Conan Liquid‘s Crates Motel has been a staple of quality edits and reworks since its conception.
I rounded up Dubai based veteran for some deeper insight to his vision and passion for re-editing.
You run a small but much referenced audio boutique / label called the Crates Motel. Tell us a bit about its conception and how you got to a point where you decided to go your own ways.
The Crates Motel was actually initially a production concept. I had no intention of using the brand as a label or music outlet. The concept was that I could produce a track anywhere, anytime and anyplace. I had sold off all my analog and outboard gear after 35 years+ and gone 100% In-The-Box therefore I was able to write, produce, mix and master anywhere I wanted, from hotel rooms to beach bars. But the brand grew and started to gain recognition. I had long been considering going down the route of having an outlet for my music and re-edits so it just happened organically really. I was fed up with releasing tracks with labels and getting absolutely nothing back. No statements, no money. Even the larger labels treated their artists in this way. There are now only a very few select labels I will do business with. That old model of signing to a label and having your picture taken with your contract and advance cheque is dying now and the bigger labels know it.
Most DJs begin editing out of a need to be able to play a specific track that doesn’t necessarily fit a dance floor today. When did it progress into something else for you personally?
I started re-editing in 1980 on cassette and reel to reel, so to be honest I was re-editing before I started DJing professionally. It has always been part of my sets. I did a lot of re-edits and remixes through the 80s and 90s but took a break in the late 90s/early 2000s to concentrate on the Liquid People brand, although I guess our concept was doing re-edits anyway as most of our music was sample based. It has just always been part of my make-up, starting as an 8 year old kid who wanted a 3 minute track to last 6 minutes.
Your edits are easily recognizable, yet they don’t follow a strict set of rules. What is your philosophy about going to work on a track when you edit it?
I have a number of approaches with The Crates Motel. There are the Period Authentic Mixes. The concept behind these mixes is to make a re-edit/remix that sounds like it was made at the time of the original release. Consequently, these do not tend to be synced to a grid or have a kick drum laid underneath. They will be the original stems re-edited and then the mix down will include the original hardwear that was used on the original mixdown.
So for instance all my Michael Jackson re-edits are sent off to a studio in the US with a Harrison mixing desk. Re-recorded through the desk with my settings and then sent back to me. I want to capture the exact original nuances and vibe. I really want people to listen and think they have discovered a long-lost remix that was never released. But then when I master them, they are mastered to be competitive with modern day productions sonically and in loudness levels. Then there are the Kitchen Sync Remixes which are synced to a grid for DJs and tend to have the beats beefed up for the clubs. These are also mastered to be competitive. One of the advantages of being a mastering engineer, I guess.
I hear too many re-edits and remixes that have very sketchy mixdowns and are not mastered properly. It is a shame as they are often great arrangements, but are let down at the end by lack of proper mastering. It is super important to us at The Crates Motel that everything is mixed and mastered to the highest level. Finally, the new Crate David remixes are re-edits and remixes of rare disco, soul and funk that are golden gems from my 40 years of crate digging. Some known, some completely unknown.
“The need for a huge studio with a wall of monitors is an outdated model.”– Conan Liquid
When did the Crates Motel come into your mindset, and how did it evolve to be what it is today?
As mentioned earlier, Crates was really born out of the concept of being able to produce, mix and master anywhere. I love the idea of a fully mobile studio. As a mix and mastering engineer, I can now work anywhere. I do not have to worry about a ton of outboard gear and a properly calibrated room. I have completely refined my workflow. I master 100% in-the-box on a very high quality DAC by RME and custom made headphones by Audeze.
I may very occasionally cross reference on my Genelecs and Dynaudios. The discrepancies a room can introduce are completely non-influential. Since I changed to this workflow my results been much better, more consistent and I have actually reduced call backs for changes from clients and tripled my work rate. It raises a few eyebrows when people hear this, but there are more and more high-level engineers doing this now. The need for a huge studio with a wall of monitors is an outdated model.
You are very conscious about how you market yourself and have created a great visual style for your music too. Do you enjoy that part of the business?
Yes I love it. I have a huge interest in branding and commercial art and nearly 40 year’s experience in music industry marketing. Also, one of the advantages of being completely in charge of your own brand is you get to choose exactly how you market yourself. I don’t always get it right, but if I make an error of judgement, I can fix it in an instant and repost online. I don’t have to go through twenty people to get a change made. I have a publicist and a close knit team of people who advise me and cross check things for me, but I have the final say.
How do you feel the current situation with COVID-19 has affected you as an artist and DJ?
For me it has been a blessing to be honest. My work rate in the studio has tripled for starters. I am a hustler, I always have been. You can’t sit back and complain that everything has changed and you can’t DJ anymore or can’t do this or that. You have to take action. The old model of DJing, live gigs and production is gone.
It may never be the same. You have to adapt to stay relevant. You have to be positive. Look for new opportunities. Use the changes in the music business environment to your advantage.
I have a ton of new concepts that I have launched and that are in development that follow the new music business model. You just can’t stand still and complain it’s not how it was anymore.
“I have a huge interest in branding and commercial art and nearly 40 year’s experience in music industry marketing. Also, one of the advantages of being completely in charge of your own brand is you get to choose exactly how you market yourself.”– Conan Liquid
As hard as it is to predict what happens, what do you look most forward to playing out from your lockdown productions?
Haha this changes every day. I am constantly adding to the Crates Motel catalogue. I am constantly crate digging for new tracks to remix and re-edit and even if we were all allowed to play out tomorrow I would have a ton of new stuff to play.
A big thanks to you, Conan Liquid, for chatting us!
Check out The Crates Motel: https://www.thecratesmotel.com