Rex The Dog is the inconspicuous, modular synth master that has for three decades travelled the world with his custom-built synthesiser. A very capable DJ & producer, it is his bespoke live show that has become synonymous with Jake Williams alter-ego, Rex The Dog.
An important member of the Kompakt family Rex The Dog has travelled the world becoming a staple at the likes of Panorama Bar, De Marktkantine & Fabric London. The combination of spontaneous live sets and an incredibly well-received back catalogues makes him one of dance musics true underground heroes.
Ahead of his next London appearance for Kompakt at an undisclosed warehouse location, we sat down with the synth lover to discuss life behind the headphones.
Although you are occasionally playing DJ sets, the majority of your schedule compromises of a modular synth live show. Can you tell us what first attracted you to modular synthesisers?
Oh, modular synths are the best. If you’re a fan of analogue synth sounds, a modular synth lets you go there on steroids. Plus it’s super bespoke, you can really design your own machine and your own sounds. It’s great that it’s so physical too, you’re interacting with a physical machine, you’re not doing everything with one hand on a mouse.
For most people, your Live set up looks more like something found onboard a spaceship rather than in a DJ booth. Wires, knobs, buttons producing sonic sounds. How do you go about constructing your sets? is there a formula or is it completely spontaneous?
My live set is quite planned, with maybe 20% improvised, although I’ll reorganise it depending on the feeling in the room. I have Ableton Live running on a computer sending CV/gate and clock signals to the modular which is basically synchronised and runs its sequences while I tweak and re-patch the sounds. There are a few experimental sections where the computer stops and it’s just a modular solo – those are usually either the best bit of the show or the worst!
Would you describe yourself as a confident performer who plays in the moment, or are you in the ‘over-thinkers’ department, often scrutinising every detail of a set and rarely happy?
In the studio, I’m an over-thinker, but in the club, I’m much more spontaneous. I like the fact that there’s (usually) no recording and that what happens occurs only once.
What has been the most challenging moment of your career to date?
Trying to plead with a check-in person in Mexico who said that ‘electronic modular synths’ are specifically banned from their planes. He said it was on his computer screen. This was clearly not true, but I didn’t know what to do.
Club culture has changed significantly since its incarnation. It is much more production led with smoke machines, lasers, pyro etc. Do you agree with this statement or do you think there is still a place for a dark room focused solely on the music?
I love a dark room but I also like lights when they’re exciting. Who doesn’t love smoke? My first proper rave when I was about 17 (Rave World in Plumstead) they blasted so much smoke out in one go, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face and you had to stand really still and try not to panic. That was too much actually.
How much research do you do before you play a club in terms of who is on before and after, what the sound is like, the size of the room and so on, or is it your job to adapt to all those things on the night?
I’ll find out as much as I can, but I think it’s important to be adaptable. You don’t realise what the room is up for until you’re in it.
Finally, has there been a show, experience or memory that stands out above all else for better or worse?
I always think back to Creamfields Festival in Andalucia about 10 years ago, maybe longer now actually. The Prodigy were headlining the main stage, and for some reason, I was booked to play immediately after them, the crowd didn’t want to stop and I had the best show ever. I think no one had really heard of me, but they went for my tunes in a big way – I had never seen that many people in front of me going nuts before!