Ripperton has been consistently pushing himself forward and staying on top of his game since the early 2000’s. First as part of Lazy Fat People (with Mirko Loko), most recognisably solo as Ripperton and now also under his alias Headless Ghost. Emotive deep techno, deep house, electronica, ambient and more are all comfortably and capably handled. And he’s one of the rarities, a great producer who is also a superb DJ. Our resident blog writer, Chymera, caught up with Ripperton in January for a candid phone conversation direct from his studio in Lausanne.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview Raphael, how’s it going there?
It’s a beautiful day here. Studio time, no kids. Pretty nice. You?
It’s chilly and grey here in Berlin but not as cold as it usually can be at winter, so it’s ok
Yeah the last time I came to Berlin in winter it was like minus 20 or 15. It was really like “jesus christ?!!”, even for a Swiss guy! Here it’s really cold, its minus 5 but it’s beautiful. There’s snow in the city so it’s nice. And I have a heater in the studio so everything’s fine.
So, things are going pretty well for you at the moment, but I know the life of the artist is not always so easy. Depending on gigs for income is such a fickle thing. Some months it’s really busy, other months there’s nothing at all and no rhyme or reason to it. I’ve had my own ups and downs with it. Is it the same for you?
It’s so tough right now. I think it’s really tough for everyone. It’s happened to me once or twice. You know sometimes it’s life testing you. Seriously, I’m always thinking about Karma and sometimes when you get a huge blank it’s just because it’s time to make an album or something, you know?
I was depressed two times four years ago, at the beginning of that year it was really slow with gigs and money and I was like “what the fuck will I do?” because you know then you have to make some choices, it’s always the same thing. It’s just like “do I want to continue to make my beautiful nice music or do I want to make Schranz and really shitty stuff?, and there is no way I’m ever going to do that! (laughs) So, it was like, ok, let’s be passionate and it will come back.
So what happened exactly, when you had this dip four years ago and how did you weather it?
You know it’s just when I had my two kids. My wife is a hairdresser, we are both independent. So sometimes she can help me and sometimes I help her but with the kids I was just throwing down my little bit because I wanted to enjoy the first four years. Just to be at home enjoying the life I mean because, I don’t want to complain, but all this superficial life, sometimes it makes me just… and when I had my kids it was something really healthy, so I enjoyed it a lot and I made two albums and I was more into beautiful things and nice stuff.
So I was slowing down and not really releasing on other labels or having career plans but then suddenly as I told you it really slowed down and I said to myself “ok, i have to come back to work” and I did. And it’s not that I wasn’t working but I wasn’t really working for the dancefloor so that’s the difference.
Yeah I know exactly what you mean. I made a not strictly dancefloor album a few years back and I think it just confused promoters more than anything. Although I just made an ambient album recently, but I’m putting it out under a different name so as not to confuse people. Then you release one dancefloor EP and suddenly you get a flood of bookings.
Yeah for sure, it’s part of the deal I think but for me last year I was super busy just because I did two releases and they were really well accepted. And I have a super nice agent who works really well so it’s part of the deal too. But if you are not doing things you can’t do anything. Before I was complaining about agents and now I’m just complaining about myself (laughs). Now I have a nice agent, I know if I work well it’s going to make a difference.
Which agency are you on now?
I’m working with Toon at Kazz booking, there’s just three or four others on the agency. Deetron is on there as well. So we are just like a family affair. I was on a big agency before and I really didn’t enjoy it at all.
So you recently released Searchin For You on DFTD, the sub label of Defected. How did that come about?
Well they asked me actually. I did a few tracks last year and then Deetron was making his Fabric mix and he asked me if I had some tracks and I had 2 tracks; the one on Innervisions and this one and he took this one. It was on the mix and I think it was supposed to be released on Systematic but then they changed their plans so it was available. Then Defected asked because they listened to the compilation and it’s the only track that wasn’t released in fact. The only one that wasn’t a kind of classic, so I was like “yeah why not?”.
I mean, I changed my way of thinking, I’m really more open right now because I know the right spirit is just to be yourself and touch a large audience. As long as the people are working well, then for me it’s fine too.
Have you played at some Defected Events as well?
Yeah I did it once already. It was ok. You know I don’t know if it’s a different crowd – people who go to Defected parties are Defected people in fact. When you start a new relationship you have to know who I am and what I’m doing because maybe they are thinking that I was more a DJ rather than producer or maybe that I play faster or something. Let’s see in the future, but actually it was really well received and that makes me happy.
The main Defected label is not afraid to to release more commercial stuff but the DTFD sublabel is definitely more on the underground tip.
I think the DFTD sublabel is more oriented to our kind of stuff which is pretty nice. Gerd did an EP for them last year. I asked him if he was happy and he told me “yes” so I was confident. I think they are turning into nice underground guys because there is a lot going on right now still. Maybe it’s time to make the underground shine again. The underground doesn’t mean anything right now but for me it means stuff that is not really well known at the moment.
For example if you take the last Omar S track, for me, it’s really nice. It’s like a song, it works and if you make a video clip or something it could be big. In London, in the UK, you can see how much good stuff was number one in the 80’s or 90’s. Why not bring back this right now? It’s just a matter of taste and the big labels should be more open and should be doing their job better and not doing it the easy way because easy is shit and everybody knows that. We are still here 30 years after with house music and there have been a lot of big new waves along the way like bass music and stuff but finally at the end who wins? Still the same – house music.
Yeah it’s funny how 5 years ago so many house and techno DJs were playing Dubstep in their sets but a year later they had moved on.
Yeah and before it was minimal and stuff. It’s funny, I was playing with so many big names and one year when you are at the dinner everybody’s like “I’m playing deep, I’m playing blah blah blah” and at night they are playing the same shitty fitness music (laughs). Sometimes I went to Panorama bar and I heard DJ’s playing super banging music and I thought to myself “You are in the best club in the world and you’re banging it? seriously?” It’s so sad you know. I mean you can play whatever you want there but people are just playing easy and I just think it’s weird.
I guess that’s also a symptom of success. When you reach a certain level you end up playing bigger parties and peak time sets. I think some people just get locked in that groove and lose the ability to adapt their sets.
Because they can’t do it. They don’t know how to do it and actually yeah if you check the top of the scene right now, outside of 5 or 6 guys, the rest have really come from nowhere.
It’s crazy isn’t it? How quickly people can just pop up out of nowhere. I read about someone on RA that I’ve never heard of and then look them on Facebook and they’ve already got 100,000 likes in 6 months and after just 2 releases. How do they manage it?
I don’t know. They have a super nice marketing service, that’s all I can tell you (laughs). If you analyze everything, you have to be really boring always doing the same thing. Having a really typical sound and releasing always the same thing and having a label who releases the same thing and playing with DJs who are like you and dress like you, my god, this sounds like an inferno you know? (laughs) To me anyway.
But you know I live in Switzerland, so for me I’m outside of this “thing”. Just right now with Defected for example, I can see the impact they have on the scene. You have some mix on the BBC and it’s already really serious. This is the UK; they know how to make it. And maybe in Germany it’s the same thing. You have a strong media position in the market so you can make stars in Germany and the Netherlands and the UK and that’s it.
So you’ve lived in Switzerland all your life. Have you ever thought about moving anywhere else?
I was thinking about doing it. I was thinking about moving to Berlin and then I visited Baikal and Quarion there and I didn’t know if I really wanted to do it. It’s not beautiful enough for me. I live here in Lausanne. It’s beautiful. I go outside and I’m like “wow”, and since I have my children, I want them to grow up here. I mean here it’s just perfect. It’s safe and it’s healthy and everything. Sure, it’s really expensive but at the same time it keeps me on course to make music and money and to stay serious. So yeah, why move at the end?
Travelling is my time to zone out, read books, listen to ambient and just chill. It helps if the airports are nice. Is there a good airport nearby to you?
Yeah it’s Geneva, but it’s not so nice. I think in Berlin you have the best airport ever. I like it, you just get there and you’re in the plane. Tegel is just the best airport ever for me. I like that. It’s perfect. That’s how all airports should be, but you lose yourself in those big commercial centres. I’m like you, I listen to a lot of ambient and stuff because it’s keeps me in a cocoon. Because I feel so depressed sometimes when I’m travelling, I’m just done.
Sometimes I get anxious before gigs. Once I start playing I’m fine though. Do you get nervous about gigs any more?
No I’m not nervous any more. Never. But I’m not playing live. It’s a huge difference. When I was playing live I was really more nervous. Yeah shit can happen you know. It’s just a question of being more comfortable. So for me Djing is something really natural. Right now I have a proposal to play a live set at Panorama bar. I have to make a decision. I don’t know what to do because I want to do it, but at the same time I know how much work it is.
How would you approach it?
I think I will take more gear. I felt always ashamed to call that live because a laptop performance is not “live”.
It depends who’s doing it and how they are doing it – some people can rock up to a gig and essentially DJ full wavs of their tracks, to me that’s not live. But other people can play from a laptop and have every track broken down into just its base elements and really put it together in a reactive and spontaneous way
That’s what I was doing in the past. I was running too many tracks but at the end the people don’t know or realise. And I’ve seen so many big names just playing the full track and they are rocking more than me because the sound is mastered and better and I was little bit pissed off. As usual it’s not because you work more that you get more recognition so…
The thing about it is, you can make it as flexible as you want. There are so many options. That’s what I like about playing live
Yeah of course but you know then you see Octave One and then it’s like “Jesus”.
Their setup is amazing alright. I saw them last summer playing a festival in Stekker Festival, Utrecht. One of them on the mixer and effects, the other with the synths and sequencers. Just perfectly in sync with eachother, not even having to look at one another, and rocking the place.
But it’s big, it’s really big. So you know then you have respect for this kind of guy. Of course it’s really professional but at the end it’s fair. I would love to do that, I really would love to do it. I just need to buy all the gear that is not in my studio because there is no gear in my studio that I’m going to bring out with me! I love them too much and they are all in super nice shape. You need to buy stuff especially for live sets.
So what kind of gear have you been enjoying lately?
I’m really into Elektron lately, I bought the Machine drum, the Analog Four and the Octatrack and I love them very much. They are really creative. What I like the most is that I can make the sound exactly. I can shape everything the way I want it.
Are you going to bring those?
Yes of course. I mean maybe just those three are enough to make a live set. With the Octatrack you can put sequences in there and you can sequence midi as well, it’s a sampler too. It’s really a huge machine. John Tejada plays with just those two; Analog 4 and Octatrack and I was impressed. But he’s not like me, he’s got like 4 sounds in a track, that’s the problem I have I think (laughs). I haven’t made my decision yet because I experience so many synchronisation problems at the studio sometimes. How this will work on stage?! I don’t know what you use?
I play with the laptop, a load of controllers and one or two analog synths like the Vermona Mono Lancet
This Vermona is such an amazing synth. I love it, I use it all the time. The ideas there are unbelievable. You make something on it and no synth can do the same thing. It’s a super tool, really cheap and really nice. Really amazing synth.
Yeah I love it. It’s really versatile and works really well live too. So I want to ask about your labels. You recently folded Perspectiv, and now you’ve set up a new one, Tamed. Why did you decide to wind down Perspectiv and how is Tamed running now?
I was keeping a certain level of quality and wondering what was going on? I mean you are just trying to look for nice people to do the remixes and so on. Of course I’m not following the same trend all the time because I don’t like that. I like to release good music. That’s the point for me. The sales were really bad and I just had to decide to stop it. Or I thought about just putting the label on hold for a while and then I started Tamed and immediately the sales were way better. Like when I did the Headless Ghost thing and everybody was freaking on those tracks and they saw it was me and they were like, “it’s you?? It’s not possible – it’s good!!” (Laughs)
Yeah it’s annoying when people pigeon-hole you, or put you in a little box based on a track or sound you might have done 10 years ago and then immediately just write you off every time you release something new. So many people have to change names or re-brand themselves just to get people to view them in a different light
I was a little bit pissed off but pissed off in a good way. I had a stream on Pitchfork of Headless Ghost, and I did an album (as Ripperton) and nobody cared about it. I think there were no articles on the last album I did. I put 10 million times more energy in my album than those tracks. They were just super tools. I can do them in one day. I don’t get it. But now I’m more peaceful with that. I don’t give a shit to be super honest. It’s just like, ok let’s play the game. There is no sense in this industry and in this scene right now. It’s just fighting for yourself.
It’s definitely going well for you at the moment though
Yeah but I’m working hard and I’m in the studio all the time.
So can you describe your studio setup?
I had a small room before but now I have a way better one. Because you know I have so much gear. It’s turned into a real studio right now with full analog gear, and computer of course, but there are a lot of synths and nice things and pedals and old Solina strings and stuff like that and I’m really surrounded by good sounds. Everytime I turn on something I’m like “wow”, It’s beautiful and I want to work with it.
Do you get inspiration from new synths?
Completely – Yeah, I don’t know how many songs you can get out of a piece of gear, but a lot for sure. I don’t know if i happens for you as well but when you forget the piece of gear and then you come back to it and it’s like a new thing again. I bought the MS20 and it has endless possibilities. It’s something that makes noise and I love it, I really love it… if you put it through pedals and delay and stuff it’s just “wow”. I mean at the moment I’m really more focussed on searching for a certain kind of sound, with my pedals and guitars and tremolo and all this kind of stuff because it makes a difference.
Have you tried adding guitars into dancefloor tracks? It’s something that is quite hard to get right to be honest
Yeah that’s what I’m trying to do right now and I think it’s going to be real fun because I did it already – you will see I did a remix for a folk band and the track is really completely mad and it works really well on the dancefloor but it’s really saturated. As long as it’s well done and the melodies are following, this is what I like, this is what keeps me still excited. Just to try to reach the border where it’s still nice but noisy
How long do you spend in the studio each day?
I come every day and today it’s all day. And I work similar to office hours, but I really want to make ambient and that kind of stuff but I think for that I need to come at night because it’s just not the same feeling at all. I’m so excited with all this ambient stuff.
Right now there’s so much interesting and beautiful music; wide landscape and bass and subass. When I came to Berghain there was that ambient floor. I heard a lot of tracks that I have and they were really so big, so huge. It was an experience. There was no one there, but it doesn’t matter. I spent 2 hours with Yanneck (Quarion) there and we both thought it was amazing. I think it’s just once a year. Just for New Year’s Eve. People were just playing ambient and really only that… all this crispy stuff and noise and it was just so big and beautiful because the room was really huge like a cathedral and there were projections on the wall, it was amazing!
So what things do you have coming up in the near future?
I have a lot of things coming up but I don’t know if they are going to be released soon. I just made a 2/3 track EP which is all ready to go.
Just right now I have released the new Headless Ghost stuff on my label and last week the DFTD stuff, and I have made a remix for Vessels and also for the new Zukunft label and it’s called “Legendary Lightness”. It’s a rock band and it was really good for me to make something with that and I think it’s just like where I want to go, a little bit – to have that deep sound but at the same time really raw and like a storm. So it comes just like thunder and then it’s gone, just like that!
I’m really looking forward to hearing it! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me today
My pleasure, thanks for thinking about me.