the records that changed todd terry’s life
George Michael, James Brown and Arthur Baker: the legendary Todd Terry talks his life in music.
Last week in Récife, Brazil, Todd Terry tore up the ninth night in Boiler Room and Ballantine's Scotch Whisky's Stay True series. Spinning a searing selection of some of the greatest hits of his career, Todd's set was testament to the pivotal role the DJ and producer has played during his four decade long career. We asked the New York native to talk us through the key tracks of his life and, below, check Todd's Récife set, exclusive to i-D…
What was the very first song you bought?
One of the first records I bought was by James Brown. It was called Mother Popcorn and I really got into it. I'd play it over and over and over again. I was mesmerised by how music came out of a disk, like I didn't understand it. I used to look at it and try and really understand what the hell was going on, how the music was coming out of a piece of vinyl.
Which song most reminds you of your mum?
There's this record on RCA by the New York City Community Choir called Express Yourself. It's a church record. My mother was deep in the church so this had a church rhythm and it had a great beat. That song will always remind me of my mother.
Is there a track that particularly reminds you of growing up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn?
Ah man, I really couldn't pick one. There was so much interesting music back then. I was into the freestyle music at first - you know, Mark Liggett, Chris Barbosa, Gimme Tonight by Shannon, stuff like that. I was into a lot of Arthur Baker at that time as well. That's when I really started getting into music and began to think about making music. I started with a lot of disco stuff, but I got really into it when the freestyle stuff came out.
What was your New York like back then?
It was great. That was the greatest time for me because not only was music evolving but I was there while it was evolving. I think we took a turn back from what's going on now. There are too many computers and that's put a dampener on what we should be doing with music, because now you're making music without music. So it's an interesting cliché that has happened over the thirty years. But at least I got a good 20 years out of it, so I'm happy.
You used to record on reel-to-reel...
I made tracks on a four-track cassette deck. The first time I recorded was on a four track and it took me a while to understand it. I was totally confused but once I got it, then I needed more. Back in the day, once you learn something you're gonna need more and more to keep yourself going.
What do you record on now?
I'm on Logic now, I use Pro-Tools. I just think we maybe use too much technology, less than we use creativity, so I love it and hate it.
What was the very first record that you made?
I did a lot of records that didn't have my name on at first. One of my first records was with MC Serch, although I can't remember the name of it but we also did a lot of records with Tony D on Idlers Records. Then Alright Alright [Masters At Work] came out came out, and then Giggles' Love Letter, Fascination… Then it started going crazy after that!
What's your go-to break-up record?
George Michael's Careless Whisper. Relationships suck but you gotta keep on going with life, everybody is not perfect. You can't mould somebody into something that you want. So you know, that's a heartbreak right there. You kinda expect somebody to be a certain way when you meet them, and then it changes throughout the years. It might not go the way you want it, but you might not be the way they want too, so, you know…
What's your karaoke song of choice?
Rapper's Delight by The Sugarhill Gang. Me and my brother Hector Romero, we do a good collaboration on that.
Who is your best friend in music?
Definitely Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez. We're brothers, we go way back. Junior Sanchez too. We got a feeling with each other; we joke around but we know how to get to business.
The scene you came from was an incredible amalgamation of black kids, white kids, Latin, straight, gay, house, rap, disco, dance… Do you think we'll see entire genres created in the same way that we did with disco, house and hip-hop in the seventies and eighties?
Can you create something special now? I just think it gets watered down with the speed of the internet, you know. The new style, the 'pumpy' music, I don't know, somebody will catch onto it and a thousand people will do it. It's hard to hold onto one definitive style, and make it really work right now. It's a mess going on out there, the world's a mess.
When was last time you appeared on Top Of The Pops?
(Laughs). That was back in 1997 with Shannon. That day was me, Janet Jackson, and Celine Dion. It was crazy. I ran into Celine, I ran into Janet, it was really cool. At that time I was just trying to work with them. I couldn't get that going, but I've done a couple of Janet Jackson mixes. You know, it's one of those things you can check off the list.
What has been the most important record of your career?
It's gotta be Everything But The Girl's Missing. All the way. Without a doubt that's my biggest, biggest, most successful record.
They didn't want to go with it initially, right? There was some resistance from the band.
Well I think they had a lot of remixes out at the time and they were looking for me to do something new. What I did was the same type of vibe as a lot of my other records, and I just gave it a little twist. They wanted me to do more, but I didn't think it needed more, I thought it was strong enough. I want to keep the creativity, because I come from that, I want to respect what the artist has done in the first place. That's my style; I really just want to change the bassline and the beat. But, as it turned out, the track did really, really well so I'm glad it turned out the way that it did.
Why do you make music?
I couldn't get my baseball career going (laughs). I just somehow ended up in music. From being in a gang selling drugs and stuff like that you just kinda... well, music was a safe haven. It was just a safer place to be.
Who has been the most important influence on you?
James Brown, Quincy Jones and Arthur Baker. All those guys and their respective genres gave me style.
You've worked with countless people over the years; which collaboration have you enjoyed the most?
I think Patrick Adams taught me a whole lot when it comes to producing. He was a genius, so to follow a genius you gotta be at least halfway good. So I think I'm halfway good.
How many records do you own?
I think I've got somewhere around 17,000 to 20,000.
And if your house were to burn down...
Vinyl don't burn...
Okay, flooded, if there was a flood...
There isn't one that you'd save?
The flooding would just prove that all my records are indestructible...! You can't kill vinyl, not now, not ever.
To check out all the performances from Récife, as well as previous sets from Ballantine's and Boiler Room's Stay True Journeys, clickhere
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Vincent Rosenblatt!