nylon singapore issue #4
clark - iradelphic
As a member of Warp’s fabled stable of Intelligent Dance Music classicists, Clark has always distinguished himself by representing the doggedly mercurial and cerebral (i.e. difficult) side of the family. Here on his sixth longplayer, his teeming, freeform inventions fall hard for the organic as he nimbly dices and distorts diverse live instruments into all manner of startling yet harmonious arrays. He also makes his most epic statement ever with triptych ‘The Pining’, a masterfully deviant suite of poignant folktronic/filmic beauty. It is, like the rest of Iradelphic, gripping and surprisingly comfortable – even easy – listening. And Clark achieves this not by way of selling out to radio-friendliness, but by appreciating that home is where the heart, rather than brain, is.
yppah - eighty one
Is it ‘happy’ turned on its head, or ‘yippee’ meets ‘hurrah’? Listen to Eighty One and the answer is clear. Yppah’s music is powered by sheer bliss, flexing lust for life as it bathes in serotonin-addled sunrise. Shoegaze, trip-hop, big beat, post-punk etc. along with unabashed sentimentality are the ingredients, stirred and brewed to a balmy 90’s reverie of exquisite and exuberant form. While gleaming with playfulness, the songs are far removed from naiveté, for in their depths lies heartfelt emotional weight, rapturously brought to fruition without being overly excessive. Upbeat, positive and all-round HAPPY, this is music forsaking 2012’s prophesied end of days. Choose your side wisely.
squarepusher - ufabulum
What is electronic music not supposed to do? It’s a question that Squarepusher seems to endeavour to answer in each of his 13 albums over a 16 year-old career. On Ufabulum, he continues to agitate the limits of human listening and exasperation with time signatures so curious and genres so fractured to the point of sheer unrecognition. Like a journey into narc-fueled consciousness, the music cocoons and laps away slowly, only to simultaneously and selectively break into hyperenergetic hysteria. The classic brand of Squarepusher jest and perversion endures - listen out for hints to anything from turn-of-Y2K trance to Skrillex. While his constant fidgetiness and harsh modus operandi might make for somewhat difficult appreciation, above all, the incredibly ornate quality of Squarepusher’s songwriting technique remains a truly otherworld spectacle.
nicholas szczepanik - we make life sad
We make life sad – with our memories, as this compelling excursion in hauntology suggests. Flakish found sounds, unheimlich electronics and concave loops loiter and wither wraithlike against the dark, turbid recesses of the mind. Yet the real sorcery lies in how the artist imbues half-life into his samples, sparingly exhuming their timbral subtleties in a bid to resist full-blown focus. This very formlessness defines the ten tracks on offer, and their lack of structural start, finish and progression. Evoking our cached recollections, they playback like ghosts of original events: faded, haphazard, near unrecognisable and downright depressing. For when there’s simply no way to regain that which is lost, all we have left is nostalgia and the charade of remembering how to remember.
beaumont - never love me
Never Love Me sounds exactly and unapologetically as you might imagine it to be upon seeing the record’s cover art. It’s the soundtrack to a supercool 80s throwback indie-thriller, with the music more veritable than any Kavinsky, the movie way hipper than any Drive or Gosling. Beaumont marries retro-futuristic drum programming with radiant synth swells in composing his rather forlorn yet remarkably alluring sweet nothings. Here, the suave kitsch of Tangerine Dream circa Miami Vice encounters the stepping rhythms of UK contemporary boogie, as the two lovers blush and skip along a neon-lit path into their cheap but honest motel. The notoriously gaudy 80s sound rendered serenely enjoyable by heartfelt sincerity alone - who would have thought?
BY JUSTIN ONG
9:42 pm • 20 July 2012
oscar mulero - black propaganda
Long-time techno proponent Oscar Mulero is a fertile one, cooking up a new long-player here while some of us continue to plunder the musical trove that is last year’s sterling double-disc Grey Fades to Green. Here, you won’t find any of the mellow, Warp-inspired electronica on Green, as Mulero switches to what he calls a more “contemporary” and “modern” sound with crosshairs calibrated for the dancefloor.
What follows is a terse forty-minute spin of techno as grey and forbidding as the cover artwork itself, swathed in relentless lashings of his distinctive glacial reverb. Just sidle past the tired procedure of a beatless opening drone, and Mulero’s refined; rolling grooves will lead the rest of the way.
Yet you won’t be fully convinced till, um, ‘To Convince for the Untruth’ blitzes into hearing. Ramming the BPM up a few notches, the track’s incisive kicks clip along at mid-gear, betraying just enough groove for a big-room warm-up set. Occasional forays into pools of white noise and a smattering of taut undertones assist in building mood towards the absolute stormer that lies just ahead - ‘False Statements’.
Bracing, chastening and terribly grim at once, ‘False’ is Berghain tonnage techno pounding its way through ominous peals of synth. It’s a welcome dose of square-shot songwriting, and a positive step away from the beepy-extraterrestrial-Jeff Mills aesthetic that Mulero invested in over a stretch of feeble EPs.
One, then, can only wish for an eventual return to the sound that originally made Oscar Mulero such a colossal force in the scene: fearsome, no-bullshit, hard-as-nails technoid funk spawned direct from the bowels of darkness and industry.
BY JUSTIN ONG
9:39 pm • 12 July 2012
“When I was a foetus, I was nostalgic for when I was sperm,” says Mike Sandison, one half of Boards of Canada, in a 1998 interview dug up by a recent FACT magazine feature. And here we have three wholly sentimental releases: one by throwback lad Lone, the other two from the legendary vanguard of Photek and Orbital, who’ve both been making music since I was, well… sperm.
Various Artists - Photek DJ-Kicks
Photek’s recent revival and accompanying adoption of a grand, cinematic sound is on full display in this DJ-Kicks submission. Here, the ex-junglist takes concerted stock of his newfound tastes in modern dubstep, its ambiguous ‘bass music’ variants and deep/tech house - basically anything but the austere drum’n’bass which so captivated listeners back in the ‘90s. In place is an aesthetic that is big, bold and clearly more accessible and human. But make no mistake; this is one forsaken, bereft being straggling his drunken way through the seedy alleyways of the city. Sombre, yes, but Photek’s smooth, consummate wielding of mix dynamics liberates it from certain wallowing, and creates an utter head-trip of a narrative. The selection features six exclusive tracks both self- and co-produced with the likes of Pinch, Boddika and Kuru: music with nothing on the ornate, polychromatic material of Photek’s past, but still technically impeccable and compositionally imposing at their very heart, as previously pointed out here.
Orbital – Wonky
Has it really been close to a decade since we last heard of Orbital? Aside from a greatest hits tour - and the appearance of ‘Halcyon’ on an SBS TV Mobile jingle - the Hartnoll Bros have pretty much laid low since the disaster that was Blue Album. Now they’re back and… Wonky?
Really? Title aside, Orbital’s most pop-oriented release ever kicks off on an inauspicious note with the passé, comeback wince of ‘One Big Moment’. A slew of ecstatic carnival anthems follow suit, assailing the ears with commercial gratification, and the wretchedness really sinks in with ‘Beelzebub’: an absurd reinterpretation of their classic ‘Satan’, now defiled into the kind of big room growling, wobbling brostep that Skrillex would have doled out on a timid day in Starbucks. Even the second-half shift into a breakbeat workout can’t salvage Orbital’s flagrant intent to cater to today’s ‘scene’ - and how they flounder to do so. But let us not bury the magic of their earlier efforts. Based on an old track uncovered while cleaning out their tapes, ‘Stringy Acid’ is a charmingly written, wondrous surge of Orbital at their most lustrous and powerfully stirring, circa 1991. It will have the middle-aged dancers jumping off their massage chairs, but whether the rest of Wonky allows a new generation to understand the true fuss about Orbital remains to be seen.
Lone - Galaxy Garden
For the majority of young producers making their mark right now, discovering and embracing the tropes of 80s/90s dance music profusion seems to constitute their rite of passage. Lone can probably lay claim to being part of the first wave to assimilate the neon veneers, pumped up BPMs and boisterous hooks of eras gone by; offering bright respite and rebellion against the post-Y2k culture of shadowy minimalism. He perseveres with the celebratory vibes on his latest full-length, unashamedly drawing from a proven bag of tricks to produce a doggedly faithful listening experience. Two collaborations with another romantic hat, Machinedrum, appear as largely reinforcing showcases of the keyed up, frenetic footwork he’s been conquering the world with.
Then there’s the pleasantly delightful ‘Lying in the Reeds’ with its PLUR chords yanked up and down their pitch range at the gleeful mercy of its creator. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is gorged with ideas and a sound that is starting to render itself oddly tedious and lacklustre. Perhaps it’s just become difficult to ignore the niggling doubt of whether such nostalgia presents anything fresh and distinctive from the very records they pay homage to. Or perhaps basking in the sunshine for too long has simply resulted in over-baking instead. Whatever the case, I’ll have some darkness now, please…
BY JUSTIN ONG
5:35 pm • 2 June 2012
shifted - crossed paths
The second half of the last decade saw the once-prolific engine of UK techno mired in some measure of limbo. Productions from the likes of Surgeon and Regis sputtered to a near-halt, and attention switched to the fledging German movement spearheaded by Berlin’s Ostgut-Ton and the now-colossal yore of the Berghain nightclub. The impact of these institutions was - and continues to be - profound. In its no-frills update of venerable, stripped-back, heavy-hitting 4/4s, Berlin techno sent shockwaves rippling through the scene, stirring British dancefloor giants such as Luke Slater and James Ruskin from their slumber.
Then came the new English wave: similarly galvanised by the Berghain sound, but boasting compositions alloyed with outsider sensibilities: Blawan’s heaving, ‘bass music’-rooted warehouse funk; the displaced junglist vibes of Instra:mental; the slate-grey industrial abrasiveness championed by the company of Furesshu, Truss and Shifted. This latter crop of producers proudly sport the legacy of UK industrial on their dingy factory sleeves, and in doing so, perpetuate arguably the most rooted and time-honoured take on their native techno yet.
Crossed Paths stands as the first proper full-length of this family. Its maker, Shifted, debuted at the start of 2011 with his Drained EP, an effort less unique for its musical worth than its accompanying mystery over the artist’s identity: his promo shot consists of no more than a shadowy silhouette stalking through snowed foliage. Like the image, his exploration of techno has been stealthy, understated, yet swift: in the past year, each successive Shifted release has seen the Bristolian come into his own, increasingly pushing sonic coherence to the collection of bleak, post-punk visuals amassed on his tumblr and reinforcing his overall alignment with the industrial aesthetic. It culminates in a clincher of a long-player that completes his move from fresh-faced non-distinction to established force in British techno.
Listening to the record is akin to undertaking a journey through the City: criss-crossing its latticed paths in an engulfing matrix of whirling, gestating machines; their gears and cogs shuddering with supernatural, otherworldly ambience. Indeed, Shifted’s marked improvement has much to do with spatial awareness: each track here foments layer upon layer of expansiveness gleaned from his interpretations of dub, noise and shoegaze methods. The effect is one of looming atmospheric malevolence; Gothic in its stewing viscerality and darkness. And at its core is an intuitive understanding of Techno mechanics - at least the fiercely monochrome side of it. Robust, quaking beats and lithe, single-chord synths; unrelenting in repetition and packing superhypnotic tension: these songs extend Techno’s advocating search for the perfect loop.
Powered by life-force drawn from electronic bitstreams connecting Berlin and old-school techno with English industrial, Shifted burrows beneath the future-shock debris to unearth refreshed geometry from the City’s original ground plans. Crossed Paths forsakes modern-day Techno’s commonplace requirement for ‘forward-thinkingness’, and gifts us instead with a slab of beauty/archaeology, rehashed and brought to bear by a veritable craftsman of antiquity.
BY JUSTIN ONG
9:11 pm • 30 April 2012
nylon singapore issue #2
jesse ruins - dream analysis
To emerge as publicly-approved gem from the bottomless quarry of music blogs takes a special bit of something. In the case of Japanese duo Jesse Ruins, it’s a fashionable application of shadowy land-of-the-rising-cool mystique, galaxies away from the barefaced Lana Del Rey mould and more aligned with an underground electronic dance music ethos. But let us not discount the quality of inventory: swooning atmospherics; giant swells of reverb; gleaming blankets of synth; hushed sexless “singing”; echoes of pulsing 80s gaiety jumbled with hazy bedroom warmth; and an all-round charming pop accessibility. Which really sounds as fantastic as yet-untainted notions of shoegaze before Midnight City, if you still need a reason to listen in. Plus, did I mention that they’re from Japan?
loops of your heart - and never ending nights
The original Scandinavian tragic, more famously known as The Field, unchains a pseudonym in tribute to his heroes of the storied krautrock-psychedelia scene. But unlike other throwback contemporaries, his compositions, while initially anointed with bucolic serenity, only serve to unfurl a fog of stifling, near-Kafkaesque tension. Even album highlight Cries, in its sprawling, rippling austerity, suspends ominous filaments of far-off footsteps, sputtering fireworks, and stray guitar dirges. But don’t take our overthinking for it. The track’s natural melancholy feels all too commonplace but yet irresistible, much like the kosmische classics of the day. By the time it winds to a close, a moniker like “Loops Of Your Heart” begins to make perfect sense.
BY JUSTIN ONG
9:09 pm • 30 April 2012
claro intelecto - reform club
Listening to Reform Club, one might be easily distracted. Claro Intelecto’s deep, reflective house/techno seems to just glide past clinically and nonchalantly, offering little by way of listener engagement. But in this case the fault’s all yours, really. The album’s heavy debt to Basic Channel’s foundational dub techno legacy necessarily stakes out what cultural intellect Kodwo Eshun calls a “world of echo”, where the ear perpetually chases the beat as it morphs into resonating tails of sound. Indeed, Intelecto’s steady, stripped-down grooves, doused in near-aquatic reverb and distortion, have always required some attentive following - but take that first step and be rewarded with richly, artfully crafted sonics adrift.
It’s a task made simpler by his protracted sprinkling of lush pads, melodies and cinematic elements, adding emotional charge to the effect of possibly his most warm and organic musical suite to date. This is beauty of the downcast sort, teasing forth the immanent pathos of fellow Mancunians Autechre, ‘90s UK techno, and the continuum of first wave to post-Detroit techno presently championed by parent label Delsin Records.
Clearly informed and influenced by the timeless output of these music scenes, Reform is an elegantly polished longplayer, braced with compositions of both unity and authority. This is unflappable dance music; cool and composed as you like, yet heartfelt and tender inside. Like that dream lover, this is worth chasing after.
02. Blind Side
03. Still Here
04. It’s Getting Late
07. Second Blood
08. Night Of The Maniac
09. Quiet Life
BY JUSTIN ONG
9:04 pm • 30 April 2012
nylon singapore issue #1
legofeet - SKA001
Here’s a mythic plastic of electronic dance music – the incredibly rare vinyl debut in 1991 by the duo now known as Autechre. Reissued for the first time, Legofeet represents an authentic milestone in the rave movement, spurning the cookie-cutter trail for further-left, forward-thinking terrain. The record’s celebrated musical range reads like an amorphous crystal ball of trends to come: Vintage ‘ardkore percussion; Detroit high tech soul with an English facelift; synth palettes rivalling one concurrent Aphex Twin release; industrial muscle predating the Birmingham scene. Spread over four untitled tracks each spanning about 20 minutes long, it doesn’t make for the easiest listening. But resist the skip button, and find yourself lost in something absolutely enigmatic, stunning and immortal.
various artists - Fabriclive 61: Pinch
London establishment Fabric secures Pinch on all-vinyl deck duties, and he duly opens and closes with two parts of the same track, rendering his mix “playable on loop”. Whether just plain clever idea or sheer marketing brilliance, there’s no denying the quality on display. From a surprising introductory stretch of backwater house/techno to a second half of craggy, hulking 140bpm bass, we’re privy to why it’s become all the rage for DJs to whisk both continuums together. Pinch’s singularity, however, is clear. No matter the tempo or genre, his message remains indelibly shrouded in doom and gloom, to the brink of suffocation. And this is darkness required more than ever in a time of neon-sheathed, wobbling mid-range excess.
goth-trad - New Epoch
The mohawked samurai armed with subs for swords springs an on-form, full-length assault, brandishing his trademark futurist tech/roots abstractions. Goth-Trad still rides atop a muscular behemoth of a bass template, albeit a strictly purist one, but few of his peers wield equivalent low-end sleight of hand. Bone-shuddering lead singles Babylon Fall and Air Breaker best prove the point, and here they sit in good company. Man in the Maze opens with disconcerting filmic suspense; shades of Underground Resistance sparkle on the marvellous Cosmos; and Anti Grid pummels home via Raster-Noton physics. It’s no “new epoch”, yet the album’s victory lies in a hyper exuberance acquired by scything through to the very crux of the junglist ethos.
BY JUSTIN ONG
5:59 pm • 24 March 2012 • 1 note
monolake - ghosts
“For me, it’s all about the details and I like to work on the details and that’s why it takes forever for me to release a new album.”
Robert Henke might be addicted to detail, but it certainly didn’t take him ‘forever’ to come up with his latest record after 2009/10’s Silence. Nonetheless, here he’s managed to attain the usual, intimidating level of technical wizardry that we’ve come to expect from the father of Ableton Live himself.
Per tradition, melody and structure is eschewed for sculptures of the finest design, as he pushes home one more proper statement on the infinite range of sounds potential to the electronic music realm. Another Monolake trademark is, of course, the use of field recordings. And while Ghosts is suitably marshalled by an army of found sounds, the album is yet distinctive in Henke’s inaugural employment of these elements in manipulating rhythm and percussion - bringing to mind Tommy Four Seven’s approach to his Primate long-player last year.
Such densely intricate aural environments are kneaded into short bursts of sub-six minute tracks (with the exception of ‘Hitting the Surface’); a fleetingness all the more acutely felt when compared to his past oeuvre of majestic, near half-hour pieces. Unfortunately, this paring down also brings with it deficiencies beyond the temporal: gone are the once vividly atmospheric soundscapes, or tough, dynamic beat physics; now drained and draped in diluted and unmemorable wallpaper tones.
So what went wrong here? From being born into what he dubs a “classical background of a family of engineers”, Henke has voiced doubt over his musical abilities - “I see myself as a.. lousy composer”. In 2010, he told The Wire how he overcame these “insecurities” with the collaborative aid of Gerhard Behles and Torsten Profrock (aka T++), who were members of Monolake at different points in time, and on albums which yielded its best-loved classics. Since Silence, and on Ghosts, Henke has operated solo, with said vulnerabilities not only laid bare, but confirmed. The result is an unwitting retreat to the comforts of his sound design roots, with precedence given to - surprise surprise - the crafting of sonic detail over composition.
Sure, some will argue that the Monolake aesthetic shuns tried-and-tested nostalgia for innovation and experimentation; that it’s about the reverent Robert Henke expressing himself in new ways, discovering fresh terrain, and pushing things forward. But if Ghosts represents the future, then it’s a future of sound, absent the experience of music.
Henke is not wrong to believe in detail. But he’s wrong if he believes that detail alone will suffice to have someone “listen to his tracks ten times” over. It’s an observation he’s made himself: “If you spend enough time, you can conglomerate enough detail. But you might end up (with) some highly complex IDM record which nevertheless is arbitrary. It’s an arbitrary collection of amazing details.” Ghosts is, then, haunted by self-fulfilling prophecy.
04. Hitting the Surface
06. The Existence of Time
08. Unstable Matter
10. Aligning the Daemon
11. Foreign Object
BY JUSTIN ONG
8:26 pm • 15 March 2012
BENJAMIN DAMAGE & DOC DANEEKA – THEY!LIVE
From a label fathered by the raucous Modeselektor comes an album that is, instead, a mostly pensive, melancholic playoff between ‘UK bass’ and probably every other modern genre you can think of. Songstress Abigail Wyles plays no small role in setting the mood from the get-go with her affecting, submerged murmurs evaporating over ‘No One’.
Equal parts as fragile as a spectral Will Bevan while still packing Quadrant-influenced tenacity, the track signifies its creators’ songwriting panache and versatility. Damage & Daneeka’s refined club-headphone balance finds still greater testament in the celestial luxuriance of ‘Bleach & Penicillin’.
Elsewhere, for those altogether allergic to the intimate, ‘Creeper’ offers some stock dancefloor madness replete with sirens and wild note changes - rounding off an assertive, fluid and altogether satisfying long-player.
01. No One feat. Abigail Wyles
02. Battleships feat. Abigail Wyles
03. Deaf Siren
04. Creeper (Album Edit)
06. Halo feat. Abigail Wyles
08. Elipsis Torment
09. Bleach & Penicillin
THROWING SNOW – TOO POLITE EP
Throwing Snow’s precipitous trajectory to date has been largely helped along by his online positioning as (yet another) ‘one-to-watch’ artist - plus this one claims to write “anything from folk to dubstep”. Questionable choice of words, but here the man shows us he’s no Blake - sorry, flake - with a highly effective trio of understated yet formidable numbers blanketed in his warm, misty-eyed signature. It’s really all about the title track’s homage to classic jungle and rave: get past the deceivingly mild intro, and a phalanx of jagged snare rolls march in to herald a royal rumble of classic London breaks. Potent dancefloor voodoo; try to catch your breath.
03. Too Polite
OCTO OCTA – ROUGH, RUGGED AND RAW
Brooklyn house head Octo Octa gifts us with a half-hour’s worth of live tour jams, flowing silky-smooth from his fingertips. Swinging rhythms, vocal shoegazing and stripped-down acid alike coalesce in a seamless mix for all occasions. Check the chest-deep hypnosis of ‘Blush’, drawing you onto the floor as much as ‘Memories’ invites bedroom submission with its indolent, sultry vibes.
It’s a trim, suave debut album which sounds anything but ‘rough, rugged or raw’ - a title probably intended to complement its distribution on cassette. Sure, it’s a creative call that comes across as fanciful and perhaps even retro-for-the-sake-of. But on its own, and from the comfort of your laptop’s audio-out, this remains a distinctive modern effort well worth the digital download.
1: Forced Nature
2: Shower Nights (Second Chance Mix)
4: Pitch Black
5: Wormhole Move
8: Blush (House Mix)
9: This Day
10: Float Keys
BY JUSTIN ONG
8:24 pm • 15 March 2012
artist feature: fran hartnett
“Techno means the sound of the future. For me, techno is a concept, as opposed to a formula. It usually takes the form of club music, with its beats carrying interesting tonal and rhythmic experiments to an audience who are there to dance as much as to listen. But the same kinds of sonic experiments could be made with different tempos, or no beats at all, and once the sound describes the same futuristic vision, then it’s still techno. To me at least.
For that reason, because it’s not defined by a particular beat, and the fact that there really are no rules, proper techno will be around forever, because it’s continually evolving. The minute it stops evolving, as soon as someone tries to create simply a copy of what has been done before, instead of trying to invent something new, then that’s when it’s not techno anymore, but some formula called [insert latest trendy new genre name here]. And the real techno moves forward, not caring about that new genre that was created and (will soon be) forgotten about.”
- Fran Hartnett
There you have it, techno heads: in just one interview response, at least three quotes worth tweeting, Facebook posting, blogging or updating your MSN status with. Just imagine what the rest of this article has in store for you…
…Alright, bad jokes aside, everyone meet Fran Hartnett: long-serving Irish producer/DJ who, as you can tell, takes his job in equal measures of seriousness and passion. While born, bred and currently nestled in his hometown Dublin with wife, two kids and cat; Hartnett also happens to have that one other committed relationship - with techno music.
His is a two-decade long story that is as bare-knuckled, introspective and true-to-life as it gets - so word to the techno purists; EDM aficionados; budding DJs/producers… heck, anyone into music out there: peruse this page with care, and you will walk away for the better informed and inspired.
Hartnett’s also taken the liberty to provide, exclusive to Midnight Shift, his first ever ‘hybrid’ mix (he has only ever recorded pure live or DJ sets). Featuring his own productions interspersed with live studio machine jamming, it is a powerfully stark and incisive excursion into the Fran Hartnett sound - one that duly moves us forward, storming, into the future.
Hi Fran. Tell us about the influence of growing up in Dublin.
Obviously everyone is influenced by the culture and landscape they happen to grow up in, the chance encounters they have, friends they make, and what music goes with all those experiences.
I grew up in Bray, a small coastal town on the outskirts of Dublin, and all of my first musical loves are connected to that place. Electronically, I first encountered music by The Prodigy, The Orb, Orbital, and all the more underground stuff around the time of 1992.
So as a teenager then, my life was somewhat centred around music. I was pretty young when I got into DJing, and it had the effect of giving you an awareness of what music is popular, and also makes you concerned with the task of supplying music to the people.
How has the club scene changed since you first started partying?
When I first started going out to clubs in Dublin, around 1994, there were only a few spots in the city that catered for real underground dance music, and there were probably less than half as many across the rest of the country. Over the years since then, the scene has grown, but the establishment has always made it hard to run an underground music club in this country.
I have heard countless stories of club owners being harassed by the Gardaí (Irish police) until they get rid of the offensive promoter and change their music policy (of course rock/pop music is acceptable). Some of the greatest clubs that Dublin ever had are long gone (often closing down when they were at their busiest and really kicking off), and many of those buildings aren’t even standing anymore - demolished to make way for apartments, or whatever.
Thankfully, in recent years, most promoters have taken to organising things very cleverly, working within the law, but refusing to be trampled on by the establishment. These guys know the rules and how to turn them around in their favour. I’m constantly impressed by the determination and balls of many of Ireland’s current promoters who organise legal events - ones that have all the attitude and excitement of the illegal events of days gone by, with not so many of the risks (such as arrests, fines, and confiscated sound systems).
Sounds like the powers that be aren’t too keen on Ireland having much of a nightlife.
Unfortunately the club scene in Ireland is (and has always been) crippled by the licensing laws. Nearly all clubs must close at 3am, which is just ridiculous and drastically needs to be changed. It means that you can usually only put 2 or 3 acts on in a night: so if one’s an international guest there’s not much room for local support acts, the first of which will probably play to an empty club anyway. This still happens despite the fact that everybody knows they must leave the club at 3… It’s very hard to get everyone in before 1am, because people like to stay in the pub until after 12, and the pubs are often some distance from the club.
It’s frustrating to be restricted by such a ludicrous system, but that’s the way it is. Annoying. So far, all attempts to get clubs to stay open late have been shot down by nonsense arguments from the Gardaí (and backed up by the pubs) like “there would be too many people on the streets late at night” or some other bullshit.
Has the situation been affected by the Irish recession?
I think it has made promoters more cautious about who they book, which is a pity. We may be missing some vital new music here simply because the promoters are afraid a less well-known international artist won’t draw a crowd.
DJing back in the 90s versus DJing in 2011. Discuss.
I think it was very different (then)… The Internet has changed everything so profoundly. It used to be a real hunt to find that special track - a physical hunt. Ok, you may have to ‘hunt’ through lists and lists of tracks on the Net, but if you find something amazing, it’s not like some massive accomplishment on your part.
I remember going from shop to shop looking for a particular record and it could take you months to find what you were looking for, if you found it at all! When you did find that record, it really would be like finding treasure. I remember somebody at a party offering me a whole bag of records (about 80) in exchange for my copy of DJ Hell’s ‘My Definition Of House’ (before it was re-released).
You wouldn’t get that today. Even when it comes to vinyl, you can use the Internet to buy whatever it is you want, as long as you have the money. Back in the day, that didn’t matter, there were some records that just couldn’t be bought! But so many DJs just buy digital files now. I think that’s a shame, though I understand the convenience. Personally, I’ll always buy vinyl; I think it’s something special, something worth having, something to keep forever… now where did I put those (digital) files?
However, from an artistic point of view, it’s not important what medium the DJ uses. What’s important is what the DJ communicates, and if that’s something interesting, inventive and unique, then it’s worthwhile. If the technology has made things easier (no doubt it has) then that means the game needs to be played harder. I’m happy to see that some DJs are pushing the latest technologies in new ways, but it’s also frustrating seeing some making little or no effort and getting away with it for the most part because the computer is doing the mixing for them.
From the bedroom to playing out alongside famous names like Joey Beltram, Kevin Saunderson and Rolando. When and what was your big break?
The real break for me was when I managed to get on the DJ roster at a techno night called Genius in The Kitchen, held at Temple Bar in Dublin. It was a Tuesday night gig but it used to be packed every week with queues going down the street outside. The venue was owned by Bono from U2, so it was pretty fancy: it even had a little river running around the dancefloor!
More importantly it had a pretty decent sound system, and I was free to play the music I wanted. I was a DJ for that club for about two years (‘97 - ‘99), and it had such a good reputation that me playing there led to other gigs around the city supporting international techno artists.
All this going on, and you still graduated from college…
Well I spent a long time in school. In fact, it wasn’t until my third attempt at college that I managed to finish my course work! Through my first few years I was a typical poor student, working all kinds of odd jobs to pay the bills, and not to mention being a mad raver as well! I often missed class or fell asleep when I did go in.
By the time I got to the point of doing a masters degree, I was lucky enough to be eligible for a government grant, and mature enough to take the whole thing very seriously, which I did - I even got away with my crazy thesis idea and managed to get a first class honours!
… with a degree in Music and Media Technology, no less. Was this a conscious choice to help get you started with production?
I was more interested in learning for myself than in any kind of ‘career opportunities’. At the time I was already teaching myself the ins and outs of production in my home studio, and this course looked like it could offer some expert knowledge that would assist my productions. I also heard that the course covered Max/MSP (a user-defined audio and MIDI programming environment), which I was really excited about, as I knew that Autechre (perhaps my all-time favourite electronic duo) relied on Max heavily for much of their productions.
Has it always been about the harder, faster, darker side of techno for you?
Well certainly since my first proper club gig as a DJ (back in 1997), yes, it has always been techno. Back then I was playing a slightly different style than I’d play now of course, but I still remember playing some really serious techno in there - Steve Stoll, The Advent, Lekebusch, DJ Rush, Michael Forshaw, etc… Having said that, I do listen to loads of other music and always have. If it’s original, interesting and made with love, I don’t care what genre it is. I enjoy music, that’s it. But in the club, it’s all about the techno! (and maybe a bit of electro ;)).
What would you do about someone who thinks ‘Techno’ = cheesy euro-dance-trash?
I would say that they haven’t heard proper techno then… I might make them listen to Jeff Mills’ ‘Live at the Liquid Room - Tokyo’ (React, 1996)… “get that into ya!”, I’d say!
Any non-dance music favorites of yours that have creatively influenced your sound?
At the moment, I don’t think so. My music is the result of experimenting and exploring the depths of my machines, pushing them to make the sound I want. It would be different if I made more melody based music, where I might be able to find an example of some chord progression that is influenced by an artist. But usually, when I arrive at a familiar sound, the first thing I do is push it away from there.
The only non-dance music favourite of mine who I can say has definitely influenced my productions would be Steve Reich. His use of phasing, particularly in a rhythmic context, fascinates me and I sometimes use two or more phrases together, each with a different loop length, to create an evolving poly-rhythm.
In the music of Thom Yorke, Beck, Joanna Newsom, Bjork, Coil, or Joy Division - all ‘non-dance music’ artists that I love - there must be plenty of tonal qualities that I subconsciously take with me into the studio when I’m going to make some banging techno… but how those qualities manifest themselves in a given percussive techno workout, I don’t know!
What’s your secret when it comes to music production?
I think that simplicity is important. It’s very easy to get carried away with the limitless amount of channels/sounds/effects available now with computers, but if you look at all of the greatest electronic music, it’s usually very simple, in terms of how many elements there are. There might be three elements combined and it sounds like a wall of sound, or like some intensely complicated rhythmic soup, but when you step back from it (or lean closer and listen!) you find it’s just a small group of simple components. And how those few elements are used, rather than how many elements there are… that makes the difference.
You first emerged with a stream of remixes back in 2009, including one for Orlando Voorn. How did you approach that?
The Voorn remix was something a bit different for me. I thought I should stray away from my comfort zone a bit when making it, and it turned out to be the ‘nicest’ techno track I’ve made so far… I don’t usually do ‘nice’!
I focused on the lead sound of the original and recreated the notes in MIDI from the audio samples I was given, so that I could play those notes with my own synth patches. I have to admit I felt honoured to remix one of his tracks, even though I hadn’t been following his output for quite some time. His track ‘Flash’, as Fix (KMS Records, 1992), was one of the first real techno records I ever bought, and I must have played that hundreds of times over the years!
As of now, you have five original releases to your name – modest output compared to other producers these days, who come up with a track every few months or so.
I think it was around ‘98 when I first started to learn some music software and how to make tracks, but I spent a few years trying to get things sounding like how I heard them on the records I was buying. I just couldn’t get ‘that sound’… until one day I borrowed my mate’s Yamaha Rm1x drum machine, and with very little effort put a beat together that I thought was near enough to what I was hearing on tracks by Adam Beyer, Speedy J, Surgeon, whoever… so I thought to myself: “I have to get some hardware”.
I know it’s possible in theory to use software only to get a sound as good as hardware does, but for me it just never happened. I bought myself the Yamaha Rm1x, an Access Indigo II Virus keyboard synth, and a DBX 1066 compressor, and finally started to make music that I was happy with.
But yeah, you could say that I tend to approach production in a more steady and calculated fashion. Having said that, I’m just about ready to start increasing my production rate, as I have just moved into a new studio, and I have my gear set up better than ever, and a much faster workflow in place these days. I always used to wonder how producers like Jeff Mills, or Cari Lekebusch (when he was at his most prolific) could knock out so many tracks so quickly, but now I think I’m not too far off being able to start doing the same thing myself.
It’s like you spend years learning how to get your system set up and your workflow worked out, and then once you’ve done that, you can actually finally get to work properly… that’s where it feels like I’m at now. I’m excited about that!
Your live setup looks fairly complex, could you walk us through the equipment used?
Well I just love Elektron! This Swedish company went and designed the most versatile drum machine ever (Machinedrum), and after a few years drooling over the specs on their website, I finally got enough cash to buy one, and it was everything I hoped it would be and a whole load more. After about a year I swapped my non-sampling version to the sampling one, and after a couple of years of that machine just getting better and better the more I used it, I decided to swap my Access Indigo II Virus for Elektron’s synth-sequencer, the Monomachine. The Machinedrum and the Monomachine are made for each other (quite literally I’m sure) and they are all I need to play live (nice to have no computer on stage!).
For my live performance, I also use a little controller called a Minicommand, which is specially made for the Machinedrum by a German company called Ruin & Wesen. This little magic box does a whole lot more than what I use it for at the moment (mainly to access the FX on the Machinedrum) but I’m gradually getting more comfortable with it, and I think, like the Machinedrum and Monomachine, it will just keep getting better the more I use it.
Actually one of the things that most attracts me to all these music machines is that they always do the same thing, so you get to learn them as an instrument. You get to the point where you aren’t even thinking about it as you reach for that knob or button. I have had various midi controllers in the past, but because I would assign a different arrangement of controls every couple of months, or use them with different software, I never got to be familiar with them the way you do with a hardware drum machine or synth.
How different is Fran Hartnett the live performer and Fran Hartnett the DJ?
As a DJ I play the kind of music I aspire to make, which is basically as good as techno gets, and something I couldn’t honestly say when I play my own music. I’m not there yet! But I feel like, as a DJ, I’m just trying to put this great music out there that other people have made, more than I’m trying to be the best DJ out there.
When I take my productions into a live setting, it’s hard to be as sure about the music, because it’s raw out of the machines as I have made it, basically unmastered, and I can be very critical of myself, like how the balance of a mix is, or how effectively the live arrangement is worked out. Also, my productions are influenced by my instruments, which at the moment is just drum machine and synthesiser, and I currently don’t have anything to run large samples. I’m hoping to get a new sampler (yes an Elektron one) sometime soon, and that will allow me to put a more textural edge on my sound which I’m really keen to do. But at the moment, my productions are mostly constructed of synth and percussion.
This means that a live set from me will have less of the kind of dense textured atmospheres that would feature, via the work of other artists, in my DJ sets.
Now for your DJ sets… chart the records you consider to be your most reliable weapons, ever.
Function - Montage [Infrastructure New York]
The Advent - Bad Boy [Internal]
Surgeon - Death Before Surrender [Downwards]
DJ Hell - Hot On The Heels Of Love (Dave Clarke Remix) [Disko B] )
Neil Landstrumm - Tension In New York [Tresor] )
Chris McCormack - Locked [Materials] )
LFO - Butterslut [Warp] )
Johannes Heil - Paranoid Dancer (DJ Hell Remix) )
Paula Temple - Speck Of The Future EP [Materials] )
Hell & Richard Bartz - Rock My Body To The Beat [International Deejay Gigolos]
Some newer, more recent tunes that are doing it for you at the moment:
Tomohiko Sagae - No Way Out [Rodz-Konez] )
Forward Strategy Group - Tayo Olowu [Perc Trax] ()
Bas Mooy - Mosaic Of Sleepless Nights EP [Audio Assault] )
Planetary Assault Systems - Deep Heet Vol.2 EP [Mote Evolver] )
Robert Pain - Black Queen LP [free release on Soundcloud] )
Iori - Lapis [Prologue] )
Lucy - Beelines for Working Bees EP [Stroboscopic Artefacts] )
Any up and coming artists that you think will be making waves pretty soon?
Actually I know of so many outstanding local talents that I just wrote a list and found myself wondering where do I stop! I recommend a listen to the music of Rory St John, Defekt, Ed Devane, Swarm Intelligence, Sunil Sharpe (deservedly voted ‘Ireland’s best DJ 2011’), Bit Treader, Adam Kelly, Kachanski, and for something a bit sweeter and more downtempo, Euphiophone.
BY JUSTIN ONG
8:20 pm • 15 March 2012