Monday, 12 September 2011
Forward Strategy Group Interview & Mix
It's just under 4 weeks until Forward Strategy Group are back in Glasgow, so we got in touch to ask the UK techno duo some questions and to see if they could provide us a mix.
For those who don't already know, FSG consists of Smear & Patrick Walker aka Isodyne and they have been releasing music under the FSG banner since 2007. Their records are popular with DJs like Regis, Surgeon, Marcel Dettmann & Norman Nodge and anyone who has an interest in labels such as Downwards, Blueprint or Ostgut should definitely check these guys out.
Anyway, here's what they had to say..
It's been a few years since Smear moved to Leeds, what made you leave Glasgow and how did this impact on your music and FSG?
Smear : I played Detatched for the first time about 2 years ago, then later that week we played our first FSG set to an empty room elsewhere in Leeds. The first FSG gigs usually ended in one of us kidnapping someone for the rest of the weekend, in my case in Leeds it was my future fiancée, in Glasgow Patrick kidnapped the promoter(male).
Hard to say what the impact in moving to Leeds was, it’s been great living in the same city as Detatched, having a place where everyone knows everyone else where you can hear great music all night. The main impact is that I had no speakers for the first year. Our last EP for Perc Trax was mixed and pre-mastered entirely on broken headphones.
How do you work around the obvious difficulties of living in separate cities, and what sort of effect does this have on producing music as FSG and preparing for gigs?
Smear : It's a problem that's been there from the beginning, but the internet provides lots of ways around it. When I lived in Glasgow we'd spend about one weekend a month just jamming and exchanging loops, and in between we'd spend every day exchanging things online. That was a really crucial thing for us I think, spending such a long time throwing ideas around without thinking about an end product. It's helped us lay a pretty strong foundation for how we approach our music, and we're now comfortable working as equals on a track, or just one of us making something and the other saying 'yeah, that's good, let's use that'.
The UK is famous for it's role in dance music, especially in techno, but recently the scene in Glasgow has faded whilst the popularity of commercial,tech-house Ibiza parties continues to increase. Is this something that is reflected in Leeds & Edinburgh? and how do you feel about the scene in your respective cities?
Smear : To be honest I've not been to many techno nights in Glasgow! I went out more in Edinburgh purely because I had mates there that didn't travel through much. I know with Monox ending and Optimo rebranding itself there's probably a bit of a lull there, but it happens every few years everywhere. Leeds seems to be on the rise at the moment, there's quite a few new venues and nights who get some really good acts over. All 3 cities are luckier than most in that they have a bit of history, they've always had good record shops, good producers etc, so if there is a bit of a cultural dip, it won't last long.
Walker : Edinburgh has an up and down scene, we have had some landmark nights like Sativa, Pure, Scratch and Tribal Funktion and when those ended, other things have popped up to keep things ticking over albeit not reaching such infamy. We visit a lot of different cities and there seems to be quite a buzz on with a lot of exciting music happening most places we've been, I've really not noticed the mainstream for a long time, so couldn't tell you if it was any better / worse.
Your first releases were on netlabels, such as avionix, do you think this is an ideal starting point for a new producer? and what benefits does releasing on a netlabel have as opposed to a digital label with a low profile?
Smear : A lot of digital labels sell zero units, and that's for various reasons coupled with he fact you're charging money, whereas a badly run netlabel should still be able to clock up a few hundred free downloads. Avionix hasn't had a website or any publicity for years and on archive.org alone it's still clocking up 100 downloads per week, and it's had nearly 100,000 altogether. That's the main difference for a new producer, a well organised free label gets you out and about immediately, in its own space. Your music isn't buried under thousands of other releases on an mp3 store, doomed to be completely ignored. There's also a kind of stigma attached to the words 'Out Now on Beatport!', it always makes me think of bursts of white noise and over-compression. Free labels tend to have a lot more character than that, because they're not trying to make money.
Walker : The netlabel thing kicked off right when people were beginning to see a slide in vinyl sales and more DJs playing digitally. There was a bit of a stigma from people who might have preferred things to stay on vinyl and I can remember a certain hostility towards netlabels for a while. I think now that people have accepted digital more fully, it's a good time for people to experiment with netlabels, it certainly is a good breeding ground for collaboration and feeding in new ideas.
It has been 4 years since the release of FSG01, and since then your releases have mainly featured on other labels, most notably 'Perc Trax', was this the route that you had wanted to go down? What do you see as the main benefits of being associated with a label like Perc Trax, as opposed to doing it on your own?
Smear : Not initially, no. I always figured we'd just release on our own label, but Ali asked us for a remix and it felt right, and now we're very much part of the label which is great. It's obviously a bigger label than ours but we'd never have worked this closely with a label we didn't feel an affinity with, and didn't allow us to take a few risks. I really like the ethos of Perc Trax, it doesn't adhere to a narrow section of music. The focus is more on bringing togeher a group of very distinctive individuals, which is much more flattering to the artists. It's less like Postcard Records and more like Rough Trade, other techno labels tend to be the other way round.
Walker : Releasing on other labels is definately less hassle and things seem to have worked out well so far. Though running our own label is very rewarding and allows us to translate our full vision including the presentation / artwork it can get in the way of spending time in the studio and working on fresh material.
Do you have any plans to release on FSG again? And do you have any interest in releasing the work of other artists?
Smear : Definitely. It's partly getting together the money to do it, but working regularly with Perc Trax means that FSG 003 would have to be something that wouldn't work on Perc. That was always the thinking with the label, to release material that doesn't belong anywhere else. It's difficult though because Ali lets us get away with quite a lot. I don't think anyone else would have touched Tayo Olowu for instance, but we had no fear in giving it to Ali.
On the whole we tend not to think about releasing other artists. Occasionally we have an idea to release someone else but it passes. When it's a smaller label that doesn't release often there's not really the room for other people, you'd much rather release yourself.
Walker : As soon as it's viable to do another FSG release on our own label, I'm sure we will do it. And as for other artists - I keep an open mind, if there's artists that can widen our horizons in a mindblowing way, sure, if not, we'll keep doing it between ourselves.
One thing that strikes me about many of your tracks is how powerful they are, similar to artists like Ancient Methods or Surgeon, can you give us an insight into your production process? What equipment do you use, do you have any preference with Hardware or Software and what are the most essential parts of your studio?
Smear : I use all software, and occasionally the microphone of my cheap mp3 player. I've been glued to a computer from the age of 6 so I don't miss the whole hands on thing. It's all very very basic software too, the fanciest thing I use is a fequency shifter. The sound comes simply from processing and re-processing sounds. It's pretty labour intensive at times, but I've been working like that for about 15 years. Back when I made hardcore and industrial music, it was mainly EQ, pushing it to hundreds of dB in frequency ranges that aren't present in a sound makes for some pretty interesting results. For me EQ's definitely the most powerful creative tool there is.
Walker : The most important thing for me has always been a sampler and a basic sequencer. I started with a yamaha SU-700 and ended up running a range hardware samplers including the A5000 which was one of my favourites. I still fire it up and program loops using a QY700, there's nothing like hardware for noisy, loose arrangements with a bit of punch. Nowadays I use a combination of pro-tools, ableton, soundforge and a couple of different Korg synths, I have a huge library of recorded and synthesised sound and it's the backbone of everything I do. I think that helps give our sound a bit of roughness and with Smear's attention to detail when it comes to EQ means we have quite a rough but pronounced sound.
Retail & Leisure 01 is one of my favourite records from the FSG camp, but I believe that this was also one of your least successful. Have you had a chance to reflect on this release, and is there anything you have learned or would do differently? Taking that into consideration, is there a future for R&L?
Smear : It's actally one of my favourites as well, so I've learned that if I like it, it won't sell! Nah, I've just figured out recently from experience playing that record out why it didn't do well. FSG records tend to be pretty versatile, as long as it loosely fits rhythmically and tonally with the rest of the set then it'll work pretty well. With R&L 01 you really need to establish a mood in your track choice leading up to it, and very carefully build out of it. It's a bit of a specialist record.
I'll probably dip into R&L in the future, in fact our new EP has an R&L remix which is much more friendly without straying too far from the first EP, so lessons have definitely been learned.
Patrick previously collaborated with Inigo Kennedy, how did this come about? Are collaborations something that you would like to do as FSG? Are there any artists that you would particularly like to work with?
Walker : I've known Inigo for a while and I've followed his music since his releases on missile / fear of music and Zet. We've been trying out ideas for a while and hopefuly we'll have some more of the material out soon. As far as artists I'd like to work with - Orphx, Surgeon, Kit Clayton, Silent Servant and Moritz Von Oswald.
What's next for FSG and/or your solo projects?
Smear : Mainly we're concentrating on finishing our album off for Perc Trax. We're pretty much finished with most of the tracks, it's just mixing down and assembling we're doing now. We've also done a remix for Donor, more info on where and when coming soon. And hopefully this year our remix for Miller & Boex on Labrynth should surface. It's the only track we've ever made in the same room, and probably the best thing we've done so far..
Walker : We have also been working on some projects for TVO's Broken20 imprint, and have a few other bits in mind for various labels. Once we've got this album out, all will hopefully be revealed ;)
It's now 3 years since you last played in Glasgow, at the time you played live on 2 laptops, how has your set evolved since then? what is involved in a FSG set? You recently recorded a CLR podcast which contained all of your own material, was this just to showcase your music or do you prefer to restrict FSG sets to your own original material?
Walker : Our setup hasn't changed that much, it works best for what we do and trying to add a lot of hardware would largely be cosmetic and difficult to transport. We've added in extra controllers, such as Novation's Launchpad, which works very well for triggering macros, loops and sounds, so thats jazzed things up a little. Other than that we now use audio interfaces with nice analogue to digital conversion meaning that the sound is a little bit more defined.
Smear : Initially we were very ambitious with live sets. They were about 80% improvised from loops, building tracks from scratch. It was a bit hit and miss until the Glasgow gig, that's where it really started to come together. Since then it's actually become a bit simpler, and it's more of a DJ set. There's a lot of edits, improvising and some live FSG stuff going on, and there's still an element of unpredictability since we can't rehearse much together, but we're much more comfortable now, we've got a good balance between straight DJing and a complete live performance.
Can you tell us a bit about the process behind the mix you have recorded for us, and what we can expect from you in October?
Smear : Patrick recorded the set, I contributed tracks and recorded a bunch of mini-sets about 8 minutes long for him to play around with. It's pretty representative of the kind of thing we'll be doing in October.
Walker : The set was made up from segments Smear sent over, I mixed it down as a live session in a studio up in Edinburgh using a nice digital rig including SSL emulation on each channel. I picked out some extras and jammed them around the pre-prepared segments and yeah, it's pretty representative of our combined sound. This mix is quite diverse and I expect in October I'm guessing there might be a bit more of our own material.
Check out the mix HERE