Q&A: Pop Mixmaster Pete Hammond On Nostalgia, Boring Radio Songs, And Remixing Kylie
courtesy Pete Hammond
If the '80s are defined by excess, perhaps no body of work is more endemic of that age than that of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman (collectively known as Stock Aitken Waterman), the production trio who ruled British radio at the end of that decade and into the next. Churning out globe-trotting hits for the likes of Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue, Donna Summer, Dead or Alive, Bananarama and so many more, their sound was a composite of the 25 years of dance music history before it. The sum of their parts felt particularly heavytheir highly plastic sound is what you'd get if you stacked house on top of hi-NRG on top of Italo disco on top of classic disco on top of Motown and removed none of the constituents. The sound of dance music ballooned as the '80s progressed, and SAW made sure there was plenty of pop to go along with it.
Helping sort them out was Pete Hammond, a veteran musician who played in Limme and the Family Cooking and remixer. Hammond was hired by Waterman to be the resident "mixmaster" of PWL (Pete Waterman Limited), the label home of SAW, and got his hands on most of SAW's best-known productions. By the time Hammond left in '92, the PWL sound was past its prime and the target of much derision. It fizzled shortly after. To get a sense of its legacy, the derisive prank known as Rickrolling was about PWL's biggest revival since its heyday.
Until now, maybe. In recent years, Hammond has been commissioned to produce a series of "retro remixes" that approximate the giantness of his '80s work, starting with his stunning take on Alphabeat's 2008 single "Boyfriend." In that time, he's given Wynonna Judd's music an '80s makeover to match her hair and, you know, vibe; he brought Amanda Lear back to the disco; and, maybe most satisfyingly, he's remixed Kylie Minogue in the style that launched her career in 1988. His just-released remix of "Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)" is packed to the gills with joy. It could be the slightly wiser older sister of "I Should Be So Lucky."
We reached Hammond at his studio in England to discuss his career and the revival of his sound, which of course required a ton of reminiscing about the past.
What exactly did being PWL's "mixmaster" entail?
[Stock Aitken Waterman] would record a song and they'd put far too much stuff on them, far too many overdubs. We had 48 tracks and every one of them would be full up with something, pretty much. Then they'd give it to me and say, "Make a record." Very often, there was no introduction, no middle section, just a verse or something. It was up to me to create something in those areas. It was executive production in many respects.
How much has your process changed since the early '90s? Are you still using the same equipment?
I hardly use the equipment I used to. It's mainly the computer now. Fortunately, I had a lot of old sounds on a DAT tape. But they aren't the source of the sounds I use now. The only real source of sounds from back in the day is my DX7. When I was asked to do the first of these remixes in this retro style it was Alphabeat's "Boyfriend." I dug out the DX7 and it had lost its memory because the internal battery had gone years ago, but I was able to reprogram it and get the original PWL bass sound.
And so, you started revisiting this style as a result of someone asking you to, and not of your own accord?
I had no inclination at all to do it, really. I figured that was the past. But then, Ian Usher, who works part time for Peter Waterman, was in touch with Elias Christidis at Parlophone. I think it was his idea to [revive] it, and then Parlophone said, "Yeah, let's do it with the 'Boyfriend' remix." It started off a whole string of them. I've done lots of them since then. It's kept me busy for the past two or three years.