WHP FEATURE 034
What an incredible few years it’s been for Richy Ahmed. When once he was best known for being Jamie Jones’ righthand man in Hot Creations, he’s now a serious headliner, selling out venues up and down the country and across the world. But how did this happen so quickly?
His gutsy, all-out DJing style is one good reason, but when you speak to him you can’t help but conclude that guile, spirit and sheer force of personality have played just as much of a part in his rise to the top. He’ll admit himself he’s made some bad decisions that have landed him in some sticky situations down the years, but his unique and - at times - absurd life experience has served to create this immense character.
We’ve all been to that after party where there’s that one person who stands out: capable of holding court for hours about anything and everything - putting the world to rights in the kitchen - profound and comical in equal measure - you might not know them from Adam but you sure as hell know you’ve got to keep listening and you kinda wish you could record them. Well that’s Richy Ahmed.
We begin by discussing his roots in the north east of England; South Shields to be precise.
“I’m happy where I came from. I’m not going to move back there any time soon but I like it. The thing is, if you end up in somewhere like London and it works for you then it’s hard to go back to somewhere like Shields - well I can’t - but I’ll never forget where I’m from. I love the town, I love the people. You meet some nice people and you meet some proper ruffians… I’ve got into all sorts of bother there, but it grows your character.”
It’s very easy to slip into lazy northern cliche and go down the path of “Alan Shearer: son of a sheet-metal worker”, but in Richy’s case his upbringing is highly relevant. It really does reflect in the way he DJs and his attitude towards the business and life in general. He’s not your average scenester.
“You get used to people taking the piss, so you get a thick skin and things don’t bother you when you’re from up there. I remember going to Ibiza and the way we were bantering with each other, some of the kids there were shocked. They were like ‘I can’t believe you’re talking to your friend like that!’ and I’m like ‘why? - just having a bit of fun’. It gets you socially prepared for different climates.”
And what a different climate Ibiza must have been.
“I went over to Ibiza in 2002 and never looked back… I went back three times that summer! I did the same next summer. I had a job back then, but from 2004 I started doing seasons. As soon as I got there I thought ‘right, this is for me’. When I first went up there we only slept twice in two weeks… I went to every single club… I went to Space seven times in one week! Every day!”
This was the beginning of what was to become something of an industry juggernaut - you can trace back a lot of the main actors on the scene today to the Ibiza seasons of 04 and 05. Richy was out there partying with the likes of Jamie Jones, Lee Foss, Matt Tolfrey and Adam Shelton.
“There were loads of names you’d recognise today, and not just DJs either. Rich McGinnis (WHP, Circus among others), Lee McDonald (Rainbow, Face), Will who’s now my agent. Everyone I mentioned from then is just a raver - each one of them is a proper sound kid - you can just tell as soon as you meet them.”
This laid the foundations for Richy to eventually become the A & R man for Hot Creations, but - to put it mildly - the path into the industry wasn’t quite as simple as him simply partying with the right people.
“So was there one moment,” I say, “when you knew you were in business? - one single event where you decided to go all out and become a DJ?”
The answer was unexpected.
“At was a time I was experimenting with hallucinogenics add I tried DMT. At first I was really quite ignorant on what to expect… maybe just another trip… but my experience blew me away. It was completely life changing… without sounding to cliche, It taught me so much of what I believe today and through this and my following experiences with Ayuascha, it was the main reason that led me to pack everything in move to London, and try make it as a DJ full time. It taught to follow my passion rather than what other people expected of me. Not sure who the fuck I was talking to in these experiences but it felt right, and as it turns out, it was!”
Finding the next question was difficult after that. Once we’d stopped laughing at the very notion that a life-changing spirit guide could be referred to as ‘some c**t’, we eventually carried on the cosmic train with a discussion about his new label, 432.
“The reason why I called it 432 was because the frequency resonates - it’s a harmonic frequency that humans love. It matches the same pulse as the earth, which matches the universe. And music’s meant to be tuned to that so it resonates to humans more. Even though I’ve become quite cosmic and spiritual I didn’t want to call it some poxy spiritual name and just freak everyone out, so I gave it a number and if that resonates with you then that’s cool, but if it doesn’t then that’s cool as well.”
More on the label:
“I’m only doing four or five releases a year with full, really original artwork, full-sleeve vinyls, inserted covers, so it’s a beautiful thing… the vinyls are sick! I’ve put a lot of money into that.
“I’m doing it because I’ve got the freedom to release anything. I’ve got no eye on it being big and Beatport selling loads. I’ve got full artistic control. If I find a trip hop track I’ll put it out, or nice house music where there’s no pressure for it to have a massive big A-side. With Hot Creations you always had it in the back of your head that ’it’s got to be quite big’ but this has a lot more freedom to do what I want. I just want it to be well received. I want to release something that’s good that people are still going to play in five years.
“The 432 party brand itself is bigger than the label - the label came after. You see all of these lineups that are just stacked and it’s a load of bollocks. I thought, ‘I’m gonna take a punt here. I think I’m a ticket seller.’ So I just made it me the whole night; six hours, seven hours… however long the license of the club is. Every party I’ve done has sold out within a week.”
Having always been one for mixing it up a bit, it’s no surprise how keen he is on the idea of playing through from beginning to end. His style is akin to one of those old-school US residents who has a tune for every occasion, mood, venue and time of night. It’s never been about technical trickery with him - it’s about the tunes, and Richy being Richy, there’s also another less obvious aspect of the performance: the mindset.
“I try and do a visualisation before every set I play. The more time I spend on it, the more it seems to work. I visualise going on the stage, I visualise the people around me, I see a lot of positive affirmations and I see it happening. The minute I do it, it works! People are saying ‘it’s just because you’ve got good tunes’, but I’ve really looked at this.
“It sounds a little bit cosmic but I think we’re energy conductors as DJs. If you’re not putting out the energy the crowd can feel that. Even if they’re putting good tunes on, if they’re not in the right frame of mind, that can affect it as well. If you can’t dance to your own tunes then how the fuck can you get anyone else to?”
At a purely musical level, it was interesting to find out his views on some of the younger DJs coming through. Despite the many mixing aids in this day and age; are the bright young things mixing it up and rocking it like they should be?
“A lot of it comes with age. I think if you’re a young person… a lot of them just haven’t got that knowledge and they can grow quite quickly without doing the rounds. I grew quickly but I was older when I started. They don’t have that musical depth. I read somewhere - I think it was Laurent Garnier who said - ‘I don’t trust any DJ who’s under 30’ - and I get that. You get a lot more knowledge the more records you collect, the more you buy, the more deep you get into it.
“I grew up before I started DJing… I started properly DJing in 2010… I was a bloke by then… if I started getting all serious or artistic and just tried to follow trends, my mates would be like ‘what you on about man you daft c**t!’. You’ve just got to be who you are… I’m just a normal gadgie that plays records.”
He may like the idea of being a ‘normal gadgie’ - and while it is true that he emphasises his points like a South Shields-gadgie, he certainly hasn’t lived the life of one. There’s simply no one else who’s done it the way Richy Ahmed has done it, and long may it continue.