“People assume that live dance music isn’t really ‘live’. They’re convinced that some of it's coming from a drum machine or sequencer. I could do that if I wanted, but I’d miss the humanity”: Róisín Murphy on her remixes album, touring, and Sing It Back

Roisin Murphy
(Image credit: Nik Pate)

“Giving someone your songs - your pride and joy - to remix isn’t easy,” admits Róisín Murphy. “I get scared. You’ve spent all that time in the studio, trying to create the perfect track, then you give someone the permission to tear it apart and start again.”

There’s a short pause before she continues. “But that’s when you get the rush of excitement. What’s it going to sound like? Will it be even better than the original? Sing It Back, for example. Me and Mark Brydon [who made up the band, Moloko] released it in 1999. We knew it was a good single, but it didn’t make the Top 40. Normally, that’s the end of the story, but Boris Dlugosch came up with a full-on, dancefloor remix and everything went crazy. There was no pressure from us to create this or that kind of remix. It was perfectly natural... Boris took the song and gave us his vision of it. Personally, I think it’s one of the best and most natural sounding remixes that has ever happened.”

It was with this combination of trepidation and anticipation that Murphy handed over the flesh and bones of last year’s Hit Parade album to the likes of System Olympia, Moodymann, Eli Escobar and Hernan Cattaneo. The results have been brought together, unsurprisingly, as Hit Parade Remixes.

“They’re people I know and trust,” explains Murphy.”‘I don’t give them pointers or rules, I just let them get on with it. I choose those people specifically because they don’t need any guidance. They have carte blanche... and it works.

“Well, it works most of the time,” she adds with a chuckle. “My first solo album Ruby Blue [2005] was produced by Matthew Herbert and he’s well known for not using any pre-programmed, software sounds. Taking those songs and trying to add a bit of umpty-umpty didn’t make everyone happy.”

Prior to that debut solo album, Murphy had been singer and muse of Sheffield duo, Moloko. The musical half of Moloko was also Murphy’s then partner, Mark Brydon, formerly of electronic/industrial pioneers, Chakk, also based in Sheffield.

“At 12, I moved from Ireland to Manchester,” Murphy recalls. “At 19, I somehow ended up in Sheffield, which happened to be brimming over with music, producers, DJs, labels - Warp were based in Sheffield - record shop owners and the like. I bumped into Mark one night and we went to the studio that had been built with Chakk’s record advances. He recorded me saying some stupid shit, and that morphed into Moloko and our first album in 1995.”

After 10 years and four albums, Moloko called it a day. Never one to hang around, Murphy immediately embarked on a solo career that’s produced six albums and an enviable reputation as one of dance music’s most exciting live acts.

“If it wasn’t for the live side of things, I honestly don’t think I’d still be around,” says Murphy. “Sure, I could carry on releasing my albums, but I wouldn’t be able to make a living. That’s how the business works these days. Not many people are interested in buying ‘stuff’ like records. We’ve already got too much stuff. But a gig is an experience... it’s memories. You can’t put that on a server or listen to it on your phone.

“People always assume that live dance music isn’t really ‘live’. They’re convinced that some of it is coming from a drum machine or a sequencer. I could do that if I wanted. Load up a couple of laptops, hire an effects team and a troop of dancers. Lots of bang-bang-flash-flash, big screens with cutting-edge animation. Y’know what... I’d miss the humanity. I’d miss watching the bass player and the drummer, firing off each other. And the audience would miss it, too. Everything you hear at one of my shows is 100% live, played by the most amazing bunch of musicians.

“Having said that, the show does have a definite visual ‘image’. I like dressing up and I treat myself to a lot of costume changes.”

Roisin Murphy

(Image credit: Katja Ogrin/Redferns/Getty Images)

Some of those outfits are... interesting. We’ve seen pictures of Murphy in dresses with no arm holes, hats with water pistols attached to the sides, an outfit of spiky bin bags and a mask that makes her look like an LSD nightmare.

“Well, thank you very much! [Laughing] People think I’ve got a whole styling team working on the stage outfits. Most of the time it’s just me buying stuff that looks totally fucking mad and having some fun. But it doesn’t matter how many costume changes I do if the music isn’t pulling its weight. And for that, I have to thank my musical director, Eddie Stevens. He’s been working with me since the Moloko days and he knows exactly how to take music that’s been made by machines and turn it into something human. He takes the music into another realm. He brings it to life.

“There are so many festivals now that it’s almost made my job seasonal. In the summer, I travel around the world and hang out with tens of thousands of people. Then, when the nights draw in, I retreat into technology... my little studio and my laptop. I mess around, trying to think about the next album. Hit Parade was actually produced by DJ Koze, who’s based in Hamburg. We literally did it over the internet. Sending ideas across the North Sea. Him in his studio, me at home with my microphone and Ableton. When we first started, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. What about the vibe? What about the emotion? Don’t we at least need to be in the same studio? No, we don’t. Hit Parade is my highest charting album in the UK, it made the Top 5.”

Despite being 20 years into her solo career, Murphy still performs the odd Moloko song and she understands that a lot of people want to hear Sing It Back.

“It’s just one of those songs,” she accepts. “Like a bright comet with a massive tail that stretches right back into the past. I’ve heard people talking about certain songs being used on shows like Saltburn. Classic songs from 20 or 25 years ago that have taken on a life of their own. I assume that’s why the shows use them and why people still respond to them.”

Any idea how a song gets to be part of that club?

“I honestly have no idea. It can’t be based purely on popularity. Take Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. Number one in every country on the planet and every planet in the universe. For about 90 million weeks. Does it get played much? Not really. But Sing It Back had emotional and cultural power. It mattered, initially for a brief moment, but that moment never seems to go away. Every time I play it, the entire crowd... sings it back. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.

“On one hand, I’m obviously very pleased that people still want to hear it, but there is a downside. Nobody wants to only listen to songs from the past. Where are today’s songs that pack the same kind of emotional clout? How many songs out of the current Top 40 will we be listening to in 30 years’ time?

“Tell you what. Let’s do this interview again in 2054. I’ll get the coffees in.”

Hit Parade Remixes is out now. Róisín Murphy will be touring Europe and the UK throughout the summer

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