Our latest edition of our In Interview series sees 6AM dive into the mind of Regis. He first created a label with a D.I.Y. approach. Then he went on to play at massive festivals and events for almost thirty years. Karl O’Connor better known as Regis has been pushing boundaries in various ways in the music industry. He is one of the originators from the emergence of the Birmingham sound, and founder of the influential Downwards label with co-owner Peter Sutton (aka Female) since 1993. In our interview, Regis talks about the music industry, the beginning days of Downwards, and his upcoming performance at COMPOUND NYE + NYD in Los Angeles for the brand’s annual New Year’s Eve event.
“I was very fortunate to be with a good friend of mine, Mick Harris. He was formerly the drummer with Napalm Death. I drove him to lots of places, and we did lots of things together, and we did a session once with the band Kalon.” He continues on about the creation of his label name Downwards. It goes to show that everything does happen for a reason when you least expect it. “We were in the studio, and John Ballens came in a bit late and he just started shouting, It’s all going downwards. It’s all going downwards and I thought, hey! that was so memorable and I thought because he was coming off a night of something. Then he locked himself in the wire cabinet. It was in Swan Yard Studios, actually, just a super posh studio in London. So basically, Kalon, actually, and Sleaze in particular, are very prominent during all of our career as well with the Downwards. I mean, Sleazy actually named the project British Murder Boys (BMB) with me and Sergeant. So he said, oh, Darling, you need to call yourself British Murder Boys. That’s such a fabulous, fabulous name.”
Being an active member during the British 80s rock era, Regis thinks, acts, and produces in an unorthodox way. He uses his influences to help generate the beginning works of his DJ career. “I have to be honest, we’re pretty much a part of it and especially the early days of it, we never really involve ourselves with it. It was something that happened.” He became a known legend in the techno scene when he least expected it. Regis continues about how the British techno scene shaped his Downwards label and it separates itself from other labels. “I was always with a kind of this virus and it was just a host, really for it. I wasn’t not into the scene, I wasn’t smitten by it. It was just a good vehicle for ideas, basically, because the thing about techno at that particular time, when I found very interesting about what was happening then it had just changed from being very melodic and very and almost sort of very cheap pop music because I never really liked dance music.”
Regis describes the music scene in an interesting way, people outside of the scene can agree. For others it can be the best song in the world, to others it sounds like loud noise. “I also saw it as very much the suits, office workers, music, a lot of my friends go Oh, God, how can you like that kind of music? I always felt that I’d come to that stage a lot quicker with the music that I loved. Then all of a sudden, all these people, all of a sudden who were like office workers or people like that and it was funny. You weren’t into it seven years ago when Fat Gadget was playing down the road, but you’re into it now.”
“So basically, I’ve always been at odds with dance music, and I think you can pretty much tell that having said that, it was a very good vehicle for somebody like me who wanted to make instrumental electronic music.”
The underground massive two-night New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day event at Compound LA is soon approaching. A full sensory experience boasting 18 world-class techno artists including Nur Jaber, Modus, andRegis alongside his label mate Silent Servant. “He’s the King of LA. He really is! He made good on that” Regis adds.
“I do love the States because it’s so at odds with so much. I’ve got different relationships with different parts of the States as well. My relationship with the Midwest is completely different to what my relationship is on the West Coast and what it is on the East Coast and New York. I have to kind of because it’s so big, just as my relationship with this is different when I play Holland and as it is to when I play Germany or Italy because I love playing in LA, it’s just really interesting.”
East Coast vs West Coast war will never come to an end. There will always be a forever debate on who is better. The scene is completely different if you compare the two. Regis explains in detail. “It takes a while to seep in, and it’s just as potent, but it’s a different type of thing vs NY. I’m very excited to play one as well. Silent Servant, who I love to play. I saw him play recently and it was great. I just love playing with him. I still play on the same bill with him because it’s his hometown. He made good on that. He’s just as much when I think of LA, I think of Jeffrey Lee Pierce, or I think of any rock and roller. I think I’ll put him in those categories. I’m kind of excited. I’m very excited to play there for sure.”
A game-changer and way ahead of time, Regis style of sound is dark and original. He established himself as a music producer before being a DJ was a popular job choice. Regis stands out from the rest and has been for decades. Although sometimes he still pinches himself making sure that this is real life and not just a dream.
“It’s my divine right to be here doing it and it could have been somebody else, but it was mine. I deserve it more than somebody else. I like that I’m being played. Plus as well, I think a lot of people are who do it, especially those who are very deluded. I’ve remained because I still for the most part believe I’m the biggest 1960s rock star in the world, and it’s just that and this is all part of what’s happening is completely what it should have happened.”
It wasn’t until 1995 that the first release from Regis emerged. The 12″ Montreal was made up of three loop-driven slabs of industrial techno, taking influence from Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke, a sound that Regis would become known for throughout the ’90s. Then in 1996 with his debut label ‘Gymnastics’ which was a real game-changer within the techno community, a creation that was before its time. A true innovator and highly regarded creative force within the British techno scene.
“Well, I think the one that best represents me is the last one because it’s the one that was the biggest. It didn’t curtail to any dance floor. There’s no full floor on it. It had no trappings of techno. Everything was completely me. It was actually extremely successful for me. If you’re talking about my dance floor, I like them all equally and I just like, how can you pick your favorite child? The one that I was never massively sure about, but I’ll do the one that most people really love was ‘Delivered into The Hands of Indifference’.
At the time, his early recordings had a completely different sound, nothing like what anyone has heard before. A mix of 80s British rock n’ roll with elements from the underground scene was a whole new style and breed of music. That was when Regis inserted himself as a pioneer.
“I always had really struggled with that. I thought it’s such a weird record. Well, they’re all in their day. They’re all wildly successful records. I actually had an INR person from EMI. They said, oh, we want to. Can we have a listen to some of this stuff? We’re hearing lots about it, and we sent a lot of our stuff over and they were shocked this stuff sells. They couldn’t get their heads around it. So I think it was because it was so DIY. It was so punk. It was so instant, you could hear the sound pressure in the grooves. I love ‘Gymnastics’, and I do love ‘Penetration’, but I think that’s good. I think maybe ‘Delivered Into the Hands of Indifference’ only because it’s the one that maybe I don’t like the most, but it’s the one that I think for a top tear. That’d be really good. But I’ll see my new one. I think that’s the best one by far, but it’s just for different reasons.”
After all these years Regis is still in belief that his life turned out to be so successful, “I can’t believe I’ve gotten away with it this long, and I just want to keep getting away with it until I’m called out. Surely somebody is going to come to the door one day and say, hey, I’m sorry, Mr. O’Connor has made a big mistake. Your career, you’ve come here by mistake. It should have been somebody else. You’re going to have to take it down to the office now and you’re going to have to refund everything, all your experiences, all the records because you came here by mistake. Your career has been one big mistake. So basically, it’s the sense of being abroad that is happening.”
There’s always a start to a new beginning in any industry, what were the first tracks that Regis listened to before his musical career started? The results foreshadow his own career to what it is today. “Early LFO, Mark became a really good friend of mine as well. So before you pass away that track, I still have something that I hang on. That track made me stop viewing it as “office workers, music or suits music”. What Jeff Mills and the underground Resistance did was actually amazing, because for the first time in history, they applied a very white European electronic aesthetic and put black America on it and sold it back to us. I mean, that’s what the British have been doing all along. We’ve been stealing Blues and rock and repackaging it and selling it back to America, basically Jeff Mills, Robert did the opposite. They had this very harsh, bleak aesthetic that’s very much associated with a lot of industrial or EBM bands. But they then applied their own influences and made it into a completely different new art form. And yes, when I heard earlier Jeff Mills and Early Robert and Dan Bell. Detroit suffers. Wow. This is just a beautiful simplicity. That second wave of Detroit, which is our respect, obviously.”
When thinking about the early days of the history of techno, Regis describes it as the “sound of rebellion”. Throughout the years, techno has always struggled with popularity on a global scale. In parts of the United States and Europe, for decades techno has been a genre that was not normal to mainstream chart-toppers.
“It’s the sound of revolution in so many ways. It always has been. It definitely was. I don’t know if that’s true these days.”
Ever since dance music was born and gained popularity, it has evolved into a way of life. There’s always bad and good in any industry and changes people would like to see be done. When asking Regis this question he only had one thing to say about it all. “I don’t care because I’d still be here because I don’t see myself. I can disassociate myself to that degree. But in another way, what will I change about certain things? Maybe, in a practical sense, maybe a bit more fair payment all across the whole scale. I think that would be fair in terms of gigs.”
Whether it’s playing at your first gig or at the biggest festival in the world, no matter what stage you’re at in the game of being a DJ the person can still feel like an amateur. It could be for a few years or a few decades. It could be difficult to separate the lines between amateur and professional.
“That’s the best question I’ve ever ever been asked in my life. I’m still an amateur. We’re amateur wankers, me and Surgeon, rank-amateurs, pretending. This is what goes back to what I said about it before someone’s goes to the professional police are going to come to my door one day and fucking have to drag me back to amateurville.”
He continues on about the beginning of his DJ career and the excitement that came along during the years of his early gigs. “I’ve never had a manager, so I don’t know. I mean, I’ve got an agent. I’ve always had ages. I don’t do it on my own. So I guess it was probably when I got an agent. That was kind of cool. In actual honesty. Maybe it was your first foreign gig when you got paid to get an airplane somewhere and you were in a hotel and they pay for your food and they pay for your drinks and ask you to play. I thought, okay, this is great. Surely this is not going to last. So we took advantage of it. It was great. Even in the early days, there’s no way I thought this was going to last more than four or five weeks.”
Throughout the years, Regis contemplated on whether to continue or end his journey as a DJ. “I left school at 15. I’ve got no qualifications, they’re not going to give me a job. Well, I know how to work Zoom now, so maybe I could get a job.”
It’s been a few years since Regis’ last performance in the California. That will all change during New Year’s Eve at COMPOUND in LA. Making his anticipated return for an unbelievable experience. The techno maestro will hypnotize underground dancers in a euphoric way. His performance will blow people’s minds away. He has been making a spellbound style of production for thirty years and shows zero signs of slowing down. Regis is a force of nature in the techno community and will always be a pioneer even though he may not admit it. That’s another reason why he stands out from the rest. .
“I’d really, really like everybody. I think I’d like everybody, not just to think beyond themselves and take control of their own lives. That might feel and that doesn’t mean being against things. That doesn’t mean anything and just try and tune out. Sometimes tune out a little bit because it’s worth tuning out.”