Raja Ram: Elder statesman of psytrance
Raja Ram isn’t only one of the most enduring names in psytrance, he’s one of the most longstanding names in Australian electronic music full stop, across any genre. It’s really quite extraordinary to look back over his history: born in Melbourne in 1941 as Ronald Rothfield, he left Australia in the 1950s to join the hippie trail, returning later to study at the Melbourne Conservatory before joining the band Quintessence in the late 60s and early 70s. Retiring from music briefly to work as an envelope salesman, in the 1980s rejoined to become a part of the burgeoning electronic music scene, also becoming one of the originators of what’s know today as psychedelic trance.
Raja Ram formed TIP Records and it soon went on to became one of the premier Goa Trance labels, and after it eventually folded he went onto found TIP World in 1999. And most famously, he collaborated with Simon Posford to form Shpongle, as well as the 1200 Mics project. How’s that for an extensive and impressive history in electronic music? He’s got some solo gigs coming up, so ITM got the chance to speak to the legend.
Your career as a DJ and producer has lasted so long, what have been some of the highlights and lowlights so far?
The lowlights are when you’re not doing it, when you’re not playing gigs or recording or you don’t have any ideas in your head. Those are sort of the moments in the wilderness. Since 1968 since when we started playing with Quintesence I was a late starter I was 28-29 years old before I went on the road with this rock/indie and jazz band we did 300 gigs with that outfit, and since then of course there’s been the infinity project and Shpongle. There has been many different genres in my career, but they have merged together. I hope when I play and what people listen to sums up the total of what I’ve been doing for the past 40 years. You know it’s just an incredible adventure and like a scientific experiment, and everyday we go into the studio and something new happens!
This new project Zap (ill be playing you a few numbers), it’s the most amazing music and it’s really different you’re going to be very surprised… It’s post-Shpongle and it’s post 1200 Mics for me, so it’s pretty important and we’ve just finished the last track yesterday. Me and Benjie Vaughn (he’s Simon’s partner) have merged and we have spent the last year making this album called Zap, and we’re going to go around the world doing gigs and festivals and we’re booked already Glastonbury and Meglade, and I think it could be very interesting, it’s very different.
You are part of Shpongle and 1200 Mics at the moment, and the Infinity Project in the past. While perhaps they all have roots in the psytrance genre, they have different and distinct styles. Do you think it’s important to try and vary yourself as a producer? Or does it just make it more fun sometimes?
Well that’s why we really needed Zap, we’re really sick of 145bpm music that 10,000 bands from Tel Aviv are playing these days, the ability to reinvent myself is why in one way I’ve been successful and been able to hold on because project after project, visions actually manifesting and getting the music out there. I’ve done three albums with Sphongle and five albums with 1200mics and now The Zap is totally different again, and I hope it’s going to be like that until I’m on my last crate! But don’t worry, the doctor said I should be doing shows for the next 25 years!
Some people may call you the grandfather of the psy-trance scene. Do you think some of the junior members of your family might follow in your foot-steps?
Oh of course, my granddaughter Bella has just turned two and is already mixing, she’s got a phone with one of the Disneyland songs and she’s got a synthesizer, she puts the two together and matches the beat and she’s rocking, and she’s 2 years and 2 months! My great nephew Elliot will be playing along side us in Australia as well, so I think music does run in the family. There is nothing better then to be involved with music it gives you the most pleasure and brings the most beautiful people together.
You will be returning to Australia again in February, will you be catching up with family? How difficult is it to keep in touch when you have a busy touring schedule?
This is a family tour! I will see all of them, and anyone else who wants to book a 20 minute appointment at the Fitzroy pub! No seriously, of course I will visit everybody and hang out and drink lots of wine, that’s the main reason we’re coming.
I interviewed DJ Lucas about 12 months ago or so and he was telling me how you were more likely to show him how to disrespect his elders, rather than respect them. Do you ever feel like giving the young label or DJ upstarts a clip around the ears to remind them of who’s the boss with the experience?
(laughs) No no, there’s always respect and if people don’t respect you, then you get them out of your life immediately. Everybody has to respect each other, that is the bottom line and the only line, the world runs on respect and that’s how it has to be. There is no age barrier, you can see DJs from brazil who are 10 years old up there playing to 20,000 people who were rocking, I’m kidding you not. There is no age difference, it’s a consciousness and the energy and we’ve all got the energy! Inside us all we’ve got to do is get loose enough to let it all come out! And that’s what I’ve been doing all my life, leaving Australia to see how I could get a little bit looser!
The Raja Ram Anthology was recently released. Do you get nostalgic going through your back catalogue? Have you ever listened to something you made and think, “what the hell was I thinking?”
No I never listen to it, and I never get nostalgic about anything so no, I don’t feed on my memories! I’m happy if I see someone and I’ll pull out that record and give it to them, because it’s a nice thing to share with them, but no I’m too busy with this album and the future, the past is like a slipstream after an airplane, it doesn’t really interest me very much. I mean, I get the royalties from 30 years ago and it’s lovely to get that in the bank and be appreciated, but it has to go forward!
The label recently had releases by you, 1200 Mics and Hujaboy. What can we expect in the near future from the label, and from you?
The next release is by a band Parra Systems, really talented and very big in Germany and nobody else knows them, they’ve had quite a good career but have sort of been underground and they are very underground sort of German Goa school, so to speak. So we signed them up about 6 months ago and have been producing their albums slowly with Marko who is the genius behind it, that album was cut yesterday that means it will be out in the shops and online in about 5 weeks time. The following release after that will be the Zap in spring (probably May or April ) and after that we have a compilation by Richard Swell, a type of groovy sound and then there’s going to be a kind of back catalogues release. We are going to go retro cause we want to release what is still very popular. We have over 100 CDs to pick from, we may do a few comps and stuff but basically we’ have got a few new bands like Hujaboy who we’re going to release some stuff for as well. We’re not going to release as much, but we’re trying to get the quality high and keep it high and after 14 years, and this is the direction we want to go. Higher quality and less, and we’ll see how things go! Everybody is going through a difficult time in the recording business, even the promotion business has its disaster stories everyday, but it’s possible to survive and we will survive and keep the spirit going, but its going to take a lot of dedication.
Catch Raja Ram staying keeping on strong at the following shows…
15th Feb: Cairns
16th Feb: Conquest, Melbourne