Friday, June 3, 2011

Interview: Reset Robot & his 'Go Back' EP

When dance music producers on England's south coast require a little sound wisdom, they visit Dave Robertson's shed.

The small room at the foot of his garden in Portsmouth is his engineering studio, where he tweaks, edits, and masters the music of producers like Alan Fitzpatrick, Fergie, Tom Budden, and Ida Engberg into club ready jams.

It is also the place where he produces all of his own kicking solo material as Reset Robot. His releases have touched some of techno's and tech house's biggest labels including Dubfire's SCI+TEC Digital Audio, Fergie's Excentric Muzik, 2000 And One's 100% Pure, Slam's Soma Records, and Berlin's Get Physical Music.

One recent engineering session saw Dave, Swedish DJ Adam Beyer, and Southampton techno wonder Alan Fitzpatrick cram into his studio to work on a collaborative EP for Beyer's Drumcode label called 'Simple Maze / Human Reason'.

The Drumcode boss was so impressed with Robertson's skills, that he invited him to produce a Reset Robot four tracker for his Truesoul imprint.

Called 'Go Back', the EP naturally features meticulously produced sounds, panoramic FX, and rich rhythms that hit all the right frequencies. Reset Robot's understated and soulful blend of techno and tech house was clearly the perfect match for Beyer's quietly elegant Truesoul label.

In this exclusive interview, we called Dave Robertson in Portsmouth to find out more about his music, engineering background, and new Truesoul release.

How did you first get into engineering?

I started working with some guys locally around 2004 or 2005 at the studio we had above the record shop that I used to work in.

What record shop was that?

Hands On Records.

How did you learn engineering?

I did a music technology course at Southdowns College for four years. I learnt how to use a studio there. Then I got into engineering once I'd learnt how to use the software Reason. I started out on Reason 1, and it has come on a lot over the years - it's a fantastic program.

Why did you want to be a sound engineer?

I was working on music all the time and I don't think it was until someone actually said, "Dave, can you help me with this idea or can we write some music together," that I thought about it. So it came slowly really.

Have you always been good with technology and machines?

I guess so, yeah. I try not to get too caught up in the science behind it as that stuff can make you go crazy. I just trust my ears. If it sounds ok in the studio then it should be fine, I hope!

Who was the first artist you worked with?

I first worked with a guy called Nik Denton, who wanted to do UK hard house. It was quite funky, early night stuff - the kind of sound they used to play at Trade club in London. And also some tougher stuff as well.

Then I met Jon Gurd and I started engineering for him as well.

So you've engineered everything from hard house to techno, to house? That's pretty diverse.

Yeah, although I've not ventured into drum & bass or dubstep yet. I think that's a different art. Maybe at some point I'd like to give that a go.

Is there much difference between engineering a house track and a techno track?

There are differences for sure. The sounds you use, the pace of the groove and the way the track builds and drops is different. Things can go between the two genres though.

Sometimes you can set out trying to write something housey and it will end up sounding like it has a more techno feel. Or vice versa.

In 2009 you started releasing your own tracks as Reset Robot. Why did you decide to take the plunge?

Well, I was always doing stuff under my own name Dave Robertson but I just wasn't happy with where that was going, so I started the Reset Robot thing which changed things up a bit and gave me a fresh start really. It was a great thing for me to do.

What's your studio like?

It's a shed.

No way! Is it soundproofed?

Yes, just about. You can hear some bass from the outside but not that much.

You mentioned Reason. Do you only work with that software?

I use Reason and Record now mainly, but I do switch it up sometimes and use Ableton Live to produce if I want a different angle on something or just to freshen up the process. I use Ableton to DJ with so I know it very well.

What else do you have in your studio?

I have a fairly powerful Mac, a pair of Adam P11a monitors and a Midi Controller.

So no mixing desk?

Nope. That's all on the software.

That's surprising considering you're a sound engineer. A lot of people imagine studios to be like science labs.

Mine really isn't. It's like a teenage boy's room. There's writing all over one of the walls.

What does it say?

Just silly things. James Talk drew a massive willy on there. You get the picture! [laughs]

Tell me about the music you make.

I'm not sure really. I think it's kind of between tech house and the softer end of techno at the moment.

I don't like my stuff to sound too aggressive. I just like a solid groove and tight drums. That's all I need out of my music and the stuff I buy.

Is there a particular theme or idea behind your new EP for Truesoul?

I had been really struggling with writing music for about five or six months which was terrible as I really need some content out there. I was hitting the studio every spare day and nothing was happening.

So I took a break for a couple of weeks and then when I got back in the studio I did these four tracks in about a week or two. Sometimes it helps just take a breather, or a step back.

There are quite a few vocal snippets on the EP. Do you enjoy working those into rhythms?

Yeah, I really like working those bits in. I think most of my tracks have some sort of vocal in there somewhere. 'Go Back' has one, but maybe it's not as obvious. It has a vocal but it sounds like a synth line in some parts.

When you write your music do you imagine a particular place, club or DJ when you make your music?

I always imagine a gig I played in South Korea last year. I played a lot of my stuff that night and it was a great soundsystem so I do keep that night in my mind when I write. It's a very positive image for me. I think most of my stuff works peak time in clubs that are more tech house than techno.

Why do you think of that gig in particular?

It was just one of those nights where everything clicked. It was really busy, the club had a great atmosphere and a really nice crowd. If a hi hat dropped, it got a reaction. That's quite rare.

Which club was this?

Eden, in Seoul.

Reset Robot's track-by-track guide to the 'Go Back' EP

'Go Back'
This track came pretty quickly for me, I think I did it in about a day or two. I thought it was quite housey until I played it out and realised it was maybe more like techno! I like that - when a track sometimes surprises you when you play it out. It can be when a bass frequency comes through that you couldn't hear in the studio or if the kick is heavier than you first thought.

Jomo was quite hard for me to finish. I was struggling with the bass on this for ages but I think I got it right in the end. I had been listening to a Matthew Dear set which was recorded at Space last summer. It's an amazing mix and that was the inspiration behind this track.

This is a little bumpy techno track. This was originally based around the vocal loop that keeps appearing quite suddenly, I did have it running underneath more but when I started sequencing it sounded better with it coming in and out. I see this as a more late night track. It has got a slower pace and is a bit more minimal I guess.

I loved working on Tunnels, it's a very simple track which is just percussion based really. I sequenced this track live and then edited it afterwards. I love working like this as you might get a groove together in a few hours and then it takes you eight minutes to sequence the main body of the track. You can then go back and make changes to the automation and add some more FX if you want.

Listen / download Reset Robot 'Go Back' [Truesoul] from Beatport


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