Hello and welcome to Magazine Sixty, Josh. Let’s begin with your new album: Mutant City Acid. Your first in eight years. Why does 2018 feel right for this release and tell us about the idea behind the title? Plus the colour scheme for the vinyl?
Mutant City Acid. It’s actually a series of 12″s on our label that is currently at number 4, with more set for the future. It’s been a various artist collection digging out the weirder side of acid – techno, electro, house, whatever – but slightly off the beaten track from the usual. The artwork ethos of them all has been derived from pixelart inspired by classic cyberpunk / dystopian sci fi city computer games. With the album, we wanted to take that a step further and kind of write a soundtrack to this imagined place.
It’s been 8 years since our last album, in that time we’ve refined our sound and embraced acid in a BIG way, haha – we wanted to do something that really represents where we are right now, but at the same time referencing our past output, and classic electronic albums of the 90’s where you would listen through as one coherent, complete piece. While this is still very much a techno album, it also has plenty of non-dancefloor, weirder moments. Since the digital era, attention spans have declined in a big way – this is opposed to that. The artwork is filled with plenty of details that connect with the music, we’re hoping that people will sit and take the time to go on a journey with this album.
The randomised style vinyl came from speaking with our pressing plant, we initially looked into coloured wax – but I started asking questions about whether different colours could be thrown in, and how the would react with each other. Normally, you can choose a colour, or perhaps a marbled / speckled run – but these will then be set throughout the entire press. The plant agreed to randomise each record: sticking with certain selections of inks with the same melting temperature & PVC base so to not compromise with sound quality, but mixing them in different methods throughout. This means some are single colours, some are marbled, some have streaks and spots, and some simply fade slowly from one colour to another. One batch are solid colours, the other translucent – unexpectedly some have even come out mother-of-pearl. There was no way of knowing how each would react, how throwing new pellets into the hopper would disperse through into the press.
It was an experiment for both us and the plant – as far as I am aware the first time anyone has ever done this, and mainly enabled by the fact they are using a brand new Warmtone digital press, rather than athe old 1960/70s presses like most plants. They also live-streamed the entire pressing, warts and all, on video – with a live chat and their engineers answering questions and explaining each bit of the process. Over the course of a few hours there was over a hundred different people tuning in for a bit, I guess out of curiosity to how exactly things work behind the scenes!
Release: November 26 2018.
Pre-order direct from label: https://balkanvinyl.bandcamp.com/album/mutant-city-acid-album
You have created an impressive depth and array of moods throughout the album. Could you talk us through where the inspiration came from for one of the non-dancefloor tracks, ‘Raid On Kyoto Quarter’. How it was first imagined and then produced, and talk us thorough the origin of some of the sounds used?
The spoken word piece is written and performed by The Strangest Pet on Earth, aka Bruce McClure / Jane XI – he’s been a friend and collaborator since our very first days: he was our tour DJ and co-owner of our first record label Seed. The original track actually had beats and a fairly heavy bassline, a real chugger – but it was stripped back and dissembled, almost worked backwards from a complete track into something less obvious. The beat version is on the cassette oddly – it’s kind of inverted against everything else.
The album is accompanied by a cassette version featuring two thirty minute ‘ambient’ mixes of Mutant City Acid. What do you feel could be reached by these more atmospheric versions of the album? And why the choice of cassette?
Some of the tracks started as ambient versions, other were worked out from the techno versions and into different directions. The running order is changed as are some tempos and it was built very much into two separate pieces. We still wanted there to be some kind of physical component to this – across the label’s back catalogue I’ve always been more interested with physical than digital; our previous album came as vinyl with a CD, we have done USB releases as well. I feel there is more engagement with physical – you are using more than just one of your senses to experience the album: you have to pick it up, put it on the turntable or in the player, it’s tangible and tactile. You have artwork in your hands. There’s even a smell to it! I think we consume music so quickly and absent-mindedly these days, just streaming on a laptop or phone while doing something else, we don’t give things the focus they deserve.
A very obvious question. What is it about Acid that still holds such a special appeal to you? Is it the particular sound, or is there a cultural significance too?
Firstly, it’s a sound – the twisting bassline of a 303, or something similar – Moog, 101 etc. It’s as important and iconic in dance music as the amen break, the equivalent of distorted guitar in rock and metal.
But also, as a genre and a scene, it was the last great social movement in music. It was our Punk, our Hip-Hop.
While there have been so many genres since, none of them had the all-encompassing impact on society that acid did, it was a revolution – if you think of it and rave as part & parcel of each other – and it is still going on now.
I recently interviewed Suddi Raval (Together) about his new book on Acid House. And also wanted to ask you who are the most important figures with regards to its pioneers? And in terms of music more generally are there any artists outside of dance music which have influenced you?
I think it’s well established who the pillars of acid house are – from the producers like Phuture and Gerald, to the DJs like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, the label owners (even the ones who ripped everyone off) and the shops and importers. Even though some recent (poorly-researched) TV programs have had a few people grumbling about being missed out, it’s not a story that isn’t known and I think it’s becoming well-trodden ground.
I like to focus on the people who carried on keeping acid alive after the first wave, it’s heyday, when it fell out of fashion.
Unsung heroes like Woody McBride and EgeBamYasi, and then those who gave it life again in the late 90’s and beyond, Luke Vibert, Cassegrain, Tin Man etc.
And of course, influences come from all different places! I still have days where I find myself listening to Slayer, Ministry and Sepultura and thinking “wow that’s a great little melody there I wonder how that would sound on a 101” haha
In terms of Dance Music how do you feel about what is happening around you. Are we in good, or not so good, place with digital culture and the prominence of festivals etc?
It’s a mixed bag.
There’s some great stuff right now: Sites like Bandcamp means anyone who is writing music has access to get it out into the world: there’s never been so much choice and access to unheard, new and obscure things. I try to dig digitally for my radio show every month and find new artists who are off the radar, just starting out, or maybe don’t have the connections to get exposure. There’s some incredible music coming from the most unlikely places – last month I had new acid trax by kids from Mexico and Russia, playing on the show just days after they had finished them.
Social Media is a double edged sword. While it means we can connect with likeminded people regardless of demographic, and has thrown off the shackles of being stuck in a small town and having no access to non-mainstream music scenes – it’s also changed the way people promote. We’re all slaves to the algorithm, and those with the money to buy fake followers and likes are getting to the top. There was always an element of fakeness in mainstream music (record labels used to send people round shops to buy back all their singles and push chart places…those with the funds for adverts and big PR campaigns would get the exposure) but this has now leaked all the way into dance music, right down to the core. You look at all those identikit festival lineups, the artists booked so often have the same management teams, big inheritances being spent to get them where they are, ghost produced music, and social media profiles inflated by fake numbers. With the advent of video-streaming, DJs are cool now and dance music has become a rich kids playground as a result. It’s not a level playing field.
That said, there does seem to be a bit of a kickback against this now, people are starting to realise just how many of the “big names” are essentially fakes. It’s an open secret in the industry, but no secret gets kept forever.
If it looks like someone spends more time posing for perfect instagram moments than gurning in a sweaty rave, it’s usually a warning sign!
How do you approach life in the studio? Do you have a set routine or is it a series of random acts of creation?
Step one: get drunk and jam.
Step two: in another session, go through the jammed parts – refine, sequence, mix down.
Really as simple as that! To be honest, quite often more time gets spent surfing youtube and pissing about than actually writing.
Do you have a favourite instrument (or piece of hardware/ software)? Do you own one?
Well, obviously the Roland TB303. Except I don’t actually own one. I’ve borrowed a few over the years though.
I have two v1 TT303’s currently, the first Cyclone Analogic clone – which in my mind is the best clone on the market. I used to have a x0xb0x as well but it wasn’t quite right sounding.
But oddly enough, my favourite bit of kit of the TR707. I just think it embodies the rawness of jack perfectly, and you can whack it about with those lovely big soft buttons.
A question about nostalgia. Do you think it enhances or hinders the process of musical evolution?
It only hinders you, if you try to mimic it rather than be inspired by it.
Nostalgia is ALWAYS rose-tinted, because all the crap from the fringes of any era never stands the test of time, so you get left with a core of the very best. And you only remember the good times, not the bad ones.
There’s a lot of acid house events here in London that are backwards looking – they’re all about re-creating that ’86-’89 thing, with the same old DJs playing the same old tunes to the same old people. Sooo boring.
In comparison, there’s a party called Downfall – who take the ethos of those times: vinyl only, acid house, DIY decor, no big names just residents & choice guests – but they play NEW acid music.
It’s inspired by and the same vibe as the past without simply being a soulless retrospective, and as a result is actually MORE like what it was actually about – this music was the future.
And finally. What plans do you have for I Love Acid and Balkan Vinyl?
I’m already booking parties across the UK and Europe for 2019. It’s crazy how quick the diary is filling up – 5 different cities already on the books.
The label will kick back into gear with a Luke Vibert double for ILA020, and I have over 15 finished vinyl releases ready and waiting from a whole different selection of artists over both labels, easily enough to take me through the whole year.
I guess I just have to hope the pressing plant gods continue to smile on me…and that Brexit doesn’t make manufacturing records abroad too expensive. It’s already nearly impossible to make a profit on any run less than 300 copies, if we add any extra tariffs or taxes, I suspect many indie labels will go to the wall – myself possibly included. Just got to hope common sense prevails, somehow…