A conversation with Glasgow electro producer Galaxian

For the next edition of my on-going series of conversations with electro DJs, producers and scene-makers, I travel virtually to the city of Glasgow to sit down with a producer who's steadily been making waves with a series of releases that are catching the attention of electronic music fans worldwide. I've reviewed his work in the past, and the common thread continues to be that he's not afraid to tear apart genre's.

As a producer who's busy creating his own unique sound and movement, I was very excited that Galaxian took the time to do this next interview for the City of Bass. On this one, we delve deeper into what's going on in his head as he continues to serve up large doses of pure unkut.

First things first, tell the City of Bass readers a little bit about yourself and where you’re from.

I go by the name Galaxian, and I currently reside in Glasgow, Scotland.

When I listen to your music, you’ve got this depth and clarity to your productions that speaks to me of significant experience...how long have you been producing?

I’ve been producing on and off for around 13/14 years. It’s only in the last 2 to 3 years that I have being making music under the name Galaxian. Before that I was mainly producing 4/4 beat techno and electronic, dark and moody, of course.

As with all artists, music is really an extension of themselves; the end result is always driven by the background and story of the person behind the mixing boards. I’ve done some fairly in-depth reviews of your albums recently, and I’m curious about your philosophy and what drives you to make the sounds that you do.

I have become increasingly aware and subsequently more alarmed at the state the human race is in and the direction in which it is going, especially in the last few years. The turmoil and mess seem to be symptoms of a deeper routed failure to understand or comprehend, even on the most basic level, why we have come to be in this free-fall in the first place. We merely need to look around and ask ourselves some serious questions about who we are and how we want to be remembered by future generations. That’s if we have a future as a species, because if we fail to do that we probably won’t be around very much longer.

From birth, almost everything we are taught and exposed to, everything that we should aspire to and work towards is nothing less than enslavement by a civilization that is focused primarily on individual greed and power.

That’s a fairly strong statement. Can you expand a bit on that? What do you mean by enslavement.

Enslavement to a job, enslavement to consumption, enslavement to technology, enslavement to dangerous ideas and institutions which are utterly outmoded and should be made absolutely irrelevant. The list is extensive. This seems to me to not only be a vile way to live but also not viable in the long run.

Clinging on to the commonly accepted narratives will not make the problems and issues go away but rather accelerate them.

That’s an interesting perspective, and one I share to a certain extent, in varying degrees. I’ve purposely simplified my life around the past few years, and I’ve found myself to be much happier since doing so. Tell me, how does this perspective tie in to your music?

These are the thing which enthuse me. I try and fuse my songs with these ideas and themes. As an artist one of the best things I can do is try and empower people through the music. Allow them to see the world in a different light and to question things that they may not have even considered before. If my music encourages someone to pick up a book, or go and research a particular issue or subject, then I’m doing something right.

I have been making a lot more fast-paced, urgent, in-your-face songs for the last few months. It’s a reflection of the continuing disintegration of the social fabric which we are seeing at an accelerated pace on an almost daily basis. I think they tend to have a greater power and rawness than mid-paced tracks might be able to convey.

No doubt, this also sheds light onto the powerful imagery on your most recent album ‘Repent’. What’s your background with electronic music? How'd you get involved?

I was always into music from an early age. I remember mixing with an old 45 record player and a broken Saisho tape deck, the front was broke off so I could stick my finger in and slow the tape down to the speed of the record for a few seconds. Didn’t work very well but I enjoyed trying.

I fondly remember messing about with dual-cassette decks and making pause edit tapes myself. Good times.

Yeah the first tape I ever referred to as a DJ mix by myself was really just quick edits in between tracks. They were not mixed I just cut them so it sounded like it changed on the beat. This was long before I knew what Technics were , DJing or anything like that. Since the whole rave thing kicked off I was into DJing and only got into music production in the mid-90s.

In 1995 I was unemployed, what we call here a “doley”. I went on a job training scheme for sound engineering in a commercial studio. They taught me how to mic up drum kits, guitars, how to mix down tracks, record and all that kind of stuff. I wasn’t that interested in it as I was solely into techno and electronic music back then. However, me and one of the other guys, Gordon, found some sample CDs and tried them in the Akai S2000 sampler; that was pretty much the best sampler around at the time I think.

I slapped on some massive delays and reverbs and started playing the midi keyboard, out came these haunting Aphex Twin type pad sounds. I wanted to record a master but we had forgot how so we just recorded it straight to cassette tape for about half an hour. That was the first piece of music I made and I think I still have the tape somewhere.

Soon afterwards I got a second hand Atari ST with half a meg of memory running Cubase ST, a Boss Dr Rhythm 660 drum machine, a really rubbish Roland sound module with about 250 sounds and a TX81Z which is like a module version of the Yamaha DX7. Didn’t have a mixer or anything like that, just recorded them direct onto tape if I liked them. Still got loads of the tapes and Atari disks. I made hundreds of tracks but never really done anything with them.

I sometimes will revisit old tracks and find a groove in there that’s perfect for re-working, but perhaps didn’t work in the original context. Given you’ve got this backlog of tracks you made, do you ever go back to some of your old sampling based productions for inspiration if the creative well is dry?

Hah, yes, all the time. I have 100s of very old tunes on floppy disc from the Atari days, that’s just midi info, no sounds so I can’t go back to them as I don’t have the Atari or the other equipment. I have 1000s from more recent times. Out of them maybe only a few hundred are worth working on but that’s not bad. Most of the tracks that I have been working on this year were basically done a year or two ago. I’ve made very little new stuff this year, been a bit lazy. Even today I have just about finished a track that I made about 2 years ago. Any brand new tracks I have made this year you probably won’t hear for another 2 year’s or so as I’m always playing catch up. I’ve got some tracks from about 10 years ago that I might work on soon as I think they still sound as good as they did back then. One or two of them are of no definable genre so they haven’t aged badly.

Keeping it unique definitely can help you to stand out as an artist, I’m looking forward to hearing these at some point. So going on from the beginnings of running the Atari ST with Cubase and some hardware, how are you making beats today? How has it changed, not only in terms of equipment but production flow.

I am entirely software based now. About 10 or 11 years ago I had the choice of buying a cheap sampler or a 2nd hand PC. I really wanted the sampler as it would have opened up a whole new world of sounds for me, limited thus far by the minimum of hardware I did have. I had seen Propellerheads ReBirth on a friends PC and thought it was a crazy idea, “A TB303 and 909 on a computer”??? PC based music making and music software was still very new back then. It did sound pretty good though. That was one of the first software emulations, they give it away for free now (editors note: the PC version is free) and you can get a version for your Iphone and now Ipad. Making music on your phone. that is still very futuristic to me.

In the end I took the chance on the PC to see if this new fad for music software was any better than hardware. It was a big risk for me as I didn’t even know how to work a computer. I soon learned the basics and was making beats in no time. I think I made the right choice and I have never looked back. The pace at which the software was developing, new programs being released all the time and power of the computers continually growing was amazing. Of course now we don’t think twice about software mini moog emulators or running 50 different FX and softsynth at the same time.

Sometimes I can make 20 tracks in a day, the way I name them is pretty haphazard and makes for hours of searching later on. I don’t know if workflow is any faster, it’s just different. It’s certainly easier just to fire up the software and load up the song file and have everything play as it should rather than writing down settings and preset names etc in a notebook which I used to do in the Atari days.

It’s funny, I also just come up with random track names when I’m working. I always have the full intention of making a grand title, but I wind up with “Don’t Make Me Smack Yo’ Momma” or “Get to the Chopper” because what you call them first tends to stick, at least for myself. Being as you’ve been on both ends of the production spectrum, do you have any particular feelings about hardware versus software?

They both have their uses and can both play a useful role. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The main reason I started using software is financial. There is just no way I was ever going to be able to afford the hardware I would have liked and I still can`t. In terms of sound, well most people will say analogue hardware sounds better and that’s probably true, but still, I cannot afford a real Minimoog or Jupiter 6, that’s if you can get them at all being so rare these days. I do have software versions though.

In the last few years the midi controller market has really exploded. With things like Novations Automap software coupled with hardware controller’s like the Nocturn and Launchpad there has never been a better time to get that hardware hands on feel and still have the benefits of software.

I think in the future I will move towards some hardware synths and FX again, there are so many nice new and interesting pieces of kit coming out.

I’ve got my eyes on a Machinedrum myself, even though I primarily use Reason and Cubase. Tell me about your first foray and experience with electro....

I had always been aware of electro but was more into the 4/4 techno and electronica for many years. In 2003 I heard Sherard Ingram (DJ Stingray) at a music festival. It was a revelation to me. One of those rare moments when you’re like “Woah, I have never heard anything like that before”. This really fast paced, powerful and very danceable electro. It was unlike the electro I had heard before and that was it for me.

Soon afterwards I started trying to make this kind of sound, my first successful attempt was a track called “No Longer Registered” which was released in 2008 on Solar One Music. I think it is still one of my best tracks and one of my personal favourites. Cut to 2010 and I now have an EP coming out on Sherards’ Micron Audio Detroit label, so I have come quite a long way. No longer Registered was release on a limited compilation CD with another two Galaxian tracks and digital available at Juno

In saying all that that, from the very early days I have always been a big fan of Underground Resistance, Red Planet and labels like that. I always thought of them as techno although it could equally be called electro probably because it is one and the same. So I have probably always been into electro without calling it that.

I feel you on that, I have more of a broad definition of electro that isn’t defined by a particular sound or drum pattern rather to me electro is a vibe, but I’m hard-pressed to accurately describe it, even with all the writing I do as of late for City of Bass. Bouncing off of that, what do you think about the overall state of the global electro scene and where it's going?

The general state of electro seems to be fairly healthy in terms of production output. Unfortunately the scene is very small as compared to some other genres that are in the limelight and in favour with trendy music mags and blogs.

The problem with a lot of music in general is that people like to play it safe, keep within certain perceived ideas and parameters of what they think they should sound like. This is fine to a certain extent but it also leads to a lot of bland, stale music.

Do you have any advice to new and up-and-coming producers? How can they avoid the pitfalls that so many young producers fall into when they first start out?

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, perhaps. I would also contend that could be taken as an insult. Yes, acknowledge your musical heroes and inspirations. This surely does not mean entirely copying them and trying to sound exactly the same as them. The sincerest form of flattery should be sounding nothing like your heroes but taking their ethos and originality and make your own originality.

People just need to think outside the box more. Take a step back and stop trying to imitate each other so much and making what they think will be acceptable to a certain audience. This is easier said than done and I’m sure I’m as guilty as everyone else.

There have been some wicked electronic artists and music coming from Glasgow, from now and going back to the beginnings of electronic music. What's your experiences with electro in Scotland, and Glasgow in particular. How's the scene these days from your perspective?

There are more club nights here than ever before. The scene has changed a lot. Glasgow used to be a big techno town, real techno, not the wishy washy stuff that passes for that now. There used to be two or three great nights on every weekend. That’s been pretty much replaced by a mainstream, scenester, fashion, place-to-be-seen kind of atmosphere. I certainly don’t relate to that and it holds no relevance for me.

That’s happened in my town as well. It’s cycles, but there’s always underground heads cooking up something, somewhere.

There are a few club nights that might play a bit of electro amongst other things but I can't think of many quality regular electro/techno clubs here. Promoter's seem to be choosing to put on DJs and acts playing safe, middle of the road sounds. This may be more to do with the economic climate rather than a lack of desire to put on more leftfield acts and DJs. Hopefully this will change in the future. Again, it depends on what you class as electro or techno. Put it this way, I rarely go out to any clubs in Glasgow these days.

There are quite a few good electronic artists coming out of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole. The Wee Djs from Edinburgh are one of my favourites and have released some killer tracks over the years. Loops Haunt from up North is also doing some great stuff. He’s not electro, but some crazy industrial dubstepish type beats and rhythms. Amazing sounds.

I tend to listen to lots of different types of music these days and take inspiration from the most unlikely of sources. I was listening to an internet station the other day that was streaming 30s music, this muffled mono sound, 78’s I’m guessing. I really liked the tonal quality of it though.

I first came across your music for one of the Vocode electro showcases. If I recall, the tracks were 'Warhead' and 'Sleeper Cell'. These tracks captured this deep rumbling groove that mixed a vibe of deeper techno styles with aggressive break beats. What's going through your head when you're making these grooves?

Not much. That is, that I am conscious of. I have noticed that when I’m talking to someone or doing something on the net and making tracks at the same time I tend to come up with some really good tracks. This would suggest that the very fact that I’m thinking about and doing other things allows the subconscious to do its own work. That approach works sometimes but of course I do pay attention to what I’m doing. I try and not think about it too much and just play about with sounds and fx until it fits.

Can you tell me your five favorite electro artists, producers or labels?

L to R: Ultradyne, Ectomorph, Stingray, Margeurita, Drexicya

Ultradyne – Love their often disjointed abrasive beats and ominous overtones. Powerful. Totally unique. Industrial rawness.

Ectomorph – the Eps from around 95/96, great! The basslines of a lot of these tracks are really superb

Micron Audio Detroit – Sherards label. Got some really interesting talent on the label and will be launching a wave of releases next year.

Marguerita - Proskool, Doubledutch, Edo 8. I think I’m right in saying this is all the same guy and only a few of his monikers. Simply massive tracks!

Drexciya – What can I say that hasn’t been said? A league of their own. genre defining. Covered all bases. They are one of the very few group’s that all subsequent electro/techno is measured against.

I always like to ask this of everyone I interview - Can you share with me your top newcomers to look out for?

Micron Audio Detroit and Doppelganger, my label.

Where can heads find you on the web

@ Myspace | @FACEBOOK | @ Soundcloud | @ Soundcloud 2nd Site

Uploading a lot more stuff to Soundcloud these days. Tracks in progress, upcoming releases, rough ideas and live sets.

To wrap up - can you tell the City of Bass readers what you're cooking up currently?

Well I have a number of things I’m working on at the moment. A massive release for new label Last Known Trajectory which should be out in March 2011. I’m also contributing a few tracks to one on Glasgow’s best wee labels, that will be a vinyl release for around March 2011. Some other things but I’m not allowed to talk about them at the moment.

I’m definitely going to shift gears next year and will hopefully have a lot more releases out and more live shows.

Galaxian Live at Substance, Edinburgh 12.09.09

I’m always surprised and delighted that people like my music so thanks to them and to you for asking me to do this, it’s been fun and interesting.

It's been my pleasure. Be on the lookout for upcoming Galaxian releases, and if you haven't already, check out the City of Bass review of 'Repent' and cop the album direct from Transient Force. You can check out some of Galaxian's past works at June Download, as well as the excellent Solar One Compilation 'Strange Tales from the Future'.

Related: City of Bass 'Conversations With...' Series

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