Hello and welcome to Magazine Sixty Ryan. Can we start with your breath-taking new single: SHADOWS. Can you talk us through where the inspiration came from for the track and how you then transformed those ideas into music?
Shadows was a song I had written quite soon after leaving my place of employment for the last 10 years. I was toying with the idea of going full time for way to long. The security of full time employment was great, but it really prevented me from pushing my music. This song kind of talks about that. It’s a struggle that most artists never see through. I can understand that, it’s a total gamble.
The idea really started with the pretty massive analog bass line. I wanted the track to be very minimal and to focus on a solid vocal delivery. This was something that I previously wasn’t very comfortable doing. As the lyrics progressed more elements where added. I used a lot of synth sounds that haven’t been used in a musical sense such as the modular style glitches. This was to sonically push my synth skills and sound. Finally the string sections. Strings are something I’m absolutely obsessed with. I had Rachael Boyd & Laura Mc Cabe brought in for that. Both stunning players.
Your recent session for Across The Line highlighted your use of analogue synthesizers. Which artists first inspired you to use those sounds and how would you describe the difference between the sounds they produce and those similar instruments recreated by digital plug-ins?
Yeah this topic is something I get asked by a lot of people. I grew up listening to loads of different genres. I’ve never really pin pointed one artist that inspired me.
I kind of started learning synthesisers when I was about 16. I’ve been collecting ever since.
I was never really against computers as such. It was more the case of synths were cheaper to buy at that time rather than computers and software. I’ve heard amazing software that can out do hardware and vice versa.
A lot of electronic music these days is more or less instrumental (especially Dance). What does your voice say about you, and do you think that there is anything that the human voice can’t convey which instrumentation can – or vice versa!
I think a combination of bought is now a good happy medium.
Your studio has an amazing array of keyboards. Do you have a favourite and why?
I would have to say analog my Roland Juno 6. Digital would have to be the ROLI GRAND.
How long did it take you to acquire them all? Where did you source them from?
This has been built up over 15-16 years of collecting. I’ve bought from all over the world now. Ebay has been the main search engine I’d have to say.
Tell us about how your involvement with Quite Arch and Northern Ireland Arts Council came about?
Quiet Arch was a label that myself and Lyndon Stephens started up to release an album called Sealegs. The album done so well that Quiet Arch began to grow.
The Arts Council have been amazing. They noticed me about two years ago and have been helping me develop. Support like that is vital these days.
How do you see the future of record distribution and sales in the digital world?
Vinyl unfortunately is dying off again along with CDs. Streaming is how us artists are going to survive.
And finally. Please share with us your future plans for live performance and your next album?
Wednesday I play in London with TALOS, Thursday I’m in Belfast & Sunday Dublin. Festivals are over, now the gigging begins.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you first got into Dance music, the clubs you used to frequent, and which Dj’s initially inspired you?
I often thank my Mum for putting me on the road to becoming a dj as she was a proper music lover with an ever growing record collection and was more prone to putting on a good album for entertainment over plonking me in front of the box as a kid. The soundtrack in our house covered everything from Blondie to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder and it was wasn’t long before I was trained up to put on the precious black stuff myself. I even remember when my Mum’s taste started getting more electronic and albums from the Pet Shop Boys, Kraftwerk & Depeche Mode started to appear in her vinyl.
As a kid growing up in Belfast through the eighties the whole Breakdance scene was in full effect and I watched the Beat Street movie on repeat and was blown away by the soundtrack which basically started a life long love affair with 80’s electro music. I promptly started collecting the Street Sounds and Electro compilations with any pocket money from week to week, I couldn’t have been any older than 9 or 10 at that point.
Fast forward to high school and a girlfriend had a brother who was a DJ in Belfast around the time the whole acid house scene was forming and I used to ask her to let me hear his promos at her Mum & Dads house when he went out. I clearly remember him getting sent A Homeboy, A Hippie & A Funky Dread “Total Confusion” and loved it and early Rising High Collective & R&S releases. Soon tales of raves in the city centre put on by a group of hairdressers and their mates had myself and some school friends straight down hassling the guys for tunes and mix tapes in a make shift record store that had been set up in an area of Star Hairdressing where they practiced their djing in between clients. One of these guys happened to be a young David Holmes.
We were way too young to go to the parties at first so we just collected the flyers and a friend and I made do with Dj’ing at school discos and practicing on the decks at the youth club with the 12’s we’d bought in Makin’ Tracks & the Gramophone Shop until we at least looked old enough to hit clubs in Belfast. Tokyo Joes provided my first proper club experience and Glen Molloy was a mind blowing resident, he really made an impression on me with the way he mixed and moved through genres. From then, there were trips to Kelly’s in Portrush before eventually regularly attending most of the Art College events in Belfast. A group of friends and I really fell in love with the music and vibe in there, mostly down to Holmer and McCready’s fantastic Sugar Sweet events and the amazing soundtracks that we were lucky enough to get educated on. Getting to see people like Slam, Weatherall, Christian Vogel and more, alongside these fantastic local guys is something I’ll never forget. We were lucky enough to get asked to play ourselves a few times before the demise of the Art College events, which meant the most logical thing was to start putting on some nights of our own.
Your label Extended Play (co-founded with JMX) is going from strength to strength having recently celebrated the 30th release. How would you best describe its sound and what do you look for in signing a track?
I guess it’s safe to say it’s a straight up house label but that could mean deep, acid or peak time vibes as John and I both have varying individual tastes but also meet somewhere in the middle, which means the releases can have a classic house feel or slightly darker electronic edge. Only rule is a track has to get both thumbs up or it simply can’t go out. We both love early Chicago house as well as people who push things forward, so hard to say exactly what we look for in a track but something fresh sounding but retaining elements of the origins of house or techno is most likely to grab out attention.
Can you describe the process involved in producing a track (perhaps something you are currently working on), tell us about the studio you work from and what your favourite things are in it?
My home studio these days is a pretty modest affair compared to the one I previously owned with my friend Glenn when we recorded as the New Aluminists. It consists of a decent PC, Mackie HR824 monitors, a Novation midi keyboard, Ableton and a shedload of samples and vst’s. I generally always start with my drum programming, then work on the bass line as this can often provide the backbone for something decent before I start trawling for synths and interesting vocal samples. My monitors are easily my fav bit of equipment as they helped no end with getting the mix down process right but I do honestly believe good tracks come from good ideas and not banks of equipment, we always say ‘it’s the ear not the gear’. I’ve a mountain of projects on the go at the minute including some collaborations with JC Williams, Bubba, Slack Society, Cromby & Chris Hanna as well as some projects to complete that I started in Toronto when I was there earlier in the year, a few remixes have just been completed for Made Fresh Daily in Scotland and Molotov 21 in Brazil as well as putting the finishing touches to a batch of new T-Bone originals.
How is the club scene in Belfast at the moment, how do you feel it has developed over the years?
It’s pretty good right now with bigger nights and smaller parties all covering a broad range of styles from disco and techno to house and drum & bass. Sadly it can be a little over-saturated at times meaning sometimes a promoter wins out and sometimes not, but if you look at the amount of nights that are going on and the guests that visit Belfast on a month to month basis compared to the population of the city it simply means people can often be too spoilt for choice. The opening times and related licensing issues are fairly embarrassing, especially when explaining to visiting guests about going on earlier than usual & length of set times but that aside it rarely dampens the atmosphere and most Djs will agree that Belfast crowds can often be the best in the world to play to. My friends and I do agree that we feel fairly privileged to have been going out around the time of the events that happened in the Connor Hall at the Art College though as the atmosphere, attention to detail and dedication of people who attended those nights has rarely been repeated in the city.
If someone was going to start their own label what advice would you give them?
It’s not essential but I think it’s a good idea if you have already been producing for a while yourself before starting a label or have a group of friends who do so that you can generate releases more easily and build some core artists from the off. Try and do as much as you can in-house, so if you have friends who are graphic designers, web designers, into mastering etc. then aim to get some mates rates action going on where possible therefore keeping overheads to a minimum, especially at the start. All label profit should be invested back in to help keep momentum going, aid with getting the right remixers on board and generally help build the following for the label. You’ll most likely not retire on the profits of running an independent label these days but if you make ends meet and keep your quality control high then the labels output will not go unnoticed.
What releases have you got planned for the coming months?
The label releases are more or less mapped out for the rest of the year now and we are about to release our first vinyl in the coming months. Tracks will be coming from De Sluwe Vos, Chris Hanna, Timmy Perry, Dale Howard, & H Wax plus remixes from the likes of Jamie Trench, Kastil, Chesus & Organ Grinder, JMX & myself meaning we feel we could have a best year for Extended Play lined up to date.
Where can people get to hear you play?
On the home front I’ve got three regular monthly gigs and can pop up in various guest spots. Keep Diggin’ is on the first Saturday of the month in a great venue called Love & Death which is basically a music collectors dream. Myself and Lyndon, the other resident, get to play anything and everything from the collections we’ve built up from the last 20 years right up to the present day, so funk, disco, acid house and Detroit techno can end up in the mix.
Work at The Hudson is a monthly Saturday hook up with the Twitch guys and is a proper heads down house and techno affair. We also host Extended Play label parties on the last Fri of the month, JMX and I make up the residents and are joined by the artists who record for the label and it’s great to hang out and play with everyone in our crew. We’ll be popping up all over with our Extended Play take overs which have so far been hosted in London, Liverpool & Dublin but are soon to start appearing all over the globe.