Giles Hirst, aka Ondagroove is one of those talented DJ’s who always knows how to give warmth and beauty in their productions. His remixes sound incredibly soulful & funky, with an upfront and danceable beat.
It is no wonder labels like Tony Records, Soul Mjuzieek Digital, Kingdom Digital, Deep Nota, Soulful Evolution, Deeptown and more recently Solid Ground, have used his services and I’m pretty sure we will find our friend on more and more good productions in the years to come.
I contacted Giles for the first time in 2012, shortly after the release of the remix album ‘Be Yourself’ made for his buddy KPD.
2 years and 40 tracks later, I am really pleased to have him for an interview on Mix Collectors.
Giles, could you give us a quick description of your musical/artistic background and how you got into house music in the first place?
From partying when I was younger when I was listening to DJ’s in clubs I used to think… I love that record! So I used to buy them, then I got my Technics, began to practice mixing and then began DJing in London at parties in the mid 90’s. My DJ name was Vodka Doll and I had residencies at Heaven, Journeys By DJ & Minki Bikini in London.
In 2000 I had a monthly residency at 2 clubs in Barcelona Discoteque and La Terrazza, so in 2002 I moved to Spain. As soon as I moved here I got a job and stopped DJing.
I wanted to start producing so I bought lots of music equipment and began to learn how to make music. In 2006 I started working with some amateur singers, practicing my song writing & production and changed my name to Ondagroove (bit more mature than Vodka Doll). I had a stressful job at the time so couldn’t dedicate so much time to it.
I started getting into Jazz and released a Jazz grooves EP in 2009, put a few free downloads of some house tunes I wrote on Soundcloud in 2011 (Ivana’s Trumpet & Donald’s Dub tracks) then got contacted by Spanish producer KPD who was releasing an album on Super Fever Records and wanted a ‘Hed Kandi’ kind of sound for the remixes.
He asked me to remix ‘Mistake’ for him, loved the track and finally this ended up being the ‘Be Yourself’ remix album.
This got me a lot of attention and I began my remix career. I think I really created the Ondagroove sound working on those early tracks for him. We still collaborate now and he is a great friend!
Which styles were you playing when you were DJing in London and then later in Barcelona?
Back in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, London had a very different vibe from Spain. In London Speed Garage was extremely popular so I would play a lot of that, mixed with US Garage.
Spain was completely different, they liked harder house music which I wasn’t that keen on but you have to play for the crowd! So I would start with Tribal House, stuff by the Sharp Boys and then when I had worked up their energy levels I could start dropping more soulful stuff with hands in the air piano breakdowns such as Full Intention, Latin House & Grant Nelson… so I could educate them to enjoy more Soulful music.
Who are the singers, musicians, DJ’s or labels who have influenced you the most?
When I lived in London I used to go to a club every Sunday called Queer Nation which played exclusively US Garage, stuff like Joey Negro, Smack, 95 North, MAW, CJ Mackintosh, Grant Nelson, Soulfuric, UBQ Project and that really still influences my style, I love a proper song!
Jazz mixed with Soul has also been a big influence especially artists like Lonnie Liston Smith & Herbie Hancock. Jazz is such an effortless style once the groove is there, all the instrumentation creates sprinkles of melody which I love.
Singers… there are so many! I’d have to say India for her range and unique delivery, Maxwell & John Legend for their silky soul, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the amazing Anita Baker, Mary J Blige for their incredible connection to expressing their emotions through their songs… Beady Beal for the best jazz voice ever so delicate yet so moving.
Producers like Richard Earnshaw, Simon Grey, Pasha NoFrost, guys who know how to make a groove.
How has the death of House legend Frankie Knuckles affected you and what is your favorite Knuckles production?
Frankie was a legend and will continue to be so… it was wonderful how the worlds House DJ’s paid respect to him with their memories, photos and mix sessions.
I heard Frankie a few times years ago at Gay Pride and the Ministry of Sound in London and all I can say is that I was blown away.
The DEF Mix sound he created with David Morales was such an important sound back in the day. Frankie’s productions were beautifully orchestrated pieces of soulful music and his arrangements have influenced the chord structures and string arrangements I have worked on myself. His sound is timeless and his name will live on forever.
My favorite Frankie’s production has to be Loose Ends ‘Hanging On A String’… simply incredible!
4 records or absolutely essential tracks in your collection that you can listen to over & over?
‘Latin Lover’ by Stephanie Mills – the song has incredible energy and her voice is so unique
‘I’ve Got Somebody New’ by Georg Levin – a beautiful deep house track
‘Love Connection’ by Fanatix – those harmonies are incredible
‘By All Means’ by Alphonse Mouzon (feat. Herbie Hancock) – pure jazz disco, it’s amazing
The most important year of your career and why?
From a DJ perspective, 2001 playing residencies in London and Barcelona.
From a producer perspective, I would say right now because I get some great feedback from Soulful House DJ’s. It makes me feel great knowing that I am giving them grooves that they can play and their crowds enjoy.
Which of your remixes do you consider as the most accomplished until now?
That’s difficult because doing a track is like having a baby, you spend days crafting it, hearing it grow, tweaking it.
From a production point of view the Audiowhore’s ‘Time Will Tell’ is a favorite because the mix is really well-balanced and Rio Jordan’s guitar solo works so beautifully.
Remixing ‘Promised Land’ was also an honor because that song is such a classic and I think the mixes I did really took the song in another direction, especially the dub.
From a « DJ respect » angle it has to be Margaret Grace’s ‘I Can Feel’ as Frankie Knuckles and DJ Spen really loved the track, so that gave me a lot of satisfaction.
What are the favorite instruments or plugins of your home studio ?
I use Cubase & Acid Pro as my DAW’s. Acid for cutting loops and samples up; Cubase for midi instruments and final production.
I always use Lounge Lizard for all electric pianos, Rob Papen’s Albino, Halion that comes bundled with Cubase and Native Instument’s Scarbee bass is THE bass plugin that I use on everything for live bass. Outboard gear includes a Roland JD 990 and a Yamaha TG33 for synth brass.
I know you are a self-taught music producer… what was the most difficult part in the learning process?
Getting the bass to sit in the mix! I tried everything over the years to get a funky warm bass sound.
What is your approach when you are creating a remix ?
I usually get the main hook from the vocal acapella, loop it and try out different chords… then I’ll take the verse and find some more chords that fit that.
After that step, I find a good drum loop and try out different bass rhythms.
Once the groove is there I add in brass samples, the pads and strings, then record guitar with Rio Jordan and build the song structure.
Finally mix down with FX’s.
Any productions/remixes in the pipeline at the moment?
I have been working on some Soulful, R&B stuff which will come out on Kingdom Digital Music soon.
One is a cover of The Police’s hit ‘Roxanne’ with Marie Pinto singing, out in April and in May I have a collaboration with KPD & the great Josephine Sweett with a song called ‘Sad’ which I am so happy with as it contains lots of orchestrated string parts and her deep jazzy voice is just perfect for the track.
On the House front I have produced a cover version of the Dionne Warwick classic I’ll Never Fall In Love Again sung by Marie Pinto (again!) forthcoming on Soulful Evolution Records and a track I wrote with Josephine Sweett called ‘Do It To Me One More Time’ coming out on Deeptown Music… The ‘From Da Vaults EP’ coming out on Deeptown will also contain some tracks I made 4 years ago.
I have too a remix of ‘Stay’ by Manyus & Miky Falcone coming out on Epoque Music and some original tracks are in the pipeline with singer and close friend Julia Dimambro.
I was recently asked by famous UK House label Solid Ground Recordings to do some remixes for them, one is a Margaret Grace’s song.
Finally, we should mention my remix of Stronger (Distant People feat. Natasha Watts) for Scott Whichello’s label that will come out soon and that you’ve already reviewed on MC (see review).
You were recently asked for a remix for the Tony Humphries’ label? How exciting was that?
It was great, if you release something on Tony Records you reach a much larger audience and Tony is a legend! They work with some great artists and I have a remix coming out for Soulful Session in the near future on a track called ‘Feel The Beat’… it’s a New Jersey style piano anthem.
Forthcoming Ondagroove’s productions:
You have been living in Barcelona since 2002… tell us a bit about the atmosphere of the city, famous for attracting multi-talented people especially in music.
Well 12 years ago Barcelona was one of the coolest cities to live in, now that has changed with the crisis and I wouldn’t say that it’s so cool anymore and it has got so expensive to live here.
Spain is pretty fucked with 26% unemployment and over 50% of people under 25 unemployed, which affects the cultural vibe of the city. Young people are being held back financially to create culturally. There is still a good underground arts scene here and it is a very beautiful city to live in, the architecture is astounding!
What is the House Scene like over there?
Techno, electro and deep repetitive house loops. Not very exciting to be honest. Luckily in Barcelona, Soulmates exists which is a collective of DJ’s and music fans who love Soulful House and they hold parties in Barcelona.
Also for great Jazz there is Café Royal. Andy Ward also organizes the Vocal Booth Weekender every summer in the south of Spain which is a week-long festival with great Soulful DJ’s from all over the world (http://www.vocalboothweekender.com).
Some good Spanish DJ’s include Sergio Erizzo, Mike Molina, David Groove, Nita Funk, Walter DaFunk, Nef Padilla & Fidias.
The way to listen and buy music has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. How do labels and artists adapt to this new situation?
There is no money to be made in music now. The day one of my remixes appears on Traxsource you can find it to download for free, people don’t make this music for money now, it’s for the love of making music. Labels have adapted by working on the revenue share model.
Is there still a future for Soulful House since House Music no longer seems to be the hype for the young European generations?
I think Soulful House is more for the older generation now. People who were into house music from the start who are now in their late 30’s & 40’s. But the Nu Disco scene is a fresh take on Soulful House and Disco and that is introducing Vocal House to the new generation.
An artist or a label that you would like to recommend for the quality of his work?
There are lots of great producers out there… I would recommend Groove Assassin, Sean McCabe, Fanatix, Reel People, Richard Earnshaw, Simon Grey, early Guy Robins.
Are there any artists, DJ’s or labels you would dream to work with? Or maybe you have already done it?
Tony Records was a bit of a dream, a couple of years ago I sent them an email saying I wanted to do a remix for the label and so he sent me Margaret Grace to do!
I’d really like to work with India (who wouldn’t!) A well recorded soulful vocal always inspires me… so send me your acapellas, labels!
Interview by Manutek @ Mix Collectors – April 2014