Making mash ups in his bedroom, Sheffield based Richard X’s talent caught the ear of DJs and the press alike. In a sea of simple mash ups, Richard had a fresh sound that combined the complexity of the popular in an artistic manner, but with dancefloor, and more importantly, commercial viability. His first mash up, working under the name Girls On Top, was a limited seven-inch featuring, on side A the Whitney Houston-meets-Kraftwerk contemporary classic ‘I Wanna Dance With Numbers’. On the B-side, Richard placed his all-time favourite track, The Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’ beneath TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’, creating ‘Being Scrubbed’. These two fresh-sounding, icy electronic R&B anthems took London by storm, and were considered novel, not a novelty. His next single had on the A-side ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends’, a version of which the Sugababes would later take to the top of the charts, and on the flipside ‘Warm Bitch’ married The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’ to Missy Elliott’s ‘She’s A Bitch’.
The name Richard X has nothing to do with fighting oppression ala Malcolm X, but rather happened as a bit of an accident. “It was quite a while a go when I was doing the Girls on Top bootleg,” says Richard. “Because I wrote a letter to someone and wrote ‘Richard’ and then put a kiss, which is the ‘X’, it became Rich X, then Richard X as it became. Richard Y was another popular name; it’s what my mum used to always say – ‘Richard, Why?’” he laughs.
“At the time it was more I was bored of electronic music, and still loved with music from my past, and I was also into the RnB stuff quite heavily, you know ‘the American Pop’, since 1997,” Richard relates of his first track. “At the time it was at odds with British electronic music – a lot of people couldn’t see the similarities (between pop and electronica) but I could. For me they were cut of the same cloth, they’re both minimal, both pop songs, and I saw it as a logical step to do it as a booty. I don’t think anyone had done a booty outside the world or house music, or the world of ‘art’. It was very fresh at the time.”
This gave rise to a whole host of bootlegs, sometimes called mash ups, or ploppers (plopping the vocals of one track over the instrumental of another with little production) or, my favourite term, Bastard Pop (the illegitimate child of two unlikely pop songs). Richard wishes to distance himself from this scene, although he states, “I’m not a person to say that it’s rubbish or it’s unfashionable. I always said it wasn’t just about making bootlegs, and that’s what I’ve tried to show with the album (Richard X Presents the X factor). I’ve been doing other stuff as well, I’ve been writing and producing for other people,” he adds.
“But I try to avoid playing at the nights, just making bootleg after bootleg, because it’s bit of a trap; a trap for artists just to do one thing, it always is. That’s the only downfall in that. I like some of the stuff, and I see the Get Your Booty On web board as something really healthy, and there’s some great talent out there. I’ve got nothing bad to say about it at all. I’m just more interested in the people who take it a bit further, into the realms of making ‘unofficial remixes’, adding more of their own sound, less about bootlegging and more about traditional production.”
Richard is philosophical about the future of pop music as a whole; the way it’s made, as well as distributed. “I think what will happen is filesharing will get regulated. It is inevitable; but the only thing is I don’t think you can blame piracy for the crash of the music industry business. I think there are other factors in that; most of it lies in the hands of the record companies themselves. Companies run by shareholders are never particularly stable, and when things take a downturn it’s ironic that bedroom musicians and the people who don’t have to spend thousands of pounds putting records out, they’re the people who benefit,” he says. “Independent music will probably get a big boost in the next few years because we have that mindset of doing things on the cheap, or not getting a lot of money for it. I say we,” he says as an aside, giggling. “I’m now on a major! But I think it’s a re-adjustment. If I was a young artist doing it all again, I wouldn’t be worried at all, I’d still get my music out in one way or another.”
Being signed to a major label that helped the much-undervalued Sugarbabes to chart success with the tune ‘Freak Like Me’, there’s a delicious sense of irony that’s not lost on Richard that his album has copyright protection. “The copy protection never works, people can easily get around it,” he says. “You used to get around it just by drawing with a black marker on the CD… but don’t quote me, I don’t want people wrecking their CDs!” he laughs. “It was more of the downloading thing, which is ironic because of where I’ve come from. Sure, back then I had most of the records, but there were a couple of things I got from Napster and Audio Galaxy. It was novel way of making music. It was almost at the point where you could physically manipulate anything in the world without having to buy it. It was exciting, I was on the ‘cutting edge’”, he says with a hint of sarcasm.
“But you can’t not have copy protection on records,” he continues “But rather than hide it away and pretend that I don’t have to conform on an EMI recording, I thought lets make it really huge… just have me standing in front of this big sign! Originally it was going to be carved on a gravestone, but they weren’t having that. But it’s a red hearing, its not a matter of selling out,” he states. “I think that’s what most people might want to criticise me being on a major for, but all the records I’ve ever made have been pop music, so it’s where I should be naturally,” he says, with just a little hint of egoism.
Moving on, Richard has done the latest Back To Mine CD, which is surprising in it’s lack of well-known pop tunes. “They’re just great little records that I really do play at home,” he says of the tunes. “I could do a 20 pop record tune mix easily, but I didn’t want to do that. Electronic music was more than just the pop, it was the weird TV theme tunes, like ‘Tomorrows World’ that you’d hear once a week and get really excited about, and that’s what I was trying to capture.” Also noticeably absent is his favourite band Human League. “Last year I talked about nothing else apart from Human League. I went on about it so much it’s slightly perverse not to have included one of their tracks. But I think everyone knows the Human League, with this I wanted to make it… not deliberately obscure, but full of things that are great that you may not have come across before. I went for an obscure Heaven 17 track to represent them. Because there were a few electro compilations out there last year, given that everybody suddenly liked electronic music again, their music did get aired again, I thought I’d look elsewhere. I wasn’t being snobbish and it certainly wasn’t a dis,” he chuckles.