Interview with Al Kent - The Disco Edit King

You started out as a Soul DJ. Did you have any DJ heroes at time. Did you consider yourself part of the northern soul scene? If so what was it like?

I was definitely part of the scene from the point of view that I collected the records and went to the clubs, sadly not in its heyday though. I wasn't old enough. It was something like 1983 before I got to my first all-nighter. I'd kind of DJ'd a bit before then, but it was more Motown and Stax type music I played, and really just to friends in local community centres and stuff.

The northern scene was unbelievable, even though I missed the main era. I've never seen so many people so deep into music in one room. Taking lots of gear, dancing for twelve hours to the most mind blowing music that no one else even knew existed while the rest of the country's asleep in bed, and blowing money you can't afford to spend in the record bars is a great thing to do. DJ Heroes? Guy Hennigan and Keb Darge were really important DJs when I started out, Ady Harley and Kitch were guys who had the best taste and blew my mind every time I heard them. And then people like Alan & Steve Walls, Mark Linton and especially Jock O'Conner from Scotland. 

In the 70s you started appreciating disco music. Was there a disco scene in Glasgow like there was in New York at the time? If so what were the clubs like?

I'm not that old! No, I got into disco after northern soul when the '70s records I was hearing started growing on me. I didn't know they were disco records at the time. I certainly wasn't aware of a disco scene in Glasgow, and if there was one, I'm sure I would've heard about it by now. Glasgow's not the most soulful city in the world. In the '70s live rock was really big, and nightclubs were fairly non-existent. There's always been a really healthy northern soul scene in Scotland, though.
When did you start doing re-edits? How do you go about picking tracks to re-edit? Can you explain your process for creating re-edits?

I started messing with edits on cassette and stuff first, without really knowing what I was doing. Just playing around. I can't remember when that was. It was sometime in the '90s before I produced anything you could call an edit, when I got a decent Mac, and realized I could export this stuff to CD. Before then I used to play two copies of records to extend them. So then I sold all my doubles and traveled lighter to gigs!

I edit pretty much everything I play out in one way or another. Almost every song can be improved in some way. Sometimes I'll hear a record that's really bad, but has some nice moments, so I'll buy that specifically to edit. Other times I'll just want a song I like to be longer, or just rearrange it slightly for the hell of it. And I burn everything to CD now that I want to play out, so I can't resist tweaking things, and it's good to have something a little exclusive to play.

I don't know that I have a process as such. Sometimes I'll just record the song into the computer and let the audio play, cutting, pasting and deleting as I go. Other times I'll spend hours cutting the whole song into a million pieces and treat it almost like a remix, completely rearranging it. It really depends on what I'm trying to achieve.

Can you give me list for your top 5 favorite rare disco records? Do you have a wants list of records you are still looking for?

Hmmm.. favorite records are always hard to say as they change all the time, but a few I guess I'll never tire of:
Alan Harris & Perpetual Motion - Get Ready
Mike David Orchestra - Turn it Out
King Tutt - You've Got Me Hung Up
Ann Louise Jenkins - How Can I Be Wrong
Anything by Walter Gibbons!

There are some records that I'm looking for, but will probably never find, but I don't really have a wants list. I mostly like to find new things I didn't know of. I'd much rather buy ten unknown 45s than one trophy 12 inch.

How did the idea for the Million Dollar Orchestra come about? Can you explain how it started as a small project in your bedroom and ended up with a 20 piece orchestra? How much of the album is live musicians and what parts use samples?

The Million Dollar Orchestra thing happened more by accident than design. I'd been making these kind of shitty house-ish tracks with disco samples, and got really bored with it. There's only so much you can do, and once you've done it, you've done it. It became tedious, and record sales were really starting to slow down by this point anyway. So it seemed pointless. I had the idea that I could get some people together to play some parts for me, then I could basically use them instead of the samples, to give myself a bit more creative freedom and hopefully create something more worthwhile. And then it just snowballed. The more I got into it, the more I wanted to do, till eventually I was recording string sections, horn section, percussionists. It was crazy. I had no idea what it would end up being, but I'm glad I did it. The whole album is live. There isn't one sample on there.

There seems to have been a big rare disco revival in the last five or so years. Where do you think the future of this scene is headed? What have been some of the best DJs and club nights supporting this scene?

The future is more expensive records! I always have difficulty answering these questions, because as far as I can see, the true "disco scene" doesn't exist outside of a load of record collectors. I don't know of many club nights where this music is fully supported. There's obviously plenty of places you can go and hear bits of disco, but as far as good disco music all night in the UK - the only things I can think of are Million Dollar Disco in Glasgow and Northern Disco in Manchester. But that could be changing. There's definitely enough interest out there to support more nights and there are people making plans. Dimitri (from Paris) is a great ambassador for disco music. It's just a pity we don't get to hear him play it often enough. And Kon's a great DJ, with some serious records. Rahaan's doing his bit for disco, and people like Cuebism and Love On the Run have the taste, passion and music to make people listen.

This interview was conducted in the fall of 2007 with Deano Sounds.

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