For those who have yet to venture into the world of 100% Silk, the LA-based label traffics in a very specific brand of indie-bred house music; it’s as much a punk label for the internet generation as it is a home for technophiles with Luddite production tendencies. That in and of itself might be a hard pill to swallow for music journalists looking to pin down the imprint’s sound, but with 100% Silk’s recent signing of Fort Romeau (aka Londoner Mike Norris, who released his debut full-length, Kingdoms, with them earlier this month), it’s only gotten harder still—Norris’ take on house is just as warped as every other 100% Silk contributor’s, Mi Ami and Bobby Browser among them. Norris often side-gigs as a keyboardist with London electro-pop sensation La Roux, but as Fort Romeau, he makes ’90s-informed house music of the deepest order. His track “Jack Rollin’,” which has been getting tons of support on dancefloors and indie-music blogs lately, serves as a paean to its titular Chicago sound while managing to bridge that odd gap between what club kids are into and what rock kids will deign to move to. The record speaks for itself, but all the same, we figured it was time to get a few questions answered by its maker as well.
How did you get hooked up with 100% Silk, and what do you like about the label?
I just emailed [label head] Amanda [Brown] out of the blue with a pile of tracks, and she liked them, so we just went from there. I like their anything-goes-as-long-as-it’s-got-that-vibe attitude, if you know what I mean.
What’s your involvement in La Roux?
I play keyboards and program their live computers and synths; sort of generally MD the live project along with the other guys.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Chester, then grew up near Oxford, then lived in Brighton for five years, then London for the past five.
How did you get started making music?
I started off playing guitar and messing about with a free copy of Cubase when I was about 14, just making loops and playing around. And it just grew more and more into solely electronic music from about 18-19, as, by that point, I was listening mostly to electronic music.
How would you describe the music that you make?
I suppose it’s music that tries to capture the essence and soul of early house, but also taking in influences from techno, “electronica,” bass music, etc. I’m more interested in trying to get a track to make you feel a certain way rather than sound a certain way, if you get me.
Do you DJ or play live? How would you describe your sets?
I just DJ at the moment, mainly with CDJs, although I’d like to introduce more vinyl. I take a long time and really think about DJ sets. I think it’s important to think about the narrative of your set and understand that each track is like a sentence in a much larger story. As for live sets, it’s crossed my mind to develop one, but it’s going to take a bit of time to get it to be something I’d be really proud of and that felt unique.
Did you have any mentors when you were starting out?
No, not really. I mean, I have musical heroes obviously, but the only people who have helped have been friends and my fiancé—she can be quite blunt.
When did you first feel that you had discovered your own individual sound?
I think only in its more developed and presentable form, in about 2009. I think before that I was always trying to make music that I thought I should, or that was maybe a little bit more in line with UK trends, but then it just clicked with me that if I just do what I actually like and what feels right, then the results are always so much better. You can’t please everyone else, so you just have to do your best to please yourself.
Are you the type of musician that knows what kind of track you want to write before you sit down to make it, or do you create music more from a process of experimentation?
It’s almost always the latter. I may find a little sound or something that triggers the ideas pretty instantly, but usually it’s just a case of facilitating as many accidents as possible.
When you sit down to make a track, what’s the first thing you do? And how long does a track typically take you to make?
It depends, but typically it starts with a simple loop—doesn’t have to be much. Then I jam out some chords on the [Yamaha] DX7 [synth], record them in, and then mess around with that.
Where do you record?
In my living room. It’s totally impractical; we live on a roundabout in South London and it’s unbelievably noisy.
Do you currently have a favorite piece of gear or software?
My DX7. It’s impossible to program, but I have about 1000 presets on my laptop that I can just SYSEX in. I just love its sound.
Who are you most excited about in house music these days?
Good question: there’s lots of great stuff at the moment. Move D is a mainstay for me, an all-time favorite, so consistent in quality but varied in style. The Aus Records guys, namely Midland and George Fitzgerald and most of the Clone and Royal Oak stuff, as well as pretty much everything on Workshop.
Which record do you wish you had made?
Oh, there’s loads. If it was any record, maybe Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. I wouldn’t be recording in my living room if I had written it, that’s for sure.
If a wrecking ball were headed for your house, which one record would you rescue before it hit?
When you’re not listening to electronic music, what do you listen to?
Paul Simon, recently; Peter Gabriel, if he doesn’t count; Fleetwood Mac, older stuff, really. 99.5% of anything new I listen to is at least in part electronic.
Do you have a favorite club to play?
I haven’t actually played there yet, but everyone says Panorama Bar at Berghain is a trip. I’ve wanted to go there for ages!