Hello Al and welcome along to Magazine Sixty. What have been the highlights for you in the past 15 years, as 3am Recordings has been releasing music since 2003!?!
Hi & thanks for having me! There have been several along the way, I guess the ones which stand out are the first time I heard something off the label being played by DJs we really looked up to (that was Silicone Soul playing a track from TAM001 at Basics in Leeds in 2003), then Rob Da Bank playing Alex Moran’s “New Fish To Fry” on Radio 1 too, a pretty cool moment. I think at that point I expected to take over the world haha. Gig-wise really the highlight was having fabric host us for the label’s 10th birthday – it seemed like a real recognition for the hard work put in, plus naturally it’s such a brilliant venue to play at.
How have you seen the â€˜industry’ develop in that time for better and worse â€“ which I guess may run parallel to the rise of the Internet, easy access and streaming?
I believe there are pros & cons to how it’s changed; in one respect, the internet and digital aspect has really blown open the old level of ‘control’ (for want of a better word) that labels had, for all genres, whereby artists needed a label to get their music out there. People can really follow a DIY path now, so it’s much more democratic in that sense – you don’t necessarily need thousands of pounds to get something out there now, via digital platforms. However the flip-side of this is that artists don;t seem to take their time now; as soon as someone has finished a track, they’re desperate to get it out there, so the number of demo emails I receive which have one track on there, CC’d into about 4000 email addresses, is ridiculous. This leads to a huge amount of disposable music and what seems to be a bit of a desperation just to get stuff ‘out there’, rather than developing a selection of sounds and targeting labels which are appropriate to what you want.
What is it about four on the floor that still ignites your excitement after all this time?
Good question and I don’t think I have a real answer! I bought my decks in 1991 and thought it’d just be a passing fad, but here I am 27 years later…. There’s an energy in house music, people are still reinventing how it sounds, new people (much younger than me!) find it and want to push it forward and create fresh excitement, so there are constantly changing nuances in the sound; I guess those are the reasons it still has a hold on me really. There’s just something about getting some records & putting together a mix, playing in a club, or just checking out new music with a friend to compare what we have, when you hear the beat and the energy contained within, it just still works for me. When I received the TAM088 vinyl, which had my first ever track on 12″, I got all emotional when the first kick on my track played throguh the speakers. It’s a bit ridiculous really, but that’s the kind of hold it has on me!
Celebrating the anniversary is the labels next release on June 4 which features four tracks by four artists. How does the release represent 3am’s direction in 2018 and can you tell us about how you choose these productions in particular?
The release I feel showcases what the true ethos of 3am has tried to remain true to over the years; it’s not easy pushing new artists right at the start of their careers, but it’s something I’ve tried to do throughout. So on this release it has Ceri, whose debut ever release was for 3am (a remix of Askani), plus I’m giving Helsinki-based Twisted Puppies their debut on vinyl. Michael Lovatt is an artist who has become close to the label in recent years, representing us at gigs in Berlin several times, plus he’s an artist who is on the rise, so it wa the right time to get him on the label. Danny – aka Dubble D / Moodymanc – featured on 3am a few years back, so he is making a return as a long-time friend of the label. So this EP represents artists who’ve been involved with the label one way or the other over recent years, plus for Ceri she was always going to be back on 3am and it’s a pleasure to get her onto a 12″, likewise for Twisted Puppies – they’re the fifth artist making a debut on vinyl from the last three 3am 12″s, so that’s something I’m really proud of. Especially after I was told I couldn’t sell records without big names…
How did you first get into Dance Music? Which clubs and DJ’s initially inspired you? And how would you describe the scene in Leeds now?
I’m originally from Stockport so it was ventures up the road to Manchester which kick-started it all; predominantly the Hacienda but also The Boardwalk & Konspiracy (!!) were places I went. The Hacienda was the main influence though, I was actually there on the last night it was open too, I’ve got the ticket framed in my hallway even now (geek alert…). Outside of Manc, Leeds was a regular place I visited, Back To Basics and the residents there really adding a new dimension to the music I play; Ralph Lawson & James Holroyd in particular really showcased sounds which still influence to this day. For a relatively small city-centre, there is so much going on – you’ve got smaller places such as 212 & Distrikt which have great DJs on and free entry, then venues such as Wire & Mint which showcase a brilliant selection of styles and nights, up to Church and Mint Warehouse, which have the A-list DJs housed in much larger venues. So there really is something for all tastes; it’s a very strong city for electronic music right across the board, definitely.
Can you tell us what inspires you outside of the world of House Music. Any authors, artists, musicians, writer’s etc you would care to share?
Well my favourite writer is George Orwell; people immediately think of “1984” by him (which is, for me, the best book I have ever read), but his fantastic use of language and his clear distaste for the upper-classes (despite coming from a well-to-do background, which he shunned) is evident in his writing. “Coming Up For Air” is another of his books which still has a relevance in its story today, plus “Down and Out In Paris and London” is a really amazing insight into the North of England at the time of writing. I’m also a bit of a film geek; I tend to watch more films than general TV really; I’d say some of the films from the 70s would be my choices (Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Serpico etc), but more recently films like Shutter Island & There Will be Blood are favourites too. I listen to plenty of other music too, there was particular excitement when confirmation of Arctic Monkeys live tickets was sent to my friend Lyndsey, who managed to sort us two for Sheffield! Really looking forward to their new album, their previous one “AM” is an absolute gem & up there with my favourites of all time.
What are your feelings on nostalgia? Does such great emphasis on the past stifle creativity or enhance it?
Another good question! I’m not too keen on the word ‘nostalgia’ really; what has happened in the past of course is hugely important (otherwise why would I have a Hacienda ticket framed on my wall, from 1997 haha!), but I suppose it’s how these things are done. For example I’m not really a fan of “classics” type nights, where all the music is from say 1989 through to 1991, primarily because that’s not a true representation of what was played, it’s just the biggest/most well-known tracks from that period and it wasn’t really like that at all. I play old records in my sets, I love old records, but I play them within all the new stuff I have – I’ll do it as a little reminder of something from the past and also because it’s something I like and it fits with what I’m playing, but I wouldn’t want to do a whole night of “Hacienda Classics” for example. it’s correct and important to learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in it… When people say “the music’s not like it used to be” or whatever, that does bug me a bit – of course it’s not what it used to be, if it had stayed the same since 1988 then it’d be a bit stale! The whole reason I believe electronic music remains so vital is because it changes and progresses. Yes look back and get excited by old music, see what the early tracks were, that’s valuable and crucial to involve yourself in, but treat it all as an ever-expanding and changing sound – that’s the key for me.
And finally. Can you talk us through the process of creating music for you, from where an initial idea might spring from to how you then produce it, including a favourite piece of hardware/software you like to refer to?
I guess it just all comes from the music I hear and have heard over time – whether that’s consciously or subconsciously. As I’ve been buying records since the mid-80s, It probably explains why I’m rubbish at sticking to one sound. Production-wise I use Ableton; I tend to just muck about with basic ideas of drum/percussion and bass initially, then go from there. Software-wise I do tend to use Sylenth a lot, it’s something of a go-to bit of software for me really. The Eventide plug-ins have also been regular favourites, easy to use and great sounding. I’d love to say I have a studio full of expensive gear and name-drop some super-expensive synths, but I’d be lying I’m afraid! I can’t remember who said it to me, maybe Rob Small who does the 3am mastering, but it was something like “it’s not the gear, it’s the ear” – I’ll use that line anyway 🙂
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