. This is an exciting track that sounds like an old Martin Luther King Jr. sample with a nice driving percussive break, and then on the other side, a slightly more techy Christian J mix. You could probably play this anytime.
“Electric Fence” (I-Lectrik)
This one's quite percussive, quite minimal, and I like Splitloop. It's quite minimal, driving stuff. I prefer the original, though, because it sounds a bit more groovy. But all around it's nice, solid stuff.
I picked this up out of the out-of-print bin. Again with Tiefschwarz, it's nice electronic house — not something I can play all the time, but, occasionally, it's a good odd one just to annoy the purists.
“Starts With the Funk”/“Vaz Lite” (Streetwise)
I think Streetwise is a really good label, actually; it won best new label in Breakspoll. I believe this is Vigi and Zero under another name, and this is just a really good solid, driving funk track.
Pre Acediasts EP (Meshkey)
I was interested in this because it was produced by the DFA, whose work is so groundbreaking from being so raw. LCD Soundsystem's “Losing My Edge” had all these beats out of time. Anyway, this is quite punk-funky, noisy, and it's Japanese vocals, so it makes it a bit of a limited market. I like the vibe, though.
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