Arthur Baker talks New Order & Bambaataa at the end of his own UK residency
Associated perhaps more with New York than with anywhere else, Arthur Baker left his home town of Boston in 1980, never to return “except, of course, to visit family”.
In fact, the only remaining clue to his origins – let’s face it, he hardly sounds like a regular on the set of Ray Donovan or Cheers – lies in his addiction to the sport of basketball: “I’m a fuckin’ huge Celtics fan, my first game was back in 1965!”
It is London, however that has long been home to the visionary producer and DJ, and London was the base from which he also built up an initially successful pool-hall brand that was destined not to work out.
“Running Elbow-Rooms was a big part of my life but we sold the business for just a little profit in the end a couple of years back.
“It’s a real pity, but when you have a shooting, [which occurred outside the Birmingham venue; no-one was hurt] it kind of keeps people from coming…”
It’s not as if there was a lack of friends he could turn to who’ve been through anything similar, is it?
“Well if I’d have asked New Order how to run the business I’d have lost a LOT of money, and I still have the book Hooky wrote about it right here!”
Known for his work on two classic New Order singles, Confusion and Thieves Like Us, Arthur reveals they are not even his favourite songs by the band. “That would be Regret, more for the lyrics than for any other reason,” he says. “But considering the lack of time we had to produce them in, they were two good tracks.
“It was the first time we had met and I decided I did want to write with them after all, so we headed for a friend’s studio in Brooklyn, where I programmed everything.
“They had been sending me demos for ages and I’d never even listened to them. But they pestered my friend, the late Michael H Shamberg, who ran Factory’s US operation in New York [and directed the iconic True faith video for good measure]. I’m glad they did, because it all worked out.
“In those days Barney had a problem with a real tight vocal, but he assured me when we met up again, to record Vivid with Electronic, that he now knew how to avoid that in future!
“But Barney and Hooky both helped me out by appearing in my documentary 808 The Movie, which is being shown at Festival No.6 [on the Saturday in the Gatehouse]. I’m still friends with both of them… and there are two sides to every story, right?”
Steeped as he was in those early days of Hip-Hop, did Arthur ever consider Rick Rubin, of Def Jam fame, as a rival?
“I got Rick his first deal, so I would not say rival was the word. But it’s amazing to think he was a teenager when we met and all these years later he’s worked with Johnny Cash while I worked with [Bob] Dylan!
“Like me, Rick always loved his rock, I mean my first gigs as a kid were Led Zeppelin and CCR. However, whereas I wanted to make dance records and did not feel I could make rock records, Rick stuck pretty faithfully between rock and rap, he really had no time for funk or disco.
“He knew his own strengths and he certainly caught the essence of a live Hip-Hop party with tracks like It’s Yours with T La Rock and Jazzy Jay in 1984… that just blew me away when I first heard it…”
So how does one address the phenomenon formerly known as Kevin Donovan, and who turned whom onto Kraftwerk back in those days? “Who, Bam? Believe me, he was just as into those tracks as I was, he would play anything he thought was funky, anything with a beat, including ACDC and Gary Numan!”
Afrika Bambaataa, John Robie and Arthur it was, of course, who came together in 1981 for the seminal Planet Rock single, which borrowed from Trans-Europe Express.
“He was always super-open to all kinds of music and he was super-important when it came to how rap developed, he never saw black and white. He brings good, good things out of people, he’s still throwing it down and he’s also in my film!”
What, then, can those festival-goers attending your set in Portmeirion expect?
“I have no idea! You’re not really guaranteed the weather in Britain like you are at Coachella [southern California] either, which was the last festival I played, or Sonar, in Barcelona!
“I’m not into all that mud, I could not quite understand the kids who would turn up at my Glastonbury parties covered in the stuff.
“I’ll be using the machines, doing some live programming while sampling and looping some old tracks for the fun of it. I’ll bring some of my underground stuff and Acid Future stuff, as well as plenty of dance… the technology lets you create new mixes as you go.”
And after Wales, will it be back to the Piccadilly and District lines of west London? “No, I’m moving to Miami at the end of this month, but we are coming back to London for fashion week, which is all to do with my wife’s job.”
Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to send you a postcard, Arthur!