Rockstar! Duran Duran Drummer Roger Taylor Spins Platters
By Steve Lewis
I love Duran Duran. "Girls on Film" is one cut that I always play just before crowds are about to throw their shoes at me -- by the way, why aren’t a ton of people FedExing their old shoes to Washington as a sort of goodbye, see-you-real-soon kind of gesture? I guess people figure they might need to wear them again. Roger Taylor, best known as the drummer for Duran Duran, is taking DJ gigs; it’s funny how these rock icons offer house or electro sets when they spin. Perry Farrell and Tommy Lee played house and techno, which I’m sure confused much of their fan base.
When Blackbook threw a party for me a few months ago, my old buddy Mark Ramone played nothing but Ramones songs for an hour. We looked at each other with a “What did you expect?” glance, and then Marky went into a soul/funk set that blew us away. I walked up to him as he spun “Across 110th Street” and said, “Mark, wow, this is amazing!” and he replied, “Did you think I didn’t know how to DJ?” Tommy Lee, Marky, and now Roger Taylor. Drummers all have a deep understanding of speeds and beats that are so much a part of the DJ experience; I remember a time when people talked about the rock drummer being eventually replaced by a beat machine. Now it seems that the rock drummer is finding a home and a new stardom as a DJ.
We’ve met in the past, I’ve operated clubs in New York like the World and Palladium, and you’ve passed through with the band, we’ve run into each other before.
So you’ve been around as long as I have then.
I think I’m actually a few years older than you. So Roger, now you’re a DJ, and are you on tour also?
I’ve just been on tour with the band for about 14 months on and off. We started last November, we did a run on Broadway in the city, and we’ve kind of been on and off tour since then.
And have you planned on touring as a DJ?
Not yet—hopefully I’m going to be doing some of that next year. As the band thing is kind of quieting down a little bit, I’m going to try and get into DJing a bit more.
Why do you DJ? Is it just keeping your ear to the ground, or do you actually love it? It can’t be for the money.
Actually, I do love it. I got asked to DJ at the Met Bar in London a few years ago, and I just kind of turned up with a bag of CDs. I brought all my favorite records, and I had no idea how to DJ really; somebody kind of helped me to put the records on; there were gaps in between the records and stuff, but I just really loved the experience of making people dance and people being into the music that I wanted to play. So I did that a few times, and then I thought, you know, I’m really going to get hold of the technical side of it because I’d like to be a proper DJ. So I went about learning the beat matching and getting all the harmonics right between the records, but being a drummer, the beat matching came pretty quickly to me. I know a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to get the records beat matched across. And then I got pretty proficient at it, and it just kind of snowballed. So now if I get asked to do something, I do it, I say yeah, absolutely! Because it’s become a part of my life and I really love it. It’s similar to performing in a band, especially being a drummer—you’ve got the audience moving to your bass drum; as a DJ, you’ve got them moving to the music. I think it’s a great thing.
I don’t often do research—I just sort of wing these things—but I did want to get a little bit of background on you. You’ve listed Paul Thompson of Roxy Music, Charlie Watts of the Stones, and Tony Thompson of Chic as your influences in terms of being a drummer. Do you have any DJ influences?
I’ve seen so many DJs over the years. I saw Frankie Knuckles in the late 80s when I went to a club up in Birmie where he was the special guest DJ. I got invited up to the booth, but at that time I had no idea what a legendary DJ he would become—Frankie Knuckles is the king. Then I saw Sven Vath, who is a great German DJ, and being a drummer I just loved the way that he was all about the bass drum; the high-hat would come in two minutes later, then the bass would kick in, and it was just great to see how the crowd could just respond to different instruments coming in, in a very simple way. Carl Cox I’ve also seen a few times, he’s great, and knows how to rock the room, and that’s what its all about.
A lot of people are saying that the DJs of today are the new rock stars. I booked Mark Ramone to DJ for a party for this blog, and the first two hours of his set was Ramones songs. Do you play any Duran Duran songs?
I won’t play a song ... I’ll use tracks that maybe have some samples in, or I’ll cut part of a record into it. I’m not into just going out and playing electro sets that includes the Duran records. I like to make it a bit more interesting, and just cut it up together. I play those records every night in the band, so for me it’s quite nice getting out there and playing other people’s records. To me that’s more interesting. As much as I love performing and I love the Duran catalog, when I DJ, I tend to play other people’s records more.
I read that you did a four-hour set at Pacha in Ibiza, and Friday night you’re DJing at Webster Hall; what’s your set going to be like?
I’m just about to leave to go and decide on that now because I have a guy that I DJ with for the bigger things, Jake Fonique. I’ve got about 1,000 tunes that I can pull from that I’ve worked with, and often I’ll come up with a set, but as I’m performing it will completely change. It’s all about responding to what’s happening in the room. I’ll say I’m going to play this and that, but then by the fourth song, you can kind of go off in any direction.
Is it a house set, or is it an electro set?
I guess it’s based in house and electro ... that’s the backbone of what I play. But I could play a New Order song mixed with an Armen Van Helden song or a Dépêche song running into a Paul Oakenfold mix. I don’t like to have definite, defined ideas of what I should be doing. I like to go in different directions.
Have you been in Webster Hall before? You played there a long time ago, I guess?
Yeah, I’ve been there a few times. We did one of our first reunion concerts in there in 2003, which was an amazing night. So as soon as I heard Webster Hall, I thought absolutely, what a place.
What’s the difference between getting up for a DJ set in terms of nervousness as opposed to a rock set? Are you more nervous before a rock set, or is it just like going to work? How would you describe that?
I think any sort of performance will create some nervousness. Even Duran Duran, we’ve been playing sets for nearly 30 years, and we still get nervous before going on. Because that’s the thing about performances—you never quite know what’s going to happen, and it’s the same with DJing. I have the same anticipation as playing with the band. You’re not quite sure how the audience is going to respond, whether you’re going to fuck up. So there’s a certain amount of nerves, which also I think is important. It puts you in the right space to perform. You don’t want to go up there bored, because you’re not going to give your best. I guess it’s like the way a sportsman performs best when his adrenaline is running.
I read that you’re one of the greatest drummers of all time, and you’re considered a musical genius. As a drummer for a super rock band, you had groupies; are you going to have groupies as a DJ?
I don’t know. I hope so. I’m guessing there will be a crossover anyway, I know there’s quite a few kids who’re into the band that are going to come out to see me as a DJ. So I’m sure there will be some sort of cross-fertilization. But I’m doing this because I want to get into a wider audience. I don’t just want to be playing for hardcore Duranies. I’d like to play to people who are into dance music and who like clubbing. That was the great thing about playing at Pacha; the kids there, I don’t know if they were aware of who I was. Probably 90 percent of the people didn’t, so it was great to entertain these people. It felt very pure to be in one of the great meccas of dance music as well, it was very cool.
Give me five songs that you’re going to play Friday night that you lean on, or five tracks that you take pieces from.
Some of these might be obscure to readers, but: a new Depeche Mode mix by Matt Samuel, Shine On Me by Tikaro, Twilight by Adam K and Soha, but then I might play something like New Order. Blue Monday is one of my favorite records, which goes right back to the days of Danceteria. The first time I ever heard that record was in Danceteria, and it went on to become the biggest-selling 12-inch of all time.
What was it like working with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake?
It was great, really cool guys. They kind of came to the table as fans. Justin had grown up listening to the record, and Timbaland came to us and said, “I’m a fan, I want to work with you guys,” and they were just really respectful. They didn’t come and try to take over, make us part of the Timbaland factory. They respected where we came from, which was cool.
Where does the title Red Carpet Massacre come from?
You’re asking the wrong guy here. That’s a Simon question, I think.
So I’ll come say hello to you on Friday night, and you’ll either throw a tomato at me or you’ll shake my hand.
Or maybe you’ll throw one at me, you never know.