Thursday, 30 June 2011

Resident Djs: Craig Richards

I’m not one of these DJs who like to blow their own trumpet” Craig Richards stresses rather sincerely. “Plenty do, but not me. I haven’t really changed since I first got into music. I enjoy what I do… what I hear and play… but let the music do the talking.”

Richards is a long-standing Musical Director for London’s similarly long-standing Fabric nightclub. He was with the heavyweight venue at its inception, as popular resident DJ, and launched its very first mix compilation in 2001. Not to mentionFabric 15 three years later. Seven years on from that, Richards is helming Fabric 58. So what, artistically, has happened between volumes?

“I’m still doing the same thing” he answers laconically. “I like the juxtaposition of old tracks and new. I included both on those early Fabric mixes, and I’m doing it again now.”

Indeed, veteran Chicago houser Gemini appears on the new record (At The Party) as he does on Fabric 1 (At The CafĂ©) – both appearances woven into a simple yet sensitively applied tapestry of dubby dance from various corners and eras of the house and techno genres. It’s an irresistible formula but, if anything, Richards’ command of sounds and styles has widened even further“I don’t think a DJ is ever truly at the top of his craft, there are always new tunes to hear and things to learn” he reflects. “With the new Fabric album, it was exciting for me to place something like a jazzy, mid -90s outing by Two Lone Swordsmen [Andy Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood] alongside that obscure Gemini track and Marcel Janovsky’s bleak, but more recent Vamos A Otro Piso. I’ve always tried to change things up, do what’s not expected of me. I’m nervous about saying it but it’s kinda bold.”

It certainly is. And it’s earned him an ever escalating level of recognition over the years. If Richards’ various Fabric comps all share a similar sonic approach then there’s a huge difference in terms of how the early and recent numbers have been received. “There’s so much more appreciation of what I’m doing with Fabric 58compared to Fabric 1. The sound I play wasn’t widely respected back when that first album came out; I was also inviting people like Ricardo [Villalobos] and Steve Bug to play at Fabric who weren’t universally known or loved. It was variety… experimental… but I always thought their sound on the club’s system would be highly believable.”

Richards actually presents Fabric 58 under the banner of his current, liberating Saturday night Fabric jam ‘The Nothing Special’ – it’s a smart, genre-less premise which sees him inviting in the eclectic live acts he admires and fitting his own performance around them. It follows a relatively straightforward Fabric residency of 11 years, bringing with it all sorts of potential for dancefloor creativity and revolution.

“It’s all night variety” Richards explains. “It allows me to keep pushing myself; play a deep, mellow warm-up for Moritz Von Oswald or twitchy electro set ahead of Dopplereffeckt for example. Not everyone can pull that off but I’m able to because of the range of things I usually play. I’m not a selfish DJ either; I like the handover to another… presenting them with the dancefloor intact and not exhausted because of some selfish, narrow-minded agenda to burn the floor within the slot I have.”

Richards has always been an avid collector of vinyl, spending his early years on the English South Coast tirelessly saving profits from the barbershop he ran (within a vintage clothing store) to buy music. He arrived in London in 1987 - to attend the prestigious Central St Martin’s School Of Art – at the same time as house, and so his love of underground music developed further.

Further study at the Royal College Of Art led to lucrative commercial design and art commissions but Richards found them restrictive and by 1993 had had enough, starting to organise one-off parties in unusual spaces, and then promoting and playing in clubs. In 1997, Richards formed his infamous ‘Tyrant’ partnership with Lee Burridge, which would quickly evolve into legendary clubland residencies at The End in London and The Bomb in Nottingham, as well as compilations, a label and serious international profile.

“I owe a lot to my older friends. They introduced me to the kind of inspirational artists that allowed me to consider music as an alternative to working only with art” he confides. “Older friends are incredibly important in terms of passing on recommendations about tracks. Today, I look to share knowledge with my younger DJ contacts; it’s a ritual that has sadly lost its way. The internet makes it really easy to find things now but back in the day you had to develop a rabid hunger to locate those priceless tunes because there was no other way. Your older friends and local record store helped that process by giving the sort of emotional feedback a website simply can’t.”

Richards, however, is practical. Many of yesterday’s tips, tricks, and traditions are being incorporated into his future plans. “I’m alright at finding music, I’ve got years and years of hunting experience under my belt” he says. “That thirst for the different and sometimes obscure helps keep my performances original. At the same time, I still play a lot of vinyl and CDs. I’d really query the statement saying that the convenience of digital has led to a better end product. There’s too much information out there now and too much uniformity; Dan Ghenacia told me he switched from playing out with computers back to vinyl because he was struggling to cope with all information at his fingertips.”

Richards continues: “New music is appearing and disappearing too quickly as well, such is the nature of the digital medium. I mean, do you really have time these days to fall in love with a new record… to really appreciate it? I think not; flicking through thousands of new releases sent to me via my computer is like wading through glue. I’m sure a lot of people barely have time to hear the end of each and every record there’s so many out there.”

In recent months, remarkably, Richards has been finding additional time to re-acquaint himself with his first love of art: “I paint most mornings – colourful, textured pieces - and have been building some serious momentum, to the point I’m actually considering a show next year.”

The DJ work is being purposefully slowed down, but not just for abstract brushstrokes; Craig Richards wants quality time in the studio for “a creative recharge.” He has just started work on his debut artist album and is finishing up a long awaited album project with Howie B; both are due by the end of the year.

“I can’t say too much about my own record” he teases, “but the thing with Howie B is finally finished and it’s down to small tweaks. It’s beat-less in quite a few places and rather beautiful. We’re planning to release it with a book of poetry; I’m totally proud of how it’s turned out.”

Poetry? That sounds like some Seth Troxler would approve of….: “Funny you should say that. Seth and I have talked about an artistic collaboration but we’ll see. The art is important; it has the power to make music far more impactful to the listener. In recent years, the money hasn’t been there for record labels to indulge this sort of thing but I do think it makes a difference. It gives music personality and people will always respond to that.”

One senses that there are more masterpieces right around the corner …

Words: Ben Lovett

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

This Weekends Activities

Simply Salacious Parties @ Cherryjam, Friday 1st July.

Line Up

Booker T
Sy Sez
Peter Borg

Time: 7pm - 2am
Venue: Cherryjam, 58 Porchester Rd, London W2 6ET
Cost: £8 / £10

Krankbrother Present @ Village Underground, Saturday 2nd July.

Line Up

Pan Pot
Dj T
Shaun Reeves

Time: 11:00pm - 6:00am
Venue: Village Underground, 54 Hollywell Lane, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PQ
Cost: £8 / £15

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Tuesdays Tech Tips: Elysia - Mpressor

If compressors simply did the job for which they're designed, none of us would need more than a single plug-in to cover all of our bases. The way in which gain reduction is applied, however, varies wildly from one plug-in to the next and, consequently, this is an area in which a large number of manufacturers compete for your attention. Some processors are aimed at tackling mastering issues, while others work best on individual instruments and vocal channels. Elysia's Mpressor sits in between, building on the lineage of the German company's high-end Alpha mastering compressor yet providing a tool-set which is perfectly suited to individual instrument processing. It's also iLok protected, runs at 32-bit and is available in a wide range of formats.

From the outset, it's clear that Mpressor goes some way beyond regular compressors. The top row of its eight dials are standard enough, with Threshold, Attack, Release and Ratio dials but the bottom row is more bespoke, with EQ Gain and Frequency controls and a Gain Reduction limit dial to accompany the common output Gain control. Having tone control built in to Mpressor allows for a great range of potential treatments, of which more shortly.

Dealing with the compressor parameters first, Mpressor's Threshold can either assess incoming audio directly, or use a side-chain source, via a click of the red button to the dial's right. The Attack dial allows you to control the speed at which Mpressor will respond to input signals but its corresponding button enables something called Autofast. Attack times are often a compromise—set them fast to catch initial peaks but change the response of sustaining material, or set for the latter, only to miss out on the first moments of a sound's initial transients. Autofast allows you to specify a time as normal but automatically shortens this for sounds which feature fast, loud impulses. This works best when using Mpressor across a mix bus but has useful implications for processing drum loops, vocals and other grouped sounds too.

The Release dial also features a button-based accessory feature, in the form of AntiLog. This inverts the traditional logarithmic behaviour of compression tails and makes the audible compression effect much more obvious. For mastering purposes, I suspect you won't go near it but if heavily compressed program material is your goal on drums, basses, synth stabs and other standout elements, its effect can be powerful. In a similar camp are the negative Ratio values. Whereas Ratio normally determines how limited the volume increase of a signal can become once it has breached the Threshold level, so negative Ratio amounts actually reduce the output volume once a signal is being compressed. In other words, the louder the input signal, the quieter the resulting sound. Imagine this on a drum loop and you'll appreciate the idea—the audio result almost sounds reversed as kicks and snares force level drop while the audio in between pumps up.

The EQ controls are borrowed from Elysia's free-to-download Niveau filter plug-in and its job is to change the relationship between the treble and bass elements of the sound you're compressing. Your two controls are EQ Frequency and EQ Gain. As you increase the frequency dial, more emphasis is placed above this cutoff point and more is cut from frequencies below, though the EQ Gain control can work backwards to reverse this balance in favour of bass frequencies if you prefer. Two modes are available; in the first, the frequency range of this change is from 26Hz to 2.2kHz but with the x10 button engaged, these values switch to offer a range between 260Hz and 22kHz. At their extreme settings the dials can offer standard low or high-pass filtering but their intermediate controls are so flexible that Mpressor could easily become an important EQ tool for its users without recourse to its compression parameters at all.

The final feature of note is the Gain Reduction limiter. This allows you to set a maximum amount of gain reduction and, no matter how loud your signal becomes, the amount of compression will never exceed whichever value you set here. In other words, loud signals can be compressed as hard as you like with the result that they'll never drop below a certain level while quieter signals will allow the virtual output level to climb, to preserve original dynamics. Again, this unique approach works wonderfully; for gentle verse guitar parts which become brick-walled power chords on the chorus, for instance, you can set this parameter carefully and let Mpressor do the rest.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Yamaha release TNR-i, Tenori-on for iOS

Yamaha have announced the immediate release of their TNR-i app.

The new TNR-i is, as with its parent the Tenori-on, based on a 16 x 16 grid of buttons which are used to sequence and trigger sounds; the horizontal direction relates to time, the vertical pitch. Most other features of the original, such as its interchangeable 16 song patterns and different composition modes, also make it to the TNR-i, although this new incarnation has its own set of benefits. Users can link with up to four other people via a network for simultaneous composition, while those who already own the Tenori-on can also connect via this feature. The video below gives a basic demonstration of the TNR-i.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

This Weekends Activities


Line Up

Reel People
The Layabouts

Simon Finnegan
Hamish Dunn
Mr. Miggs

Time: 9:00pm - 3:00am
Venue: East Village, 89 Great Eastern Street, EC2A
Cost: £6 before 10pm / £8 before 11.30pm / £10 after

Canal Party meets restless soul @ The Grand Junction Arms, Saturday 25th.

Line Up

Phil Asher
Stuart Patterson
Tayo Maronie
Craig whitfield
Luke McCarty

Time: 8:00pm - 3:00am
Venue: Grand Junction Arms, Canal Bridge, Acton Lane, Park Royal, NW10 7AD
Cost:£10 / £12

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Motor City Drum Ensemble: Motoring On

Motor City Drum Ensemble is on the move, en masse. In other words Cologne-based DJ and increasingly rated producer Danilo Plessow is popping out for a little afternoon record shopping; with a friend.

It’s refreshing to hear that one of clubland’s oldest traditions is still alive and well in these ever-changing digital times. One wonders just how many dusty, treasure trove record stores are actually left today. “Sales are really strong in Cologne right now,” Plessow opens. “Kompakt [globally renowned store and, in turn, label and distributor] is booming; they’re hiring another seller. When I’m travelling I’m seeing this elsewhere too. There are some countries where the economics don’t add up and for which MP3s are the perfect format, but elsewhere vinyl really is alive and well. The stores are somewhere you can hold the music, share knowledge and learn. I don’t think vinyl will ever die.”

It’s hard to see how Motor City Drum Ensemble’s reputation will either. Plessow, 26, started producing, incredibly, some 15 years ago. By the age of 16 he had released his first record and a year or so later cult broken beat house cut
Slow Swing as alter-ego Inverse Cinematics (alongside Joachim Tobias). That tune earned the attentions of one Ricardo Villalobos and catalysed a string of Inverse EPs picked up by major leftfielders including Gilles Peterson and Benji B.

Motor City Drum Ensemble materialised relatively recently, in 2008, after a move to Stuggart and various solo nu-jazz and hip-hop-edged projects. Plessow’s Raw Cuts EPs, recorded under the new alias, combined old school Chicago and Detroit with innovative, deep ‘n’ dirty grooves to huge underground acclaim. His growing status prompted an invitation from Resident Advisor to record a deep house podcast and the rest was history. Kind of….

Plessow is still, he says, getting to grips with all the Ensemble hype. “Resident Advisor kicked off this whole stage of my career. I’m so thankful, it’s led to some hectic but totally inspirational experiences. But, I’m realistic. I am still learning. I am touring every weekend and have done for as long as I can remember, and with each show comes a different crowd and different challenge. I’m constantly learning how to improve my DJ skills, my reading of the dancefloor, my use of these nights back in the studio when I’m looking for ideas….”

It’s fair to say that Motor City Drum Ensemble’s tasteful exploits on the road have taken over the production side of things. Plessow is hoping that his new mix compilation for DJ Kicks will prove a handy segue back to the studio; something evidently he has been missing.

“I’m pleased with the end product but it’s taken some time to put together” he admits. “I didn’t want this to be another DJ mix; what I love about DJ Kicks is that they allow artists to showcase the music that moves them. So I sat down at the beginning and looked to create a mix that moves through lots of different genres – Detroit, Chicago, afro-beat, spiritual, jazz, soul…. As you can imagine the licensing took a long time but we got there and I think it sums me up pretty well. I hope people like it.”

Plessow’s mix is, in a word, kaleidoscopic. It moves smoothly, yet powerfully between cuts from legendary cosmic jazzsters Sun-Ra and afro-drum kingpin Tony Allen to the classic, soulful 4-4 strains of Larry ‘Mr Fingers’ Heard and Rick ‘Poppa’ Howard and deeper electronic moments by Robert Hood and Aphex Twin. Kaleidoscopic, epic even….

Can we expect a similar methodology when our man sits down to start recording his first artist album as Motor City Drum Ensemble? - because that is firmly the next step.

“It is time to start planning this thing out, definitely” Plessow confirms. “It’s a progression from what I’m currently doing but there is some pressure, because I’m also doing it to try and justify the hype that has been building around the name… live up to the hype. I don’t want to rush an album out, I will take my time getting the right things together, maybe a few EPs before the big release, but I’ll need to focus. The next few months are an important time for me.”

What might we expect? “You’ll have to wait and see” he laughs. “I get so many inspirations and ideas from being on the road and meeting DJs, producers and singers I admire, as well as experiencing different crowds and places. I have a lot I can work with.”

Whilst Plessow will look to curb the gigs in favour of constructive studio time, his pace of work is likely to accelerate, if anything. It begs the question of when this seriously in-demand young man gets to take holidays. The modern club artist’s lifestyle is as intense as lifestyles get.

“It’s important to treat this lifestyle as a job, not a party. For sure, it’s a great life to be living but you have to have some professional balance” he offers. “I’m a disciplined performer, I will make sure I get a decent sleep before any big gigs so that I’m fresh for the crowd and don’t kill myself. I also plan my commitments so that I can include the odd holiday. I’m off to Israel for some shows in a couple of weeks and I’m taking my girlfriend so we can relax for a week or so after.”

Mr Plessow is also a stickler for his Monday morning ‘detox’ sessions down at the nearby sauna: “People often ask me if all the rushing around DJing and being holed up in the studio is worth it but it absolutely is. I love music and will never lose that feeling so even when things are too hectic there’s this motivation to keep on. Of course, yes, I do like going to the sauna on Mondays; it’s the perfect comedown after a weekend playing out; a great way to get all the toxins out and set up for the following week. I’m only 26 but I want to look after myself!”

Such pragmatism extends to his long-term aspirations. “I don’t think I will be DJing much beyond another 20 or 30 years” he confesses. “I’m not sure that I will be ready for that. I’ve started producing for other people now, like Rainer Truby [German jazz and boogie-meister], which takes me out of my box and opens me up to other things which, in turn, can feed back into my own music. I’ll definitely want to do more of that in the future, make some jazz and punk records maybe… really diversify.”

Was there ever really going to be another career path? “That’s a toughie to answer” he ponders. “I always liked swimming and a little grafitti art. But I was into music really early. I still like cooking, maybe there is a sideline there in the future? – I could open a cool jazz boutique with fine wine and food… you never know.”

In the short-term, however, Plessow is mindful of further cementing Motor City Drum Ensemble’s good name; much has been done but much is also still to come. “I’m not 100% happy with my studio yet” he sighs. “My immediate goal is to add a few things there so that I can produce the records I want to produce next and develop my label [MCDE]. I really want to make one good, worthwhile album; not just slowly disappear. I’d hate that.”

As would we...

Words: Ben Lovett (Defected)

DJ Kicks: Motor City Drum Ensemble (UK !K7) is released on July 4.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

This Weekends Activities

Play With Drop - Londons Birthday @ Egg, Friday 17th.

Line Up

Phil Asher
Mr Cenzo
Finale Djs
Sy Sez
& more

Time: 22:00pm - 6:00am
Venue: Egg, 200 York Way, Kings Cross, London N1.
Cost: £10

Quentin Harris all Night Long @ East Village, Saturday 18th.

Line Up

Quentin Harris
Ashley Beadle
Stuart Patterson
Jimmy P

Time: 21:00pm - 4:00pm
Venue: East Village, 89 Great Eastern Street, London, EC2A 3HX
Cost: £8/£12/£14

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

How to promote yourself online.....

This article was first posted @ No Dough Music

Promote Yourself

In this blog I want to talk about a few of the pitfalls of the internet when it comes to getting your music heard. The world is changing very fast with new technology, websites and new ways of interaction popping up at every moment. The choices and opportunities to get your music out there seem endless. The reality of the situation is actually very different to what it seems to be, and in some ways getting your 5 minutes of fame in front of possible fans of your music may actually be very challenging. In a world where everyone has a voice, those who can shout the loudest (read: those with more marketing money) have more of a voice than the little man. Having said that, all is not lost! In these next few paragraphs I intend to discuss some of the big wastes of time and pitfalls when it comes to promoting yourself, your label or your music and hopefully point out some of the most productive ways of investing your time and efforts.

DJ Promo Comments v True Support

We have all seen them, the reams of big DJ names rolled out with every new release, with a short sometimes two word comment... maybe one word: "support", "full support" and "will play" are some of the busy globe-trotting DJ's favourites. Now this seems all well and good but what does it really mean? You can learn a lot from the comments posted, and the public have already learned to ignore meaningless comments using this knowledge. If a DJ can only manage to write one word of feedback on this record, what are the chances he is going to be inspired by it enough to play it out at all? Never mind regularly enough to be considered a supporter of that record. Now don‘t get me wrong I am not calling DJs dishonest, but as an artist you must realise that the true value in support, in feedback, is genuine support. When Luciano plays your record at every gig over the summer, and drops it on an album or charts it... that‘s support, and that‘s the kind of support you are going to need to aim for and work towards if you want true value from bigger DJs. This can be one of the best ways to get your music out there, if an established performer loves your vibe and is actually playing it, get all your new stuff sent to them, get in contact. Not only can that solid support benefit you but their feedback can help you greatly as you‘re both in tune to the same vibe. It comes down to the old saying: "It's not what you know but who you know." Naturally like-minded people come and work together.

Chasing friends or followers.

Often in this new on-line world you see people who work social networks like machines, gathering thousands of friends or followers through various inventive means. Sometimes you see people actually buy loads of friends from certain sources in a bid to increase their music's reach. Frankly this is utter insanity and for 2 reasons: although having a strong following is the most important factor to your career, it’s your real fans that will ultimately make you successful. Social networks are no measure of your true fans especially if you have bought the followers or spent all weekend adding people and asking them to add you back. Don‘t worry about the number of your fans, just concentrate on making great music and making it available in the way that best fits your art. That way you will avoid the pitfalls that are most common when you blindly collect or pay for followers, and your following who do find you will be of a high quality and have relevance when it comes to what you share with them. The quality of your fans and their interaction with you on-line is the most important thing; you want to have 100 fans that you get messages from every day and who buy your records, rather than 100,000 fans that ignore your every move. Treat your true fans well, and they will sell you to others. Treat them well.

Spam Filters

Some people are just the flavour of the month.

In the scene, there are always people who are “flavour of the month”, often having hit the tone of the time with their music. It‘s good to keep in touch with what these people are doing and try to ensure they have some of your music available to play. Being “flavour of the month” they are in perfect tune with the people in your scene so any interaction you have can be very helpful. Get them charting your music, get them playing it - the hottest person of the moment will get you more new fans than any big DJ of yesteryear.

The SPAM Filter in your head.

This is the area of the modern internet that is changing and developing the fastest. SPAM... people know it and can almost sense it now. Adverts, banners and emails have for years been pouring into the collective consciousness of the planet and we are starting to have an almost automatic mental SPAM filter when we are online. This has mostly been caused by business and the more unscrupulous types of advertising hammering away at us all the time. SPAM has ruined advertising so much that people just ignore it on-line. When you are promoting yourself on-line you have to be very cautious as to how you go about it. If you cross the SPAM line, instantly people will ignore you; if you come across like you're selling, or desperate, or too brash, if your tone is just too uninteresting, people will instantly turn off. I would go as far to say, to the small guy, a banner ad or any type of commonly recognised advert is completely useless to you, so don‘t waste a single penny on it.. What you need to have nowadays is relevance so be inventive and know there are no short-cuts anymore to getting a lot of coverage. You need to make sure your music is good enough, it‘s interesting and that people would enjoy it. Not only that - you need to put it in front of the type of person that would enjoy it. So you can see, the 100,000 fans you have on Facebook that don‘t like your music, may as well not exist. We are in a time where the big successes arise from the more inventive approaches. The fact is you have to promote your work without it coming across as a promotion. There are many ways you can do this but always bear in mind you're walking a thin line, and think to yourself... is this too spam-like? Because people will make that judgement in a split second and once they have, your opportunity is lost with them. People want to see and hear things that are fresh and that they enjoy, so can you get a freaky, or innovative video done for your music? Or maybe put on a free night with a memorable twist at a local place and give away some CDs of your work? The more inventive you are here the more benefit you will see, and that very inventiveness will endear you to a great many people. This is the entertainment industry so you should be prepared for this task.

Money Talks

All that being said, it is still possible for those with bottomless pockets to bludgeon and buy their way to success. We see it every week with the major new artists suddenly appearing everywhere at once through TV shows, massive marketing campaigns and other targeted marketing events. But don‘t think like that, there aren’t many of us with the cash that is available to the major players and in reality... their way isn‘t necessarily the best way and somewhat old fashioned in the age of viral vids and so on. (In fact you will have seen the big guys often try to get involved with Viral Vids or Flash mobs and the other inventive marketing as it is just 100 times more powerful) We live in a time that has seen the democratisation of music making, which has in turn seen the lowering of the average level of quality and longevity of what is being produced. But even now the cream still rises to the top, so you will do well if you can get past the flood of also-rans...

More than ever it makes perfect sense to just concentrate on the art, and that’s what matters most. Good art, new art, exciting art... and presenting it in a way which is complementary to your work and in an inventive form.......