FEATURES Special Request Is The Hardest-Working Artist in Techno By Samuel Tornow · Photos by James Edson · October 22, 2019
Photo by James Edson

All it comes down to really is this: I make tons of music. If I think it’s strong enough, I’ll release it. And sometimes I make that decision years later,” explains Paul Woolford, who also performs under the Special Request alias. “Gucci Mane released 15 albums and 72 mixtapes, and 12 of those were done when he was in jail. So I think it’s funny that people talk about any more than one album as though it’s some insane idea.”

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The Leeds based producer, remixer and DJ is a one-man dance music production line. Woolford is in the studio 24/7, rapidly pushing out nosebleed-inducing tracks one after the other, with most clocking in at 150 BPM or more. His prolific output doesn’t come at the expense of quality, though; Woolford has an ear for detail, carefully fleshing out textures, mangling breakbeats into obscure patterns and creating different environments for each release.

Special Request

This year, he’s slated to release four albums on Houndstooth, three of which have already arrived: the relentlessly acidic VORTEX, a collection of rediscovered starry-eyed recordings called Bedroom Tapes, and the more subdued project Offworld, which was born from the bizarre question, “What if Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis signed to Metroplex?”

Woolford, as one might imagine, dislikes the traditional practice of putting one album every few years and then touring it into oblivion, even going as far as it call it “prehistoric.” Rather, his process is an endless cycle of stimulation and renewal. 

“Years ago, I used to celebrate every time I finished a track, as though it was some Herculean achievement,” he says. “Dance music has been the realm of the slacker for many years, still sort of it for some people. You could get away with one 12-inch a year at one point, and that’s what people used to do. Some people can still do that if the press props them up enough. I’ve felt like I always had to work harder to get the credit over the years, but now it’s irrelevant — I’m not seeking any approval, all I’m doing is making myself buzz as ferociously as possible in as many formations as possible, creatively.”

In the rapidly-shifting world of dance music, where singles can lose relevance in a matter of days, Woolford’s unpredictable release schedule—based largely upon how he’s feeling on the day-to-day—is the best way he feels he can express himself. Sometimes, that means reaching back into the vault and using older recordings. 

“I need to be able to release anything from any moment in my history, at any point, depending on how I’m feeling,” he says. “That’s the best way that I can express it. It’s not about quantity, it’s about unrestricted expression. Sometimes you don’t know if something is any good for years, some things need time to reveal themselves.”

Special Request

Merch for this release:
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His habit of using older material was pushed with Bedroom Tapes, selections from old tunes he found while helping his parents move. Whereas most musicians would shy away from releasing unpolished earlier work, he took it as a challenge. 

“It made me nervous,” confesses Woolford. “Delving into your past can be hard work, and I dipper into it a touch with some samples from old tracks on [2017’s album] Belief System. That gave me a taste for it, and I’d been flirting with the idea of releasing a batch of old tracks, although that’s all it was, a flirtation. It wasn’t a serious consideration until my parents moved and found another box of tapes in their loft. I didn’t want it to be remixes of old tracks, I wanted to retain them as they were but heighten them with some sheen. So there’s some multi-band compression on and a uniform reverb over them all, even though they were drowning in it already.”

“Looking back now, the whole process gave me a softer focus and definitely continued throughout Offworld, as I was writing that immediately after compiling Bedroom Tapes,” he continues. “There’s a lot of tenderness across both.”

After the dust settles from a year of multiple high-quality releases touching various styles, Woolford has no plans of hitting the brakes. Taking an abstract thought and turning it into a track in two hours keeps him interested, he claims it’s “in his blood.”

“I love things to be completely out of nowhere,” he says. “When I was a kid, I was obsessed with building out of Lego. I had tons of it, and even [when I began] making really basic terrible first steps with music, I was still messing about with Lego. My mum said to me when I was 13: ‘Don’t you want to get rid of it now?’ I was absolutely horrified. But maybe she did me a huge favor because I carried on building with music where I left off with Lego.”

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