Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview: Slam & their 'Crowded Room' EP [Drumcode]

For more than 20 years Scottish DJs, producers, and celebrated party starters Slam have lived and breathed techno. They began releasing rocking club music all the way back in 1991, and not much has changed since.

Along the way they have run big club events in Glasgow, launched a respected record label Paragraph, and headlined festivals across the globe, but really, the key to Orde Meikle and Stuart McMillan's success was the DJ duo's unwavering commitment to cutting edge sounds.

This week sees the release of yet another big club record from Slam - the boisterous two tracker 'Crowded Room' on Drumcode. We sat down with Slam's Orde Meikle to find out more.

Drumcode has been around for years. You've been around for longer. How come you didn't connect before last year?

We've known Adam Beyer since, God knows when, the early '90s. Slam were busy releasing under Soma back then, and then we started our Paragraph label for Stuart and I to release our bigger club tracks - music that wasn't really album material.

We met Adam a couple of summers ago during a big party night out. We told him that we were looking for another label to put out big 12-inches, and he offered to release our music on Drumcode. The deal was really born out of a lager swilling party! He had been a really good friend for years, so it was the perfect marriage.

This is your third EP on Drumcode. Is there a certain sound you feel you need for Drumcode?

We don't necessarily sit down in the studio with Drumcode in mind. We tend to produce things that we get a vibe for, and we play around a lot with ideas. Ideas come from all over the place really.

In some respects, you're looking at a big club 12 when you write for Drumcode. The label has got quite a strong identity so you would know if you were far out, like if it was some noodly house or whatnot.

Drumcode within its genre has been pretty experimental, and it has always put out interesting and edgy techno music. I suppose these are all the things we take into consideration when producing for Drumcode.

Tell us more about 'Crowded Room'.

There are two kind of techno monsters on there. 'Crowded Room' has an incessant musical rhythm runing through it, which is a kind of hook, with all the sounds changing behind it. When we put the track together, it was instantly destined for Drumcode.

'Night Train' came about because we heard this sample of an old train that we thought might be nice to use in a track. I always find that the best club songs have something that tells you it's that song, and not just another rhythm track. The train sound is something that would catch your ear in a club.

Did you road test the tracks before you finalised them?

Yes we always do that - before we send the final master, we always play it out once or twice in a club. Usually we only need to play it once, to make a mental note of the levels and structure, and then we take it back to the studio to rejig, re-edit, and make minor changes.

For us, it's a crucial part of production. It was one of the things that we took advantage of immediately the technology allowed us to do so. Years ago, when we used to make tunes, if we wanted to road test them, we would first have to put them on DAT [Digital Audio Tape] and then send them to the pressing plant, where it would be put onto acetate vinyl. Then we could play the track in a club, but it was a really expensive thing to do.

So really, tracks made in the studio were pretty much set in stone. There was no after tinkering. Now you can play MP3s or WAVs of a track in a club half an hour after you've finished it in the studio - that's extraordinary. That's a part of the digital revolution that we have fully embraced.

Presumably your studio has changed a lot with the digital age too.

A lot of our old toys are redundant now mate. They're not even plugged in! We started buying gear at the end of 1988, beginning with the Roland keyboard JX-3P, and then we spent the next 15 or 16 years buying loads of equipment. Then everything started to go inside the box.

We have two studios that house all the old hardware. We spent £1200 on a DAT machine once, and that became redundant two and half years later! It's incredible just how fast it all changed.

Our studio has totally changed. Now all we've got is a desk, a couple of monitors, an external hard drive, and a computer. In years gone by it would us take 20 minutes just to turn the gear on and get it all working together. Now we just have loads of plug ins.

Having worked with all the original hardware gear, can you tell any difference between the old hardware and the software emulations you now use?

I personally can't tell the difference between emulation and a track made with hardware. But then, my ears ain't the greatest thanks to years spent DJing.

A lot of purists claim there's a difference in sound, but if you do a blind test on most people, unless they're incredibly knowledgeable and fastidious about the sound, they wouldn't be able to tell the difference. A 303 emulation today is as good as the original box.

There's this company from Poland called D16, who have managed to make incredibly realistic Roland TR-909 / 808 simulations. They're exactly like the original boxes, and are even controlled in the same way. Some of these software emulations are just incredible, incredible. The tools young producers have today, they're just so lucky to get access to them all without breaking the bank.

Do you plan on doing any albums for Drumcode?

No, that was never the plan. We're really enjoying doing big dance 12s for the label, and that is what we're concentrating on for now. There are no albums planned from Slam for a while. Paragraph is keeping us busy anyway, so I can't really see us going back into the studio to do a whole album.

How many club releases do you guys produce a year?

We do about two a month. Sometimes we get a bottleneck, where you don't hear anything from us for a couple of months and then seven tracks come out in the space of three weeks. Usually it averages out at about 20 to 25 tracks per year.

Where are you guys at currently, sound wise?

Good lord, tech house probably. We're at that kind of crossover sound, where you're not quite sure if it's techno or house. We grew up as resident DJs, and we've always done our own club nights at home, as well as five hour opening sets at Fabric and the like.

Our club night Monopod, which we do every month at Glasgow's Subclub, will see anything from reggae to Basic Channel type stuff, and more rhythmical house music, so on a night like that we will play right across the spectrum. But when we're out touring, we are usually on at peak time. Our remit has always been pretty wide though.

You've produced dance music for over 20 years. Can you briefly describe the various sounds you have gone through in that time?

I think like most good artists, we zigzaged over the years. There will have been points when we moved away from our expected sound and then we came back to it later.

I don't think our sound has varied that much, although our influences have changed a bit. There was David Morales and his Red Zone Dubs and the early 1990's New York sound, and prior to that it was Detroit, early Transmat and Metroplex. Early Chicago house floated out boat too. I actually think New York doesn't get enough respect for the influence it had on electronic music.

With our albums, we tended to experiment more with our sound. We tried our hand at vocals, and to be honest, that was bloody hard, especially for us coming from a rhythmical, instrumental background.

We very much followed our own nose when it came to production values, sound, and what we wanted to try in the studio. We never felt backed into a corner. So yeah, we've definitely zig zagged with our influences, but overall our sound has remained the same.

You mentioned Detroit and Chicago. Does that early dance music still influence you?

Yeah definitely. You're a sum of your influences really. One of the benefits of being in the scene for 20 years is that you have a plethora of old gems you can pull out to play.

And with Traktor - the DJ system that we're using these days - you can get a few loops going, and add an old classic track underneath to make it sound more modern. With the addition of an odd loop or two, you can make music that is 20 years old sound quite current in terms of production values.

All the music that arrived in the late '80s early '90s, it's difficult to top, even now.

Why do you think that is?

It was the beginning of dance music and I think they had much healthier influences back then, rather than today where producers will listen to another dance producer and make a record that sounds like them.

In the beginning, they were influenced by all sorts - mad pop producers and loads of other genres, and things were opening up musically too, with influences coming from around the world. Some of that early stuff still sounds fantastic today and even cutting edge.

Any examples?

Take Kraftwerk for instance. Their music is now 40 or 50 years old, but that's really the blueprint for dance music. The drum machines, the off hats, it's all in there on Kraftwerk. And Detroit techno still sounds futuristic and edgy. It's not quite like anything else. And that's the problem. A lot of modern dance music sounds like something else.

Producers today though, can still find those early records.

If you're into the scene, then you probably know its roots and have a lot of those important records. Although quite a lot of those early tunes have disappeared forever now.

There are probably only four or five records that I don't have in my collection, that I heard when I was growing up, as I spent ages tracking the bastards down. I'm sure there are lots of DJs out there who are just as hungry.

(Words: Terry Church)

Listen / download Slam 'Crowded Room' [Drumcode] from Beatport

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