If you believe any number of articles written about jungle producer Rupert Parkes, a.k.a. Photek, he's a paranoid, shady guy dealing in clubland's underbelly; a flashy upstart with a penchant for fast cars; or a serious, stern man dedicated to what's been deemed "intelligent" drum and bass.
Paramount Theater, Saturday,
Try this description instead: a nice guy who just happens to make some brilliant music. "I'm never sure if the press are taking the piss or not half the time," Parkes says with a laugh from his home/studio near London. It's 1:45am in England—an odd hour for an interview, but for Parkes, it's "sort of midday"—and he's kicking it with another jungle luminary, Peshay.
At only 26, Parkes is firmly established in the electronic music world. His music, a simultaneously dense and spacious collection of tough and beautiful breakbeats, earns props from critics and fans alike. An early diet of hip-hop, electro, and jazz fusion fed Parkes' head, but like many electronic producers, he has little or no formal musical training. "I didn't know anybody who was making music when I first started," he recalls. "I literally read magazines for a few months while I was scraping the money together, and figured it out."
Parkes went on to produce tracks like "Seven Samurai" and "UFO," causing many junglists to snap to attention. But it was his first full-length masterwork, Modus Operandi, that cemented his place in the jungle hall of fame alongside artists like Roni Size, Goldie, and LTJ Bukem.
Taking a conceptual approach to music, Parkes sometimes starts with a name, a song title, or an idea. He transforms it to fit his vision with unpredictable beats—beats that carouse madly within the wide open spaces normally dominated by a gargantuan bass line or an overly textured synth wash (though a typical Photek track certainly has some of that as well).
The thematic aspect of Parkes' music might be partly responsible for some of the media's absurd portraits of him. "With the 'UFO' track, everyone thought I was into UFOs, and then [with] Hidden Camera, everyone thought I was paranoid," he explains. "If a journalist is going to describe music, then obviously they're going to try and talk about what the person's like. And when you get a theme so strong visually, it must be a relief for them to write about some other part of the person. It makes a more interesting piece."
For now, Parkes is content to be what he is: a top jungle producer; so good, in fact, that he's widely perceived as the producer's producer—the one artist that all self-respecting DJs and producers tip their hats to. However, one thing that Parkes is not is a DJ. Yet Parkes is embarking on a DJ tour in support of Form and Function, a collection of his seminal tracks and remixes by Digital, Peshay, Doc Scott, J Magik, and himself. The same man who when asked "Why don't you DJ?" once snapped, "Why don't you? It just has nothing to do with what I'm doing," now finds himself facing the dance floor.
Parkes diplomatically explains his change of heart: "DJing has never been an ambition of mine. Most people assume that DJs and producers are the same people. . . . I much prefer working in the studio—that creative process. I sort of got talked into DJing the first few times [and] it's actually quite a good change of scenery. I might go back from playing somewhere and get a bit more creative energy when I get back to the studio. But at first, I wasn't keen on it at all."
If there's been one criticism of Photek's music, it's that despite working great for home listening, it clears the dance floor—hence the irksome "intelligent" tag. "Calling what I make 'intelligent' jungle implies that there's jungle out there that's stupid," he notes. "Call it what you want, I don't think it's a particularly accurate or resilient term."
Difficult might be a more apt description of Photek's music. It works best after several listens; only then do you grasp how perfectly the producer matches natural-sounding drums with unnatural, futuristic noises, an observation that clearly pleases Parkes: "It's really a yin and yang thing.... Balance is one thing in my music—the lightness and the darkness, the different-sounding relationships. Either extreme is present. Some of it's really warm and unsettling, and some of it's cold but soothing."
Ultimately, Parkes is glad that he's a producer; he fears that if it weren't for the music, he might actually be one of those sinister characters that writers dream up. "I'm happy with what I've done, 'cause I'm aware of my potential to be really bad. I don't like to think about it that much," he admits. "I'm lucky that I found something early on. It's all turned out very well."