For Insult To Injury boss and R$N family Timothy Clerkin, working with Simian Mobile Disco member Jas Shaw on a release is something of a full circle experience. As a young whipper snapper studying in Leeds, SMD were a huge inspiration for Tim - his first project the Eskimo Twins were actually formed outside one of their gigs at The Cockpit many years ago.
When Tim began working on his new EP Psalm, which is set for release on 7th February on his own Insult To Injury imprint, he approached Jas to work his magic on the remix. And work his magic, he did. In just one day too...
Ahead of the release of Psalm, they shoot the shit about everything from tech set ups, the resurgence of trance, the tracks they wish they'd made and how hobnobs can be a saving grace in the studio...
Timothy Clerkin: Have you ever asked yourself why you started making music?
Jas Shaw: It’s funny that I haven’t, right? Have you? I think that making music came from enjoying music and wanting to know how it does what it does. It’s not something that I ever really imagined I’d be able to do and yet a few times I’ve needed to move away from it, to earn money or whatever, and it’s always dragged me back in.
TC: I’ve never really thought about it either, until I started thinking about questions to ask you! I guess it’s just always been there, even before I started learning instruments at school I knew I wanted to do something with it. And then as I moved through school and university where I only studied music, my career options narrowed to such a point where it’s literally the only useful skill I have these days! But, music was the main reason I moved to London, which certainly lead me down a pleasant life path. You’ve been living out in the countryside for a few years now. What made you want to make the move initially and do you think not being in a buzzing metropolis with music on your doorstep almost every night of the week had an affect on your creative process? Or are the rolling hills just as inspiring!?
JS: There were family reasons to move and there was also the fact that the room James and I shared was getting so expensive we couldn't ignore it. We both wanted a larger space that we could do some proper acoustic treatment to. We just couldn’t find anywhere around where we were living and so somehow it seemed logical to go full rural rather than suburban. I do miss London, there’s no doubt about that, and being an hour on the train does mean that unless I’ve got a good reason to come in, I just don’t. The other side of it though is that while I was surrounded by all of this culture in London, in fact I wasn’t really engaging with it much. We had young children and I was away DJing most weekends and then in the studio in the day and home in the evening. When we moved it was barely noticeable really, just trees outside rather than streetlights. I do like being in the countryside but I enjoyed walking the dogs down by the canal and in Wick Woods just as much. So, in terms of how it’s impacted making music, oddly I’d say not all that much but perhaps it has and that’s been masked by other factors? Either way, I like living here but if we decided to move back to Homerton I think I’d be happy there too.
TC: One of the reasons I fell in love with SMD about 12 years ago was, amongst other things, your use of 'big' chords without them coming across as in any way trancey ('Sleep Deprivation' and '10000 Horses Can't Be Wrong' being prime examples). They sit in pretty stark contrast to your output on Delicacies though, which is way more Techno, with a capital T. Does one of these come more naturally to you, or do you enjoy making one over the other?
JS: You are very kind to say that and I’m so glad that those records connected with you and subsequently connected us to you. I think it’s fair to say that our output has got less notey over time and I think this is for a number of reasons. First, it was on purpose. The last thing I’m ever keen to impress on people is the idea that we knew what we were doing; we were busking it, for sure. However, there’s always been a sense that we made more melodic stuff for ‘albums’ and the stuff on Deli was made for clubs, it was not supposed to be listened to at home. Notes are fine in music but around 5am their appeal is almost gone, by then you have almost certainly had enough notes, your full daily allowance, and while you still want music, you want it to be bonier and less logical. As we spent more time in clubs the more we came to understand that this isn’t a shortcoming, it’s just that music works differently on a PA at that time. So engaging with that was exciting, is exciting.
Also, I should point out that some of the ‘big’ chords were not as ‘big’ as they smelled. For lots of chordy stuff we used a step sequencer and tuned each chord, oscillator by oscillator. This way you get very unusual chords in a fairly tactile and user friendly way, also you never get the tuning bang on but tend to stop where the harmonic relationship is pleasing, this is better than in tune. On a number of occasions we reverse-engineered these chords so that we could sequence them to play live and found that they were actually lots of inversions or voicings of the same chord, or just a couple of chords, though it sounded like we had chosen seven separate chords. It was a bit annoying as in a few cases we thought we had pushed the harmonic boat out but really we were just faffing about with the same four notes in different orders. I like all of it but certainly my threshold for feeling like something is ‘maybe bit Olympic?’ is lower than it was. There’s a real tension I’ve noticed where I want things to sound big and well put together so that they work on a PA but I really don’t want them to be Wagnarian, it’s an odd contradiction, at a certain level of bigness I’m technically pleased but suddenly not into it any more, at all.
TC: On the subject of big chords, if there had been space on label of Psalm EP, I would have loved to call your mix; Slave Too (Jas Shaw's 'Trance: Trendy but Ultimately a Mistake Mix), referencing a conversation we'd had. How to you feel about the return of 90s euphoria in the 'underground' right now? Are there any other genres you'd like to see consigned to the annals of history, never to return; or any that you think should make a comeback, but have hitherto been snubbed?
JS: I’m absolutely not in any position to berate people for choosing big euphoric moments to play in a room full of people that will buzz off that. Go for it. I like to think that those who do it well play this stuff as a way to irritate the ‘dark techno’ purists rather than just as a way to score a cheap mid-set goal, I’ve done both though and won’t red-card anyone for either. I’m also aware of the fact that many people who’s music I like came here via a different route and accommodating that is not too much to ask. I was into mop haired indie bands when some people were into trance so I don’t have any residual desire to hear a big trance tune whereas if someone sneaks an MBV track in somehow there will be at least a small part of me that’s cheering that on. Both are ok.
I’ve been quietly hoping for a gabber revival, or at least I thought I was. I thought it was the stuff you would hear at the end of a Warp party, kind of cartoony alien chat and then impossibly distorted 909 kicks that are fast enough that they could be wrongly eyed high hats. This sort of thing...
In fact most of the stuff I found is really just aggy trance and I’m not into it at all. If you can help here I’m still enthusiastic to have enough of this horror-core type stuff that I could do a few hours without having to play both sides of anything. What are your top three studio treats? I’m not being silly here, I’ll stick my neck out and say that hobnobs have saved more records than fancy compressors and that a comfy chair is better than a valve eq in a pinch. Let’s sort out the real studio essentials; anything that helps a session that’s not gear.
TC: I wouldn't be able to hack a day in the studio if it weren’t for Yorkshire Gold tea… I moved to Amsterdam last year and there are many, many things I love about The Netherlands, but unfortunately the tea here is of a very different standard to what I’m used to! So ruddy, bloody british mate. Whenever I’m back in the UK or somebody is over visiting I always ask them to grab a box… I have around a six month supply in the cupboard right now, which keeps the anxiety at bay. Non-electronic music breaks are good for me; if I'm a few hours into a session and starting to get a bit fatigued, I have to stick on something without any synthesisers in. It keeps me sane but also inspires a lot of stuff too, so it can be a useful motivational tool. Lastly, a simple sunny day can do wonders! It’s been grey as fuck here for the last few months, but we had a day of glorious sunshine last week and it really lifted my mood - I had a wonderfully productive day in the studio. I’ll almost certainly want to retract that comment come August and I’m stripped down to my boxers with the fan on full blast, inexorably sweating buckets.
Can you talk us through your remix of my track 'Slave Too'? It only took you one day, which I was thoroughly impressed with! And I was surprised to hear you used the rave stab but over the moon that you did!
JS: Yes, I was surprised too. I think the way I’ve been doing stuff recently has allowed me to use sounds that I wouldn’t usually have used. You, very kindly, sent over stems for all the ep tracks and I did an afternoon of sampling into my old Emu. I’ve made this slightly odd system where I can use my sequencer to chop up a sample so by fiddling with the sequence and then just scrolling through samples I can very quickly explore hearing the sounds chopped up. This means that I’m often liking something and then looking up which sample it is and going ‘huh?’
TC: Imagine, if you will: the world has imploded, Trump has lost WWIII to Kim Jong-un and we now live in a 1984-esque society where electronic music has been outlawed… what would be the first acoustic instrument you’d pick up and do you ever miss playing in ‘proper band’?
JS: Cool, a cheery one! I’ll add to that by saying that there was a point when I thought I wasn’t going to make it about two years ago and I remember thinking to myself ‘well at least I’ll never have to hear someone strum another fucking guitar again’. I’m not against acoustic instruments entirely, but they really bring out the worst in people. I know that the whole pianos-in-public-spaces thing is done with love but it’s a menace. There is never, and will never be, a time that I want to hear an Adele ballad played on a piano reverberating around St. Pancras station. It’s not so much that it’s badly played, I don’t mind that, it’s just an unavoidable public reminder that what I like about music is apparently not widely enjoyed and what is widely enjoyed is noise to me, in fact noise is the wrong word because I enjoy noise very much. Noise-wise train stations are already amazing, the ambient babble of hundreds of conversations and traffic and maybe a train arriving or departing is wonderful and engrossing and then clong, clong, clong, motherfucker doing the only ballad they know on a piano. Always men, always a ballad, always the same plodding chords. Being in a band is lining yourself up for a multi-way musical disagreement most days but at least you know that you are clashing with people who care about music rather than someone who treats it as a similar kind of party-trick grade activity as being able to juggle three apples.
TC: Time to get super nerdy: what's your studio looking like at the moment and what's your general working process? You said you used an old E-mu for the Slave Too remix, what other bits of kit are piquing your artistic interest right now?
JS: I hate that I’m into gear as I know it’s so difficult for younger producers to get their hands on some of this stuff and I remember how demoralising that is. In my defence, much of what I like isn’t super fancy. My current favourite system is Cirklon, which is just a midi sequencer, into the E6400, which is just a sampler, into my old Studer desk. There’s something about the way the Studer breaks up and the simple EQ along with the limited options on the Emu and the super hands-on quality of Cirklon that just does it for me. You could re-construct this in Ableton/FL/whatever for sure. In fact I should have a run of time where I’ll be laptop only and one of my tasks before this is to work out a laptop rig that I find enjoyable. In terms of new systems, I’m very interested in the new granular/fm/wavetable stuff that came out last year. I’d love to try some of that stuff, get some chilly, gritty future type stuff on the go. Selfishly - what’s the funnest box that you can get ideas made on that fits in your lap? Can you recommend any plugs, I’m totally cack on plugs and really need to come to the party.
TC: Box-wise, I’m not really buying much new stuff at the moment - I’m just getting back into the old MC-303 and Electribe ESX-1 as they’re cheap and I really love how trashy they are - I've still not managed to make a whole track on either of them though. The Vermona Perfourmer was the last 'new' thing I bought and it's really, really good in fairness - all their stuff is! The smallest box I have is the MB-33, which is a 303 clone - it’s not the best sounding copy in the world, but damn good enough in a live situation! The cutoff and resonance go way, way higher than a TB-303, which is bananas, but I quite like. I bought it for my live rig to save space (it doesn’t have a sequencer on it like a lot of other clones) and for £100, it’s bloody marvellous. I saw Kink has been using one in his live shows recently too - he knows!
On the plugs front, I fear I may be a little boring as I try and do all the processing I can out of the box… I tend to just use the Waves suite, a favourite being the J37, that gets used all over the shop as it’s a multi-effect really; tape modulation, it’s a beautiful echo machine, flange etc etc, and it’s easier than faffing around recording things to physical tape, which isn’t always entirely necessary. I also use the Waves SSL stuff loads, along with the API Audio and the Fairchild plugs. No massive surprises in there really, but they sound great. Oh also I use lots of free stuff, like the iZotope Vinyl, that’s wicked for lofi-erizing things, and all the TAL products. Their Juno Chorus I use quite a lot, and the SH-101 emulation is ace for quickly getting ideas down when I’m away from the studio.
JS: Right, non-gear, non-club: paper. My wife is a teacher and she loves books. Uncontroversial start, however, she claims that we learn more easily off paper. I’m slightly sceptical but I was taught to do software engineering planning on paper and only move to the screen when the plan is made. So, do you use paper for planning tasks/organising stuff/doodling/etc? Any use in the studio? I’ve seen a slow resurgence in flyers, especially for slightly off-radar stuff. I don’t know if it’s a nostalgia thing but having something tangible given to you directly by someone does commend more attention and feel more personal and ’social’ than a message on social media.
TC: I actually used to do a lot of planning on paper, I would sketch out whole tracks; instrumentation, arrangement, lyrics etc, but I haven’t done it in years! This may be my faulty memory, peering back through time with rose-tinted spectacles, but the music I made that way I remember coming together a lot quicker and the whole process being easier. Though if I heard those tracks again now, I know I’d curl up into a cringing ball haha. The only paper in the studio these days is for noting down synth patches, and I’m starting to take photographs more and more for that… I’m definitely up for giving the old way another go! I haven’t seen any flyers in ages, but would be great if they made a proper come back! It’s the next logical step in the resurgence of 90s rave culture, surely!? Though unlikely I’ll be standing out in the cold, freezing by tits off handing out flyers anymore haha - happy to leave that pleasure to the next generation coming through. Jas, please name me three records from the last ten years you wish you'd made.
JS: Omar S - 'Synthetic Photosynthesis'. I think this just about slides in to a decade ago? Absolutely perfect, I remember playing it loads when it came out and I bet it’s still on one of my usb sticks. Rrose - 'Emboli'. Off we go, into the vortex! Thomas Brinkmann - 'Saurer 400 BO' (Aarbon CH & F). It’s just such a good idea, recording machines. And then also it’s so good because they are so funky, and that’s not a word I reply often in a positive way but here, it’s positive. Who would you most buzz off hearing that they had played your record out, which club were they in and what would they have mixed out of and into. Not allowed to say Aphex or Weatherall, those are a given.
TC: Hmmmm....as this is purely hypothetical question, I’m going to go for a fantastical answer; it’d be Boards Of Canada as they don’t play out at all, but have been massive in my life. They’d be playing at The Glove That Fits in Hackney as it’s tiny and be mixing out of YUAN’s 'Avance', into 'Mutter' by An-I. That’s one of my most played out tracks of the last couple of years and it still makes me lose my shit.
JS: Who have you heard / seen recently that made you immediately google them when you got home?
TC: Ishi Vu, who seems to be some sort of crazy, Scandinavian, acid-breaks behemoth! Definitely worth checking out. And I will be approaching him for a remix on my label forthwith.