Theo Parrish: Sound sculptor

DJ/producer Theo Parrish grew up in the Chicago to the sounds of Miles Davis, Nina Simone, George Gershwin and even his own uncle, jazz musician Dexter Sims. Spinning and producing since he was 13 years of age, and then going on to study the fine art of ‘Sound Sculpture’ (a form of orchestration using live instruments, looped recordings and a variety of sounds, like the human voice) at the Kansas City Art Institute, Parrish moved to Detroit in 1994 where he quickly became a prominent figure of the underground dance music scene. He has since garnered a massive amount of respect from both the biz, and the dancefloor itself.

An artist first and a DJ/producer second, Theo Parrish works the decks like the sound sculptor he is, shaping his music with love and passion. It’s this educated background that he brings to the decks, and combined with his wide-reaching taste in music, it’s what makes his dynamic performances so worth tuning into. ITM sat down with the artistic Mr. Parrish to pick his brain and find out what makes the man tick.

First of all, can you tell us about how you initially got involved in DJing and became into music in general?

I’ve always loved music. There were mix shows on Chicago radio airing what was played at various dance parties in the city from 1985 to 1990; they initiated the DJing (for me).

Your uncle, Dexter Sims, was a jazz musician. Did he have a profound influence on you?

I looked to him for validation, as I saw what he was doing as serious.

Which musical artists are you most influenced by?

There are simply too many to list, plus it changes all the time. Drummers one day, bassists the next, keyboardists the day after…

Are you influenced by other types of artists; writers, sculptors or painters?

Yes; (sculptor) Alberto Giacometti’s treatment of form, (painter) Toulouse Lautrec’s use of light, (composer) John Cage’s treatment and concept of time and repetition. Ernie Barnes’ ability to capture the atmosphere of a moment in his paintings.

How have your musical tastes changed over time?

I don’t know how, just know that they have; expanded, I hope.

What are your thoughts on the state of music today?

Lots of ‘BS’ out there in the mainstream. Lots of amazing truth in underground and independent (music).

Given that your life is so heavily consumed by music, are there moments when you get sick of music altogether?

No – I just need to put a new record on – but I do have a requirement for silence at times.

You wear many different hats in the music world; DJ, remixer, producer… how do you view Theo Parrish’s position within the world of music?

I definitely don’t refer to myself in the third person on a regular basis. In this world of music I don’t have the vantage point to view my musical position. It’s too big…any one view is never accurate to real placement or one’s real impact in the world. Just sticking to what I believe is a challenge enough – I can’t call it.

How much satisfaction do you derive from unearthing rare or new music which, through your influence, is able to be enjoyed by a far wider audience?

Plenty, but just watching people relax and have a good time is really what does it for me.

How much of a role does technology play in your approach to music, both in terms of sourcing and playing new material, as well as in your live performances?

Technology only makes people lazy. As our lives become more convenient we actually live them less, and become less creative in the process. I want humanity to bleed through these machines so the less the better.

Speaking of technology, what are your views on the worldwide music downloading culture that’s developed?

(It’s a) complete devaluing of art, unless what is sold via that route isn’t art in the first place, which could be argued given the average ringtone commercial hit. It has maimed underground music of all sorts; destabilised the distribution infrastructure. It was hard to get current records in Australia 5 years ago; it must be much harder now.

Do you feel that people should pay for music downloads, or do you think that downloading allows for much greater exposure, helping artists to draw larger crowds and therefore enjoy more lucrative live shows?

Drawing crowds is for promoters. All music should be paid for, since it costs the artists that create it. In fact the pricing should be higher, and copyright infringement should be protected against and it’s not. The whole downloading system is flawed in a multitude of ways. Thanks to all who actually pay for their music!

Can you explain your role as lecturer for the Red Bull Music Academy, and how you found the experience?

Not a ‘role’ per se. I think they offer good opportunities for inexperienced producers/artists. The youth are the key for the music to continue.

What’s next on the production front for you?

SS038 Melloghetomental, with Billy Love. Hopefully out by Christmas, if not shortly thereafter. SS037 Something About Detroit (Limited) will be after that; then more and more and more!

What do you know and think of the Australian music scene and what can your Australian fans expect in terms of your future shows here?

I can’t seem to get an accurate bearing on the Australian music scene, as I am not intimate with the local music scene over there. There seems to be tension between the authorities and nightlife/music life. Later closing times would help. Better sound systems would help. Expectations are for waiters at restaurants. Open minds are necessary for getting down!

Catch Theo Parish at the Days Like This! festival in January, as well as the following dates across the country:

Fri 8th Jan – The Likes Of You 3rd Birthday, Melbourne

Sun 10 Jan – Days Like This!, Sydney