It was a classic right-time, right-place scenario: CJ Mackintosh couldn't make it to a gig opening for Todd Terry at the Ministry of Sound in London, so the 15-year-old kid working at the local record shop got his chance to play, even though he wasn't old enough to get past the club's door person. In 1994, Tim Deluxe was that kid, a north London DJ barely out of the bedroom when he played one of the busiest clubs in the UK.
“It was the first time I'd ever played on a UREI mixer or on decks that were on springs, so they moved about,” Deluxe recalls. “There were all these challenges, but the club was packed, and I totally rocked it!”
Ten years later, Deluxe is still rocking it, playing his unique brand of funk-fueled house around the world as a member of Darren Emerson's Underwater Records family. Known for a Latin groove and soulful vocals, Deluxe topped off his discography in 2002 with “It Just Won't Do,” a playful party tune that hit Ibiza like a swirling Mediterranean storm and eventually went to No. 14 on the UK Top 40 chart.
Now, that song is nestled into Deluxe's first full-length album, The Little Ginger Club Kid (Underwater, 2004). Recorded in his London studio, the album resulted from equipment that Deluxe calls “a weird combination of old and new,” but, lately, the older gear has suffered the more grueling workout. “I've gone back to using my E-mu SP-1200 drum machine,” he says. “It's irreplaceable — such a unique sound. Since it's 12-bit rather than 16, it sounds crunchy and dirty, which is making my new work very sparse. I think some of the newer synths just sound too digital and clean, and I still want my music to sound raw and not overproduced.”
For Deluxe, the songwriting process starts with a groove that might be inspired by another record, a sample or even a single bass line. “I'll go in and start tinkering on the keyboard, or I'll set the bpm clock at 100 and just see what happens,” Deluxe explains. “Once I've got a backing track, then I'll start hearing things over the top of it. Maybe it's a female vocal, maybe a rock vocal or a soulful vocal. Then, I'll bring someone in, and we just start putting down lyrics.”
Using Steinberg Cubase VST 5, Deluxe records vocalists with an AKG C 414 mic. From there, the road to a complete vocal sound is surprisingly short because Deluxe relies largely on his vocalists' talent rather than studio trickery. “On ‘It Just Won't Do,’ there isn't that much effect on Sam [Obernik]'s voice,” he says. “She doesn't sound like that normally, but we literally told her to imagine she was a 5-foot-tall Latino girl from New York. That sound just came out because she went into character. It was exactly the same process with ‘Less Talk, More Action.’ We asked Terra [Deva] to pretend to be Eartha Kitt. Doing it like that makes the song believable. All these different effects are inside of us, and it's really just a matter of bringing the characters out.”
Now that the characters are out, they're hitting the road. Deluxe's live show made its debut last summer at Underwater's residency at Pacha in Ibiza. With nine people onstage (Deluxe on the decks, joined by a percussionist, a guitarist, a saxophonist and five vocalists), the shows are injecting some much-needed energy into an otherwise stale club scene. “People are used to having just a DJ,” Deluxe explains. “Then, all of a sudden Jaime [Anderson]'s blowing a live sax in their face, or there's a guitar solo going off. The atmosphere changes immediately. There's no denying that dance music is in a bit of a slump, but it's up to us to change that. We're not being creative enough. Let's get musicians involved. Let's fuse styles together. It's the only way to make it fresh again.”