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A new monthly column from Dope Jams' Paul Nickerson. Tune in as he reports on the goods from the woods direct from his Wonka-esque parkland 'Locust Grove' in the Catskill Mountains - home to a nightclub, THE CREAMERY; a record shop, DOPE JAMS; a campground, CAMP GALLAGHER; and his 40,000 plus record collection.

This month he explores the work of the peerless Charles Webster in anticipation of Charles joining him at the Dope Jams Valentines Day Ball at Public Records on February 11th.

Hot Lizard - The Theme (Love From San Francisco Mix)

Hot Lizard
'The Theme' (Love From San Francisco Mix), 1995


This classic is 28 years old and still sounds like it could have been made last week. It was a game changer when it came out, there was nothing like it at that time. Clearly Webster was influenced by the likes of Larry Heard, but he took that influence and launched it into the stratosphere. Simply put, the production was light years ahead of what was happening. There was alchemy, magic, in the way all of its parts slotted together perfectly. Every seagull sound, bass note, drum pattern, synth texture, and percussion tone was perfectly separated and in harmony.

Webster cut his teeth at Square Dance studios in Derby, England, a renowned production facility, where classics such as 808 State’s “Pacific State” and “Dextrous” by Nightmares On Wax were recorded. Webster was working in those studios with the likes of Juan Atkins as early as 1989, years before he embarked on his solo career. “The Theme” was obviously the work of someone who knew their way around a studio, not a new jack trying to convey ideas to an engineer. It was as deep as the sleepiest Wayne Gardiner instrumental but moved like it was a peak time track, the bass line driving and drums hitting so hard that Kenny Dope would be proud! And it was structured as a song, not mindless meanderings of cool pieces. The build up to the release of the keys five minutes into the track is euphoric, a masterclass in song structure.

Released as a double pack import, it was a bitch to find when it was released. I remember playing it off the Frankie Knuckles 'Ministry Of Sound' compilation for years before getting the real 2 x 12". Also, it is one of the few remixes he has done. In Webster’s subsequent work, quality over quantity would be a running…theme.

Presence  'Better Day' (Presence Vocal Mix)

'Better Day' (Presence Vocal Mix), 1997


After making the perfect instrumental track, “The Theme,” Webster reemerged two years later as Presence and proved that vocals weren't a problem either. The driving, deep as fuck vocal adhered to the thematic cliche of hopeful positivity ever present in house music, but combined it with a dark, contemporary, production style that was nonexistent at that time. The pairing of the two lent the credibility necessary to believe that a “Better Day” really was coming.

Throughout his career Webster has also had the luck of being remixed by the perfect people, the Salt City Orchestra remix of “Better Day” is great and helped expose it to a whole, new crowd and gave me another reason to continue to play the track out weekly! However, nothing can touch the original “Presence Vocal Mix.”

Together Trax - Ain't Nothin' Wrong (Deep Different Dub)

Together Traxx
'Ain't Nothin' Wrong' (Deep Different Dub), 1994


This is an early Charles Webster production in which you could see all the pieces coming together, the deep keys, driving bass and informed song structure. He hadn't completely made it his own yet but was well on his way. Like seeing Michael Jordan play in the early years, you could sense it was there, it was just a matter of time before it all came together! This track still rocks a party!

Furry Phreaks - 'Soothe' (16B Mix)

Furry Phreaks
'Soothe' (16B Mix), 1998


Before the internet and digital download sites releasing 14,000 new tracks a week it was entirely possible to have people at all kinds of parties dancing to the same tracks. It was common to hear Danny Tenaglia, Sasha & Digweed and Louie Vega play the same songs. Dance music was much less segmented.

It was around 1998 that big records started being remixed by many different people. “Soothe” was a perfect example of this. Originally released in 1996 on Webster’s own Love From San Francisco label, Ministry Of Sound licensed it and first released the “Chicane Jazz Mix,” with its beautiful 3 minute intro before the kick comes in. Imagine Ministry Of Sound doing something like that these days. Two years later MOS had Omid 16b try his hand at it.

He took it right to the dance floor, expanding on both the original and Chicane Jazz mix, and making it so you heard this everywhere! It seems that when people were asked to remix Charles Webster they really showed up, they didn't just phone it in. And this speaks volumes of the respect he garnered.

Presence - 'Power Chords'

'Power Chords', 1995


This is a fun, early release on his own Love From San Francisco imprint. This gem was buried as the inside cut on the b-side. It’s a classic, early ‘90s, deep house track that you can actually dance to. This is not that snooze fest pretty, daydreaming in a sunflower patch nonsense that the white kids in black t-shirts shuffle awkwardly to, but deep, dark, inherently evil instrumental music made to make you move.

Charles Webster - 'Born On The 24th Of July'

Charles Webster
'Born On The 24th Of July', 2001


This album from 2001 is his magnum opus. A perfect piece of art, from the music to the artwork and title. I could write a book on each track but you shouldn't even listen to them as individual tracks, it is so much more powerful as a complete work. Last week I was driving and listened to it in its entirety and it hasn't aged a day. Twenty two years old and it’s more relevant then ever. I can only imagine what kind of hellish relationship he lost to have this bleed out of him. I hope it provided him with some therapy; if it didn't, then he should know that those experiencing similar loss had their demons calmed too. It was as if he made the vocal version to John Beltrans “Collage Of Dreams.” I remember prior to this, house music had been so single driven and this was one of the first complete LPs that functioned as a proper album. I was so hopeful people would start making albums with a theme, not a collection of club singles. Unfortunately no one quite followed in his footsteps. "Forget the past, you should be in the moment more and believe in nothing".

Justin Martin - 'The Sad Piano' (Charles Webster Mix)

Justin Martin
'The Sad Piano' (Charles Webster Mix), 2004


I somehow missed this when it came out, I just heard it recently. It’s a killer, melancholic, party rocker with all of Webster's signature moves. Heartbreaking chords, shuffling percussion, bugged out efx and vocal samples; all sitting magnificently in harmony. The perfect tune for when the party shifts from warm up to full throttle!

Charles Webster - The Spell (Charles Webster Dub)

Charles Webster
'The Spell' (Charles Webster Dub), 2020


The heartbreaking dub of 'The Spell' taken from his latest album “Decision Time.” It was hard to choose between this dub and the Burial remix but either way you win. Well, if drowning in sadness is winning to you, that is.

Charles Webster - Secrets Held

Charles Webster
'Secrets Held', 2020


The third single from his album “Decision Time” and by far my favorite jam on it. It features a hypnotic, cutting vocal by Emilie Chick and is exactly what I imagined his music would sound like 20 years later when I was losing my mind to 'Born On The 24th Of July'. Charles Webster, always forward.

Text edited by wordsmith and Charles Webster enthusiast, Chris Orr! Check his interview with Charles Webster for XLR8R from 25 years ago.

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