Last November, Rupert Parkes was having coffee when KCRW's Jason Bentley called to congratulate him. “For what?” asked the Hollywood electronic music producer and DJ, known as Photek. Turns out his remix of a Daft Punk Tron: Legacy track called “End of Line” was nominated for a Grammy.
Skrillex eventually won, but Parkes, 39, found his profile raised. It was overdue recognition for the veteran producer, a seminal figure in the drum 'n' bass scene and an influential one in electronic music.
Though his compositions sometimes pop up in odd places like the Blade soundtrack, Parkes certainly doesn't make commercial radio fare. His oeuvre is for electronic music's most discerning fans, and can be heard at parties like Low End Theory. Out today, his new mix CD — the latest installment in !K7's acclaimed DJ-Kicks series — likely won't change that, since he doesn't focus on party anthems. Rather, he aims for more subtle peaks and valleys, creating work as cinematic as it is danceable.
Parkes tells his story from his tidy Hollywood studio. Growing up not far from London, he was influenced by hip-hop and started making beats at age 12, using a rig composed of three separate tape recorders. He was still too young to drive in 1988, the year the British press dubbed the “Second Summer of Love,” a resurgence of the psychedelic youth culture of the 1960s.
But that didn't stop him from hitting up raves. Already experimenting with electronic music, Parkes reveled among the thousands of young people crammed into warehouses, dancing to synth and sample-based music.
As a DJ, he quickly won fans and soon was playing in London and Tokyo. His early sound was marked by fast, pummeling beats. Later in the '90s, drum 'n' bass gained significant traction, and Photek — now signed to Virgin — gained recognition on both sides of the Atlantic. But he never stuck with one genre, and in fact topped Billboard's dance charts in 2001 with house anthem “Mine to Give.”
He arrived in L.A. a decade ago for a job scoring a TV pilot for Paramount, and soon racked up soundtrack credits for films including The Italian Job. He's spent most of his time, however, on material for his own Photek Productions. His DJ-Kicks mix features collaborations with dubstep producer Pinch and L.A.-based up-and-comers Kuru, and while working on a new album he's making remixes for everyone from indie darlings Chairlift to Rob Zombie.
Parkes eschews the high polish of today's biggest dance hits, but his knack for crafting versatile and nuanced electronic music has allowed his career to flourish. In the end the Grammy nomination, while nice, was just a reaffirmation of what those in the know have been privy to for decades.