When searching through your music on YouTube, a comment on Beannach Mhór states “He could play every jimi hendrix song/solo perfectly on the strat when we would hang out in his room as teenagers” is this true and what was your relationship with music from a young age?
Lies! Ah no, I used to sit on my bed playing electric guitar every day for years yeah. Much noodling around; learning all the melodies of my favourite albums by ear, and having all these patterns open up. Very exciting to discover the world of music as a teenager. Not sure really how to describe my relationship with music from when I was younger though – too many different strands to grab hold of. I’d like to be able to tell you some neat little story about it but it’s all too foggy. I’d rather it remain foggy and unclear in my own head I think, rather than my telling you a crap, made-up story of some sort. Music is strange and mysterious stuff and should be revered really. It’s a pity, but in many ways today we seem to treat music as little more than chewing gum. I find the endless stream of vapid faff that billows forth into the air nowadays quite tiresome. I love music, though feel we would do well to cultivate a relationship with silence for the next good while. Indeed, one might usefully suggest that I usher in this new golden age by shutting up, myself.
Do you work in music full-time or do you have another job? If so, how do you balance producing music, and practicing for and playing your live shows with a full time job?
I don’t think of myself as working in music at all really. It’s something that ought to be classified as a hobby in my case. I am very lucky to get to play in cool places now and then, and to have made friends through music. I enjoy doing new records and getting to release bits here and there, though it’s not a world I feel myself to be heavily involved in. I don’t like going to clubs unless I’m playing a gig, and I’m not very good at keeping up with new music or that.
I work as a folklorist and archivist in Ireland’s National Folklore Collection, so I spend most of my time reading, thinking and talking about Irish and European folk tradition. This work is something I find extremely rewarding and am very passionate about. I feel that many young people in Europe (and further afield) today would do well to learn of their traditional cultural inheritance – their folk customs etc – as it seems to me that many of the reference points which provided our forebears with an overall sense of purpose and of meaning have been stripped away in the modern age.
An Irish Folklore Documentary Narrated by Automatic Tasty
Sometimes I think we are lost to ourselves today, and no longer know where to cast our adorations (though perhaps that’s just me staring too deeply into my breakfast). I think that an awareness and respect for one’s traditional cultural inheritance – folk traditions and customs etc – is very important, as it roots us to our collective past in a way that can serve to provide meaning and purpose in the present. So, that is my ‘work’ (if it can be called that) with music being my ‘hobby’ (neither words seems to quite fit, but there you go).
It is often bemoaned how few great producers play live, for example I would love to see Call Super create a live show. What is your take on DJs outnumbering live acts especially when the vast majority gained their breakthrough through their music? And who would you like to see play live?
Ah that doesn’t really bother me at all. I think it quite natural that DJs should outnumber live acts, since the DJ is so vital a figure in the history and culture of electronic music. There’s nothing particularly special about playing electronic music live per-se, and the work processes utilised by certain artists in their productions might not translate easily (or even particularly well) well into a live context.
In my case, I plod away on the keys and program simple melodies – my music is straightforward and translates quite easily into a live setting (the main difficulty tending to revolve around more practical concerns like hauling an SH5 up the stairs etc.) I’m guessing here, since it’s not how I work, but I imagine that much more complex digital processes are not so easily replicated live. Indeed, in the context of electronic music, ‘liveness’ is a little tricky to define. In this regard, one might ask ‘how live is live anyway?’ I admire those who practice and hone their art with dedication and discipline; eternal props to the DJ, therefore.
You seem to play only a handful of shows each year, something atypical of many artists in the scene who can end up playing four to five shows a month. Have you ever considered playing more frequently or does the lack of touring allow more time to focus on producing music, something that you may prefer?
The small amount of shows isn’t due to anything mysterious or oblique on my part – I just get a small amount of requests. It can be quite a degree of hassle for promoters to book me I suppose, as I have all my bits of gear for a live set, and generally need to have additional machines rented for me (if I am playing abroad), as the 106 won’t quite fit in my carry-on. Plus, I will likely have trouble in selling out your local parish hall, never mind a three-day concert tour of the Globo-Corp-Mega-Complex Stadium in capital city.
Gigs are rare enough, therefore. When I play somewhere though, I generally like to stay there for a while and hang out, talk with people and go see new things etc. In Kiev last year I went walking around the city there and spent hours eating ice-creams, looking at Orthodox Icons and wandering around the National Museum of the History of Ukraine while sweating profusely. Black clothes, Doc Martens and 30+ degrees centigrade don’t go well together it would seem. I was very happy though.
What clubs would you say you have most enjoyed playing at and why?
Panorama Bar is my favourite club to play at, owing to a mix of factors I suppose. The physical space, the atmosphere, the soundsystem, the level of care taken in putting the overall night together, the friends who come along, the funny adventures we have – all combine to form memorable occasions of which I am glad.
I have experienced great satisfaction in sitting at the bar upstairs there having just finished a live set – I’ve done my bit to add to the night overall, I’ve tried to give people a positive experience, I’ve made my contribution, the machines are all packed away and now I can relax, sit back and take it all in as the night (or morning) now stretches ahead in front of me – there is promise in the air, and anything is possible – who knows what will happen next?
In an interview with RBMA, Pearson Sound states that some releases are more special if “held back” or if only a few people have a record, rather than if “everyone is playing the same thing”. Is this the reason for the lack of represses on your records? The Fieldwork EP is now on sale on Discogs for £223, would you consider repressing?
£223, haha! Some clown is hoping to add a patio to their house, it would seem. I can understand the sentiment of the Pearson chap you mention. Hierarchical elitism of sorts is important in Art, as it is in everything else, as you always need to have something above you – higher forms and ideals from which you can draw inspiration, and towards which you can reach and exert yourself. There is nothing special about that which is common to all – ‘an rud is annamh is íontach’ (what’s rare is wonderful) as the saying goes in Irish. In this sense, I can understand the value in a sort of elitism as it pertains to certain artistic expressions. However, these sentiments, while important in my mind, have nothing to do with money. Value and price, worth and cost, are all very different measures, and ones which often bear no relation to each other.
Just because a record is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s any use. That aside, the decision to repress my records isn’t mine, it’s one taken by labels for which I have released records and the distributors who sell them. Pressing another 300 copies of some record isn’t going to change the world of electronic music as we know it, and just because some clown is selling a vinyl of mine for a million quid doesn’t mean it’s worth paying. I know it’s not the same as having a the record, but just email me and I’ll send you the bloody trax myself.
Do you have a similar method for building your set, or do you simply go with the flow?
I think the answer to this question is ‘yes and no’. Each set is different, but it might consist of ten or so kind of ‘blocks’ which might provide the same structure or framework from which to start. Each block is a set of melodies, in a certain key. These sets of melodies are tied to certain drum machine patterns, as the drums will often trigger notes – for example, I build the basslines on my 101 from the triggers on specific 606 patterns.
So, in a live set, I like to create a series of ‘walled gardens’ with each of these blocks. In order to do this I must get all my ducks in a row: list of pattern banks, melodies, keys, tones, rhythm etc. When I have my melodies etc. set, it becomes a question of arrangement or orchestration, if those terms aren’t too grand to use. Once my walled garden is set up – my overall parameters – then I am free to rove around in it at my leisure. That’s when the ‘go with the flow man’ bit comes in, where I try to build something which is emotionally resonant by using the differing elements in that particular little garden.
I have lots and lots of unreadable notes with pictures scribbled on them which tell me what I need to do to set up a piece in a live set. Sometimes the little pictures on there will give me a sense of the feeling I’m going for. Sometimes though I also draw houses and boats and mountains and things on there for reasons unknown. Anyway, then I need to progress through these ten or so blocks – sets of melodies and chords etc – and that’s a set. I wonder if that makes any sense to people? Sorry if that was excessively abstract.
What was the idea behind the set you provided for us and what equipment did you use?
No idea behind it really – just off roving about with melodies. I used a 101, 202, 303 clone, a 606, a 909, a juno 60 and an mpc I recall. It was on a boat in the Danube – good craic.
What is your go to piece of equipment that your music centres around?
The 101 I would say. A fantastically expressive and beautifully simple machine. I still squeeze new little turns of phrase out of it regularly. Bless those chaps who made it.
Do you feel your sets ever go badly?
Ah yeah! Sometimes I would get too nervous, though that hasn’t really happened much lately. Often for the first few minutes of a set I have the heebie-jeebies, but it all settles in and turns invisible after a while. My favourite part in a set is when all the elements come together and there is a moment which feels moving and full of abandon. Sometimes the crowd, if responding positively to what you are doing, can bring that out. This is something I enjoy very much about my experience of playing live: if you are listening to a track on a record, you are ‘stuck’ (for want of a better word) in whatever story is coming through that record. You know for example, that some hand claps and an errant cowbell will appear thirty seconds from now, or that a crescendo will appear in two minutes or something.
When playing live, that structure doesn’t exist to the same degree – nobody really knows (myself included) what’s 30 seconds away, two minutes away or half an hour away, because the impact and interaction with the crowd can very much serve to shape the expression as it manifest there in front of you. Isn’t that fantastic and strange! I think it’s wonderful, though sometimes I fail dismally at it and I feel that entire portions of the set will be boring or lacking in a certain depth of feeling. If I have two or three moments in a set which are full of abandon etc., then I am quite contented and glad.
Once, when playing a gig with my Lunar Disko friends and Tyree Cooper, I kicked a plug which knocked out half the machines, right while everything was going great. It’s at the end of this video.
A mate came up to me laughing and shouted in my ear: ‘you’re live now Jonny!’ I had to scramble to get things synced up while a basement full of mashed peoples expressed their great displeasure at the sudden and unexpected lack of music. When the lights came on at the end of the night, I also realised I had kicked over a pint of water earlier on, and was standing in a pool of water with all my plugboards. Fucking plugs and wires going everywhere half-soaked!
What are your future plans (music wise?) Are there any plans for an album release?
There are a couple of nice wee bits and bobs on the go yeah, though we shall have to wait and see. I don’t want to curse anything by speaking about it.
Many thanks to Automatic Tasty for providing us with a stunning live set for the 100th addition to our mix series! A lot of time and effort went into this one, but it was definitely worthwhile!
Words by: James Acquaye Nortey-Glover