Barry, a huge welcome to DMCWORLD and congratulations on the release of your Mono Electric Orchestra ‘Louder Than Silence’ EP on John Digweed’s Bedrock Records. The first thing we’ve got to ask is what makes this label so special?
I’ve known John Digweed for over 2 decades now. We first met when he was a resident DJ at Renaissance. I was talking to John when he was first setting up Bedrock. Jon Sutton and I (aka Evolution) did the first remix on the label, for Bedrock’s ‘Heaven Scent’ track, and I’ve always been a fan of the label. Evolution signed the hugely successful ‘Walking On Fire’ to Bedrock, and I also had a release with my good friend Gaëtan Shurrer as The Weird Continental Types, way back in 2004. Bedrock has been a solid label for 20 years now, with so many incredible releases. It was really great to hear John was a fan of my new Mono Electric Orchestra project and to be part of the Bedrock family again is a great honour.
For anyone not already familiar with your Mono Electric Orchestra output, how would you describe your style? Can you put your finger on the elements of your music that makes it so engaging and distinctive?
When I create music, there has to be a hook, a melody, or a very distinctive sound that gives the track an identity. That’s been a signature on all of my work over the past 30 years. I’ve grown so much musically and technically over the years, so my passion for the music and the technology that creates it is as intense as ever.
What’s the idea behind the Mono Electric Orchestra and how did it come together?
When I first set out to do this project, my goal was to create a live show. The melodies and sounds that make up a lot of my music are mostly mono melodies that become polyrhythms, much like an orchestral score. This concept is the live show, with a set-up featuring 4 mono synths and 1 poly synth, drum machines and effects pedals – all together this makes up what I can translate into a live performance and it works really well.
Talk us through the ‘Louder Than Silence’ EP tracks… Any good stories going on here?
I first worked on this EP back in July 2017. I was playing around with a vibe for the ‘Lost Track’ and I sent it over to my good friend Mark Bell, from Shaboom Records in Los Angeles. He was working with Taka Boom at the time and they both really liked the vibe of the track, so I asked if Taka would throw a top line down on it. The vocals just added something new to the track and gave it an identity. Thanks, Mark and Taka!
Do you find it easy to express your emotions in your music, or is this something that finds an outlet only in certain, special tracks?
Interesting question… Yes in some ways it does, but it is not always that straightforward with music. Certain songs in my career are very personal to me, like with any creative outlet. A good example of this would be my track ‘Stars’ from 2003. I wrote this just after my label (Fluid Recordings) went out of business. It was a tough time for me personally, I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do with my life next. I flew to my good friend, Guy Oldhams in LA. We’ve been pals for many years. I was looking for work at the time and needed to write something positive. I had a rough idea for ‘Stars’ back in the UK, but it needed work, so I finished it in Guy’s office –closet / office, lol. It is a very emotional piece that really transcends the listener and it’s a very personal record for many of my friends in LA too – they got to hear it first.
Tell us something about the psychological effects of music that totally blows your mind…
This is something that has really interested me lately… I’ve been working with a friend in New York called Ahmed. We have really become good friends. He’s a very passionate human being, who is fun to be around We’ve been writing together and as his background is middle eastern, he’s introduced me to so many incredible artists and musicians from his culture. We’ve been recording many of his friends who are amazing musicians. One aspect of his passion is with the healing properties of music and sound – this is an area I had no knowledge of. Ahmed has introduced me to a deeper thought of what music does and how it can affect people in a healing way. Meditation and sound can have a huge effect on the wellbeing of people and this is an area I want to learn so much more about. Electronic music has many of the same properties as eastern music, so this is is something I want to explore more. There will be some interesting projects coming up from Ahmed and myself soon, I hope.
Let’s rewind for a moment, what are your earliest musical memories?
My Dad was a huge music fan. We always had music playing at home and in the car. I remember his 8-track cassettes. He was quite heavily involved in the Liverpool music scene back in the 60’s and had many famous friends back then, including the Beatles. That early introduction to amazing sounds and records back then resonated with me as a child. It always stuck with me. My Dad had a lot to do with that.
How did your musical tastes develop? When did dance music come to you?
It’s funny… I was into rock music as a kid, then synthesizers started showing up on TV and I had to know what these things were. Bands like Kraftwerk, OMD, Human League, New Order and Jean Michelle Jarre, really influenced me early on in my teens. I so wanted to be a punk but I just missed that era. Disco was starting to blow up too. I liked the vibe, but then early house music was floating around. This changed everything for me. I bought my first club tracks back in 1986 – Larry Heard and Jamie Principle were early influences, then Kevin Saunderson and Frankie Knuckles. It was a lot of the American movement I first latched onto. Then I found ‘Strings Of Life’ by Rhythim Is Rhythim (Derek May). Wow, that blew me away! This was something I had to be a part of! I started to buy gear and learn how to use it, and by 1988 I was making my first tunes. Jon Sutton, Wesley Alan and I started Evolution. It was the birth of something really special.
How influential for you was the early UK rave scene? Any defining magical moments that you’d like to share?
It was huge! The Hacienda was the club that changed my life. We had a huge posse of friends that would go every weekend – it was like going to church. The records sounded so huge in there because of the reverberation of the room. It was magical! Then the Blackburn warehouse parties started. We went to almost every one they had. It was such an amazing time for music and to be a part of it all. I met so many incredible people back then, whom I can still call my friends – it was the birth of a community that still thrives today.
What are your thoughts on the art of DJing back in those formative years?
It was a very cool thing to be doing. I didn’t really start to DJ myself until later in my career. I could mix records but didn’t really find time for it, because I was so wrapped up in the production side of things that I didn’t have time to explore DJing more until 1999. We made many DJ friends back then – everyone we met wanted to support and play our music. It was so cool to hand Sasha or John Digweed your track and have them play it for the first time. Just watching the crowd go off was so cool. At what point did you get into producing? What tech gear did you use back in those days? Any standout favourite piece of kit that you miss now?
I got my first synth back in 1983-84, a Roland SH101. Then I got a Boss Dr110 Doctor Rhythm – the two hooked up together with CV. This changed my world. Later I added a JX3P to that mix, and then I was creating full tracks and ideas. This was huge for a teenager of 14. Lol. I still have my favourite pieces of gear from many years ago: Roland Jupiter 6, Korg MS20, Yamaha TX81Z. These have been with me for many, many, years. I couldn’t live without them they are part of every track I make.
You spent your early years and built a huge reputation as one half of the seminal Evolution (with Jon Sutton) – talk us through those crazy times?
We had a hugely successful time back then, Jon and I wrote so many amazing tunes, we had a great chemistry together – so many collaborations too. This was definitely one of our greatest strengths. We found it easy to get people comfortable in the studio and get the best out of them. When we started Fluid Recordings, it gave us an outlet to do what we wanted to musically. We were signed to Deconstruction at the time and had a very commercial sound back then, but we had a deeper and more sophisticated sound that we needed an outlet for, and that is what the label gave us.
You’ve been producing music alongside Sasha for the past 10 years, including working on the hugely successful ‘Involver’ series. How did this long-term relationship develop?
We first met back in 1988 in Manchester. Sasha played at our very first gig at the Floral Hall in Southport, and we asked him if he would like to come into the studio with us. This was the first time he had ever done anything like that and the session produced Sasha’s first ever remix of our track ‘Came Outta Nowhere’. It was a huge start for us and we became good friends back then. When I moved the USA, Sasha reached out to me and asked me to come and work with him in Florida, where he had recently relocated. The first thing we did together was UNKLE’s ‘In A State’. This was the start of the next decade of music for me. We get on very well and have always had fun making music together. It has always been a great experience working with him and the other guys who work with him now – Dave Gardner, Dennis White, and the infamous Charlie May.
What has it been like developing the amazing ‘Refracted: Live’ shows?
It’s been a lot of fun! Stressful at times, but I’ve learned a great deal about the whole live thing, and how it’s changed over the years. No amps and speakers on stage these days. Technology had changed everything. My role has been to develop the gear the guys are using, creating all of the sounds for the show, and running the whole live thing for the band. It’s a very complex set-up, but we have 5 gigs under our belt and they have all been amazing. The fans are spectacular they’ve made this thing so moving for all of us involved. Sasha set out to make a statement with the shows – he wanted people around him that were a part of the music he was making. The core team of Sasha, Charlie May, Dave Gardner and Dennis White have a great working relationship. They are on fire right now too, getting ready for the shows in December.
So many great releases from you over the years… Which ones stand out as marking particular key moments for you?
‘Walking On Fire’ was a huge release for Evolution. ‘Stars’ was an important track for me also, because it was the start of a new future on my own, after Evolution. The Mono Electric Orchestra stuff has all been successful for me too – Max Cooper and Henry Saiz created amazing remixes for the first few releases. Although it’s been a big gap since the last tracks, that’s what having kids does to your career. Lol.
In what ways do you think your particular journey through life has influenced the electronic music you make now?
I love social media. I’ve connected with so many people who have been fans of mine over the years. Many became friends too. I think I’ve always tried to bring melody and emotion to my work. I think that’s why it connects with people so much. It has to be real and honest for me.
You’ve also now got your own label – Circular Sound Recordings – what are your plans for this exciting venture?
It’s been quiet for a few years, but I’m hoping to start to release more music soon. It was fun putting tunes out on my own, but it takes up time when I could be creating more music. That’s why I’ve released the Mono Electric Orchestra project on other labels, I like to be in the studio the most, it’s where I am at my best.
If you wanted to pass on some key points of your wealth of studio and technical knowledge to the next generation, what would they be?
Learn your tools inside and out. Having too much gear is not a good idea. Master the tools you have and you will be much more rewarded for what you do, it brings out the best in you too. I have always loved hardware gear, I think it’s much more intuitive that software. Yes, there are pluses to computers and software but you have a much better conversation with real synths when you know how to use them. If you get stuck and can’t find ideas flowing, make yourself use one piece of kit in the studio to create everything on a song. You will learn a great deal about that piece of hardware and it forces you to program sounds, not just use pre-sets.
If you could work with any artist now, who would be at the top of your wish list?
That’s a tough one… Jean Michelle Jarre would be a lifelong dream of mine. I’m hoping to work with Steve Porter in the very near future – we’ve been discussing it over Facebook and I’ve always loved Steve’s production, so I’m sure we can come up with something really special. I also have an on-going writing relationship with Charlie May. We love working together and have always respected each other and love to collaborate. So never a dull moment! Lol.
As someone who has witnessed the evolution and growth of the underground scene in both the UK and the USA, how do you view it all now? Is it healthy? What could improve things?
Yes, I think it is healthy as far as the music goes, but what is not healthy is the industry and how it protects artists and musicians. There have been far too many deaths and suicides in our industry, one very personal to me very recently too. I lost a very close friend and a musical partner, Bill Hamel, just over a week ago. We worked together for over 20 years and had so many amazing times together. He was like my little brother and I’m still trying to process it all. His memorial service is this coming week in Orlando and it will be a tough day but great to see so many fans and friends of Bill’s. RIP Billy.
I think we need to invest in helping artists and musicians deal with the stresses of being in our industry. Touring and depression go hand in hand with what we do. Addiction too. We have to try to do more to help and prevent needless deaths of so many talented people and friends.
What plans have you got for the coming months?
Live shows and DJing. I have dates starting to come in now. The live show will be a great experience for fans of my music. There are over 20 years of classic tunes in the show, and lots of new stuff too. Don’t miss it!
Thanks for your time here Barry – much appreciated! ☺
Mono Electric Orchestra – Louder Than Silence EP (Bedrock) BEDDIGI121
- Louder than Silence (Original Mix)
- Lost Track featuring Taka Boom (Deep Vox Mix)
- Lost Track (Deep Mix)
- Neutral Density (Original Mix)