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Andrez: January 2010 Archives

Mark Hawkins ### interview

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If you're a regular peruser of this site you'd already be aware of British producer Mark Hawkins, who additionally channels through music under the alias ###. He's unleashed his stuff via labels like Pro-Jex, Djax-Up-Beats, Neue Heimat, Mosquito, Victim, Kitty Corner and Snork Enterprises, and up till recently ran his own cool label Crime.

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I can't be arsed going into a further bio disposition here, since we talk about most of that during the course of the interview that follows below; we interactively carved this out over the past week, to and fro, and throughout Mark has been exceptionally entertaining, interesting, at times revelatory, and right into the whole process - all of which, combined with his music, make him one very inspiring individual.

After just a few days of this banter I feel like we're mates, and his wife even took some lovely up-to-date happy snaps to add into the story.

So, without further self-centred ado from me, read on.

Yawn question. What inspired you to start making music?

"I guess my Dad leaving his guitar lying about when I was about two years old - then he played me John Foxx, and then Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force's 'Planet Rock' and I was hearing Kraftwerk and all the '80s synthpop stuff on the radio, so then I really wanted a synth; I had to settle on a cheapo Casiotone home keyboard, and I really wish I'd known how cheap you could have picked up a TB 303 or TR909 in a junk shop at that time!"

What happened to the Casiotone? Do you still have it?

"You know, I really have no idea what happened to that little home keyboard, I guess it probably ended up in a junk shop somewhere - wish I'd kept it and circuit-bent it, could have been an interesting little piece."

Where exactly were you born, and what's it famous for?

"I was born in Barking, which is a suburb of London - famous for being the place where Captain Cook got married. The River Thames had quite an effect on the place, so there were a lot of shipbuilders & a fishing fleet there. That's why it's there, it basically started off as a fishing village about 10 miles out of the centre of London. Now it's been swallowed up by the city, and to be honest, it's sucked the soul out of the place, it's more like a run down inner-city area now, a lot of crime and deprivation. It's kind of sad to see when I hear from my Dad how there used to be a cool music scene there in the late '60s/early '70s, y'know, kind'a freak scene or whatever. Probably to do with the total death of the old idea of subculture in the 21st century."

What do you believe has replaced that idea?

"Well, these days I think the people coming of age right now have a little bit of everything - maybe if you're 16 or 17 now, in the UK - at least if you haven't been sucked into the Simon Cowell pop idol machine - you're either listening to grime/dubstep or Emo, whatever that is. I guess drum and bass still has a following here, but I'm not sure if it's getting any fresh blood - I suppose it must do to be able to continue to exist."

Why the aliases ###, DJ M.H., and "The Spider" - any special meaning behind these?

"The Spider was just a nickname from years ago, so that's kind'a why it got used for my first release. I then ended up using my real name for the Djax stuff as I had no ideas no concept or anything, I was trying to think of something unpretentious and cool sounding to use, but it just never happened, so it was kind of an accident that I've ended up being stuck using my real name to put out music under, because of course once you start having records out on Djax, everyone else you do stuff for wants you to use the same name as you did for those releases.

"Funnily enough at the time that stuff came out, I did the Pro-Jex records too and I was gonna use my name again, but when I first signed to Djax they kind'a wanted my name as an exclusive thing to them, so I had to quickly come up with another name - I think there was a bit of rivalry between Djax & Pro-Jex at the time, there were a lot of the same artists releasing on both labels, so if it had been for any other label it probably wouldn't have been such an issue. Anyway, it kind of stuck and I think it fitted well for more Chicago-influenced stuff.

"### was a more recent experiment in trying to do something different - set up a kind of slower techno and house influenced thing, I guess also influenced by the more recent minimal sound too, although that's become as much if not more of a dirty and misused word as techno... so much chaff around and not enough wheat. Originally I wanted it to be completely disconnected from me, completely anonymous, but of course market forces got the better of that one, and the name I'd used for the Djax releases was requested for use again. But I guess I'm no wiz at marketing, I've just come to the point where as far as physical releases go, I don't really care what name I'm going under, I'm just happy to get stuff out on plastic now."

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### is more recent and ongoing, right - but I'm guessing you've discontinued the use of DJ M.H. and 'The Spider'?

"It's debatable as to whether ### will see the light of day again as the sales of the last record weren't so good, but I might use it in future for free digital releases. DJ M.H. Is pretty much defunct unless I have a sudden desire to make ghetto house, and The Spider has definitely been killed off." (laughs.)

Do you make music under any other aliases?

"I did a record as 'M25' for the B-Rave label in 2003."

You've been producing music and interacting within the music industry for quite a time now, so far as I know since that classic split EP with Michael Forshaw in 1999 - 'Beast With 2 Backs' - on Mike's label Chan 'n' Mikes. Were you doing stuff before then?

"Yeah, I was writing, learning how to use the studio as it was all hardware back then, just honing my skills really, trying to get some leads on getting stuff out, and DJing at a lot of parties."

How did the split 12-inch with Mike come about?

"He heard me playing live in a forest in the back of a van just when he was thinking about going home or going to sleep - I made him come back to the dance floor with my sounds!"

Over a decade later, what keeps you motivated?

"My love for the music keeps me motivated more than anything else. To be honest, I'm happier on a Saturday night to have the whole night in the studio just to craft something for my own pleasure than to be playing at a party - that said though, a great party can be a great motivator as then you can see people enjoying your creations, but that can't be the ultimate aim, especially as tastes change, and not necessarily in the same direction as your own."

When you do play out, is it important to make people groove? Or is it not an issue?

"Oh definitely, otherwise you might as well just be messing around in the studio on your own -although I believe it's important not to use the lowest common denominator to achieve that. 50 percent should be people saying "What the hell is that? I never heard anything like that before" and 50 percent should be people really wigging out - it doesn't always work like that, I feel it's important to experiment, but not for just the experiment's sake; there has to be a certain amount of function, but that is where real talent lies for me, being able to make something that's really fresh, you know, so fresh that it takes 10 listens to really 'get' it, but then when you 'get' it, it's just stuck in your head and making you want to move - you hear it in a club and then it's stuck in your head for the next week. If I'm listening to other peoples music, particuarly if it's 'dance music' I want it to be challenging as well as making you want to move."

What integral changes have you noticed in electronic music over the time period you've been involved?

"I think the biggest change has been just the fact you can go online and check out anything these days - I remember when it was like maybe someone you knew had a certain record, and you really had to search through the racks to find it. Maybe you would have it on a tape if you were lucky, but then you had to have the vinyl; now you can go online, get it on Soulseek and be playing with it in Traktor five seconds later.

"So then you've got no kind of restraint, everything is so available that it takes a lot of excitement out of it - add to that the fact it's so easy to run a net label now, so the amount of substandard stuff you have to wade through to find the good stuff is unbelievable. And I guess also we're a long way now from the big bang of the rave explosion - that was like 20 years ago - so it's like how say prog rock was by the end of the '70s/ beginning of the '80s, and I really don't know if there is any hope of anything, as far as music goes, having the impact like the punk or rave scene ever again. However, I could be saying exactly the same thing as some people were in 1975 and in 2010 the next big thing is gonna hit!"

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So what do you foresee happening with the music we care about in 2010?

"As far as the kind of techno/electronic music I want to make is concerned, it's starting to look like the only way that it's possible to get it out there is via free downloads. If you try and sell mp3s of that stuff you end up only selling like 30 mp3s a lot of the time. And this fact really made me question my motives a couple of years ago - I almost gave up making music after writing my album and then not being able to sell it, especially as it wasn't as pure as I wanted it to be as I was trying to get it released, some of it was a compromise to get it out there.

"But then after a while I started writing stuff again just because I wanted to, and now I'm really glad I didn't sell my gear. It would be nice to take the risk and pay for some vinyl to be pressed but I'm personally in no position to do that right now. So really I'm not thinking too much about where it's going to go, I'm just waiting to see if there will be another musical revolution."

If you were to get all God-like and create that revolution yourself, where would you start?

"Seriously, if I knew the answer to that question I would already be doing it! Although really I guess it all comes down to coming up with something new that people are going to take to, and more than take to, have people going really wild about and have the confidence to stick with it - although if you're actively trying to create a new sound, you're gonna find yourself down a creative dead end - I think these things happen by accident, and no-one can predict when or where they are going to happen. I mean, you think the rock dinosaurs thought that the Pistols were going to come along in '76?"

Are you a fan at all of the Sex Pistols and their punk cohorts? Music-wise or for their ideology, I mean?

"Well, I've always liked John Lydon's attitude to a lot of issues - apart from a few things I heard him mention with regard to Margaret Thatcher recently, saying 'Well, at least she shook things up a bit' - which I think really is a bit in poor taste considering the amount of people that suffered due to her policies in the '80s: the communities that were destroyed as the manufacturing and utilities industries were either privatised or smashed to pieces, and continue to suffer due to the ideology she promoted, by which the whole world is suffering what with the financial crisis and climate change, which I believe is being accelerated due to those ideologies.

"Sorry, I'm digressing here, bit of an axe to grind as I hate what that woman stood for and where it has left us in the 21st century - although I guess it's relevant to the question in a way - it really was the last thing I would have ever expected to come from his mouth, but anyway, I think the Pistols were a real turning point for British culture and society. No-one had ever said anything like 'you dirty fucker' before on TV, they kind of blew the door off the hinges and were the first people to be really publicly obnoxious - that was refreshing at the time, I guess. Musically, though, I was listening to a lot of punk stuff, still do from time to time, particularly punk which was a reaction to the Tory government of the '80s like Crass and Subhumans; also some of the US bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, and definitely the [Dead] Kennedys, they were great - I love that spoken word piece that Jello Biafra does that's like the mantra from some totalitarian regime: 'People refusing to give urine samples WILL BE SHOT!'.

"So it definitely had an influence on my music.

"At the end of the '90s techno seemed so smooth and the emphasis was always 'Yeah, it's really well-produced' - but to me, what's the point of having something that's really well-produced but says nothing? I'd rather hear something really raw that has awesome drum programming, or a real hooky synth-line that gets lodged in your brain. So I definitely felt that the whole thing needed a boot up the arse around that time with a good dose of punk attitude - right now I feel like I'm just ticking over, but back then when I was starting out, it was like we were on a mission. I felt that there were only one or two acts around that time that really hit the nail on the head for me - Subhead and [Michael] Forshaw. Right now I can listen to stuff that came out at that time from [Cristian] Vogel and [Neil] Landstrumm and those guys and I really love it, but I needed something with a bit more bang, like their '95/'96 stuff - so it was a bit of a mission then to go against the grain and do something different to the majority of techno that was coming out at the time - I have to say Subhead really were the original techno punks, though!"

What are your thoughts on the initial musical concepts undertaken by that other '70s movement, British industrial stuff from the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle?

"I never really heard or picked up on that really - the closest to industrial stuff I got into was all US stuff like NIN and Ministry I guess..."

What gear/software are you making most use of in the studio at the moment?

"The usual suspects of Akai MPCs and Nord modular, but I just recently updated the recording side of things with a Macbook Pro running Ableton and a SE condenser mic - I'd love to get into field recordings and just generally record random sounds, and maybe also get back into the sampling side of things; I've neglected that since selling my Akai S3000XL. Would love to have some of the old gear back that I used for the Djax stuff like the Roland JD 800, but it's the space and the money, and I have more than enough tools at my disposal right now."
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What kind of sampling do you prefer to do - splicing together field recordings or snippets of movies/music?

"I've used a lot of the latter, and I'm only just getting into the former, but I think both have their place."

Would you consider any song, musician or movie sacrilegious to sample - or is anything fair game?

"There're probably taboos in regard to good taste - I mean I wouldn't go sampling from a speech by Hitler or anything like that as I think you'd be really playing with fire on that one, plus the fact that you'd run the risk of some Far Right lunatics getting into your music - but sacrilegious? I don't know - I think pretty much everything is fair game so long as it's not in extremely bad taste. I always thought cover versions of stuff originally performed by, say, Hendrix or Janis Joplin, a real waste of time - you're just going to show off your short-comings - unless it was like when Mike Flowers Pop covered Oasis' 'Wonderwall'... Although I think Oasis are pretty rubbish, to be honest. Music for people who aren't really interested in music." (laughs.)

Which part of your studio is the most vital facet?

"I guess the desk - otherwise I'd have all my machines on the floor! I'd miss my Mackie too, I think!"

What food/drinks keep you fuelled throughout production time?

"Latte machiattos all the way."

Any sugar?


How many teaspoons?

"More than I should have, I guess."

Which current crop of artists and labels are grabbing your attention, and why so?

"To be honest, I think the situation in 2010 as far as labels is concerned is fucking dire - almost everything released sounds like a dumbed-down regurgitation of everything that has gone before; it has become so 'safe' that to me it seems almost pointless to buy new records these days. I had a quick flick through the Juno new releases after you asking the question as I really wanted to find something to rave about, but no, nothing - particularly in the techno sections. The irony is, that techno has become a total parody of itself, a self perpetuating entity where there's a whole bunch of producer/DJs so scared to put a foot wrong with the audience that they have become as boring as everything that techno was supposed to be reacting against - it's depressing. That said, I have found some gems in unexpected places when buying records over the past 12 months - Omar S for example: he took the old school acid house sound and twisted it around and came up with some stunning moments, and then you find that in the house section; I mean, what's with that?

"And for all the flack that Minus take, they are probably one of the more daring labels out there these days but I guess they can afford to take the risks. Against the backdrop of that, there are some really talented people out there such as Youngman, JE:5 and others who do mind blowing stuff which just isn't getting out there - and that's when I really think about getting the label back together to get that stuff out there, but then it's time and money and the rest of it.

"Some of the originals are still on form - Vogel always impresses me and I like some of the stuff Landstrumm does, but I have to say his last album wasn't so much bag; some of the things he's done where he's really twisted around the dubstep thing have been great though and brought something really original to the table when most people in that scene just want the same beats and the same wobbly square wave bass over and over. It's just like drum and bass in the '90s all over again, but on 33. So yeah, I guess it's time for a counter-attack, either giving a load of stuff away for free via the website or pressing some vinyl, would be nice to do both, but I think it's more likely to be the former rather than the latter."

Why is it that talented people like Bill Youngman, Jesse Hall and even Jason Leach (despite the Subhead legacy) don't get the attention that they deserve?

"I think in regard to techno music in the wider context, the lines were drawn a long time ago as to which artists were going to be really big - not to say that a lot of those people don't deserve the recognition they have, and that the doors have closed, but it seems to me that the only new people making waves and getting really recognised to the point where they can live from the music seem to have to adhere to some kind of template and not step out of line. It's all very safe - I mean the possibilities to live from performing and producing have become very limited due to a lot of the revenue streams closing down, but I guess the real issue is, producers of real left-field electronic dance music don't make stuff which is easy for people to get with; it's music for the select few as it isn't so lowest common denominator - it's edgy."

If you were pressed into a corner and forced to confess under great duress, how would you define the sounds/styles you're currently making yourself?

"Buzz-saw bass, sample-and-hold acid, mouth house, and I have new skool folk songs planned too."

You like traditional folk tunes, or is this something that completely overturns the tradition?

"I can't get with English folk music - my Dad raves about it, but I can't be doing with all this 'Hey nonny no' business. Irish folk I can get with - proper hard drinking music. And strangely enough, I guess, American folk music sounds pleasing to my ears - I like the kind of crossover with punk that happened in the US with their folk music, particularly with bands like Bad Religion. They definitely had a US folk influence. But the strangest folk music I ever heard was from Lithuania - my wife is Lithuanian and she was playing me the folk music that they have there, and it's almost like Gregorian chants or something; I really want to record some next time I'm over there but then do something with it - something for the field recording project."

You've released stuff through Pro-Jex, Djax-Up-Beats, Neue Heimat, Mosquito, Victim, Kitty Corner and Snork Enterprises. What's your relationship been like with these labels?

"Generally amicable, sometimes strained due to financial and artistic differences - we do our best to get on though!"

Any strange or outrageous requests from a record label?

"I had some German guy calling me once who really wanted trax from me but they 'Must be over 150 bpm' - I ended up telling him that maybe he should write it himself if he wanted to be so specific. I also had a gig offer once, also in Germany, where the guy was saying 'I don't have so much money for you, but I can get you a pretty girl for the night!'. Needless to say, I declined his offer!"

You run your own label Crime; what's afoot with that outlet?

"It's currently in a coma, which I'm not sure it's ever going to come out of - I think if I was to do a label project again I'd like to start afresh, new ideas, new concept. For now I'm just getting my money's worth out of the URL registration."

In the '90s when you broke through, for me the real movers and shakers of innovative electronica were all British: Cristian Vogel, Si Begg, Dave Tarrida, Subhead, Jamie Liddell, Tube Jerk and Tobias Schmidt. Were you into any of these guys' work?

"I was into all of those guys' work! You forgot [Neil] Landstrumm there too - I didn't break through 'til 2001 really, though; I mean, the first record came in '99 but it almost fell totally under the radar until a few years later when I had all the other stuff out. But yeah, I was big into those guys, but also I was big into the Jay Denham stuff, Chance McDermott & D-Knox - that kind of Chicago-meets-Detroit techno that really rocked my world round about 1997."

Why do you think the combined output of both city styles had such an impact?

"For me, I love Chicago drums, funk and rhythm, but Detroit had the melodies and vibes - the music from Kalamazoo, the home town of Knox, Denham, etcetera, from 1995-98 was to me a perfect fusion of both. It's also music I think isn't recognised enough. I actually met D-Knox in Warsaw a few years ago and was telling him how we were all blown away by 'The Body of Christ' and records like that - real raw, and hard but really funky with these really deep melodies running through them, but you know, you could mix them up with really banging hard techno and it just worked, really awesome stuff, and he was like 'Sheesh, yeah man, that's when we were doing the crazy shit, we wanted to sound like no-one else'. I think maybe that's when music comes out the best, when the creators are coming at it from that attitude."

How about the stuff coming out of those cities today?

Well, I hear Jay [Denham] is living in Munich now, and Donnell [D-Knox] is in Warsaw, and I don't know what Chance is doing these days so I'm guessing there's not much going on in Kalamazoo - Spectral/Ghostly is based in Ann Arbor though, near Detroit, and I love a lot of their output. James T Cotton, Audion, Deadbeat, and that kind of stuff; I think Omar S is from Detroit too. Chicago is house central, though - I do love some good deep house, but it would be nice to hear some variety coming from there..."

What do you think of the 'newer' guys shaking things up these days like Luke's Anger, Ben Pest, Grimjaw, Paul Birken (not really new at all!) and Donk Boys?

"Luke I have to give props to for sure as he gave me a Zip Drive PSU which allowed the MPC2000 to come back to life, I owe him some trax for that. I guess the music he does isn't so much what I'm really looking for right now, but all credit to him for doing his thing. Grimjaw and Donk Boys I'm not really familiar with, but I love a couple of Ben Pest trax and have been trying to track down the vinyl, actually."

His 'Glitterati Fashionista' EP on Bonus Round is brilliant - have you got that one yet?

"This is the one I'm trying to track down - Ben, if you're reading this, I would be playing it out mate if I had a copy!"

What new Mark Hawkins releases can we look out for?

We have the Mark Hawkins & Je:5 'Absurdly Connected Machines' 12-inch coming on Snork Enterprises' offshoot Relax 2000 this month, and possibly a release on Input Output at the end of the year, but that might just end up coming out through my website. I could imagine in five years the concept of a record label becoming a thing of the past and every artist just having their own website with a Paypal-donate button on it; it's getting that way now, if only for electronic artists who don't want to record cliched minimal, dubstep or hard techno."

Some book publishers are following that option too, meaning that the authors actually end up with a higher percentage of the 'profit' from the sales of any books - so long as people do make that donation. Are people in general generous enough to do so?

"I couldn't say, to be honest - maybe I should try it out on my website?" [laughs.]

Any upcoming remixes/events we should know about for 2010?

"I have possibly a DJ gig in Berlin at the end of February, one for sure in Leeds at the beginning of March, and a live show in Kassel, Germany, at the end of March. Quite a few other shows in the pipeline potentially, just the dots have to be joined up. And I think me and Jess JE:5 could well be remixing my Russian friend Vadz's 'Nuclear Volgodonsk' project this year - he used to work as a sound engineer at his local radio station in Taganrog, southern Russia, and they got some voice actor in to record the warnings to go out on the radio should the Volgodonsk nuclear power station go boom, as it's only 180 or so kilometres from Taganrog - so he's still got all the original vocal recordings. That could well be quite an interesting project."

Speaking of Leeds, do you know the goings on of the Gonzo/Dead Channel crew up there?

"I didn't but I do now, I'll be checking it out!"

You seem to be doing a few different things with Jesse Hall - how'd you guys hook up and how do you find working together?

"He's an old, old friend - from before Uglyfunk, old Leicester illegal party days - and his talent has always blown us away, but he's always shied away from being at the forefront of things... Which I think has held him back insofar as people hearing what an amazing talent he is. Hopefully the projects we're working on together will make the world a bit more aware of his talent, we don't get so much time to work on stuff and I have to constantly hassle him to get stuff done, but when we get time together in the studio to work on stuff it just seems to work. We can just jam it out and it's just right; where I'm lacking in an idea he comes through with that missing idea and it just works."

CDs are a rapidly vanishing medium, and a fair amount of people in electronic/dance music circles are cutting back on vinyl these days because they say it just doesn't make back the money invested. How do you feel about this?

"Well, the remix project I mentioned before will most probably end up being another free Net release, which is a shame in one way, but the future in another - it makes it available for everyone so it's all inclusive. And on top of that there is the financial side: if you can't sell physical product, and people in the main want only free downloads, it means I have to go and work eight hours a day and so have less time to work on music and my output becomes less and less, which is really what saddens me the most. But maybe some of that is just life choices, and my priorities have just changed as I got older."

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What priorities are key to your lifestyle now?

"Well, I'm becoming a bit of an old fart to be honest - I guess my wife and daughter always have to come first, and I'm far more interested in having a family and a stable life than being in clubs until god knows what time every weekend - I mean, I like to keep my hand in, of course, and it's nice to go away and do a show every two months or so - but I certainly wouldn't like to be as dependant on the whole thing as I used to be. The downside of that though is less time to work on music, which is sad. I guess the good thing is now, though, when I'm working on music, it's because I really want to - which means the quality is always going to be higher...not just going through the motions to keep myself recognised enough to keep on getting bookings just to pay the rent. It's a real treadmill, that one!"

How old's your daughter? Mine's 4.

"She's 5 - and getting into playing the drums..."

Is vinyl itself dead - or just becoming more of a select option?

"I think it will always be there, in many ways I'd love to see it become just a collectors' thing and all the money go out of it, so there wasn't so much of this totally shit music coming out on it - save it for the really special stuff..."

Do DJs really need to continue to use vinyl, or can they instead construct entire sets out of stuff they've downloaded off the Internet?

"Why would you need to use vinyl when you have about 10 different ways of playing music these days? I'm not into vinyl snobbery, but it does have a unique warmth."

Is digital download really the future of music?

"Maybe, but I'd like to see more people actually feel the joy of playing an instrument themselves - this is something I really want to get into in the next year although I fear the electronic music output may well suffer as a result."

Which instrument? Back to the guitar your Dad left lying around?

"You know, I thought about buying a guitar again just to have around - maybe do some field recording-style guitar cut-up electronica - but really, I want a piano but the wife is saying we don't have the space for one right now. Yeah man, jazz pianist; I love jazz, you know - not the trad shit, but the like beatnik Charlie Parker/Miles Davis kind of stuff. They were like your original Aphex and Vogel but, you know, really the innovators - some of the first people to say 'Hey, you don't need to play from that music in front of you, just make it up as you go along'."

Lastly - how do you like your mushrooms cooked?

"Raw, straight from the hillside so the gills are still pink, not brown..."

Neil Landstrumm: 2006 style

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Heh-heh... I was mulling over this last night, and just got swayed when I found Trev's upload of the 1995 Miss Djax/Mike Dearborn set; fortunately this is a little more recent - the interview was done in March 2006 for my old blog de-VICE, as well as a shorter, extremely edited-down piece in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper over here in Japan and side-stories in a couple of mags in Australia.

Here's the full piece, with big thanks to Neil for his time, effort, and inclination to wade through my long-winded approach. He's done it twice now; I'm angling at a third at the moment, so let's hope he isn't scarred by the two previous installments. ;)


I first stumbled across Scottish producer Neil Landstrumm about 14 years ago when I picked up his record 'Inhabit The Machines' (1996) through British label Peacefrog, and to be honest, the EP hasn't left my record box since; it's that kind of vinyl. It bled out the preexisting definition between the completely different American and UK schools of techno; it was subby, stark, funky - and, on top of all that, there was a diabolical sense of humour at work.

Precisely my cup of tea.

"It's a bit of a silly record really," Landstrumm wrote on his Scandinavia website back in 2006; I'm not sure if the comment is still there. "[A] Sort of pastiche Scottish-Chicago techno. Basically me saying dumb 'Armani-isms' into a pitch shifter. Contradictory to the very serious intellectual techno music that was popular around this time. I hate when music takes itself really seriously. We were 24 hour party-people so it made sense to make party records."

Amidst a wad of follow-on EPs and remixes were the albums 'Bedrooms & Cities' (1997), 'Pro-Audio' (1998), and 'She Took A Bullet For Me' (2001), along with the soundtrack for 'The Fourty Million Dollar Beatnick'.

In 1998 my best friend Briony hooked up with Neil in Spain (at my fan-fueled request from back in Australia) and he nicely passed on to her 'The Fourty Million Dollar Beatnick', which I then got in London when I met her a few months later. I think it's brilliant 12 years later.

Apparently not one to rest on his (artistic) laurels, Landstrumm unleashed this material through a wad of vital (at the time) electro and techno labels - from Tresor, Sativae, Ferox and Sonic Groove, through to Si Begg's Noodles and Cristian Vogel's Mosquito imprints. And then there was Landstrumm's own label: the equally relevant Scandinavia.

Neil has also cut tracks under aliases like Navario Sauro and Polaris, as Shit & Cheap (with Mat Consume), as Blue Arsed Fly (with Cristian Vogel), and with Tobias Schmidt as Sugar Experiment Station - they recorded one very memorable John Peel Session on BBC Radio 1 back in 1999, in 2005 the enigmatic 'Sweet Fang' EP through Scandinavia, and some boisterous live sets that have appeared on Fun in the Murky.

Landstrumm also spent six years living, working and gigging in Brooklyn USA, but had returned to his roots in Edinburgh just prior to our chat in '06.

Cue flashback to March 2006, so everything will be four years behind the times: read on, McDuff.

Am I gushing? Well, yeah, I am.

Because I've dug this guy's disparate tunes for a decade now, and continue to do so (his downloadable track 'Kids Wake Up' on his website is equally a killer), and ever since I first got in contact with Neil several years ago he's proved to be one of the most approachable guys in the electronic set, and one willing to share his time doing annoying interviews like the lengthy one that follows (below). And he's the complete antithesis of the unmentionables who have dicky attitudes and lug along egos the size of Ben Hur.

The guy has come a long, long way from the wayward young electronic geezer who started out in 1994 in Edinburgh club Sativa - alongside Dave Tarrida and Toby Smith, a.k.a. Tobias Schmidt.

The most inane question first: who actually is Neil Landstrumm...?

"I'll let you know when I find out... Somewhere around the label owner, music maker and car fetishist mark."

How and when did you actually discover the fine art of making electronic music?

"I learned to play the drums at high school, so moving onto electronic drum machines was the natural next step. About 1990, after going to a Happy Mondays gig at Glasgow's SECC; I was totally inspired by all the rave and bleep records I heard the Hacienda DJs playing. It made me want to go out and research this new music and find out how it was made... A few mates were into it also, so we slowly discovered what machine made what sound and went on from there. Warp, Djax, Plus-8, R&S, etc - I loved that period in the music; so exciting and new, with fresh records every week to inspire. I always felt like different countries' records had a unique style and sound which were trying to communicate something about what was going on there. I think that's been somewhat lost with the advent of 24-hour information through the Internet. However, loads of new music is evolving from the Internet too, so that's cool too. I discovered a lot of techniques and methods from talking to other people also interested in making electronic stuff at the time, Tobias Schmidt being my main collaborator."

What changes have transpired in your mind, not to mention your ability, since that 'humble' beginning?

"Seeing how other producers make music is always a learning experience. Makes it more fun too. Less of a slog sometimes... There's been a move back to bands and separate producers in recent years, which should be mirrored in electronic music. You get a variety of inputs with both creativity and production methods which makes the whole process more special. Sometimes I suffer from being one dude in a studio syndrome, but I have always worked a good few sessions a year with Tobias Schmidt, Cristian Vogel, Si Begg..."

Why do you continue to make music?

"Well, it fluctuates. I only write music when I feel I have something to say with it - if I am not feeling it, I just don't. It's weird, I can sit in front of a keyboard and drum machine and literally not be able to bring my fingers to the keys, or be frantically programming and writing on a good day... Jermey Blake, a visual artist I have worked with, talked about creativity as a muscle you have to use it to keep it pumping... once it stops or stutters, it becomes weaker. True, I think. Ups and downs; flow and constipation sums it up pretty much. I continue, I guess, because people want me to also. When fans write emails or come to gigs and enjoy the music, it makes all the dark days and bad gigs go away."

You've released through labels like Peacefrog, Tresor, Mosquito, Sativae, Scandanavia - why move around the traps? And who do you think suited you the best?

"I have always been into many strains of music, and many different labels' output. When you start out, it's not simply a case of sticking with one label - you want to try lots of different angles to see what is successful. The relationship between an artist and a label is a fairly fickle one and only lasts if there is mutual respect and good business between both parties. The other choice is do-it-yourself, or you simply put music out with your mates - which tends to be better and more fun all round in the long run. Scandinavia is more of a personal music agenda rather than a label; to release uncompromising music without much concern for commercial viability. Not the most profit-making venture I have made, but one which seems to gather fans and be in front of most emerging scenes as they appear. I am proud of the fact that nearly all of the Scandinavia back-catalogue is as good today as it was when it was released. Most of the artists give me music which stands the test of time and is ahead of the curve creatively. The downside is most people don't 'get it', but that's a small price to pay for the fans who are down with Scandinavia in an almost cultish fashion.The back-catalogue, now mainly deleted, is traded for pretty high prices on eBay when they appear, so that's also a good sign."

Around 1997/98 you were referred to in the same breath as other guys like Cristian Vogel, Dave Tarrida, Si Begg, Tobias Schmidt, Jamie Lidell, Subhead, and Tube Jerk. How'd you feel about that at the time?

"Most of us each knew each other pretty well anyways as friends, so it became a natural social group of electronic mavericks. Everyone was pushing the same knobs and buttons and trying to reach the same goal of getting our music out there. It felt good, and continues to feel good to be part of a group going against the mainstream grain - and getting away with it for so long."

What are your thoughts on these other artists' individual developments since then?

"Everyone has moved on, geographically and creatively. I am still in constant contact with most, and some have gone on to be very close friends. We are all still at it, though, making music and gigging, so we must be doing something right. It's been interesting to see how each artist has developed and moved on, trying different genres or mediums. I am amazed that most of us have kept our love of electronic beats and stuck at it, because I'm sure there have been times for all of us where we absolutely hated it and wanted to give up...! Again, everyone has good years and bad, so it all seems to even out in the long run. The music always comes first and that's what is most important."

Now, in 2006, would you draw parallels between yourself and any other particular producers?

"Not really actually. I have always just concentrated on keeping myself going and doing my own thing; not really getting caught up in what everyone else is doing. I think you have to be like that to stay the course somewhat. Bloody minded and dogged perseverance, etcetera. There are so many ups and downs in the this game it's very easy to become distracted."


What was the story behind Sugar Experiment Station, and is this an ongoing project?

"Sugar Experiment Station has been going for a very long time. In fact, really since about 1993 when myself and Tobias Schmidt were playing live together at the Sativae club [in Scotland] and beyond in those early days. We get together several times a year and do a session. Of late we have been trying out lots of different styles away from electronic stuff just to keep things fresh. We have released as SES some of the best work on Scandinavia, and certainly some classics in our "wonky" field. SES live is always a pleasure and uncompromising. We just released Scan024=SES 'Sweet Fang' EP at the end of 2005, so there's fresh stuff out. Vinyl distribution is so bad now it probably didn't make it to Oz, but look for it. John Peel included the session which SES did for him in 1998 in his biography, which was an amazing honour and like the gig at the BBC's Maida Vale studios itself, certainly one of the highlights of our respective careers."

The same question regarding 'The Fourty Million Dollar Beatnik' soundtrack...

"The Beatnik project was a soundtrack for an artist friend of mine, Jeremy Blake's gallery show in LA. He is old mates with many of the original Washington DC dischord hardcore scene - Fugazi, etc. Mike Fellows is a long time friend of Jeremy and an incredible musician in his own right. He played in Royal Trux, Silver Jerws etc and recently has a hit with his 'The Mighty Flashlight' project. We all just locked ourselves into my studio in Brooklyn for a few days and this project came out of it; I assembled, arranged and produced it all with creative input from both Jeremy and Mike. I am really happy with it and think again it stands the test of time... Very Californian desert music, tripped out and cool. Jeremy is very successful now and moving into the film industry, so you may see us rear our ugly heads again for another soundtrack."

Edinburgh versus Brooklyn: in a nutshell, what's the difference, and what's the same, for you?

"Almost impossible to compare. I like them both equally, but for entirely different reasons. I think Hollis - in Queens - is where my heart lies in New York, though. I make frequent returns to NY to keep it fresh. I wish Edinburgh was in New York, actually! New York is constantly inspiring and invigorating due to the mash-up of cultures and people but Edinburgh is laid-back, and the countryside simply stunning."

On a different level, what exactly does Scandinavia really mean to you, and what's happening with the label?

"Scandinavia means the world to me. It's an abstract idea for a company that is a space and platform for experimental music and image. The label stops and starts certainly with vinyl releases... It's become so hard to sell vinyl it's almost a joke now. But I release more and more live sets and odd tracks through the Scandinavia online music database and that makes up for it. In fact that is where the pop part of the Scandinavia art is now - the Internet affords easy and wide distribution of music completely worldwide. My live sets get massively downloaded all round the world, so that keeps the Scandinavia sound alive. The label had three 12-inch releases last year, so it's still active. I reckon there will be an album this year, and certainly a couple of 12-inches. The next is Scan025 - A.L.E.X.E from Berlin. Also in the pipeline is my Factory Records remix 12-inch. The Happy Mondays' 'Hallelujah' (Landstrumm Bleep Mix) and my Joy Division 'She's Lost Control' cover version featuring Tommy from The Magnificents, Scan-021, also on the label."

On your Web site you describe your sound as "sub-lo bass n bleep,metallic and melodic clangs and odd funky percussive swing lines". Would you care to add to this?

"Add what exactly? Isn't that enough guff? Ha ha... It's just how it sounds, I guess. I'm not one for pigeon-holes, really. I like the fusion of loads of different electronic music styles. I always seem to end up in a sort of bleep, rave, grimey mess though."

Do you prefer to make more abstract sounds to listen to and chew over, or stuff aimed at an up-for-it dance floor?

"Both - one leads to the other... experimental research breeds good interesting dance floor stuff. I find it a bit frustrating at times when some people just want the same old cheese the whole time. In the early '90s people were more open to anything, but that was choked out of them by greedy distributors and crap promoters of weak club nights. Personally, I think people are cheated by distributors a lot of the time. They stifle quality labels by not trying hard enough, and then choke the market with their own shit quality easy labels that are destined for bargain-bin fodder in a year. It's a vicious cycle really... Boom and bust."

What kind of of music are you most interested in listening to at home at the moment?

"Everything and anything... no rules here. All I can say is John Peel is sadly missed."

When will you release your next record(s)?

"Well, definitely something on Scandinavia fairly soon. Planet Mu is on the cards. Rag and Bone records, and probably Tresor. All of these are in the pipeline but nor confirmed. I have a stack of fresh tracks at the moment and would like an album, but it has to be 100% ready and quality before it comes out."

What are your thoughts on sampling? Is it an art-form or musical theft?

"Can be both. I do it, but I think I make more out of it than just a sample. You really have to look at early hip hop to see the real art-form of it, though. It's easy to do great evil with a sample now, or with Ableton Live. It's made it so easy to loop it and make it fit without effort. Sampling does bring new life to old tracks, though, which shouldn't be overlooked."

People like Si Begg, Luke Vibert, Kid Koala and Cassetteboy - and yourself, on tracks like 'Blam The Target' - have done some hilarious samples over the years. Is humour important in music?

"Absolutely. As soon as you intellectualize music, game over. Humour's what it's all about - take it too seriously and you look like a knob pretty much. I'm glad you think 'Blam The Target' is funny. It's a Scottish piss-take on Chicago dance mania ghetto style music. I have total respect for that genre, so its OK to make fun of it I think... It's just silly humour - after all, it's party music, right? Not chin-stroking noodling here."

Fame or respect? Which one, and why?

"Respect always, but a bit of fame helps get gigs and pays the bills!"

How do you prefer your mushrooms to be cooked?

"Garlic, butter, olive oil. Bit of pepper. I like a nice meaty Portobello mushroom."



Vote 3 Votes

There's an interview I did with Japanese duo HIFANA now online (it was originally published late last year in a now-defunct American mag called Geek Monthly, so it's a couple of months old - here's some of the text:

One thing that's hallmarked the career of Keizo Fukuda (KEIZOmachine!) and Jun Miyata (Juicy) since they formed Hifana in 1998 has been a passion for music, along with an apparent wish to share the goods round, which came across in the genial, encouraging way they worked with the kids involved on this show.

Taking into account this outing on the airwaves and their own recorded musical output, the zany samples they employ, and their enigmatic live performances - and the manner in which they've won over some of my more seasoned, cynical peers here in Japan - these guys obviously have a disarming sense of humor, yet in interviews like this it's one they tend to underplay.

"Personally I like humor," hedges Fukuda, "but it's not always necessary in my music."

Miyata shrugs. "I wish audiences would dance and have fun rather than being serious and dark," he suggests.

In my case I jumped on the Hifana ship quite late. I first stumbled across them in 2006, when I picked up Hifana Presents Nampooh Cable at the HMV megastore in Yokohama.

It was the cover that snagged me - designed by Juicy Mama's brother.

"The major influences on my art have been manga and ukiyo-e," reports the Osaka-born, Tokyo-dwelling Maharo (real name undisclosed) three years on. To my mind he's developing into one of Japan's most recognizable young visual artists, having designed some superb event fliers and artwork for CDs, DVDs and vinyl, as well as murals and for shoji (paper panel doors).

"For printing, usually I draw with a pencil, scan it, then complete the image with a PC," Maharo says of his output. "For murals, I use color gesso."

He also does some hilarious character designs for video, with the stand-outs being the Hifana clips.

Soundwise, Hifana Presents Nampooh Cable was a compilation that included a wide range of musically adept Japanese peers such as DJ/performance artist Tucker, Professor Chinnen, R&B vocalist Keyco, dub guru Zura, Incredible Beatbox Band, and 2002 DMC World DJ Final champion (and Ninja Tune regular), DJ Kentaro.

Maharo's yellow/red/black/white artwork may have been the hook, but the music that awaited therein - co-produced by people calling themselves Nampooh Office and the Groundriddim Crew - was nothing short of devastating shill. Hifana Presents Nampooh Cable drift-netted my senses and won me over in an instant; I've been a Hifana fan ever since.

As it ends up, that 2006 treasure-trove discovery relates to Hifana's upcoming body of work.

"We're currently supervising the compilation Nampooh Cable 2, which will be coming out soon," the boys reported late last year, and there's now a vinyl promo teaser that you can get hold of.

"We're also in production for our upcoming third album - as well as planning to release scratch vinyl for DJs. We're also doing session jams, producing music for various other projects, and pursuing our individual DJ activities."

Hifana has been nothing short of frenetic over the past few years, especially in the live performance domain - an area in which they're particularly admired and strikingly innovative.

A decade ago Coldcut and Hexstatic king hit me with live gigs in which they entangled visuals with audio; Hifana have taken those inroads a step higher, folding in an intuitive understanding of their machines (turntables, samplers, effects units and DVJ decks) that's somewhat scary. Their live show, which they dub Fresh Push Breakin' (actually the name of their first album in 2003), is as much an eye-opening haymaker as it is aurally insane.

Maharo graphic 01.jpg
Their only disclaimer? "We enjoy creating freely by not being prepossessed."

Essential parts of that freestyle creativity are Hifana's found-sound samples, one of the joys of the duo's live and recorded work - whether or not you speak their tongue. "Japanese narration on vintage vinyl is so funny," they both espouse. These Hifana then layer above and beneath hip hop beats, bleeps, train announcements, and some glorious pop-culture schlock. "Out of these recordings you can create some fresh tunes, we just have to pay close attention till they combine well."

The second Hifana album, Channel H (2005), came with 15 music tracks - and 13 music videos created by a collaboration of Juicy, +cruz (Eric Cruz), the VJ Gec group, and Maharo.

One of these videos, for the track 'Wamono' (which has Maharo-designed caricatures of KEIZOmachine! and Juicy riding out a Katsushika Hokusai-style animated giant wave, giant fish, and chance encounters with singing mermaids), won an Excellence Award in the Entertainment/Interactive Art category at the 2005 Japan Media Arts Festival.

"We don't really wish our visual images to best explain our music," Fukuda and Miyata assert. "We're just enjoying the collaboration with our visual team. Hifana wants to show audiences something we think is a fresh live performance, along with the improvements in DJ equipment."

Which relates back to the music.

"I love music," Fukuda says with disarming simplicity. "And as for making club music, it seemed so much faster for me to create it, even before I began to dig it. In the process of creating this music, I mostly enjoy the rough sketch of the idea as it starts to become music."

The man known as Juicy Mama sees things in a shade more practical. "I think I enjoy making music because I've been playing in bands since my school days. But as a part of creation, I also enjoy drafting the ideas themselves into finished sounds."

Esteemed Japanese film directors like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu take a backseat - "I like Hitoshi Matsumoto," Miyata says, "and I recommend his on-line short film Zassa, which I saw on YouTube. His Big Man Japan is my recent favorite kaiju movie" - and, as for nominating the best ever Japanese musician, both opt for a rock muso: Lyricist and composer Kiyoshiro Imawano, who died in May 2009.

"He was the master of beautiful melodies, he had messages in his lyrics, he was rebel-minded, and had a sense of humor."

The rest of this non-fireside chat is HERE (with images + video) if you're interested in more.

Images © by Maharo & W+K Tokyo Lab


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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Andrez in January 2010.

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