Each year I highlight Halloween Mixes to Combat Decision Fatigue, because there's no sense wasting precious brain power on a playlist when talented folk like Dr. Rubberfunk are already on the case.
The good Dr. Rubberfunk (AKA Simon Ward) gave us three excellent Funky Halloween mixes in recent years (You'll find them all on MixCloud: Vol.1 , Vol.2 and Vol.3.), so this year I reached out to him for a little wisdom on the art of the Halloween party mix, the Christmas party mix and his own unique sound. While you're reading, go ahead and stream one of the Halloween mixes:
Dr. Rubberfunk: Funky Halloween Mix Vol.1 :
Dr. Rubberfunk: Funky Halloween Mix Vol.2 :
Dr. Rubberfunk: Funky Halloween Mix Vol.3 :
How would you describe the Dr. Rubberfunk sound?
I'd like people to think of it as a soul sound, if that's not too broad a description! My influences are equally broad I guess, but seem to converge nicely with soul. I need to draw up a Venn diagram to confirm this probably.
How long have you been active in the music/DJing scene?
I started playing drums in bands in 1987, then having collected a handful of records, took to DJing in 1992 whilst at university, which is when the Dr Rubberfunk moniker was thrust upon me. Dabbling with producing music came about 5 years later when I bought a basic Akai sampler, and had amassed a whole lot more records for source material!
My first release as Dr Rubberfunk was in 2001, which still seems like last week ...
Tell us about "Hot Stone."
It was a very enjoyable record to make. Sessions took place across a couple of years, and encompassed me moving house in the middle, which presented some challenges as I settled into a new studio space. But we were soon cooking up some nice instrumental sounds, and best of all I've got room to have my drums set up nowadays. Having effectively label managed myself (with some help) on my first two albums, it was nice working with Jalapeno Records and having them take care of that side of things. They're also great at making connections, hooking me up with Roachford, who put down some amazing vocals on a track for me, and then in getting the legendary Steinski on board for a remix, both of which still blow me away to think about now. Be nice to work with them again in the future!
What's the Dr. Rubberfunk approach to a Halloween mix?
It's really just trying to string together some interesting soul, funk, blues and jazz tunes around the Halloween theme, and always turns into a nice excuse to dig through my record collection. Many of the tracks are not necessarily directly related, but if the vibe works, they're in. I'm not above sticking a track in on the basis of a terrible band name or song name related pun though ...
Do you tend to avoid novelty "Halloween songs" or do any of them work for you? Any favorites?
I suppose any track made strictly for Halloween is a novelty song, but I've used stuff like Jimmy Castor's "Dracula" before -- he loved a bit of a mythical/fictional character cash-in and did a whole "I Love Monsters" LP, but I definitely prefer to try and stick to the lesser heard novelty tunes, stuff that maybe people won't have come across before.
Is there ever an excuse to include "Monster Mash" in a Halloween mix or playlist?
Probably not, but because I avoid those sort of tracks in my own mixes, I'm not so burned out on them, so don't mind hearing them once in a while.
You employ some excellent 70s horror samples in your Funky Halloween mixes. What do you look for in your selection?
On the earlier mixes a lot of the spoken word stuff is taken from vinyl recording of books, usually read by wonderfully voiced superstar actors from the 60's and 70's. Making the readings work over music they weren't ever intended to go with is part of the fun too.
If one were to accompany a Funky Halloween mix with suitable visuals, what film or films should we play on mute in the background?
Anything with interesting visuals and some tension in the shots. I'm not one for gore-fest type films, preferring the drama to be created without resorting to the obvious. Maybe pickup some old French or Italian thrillers, full of shadows and wonderful scenery (and beautiful actresses!) and try those?
You also bust out funky Christmas and Valentines mixes. Which holiday is hardest to construct a mix for?
Probably Christmas. Those were the first themed mixes I put together (the first nearly 10 years ago) and they were a determined attempt to stay away from the super pop side of things and dig in my crates a bit for something different. Again, some of them only have a loose connection to Christmas, but they all mean something to me. For example, I put "Somethin's Cooking" by Quincy Jones on the second Funky Christmas mix, which wasn't meant as a reminder to check the turkey is in the oven, but just because it's on the Italian Job soundtrack, and that's been repeated on TV in the UK every Christmas since I was a kid. The Valentine's mixes are easy -- everyone loves to love right? They're an excuse for me to sit and listen to Al Green for a couple of days while I try and work out which songs to use :)
And finally, what other projects are you working on?
I'm mixing tracks for another Jalapeno artist, which should see release shortly, plus busy writing, co-writing and remixing. Whether these new tunes will turn into a new Dr. Rubberfunk album, or something else, we'll have to wait and see!
Plus, it's nearly time to start plugging the Olympic Cyclone Band album "Season's Greetings" that I co-produced last year -- our alternative re-workings of some festive favourites, and really an extension of the Funky Christmas mixes. Finding decent new Christmas related funk and soul tunes was getting hard so we thought we'd make some. If you're looking for something cool on your Christmas TV or radio show, clearly you need look no further ;)