Octave One have been a hugely influential part of what techno has amounted to today. The Burden brothers were at the forefront of what's commonly known as the ‘second wave’ of Detroit techno, releasing several groundbreaking tracks that in hindsight can only be described as milestones on the techno timeline. Their most famous release to date, the phenomenal ‘Blackwater,' has appeared on over 70 compilations and sold over a million copies. Indeed, you're likely to have heard an Octave One tune at some point or another, even when shopping at a high street store (read after the jump for more on that). This Saturday, Room Two will become a one-way ticket to the Motor City, as the duo's live set will be joined by the iconic Mr Atkins, as well as a DJ set from “the father of Detroit techno in the Netherlands,” Steve Rachmad.
In-between studio sessions, Octave One took some time out to answer some questions before they take our stage hostage. And that's not all - the wicked crew over at RCRDLBL have put up an exclusive download from Octave One for you to fill your speakers with as you read...
Hey guys, what have you been up to recently?
We’ve been busy doing a bit of touring and recording this year. We’re finally dropping remixes to “A World Divided” early next month. It’s a single from our “Summers on Jupiter” album that we released earlier this year. We just made our New York live debut a few weeks ago (which was really fun) and flew back to Detroit to continue recording a new single series we’ve been working on since March. We’ve been sort of on an musical exploration for awhile. This is the first time we ever talked about it publicly, but the series is called MS10. Somewhat of a artistic evolution for us. We’ll be talking more about it in the next few weeks.
Tell us how you first started out making music?
As children, we were put into music classes: piano, various orchestral wind instruments, drums. This was primarily to “round us out” so to speak as people, and to keep us out of trouble. It stuck with us throughout the years. Our parents never really meant for us to make music a way of life, but it just turned out that way.
And when did people like Derrick May and Juan Atkins first enter into the picture?
We actually met Derrick first, while we were working at the Music Institute back in 1986. He probably doesn’t even remember our first meeting. A friend of ours knew we had a small lighting and effects company called Mission Control. We did lighting and special effects for local dance groups (break dancers and such), parties, and other special events. She introduced us to Alton Miller and Chez Demier, they were a couple of the co-owners of the club. The hired us to do effects and lights in the club. We spent every Friday (and some Saturdays) for months in the DJ booth at the Institute. That’s where we first met Derrick. This was a true introduction to the underground. Working at the institute is where we learned to love it all.
We met Juan later, in 1989. After a few years of DJing. we started buying musical equipment and teaching ourselves electronic music. Another friend of ours introduced us to Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir. He told us come down to Metroplex Studios (Juan Atkins’ place, where he was an engineer) to rent some time and do some recording properly. That was a crazy time. We were ACTUALLY at Metroplex! We had all the Metroplex records. It was like going to Mecca. The first track we ever recorded was the track that ended up on the Techno 2 compilation, “I Believe”. Shake turned out to be more of a co-writer and producer than engineer really. When it was all over, “I Believe” was almost a Metroplex record, but Derrick heard it and he had other ideas. It became a Transmat record. Either way, we were cool just to be out.
Running your label, 430 West, must be pretty different today compared to when you started. What is the biggest difference in your minds, and how has this affected the musical output and the business side of the label?
Yeah, it is a lot different today then when we first started years ago. The biggest difference is how fast the world is now. Technology has changed things in several different ways. We started when the fax machine ruled the world! You can get information around the world so much more efficiently now through the internet. Ideas can be born in Detroit and be in Tokyo in seconds. Finding information also used to take days, weeks, or months. Now it’s instant. Things can be done so much more efficiently.
People consume things so quickly now too. Music is so disposable. There is no time for it to grow organically anymore. You release a track and it burns out in a couple weeks. Sometimes, we used to have a couple years to work a track! There’s so much music and other things for people to choose from, it’s a lot more difficult to stand out. As a company, we made a decision years ago to not try and “feed the machine”. We still try and do things at our own pace. We have evolved as technology has, but ideally, we are still the same.
You’ve described your sound in an interview with Slices as 'soul-based' with inspiration coming from musicians like Barry White and Isaac Hayes. After techno went through a distinct 'minimal' phase, do you think funk and soul have become more important to both producers, DJs and the audience?
Well we think that funk and soul in dance music has never and will never die. For some, it’s the next progression especially after such a ‘minimal’ phase in dance music. For us, it never went away, although it may have went further from the mainstream. If you look at the natural progression of music in general, after a minimal period, audiences have always looked for something more. In dance music, more usually means some soul or funk influences, which translates well to the dance floor, which just goes back to the roots of techno music.
You must have seen a lot of things come and go in the techno scene. What inspires you to keep making music and to carry on doing what you do?
True, we have seen a lot of things come and go in this scene, but what inspires us to keep making music is a genuine love for the art of creating. It truly feels good for us to sit down in front of a keyboard or drum machine and use these pieces of electronic gear to create what we’re feeling in our soul. We don’t focus too much on what’s going on at the moment musically because that just leaves you chasing after whatever’s next, but what we feel drives and moves us from our environment and day-to-day life is what dictates us musically and drives us to create.
How would you describe your performance style when you play live?
The soul of a funk band, the energy of rockers, and the finesse of classically trained musicians…lol! Really though, just come and see us play, its about having a good time.
And you use a hardware set up, have you ever been tempted to switch to a laptop ‘live’ set up like so many other performers today? If not, why not?
Honestly, we tried to go software for a few shows but we really didn’t enjoy our sets, and we don’t feel the audience did either. It left us too constrained and chained down to the laptop screen, it didn’t leave us room to be as free spirited as we are in the studio. We try and think about what we would like to experience as a fan of this music, what we think a band should be, what’s going to make a performance good, performance being the key. We don’t knock the whole laptop live thing, don’t get us wrong, we just played with the Surgeon, and Tony does it very well, probably one of the best at it. But most times its not clear if the artist is playing the music or checking his email. Using hardware allows us to be interactive the audience, have the audience see us manipulating the music, and bring them into the experience. There’s no screen there as a barrier between us. It just feels to be more complete.
Hardware is expensive and often only available on eBay - is there an easy route into getting your hands on exciting instruments? What would you recommend to aspiring producers?
Our recommendation for aspiring producers is to just take your time and slowly build your arsenal (musical gear). There are many new pieces of hardware on the market (made by small and large manufacturers), as well as many pieces of classic gear out their on the used market. Not everything is super expensive either (remember, expensive does not always mean better). There are many pieces of gear that cost about the same or less than software, It might be more work for you to put your studio together, but it will be a better journey in the long run. Having less gear can also have an added benefit. It allows you to get to know and get a feel for a particular instrument, which is where your own creative style is drawn from. Unfortunately, that’s part of the problem with using software for many new artists, being overwhelmed and not taking enough time to develop there own particular style. That’s where you get longevity from as an artist!
The reach and success of your 2000 hit ‘Blackwater’ has been phenomenal; I heard it whilst shopping in a French Connection shop just the other day! Did you ever imagine it would be such a success in such a broad musical spectrum rather than just an underground hit? What is the history behind making the record?
No, we didn’t think it would have hit the broad musical success that it did. The only thing that we were focusing on at the time is how it made us feel when we heard it. And that’s pretty much how we do all the music that we create, if it makes us feel something it’s released. Thats pretty much the history of our (the five Burden brothers) creative process, one of us might start a track and the others at some point may contribute where they see fit. Wherever and whatever that may be.
You’ve described Detroit as your ‘birthplace of inspiration.’ Do you think that Berlin has become the equivalent birthplace of inspiration for a new generation of artists?
We think Detroit and Berlin have some key differences when it comes to musical inspiration. Where Detroit musical power base came from individuals coming to the city for jobs back when jobs where plentiful. And the music that was created was a direct derivative of the pain and anguish that they derived by being caught up in a system ruled by the auto industry. Everything in Detroit was moved by the wheel. The success and failure of the system both bought reasons for people to look for escape. Music became their release and that’s the reason it was so soulful and heartfelt, because of the pain they endured daily. Where as Berlin’s renaissance is more of a global artist community coming together to one place with the sole intention to create whatever that art form may be. At least, that’s the impression that we get when we talk to our friends who have either moved to or are considering moving to Berlin.
When you come to London, is there anywhere (other than fabric, of course ;) where you like to visit?
We’ve been to London a few times before, but never came as tourists. It’s usually non-stop business. This trip we get in Saturday morning, have two radio interviews, have sound check, a meeting, a bit of sleep, play the show, a little more sleep and back on the plane home Sunday morning. One day we’d like to come over and just hang out a bit! But our schedule never seems to work out that way.
And finally, do you have anything you'd like to say?
We’re really looking forward to playing at fabric on Saturday. It’s one of our all time favorite places to play. Great crowds and lots of energy. Let’s do this London!