From Moby’s “Porcelain: A memoir” book
Over the summer of 1990 I’d produced a slow R & B single called Time’s Up for a singer named Jimmy Mack. It sold fewer than two hundred fifty copies. When I released my first solo single, Mobility, it had sold around fifteen hundred copies, which felt like a huge success compared to Time’s Up. The B-side of Mobility was a minimal techno track called Go. It was poorly mixed and no DJs were playing it. Even I wasn’t playing it when I DJed. It was too subdued and too poorly mixed to be played alongside any other house or techno records.
Jared had been talking to Outer Rhythm, a label in the UK, and the head of A&R for some reason liked Go and had expressed interest in releasing it. Jared warned me, “They’ll only release it if you make some new mixes so it doesn’t seem like an old record.” After signing with Instinct I had moved my studio into Jared’s place. He had a big one-bedroom apartment; we set up the Instinct Records office and my studio in his living room. Having my studio set up in his big living room made more sense than trying to work in the closet of my tiny bedroom on Mott Street. Jared worked full-time and made 80 000 $ a year doing data entry for Citibank. So from 9:00 to 18:00 every weekday while he was at work I would go to his apartment, where I would make music, do office work, or clean the kitchen.
On a Monday morning I went to Jared’s apartment and made myself oatmeal with raisins in his microwave. I sat at his black lacquered dining room table and thought about how to do a remix of Go for Outer Rhythm records. When I finished my oatmeal I put the bowl in the sink, walked past Jared’s black leather sofa to my equipment, and loaded in the samples for Go, still having no idea what to do. First I tried an even more bare-bones version of the song, stripping down the already minimal elements and putting reverb on the bass line. It was interesting, but would anyone play it? Would Tony Humphries play it? I assumed not, so after a couple of hours of work, I scrapped it.
Then I tried to work up a tribal version, adding lots of bongos and congas and making it even more repetitive. I sat in Jared’s black office chair in front of my equipment and added digital delay to the percussion. It almost sounded good, something that a DJ might consider playing. But it needed more. A breakbeat, maybe? I went to the turntables and started playing breakbeat compilation albums while listening to the tribal version of Go. None of them worked—until one stood out. It was too slow, but I sampled it and sped it up and somehow it fit. The kick drum to my new remix was just a traditional 4/4 pattern. The bass line had very little low end and sounded more like a percussive bass pattern played with an analog synth. This new breakbeat was driving the song. It wasn’t finished, but I recorded it to a cassette to take it home and listen to it later with fresh ears.
After working on the remix it was time to do the office work. I ran envelopes through the preloaded postage meter. I stamped and addressed cardboard shipping boxes for promo vinyl. I sorted the faxes that had come in, arranging them in the wire “in” basket on Jared’s desk. I checked the phone messages to see if there were any I should respond to. Then I cleaned my oatmeal bowl and put it in the drying rack. I was basically running the Instinct Records office five days a week and making the music for the label even though I hadn’t been paid anything in the year since I signed my deal with them. But I was happy and living in New York and making over 8 000 $ a year DJing, so I couldn’t really complain.
It was 15:00, and I wanted to get to UPS and FedEx and the post office before they closed. As I walked into his apartment, the phone was ringing. I picked it up.
“Instinct Records, can I help you?”
“Hi, Moby, it’s Jared.”
“Hi, Jared, how’s it going?”
“Good. Any messages?”
“Guy from Outer Rhythm faxed, your mom called, someone from Mixmag called, Dave sent a fax, and a distributor from California faxed, too.”
“Cool, thanks. Oh, did you see Twin Peaks last night?”
“No, I was out and Lee and I don’t have a VCR. I’m hoping Paul taped it and I can see it at his dorm.”
“Oh. I taped it if you want to watch it.”
“Really? Thanks! When are you coming home?”
“Probably around seven. Talk to you later.” He hung up.
I ran to the television. Twin Peaks was my religion. Well, Twin Peaks and Christianity. But at present, Twin Peaks was winning. I loved God, but at the moment I was more obsessed with Bob and Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne. I rewound Jared’s tape, sat on his black couch, and hit “play.” Angelo Badalamenti’s score filled the room and I was happy. For the next hour I could live inside David Lynch’s head.
The bird was in the tree. The saw blades were being sharpened. The falls were cascading slowly past the Great Northern Hotel. The camera panned over the dark, still water. When they cut to Leland Palmer’s house, Laura Palmer’s Theme started playing—the best and darkest piece of music in the Twin Peaks score. I needed something to add to the remix of Go I was working on and wondered if I could sample Laura Palmer’s Theme and use that.
When the episode was over I went to Jared’s CD carousel and took out the Twin Peaks score. It was too slow and too long to be sampled, as my Akai S950 sampler had only about eight seconds of sampling time. But maybe I could play it myself? It was simple, only three notes of a modulating E-minor chord and a low E note on the piano.
I’d started studying music theory when I was ten years old and had continued until age fourteen, when I heard the Clash for the first time. After falling in love with punk rock I’d decided to forget Dorian and Mixolydian scales and instead learn how to play three-chord songs by the Damned and the Sex Pistols. Some of my formal musical education still sat in the back of my head, though, helping me to understand chord voicings and transposition.
I turned on my Yamaha SY22 keyboard and found a string sound I liked. I played the three notes in Laura Palmer’s Theme and it almost sounded like Angelo Badalamenti’s recording. I cued up the tribal remix of Go I’d been working on and played Laura Palmer’s Theme on top of it. And it worked. The chords were long and languorous, but they worked with the skittish bass line and the looping drums.
It was missing something: Badalamenti’s low, droning piano. I added the low piano part with my Oberheim piano module, and the remix suddenly came together. Now it needed arrangement. I’d start the remix with the Twin Peaks strings and piano. Then add a kick drum. Then bring in the percussion and drums. Then the strings went out and the weird digital synth swoop came in. And it was basically done.
Or did it need something else? In the late eighties there had been a brief period of Italian house records based on big, bouncy disco pianos. They’d been huge in the British rave scene, and almost all British rave tracks involved that piano sound. I went to the middle of the remix and muted the strings and improvised a bunch of percussive E-minor seventh piano chords. The remix of Go didn’t need much else. I dialed in some high end on the strings, some reverb on the vocal samples, some low end on the kick drum. With its long, slow strings, it was an odd remix, but I thought it worked. I hit “play” and recorded it to a DAT. I left the DAT on Jared’s black lacquer table with a Post-it note: “A remix of Go i did today, what do you think?”
I looked at the clock. It was getting close to seven. Jared really didn’t like my being in his apartment when he got home from work. I knew that musicians signed to record labels didn’t usually work for free and clean the kitchen and go to the post office and send faxes, but I still wanted to respect his desire for me not to be around when he came home. I was free labor, but I was also the only artist on Instinct. When I was going to FedEx and the post office to send out vinyl I was usually sending out my own records. Also I liked working. I’d been raised by my mom to do whatever work needed doing. I turned off my studio equipment, put my oatmeal bowl back in the cupboard, turned off Jared’s lights, and went home.
At 20:00 my phone rang.
“Moby? It’s Jared.”
“This remix of ‘Go’ is really strong.”
“Really? I just made it after watching Twin Peaks.”
“Is it finished? Can I send it to Guy?”
“Well, if you think it sounds good, then sure. Do you think he’ll like it?”
“We’ll see. Oh, what should we call it?”
“How about ‘The Woodtick Mix’?”
A moment of silence on Jared’s end.
“The Woodtick Mix?” he finally said.
“When Dale Cooper got shot his vest was riding up ’cause he was chasing a woodtick. So, ‘The Woodtick Mix,’” I explained.
“Okay. Moby, again, this remix is really strong.”
“Thanks, Jared. Oh, did you get the messages and the faxes?”
“Yeah, thanks. Are you coming in tomorrow?”
“Around 10:00. Do you need me to go to the post office?”
“No, all the vinyl’s been sent out. Probably not sending out more until Thursday or Friday.”
“Okay, have a good night.”
“You too. I’m going to listen again.”
This was the first time Jared had sounded this excited and the first time he had called me to tell me that he liked something I’d done. I doubted that anyone would play this remix of Go, but at least Jared liked it.
I was standing in Jared’s living room, holding a fax. It was from Outer Rhythm records in the UK and it read: “Go is huge! Love, Guy.” I read the first three words again: “Go is huge!”
The Go remix had come out a few months earlier, and it kept getting bigger and bigger. I knew something was happening when I went to Limelight to hear Derrick May DJ and he played the Rainforest mix of Go. Around that time, Guy from Outer Rhythm had sent a fax saying, “Go is big! You need to come to England!” So with Guy’s help I booked my first UK tour: I was going to spend two months playing at clubs and raves. Real raves! I’d seen pictures of raves in magazines: ten thousand people on ecstasy in a field at dawn, dancing to 808 State and Adamski and Guru Josh and Orbital, everyone wearing smiley-face T-shirts and waving glow sticks and hugging each other. And, in theory, I was going to be onstage in front of them. In England. Where I’d never been, as I’d only left the country twice before: once to visit France in 1987 and once in 1989 to go to Canada to visit lakes.
We drove through London in his Renault, switching between Kiss FM and some of the other, pirate radio stations. London, and the rest of the UK, was full of unlicensed pirate radio stations. There were the official, licensed radio stations, which were generally quite conservative, playing Top 40 records and classical music. And scattered throughout the dial were the unlicensed pirate stations, operating out of abandoned offices and warehouses and playing cutting-edge dance music and reggae.
As Guy drove, and Kiss FM played on the car radio, I stared out the window, thinking, I’m in London. I’m in London. I’m in London. Growing up I’d been obsessed with everything and anything that came out of the UK: Joy Division, the Sex Pistols, Benny Hill, Monty Python, Peter Saville, Peter O’Toole, John Peel. And now I was here, making casual conversation with Guy while driving past British supermarkets and British bus stops. The sun had set in London two hours ago, and in New York, where I had been twenty-four hours ago, it was late afternoon. It all seemed like intercontinental magic.
Then Go came on the radio. “Ha, see!” Guy said, turning it up. We sped through London listening to Go. We passed a century-old pub as the breakbeat I’d sampled kicked in. We passed a tube station as the disco pianos kicked in. The same disco pianos I recorded in Jared’s apartment while my oatmeal bowl was drying. I was trying to be urbane and jaded, but I wanted to roll down the window and scream at the top of my lungs, “I’m in London and this is my song! On the radio! Not even on a cassette, but on the radio!”
“I told you,” Guy said, “they’re playing it ten times a day.”