One of the UK’s most true of techno talents, Stephen Brown, has been making moves in Detroit influenced machine techno from the early 90’s, longer than we’ve had our doors open. He’s moved forward through his pursuit of ways to make his music his own, from his first drum machines to involving his mind in music technology secrets that eventually earned him a lauded place in the back catalogue of the legendary Derrick May run Transmat.
Always one to adapt, yet keep his music pure and real, he’s maintained a respectful path of releases and is currently looking forward to a joint release on Ben Sims’ Theory Records as well as remixes coming out on Skudge’s eponymously named label Skudge. Primarily a live artist, he’s offered up this recording to promote the event which our fabricfirst members have been enjoying their first listen to for a week now – it’s available to stream below for all to enjoy now alongside our introductory chat to the Edinburgh based beat creator.
STREAM: Stephen Brown - Live Set 2012 Recorded for fabric
Going right back, how did you come to start making music?
I started making music around 1987/88. Mr Friend had an Amiga computer that had a keyboard that would sit on top of the keyboard if you can imagine that. He would make music similar to the video games that we played on the Amiga. I was stunned and then he got an Akai sampler and used an Atari st running Cubase once again I was blown away at the sight and sound of voices being played across a midi Keyboard. The midi gear at the time was too expensive for me and I was given his Analog gear so he could buy the new Akai sampler. I had a Jupiter 4 a Moog Prodigy and the usual 707,727 drum machines. I picked up a Roland 303 and 606 for £50 each in a second hand shop and started to play out live under the name MD3 playing acid house similar to the Chicago style. Year after year I bought something new and continued to experiment. I have my friend Andy to thank for inspiring me to make music and for letting me play in his studio (with headphones on) while he watched the Simpsons.
What or who were your early influences?
My earliest influences are Heaven 17 the Human League and of course early electro that I was break dancing to at the time. I have a brother who is 5 years older than me and he had a good record collection. I would listen to his records all the time on my mums stacking system with glass from door. I have fond memories of sitting on the floor in the living room listening to these records over and over with the cans on while mum and dad watched Falcon Crest or Dallas. I was lucky in that lots of my brother’s friends would lend me their weekly purchases of High Energy imports and I discovered artists like Bobby Orlando, Mike Marine and Lime. I’m not ashamed to say that High Energy was in inspiration because it's all electronic music to me. From disco to Techno and even some Pet Shop Boys in-between, Synthesizers played a big part.
How did your home town of Edinburgh play its role in your influences? What was it like growing up and starting to go out there?
I was very lucky, after Breakdancing and listening to Electro for 3 years I started to go clubbing around 1988 to a club called the Hooch. There it was common to hear soul, funk, Jazz, hip hop and house music all in one night. Then out of the blue I heard a noise that almost burst my ear drums. It was Derrick Mays The Dance. Later that night I heard Nude Photo for the first time as well so I rushed up to the Dj to find out what it was and my introduction to Detroit Techno had begun. I started to make the music that I loved; I sold the analog gear and bought Yamaha and Casio synths after reading an interview with Mayday in a magazine called Music technology. He gave away the secrets of FM synthesis and the budget priced Yamaha DX100 and Casio VZ synths that produced the unique sounds.
Like most good things the Hooch Club came to an end and many clubs and many more DJs emerged from every nook and cranny trying to be the next best thing. I wasn’t hearing the records I liked in the clubs so I stayed in most weekends to make my own music.
Years later I discovered a Club called Pure who were booking all the Detroit artist’s. This was my dream come true and a golden opportunity to pass on Demos I had made. I gave one to Derrick May and this eventually led to me recording 2 singles for his label Transmat. The same thing happened with Miss DJax, a chance encounter led to a record deal that lasted 5 years.
Can you tell us about your label Realtime?
I created Realtime because at the time certain record labels I worked with or sent demo’s started to dictate what style of music they wanted me to make. "Make it like this or make it like that" make it more Tribal. I have never made a particular type of music for a particular type of label although I nearly fell into that trap. Realtime was a platform for me to put out music that had been rejected from the other labels, and the reason was because I thought they had missed something.
Why did you decide to put it on the back burner after 5 releases?
This might sound funny but I decided to stop it for the same reason as starting it. This time it was the distributors who were demanding a certain style and sound to match the music of their own in house labels. They got a bit greedy and the candle was burning at both ends, everyone had a label or two or three and the distributors had about 5 in house labels. They pushed their own artists (sometimes the Staff) and their own labels. I felt left behind although I appreciate that business is business. Eventually nearly all the distribution companies went bust at the same time so I decided to stop the label and take up an offer to record for one of my favourite record labels Transmat (Detroit).
What lead you to want to re-launch now?
Freedom of music I guess. I’m still making music all the time and I've received emails etc to start Realtime again so it seems the logical thing to do. Re launching Realtime has been on my mind for a few years now but I wanted to wait until the right moment and when I had enough good music to release.
As well as the label re-launch, what else are you working on at the moment?
Working on some music for Ben Sims Theory, Ben has been an inspiration as well as supporting my music since the beginning. Also another EP for Skudge and Indigo Area (Amsterdam) with a remix from Ben Clock. And an EP for a small label from Glasgow called Animal Farm who's first release is from Santiago Naura (Bleak) from Sweden.
On your live set – you began producing and playing before laptop technology took hold – how have you adapted and grown your live set down to this?
Well I have to be honest and say that I was against laptops at the beginning. It was a time when some DJ's and producers compared the warmth of Analog to the hollow digital sound of computers. I jumped on the bandwagon and refused to play with a laptop which was a stupid decision. Firstly I make music on a computer in the studio so I should have moved to a laptop to play live. Instead I purchased several groove boxes and drum machines and effects units thinking that it would look and sound better on stage. It sounded worse so I bought a laptop and discovered in the first few hours that I could transfer all my unfinished or unreleased trax from Logic as separate parts and drag them into Ableton to construct a live set. It all came together so quickly and I regret not doing it years ago. Anyway at the moment I have no reason to change the set up especially since I have only touched the surface of Abelton live and I love it.
And what about your production and studio set up? Do you have any opinions of analogue and digital production standards?
For me it’s not about Analog or digital it’s about what I can afford and what works for me. Sure I would love to have a classic synth collection and post regular pictures on Facebook but I would rather post sounds on Soundcloud and have people appreciate the music. But the truth is I don't think I would make better music with old gear. I have used both over the years and I'm back where I started after hearing Nude photo. I have learned to be more creative with what I have rather than buy what I think I need to make music. So I guess I'm saying that regardless of the technology the creativity comes within for the most part.
To finish of the interview and lead us into this live set, as you’re not a DJ but live artist – can you tip us on some current releases that are inspiring you the most at the moment?
Actress, Shed, Skudge
Stephen Brown will be live in Room Two on Saturday 22nd September