With the modern sounds of acid and techno currently being laced into a dirge of productions from a new generation of electronic producers – from the bulking, 808-ridden sounds of Hessle Audio’s Blawan and his collaborative project with fellow R&S man Karenn, to Redshape’s hard-edged take on the currently unavoidable sounds of Berlin – there is without doubt, a renewed interest in the sound of genre created in Detroit and galvanised within the illegal party and warehouse scene of late eighties Europe.
The name Mike Dred. aka Mike Cullen is synonymous with the development of these sounds in their infancy in the UK, as the DJ, producer, sound designer and mastering engineer, as the Kosmik Kommando becoming the first artist other than Aphex Twin to release on Richard D. James’ Rephlex label, and had a huge success with the recently reinvigorated Dutch R&S imprint.
With his performance alongside Legowelt at this coming Friday’s Centrifuge and Streets of Beige show at the Rhythm Factory, Dred has dug out a storming hour long mix recorded all the way back in 1991 – a bold snapshot of what Cullen likes to call “the final gathering of the pure ‘E Generation'” – and available for download on the player below.
We also talked to the militantly resolute and brutally honest producer (this interview has been edited down from the original near 3000 word transcript, for ease of reading, and the risk of potential libel action) about modern production systems, pirate radio and the responsibility of the artist to direct the development of technology for the better…
Let’s take it back a few years – how did you first become involved in acid, techno and electronic music?
In electronic music, the more concerned with image someone is, then often the less impressive they are. Maybe there is now a growing culture of looking at one’s reflection in a laptop or ‘iThing’ screen because there is little else to do.
My main projects to look out for over the last 25 years are by Mike Dred, The Kosmik Kommando and Universal Indicator. My first public DJ experience goes back to 1983. Then soon after, I was involved in the local hip-hop scene, buying obscure records and doing parties and mix tapes in the 80s. The 80s was artistically explosive and musically rich. When I was mixing hip-hop, electro and soul breaks, the house scene was crossing over, then the acid house movement, new beat, techno and many permutations thereof. I’d just play it all. Wonderful. I’ve continued to DJ through 25 years of club music to date. I got involved in actually making electronic music as the 80’s ended. I’ve used a lot of equipment over the years… Analogue, digital and command line / algorithmic tools have all crossed my path.
If you had a singular musical aesthetic, what would it be?
Embrace the multi-dimensionality of sound design.
Tell us about the archive mix you’ve dug out for us – can you remember making it?
Yes! I can remember doing that. Around June 1991. It is jam packed with music that was extremely current at the time. It’s a live turntable broadcast mix. The rave scene was still as one and you can hear the threads of styles that were to branch off in their own genre-specific directions by the end of that summer. Good times – the final gathering of the pure ‘E Generation’.
Where was Seduction FM based, and what was the station like?
Seduction was based in Lowestoft. I built a 50 Watt transmitter from parts purchased from an overseas electronics catalogue. The instructions were shit, but I managed to build it with a bit of trial and error. It was powered from a car battery to provide a stable 12v DC current. The battery was hooked up to a car battery charger that was plugged into the mains to keep it charged and the whole thing ticking. They were the days!
What do you make of the current electronic music scene?
There are not enough electronics.
You’ve released tracks on R&S records, which is currently undergoing a renaissance of sorts – what do you make of the new signings?
R&S is not my favourite subject even though it was a fine label, musically, during it’s pomp between 1990 and the end of 1994. I was really motivated by the music they released, even though the label’s reputation was considerably enhanced by licensing and exploiting great music that first appeared on other labels. I have enormous admiration for the likes of David Morley, Cisco Ferrera, CJ Bolland, Marcos Salon, Robert Leiner and Maarten van der Vleuten. One could allege that a few artists no longer active on that label would have a few enlightening titbits of advice for the newcomers. There is no kudos in being associated with that label in the 21st century. [You] might as well start your own.
What is your studio set up like these days, and how has it changed over the years?
It’s a combination of analogue synthesisers, sequencers and effects, with a few of the more interesting digital models that push ideas via FM, formant and physical modelling architectures. I still use my samplers too. I have a selection of 12 bit, 16 bit and 24 bit samplers. I have a few frequency domain and odd command line synthesis programs on the computer and I know Logic Studio inside out, as I have been using that since 1993 – when it was Emagic Logic and then Logic Audio. Tools are tools. I get excited about them all. At the end of the day, you don’t need much. A mic, and an MPC is enough.
As to how things have changed… well, it started off completely analogue. Back in 1993, I sold stuff to buy PC computers to replace the Atari I had sold earlier. There is a reason that I quickly bought replacements for the analogue stuff that I sold and why I couldn’t give a toss if a computer breaks. Every machine that I purchased and moved on has been used on a published vinyl recording, so I don’t have regrets. I get what I can at the time – use it and move it on, if necessary, to fund something else that takes my fancy. There is a continuing analogue technology renaissance, which is wonderful to keep tabs on. The trouble is, if you could try it all out – you wouldn’t get round to actually making music! I know one or two people like that! I also know a lot of people who got into music via the computer / DAW / VST route and who are now excited about saving hard to buy their first analogue synth and/or digital FM synth because they are dissatisfied with the sonic characteristics of the soft versions… that is very interesting.
Is your approach to production the same as it has ever been – is it still a spontaneous creative outlet?
Certainly for the analogue productions… I find it easier to apply an insurgent approach to making music rather than conform and follow templates and stereotypes. But with the computational and aural sculpture productions, well… that’s more like a tapestry by design and the emotive response and the physio-emotional feedback that one encounters, is very different. A frame-by-frame involvement, rather than full steam ahead. Both ways are obviously emotive and energised, but I often consider analogue as flying boundless energy that is rampant, wild and free, while computer composition is a bit like energy walking along with an inquisitve wag of its tail, sniffing here and there, stopping to dig for an elusive bone and then being tugged by a very tight leash.
How do you feel about the majority of systems that just emulate/replicate analogue sound – is this killing creative choice/development in the electronic scene?
I recognise that some of these systems are improving in their approach to functionality and controllability. However, the sonic characteristics that define these tools are impuissant with respect to what they aspire to emulate and border on pestiferous when amplified. But, I know that if you are under 30, you probably don’t really care.
Sure, soon enough the sound of software geared for emulation of analogue systems will improve and be closer to the true analogue characteristics that these R&D guys are so desperate to reproduce digitally, but that time is not now, by any stretch of the imagination.
For 15 years now, the software industry has recoiled from investing sufficient resources in the development of serious real time spectral synthesis tools that harness the true power of the digital domain and open up wondrous audio design possibilities to producers, so that they can advance dance music composition to a next level paradigm. Instead, the emphasis continues to be on emulating past technologies. It’s a bit like telling kids to go off and make music similar to what their mum and dad made, with little thought for progression. It’s playing safe and steady, which is a shame.
Young producers could push these companies in a positive direction if they themselves get to know the power of the frequency domain. In principle, is all-powerful. You can take any sound from any other synthesis model or mother-nature and use it as the source wave for creating output via parametric adjustments of one of a few, hundreds or even thousands of frequency divisions per channel, free from the aliasing artefacts that colour manipulation in the time domain.
The computing power is now available and affordable. We just need a few decision making heads to champion user-friendly interfaces that play to the strengths of digital domain synthesis. It is 17 years since I got excited about Korg’s affordable Physical Modelling units, like my Prophecy. Then in 98, along came MetaSynth, a wonderful method of software synthesis and even NI, to their credit, embraced the real-time spectral synthesis principle with their spectral delay program which they also gave me back in 2001 to trial. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring all of these units and applications.
I wanted to make some raw sonic energy for the dance-floor and the car, nothing flash… but primarily to remove myself from the globally inane sonic characteristics of dance music software designed to unconvincingly emulate the real machines.
What can we expect from you at the Centrifuge 5th Anniversary show?
I’m excited to be spinning a few tunes. I’ll dig out some records on the day and take it from there. I always bring too many and just go with the flow. A selection of acid and techno sounds should do nicely for this party.
You can book advance tickets for the Legowelt show, featuring Mike Dred, Deep Space Orchestra, Ed Chamberlain and Ither here, and be sure to keep an eye out on all Mike’s new productions over at his Soundcloud page.