In Depth
DJ October Tries To "Forever Be A Student Of Music"

Last week, on an early winter afternoon, I sat down with Bristol based producer October to probe him about the highly anticipated and never been seen before live show that he’s set to debut in Room Two this Saturday night. Delving into the sort of expected studio tropes a conversation centred around technology should throw up, the interview also provided a healthy amount of detailing about his big news of the moment with Julian Raymond Smith sharing the thoughts and motivations behind the debut album he’s preparing to release next year, as well as what it’s like to be translating his work into a live set for the very first time. He's admittedly a little nervous about the first ever live performance of his career, which even though his trepidation is completely understandable (excursions into uncharted territory with a crowd of 700 people watching you tend to be a little nerve wracking) it's also something I’d expect him to totally nail - especially considering the work he’s put out and the things he’s achieved over the past 10 or so years.

Considered as an artist with an impeccably tight reputation, the bulk of October's output exhumes an enigmatic strain of techno that's currently being pumped through the veins of the underground community. His releases been housed by the likes of Fred P's Soul People Music, BRSTL and Will Saul's Aus Music camp - who've enlisted him for their imminent Room Two takeover – whilst Smith’s kept himself busy operating TANSTAAFL (There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) alongside John Osborn. Lately though, it's his stint with the superlative Swedish outfit, Skudge that’s been garnering him the most kudos, releasing both the upstanding Empires EP and, perhaps most notably, this year's Gate 2 Yesterday on Skudge's self-titled imprint. Revealing that he’ll also be releasing his debut album via Skudge, Smith promises that he’ll stray away from his usual material and showcase a body of work that explains “what he’s really about.”

First things first, you’re showcasing your never been seen before live show here this weekend. Excited Much?

I guess I am excited although I am pretty nervous about it. I’ve been holding off doing this for a while. I don’t know exactly why. I guess I don’t really like playing my own music to other people. When I’m DJing I play a lot of other people’s records so it’s OK, but now I have to play my own music and I find that part of it quite intense.

It is a lot more personal...

Yeah exactly and my music is pretty tough but it’s also weird and heavy. In a club people don’t usually react too well to it. So I’m a bit worried about that as well.

Can you explain what you’ll be using in your setup?

I’m going to be using an Alesis drum machine, a Roland space echo delay copy thing, another delay pedal and a few other effects all going through a Mackie mixing desk. I’m also going to have an Alpha Juno 2 and another drum machine as well as my own laptop just so I can keep the bass and the core elements because a lot of my sound is heavily processed in the studio with equipment that I can’t take on the road. The drums have to sound a certain way so that’s basically what the laptop is for. It’s going to be a live dubbing of my music where I’ll have all the tracks going through my desk before improvising and seeing what happens!

Considering the fact that you'll be performing this all by yourself, did you have to be quite particular when it came to choosing what equipment to use? I mean, you only have one pair of hands...

Exactly. So a lot of my sounds use compressors and valves that mean I can really cheat and process the sound well. When I process an 808 it sounds completely different to what it does normally so that’s another thing I was slightly worried about when I agreed to do the live show.

Overall how long did it take to build it?

I guess you could say it took a year or so since I first started thinking about producing a live show to narrow it down completely, but I reckon it took about a couple weeks to get it all together, so not too long! Overall it’s been about a year of playing and practicing before eventually figuring out what I like.

I bet the time has flown by…

Yeah, I’m a bit nervous actually!

What can we expect then?

It’s going to be sort of industrial without it being industrial music. It’s basically going to be industrial mixed with acid and dub. In fact, it’s going to be quite electro… One of my friends described it as “electronic doom metal” [laughs].

Will you be predominantly play new music or will you be incorporating some of your previous material?

I will play a few 'classics' so to speak but the rest will be pretty much material that no one has ever heard of or it will be material taken from my new album which a lot of people haven’t heard either. So I guess a lot of people are going to be a bit like 'what is this?!'

So will it focus mainly on improvisation? 

I guess so yeah though it’s not massively improvised. You know, the track isn’t made up on the spot but I don’t know how the track is going to be arranged. I’ll have one song set up with 808 drums which I’ll play around with until it feels right and then I’ll mess around with the delays. I don’t know, I find it hard to be articulate about my music, sometimes I feel it would be easier for someone to talk about it and I could agree or disagree with certain points. I don’t really think about my own music like that so I don’t know exactly what the show will sound like. I’m just going to hope for the best!

I guess there’s still some fun in that though…

You mentioned your new album before. Can you tell us about that?

It’s coming out on Skudge. I wrote it quite quickly actually, it only took me a couple months to write the whole thing, I think. It’s my first album so I figured I would deliver something that wasn’t just a bunch of dancefloor tracks. I thought I would make something that’s a bit more heady and something you could listen but also play it in the club. I thought I’d also like to show my influences through the album. I thought I’d write an actual album where I’d sit down and write nothing else from start to finish. I remember thinking what should be the first tune and that it needed to be like a mission statement. So I set out to write a tune that encompasses what I am about. It’s also kind of structured like a band. You know with a band you have your drums and then there’s the bass so the album is quite minimal in that retrospect. There’s a lot going on but with the same drum machine throughout the whole album. You know, when you listen to, I don’t know, a Sonic Youth album the drums sound like Sonic Youth drums. It’s funny because I actually wrote pretty much a straight up techno dub album for Skudge before but I wasn’t happy with it so I freaked out, sacked it off and rewrote the whole thing in a couple months and just focused purely on writing music that you would listen to rather than something you would play in a club. I feel like when I’m doing a single, I always hold back a lot of my industrial influences and anything that doesn’t quite make it house and techno so for this record, I’ve stripped it all of anything house and techno and have left just all the bits that were left over. So it’s not predominantly house and techno, but it kind of is…

Would you say it’s quite far away from what you’ve done before then? It sounds like it’s a lot rawer.

Yeah it’s really, really raw but I guess it’s not too different to what I’ve done in the past but I’d say it’s different to what I’ve been allowed to do, if that makes sense? I’ve got years of material that’s not house and techno so I think this was more of an exercise to showcase what I’m really about rather than presenting myself as just a techno artist. I love techno and I’ll take it to my grave but I feel like there’s loads of other great music in the world so I always find it hard to focus on just one genre.

You must have had a lot of fun producing the album then?

I did! The album that I wrote for Skudge before was a grueling process which took me year before I sacked off the whole thing and started again with a more direct vision of what I wanted to do. Once I had that mindset and I knew the process of how I was going to record the album it was easy! I was really inspired. I’d wake up at 9am every morning and be in the studio by 10am then finish at 6pm. It was pretty much like that every day. I was very productive and it felt really good.

Did you write the album with the live show in mind or are they completely separate?

Pretty separate. The live show isn’t going to sound like anything you’ve heard before it’ll sound like my music before I commit to it. So like, when I make a track in the studio I tend to listen to it for hours before committing to it but with the live show I don’t have that option. I just have to go for it. It’s going to be pretty intense I think.

So who or what inspired you to develop your sound into something bigger?

Well I guess the influence really came from DAF, this group from Germany that sort of invented EBM which stands for Electronic Body Music which has been credited as quite industrial. They’ve been a huge influence of mine though I haven’t seen them live, I’ve been obsessed with them for a long time. They’re almost like these electronic punks with this incredible energy on stage where they would have just a drum kit, a synthesiser and their voices. Since I discovered DAF I’ve been obsessed with trying to do that live. Initially I wanted to do that with a band and do it a bit like Magic Mountain High but I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet. But, anyway, I’d been watching these DAF videos and another band called Revolting Cocks, not sure if you’ve heard of them?

I can’t say I have, mate...

Well they’re also pretty incredible and I could hear all these similar drum sounds to what I use so it got me thinking maybe I could do it live but I’m very scared of doing this live show. It’s not something I wanted to do myself but I’ve had a lot of people tell me I should so I’ve basically caved!

What are you most scared about?

I’m scared because it’s just all my own music and though I've been in bands before which is a lot easier because there’s always a couple other guys next to you and you can feed off them and it’s not you on stage if it goes wrong – with this it’s just me on my own, that shit just freaks me out.

 "I feel more musically confident than I've ever done before."

And you’re putting yourself out there in the purest form musically?

Well I guess I don’t really like my own music too much and I always feel with every track I do I could always do better so I’ve tried to remove all ego from music and I try to forever be a student of music and never a master which I don’t think anyone can be so with all this taken into consideration it’s just a nerve-racking thing to essentially play what I’ve built all on my own. To me, that feels weird. It’s not just that it’s personal but it’s also because that I’m not actually that happy with any of it. I think the art of making music is knowing when to let go. You might produce something that you’re not totally happy with but you know you have to eventually stop, put it to the side, learn from any mistakes I’ve made, try to improve and move forward. So now I feel like I’m showcasing all my mistakes in some ways… I mean, I’m flattered and honoured that people like my music but I don’t really understand why.

But there’s something quite nice about that don’t you think?

I don’t know, maybe. It’s a very personal thing and when I make a track I don’t ever have any recollection of how I made that track. It’s a very weird state of mind but at the end of a day in the studio I’m a bit like 'what did I just do?!' I went through a lot of old material for this live show and with some of it I thought, 'did I make this?!' So I guess I’m a little bit worried about other people hearing my music.

But put that all aside, there must be something you’re excited about?

Well, referring to what I said about removing ego from all music, I think what I’m excited about is getting excited about the music again and being able to play it in a different way and being able to freak people out with long extended break downs without drums and do the things that I do in the studio that I feel are a bit far out and wild. You know, I always feel like I have to rein it in so this is going to be without any boundaries which I’m excited about. I’m also excited about playing it on the sound system and really pushing it and trying to get in the mindset of the sonic experience. I guess kind of like what Shackleton does but not as far out. I’m really looking forward to playing some weirder sounds that I wouldn’t normally play and seeing how that works out.

Do you have any plans to develop it further?

Yes, definitely. I mentioned previously about how I wanted to start a band? Well it’s going to be myself, Marco Bernadi and Borai – who I have made music with before – and the three of us are going to create a live show in the not so distant future. We’re going to use just my material so essentially Bernadi and Borai will be session musicians if that makes sense. I hope to get to the point where I can just leave the laptop out of it and get to the stage where it’s a proper set up so I can bring in compressors that I wouldn’t normally be able to use on the road as well as a modular kit and a nice sequencer. I’ll be creating everything live from scratch without any rehearsal and no practice. When I DJ, from that first record I don’t know what I’m going to play, so I would like to get to that point with my live show where I can just improvise completely but I feel I need to build my confidence first.

With all this considered do you feel like you’re at quite an imperative part of your career now?

I think so, yeah. I think I can always learn from my mistakes and improve. You know, sometimes I feel like I’m at the top of my game and I’m confident in the studio and my mixdowns sound better than ever before, but then I have thought this before! So although I think in a couple years’ time I might feel differently, right now it does feel like I have a very singular vision of what I want to achieve musically whereas before I was messing around with sounds and seeing whether I liked it or not. I’m keen to follow this vision and not lose focus.

So would you say you’ve got more of a direction than you did before?

Yeah I used to play around with house and techno which was cool but I feel like I can broaden my horizons musically now and that means basically not breaking away from house and techno but just doing something else that’s not traditionally club orientated and to me that feels really good. I’ve always felt like I’m not just a techno artist so yeah, I feel good and I feel more musically confident than I’ve ever done before.

Photography: Khris Cowley

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