With two equally affluent monikers culminating in releases on Ramp Recordings, Opal Tapes and multiple outings on Trilogy Tapes, Eugene Ward has consistently reinvented his sound to magnificent effect. Early releases as Dro Carey saw Ward indulging in experimental sampling techniques within a loose Hip Hop and Grime context. Releases such as ‘Venus Knock’ and ‘Night Raid’ utilised minimal dance-floor friendly methods, never lacking in the dissonant and abnormal materialising something very original.
Two years after his first Trilogy Tapes outing as Dro Carey, Tuff Sherm emerged in 2012 with the Pharmacy EP. Three ominous and sullen dance-floor cuts firmly established Sherm’s place in the world of experimental House. Since then Ward has continued to focus on his Tuff Sherm pseudonym to great acclaim, resulting in releases on Merok Records, Reckno and most recently Berceuse Heroique. An inclination towards House and Techno is particularly evident judging from Ward’s recent output. What distinguishes this producer however is the experimentation exercised within the framework of 4/4. Distilled and distorted House and Techno has captured the zeitgeist in recent years, subsequently spawning a slightly saturated scene. A refreshing outcome of such circumstances is the rise meritocracy in music. Where the truly skilled and original are thrusted to the forefront based on skill and merit alone. Such is the case of Tuff Sherm, with a consistently captivating production style and an approach to dance-music composition that may be appraised as brave.
With such credentials attached to his name it was our pleasure to catch up with Eugene following his release on Berceuse Heroique. In an incredibly frank and revealing interview, Ward discusses influences, scenes and the sensationalism involved in Australia’s recently imposed legislations on alcohol sales – you can also stream his mix for Hyponik below.
What’s the origin of the name Tuff Sherm?
It’s just meant to be in the tradition of nicknames combined with birth names, the format that was obviously quite a common thing in old House records… that is, of course, if my own name was actually Sherman, that’s how I got there I guess.
Your EP Burglar Loops for Trilogy Tapes seems to explore a more aggressive sound. Was this intentional? If so, where do you think the influence stemmed from?
There was deliberately an arc to that record where it begins aggressive, on ‘Cleric’, and then gradually woozes down to the title track that closes it. Obviously the use of distortion in House music seems a huge thing right now, so there are probably too many guys to even mention as far as what influenced me. I remember around that time I was working on ‘Canal Cloaking’ as well, the Tuff Sherm cassette release on Reckno, and I think a strong influence on both releases was a lot of the particularly intense 90s UR and Axis records material, like the X-103 – ‘Thera EP’ for example. I guess there has always been a side to both Dro and Sherm that is abrasive, but hopefully not in the most obvious way.
‘Drakhen & Bley’ contains what sounds like a snooker ball being hit. Do you often utilise found sound in your compositions?
Yeah it is actually. Freesound is one of my favorite websites, I download a lot of weird recordings and effects from there. Sometimes I record environmental percussive sounds myself as well.
How did the new release on Berceuse Heroique come about?
I had completed a set of Tuff Sherm tracks that were meant to be Neue Deutsche Welle meets House. Easy Company and Smugglers Bureau were both in there, though they probably reflect that aesthetic the least of what I was working on. Anyway I thought it might be appropriate for BH so I got in touch via Twitter over Christmas, and they ended up selecting those two tracks for a single.
Having released primarily on left field UK labels, do you feel removed from the scene your music might ‘inhabit’? Or do you prefer taking that ‘outside’ approach?
I don’t know if there is really a particular scene that I could be in, if you know what I mean. The labels that I have worked with generally reflect quite broad and diverse selections, in many cases populated with people totally dispersed in different parts of the world, like myself, and they aren’t actively trying to forge a particular scene, at least not in the traditional sense. One day someone will think of a better, less pretentious term for this, this particular type of label, or DJ, or radio show, but right now we can settle on ‘curatorial’ as opposed to genre-guided, and basically I would say that this type of approach promotes a community as opposed to a scene, and that community that can function perfectly via the internet I think.
How has your production process developed over the past couple of years?
It has basically seen me chip away at Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, channeled in this instance into Propellerhead Reason. I’ve also started using Logic as well. I’ve become much better at mixing down tracks I think. It’s hard to narrow down all of the things that have improved in that period; I’ve come a long way technically. Hopefully it isn’t at the expense of the spontaneity that guided the earlier work.
You seem to be more active under your Tuff Sherm moniker than Dro Carey. What encouraged you to develop the new pseudonym?
I just work on what seems to be coming naturally. It ended up that there was period where that TS territory was a more fertile direction creatively, for a minute, and so that’s really all that dictated it. The last couple of months the Dro spark has returned too though, which is good, and so there’ll be a return to more of that this year.
Can you tell us what sets the two projects apart?
Generally the stylistic territory that they each explore guides the distinction. However, I never want it to end up being too prescriptive. Sometimes it’s as simple as using a different name to force yourself out of a particular mindset that might start to feel repetitive, which can then allow you to return to the previous work with a more varied arsenal. When you examine the catalogues of people with aliases I think this is generally what can be said – you can see them feeling out different threads of things and it invariably cycles back to the other work and informs it in a creatively stimulating way.
Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment?
I’m working on some collaborations. I’ve got a lot of things with Napolian coming up. A song with Druture. I was just in the studio with Hamish from Cliques last night. A few remixes on the way as well.
Is a live performance on the horizon for you?
I’ve been heavily focused on producing and writing lately. It’s very difficult to find the time to start notating my work for potential live collaborators, though it is something I keep thinking about and it will definitely happen some day. Arranging the pieces, with myself playing one particular instrumental part out of many – that would be the only interesting way I could foresee the live performance of an existing Dro or Sherm track occurring. Otherwise, there is the alternative of a solo live show, which I have been thinking about for Tuff Sherm in particular, which would be entirely improvised as opposed to a performance of existing songs. Again, that is something that requires a significant time investment to be a satisfactory and worthwhile thing for someone to pay to see. The skill of improvising with the particular tools or hardware needs to be practiced.
It can be very tiring when people pressure you to move towards these things while also wanting you to maintain your competence as a DJ, maintain the flow of material for releases, et cetera. Again it comes down to finding the time necessary to do something worthwhile and not trying to use the inherently opaque nature of digital music creation as a smokescreen for something that has not been thought out.
Do you still make video art?
I am working on a few videos at the moment. I am hesitant to call it art, at least until the day comes that it can be shown, and someone wants to show it, and someone wants to see it, and it does not have Dro Carey or Tuff Sherm anywhere near it. Otherwise they’re just some cool videos.
What are your other interests/what do you do outside of music?
I write a bit, I wrote a comic book that came out recently. It’s an issue of an ongoing series called Artifacts. I am working on some other scripts at the moment. Reading comics and novels is pretty much what I do when I am not working on music.
Are you still based in Sydney today? You’ve said before that you had no plans to move, is that still the case?
Yes and yes. I enjoy a great deal of the music being produced here and I rate a lot of the DJs.
The only bad thing, and it is a truly, truly bad thing, is the recently introduced lockout and alcohol sales curfew laws. I am completely confident that the more ridiculous elements of the legislation will eventually be dialed back. That is the trend in other cities that have tried similar measures and found that they caused a whole lot of commercial and cultural damage without the decrease in violence.
It was a heavy-handed, kneejerk stunt designed to appease an older demographic, the type of hollow ‘tough on crime’ action that periodically plays out when a boost is needed for political capital, and in the typical spirit of this type of legislation it draws upon sensationalism and fear. When you get to the point where you tell someone who has not broken the law that they need to leave a particular street (because the street needs to be clear by a particular time of night), and then, when they have not moved far enough down the street, you put them – a person who has not threatened the police officer, verbally or physically – in a wagon, you have reached the point where notions of public order have trumped justice, where it becomes about the fear of what someone might do. To me that is the sentiment that guides these laws, that you cannot drink past a certain time because of what you might go and do, a set of measures where the punishment is delivered ahead of the offence.
If I ever get the sense that too much of Sydney, or too much of New South Wales or Australia at large, buys into these kind of stunts, then I will consider leaving. However, I have seen the reaction, I have seen the level of criticism and discussion – I know that there is still hope as far as redressing the damage borne of this legislation.
Interview: Josh Thomas & Manveer Roda
Smugglers Bureau is out now on Berceuse Heroique. Purchase it here.